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Sovereignty over Sovereignty

August 16, 2010

God is sovereign.  No doubt.  God will always accomplish His will.  He is God after all.  I know that the term “Trinity” isn’t in the Bible, but that there is a Trinity—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  These Three are One.  You don’t find the word “sovereign” in the King James Version.  You have the terminology “only Potentate” in 1 Timothy 6:15 and perhaps that would be the closest to sovereign in the King James.   Bauer-Danker Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament (BDAG) says the Greek word there (dunastes) means:  “one who is in a position to command others. . . . ruler, sovereign.”  So monos dunastes says that God alone commands others.  He is in the highest position.

Since God is sovereign, He is also sovereign over what it is to be sovereign.  No one else defines sovereignty but God.  God has sovereignty over sovereignty.  As men, we don’t figure out what sovereignty is and then apply that to God.  We don’t go to passages about God in the Bible and fit them into our own ideas about sovereignty.  We go to the Bible to find out what sovereignty is so that to us God is still sovereign over what His own sovereignty is.  If we change God’s sovereignty into what we want it to be, God isn’t more sovereign.  He is less so.  We then become sovereign over His sovereignty.  Now that can’t take place in reality, but in discussions about sovereignty men often become sovereign over sovereignty.  We should allow God to have the say about what it is for Him to be sovereign.

If I say that a man’s salvation depends on his will, some would say that I’ve made man sovereign in salvation.  For God to stay sovereign, they say that a man’s salvation must have absolutely nothing to do with his own will.  According to this view of sovereignty, God alone wills to and for salvation irregardless of man’s.   And if someone were to believe that man willed to be saved, he couldn’t believe in the sovereignty of God.  But is this what Scripture says?  God wrote it, so Scripture is sovereign over sovereignty.  Someone isn’t more dedicated to God’s sovereignty who departs from Scripture to define it.

Someone once told me that he could do Donald Duck better than Donald Duck.  I laughed.  That’s not possible.  No one can do Donald Duck better than Donald Duck.  Donald Duck is Donald Duck.  And God alone is God.  We can’t do God better than God.  God is sovereign, but we can’t do His sovereignty better than what He has done it in His Word.  We should conform our view of God’s sovereignty to what God said.  In whatever way our view of God’s sovereignty doesn’t match up with what God said, we should alter it to fit what God said.  We can’t have any higher view of God’s sovereignty than what God says His sovereignty is.  One possesses only in his own mind a higher view of God’s sovereignty than the view that God Himself communicates in His Word.

I might say that I have a higher view of the San Francisco Giants baseball team than you do.  And I have that higher view because I believe they are not only the San Francisco Giants, but they are also the Sante Fe Giants.   Even though they aren’t the Sante Fe Giants, I say my belief that they are elevates my view of the San Francisco Giants to a higher level than others at least according to me.   However, a view of the San Francisco Giants can’t be heightened by something not true about them.  The same can be said in judgment of a view of sovereignty.  Someone’s view of God’s sovereignty isn’t increased by something not true about it.  God’s sovereignty isn’t threatened in a way that it needs some exaggeration or misrepresentation to remain sovereign.  That’s how sovereigns are about their own sovereignty—they’re sovereign about it.

We don’t grasp the concept of sovereignty without a sovereign.  The Sovereign who created the concept of sovereignty wouldn’t let someone else rule over the concept.  He would henceforth not be sovereign and, therefore, look to those who defined it to be the true sovereigns.  The Sovereign will have His understanding of sovereignty be sovereign over all other views of sovereignty.

Does God become any less sovereign by any statement of His Word?  Of course not.  God’s Word manifests God to be as sovereign as He actually is.  Since He is sovereign, He can’t be diminished in His sovereignty.  And His own Word especially wouldn’t try to weaken it.  All of God’s statements in His Word that relate to sovereignty could only serve to enhance the right view of His sovereignty.

Let’s say that I wanted to enhance people’s understanding of God’s mercy, so I said that God wouldn’t punish anyone for any wrong he had done.  When you said that God did punish men for wrong they had done, I answer that you don’t really believe in God’s mercy.  However, the truth of God’s mercy isn’t diminished by the truth of God’s punishment of sin.  God’s mercy is mercy.  All other mercy is judged by what the Bible says is His.  God still punishes sin and His mercy remains all of what mercy is.  An unscriptural innovation of mercy departs from mercy.  We’re not talking about mercy anymore when we’re talking about something different than biblical mercy.

I haven’t dimished an iota of God’s sovereignty when I report that “whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17).

Jesus wasn’t shrinking His own sovereignty when He said, “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.  For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it” (Mark 8:34, 35).

We don’t improve upon a biblical view of God’s sovereignty.  We don’t help God’s sovereignty along by professing that a man’s will has nothing to do with his salvation, when a sovereign God said that it does.  When God says, “whosoever will,” we don’t exalt God’s sovereignty by saying that “whosoever really doesn’t mean whosoever like we think it means.”  We don’t enlighten God’s sovereignty by saying “whosoever will but only those whom He predetermined will can will.”  No, whosoever does mean whosoever.

I recently read, “God determines who shall believe and who shall not believe.”  Some might think that statement exalts the sovereignty of God.  It could do that only if God said it.  He didn’t.  Someone thinking he could embellish God’s sovereignty with his own thoughts took the rule over that sovereignty.

God’s sovereignty and “whosoever will” coexist.  “Whosoever will” doesn’t make God’s sovereignty less sovereign or less amazing.  “Whosoever will” pins the needle on God’s sovereignty.  God is equal to the most sovereign He can be while “whosoever will” exists.  We don’t need to clear away “whosoever will” to make room for God’s sovereignty.  The people who can’t cope with “whosoever will” according to their view of sovereignty need to trust God.   God is big enough to work out the details they can’t possibly comprehend.

God is sovereign.  God gets what He wants.  He wants “whosoever will,” therefore, He gets it.  No one can topple God from His throne.  He created all the possible enemies of “whosoever will.”  He didn’t create any of them with potential to overturn something He wants.  So the best they can undo “whosoever will” is in their mind and with their statements, which actually don’t do or undo anything that He already said was true.  Their thoughts and words about “whosoever will” dissipate into the ether of human invention.  They don’t change anything that God wants.  They don’t stop “whosoever will.”

A growing number of people come to the Bible with their definition of sovereignty in hand, ready to conform Scripture to their definition.   By limiting the recipients of salvation, they think they do service to God’s sovereignty.  They don’t.  They only take sovereignty over sovereignty.  And God doesn’t need their help.

“You don’t believe in sovereignty” or “you’ve made man sovereign in salvation” are often scare tactics.  They are effective, because they target a yearning of the conscientious Christian, like Sanballat and Tobiah zeroed in on Nehemiah’s legitimate concerns.  We don’t want to be guilty of ratcheting down God and magnifying man.  With such an attribute as sovereignty that defies comprehension, we could settle for a harsh extreme that hovers outside of biblical perimeters, just to protect us from proud criticism.  “Whosoever will” is there.  Be safe in the bounds of Scripture.

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  1. August 16, 2010 at 7:20 am

    This is an excellent article. The main point being that God’s sovereignty doesn’t need mans help to enforce it. What is needed is that we be obedient to His Word. Thx JH

  2. August 16, 2010 at 8:36 am

    Hi Kent

    I don’t think you are revealing anything significant in this article that a Calvinist would not believe. We all are convinced that God’s Sovereignty should be defined by Scripture alone. That is why we are Calvinists!

    You did not deal with some passages concerning whose “will” it is that is Sovereign in salvation. Lets start with James 1:18, “Of His own will begat He us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” Who is the “He” here? What does the word “will” mean in the Greek? What tense is used? How does His will work here – by the will of man of simply by the Word of Truth?

  3. Bob Zemeski
    August 16, 2010 at 10:04 am

    Clearly James, like John, is saying that regeneration was God’s idea, “of his own will,” and that He effects it (“begat he us”). James likewise confirms Peter’s declaration that we are born again by “the word of truth,” i.e., through believing the gospel of Jesus Christ—impossible for infants, and something that baptism cannot effect, even in adults. Calvin himself acknowledges that faith in the “word of truth” is essential to salvation—then contradicts himself:

    “We confess, indeed, that the word of the Lord is the only seed of spiritual regeneration; but we deny the inference that, therefore, the power of God cannot regenerate infants…. But faith, they say, cometh by hearing, the use of which infants have not yet obtained…. But they observe not that where the apostle makes hearing the beginning of faith, he is…not laying down an invariable rule.” Calvin, Institutes, IV: xvi, 18.

    NOTE: There is nothing about beginning of faith or “invariable rule.” The “word of truth” by which we are born again is invariable. Moreover, if hearing the “word of the Lord” is the beginning of faith, then an infant, baptized or not, hasn’t even begun to possess what Calvin admits is “the only seed of spiritual regeneration.”

    Unquestionably, not only James 1:18 (“begat he us with the word of truth”) but numerous other passages teach that believing “the word of truth” is essential for and must precede the new birth. We MUST exercise our will and believe it. God in His sovereignty has given man the ability to chose whether or not he will believe. The gospel is the specific “word of truth” that must be believed for the new birth to occur: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31). Peter puts it succinctly: “Being born again…by the word of God…which by the gospel is preached unto you” (1 Peter 1:23, 25). Believing the gospel is the means God uses to effect the new birth—thus faith cannot be imparted by God after regeneration, as Calvinism insists.

  4. August 16, 2010 at 10:13 am

    Kent,

    Good article. It always amazes me that Calvinists will not look at the sovereignty of God exegetically. This simply emphasizes the fact that their theology (I use that term loosely when I applied to them) is eisegetical. Have you read the article I wrote in the link below? (It is lengthy.)

    http://www.disciplemakerministries.org/Pages/Dispensationalism/Sovereignty.htm

  5. August 16, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    Brother Kent,

    I believe it is David Cloud who said, “Calvinists have a tendency to interpret Scripture according to their theology first, rather than other Scripture.”

    I like the premise of your article. I will be chewing on it all day.

  6. August 16, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    Thanks everyone. I just added two paragraphs because I had been thinking about it a little more. They’re toward the end—a new third from the last and last paragraph.

    PS,

    I really do appreciate your coming here. I would be glad to be a Calvinist if I saw it taught in the Bible. I’ve tried hard to be one, but verses of Scripture keep getting in the way for me. At camp last week, I read two books on TULIP and they didn’t further Calvinism. I’d already read much of Calvin’s institutes and that had been a bigger turn-off for me. Bob above shows some of what clashed. I don’t think that anything God said diminishes that He is sovereign in salvation. It couldn’t do that. So if I believe just what God said, then I’m as good as I can get on God’s sovereignty in salvation. Did God begat us by His own will alone? Was our will not involved at all? Jesus called for men to repent. That was the “word of truth.” And so when they repented, which some did, are we saying that their wills weren’t involved in the repentance. I know they couldn’t repent without the entrance of God’s Word. But they did repent. THEY did. God didn’t repent for them.

    I haven’t started dealing with the whole subject of Calvinism yet. At some point in the near future, I will. This might be the first I’ve touched on it, but I’m going to get into TULIP in the pretty near future.

    Bob, Thanks.

    Lance,
    I haven’t read that article, but I’ll try to do that.

    Thank you, Art.

  7. August 16, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    Art Dunham :
    Brother Kent,
    I believe it is David Cloud who said, “Calvinists have a tendency to interpret Scripture according to their theology first, rather than other Scripture.”
    I like the premise of your article. I will be chewing on it all day.

    Art,

    You are correct. Calvin himself proposed the same thing. Calvin wrote in his preface to his second edition of his Institutes:

    “In the First Edition of this work, having no expectation of the
    success which God has, in his goodness, been pleased to give it, I
    had, for the greater part, performed my office perfunctorily, as is
    usual in trivial undertakings. But when I perceived that almost all
    the godly had received it with a favour which I had never dared to
    wish, far less to hope for, being sincerely conscious that I had
    received much more than I deserved, I thought I should be very
    ungrateful if I did not endeavour, at least according to my humble
    ability, to respond to the great kindness which had been expressed
    towards me, and which spontaneously urged me to diligence. I
    therefore ask no other favour from the studious for my new work than
    that which they have already bestowed upon me beyond my merits. I
    feel so much obliged, that I shall be satisfied if I am thought not
    to have made a bad return for the gratitude I owe. This return I
    would have made much earlier, had not the Lord, for almost two whole
    years, exercised me in an extraordinary manner. But it is soon
    enough if well enough. I shall think it has appeared in good season
    when I perceive that it produces some fruit to the Church of God. I
    may add, that my object in this work was to prepare and train
    students of theology for the study of the Sacred Volume, so that
    they might both have an easy introduction to it, and be able to
    proceed in it, with unfaltering step, seeing I have endeavoured to
    give such a summary of religion in all its parts, and have digested
    it into such an order as may make it not difficult for any one, who
    is rightly acquainted with it, to ascertain both what he ought
    principally to look for in Scripture, and also to what head he ought
    to refer whatever is contained in it. Having thus, as it were, paved
    the way, I shall not feel it necessary, in any Commentaries on
    Scripture which I may afterwards publish, to enter into long
    discussions of doctrines or dilate on common places, and will,
    therefore, always compress them. In this way the pious reader will
    be saved much trouble and weariness, provided he comes furnished
    with a knowledge of the present work as an essential prerequisite.
    As my Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans will give a specimen
    of this plan, I would much rather let it speak for itself than
    declare it in words. Farewell, dear reader, and if you derive any
    fruit from my labours, give me the benefit of your prayers to the
    Lord.” (bolding added)

    Strasbourg, 1st August 1539.

  8. August 16, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    I think you posted something like this over at What is Truth, except it was called
    Whose Soveriegn over Sovereignty? On your response to me in “What does it mean to believe in Jesus Christ?” You define election according to forknowledge as God knew ahead of time who would believe. However you also said that faith is a gift. A commenter asked “Will a person believe in Jesus because he is destined to be a son of God or to be a son of God a person must belive in Jesus”?, and you responded They are both right in a sense “the first part is beyond our understanding.” How is it whosoever will yet faith is also a gift? So it’s just that you do not agree with the explanation Calvinist give for what you were saying? I don’t think I articulated everything like I wanted to, but I you understand.

    • August 16, 2010 at 9:55 pm

      Phil,

      I thought I had written on this before, but I couldn’t remember. I went back and read that one, and I like this one better.

      Faith is a gift because Scripture says it is a gift (Philip 1:29). How is the gift given? Through God’s revelation and everyone is given that (Rom 1:18-21). Someone can’t suppress the truth unless he has it and every object of God’s wrath suppresses the truth.

      • August 16, 2010 at 11:20 pm

        So that faith that is given has to be turned to Jesus Christ upon hearing the gospel. or rather repentence and faith. Everyone is at one time a vessel of wrath (Eph the children of disobedience, by nature the chidren of wrath)right?

  9. August 16, 2010 at 11:22 pm

    Here is a very good anti-predestination argument formulated by a Catholic priest who is a former Calvinist himself, Fr. Paul Rothermel…

    PROPOSITION:
    A true Calvinist teaches that everything that happens has been predestined before the foundation of the world. Thus, according to Calvinism, because I have free agency and no true power to choose contraries (i.e., free will), I do voluntarily what I could never do otherwise.

    Thus, “My sins last week happened; they were certain to happen; and they were predestined before the foundation of the world. I freely did evil, but I could not have done otherwise.”

    A true Calvinist admits this. Yet St. Paul teaches that, with every temptation, God has made a way to escape from committing the sinful deed (1 Cor 10:13). Therefore, the question for the true Calvinist is:

    “Which way did God, in fact, provide for you to escape the temptations to do the sins you committed last week, if indeed you are so inclined? That is, if you have been predestined before the foundation of the world to do it?”

    This is a clear hole in the Calvinist position, forcing one to conclude that Calvinism cannot be reconciled with St. Paul.

    Clearly, if Calvin is right and one is predestined to commit a particular sin before the foundation of the world, God could not have truly provided a way out of that sin for you to take.

    How could He if you were predestined not to take it? So, either Calvin is wrong or we are dealing with a God Who feigns offers of deliverance from temptation.

    So, which is it? Is God a fraud or is Calvin?

    Many thanks to Mark Bobocore.

  10. September 4, 2010 at 7:22 pm

    Mr. Gormley –

    Thanks for posting. It is nice to see someone actually deal with the text of Scripture rather than strawmen and emotions. Your post is insightful for the very reason that the men here are defending Rome’s position.

    Andrew

    John 1:13

  11. September 4, 2010 at 11:13 pm

    I’m quite sure you are misreading Mr. Gormley, Andrew. You might want to rethink.

  12. Alvin Gallegos
    September 26, 2010 at 11:46 pm

    Hi Kent,

    Glad to see you are alive and kicking. I appreciate your cander toward biases since we all have them. Don’t agree with man’s will being involved with choosing their destiny since man is at enmity with God but I do admire your stance on many other things that make most folks turn tail and run. 🙂 (no divorce, qualifications of Deacon/Elder, King James, etc.) Say hi to Dave and Kathy.

    Take care, Alvin G.

  13. September 27, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    Hi Alvin,

    I’ll say Hi to the Suttons. I agree that man is at enmity with God, an enemy, so how does he get saved if that’s the case? Something has to happen. This is where God’s light, God’s revelation, His Word are powerful enough to impact man. That’s how I see the Bible plainly explain it. Since God is sovereign, we should accept His explanation of His sovereignty. He’s not more sovereign when we become sovereign over His sovereignty. He is not glorified when we explain it a different way than what He did. Since He is sovereign, we should rely on Scripture for our theological points of view. I don’t think I have a bias in this one. I want to be a Calvinist, but the Bible keeps getting in the way of that.

  14. Alvin Gallegos
    March 10, 2011 at 6:53 pm

    God is Sovereign not me. The Bible never got in my way so I don’t understand your point. Biases are good for God gave me a bias. There are Biblical biases and unbiblical biases. You addressed biases of Calvinism and that is what i meant because I respect your right to say Calvinism has biases.
    I too believe something has to happen in salvation for someone to turn to Christ as well. God opens one’s heart that that person can come to Christ. God’s word is powerful but is only applied to His elect otherwise it remains foolishness to him. If the Bible is all powerful to every sinner it would change their heart, that is why God tells His people that it has to be given and then His elect come to Christ. Understanding is another factor that God uses to gain His people for some have it and others do not but yet all have no understanding save they who were given understanding. The stony heart is replaced with a heart of flesh so His people come to Christ.

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