We all Christians agree that our God is sovereign. How we understand the sovereignty of God may differ person to person. The sovereignty of God is the very bedrock doctrine of all Scripture. All other doctrines of the Christian faith must be brought into alignment with this essential truth. God by His own will, ordain whatsoever comes to pass. God is never constrained to do a thing that He resolves to do. He is never helpless, He is never frustrated, and He is never at a loss. God’s sovereignty is a natural consequence of His omniscience (all knowing), omnipotence (all powerful), and omnipresence (present everywhere). It simply means God has all the power, all the wisdom, and all authority, to do anything that He desires. God has the supreme authority in executing and administrating His eternal purposes, and He is in full control over everything that happens. This is the main premise of Scripture.
If there is anything that happens in this world outside the foreordination of God, it is therefore happening outside the sovereignty of God. If things in this world happen outside the sovereignty of God, that simply means that God is not sovereign. If God is not sovereign then God is not God. If anything in this universe running loose outside of the control of God’s sovereignty, as Christians we have no guarantee that any promise God had ever made in His Word would ever come to pass. Anything that happen could change the course of the history and it may be the thing that could destroy the God’s plan of redemption.
God ordains things in different ways. It doesn’t necessarily mean that God makes something happen with His direct, immediate, personal involvement. It does mean that God is sovereign over everything that happens. Anything that happens on this earth cannot happen apart from His divine sovereignty. If something happens in the universe by the power of Nature, by the power of Men, or by the power of Machines, God always has the power and authority to prevent it from happening. If He does not prevent it happening it means that He has chosen to let it happen. That does not mean that He approves it, or He is in favor of it. It means He allows it to happen by making a decision sovereignly. He knows in advance what the results will be, but in His sovereignty He decides that it should happen, and he is retaining His sovereignty over it.
God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin; nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. – The Westminster Confession of Faith, Ch. III:1
If we believe that God ordains everything what so ever that comes to pass then we have to believe He ordained the fall, and so He ordained the entrance of sin in to the world. Now at the same time we must understand that God is not the author of Sin. God does not do sin or evil. So the only conclusions that we can come to on the basis of those premises is that it is good that there is evil. That not the same thing as saying the evil is good. Evil is evil, and sin is sin. It is good that there is sin because it’s ordained by God and all that He ordained in His perspective is good. And sin is still sin, and evil is still evil, and the man is still responsible for his actions. The God has the power even to work human treachery for good. God in His sovereignty has the capacity to work through the sinful decisions and wicked choices of His creatures to bring about His sovereign will which is altogether righteous.
We are not talking about the rigid determinism of God that eliminates the free will of Man. Man does have a degree of freedom, but God is sovereign even over free creatures. Man’s choices do not affect God’s sovereign choices. We see this unfolding in the New Testament. The cross was not an accident. The cross was the most wicked evil ever committed by human beings. Caiaphas meant it for evil, Pilate meant it for evil, and the Pharisees meant it for evil. But over and above the human wicked intentions, God was at work to bring about good. God’s intent was that the world would fall and it is His sovereign plan for His ultimate Glory. God is glorified in both his manifestations of mercy and Grace in human salvation and in His punishment of evil (Romans 9:22–23). Nowhere is God’s sovereignty more clearly demonstrated than in His salvation of the sinner.
The doctrine of predestination
Many people have a strong hostility to this doctrine. The primary reason for this, is the idea that God has chosen some to be saved and some to be lost, and one’s destiny is determined even before the person is born. That worries many people. But, anyone who takes God’s Word seriously, should take the concept of predestination seriously, because it is a gloarious, beautiful and most comforting doctrine plainly taught in the Bible.
Romans 8:29-30, “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.” Ephesians 1:5 and 11 declare, “He predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will…In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.”
The word predestination is made of two parts: “Pre” meaning “before” and “destination” meaning “point of final arrival”. The word “predestined” comes from the Greek word proorizo, which carries the meaning of ‘determine beforehand’, ‘ordain’, ‘to decide upon ahead of time’. So, predestination is God determining certain things to occur ahead of time. What did God determine ahead of time?
Romans 8:29-30 says, God predetermined that certain individuals would be conformed to the likeness of His Son, be called, justified, and glorified. Numerous scriptures refer to believers in Christ being chosen (Matthew 24:22, 31; Mark 13:20, 27; Romans 8:33, 9:11, 11:5-7, 28; Ephesians 1:11; Colossians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; 1 Timothy 5:21; 2 Timothy 2:10; Titus 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1-2, 2:9; 2 Peter 1:10). It is not talking about God’s sovereignty over daily actions of life. It’s about the salvation. It concerns about something before we arrive at the destination. It is about God’s involvement in the ultimate outcome of our lives. The doctrine of Predestination concerns about specifically man’s ultimate destination. There are two destinations available for man: Heaven (salvation) and Hell (Damnation). Essentially, God predetermines that certain individuals will be saved from His wrath.
So, here are two biblical truths about human salvation:
- God sovereignly make choices regarding man’s salvation
- God has made that choice before the foundation of the world
There are two main views of the doctrine of predestination: the Foreknowledge view and the Augustinian view.
- The Foreknowledge view (associated with Semi-Pelagianism) says that the choices God made before people are born in light of what God knows they will do after they are born. God is looking down the quarters of time, and He knows that, you are going to respond positively to the gospel, you are going to choose Christ when the opportunity makes available to you. So, knowing that you are going to choose Christ, God then chooses you to be saved.
- In contrary, the Augustinian view says, what God foresees in your life, has nothing whatsoever to do with His choice of you. His choice is absolutely based on His good pleasure of will without any view to anything you may or may not do in the future. This is the biblical view of predestination.
Now, the inevitable question is that, if God is a just and good God, how come He sends someone to hell? How can God who is sovereign allow people to perish? If God knows in advance for example that certain person is born and live their life and perish everlastingly, how can a Good God let that happen?
In answering this question, first we need to consider the relationship of the sovereign God to the fallen world. There are at least 04 ways that the sovereign God could relate to the fallen world:
- God could offer no opportunity for anyone to be saved.
- God could provide opportunity to everyone (or some) to be saved.
- God not only can provide an opportunity but also intrude into man’s heart and ensure the salvation of everyone.
- God not only can provide an opportunity but also intrude into man’s heart and ensure the salvation of some.
Now, let’s see what the Bible says actually what God has done. Does the Bible indicate that God hasn’t provided any opportunity to anybody to be saved? Bible says, actually God has provided the sinner a way to be saved. If God decides not to save anybody, there is nothing wrong with that decision. Just and Holy God never required to love a rebellious creature. He could decide not to save anyone. If God decides to punish the entire human race for rejecting Him, violating His Holy law, how can a fallen man object? The only objection we can give is “God is Just”. And, it is hardly an objection! God is perfectly justified to exercise justice against an unjust creation.
Does the Bible say that God intervenes in everyone’s life and saves everyone? We called this view, universalism. There are Christians who believes in universalism. Does God have the power to save everyone if He wants? Yes, He has the power. But, bible clearly teaches only some will be saved and others not. There will be some people who will never be redeemed.
Now, God not only has given an opportunity to all the sinners to be saved, but does something more. He doesn’t just say ‘Here is the cross, here is the opportunity for you, choose it if you will’, and leave people to themselves. God not only gives an opportunity to people, but also exercising His power, and His sovereign authority, intrudes into human life, and ensure the salvation of some, the one whom He predestined to be saved. God applies the work of Christ. The Holy Spirit works in people who are dead in sin, and bring them into saving faith. God ensures that death of Christ is never in-vain. Bible speaks about God the Father giving His elects to Christ. God intervene in some people’s lives and save them, but God does not save everyone.
The assumption is that if God is going to be a good God, then He must be merciful. God is not obligated to extend His grace to any undeserving sinner. There is a big difference in the mercy and justice. Justice can be owed; Mercy is never obligatory. Mercy is not something God has to do. Mercy is something God does voluntarily, freely. He could determine to save a few or He could choose to save all. God is entirely free to bestow His grace however He wills -whether on none, few, or all.
Now the Objection: That is not fair! If God is going to do it for some then He has to do it for everyone! God is not gracious enough.
There are millions of millions people who never get to hear the gospel. Many do not have the opportunity to hear the gospel in real world. In reality only some have the opportunity. God has not made sure that everyone will have the opportunity to hear the gospel. Many have died in the past without hearing the Gospel, and many will die in the future without hearing the Gospel. If He wants He could, but He hasn’t. Why? We don’t know! God has no obligation to save anybody. But in His mercy He opts to save somebody. God is God! And, He reminds His creatures one crucial Principle of Divine Sovereignty: “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Rom. 9:15; Exodus 33:19). So, who are you to talk back to god (Rom 9:20)?
So, if God saves only some, then we have two groups of people in the world; SAVED and UNSAVED. But they are all part of the group called SINNERS. All are fallen, all have rebelled against God, and all have rejected God, and all deserve the just punishment of God. But what God does is He sovereignly chose, elect and redeemed some, and the rest He passes over. One group receive Mercy and others receive Justice (just punishment for the sin). Mercy is not Justice, and Mercy is not injustice. Mercy is non-justice, and there is nothing sinful about Mercy. Injustice is a violation of Justice and it is sinful. Mercy and injustice are not the same thing. No one gets injustice at the hands of the Holy God.
God does His election in light of the fall. God only chooses fallen sinners for salvation. God only elect sinners who need salvation. If people have capacity to choose God then there is no need for an election. God consider the whole world as fallen, and He knows if He exercises only the justice everyone will perish. But, God in His sovereignty chooses to grant mercy to some. There is nothing unfair about it. God reminds us that it is His right to choose whoever He wants, and we cannot question Him. You can’t ever say to God, “You are not merciful enough”. That is blasphemes. You are charging the Holy God for a wrong in Him.
What can a sinner do to be saved?
“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So, it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8). Salvation is by divine sovereign choice, divine sovereign will, divine sovereign power. It is not produced by anything that a person does. It is a sovereign act of God. Unless God draws you, you won’t choose God. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44).
So, where is the hope?
You don’t know you are elect or not. Let that thought of election and predestination hang in the cloud for a moment, and within your heart, if you want to be saved from the coming wrath of God, call for His Mercy! Salvation is not a question of intelligence. It’s a question of faith. Scripture not asking you to do penance; not asking you to put nails in your shoes; not asking you to inflict flogging on yourself; not asking you to receive sacraments; not asking you to pray to Mary. Just believe! There is no salvation in any other. Christ and Christ alone, and through his death, through his cross, by repentance and faith in him. Cry out to God to be merciful, to be gracious, to be forgiven, to grant life, to grant faith, to grant salvation. Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame” (Rom 10:1). For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom 10:13). Christ says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” (John 6:37)
Doctrine Matters, Dr. John Piper
The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, Dr. D. A. Carson
Divine Immutability and the Doctrines of Grace, Dr. John MacArthur
Chosen By God, Dr. R. C. Sproul
Foundations of Grace, Dr. Steven J. Lawson