Is God Sovereign?
Let’s begin by establishing what we mean by the word “Sovereign”. There is no generally accepted meaning to this word even though Webster seems to make it clear, religious people (both Christian and otherwise) have deliberated needlessly over this word for millennia. As for OUR purposes in this study we will establish the meaning as – to possess the exclusive right to exercise, within specific jurisdictions, the functions of a potentate and within such jurisdictions – to be answerable to no higher authority.
In the case of God, this is perhaps realized in no greater way than in His position as Judge. Consider how the scriptures represent God’s sovereign judicial jurisdiction over all the earth:
Genesis 18:25 (Amplified Bible)
Far be it from You to do such a thing–to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as do the wicked! Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth execute judgment and do righteously?
1 Samuel 2:10 (Amplified Bible)
The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces; against them will He thunder in heaven. The Lord will judge [all peoples] to the ends of the earth; and He will give strength to His king (King) and exalt the power of His anointed (Anointed His Christ).
1 Chronicles 16:33 (Amplified Bible)
Then shall the trees of the wood sing out for joy before the Lord, for He comes to judge and govern the earth.
Psalm 82:8 (Amplified Bible)
Arise, O God, judge the earth! For to You belong all the nations.
Psalm 94:2 (Amplified Bible)
Rise up, O Judge of the earth; render to the proud a fit compensation!
– Psalm 96:13 (Amplified Bible)
Before the Lord, for He comes, for He comes to judge and govern the earth! He shall judge the world with righteousness and justice and the peoples with His faithfulness and truth.
Psalm 98:9 (Amplified Bible)
Before the Lord, for He is coming to judge [and rule] the earth; with righteousness will He judge [and rule] the world, and the peoples with equity.
Isaiah 11:4 (Amplified Bible)
But with righteousness and justice shall He judge the poor and decide with fairness for the meek, the poor, and the downtrodden of the earth; and He shall smite the earth and the oppressor with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked.
Revelation 6:10-17 (Amplified Bible)
10 They cried in a loud voice, O [Sovereign] Lord, holy and true, how long now before You will sit in judgment and avenge our blood upon those who dwell on the earth?
11 Then they were each given a long and flowing and festive white robe and told to rest and wait patiently a little while longer, until the number should be complete of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed as they themselves had been.
12 When He [the Lamb] broke open the sixth seal, I looked, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun grew black as sackcloth of hair, [the full disc of] the moon became like blood.
13 And the stars of the sky dropped to the earth like a fig tree shedding its unripe fruit out of season when shaken by a strong wind.
14 And the sky rolled up like a scroll and vanished, and every mountain and island was dislodged from its place.
15 Then the kings of the earth and their noblemen and their magnates and their military chiefs and the wealthy and the strong and [everyone, whether] slave or free hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains,
16 And they called to the mountains and the rocks, Fall on (before) us and hide us from the face of Him Who sits on the throne and from the deep-seated indignation and wrath of the Lamb.
17 For the great day of His wrath (vengeance, retribution, indignation) has come, and who is able to stand before it?
The following passage aptly demonstrates this point [See I Kings 22:19-40]. In it we see that God had already presided as judge concerning the actions and heart of King Ahab. In I Kings 21, Ahab was issued a verbal judgment concerning his actions through the prophet Elijah. Three years later, Jehoshaphat visits Ahab and the discussion over going to war against Ramoth-Gilead ensues. As these natural events occur, God seizes the opportunity to meet out His previously stated judgment against Ahab. Now brace yourself because verses 19-23 are very unique in scripture, in that they pull back the curtains of heaven (so to speak), and allow us front row seats at God’s throne as He presides over His creation and creatures as Sovereign Judge.
As we see in this passage, God says to all the hosts of heaven, “Who will go out and persuade Ahab to go up, THAT HE MAY FALL at Ramoth-Gilead?”
So we see, God has not only spoken Ahab’s judgment to him by the prophet Elijah (3 yrs. earlier), but He is now about to set up the circumstances which will bring it to pass. Watch what God does and does NOT do in these proceedings.
God re-states His judgment over Ahab – that he will fall and that the dogs will lick up his blood at the very place of his sin against Naboth [I Kings 21:19]. He then states HOW this WILL happen – some spirit will persuade Ahab to go to war, but God leaves the “who will go” and the “what method of persuasion” up for discussion.
Finally, one spirit offers to go and be a lying spirit in the mouth of Ahab’s prophets (I Kings 22:21) – which we see is the one God chose by His saying to that spirit – “You will persuade him, and also prevail. Go out and do so.”
What do we see and learn of God’s position as Sovereign Lord over his Creation by these verses?
While God, as Judge, has the right to pass judgment, it appears as though certain aspects of that judgment are differed to others.
In this example, we see God does decide the following:
- Ahab will die.
- He will fall at Ramoth-Gilead.
- It will finalize in his death being in the same place of the death of Naboth.
- The dog’s would lick up the blood of Ahab as they did Naboth.
- Ahab would be persuaded to go into battle.
What God does not decide:
- How or by what specific method Ahab was going to be persuaded.
The question was put to the spirits present at this judgment, “Who will persuade or entice Ahab to go to battle at Ramoth-Gilead”. Now the observant will immediately notice something unmistakable. Present at this preceding were “evil” spirits and they played an integral part of this judgement. We know that they were “evil” spirits because lying is an abomination to God (Prov. 12:22) and it is listed as one the the top things God HATES (Prov. 6:16, 17). Why they were present will be briefly addressed in a moment. For now let’s focus on what happened.
As we said, at this point several spirits came and presented themselves and their method of meeting this objective of convincing Ahab to go to war at Ramoth-Gilead. We see these spirits had SOME lateral freedom in the “how” but not the “what”. Once several options had been presented, we see the final authority rested with God as Judge:
- He chose one out of all those “methods” presented to Him.
Why would God place any of the control over the judgment of any human into the hands of a spirit and an evil spirit at that?
Good Question – He doesn’t!
Their (limited) control was already secured!
We will go further with this later in the study, but suffice it to say that God had the right and obligation to judge Ahab for his transgressions and abuse of God given power (authority). According to Scripture everyone who has authority on the earth in any venue, was given that authority by God. In fact, He is the only One Who COULD give it, because all authority and power BELONG to Him. (See Rom. 13:1,2; Jn. 19:11; I Cor. 15:23-28; Lk. 9:1) However, a fallen spirit, if surrendered to, has dominion or ruling power over an individual by that individual’s freedom of choice. So while God has certain rights and obligations as GOD (Creator and Arbiter), a person’s lord has them as well, and humans can choose Jesus as their Lord or satan.
Many Christians have difficulty with passages which mention God’s sovereignty. They ask, “How can God say we have a free will and then arbitrarily step in and do as He wishes with our lives?”
SIDE NOTE: From the onset let’s just make one thing clear…the scriptures NEVER say God gave man a free will. Yes, it is implied and the truth of it is self-evident throughout both history and scripture. To say however, that the scriptures actually reveal “free will” as a guaranteed privilege and right of man given by promise of God, is not only in error, it is entirely mistaken! If in fact, we had a free will (meaning we possess it as a right given by promise of God) it could never be revoked and we see a few examples in scripture of God acting unilaterally to change the will, thoughts and actions of people. I will here only mention two for your personal consideration, but I do not wish to get bogged down in on this point at present. (Consider Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4; the hearts of Kings Prov. 21:1)
The key word is found in the root of the word arbitrarily – which is arbiter! God IS the arbiter, so if He acts as Judge He is as acting “arbitrarily”. This word has come to mean – “at random”, but it does not actually mean random -it means subjectively. When God acts subjectively – He acts according to His Own will and within His Own jurisdiction. In other words, His actions are SUBJECT to His will – He acts, subjectively. The difficulty we, as humans, have with this notion is that we superimpose upon God our own weaknesses of character. Just because subjectivity is wrong for the creature does not mean it is wrong for the Creator. He IS Truth and is therefore always right. God has no opinions – He only has perfect understanding. So when God acts subjectively – it is an entirely different thing than when we do it.
Consider the following passage:
“In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will” ~ Ephesians 1:11
The above verse does NOT imply God always gets everything He wants – because we know it is His desire that none perish. Those mentioned above are believers, who of their own free will submitted to the Lordship of Christ and are therefore – Christians. Yes, He works all things according to the counsel of His own will – but He does not FORCE events to concur with His will.
It is within the sphere of God’s character to punish evil, but He does not decide who will be evil and who will not. If one decides to reject Christ – on judgment day, the counsel of His will is to sentence a judgment of never coming to know God for an eternity. This was not His will specifically for that person, but it is in accordance to His Justice. So it can be said, He will have worked all things according to the counsel of His will – throughout which He never removed from any human being their freedom to choose. It also illustrates that within the notion of God working all things according to the counsel of His Own will – does not mean He works all people to live in compliance to His will. God, simply does not always get everything He wants. Which is perhaps the greatest proof of free will in humanity which exists.
However, as we all know, freedom to choose is not the same thing as freedom from the consequences of our choices. What you sow – you will reap. The principle of sowing and reaping is in agreement with the character of God and thus, is part of the “counsel” of His will.
So what gives God the right to judge? (This is the REAL CORE question.) What gives God the right?!
It is an interesting question because the only thing which makes the question come to mind is the existence of His kindness and mercy. If we only knew God as a fickle supreme Creator Who presided over His creation upon whim, we would say – “Well – He created it – so He controls it.”
As members of the Body of Christ, we have become so dangerously familiar with our Lord that we have lost TOO MUCH REVERENCE FOR HIM. We have allowed the kindness and gentleness of God to rob Him of His sovereignty in our eyes!
Make no mistake – GOD IS SOVEREIGN!
In many ways the “faith” message has taken some very important truths entrusted and revealed to them for the benefit of the body and have done serious collateral damage by poor wording or taking an idea further that the Bible allows.
The sovereignty of God is one example.
- Yes it is true, that God does not change and is not fickle but IS faithful and dependable.
- Yes it is true, that in many ways the outcome of His actions are predictable (though rarely the method of them are).
However, this has been taken to mean that God does not have a choice. Nothing could be further from the truth! The fact that His choice will not and cannot ever change due to His character – should not be taken to mean He does not do what He wants.
Consider the verse we discussed earlier – “In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will” ~ Ephesians 1:11
Just because we will often know what His choices and will are – should not take away from the fact that they are still HIS CHOICE. What we need to ask ourselves is Who is He?
Well – He’s God.
What does that mean?
He is Creator!
What does that mean? – Let’s see what the scriptures say –
He is OWNER:
“For every beast of the forest is mine, And the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the mountains; And the wild beasts of the field are mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell thee; For the world is mine, and the fulness thereof.” ~ Psalm 50:10-12
“The earth is the LORD’S, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.” ~ Psalm 24:1
What reason does the psalmist give for God’s ownership?
“For He has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the currents and the rivers.” ~ Psalm 24:2
In other words – because He made it!
God is the owner of His creation – though He is not its current manager.
At creation, God delegated authority to rule and reign over His creation – (Dominion) but He never surrendered OWNERSHIP. This is yet another place where some “faith” doctrines have crept in teaching “a truth” concerning our authority in Christ and creation, while at the same time teaching some things which are false.
God did not turn over the ownership of the earth to Adam & Eve – just the management of it!
You may have heard this phrase before, it has been stated by some well intending Godly people:
Q: “Why didn’t God just wipe Adam & Eve off the earth and start over from the dust of the earth?”
A: “Because the dust of the earth wasn’t God’s to make another “Adam” with – He had given the earth to man!”
This is simply a misunderstanding of the truth. God gave man – dominion – NOT ownership!
Consider His words,
“And God blessed them: and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over every living thing that movethupon the earth. And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for food:” ~ Genesis 1:28, 29
In red are the words which are important for this topic.
They are defined as follows:
- Dominion – Exercise authority over and concerning. To be placed under the control of . . .
- Given – To appoint.
So nowhere in these verses does God transfer ownership! He simply delegates authority over the animals and appoints plants for our use – “for you it shall be for food”.
So a quick answer to the question – “What gives God the right” is – He is the creator and owner of all things and people.
He is NOT however, the personal Lord or the One with personal dominion over all people. That is given by the choice of our own free will as we saw earlier in our example with Ahab and the evil spirits present and participating at his judgement.
So if man is not the owner of the earth but just the manager of it, what does that imply concerning the sovereignty of God?
There are many things which a manager may do, which may not accurately represent the owner. This does not always result in the removal of a manager, even in the natural work place. We have it on good authority that once God delegates, He does not rethink His position and remove the authority – Numbers 23:19. This has resulted in mankind subverting their way and bringing judgment upon themselves – without ever removing the initial dominion from their hands.Contrary to common belief, satan DOES NOT OWN the earth neither does he have complete DOMINION over it. As far as dominion is concerned neither does God – man still does! It is not in the power of a manager to delegate “management”. In other words, Adam and Eve as managers did not have the authority to transfer dominion over to the devil – that authority is in the hands of the Owner. This is why the fall of man DID NOT RESULT IN THE devil TAKING OWNERSHIP OF THE EARTH!
That being said, a manager may choose to represent and submit to the will and authority of a subordinate if they wish. This submission may even involve a contract that results in the subordinate ruling through the manager. We’ve all seen it. To whom did God give authority within the parent / child relationship? Yet, how many times have you seen the child ruling a home?
For a good scriptural example of this go back and read the full account of Ahab. Though he was king, Jezebel ruled his empire and ultimately destroyed Ahab, though he was king. To those in the court, it may have appeared that Jezebel was the ruler, but just because something APPEARS to be true – does not make it so! Jezebel DID NOT have the authority to rule, so she ruled the ruler and thus, ruled THROUGH him! She may not have been able to rule the kingdom directly, but by ruling the king, she could rule the kingdom – indirectly! Though in life Ahab clearly received the judgement for this subverting of his God delegated authority to his wife, you can be certain that Jezebel did not escape the judgement of God for being the one who manipulated (which is a form of sorcery) the situation and stole that authority from her husband and king. God is the vindicator! The authority belonged to God and was delegated the Ahab, so Jezebel did not steal from Ahab – she robed God, which is a far more serious matter!
Satan is called the “prince” of this world and the “prince” of the power of the air in John 14:30 & Ephesians 2:22 respectively.
- The word “prince” means lord or ruler.
- The word “world” is the Greek word “Kosmos” and in general this word means – to take care of.
This word world, with its primary meaning being order, regular disposition and arrangement when used metonymically (as it is in this verse), it adapts the meaning to refer to the people of this world or of his domain over them. So here the verse is saying,
“The ruler over the people of this fallen age is coming and he has found nothing in Me – that is – over Me, he has no power or control.”
You see – satan’s dominion did not include the One Who had never yielded control over to him.
Final thoughts and conclusions:
There is much more to the sovereignty of God than could be covered in a single study – however, I believe the Ownership and Judicial right of God over His creation working together with our free will – answers many, many questions.
God is sovereign – meaning He acts with final and unquestionable authority over all things and people as their Creator/Owner.
- Being WHO HE is, God WILL NEVER take a person’s free will from them in regards to their life and ultimate fate – they are free to act and to choose as they wish.
- Being WHO HE is, God will NOT allow thoughts, actions and words to be sown without reaping a reward. (IF you sow – you WILL reap.)
- Being WHO HE is, God will NOT subvert justice. Meaning He will not fail to act in accordance with the counsel of His will while simultaneously never failing to back the integrity of His character by punishing evil, but also satisfying His love and mercy by offering warnings and opportunities to repent (change your mind). [Consider Ahab in the above story and Cain before slaying his brother.]
Perhaps the final and most difficult result of God’s sovereignty is when it steps in and radically alters our circumstances and even our persons. God has the right to change our circumstances and even our person if He deems it necessary, but even in all of this He NEVER violates our will – meaning, He never forces a decision upon us. We are ever free to choose our own way in regards to our relationship to Him and our eternal destination.
Consider the example of the Tower of Babel:
I am certain we are on good, solid theological grounds to assume that the human family – all represented there at the city of Babel – did not want their brains and minds rewired to think and speak a different language than the one they all shared. I am certain the thought never even occurred to them. Most likely, they all spoke the same language God created Adam to speak from the beginning. The idea of some other language would likely have seem absurd. However, mankind was subverting the will of God in the earth. Two of the commands God had given to man from the beginning and re-stated in so many words to Noah prior to and following the flood were these:
- Have Dominion over the animals.
- Go and fill the earth.
- Walk with God.
Mankind was NOT walking with God – “Let us make a name for ourselves”
Mankind was not filling the earth –
- “lest we be scattered over the whole earth”
- “And they said, Come, let us build us a city and a tower whose top reaches into the sky, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered over the whole earth.” – Genesis 11:4
As Owner, God steps in and “arbitrarily” re-programs their mental speech centers. Before you get mad – He has EVERY RIGHT – He is Creator, God and Owner! By every notion that gives Him whatever rights He deems acceptable and in accordance to the counsel of His Own will. Notice however, what God does not do – He does not MAKE them disperse – they choose too! God never stopped them from attempting to learn to communicate as we are all able to do today. God simply re-stated His directive in a way that even mankind, whose every though had already learned to be evil continually all over again – so soon following the flood – that even they would get the point!
Consider what Paul said about the same event:
“The God Who produced and formed the world and all things in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in handmade shrines. Neither is He served by human hands, as though He lacked anything, for it is He Himself Who gives life and breath and all things to all [people]. [Isa. 42:5.] And He made from one [common origin, one source, one blood] all nations of men to settle on the face of the earth, having definitely determined [their] allotted periods of time and the fixed boundaries of their habitation (their settlements, lands, and abodes), So that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after Him and find Him, although He is not far from each one of us. For in Him we live and move and have our being; as even some of your [own] poets have said, For we are also His offspring.” ~Acts 17:24-28
Notice, the statements and their implications:
- God is mentioned as Lord of heaven and earth – Creator and Owner.
- The giver of life and breath to ALL PEOPLE. – If He did not give the life to them – they would not be alive. The Life and breath He gives is His Own -it does not belong to us it is a gift on lease. All He has to do it stop giving it – He does not have to take it for it belongs to Him already!
- He PREDETERMINED the allotted time periods and geographical boundaries of all peoples and nations ever to be realized on the earth. – If a nation is located in North America and operates as a republic for 200 years and then collapses – All of it was predetermined and appointed BY HIM. [See Job 12:23]
The difficulty we have with this is that it effectively takes CONTROL out of our hands while leaving freedom to chose “who” we will serve and “how” in our own.
Not understanding how God does this while still allowing man to chose his own path is in some cases a mystery, but the existence of a mystery SHOULD NOT eliminate our acceptance of it as fact. One has a much larger job attempting to disprove God’s sovereignty throughout scripture than to simply acknowledge it and be grateful whenever He sees fit to reveal the “hows” to our minds.
It is entirely true – we KNOW that God, in His ownership of all mankind, places callings and passions within every heart which are consistent with His Word and will. What we do with that call and desire is our choice. Some aspects of it may be so hard wired into our make-up that we meet out His purpose even while choosing to run from Him – making His will on earth ultimately unavoidable. Perhaps in the case of nations, He places His desire within the hearts of so many that there is no likelihood that all of those hearts will defy him and so someone will accomplish His will on His behalf (consider the original American Colonists). God is our maker and so knows us very well. We instinctively respond well to goodness, which is what He uses to lead us towards repentance (a heart whose mind has changed to think like His). Notice – He leads, He does not coerce or force. It may just be possible, that even in our rebellion, we find meeting out His objectives at times irresistible. God knows what He is doing and we have within His Word a history of proofs that He will not remove our freedom to choose.
This needs to be enough for us and it is… for all those who truly love Him! In the end, time (history) will result in telling His story. Though many stories have been told individually, they all point back to God. Consider the Bible – 66 books containing excerpts from the lives of many individuals – have been woven together into a story with a single topic and meaning – God!
It is a certain truth – you can do NOTHING against the truth! Even if a person’s story ends in personal destruction it only serves to reveal the truth in God’s words and warnings.
Yes, God is sovereign – and in His sovereignty He has commanded the blessing of knowing Him! This is Eternal Life – and not only that, but we are predestined to bear His image by being partakers of His nature!
“God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoke, and shall he not make it good? Behold, I have received commandment to bless: and he hath blessed, and I cannot reverse it.” ~ Numbers 23:19, 20
If you have any thoughts are considerations on this topic, feel free to “post–a-blog” on the topic below.