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Years ago, I was witnessing to an unbeliever about the saving work of Christ. I could tell by the expression on his face that he was disgusted with what I was saying. Finally, he said, "Don't tell me that God has a plan for the welfare of the human race. Look around you. The world's a mess. Do you mean that God is in charge of this mess?"
Well, yes--but it's not a mess. Human reason has no answers, but the Bible does. Let's take a look at this question: Is an all-powerful, loving God in charge?
Before I begin, I need to alert the reader that I'm trying to reach the average person whose Bible is the only book on theology (the study of God) that he reads. But I do have four footnotes for the serious student of the Greek New Testament and theology.
I'm aware of the importance of knowing the Greek New Testament and systematic theology. But being of a simple mind myself, I'm resorting to the KISS principle-Keep It Simple, Stupid.
The Sovereignty of God in Romans 1
In my essay, "Nouthetic Counseling and Knowing God," I focused on Romans 1 from the standpoint of human wisdom. Human wisdom cannot save (1 Cor. 1:18-25). But human wisdom does understand the holy God of the Bible who is different from the immoral pagan gods (Rom. 1:18-20).
I return to Romans 1 to examine the question of "sovereignty." No, you won't find this word in the Bible. It's a term theologians use that gathers together a number of truths from the Bible that tell us our God is in charge, and justifiably so.
To do this, I want to answer two questions: What does man know about God, and how does he see God's "invisible qualities?" The Bible says:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their
wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse (Rom. 1:18-20).
What Does the Unsaved Man Know About God? In answer to this question, the Bible says that unsaved man knows God's "eternal power and divine nature." What are these?
1) Eternal Power. The word in the Greek New Testament for "power" is dunimas. Does that sound familiar? Sure--dynamite. The Swede, A. B. Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, used a Swedish word, which most likely came from this Greek word.
But the unsaved man, the unbeliever, may ask, What is this power? I don't see God's power. I only see a big mess.
I reply, My friend, perhaps you have forgotten something. Indeed, perhaps you have deliberately forgotten about creation--"what has been made." This is the Apostle Peter's judgment. He says that in the last days scoffers will say:
"Where is the 'coming' he promised [the second coming of Christ]? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation." But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and with water. By water also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men (2 Peter 3:4b-7).
Did you get that? They deliberately forgot. Paul, in Romans 1, says essentially the same thing. Unbelieving man doesn't want to know any more about God. It's not that the unbeliever doesn't know God. Human wisdom (the intellect) is stifled by human will or volition. It's that he doesn't want to know. He puts it out of his mind. The human will wins over human intellect.
2) Divine Nature. The second thing that man knows is God's divine nature. The NIV translation, "divine nature," is not a good one, nor is the KJV translation, "Godhead." The Greek word theiotes is better translated, "godhood." Wuest has it right when he says, "It signifies the sum-total of divine attributes" (Kenneth S. Wuest (Romans In the Greek New Testament, p. 31).
If I were discussing my doubts about wimpy men with another man, and I said to him, But I don't have any doubts about your manhood, I would be giving him a compliment. I would be saying that he exhibits all the attributes that a man should have. So it is with "godhood." Whatever the Bible, or even human reason, attributes to Jehovah, He has all that one would expect of a sovereign God.
How Does Man See God's Invisible Qualities? With reference to this question, I must repeat what Paul says in Romans 1:20: "God's invisible qualities ... are clearly seen, being understood...."
But how does man "see" the invisible? The words "clearly seen" [from the Greek, kathoran] suggest the apprehension of creation by the human senses. The words "being understood" are from the Greek word nous, which means "to use the human intellect." Two things are involved here: External and internal.
I must refer to the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Gerhard Kittel, ed.) to let you know that there is good authority for what I say. It says:
... that which is "clearly seen" (kathoran) by the external senses is connected with the nous, the internal process called the human intellect. Together they fathom the meaning of God's eternal power and divinity (vol. V, p. 380).
The unbeliever may say, My senses and mind don't fathom this. I reply, Yes, the Apostle Peter speaks of people like you. They deliberately forget. Paul says that even though they know God and His works, they don't want to know any more. Again, human intellect battles with human volition, the will. And the sinful human will wins. This is a moral problem (see footnote 1).
The skeptic says, Okay, but I just don't believe this Bible stuff. I reply, Of course you don't. I addressed this in my essay on knowing God. You don't want to know. If you did, you would not do as Adam and your forefathers have
done and stifle what human wisdom knows to be true. You accept the historical evidence for what Aristotle and Plato wrote, but you don't accept the witness of the Bible?
It's not lack of evidence that's the problem. It's that you want to run your life the way you want to, not as God wants you to. So, Adam, go ahead and continue to eat of the tree. Continue to stifle the truth.
The Working Out of God's Sovereign Plan In Romans 8:28-39
Certainly the skeptic is not about to give up. He will reply, What you have said, Andy, alienates me even further. If God really is in power, and he really is the unchallenged sovereign of the universe, then shame on him for carrying out a plan that has left the world in a mess. It's such a mess that we human beings have not been able to straighten it out in over six-thousand years.
If you are thinking this, let me answer once again from the Bible since human wisdom can only go so far in understanding God and His sovereign plan. This is why He has given us the revelation of His person and work in the Bible.
In Romans, chapters 1-8, Paul has detailed God's promises to the believer. But suppose the believer finds his life in a mess? He needs some assurances that his God has not fumbled the ball, that the skeptic is not right when he says that even though God may be sovereign, He has made a mess of things.
God's Assurance To Those Who Love Him. Paul, therefore, ends Romans 8 with assurances:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28).
How is it possible for someone who loved and obeyed God like Job, to survive the trials he went through? He lost his family, his wealth and his health. Did all that he experienced work for his good?
Read the first three chapters of the Book of Job in the Old Testament. In the third chapter, Job breaks down. He says:
Page 5Why is light given to those in misery, and life to the bitter of soul, to those who long for death that does not come, who search for it more than for hidden treasure, who are filled with gladness and rejoice when they reach the grave? (Job 3:20-22).
Perhaps I'm speaking to a child of God who is bitter like Job. You have been saying to God, as did Job, God, what do you think you're doing!? What did I do to deserve this!?
Yet, Romans 8:28 says that God is sovereign and works all things to the good of those who love Him.
God gives Job his answer. In Job 38-41 God confronts him:Who is this that darkens my counsel With words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me (Job 38:2-3).
God then asks Job:Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him! (Job 40:2).
God asks:Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself? Do you have an arm like God's, and can your voice thunder like his? Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor, and clothe yourself in honor and majesty. Unleash the fury of your wrath, look at every proud man and bring him low, look at every proud man and humble him, crush the wicked where they stand. Bury them all in the dust together; shroud their faces in the grave. Then I myself will admit to you that your own right hand can save you. Job 40:8-14.
In chapters 38-41 God tells Job in essence, You're so smart Job, I should have had you with Me at creation to give Me advice on how you think it ought to be done.
But the story ends beautifully. Job replies:I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, 'Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?' Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, 'Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.' My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes (Job 42:2-6).
Then the narrative continues:
The Lord blessed the latter part of Job's life more than the first. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. And he also had seven sons and three daughters. The first daughter he named Jemimah, the second Keziah and the third Keren-Happuch. Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job's daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers. After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. And so he died, old and full of years (Job 42:12-16).
If you want more examples of a sovereign God working in the lives of those who love and obey Him, yet suffer, read about Abraham who was commanded by God to sacrifice the life of his son Isaac (Gen. 22:1-18). According to Hebrews 11:17, Abraham believed that God would raise Isaac from the dead to fulfill His promises.
Read all of Hebrews 11 about those who loved God and had their faith tested, some by going through a horrible death.
The sovereignty of God does not mean that those who love and obey Him won't suffer. God uses suffering as part of His plan to purify our faith.
The Apostle Peter, speaking to suffering Christians, says that your sufferings have come:
so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:7).
Trial and suffering are the heat that refines our faith. Read Romans 5:1-5 and James 1:2-4. God uses trial to develop Christian character.
How God Carries Out His Plan. One of the most important verses in the Bible on God's sovereignty is in Romans 8:29-30. When we understand the meaning of what He is saying here, we will have no doubt that our sovereign God has a plan for those who love Him that will not fail.
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified (Rom. 8:29-30).
Note that this starts with the word "for." This is a word of explanation of how in all things God works for our good. God's plan is beautifully outlined by some important words that we must understand: foreknew, predestined, called, justified and glorified (see footnote 2).
1. God Foreknew. The Arminian explains "foreknew" as being the same as "omniscience." The Arminian says, Because God knows all things, past, present and future, He knew that I would accept the way of salvation if offered.f
However, omniscience and foreknowledge are not the same thing. Omniscience means that God knows everything, past, present and future, that will happen in creation--that which He directs to happen and that which He permits (the works of Satan).
Foreknowledge, here, has to do with His plan for our salvation. He foreknows what He is going to do, not what we are going to do.
This explanation of foreknowledge is supported in Acts 2 where we read of the crucifixion of Christ, "This man [Jesus] was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge ..." (Acts 2:23 -- NIV).
The grammar of the Greek New Testament tells us that God's "set purpose and foreknowledge" are the same thing. The KJV translates this, "determinate counsel and foreknowledge" (see footnote 3).
2. God Predestined. Let's look at two ideas here.
a. Paul says that this foreknowledge (God's plan) results in predestination (see footnote 3.). Predestination is not the same as foreordination, which has to do with God's entire plan for His creation. Predestination has to do specifically with His plan for our salvation.
Chafer says, "Predestination witnesses to divine certainty but not compulsion. There obviously are different ways of making things certain. It may be done by moral influence or by control of the human will. God chooses to accomplish His purpose by guiding and inclining human wills" (L. S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, VII, p. 255).
Foreknowledge has to do with God's knowledge of what He is going to do. Predestination has to do with divine certainty of what will happen.
God does not compel men. He inclines the human will. As far as we can tell, we really want to do what he inclines our wills to do. The unsaved, who are left to their own moral freedom, without inclination otherwise, continue to reject knowing more of God.
This is exactly what happened in Acts 17. God used Paul's sermon to incline some to want to know more of God. Others were content with their negative view and resisted knowing more.
Isn't this how parents raise children? Children learn to be morally independent, responsible adults. A parent can incline a child's will to do that which should be done.
The modern attitude that we don't want to stifle a child's freedom to develop as he chooses is ridiculous. This freedom is only an encouragement of the child's sin nature and to some other adult, with evil morals, to lead the child.
Some children will have none of parental inclination. Fortunately, God has the power to incline the will of the unsaved. Unfortunately, parents always do not have the power to incline children.
b. The second thing we should note here about predestination is that God is interested not only in saving us from sin but also making us holy. This is why Paul calls believers "saints." We are holy because of our position in Christ and are holy in our experience as we rest by faith in that position--that the old man has been taken off like a garment and the new man has been put on. Positionally, this has been done. By faith in that fact, it becomes our experience.
The reference to "firstborn" has to do with the Greco-Roman culture. The firstborn son in that culture received his father's inheritance.
Every believer is considered a firstborn son of God. Every one of us shall receive his Father's inheritance.
3. God Called. Those whom God predestined He called. Chafer explains this in language we can understand:
... the word call suggests an invitation from God to man. The word call is closely related in meaning to the word draw. Christ said, "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:44). The declaration which this passage advances is decisive. Not only is it asserted that none can come to God apart from this drawing, but that all thus drawn will certainly respond, for Christ said "I will raise him up at the last day." The words may be used with specific reference to the estate of those thus blessed. They therefore are the called ones. At this point it may be observed that the name believer is in contrast to the term the called ones. The former indicates a human responsibility, while the latter indicates a divine responsibility (Chafer, Systematic Theology, VII, p. 65).
4. God Justified. Those whom God called He justified. Once again, Chafer offers a good explanation. "Justification is a declaration by God respecting the Christian that he has been made forever right and acceptable to Himself" (Ibid. p. 219). Pardon is not in view here. Acceptance by God is based on our position in Christ. We are not looked at in our old position in Adam but in our new position in Christ.
Paul speaks of this in Romans 5:12-21. Verse 19 sums it up: "For just as through the disobedience of one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of one man the many were made righteous."
Chafer lists four things accomplished in the believer by justification:
a. He Is A New Creation (2 Cor. 5:17-18).
b. He Is Made The Righteousness of God (in Christ) (1 Cor. 1:30).
c. He Is Perfected Forever (in position not in experience) (Hebrews 10:14)
d. He Has The Fullness Of Christ (Jn. 1:16; Col. 1:19).
5. God Glorified. Once again Chafer helps. Although he says that "the word glory is a place not an estate" [a condition], he does quote Colossians 3:
"When Christ shall appear in glory, then shall His Bride [the church] appear with Him all glorious herself" (Col. 3:4).
Since we will not experience this glory until we are with Christ, why is this put in the English past tense--"glorified?" I mentioned this earlier and in my complete footnote 2. It is difficult to put this into English, but perhaps an illustration will help.
I know someone who moved from Virginia to Maryland recently. Before moving, he purchased a house in Virginia. It was a "done deal," sitting there, waiting for him to move in. So it is with our glory. It is a place awaiting us with Christ our Bridegroom.
I don't pretend to have answered all questions about God's sovereignty and His being in charge. I am doing this in two parts so the reader will be able to digest this first part before getting into the second, Romans 9-11.
There, Paul answers another problem about the sovereignty of God. How do we explain God's dealings with the nation Israel? What of His covenant promises in the Old Testament that have not yet been fulfilled?
Over thirty-five hundred years have passed since the first one was given to Abraham. Yet all we see today is a secular state of Israel continually under threat from her neighbors.
Where is the glory of the covenants? We shall see that Paul in Romans 9-11 does an excellent job of showing that God has not failed in His promises to Israel (see footnote 4).
In view of this, God, speaking through Paul, can reassert His promise that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. This includes the nation Israel that awaits the fulfillment of God's promises. Paul, therefore, closes chapter 8 with a doxology:
What, then, shall we say in response to this ["in all things God works for the good of those who love Him"]? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died--more than that, who was raised to life--is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:For your sake we face death all day long; We are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:31-39).
1. Though created beings are not totally free to do as they wish, in one area, the moral freedom to disobey God does exist. This is true of angels, the unbeliever and believer. We see this in the fall of Lucifer (Is. 14:12-17), the fall of Adam (Gen. 3) and even the sin of the believer (1 Jn. 1:8-10). The
end for Satan is the lake of fire (Rev. 20:7-10). The end for the unbeliever is the Great White Throne Judgment and the lake of fire (Rev. 20:11-15). The end for the believer who perpetually sins is possibly sin unto death (1 Jn. 5:16-17). And without question, there is loss of reward. He may be saved, but has nothing to show for it (1 Cor. 3:10-15).
How do we explain that God is sovereign and can incline the will of man to obey Him? God does not incline the will of all men to obey Him. There is only wrath for them.
Someone will ask, So then, isn't God responsible for sin in the world? No, indeed.
When God created angels and men, He was confronted with the reality that He could not create beings incapable of sin. If he did, he would be creating gods, which would be a violation of His position as "The Most High, The Almighty" (Ps. 91). He would no longer be sovereign. There would be other sovereigns who would require their own domain to be sovereign over.
He had to create beings who were capable of sin and as such were not gods. This, then, raised the possibility of the abstraction, sin, to become a reality. I call sin an "abstraction," prior to creation, because so long as a holy God existed, comparatively, in abstract thinking, there must have been something that was the opposite of holiness. This is what occurred with the moral freedom of angels and men. They made the abstraction, sin, which is the opposite of a holy God, a reality. God was not the author of sin. He was the creator of beings who had moral freedom and were capable of sin if they chose. Back
2. The student of the Greek New Testament will note that all these words are in the aorist tense. That may seem strange, especially with the word "glorified." Our "glorification" doesn't happen until we go to be with Christ.
Dana and Mantey explain this as a "constative aorist."
"This use of the aorist contemplates the action in its entirety. It takes an occurence and, regardless of its extent of duration, gathers it into a single whole. We have here the basal, unmodified force of the aorist tense.
"Because of the fact that the constative aorist indicates nothing relative to duration, this matter may be implied or expressed from various viewpoints in the context. We may have a constative aorist referring to a momentary action (Ac. 5:5), a fact or action extended over a period of time (Eph. 2:4), or a succession of acts or events (2 Cor. 11:25)" (A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament, p. 196, Macmillan, 1927). Back
3. The Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics says this in its note on Acts 2:23:
If "foreknowledge" defines "predetermination," this opens the door that (according to one definition of [prognosis-foreknowledge] God's decree is dependent on his omniscience. But if the terms are distinguishable, the relationship may be reversed, viz., omniscience is dependent on the external decree. Without attempting to resolve this theological issue entirely, it can nevertheless be argued that the "identical" view is unlikely: the least attested meaning of impersonal constructions is referential identity. The relationship between the two terms here may be one of distinctness or the subsumption of one under the other. In the context of Acts 2 and in light of Luke's Christological argument "from prophecy and pattern," the most likely option is that the [prognosis-foreknowledge] is grounded in the [horismenei boulei--predetermined plan] (thus "foreknowledge" is part of the "predetermined plan"), for one of the foci of the chapter is on the divine plan in relation to Messiah's death and resurrection. Thus, God's decrees are not based on him simply foreknowing what human beings will do; rather, humanity's actions are based on God's foreknowledge and predetermined plan. Back
4. Is the Church the Fulfillment of the Covenant Promises To Israel? The answer to this question is important to the understanding of Romans 9-11. The church is not the fulfillment of the covenant promises to Israel. Those covenants await fulfillment. They are covenants made with Abraham, Moses, and David. A New Covenant is to be made at the second coming of Christ in His Messianic Kingdom (Chafer, Systematic Theology, IV, pp. 310-14).
Chafer lists seven events that describe the future of Israel: A nation forever, a land forever, a king forever, a throne forever, a kingdom forever, a new covenant and abiding blessings (Ibid., p. 315-325).
Before discussing these features, Chafer says this about the amillennialist confusion over Israel and the church:
The first wrong turn in the road which traces Israel's coming glories is the willingness to misinterpret the meaning of the words employed, and beyond that error is the more pernicious method of ignoring these Scriptures altogether. The whole field of complexity has by many been found to disappear when terms are taken in their normal, grammatical, and natural meaning--Israel is not the Church now, nor is the kingdom the Church; Zion is Jerusalem and not heaven; and the throne of David is precisely what David believed it to be, an earthly institution which has never been, nor will it ever be, in heaven (Ibid., p. 315). Back
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