Faithlife Sermons

Sovereignty 11

Notes & Transcripts

Sovereignty 11.

Here I am up preaching, again. You probably say, “Paul’s preaching; what will he be speaking about? It will be the sovereignty of God again!” I’ve been stuck on the same topic for over a year now, and yes you are right: it’s the sovereignty of God again! If you were here last time you will recall that I spoke about יהוה’s sovereignty over salvation: [P]Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne!” Now if God ordains and chooses those who are saved; what about the rest? [P] Isn’t יהוה, by choosing some, in that same action, by default, not choosing others; and therefore also sovereign over those who are damned? And if יהוה’s sovereignty stems from His creation, He made everything so He can do with it as He chooses, and since there is evil in the world; doesn’t this mean that God created evil, that evil came from Him? They may seem like blasphemous thoughts but they seem to be logical conclusions of God being sovereign. I mean, just how far does יהוה’s sovereignty extend? So let us look this morning about “Sovereignty and the problem of evil”. [P] I concluded my last message with [Romans 11:36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory for eternity! Amen.] Does “all things” include evil? The Westminster Confession states: [P]God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.” Now that is not Scripture but a doctrinal statement – but it is an expression of what the Bible teaches on the sovereignty of God. If you don’t believe that God ordains everything that comes to pass, you don’t believe in God! Well, not in יהוה; but rather, a god of your own design! If God is not sovereign, God is not God! If there is even one maverick molecule in the universe—one atom running loose outside the scope of God’s sovereign ordination—we cannot have the slightest confidence that any promise God has ever made about the future will come to pass. To determine the future, He must be in control of ALL. The great message of atheism is that “chance” has causal power. That is the dogma of evolutionists that is ubiquitous today: things came into being by chance. The Bible talks about in [Acts 17:24 the God who made the world and all the things in it. (and of Him) being Lord of heaven and earth] God’s sovereignty stems from His creation. Yet again and again the view is expressed that we do not need to attribute the creation of the universe to God, for we know that it came to be through space plus time plus chance. This is a lie! This is nonsense! Nothing cannot become something; no matter how long you leave it. There is nothing that chance can do. Chance is a perfectly good word to describe mathematic possibilities, but it is only a word. It is not an entity, a being; chance is nothing. It has no power because it has no being; therefore, it can exercise no influence over anything. Yet, we have sophisticated scientists today who make sober statements declaring that the whole universe came into being by chance. This is to say that nothing caused something, and there is no statement more anti-scientific than that. Everything has a cause, and the ultimate cause, as we have seen, is God. So, if God ordains everything that comes to pass, it seems that He must ordain evil. And if God ordains evil, so the argument goes, He Himself is evil. This morning I have brought something along to show you that may help explain: one of my loves is digging holes. [P] There is a small shovel kept in the back of the car so that when we go to the beach I can get it out and dig a deep hole – great works of creation. In fact it has been a lifelong ambition of mine to be a man who digs holes in the road. I thought I would show you one of the holes I’ve dug today [P] – can you see the hole? Of course you can’t – despite all my back breaking toil, the hole is not anything, it has no substance; it is made of nothing. It is the absence of something! The hole is real, it is there, you can fall in it – the holes I dig at the beach are a danger to anyone who might fall in them. But the hole is emptiness, it is defined by the lack of what surrounds it – the hole is where there is a lack or absence of sand. Now God is good – the theologians, with their penchant for making things complicated, say: “immutably good” – that means the goodness cannot change. Now a good God created a good creation – that is יהוה’s witness about what He made: repeatedly Genesis chapter one says: “And He saw that it was good”. It expressed the nature of the one who made it – it was good. Good, but unlike God, mutably good. That goodness can be altered. Man was made with the possibility of changing in his conformity to the law of God. A hole can be dug in that which was made perfect! That hole is called “evil”. Evil is defined as a negation or a lack of conformity to the standards of the good. Did a good God, the Source of all that is, create evil? No, He created good – evil is a lack of the goodness that He created; a hole in what He made perfect. But like the hole down at the beach it is very real! Evil is a lack of good, a lack of righteousness; lawlessness is a lack of lawfulness. So you can only know lawlessness by first defining lawfulness, you can only know sin by defining righteousness; you can only know evil by knowing the good, knowing God. Why has man no concept of his sinfulness?, because he has no concept of God, His holiness, His righteousness, His goodness. The big question is this: “Does God do evil?” [P[ The Bible’s answer is absolutely clear and unequivocal: [P] God is absolutely incapable of performing evil. Yet, if God is sovereign, then He ordains everything that comes to pass, and some of the things that come to pass are evil. So, does God ordain evil? [P] There is only one biblical answer to that question: [P] yes. If God did not ordain evil, there would be no evil, because God is sovereign. He ordained that His creatures should have the capacity for evil. He did not force them to exercise that capacity, but He knew that they would exercise it. At that point, He had a choice. He could destroy the creation so as not to allow evil to happen. The moment the Serpent came to Adam and Eve and began to suggest disobedience, God could have intervened – snuffed out the serpent, or Eve or Adam. There would have been no sin. But God, for reasons known only to Himself, made the decision to let it happen. God did not sanction it, but He did not stop it. In choosing not to stop it, He ordained it. When God ordains anything, His purpose is altogether good. Does this mean I think that in the final analysis evil really is good? No. I am saying it must be good that evil exists, because God sovereignly, providentially, ordains only what is good. For example – evil was done to Joseph by His brothers but it ultimately worked for good: [Genesis 50:20 “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.] In terms of His eternal purpose, God has esteemed it good that evil should be allowed to happen in this world. How would we see how good the good is without seeing the alternative, in the absence of that good? Paul shows us this principle in [1 Corinthians 11:19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.] How would we see God’s abhorrence of evil and His righteous wrath without there being evil to display it upon? How would we know the greatness of God’s love, grace, mercy, His heart to redeem without evil and the fall? We needed the hole, the absence of who God is in order to appreciate the beauty of His being. That does not mean that the sins that I commit, insofar as they contribute to God’s providential plan and government of world history, are actually virtues. Judas’ treachery was part of the Divine providence in God’s plan for redeeming the world. Judas could not have delivered Christ to Pilate apart from the providential decree of God. We know that this was the predetermined counsel of God, and yet God did not put evil into the heart of Judas. God did not coerce Judas to do his diabolical sin. Therefore, Judas cannot stand up on the last day and say, “If it hadn’t been for me, there would have been no cross, no atonement, and no salvation—I’m the one who made it all possible.” What Judas did was utterly evil, the Bible says: [Matthew 26:24 The Son of Man is going just as it is written about him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would be better for him if that man had not been born.” ], but when God ordains all things that come to pass, He ordains not only the ends but also the means to those ends, and He works through all things to bring about His righteous purpose. One of the most comforting verses of Scripture is: [Romans 8:28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.] Only a God of sovereign providence could make a promise like that. This statement does not mean that all things are good, but that all things work together for good. They can work together for good only because, over and above all evil, all acts of human wickedness, stands a sovereign God who has appointed a destiny both for the universe and for us as individuals, and that destiny is perfectly consistent with His righteousness. So where are we? We are saying that evil does not come from God, what comes from Him is perfect – yet there is quite evidently a hole in that perfection. And the Bible is clear about the sovereignty of God in ordaining that: [P] [Romans 8:20-25 For the creation has been subjected to futility, (there is now frustration and futility in creation – there is that inevitable decay, running down into disorder. God created it good, but that is not we see now – it is subjected to futility) not willingly (it is not what we want, we know that there is something wrong and long and groan to be released from this bondage. We would all love it if there were no pain, death, sickness etc), but because of the One who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its servility to decay, into the glorious freedom of the children of God. (So here is the whole of creation in bondage to decay, longing to be free – why? Because of the One who subjected it. Now is this satan who subjected it to futility? No, read what it says! The One who subjected it did so in the hope that it would be set free into the glorious freedom of the sons of God! This hope is from God! The implication is clear: God is the One who subjected creation to futility.) For we know that the whole creation groans together and suffers agony together until now. Not only this, but we ourselves also, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves while we await eagerly our adoption, the redemption of our body. For in hope we were saved, but hope that is seen is not hope, for who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we await it eagerly with patient endurance.] So God subjected creation to futility in order that there may be salvation. He placed that hope within His creation. Last time we saw that God is sovereign over that salvation by choosing those who are saved: the Bible calls them the elect. So if God is sovereign over salvation, He chooses some and saves them; is He also sovereign over those who are not saved, those who are doomed to judgement and destruction – the reprobate? The theologians in their penchant for making things complicated talk about “sovereignty over reprobation”. [P] Now people get a little uneasy with this idea, but what does the Bible say? I am going to put the verses up, so you can read for yourselves what the Scriptures state. God is sovereign, and that sovereignty stems from His creation – He made it – made it for the purpose He designed it for: [P] [Proverbs 16:4 All יהוה has made is for His purpose, and even the wicked for the day of trouble.] There is a clear statement of יהוה’s sovereignty – it is over all, over all that He has made, and it is for His purpose. Furthermore, that “all” that He made, includes the wicked who He made expressly for the day of trouble. Look, it’s not what I am saying, that is what the Scripture says. The Bible clearly states that there is coming a day of judgement, when the wicked will be punished – “the day of trouble” and the wicked were made for that day. [P] [Psalm 75:7 But God is the Judge; He puts down one and exalts another.] In that day God, the Judge, exercises judgement. Some are exalted, others put down – who determines which? God does! Sure it is not arbitrary, we are judged according to our deeds; but God is sovereign in that judgement – it is He who exalts and puts down. Jesus speaks of those who claim to know Him in [P] [Matthew 7:23 And then I will say to them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’] There is Jesus consigning them to that judgement of eternal separation. But just because God exercises this judgment upon them does that mean He determined this fate for them, that this was His purpose? Let’s look back to when Israel was conquering the Promised Land. Now the Canaanite people had defiled the land, the sin of the Amorite was complete – יהוה had given them ample opportunity to repent but they did not do so; so it was His purpose to annihilate them, dispossess them and give the land to the descendants of Abraham as He had promised. But of course they could have accepted peace terms, surrendered to the Israelites, …. but they didn’t: [P] [Joshua 11:18-20 For many days Joshua made war with all these kings. There was not a city that made peace with the Israelites besides the Hivites and the inhabitants of Gibeon—all were taken in battle. (why? Why did none make peace?) For it was יהוה that hardened their hearts, (יהוה hardened their hearts and He did so because of His own purpose) to meet Israel in war in order to utterly destroy them without mercy, that they would destroy them just as YHWH commanded Moses.] It was יהוה’s purpose that they be destroyed. [P] [Psalm 92:7 That when the wicked sprouted up like grass and all who did iniquity flourished, it was only that they might be destroyed forevermore.] There was a purpose in their sprouting up and flourishing, God’s purpose was that they might be destroyed forevermore – appointed to destruction. A lovely verse in 1 Thessalonians says: [P] [1 Thessalonians 5:9 because God did not appoint us for wrath, but for the obtaining of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,] God did not appoint us for wrath, the implication is that those that are not “us”, the “others”, were appointed for wrath; there are others who do not obtain salvation through Jesus who are appointed for wrath. Does the Bible really say that some are appointed to doom by God? Talking about Jesus: [P] [1 Peter 2:8 and, “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense”; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.] Why do they stumble? Because they are disobedient to the Word – and they were appointed to this doom! Do you mean that this is what God planned and purposed? Well, what does the Bible say?: [P] [Jude 4 For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. ] There were these people who had insidiously come into the church, perverting the pure faith. They were distorting the doctrine of grace into a teaching that it doesn’t matter what you do, just live as you please God’s grace will cover it all – a doctrine in vogue in our present day. Jude says that they were marked out for condemnation, and this had been done long beforehand – it is the foreknowledge of God. That destiny was marked out for them. Jesus spoke of the religious leaders of the day; He said: [Matthew 15:14 “Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”] They were blind; they couldn’t see the truth although He was standing right before them. Why were they so spiritually dull? Jesus quoted Isaiah concerning them [P] [Isaiah 6:9-10 And he said, “Go and say to this people, ‘Keep on listening and do not comprehend! And keep on looking and do not understand!’ Make the heart of this people insensitive, and make its ears unresponsive, and shut its eyes so that it may not look with its eyes and listen with its ears and comprehend with its mind and turn back, and it may be healed for him.” ] God was deliberately hardening and making them unresponsive in order that they might not repent, turn back and be healed. God was preventing them turning to Him. This is what Paul said, and he quotes the OT Scriptures to back up what He said: [P] [Romans 11:7-8 What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen (the elect) obtained it, and the rest (the reprobate) were hardened; just as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, Eyes to see not and ears to hear not, Down to this very day.”] Read the Bible! What does it say? Who gave them a spirit of stupor? The Bible is quite clear: God did! Previously, we had a look at Romans 9, remember? [P] [Romans 9:13 Just as it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”] Now some have taken exception to that, but you can’t get around the fact that hate is active – it doesn’t say: “Jacob I loved but Esau I overlooked, or Esau I left to his own devices” We delight in God’s love, and rightly so; but wrath is also part of His nature. יהוה acts in human history in order to demonstrate His love, we can see His character, His nature in the way He acts and deals with us. But He also acts in order to demonstrate His wrath: [P] [Romans 9:22-23 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which He has prepared beforehand for glory.] – there was יהוה’s will, His sovereign will was to demonstrate His wrath. But at the same time as demonstrating His wrath and power; He also demonstrated His patience, His longsuffering. It says that He has prepared us beforehand for glory – and the word is only used of God doing the preparing. He ordained glory for those He has mercy on but the corollary is in the verse before that states: that He prepares others for destruction – again this word in this form is only used of God preparing. The verse itself is quite explicit that God prepares vessels of wrath for destruction. The word means prepare, make, create – God made them for this purpose. God has bigger purposes at work – He is demonstrating His nature, revealing Himself! His power, His wrath, His righteousness, His patience, His mercy, His glory! There needs to be a demonstration of what the wicked deserve or otherwise how could we know His mercy in saving us from that fate. Righteousness is only appreciated when you see the awfulness of sin – It is hard to see white crayon on white paper, but it is obvious on dark background. There has to be that hole in God’s goodness to reveal its true quality. This is what Paul was talking about in: [Romans 3:5-8 But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? (there we have unrighteousness bringing out, in contrast, God’s righteousness. The hole in the righteousness is being used to demonstrate what is lacking in the way God intended. So God is using unrighteousness for His purposes. The obvious question, if unrighteousness is being used in God’s purposes how can He then complain about it. He is being unjust for pouring His wrath on what is working out His intended plan) God, who inflicts wrath, is not unjust, is He? (I am speaking according to a human perspective.) May it never be! (Paul says that this notion is ridiculous, unthinkable!) For otherwise, how will God judge the world? (For God to be just He must judge sin) But if by my lying, the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still condemned as a sinner? And why not (as we are slandered, and as some affirm that we say), “Let us do evil, in order that good may come of it? Their condemnation is just! ] We might say: “Our sin is used in God’s perfect purposes, He is sovereign, uses evil for His purposes, so let’s do evil so that He has some raw material to work with”. Paul utterly dismisses this as depraved thinking. It just shows where human logic leads you: man’s logic has ended up in foolishness, in a concept totally illogical : “do evil so that good results”! God’s sovereignty over evil for His purposes of ultimate good, does not in any way diminish our responsibility or accountability. Last time we saw that the Bible teaches that יהוה is sovereign over salvation – and that is truly wonderful – that is יהוה’s kindness! But the other side of the coin, the necessary corollary, is that He is also sovereign over reprobation – and that is a truly dreadful! That is יהוה’s severity! Love and grace are יהוה’s character, but so too is absolute righteousness, justice and holiness – a zero toleration of evil. We can just prefer not to think about it, but we need to be mindful of both: both His kindness and His severity. יהוה is sovereign over all. He controls the destiny and fate of all – both good and bad. He is sovereign over salvation; but He is also sovereign over reprobation – there is His kindness but also His severity. We like to focus on one and ignore the other, but both are there in God’s nature – if we are to know Him we must be mindful of both aspects of His character. He is sovereign over ALL – and that sovereignty does not diminish our responsibility. [P] [Romans 11:20-23 Do not think arrogant thoughts, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare you. See, then, the kindness and severity of God: severity upon those who have fallen, but upon you the kindness of God—if you continue in His kindness, for otherwise you also will be cut off. And those also, if they do not persist in unbelief, will be grafted in, because God is able to graft them in again.] [2 Peter 1:10-11 Therefore, brothers, be zealous even more to make your calling and election secure, because if you do these things, you will never ever stumble. For in this way entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly supplied for you.]

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