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Proverbs 3:5; 16:9, 33; 19:21 8
Always Being Reformed: “Sovereignty of God – Who’s in Charge Here?”
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
Grant, Almighty God, that as we are at this day tossed here and there by so many troubles, and almost all things in the world are in confusion, so that wherever we turn our eyes nothing but thick darkness meets us, O grant that we may learn to surmount all obstacles and to raise our eyes of faith above the world, so that we may acknowledge that governed by [Your] wonderful counsel is everything that seems to us to happen by chance, in order that we may seek [You] and know that help will be ready for us through [Your] mercy whenever we humbly seek the pardon of our sins, through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. (John Calvin, prayer for faith from his Commentary on Lamentations 3:39)
A Senator is in a restaurant and the waiter brings over the rolls, but no butter. “May I have some butter, please?” The waiter gives a slight nod and wanders off. Ten minutes later, still no butter. The senator catches his eye.
“May I have some butter, Please?”
Still the vaguest of responses, and after ten more minutes, still no butter.
“Maybe you don’t know who I am,” says the senator. “I’m a Princeton graduate, a Rhodes scholar, an All-American NBA player, and I’m currently a United States senator, chairman of the International Debt Subcommittee of the Senate Finance Committee, chairman of the Water and Power Subcommittee of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and a member of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee.”
“Maybe you don’t know who I am,” said the waiter. “I’m the guy who’s in charge of the butter.”
Today’s sermon is on the Sovereignty of God. Asking the question, “Who’s really in charge around here?” That’s not just a question about which parties get or give the butter, but we ask that question in all sorts of political situations, legal circumstances, medical conditions, family decisions,,,, and certainly in religious or ecclesiastic contexts – Who’s really in charge here?
This Fall marks the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Among the earliest Reformers in the Church was a German Priest named Martin Luther, and a French Professor of Law named John Calvin. As one of their challenges to their Church’s hierarchy they posted opportunities to debate the subject of Sovereignty – who’s ultimately in charge? (Our own POTUS recently posted that same challenge before the UN.)
Luther’s, and especially Calvin’s, proposition was that God is Sovereign over life and faith, and no one else.
The Bible, remember that Sola Scriptura thing we talked about last week, is replete with examples of this truth spelled out in story form, poetry, and exemplified in parables and doctrine.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Gen 1:1)” The opening lines of Genesis, and the whole of scripture. The One who creates is ultimately the One who owns, and thus the One who gets to decide. It is true that very early in Scripture this same God puts His human creations in charge over the rest of creation, but only as stewards, as caregivers, not as owners. (The MLB team owners trade and decide on which players are on the team, the managers steward those players [makes the lineup, decides which pitcher pitches against which opponent, etc… btw, last week I said that the Mariners still had a shot at the wildcard spot in the playoffs – no longer true at all….]).
“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:43)” Those are Jesus’ words to the man being crucified for his criminal activities next to Him. Who has the authority to say that? Who’s in charge here? Only God!
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5)” To whom does one submit? To the One with sovereign authority. Now keep listening to King Solomon in this book of Proverbs:
“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps. (16:9)” We may think we’ve decided, but, King Sol says, it is the Lord who establishes our ultimate steps. …
“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord. (16:33)” Was it a coincidence? Happenstance? Wait. Is this true of the good and of the bad? Auto accidents? Hurricanes? Earthquakes? Genocides? School shootings? How is this an acceptable Christian doctrine?
“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. (19:21)” If this is true, does it not make us ask some difficult questions?
In fact, since the Scriptures have now been read, I’m going to come down these stairs and be on the same level as the rest of us. We are all on this journey, seeking answers, together, and while I might have more time to delve into the Bible, and have studied the languages in which it was written, and the contexts of its compositions, I struggle through life just like everyone else.
Let’s approach our faith questions together and discover, together, how our faith impacts our lives.
Some aspects of God’s Sovereignty are easier than others, and others become progressively more complicated:
God’s Sovereignty over creation: We may argue about 6 days vs. several billion years, or about Creator vs. accidental collision of non-created atoms; and we may never agree, but if we believe in “God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth”, we can believe this with little difficulty.
God’s Sovereignty over redemption: John 3:16 tells us that this God who created everything loves us so much that He invites all to receive Him, to believe in Him, and find our life blessed by His presence and power, forever! We might have questions about those who have never heard the name of Jesus, or about those who acknowledge some truths about Jesus, but not all of the Bible’s teachings, but believing that He is the way, the truth and the life does not jar most of us out of our faith.
God’s Sovereignty over judgment: this might rub some of us more harshly, but ultimately, it makes sense to believe that the God who is sovereign over creation and redemption, the One who made us and saves us, also has ultimate authority to decide ultimate outcomes. Today’s Children’s Message used the parable of the landowner who hires workers at 6:00am promising to pay them a fair day’s wage, and then he hires more at 9:00am, 12noon, 3:00pm, and even more at 5:00pm; and at the end of the day he pays them all the same “fair day’s wage”; and what do the first one’s hired do? They complain that they didn’t get more than they had agreed on because these others were counted as equal to them! Moral of the story: God is Sovereign over judgment (Luke 20:1-16); and maybe we’d best be glad we don’t get what we deserve!
God’s Sovereignty over providence: In His omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence it’s not difficult to believe in His ability to provide for our needs. But what about when “needs are not provided for”… or if God is a good God, why does He allow evil, or why is there not a way to escape evil…?
What are some current news items that brings these questions to the fore? [hurricanes, earthquakes, Freeman HS shooting, life threatening (and life taking) health conditions, etc.]
How do we answer these questions? How does our faith persevere? What do we believe?
A Summary of how John Calvin answered these kinds of question uses the acronym TULIP. Here’s a super brief description of this doctrine.
- T – Total depravity. As demonstrated by Adam and Eve, and every Bible character since, and by you and me, left to our own devices we will all choose to sin (maybe not every time, but ultimately we will sin). This means that we deserve ultimate abandonment (see Genesis 2:17). But,
- U – Un-merited, un-earned, un-deserved grace or favor is offered. We are saved by grace alone (Sola Gratia) through faith alone (Sola Fide). Christ died for us, and all we have to do is receive and believe that truth. Nothing more. God’s grace is completely un-merited.
- L – Limited atonement. But just because it is un-deserved does not mean that everyone is saved. In God’s perfect sovereign omniscience, He knows who will and who does believe. Sovereign over judgment.
- I – Irresistible grace. God’s Word does not come back void (Isaiah 55:11), God’s sovereignty over judgment means His calling is always effectual. When heard correctly, His grace is irresistible!
- P – Persevering grace. Once we believe, every believer is kept eternally secure in their salvation (John 10:29). When it is rightly understood that God Alone saves sinners, then all glory goes to Him (Soli Gloria Deo).
Out of all the questions that believers and skeptics alike have about our faith, I think it is this one: where does evil come from and why does it still exist? I mean, if God is all-powerful and all-good, how do we understand the origin of, the creation of, the beginning of evil; and why has this almighty benevolent God not finished it off?
Here are some ways some non-Christian religions/philosophies answer this problem:
- Evil is only imaginary – Christian Science
- Evil is simply an illusion – Hinduism
- Evil is just the absence of good in a universe where either there is no God, or where God and the Devil are of equal authority and power– Dualism
None of that comes from the Bible which teaches that God is the Creator of everything good (James 1:17). He is the “first cause” of all things, but evil is a product of “second cause”. John Calvin wrote: “First, it must be observed that he will of God is the cause of all things that happen in the world: and yet God is not the author of evil … for the proximate cause is one thing, and the remote cause another.” In other words, God created the universe, and the people who inhabit this universe, and then He gave those people free will, choice authority, we get to decide whom we will obey and honor and love, and whom we won’t. The secondary cause, the remote cause, therefore, comes from the brokenness of the fallen world we now live in.
God allows this, because He gives us freedom. Occasionally He steps in with a miracle to prevent, protect, provide, or present Himself. It’s occasional, and that’s why when it happens we call it a miracle.
So, “Who’s in Charge around Here?” We choose to look to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to lead our lives and give direction – to make our paths straight, to establish our steps, to prevail in pushing our plans into His purpose.
In my effort to be shorter for these sermons I’ll stop talking here, and offer a little feedback time – so if you have comments you’d like to add, or questions you might want to ask, now’s your chance.
And, if they’re a little more private or personal, I’ll be downstairs during the Fellowship Time where we can talk even more.
Any thoughts, questions, criticisms, concerns?
Grant, O God, that we may learn to surmount all obstacles and to raise our eyes of faith above the world, so that we may acknowledge that governed by [Your] wonderful counsel is everything that seems to us to happen by chance, in order that we may seek [You] and know that help will be ready for us through [Your] mercy whenever we humbly seek the pardon of our sins, through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
Lawson, Steven J.; “Salvation is of the Lord”; TableTalk; May 2017; Pp. 17-19.
Nichols, Stephen J.; “The Ninety-Five Theses of Martin Luther, October 31, 1517”; TableTalk; October 2017; P. 71.
Thomas, Derek W. H.; “God’s Sovereignty and Glory”; TableTalk; May 2017; Pp. 6-8.