In my 30+ years following Christ I have often encountered statements about the sovereignty of God. These thoughts have been running through my mind quite a bit lately, so I thought I would try to put them in writing and share them.
If one were to ask most believers, Is God sovereign, all undoubtedly would say yes. If we were to ask what that term means, most would probably say, Well, it means that God is in control of everything. Nothing happens but what He either sends it or allows it as an expression of His sovereign will. But is this concept and this definition an accurate representation of God? Does He really control everything? Do all events pass through the filter of His explicit approval or denial?
The term sovereign does not mean one who is in control of everything or who filters all events through himself, either allowing or preventing each of them. The term sovereign never appears in scripture. The closest thing to it is the OT terminology LORD God. This is also the term Jehovah God. It is in perfect agreement with the true dictionary definition of sovereign which is self-governing or autonomous, greatest in power or authority. It means the self-existing one or the eternal self-existing one. Nowhere in this definition is the concept of being in control of everything. God is sovereign in the respect that He answers to no one. He is supreme in power and authority. He is eternally autonomous, eternally self existent.
God can, by virtue of His sovereign position in the universe, control all things. But the question is not one of can He, but rather one of does He. The distinction is huge because it can have massive influence on how we relate to God and to His word.
God is limited. Before we scream NO at the top of our lungs, we need to search scripture. God is limited by our own unbelief. Matthew 13:58 and Mark 6:5 recounts an incident in Jesus ministry. He had returned to His home town, but the people were full of unbelief because they saw Him only as the carpenters son, and not as the son of God. Their unbelief limited Him. He could not perform miracles because He was being limited by their unbelief. Eph 3:20 says, Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. Most of us stop there and say, amen. But when we do so, we misinterpret scripture. The verse continues with a condition, according to the power that worketh in us. If there is little or no power at work in us, then God is NOT able to do abundantly above and beyond what we can ask or think. Since He has chosen to work through us, we are the limiting factor on the power of God being manifest. Scripture also explicitly states that it is not Gods will that any man be lost, but that ALL men come to repentance. His stated will is that 100% of His creation be saved. It is His heart. But, because He has given it to us to respond in faith to the offer of His grace, He will not get the desire of His heart. His will is limited where He has placed something within our power to choose.
God is limited by His own word. In Exodus 32:13-14 we see an interesting exchange between Moses and God. God thought to destroy the children of Israel, but Moses began to remind Him of the things He had said out of His own mouth. God, you made a promise to Abraham. The word says that God repented of the evil He thought to do to the children of Israel. I dont think it was Moses persuasive speech or his intercession as some might think. Moses simply reminded God of His word. God is limited by His own word. He is not a man that He should lie. It is impossible for Him to do so. When God speaks a word, He constrains Himself or limits Himself by that very word. When God said He would never again destroy the world by water, He limited Himself. He now CANNOT do so. God cannot do just anything. He has chosen to limit Himself. If the mutually exclusive choices are A and B, and God determined to do A, then He cannot do B.
So why is this significant? I believe the doctrine of sovereignty has been taken to a point far beyond that taught in scripture, and with grave impact on the body of Christ. Let me give one example. The atonement of Jesus Christ was about more than just salvation. It was also about physical healing. Look carefully at Isaiah 53:1-5. Surely He hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows
He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon Him and with His stripes we are healed. Before we spiritualize this scripture lets look at how the writers of the New Testament interpreted this scripture. Matthew 8:16-17 says explicitly that Isaiah 53:4 speaks of physical healing. Jesus did come to bring healing spiritually and emotionally, but we cannot use this particular verse to teach that. Jesus, as an expression of the heart of God, went about healing all that were sick and oppressed of the devil. John 5:19. Sickness and disease are part of the fall, part of the curse. They are really only death in progress in our physical bodies. Tragically, many in the church have accepted sickness as part of Gods redemptive purposes. You commonly hear people say things like, Well, this is my Pauls thorn, or, God is allowing this sickness in my life to teach me something. I have even heard, God sent this sickness on me as part of His perfect will. Such statements are directly contrary to the explicitly stated purposes of the atonement of Jesus Christ. But so many Christians will accept the sickness and not stand in faith for their own healing because they have an improper definition of sovereignty. If we think that God somehow put on us or allowed sickness, then we will not fight against it for it is no longer seen as a work of the enemy. In fact, if it really is Gods will for me to be ill for some redemptive purpose, then going to a doctor or taking medicine to fight the sickness is to be in direct rebellion against God, is it not? If we realize that sickness is of the enemy and that it is not at all Gods will, we have a basis, a foundation upon which to stand in faith to fight the attack of the enemy on our body.
God is sovereign. He is eternally self-existent. What He has determined and said about this world WILL come to pass exactly as He has said. But God has placed many things within our power and limited Himself by His own word. Really, it should be a great blessing to realize this, and should serve to strengthen our faith and understanding of the nature of God.
Blessing to all