Scriptures and Thoughts on Sovereignty

Defining Sovereignty:

 The Hebrew, Greek, and English words all convey the idea of a kingly reign.

 (Psalm 103:19) The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.

 (1 Chronicles 29:11-12) Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all.

(2 Chronicles 20:6)  and said, “O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you.

 (Psalm 115:3) Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.

(Psalm 135:6) Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.

 (Job 42:2) I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

(Daniel 4:35) All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”

How can modern Americans grasp the concept of sovereignty?

 (Romans 13:1-6) Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.

 If God is sovereign, why do men perish when God does not will for any to perish?

 (2 Peter 3:9) The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

(Matthew 7:13) “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.

(Matthew 23:37) “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.

 Why does God allow bad things to happen?

 (Romans 8:28) And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

 (Proverbs 16:4) The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.

(Genesis 50:18-20) 18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people[b] should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

Consider the end of the Romans 9 passage. What effect might the larger context of the book of Romans have on our understanding of this excerpt?

 Can God make a rock so big that He cannot pick it up?

 Can God tell a lie?

(Numbers 23:19) “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?

(2 Timothy 2:13) if we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.

(Hebrews 6:18) Thus by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be strongly encouraged.

If God is sovereign, does mankind have free will?

(Proverbs 21:1) The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.

 (Isaiah 46:9-10) Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’

(Proverbs 19:21) Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.

(Proverbs 16:9) The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.

(Lamentations 3:37) Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it?

(Proverbs 16:33) The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.

(Ephesians 1:11) 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,

Distinction of causation vs. control

 Does God predestine people to heaven or hell?

 (Romans 8:29-30) For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

(Romans 9:10-24) When Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac,11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” 14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion,[b] but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. 19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

(John 6:44) No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

see verses on “Why do men perish…?”

Does God harden people’s hearts for His own purposes?

(Exodus 4:21) The LORD said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.

(Exodus 9:12) And the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not listen to them, just as the LORD had spoken to Moses.

(Exodus 10:1) Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may perform these signs of Mine among them,

(Exodus 10:20) But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the sons of Israel go.

(Exodus 11:10) Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh; yet the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the sons of Israel go out of his land.

(Exodus 14:8) The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and he chased after the sons of Israel as the sons of Israel were going out boldly.

(Exodus 9:7) Pharaoh sent, and behold, there was not even one of the livestock of Israel dead. But the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people go.

(Exodus 8:15) But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not listen to them, as the LORD had said.

(Exodus 8:32) But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and he did not let the people go.

(1 Samuel 6:6) “Why then do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? When He had severely dealt with them, did they not allow the people to go, and they departed?

 

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“Us” and “Them”

Luke’s genealogy of the Christ starts with Jesus, son of Joseph, and works its way all the way back to Adam. It ends with these words: “…son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.”

In what sense was Adam the “son of God?” I do not know all of the ways in which that question cab be appropriately answered, but I know one thing: our children tend to resemble us, and Adam resembled God. Scripture says that when God made Adam He said “let us make Adam in our image,” or “in our likeness,” or, in some sense, “to look like US.”

Of course in Hebrew, Adam literally means “mankind,” and this is no coincidence. Just as Adam is a child of God, and thus “looks like” God, so all of mankind are children of God, who look like Him.

Plenty of other scriptures reaffirm this. Paul said of his prayer life: “I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.” So in some sense, not only are we His children who resemble Him, but we also have His name, just as it is customary even to this day for a person’s children to bear their name. In His sermon on Mars Hill Paul proclaimed that God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth… for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’”

Now when we get into trouble, who do we turn to to bail us out? Often, it is our family. This is the way it has been for millennia. In the book of Ruth, for instance, Boaz redeemed the household of Naomi because He was one of their closest relatives. In fact, in Hebrew, the word for “redeemer” and “close relative” is the exact same word.

No wonder then, that God Himself ended up being our redeemer, for ultimately there was no one else in the family who could help us with our sin problem. We were slaves to sin as Romans teaches, and slaves to the law, as we read in Galatians 4:5, and as the law in the Pentetuech lays out, a man needs one of his kinsmen to pay out the redemption money before he can go free. We might have hoped for a fellow human being to help us out, but the Revelation to John tells us that they searched through heaven, and found no one who was worthy except the Lamb. He was our closest and only kinsman who could bail us out.

Thus we are told by Matthew and Mark that the Son of Man (a title of Jesus that really emphasizes His kinship to us) came to give His life as a ransom for many.

So what do we learn from all of this? Well, we learn that there is no “us” vs. “them” when it comes to the worth of the various peoples on the earth. Yes, we have different skin colors, and we speak different dialects and different languages, and we have different customs and traditions and heritages and strengths and weaknesses. And there is no need to hide these facts. Rather, I think we should celebrate them. But when it comes to whose family is better than whose, there is only one family. We are all sons of Adam, sons of God. We all look like Him. We all carry His name.

Maybe sometimes those in power want to divide us into groups, and foster hate between us in order to make us easier to control. Or maybe sometimes it has little or nothing to do with those in power, and it starts at the bottom and works its way up because we, as humans, are distrustful of those who are not like us, or who we perceive as a threat to our own way of life. But when it comes to human worth, there is no “us” and “them.”

There is, however, a very important “us” and “them” that does need to be addressed. It is the “us” who accept Him as our redeemer and the “them” that reject His sacrifice in favor of some other god. It might sound discriminatory, but truly, there is a group that is special in His eyes. He calls them “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.”

This special people is his church. And while many today perceive His church as being bigoted precisely because they perceive it as an elitist group who think they are better than others and exclude those who are different from them, the truth is that the requirements for entry still leave room for quite a bit of diversity.

You do not have to be any certain color. You do not have to speak any certain language or live in any certain country or belong to any certain political party. You do not have to be attracted to people of the opposite gender. You do not have to be in a certain income bracket. You do not have to meet a minimum requirement for good deeds done per week. You do not have to have a clean criminal record.

You do have to trust and obey.

Matthew 25 describes a scene in which God “separates the sheep from the goats.” There will be “sheep” and “goats.” There will be an “us” and a “them.” Both “us” and “them” will have “red,” “yellow,” “black,” “brown,” and “white,” rich and poor, old and young, men and women among our numbers. Both “us” and “them” will have those who had our own struggles with alcohol, drugs, sexual immorality, and a host of other problems. But “we” will be faithful to Him wherever He leads, while “they” will turn their backs on Him when the right idol comes along.

This is the only “us” and “them” that will matter in the end.

I will stand with you in this life. But when judgment day comes, there will be a separation. On that day, will you be one of us, or one of them?

Humble Confession – by Austin Gonzales

Following God’s instructions concerning one aspect of life will help us follow His instructions in other aspects, as well, so that we can live better lives overall.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about this in regards to humility and confession.

(James 4:10) Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.

(1 Peter 5:5b) …all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

(James 5:16) Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

(1 John 1:9) If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

In my (limited) experience, if I am going to truly apologize for an offense, or if I want to try and obey the command to confess my sins to a brother in Christ, it definitely requires swallowing my pride. In turn, it helps me develop humility – just a little bit at a time – when I sincerely apologize to someone, or confess a sin that I have been hiding.

When we apologize; we are admitting to God, to our friend, and to ourselves that what we did was wrong – no matter how valid our excuses may seem to our prideful selves. Similarly, when confessing sin, we are admitting that it was indeed a sin. So we have no excuse – since “with the temptation [God] will provide the way of escape” (1 Corinthians 10:13) – and we realize the need to resist any desire to do it again. Therefore it helps us, when we confess wrongs, to humble ourselves by understanding that some things are wrong no matter our reason – the ends do not always justify the means. And in so doing, it can also help us with obedience to God.

We have a need to confess not just our sins, but also the struggles we go through. How are our brethren supposed to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2-3) or “look out for [not only their] own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4), if we do not let them know what we are going through? Except, of course for the deep, painful wounds that “they can’t do much to help with,” right? No! Rather, we especially need to confess those kinds of inward struggles!

Even if there is nothing that a fellow member can actively do to help; they can listen. Simply the action of speaking your thoughts and emotions out loud does much to help us understand and process such issues. Also spiritually, the deep, hidden wounds are just the opportunity Satan can best use to tempt us with – especially the ones that nobody else knows you are thinking about. This is also where humility comes in. We do not want to appear ignorant, weak, or un-Christ- like, etc.; so we don’t want to let people know that we hurt. But humility tells us that we are ignorant, weak, and un-Christ- like. Everyone is, except for the LORD Himself. That is why humility tells us that we must confess our need and appeal for His help – as well as the help of His church.

Confession and humility can also give us tools to be proactive and take preventative measures to avoid or resist temptation. Accountability, for one thing (Galatians 6:2-3). As I have just mentioned, humbling ourselves to admit struggles, or sins that we struggle with, means that others can help us through them. However, this requires communication and complete honesty – both of which, humility can help with; and both of which can help to build humility. When we “tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” then our brethren can most effectively help us out. It may have to do with keeping an eye out for situations that they know may tempt us. Or maybe they can get us in contact with someone who has been through the same struggles. In addition to such things, communication and honesty build stronger relationships between us.

Advice I hear about marriage or relationships nearly always includes being honest
and/or constantly improving communication. It is how we become close to our family in Christ – and it helps us come closer to Christ Himself.

Humility is also required when we are hearing confessions or apologies from someone else. When someone comes to us in such a way, it is easy to be tempted to judge them, gossip about them, or not to forgive them – maybe in not so many words. But if we keep in mind that we have committed offenses of our own, and that God has been so gracious to forgive us, it helps us to forgive them and to honor their confidentiality – to pay it forward. Colossians 3:12-13 tells us, “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.” Additionally, when hearing confessions; humility can tell us that we do not always have the answers. When someone opens up to us, we may really want to help with any advice we can offer. But humility can teach us to think before we speak. Not always – but sometimes – the best thing we can do is to listen.

To sum up, God “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins,” if we humble ourselves and confess our sins.

What do we Know about the Holy Spirit?

We MUST have the Holy Spirit

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5-8)

“You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” (Romans 8:9)

God Gives the Spirit to us

Those who ask:
“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” (Luke 11:13)

Those who repent and are baptized:
“Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” (Acts 2:38)

Those who obey Him:
“And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.” (Acts 5:32)

What Does the Holy Spirit Do?

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5)

“But I have written very boldly to you on some points… so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:15-16)

“…if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13)

“…and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:5)

“…for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17)

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

“The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God.” (Romans 8:16)

“In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words…” (Romans 8:26)

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

Why Do the Right Thing?

It is no secret that God asks us to give up our sins, some of which may be very dear to our hearts. He asks us to change our lives in ways that can be difficult or painful. He asks us to give up our pride. He asks us to step out in faith and do things that get us out of our comfort zone. He asks for a lot.

So why should we do what He asks? Why do the right thing? Here are some possible answers:

So that life will be better for us here and now. After all, God’s commands are designed to protect us from harm. There can be no question that following where He leads is beneficial. In Mark 19:30, Jesus says of anyone who gives something up for Him, “he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age.”

So that we can go to heaven. In Matthew 6:20, Jesus encourages us to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” Romans 2:6-7 tells us that God “WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life.” Some day we want to hear Him say “well done.”

So that we won’t go to hell. 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 says plainly, “the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.” For those who really believe all that the Bible says about hell (and the Bible says a LOT about it) this is a real motivation to do the right thing.

There are many other possible reasons to do the right thing. To be a good example to those younger than us. To avoid hurting family and friends. To keep a clear conscience. To maintain personal credibility.

But there is one primary reason to do the right thing that we must not forget.

We do the right thing because, as Christians, we don’t have a choice. God owns us. We gave up our rights when we died with Him through baptism (Romans 6). We signed up to be slaves of righteousness (also Romans 6). It is not we who live but Christ who lives in us (Galatians 2:20). Our lives are living sacrifices (Romans 12:1).

We live in a society that esteems personal freedom over duty. Others may give us advice, but they are not to control us. No one can tell us what to do, we get to weigh the pros and cons and decide for ourselves. But the relationship between the Christian and his God is not this way.

God can and does tell us what to do. If you want to follow Him, you only have one choice: submit. We don’t get to pull out a list of pros and cons every time we want to sin, assess the situation, and decide whether discipleship seems personally advantageous. God either owns you or you do not belong to Him at all.

“Those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” (Luke 14:33)

“Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)