The sovereignty of God is a theological term well established in the Bible and confirmed in all His works. “Known to God from eternity are all His works” (Acts 15:18). His sovereignty is not only an attribute, but His prerogative grounded upon His eternal Godhead. This means that our sovereign God has absolute authority and right of dominion over all of His creation, because He is the self-existent Creator (Genesis 1: 1). He has the sovereign right to do whatever pleases Him (Psalm 115:3). It may not look as though God is in charge of all nations at all times, but He is; and He will, remain in sovereign power throughout all time and eternity (Psalm 22:28; cf. 50:1). God is both sovereign Creator (He made all things) and Sustainer (He keeps all things functioning) of His creation. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge” (Psalm 19:1, 2). Our God never sleeps.
1) He is in absolute control of all things and all people.
2) “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
3) All of the powers of darkness, sin, Satan, demons, and the wickedness of mankind cannot alter the purpose of our sovereign God.
5-1 The Sovereignty of God Defined
It is impossible for the finite mind to fully comprehend the sovereignty of God. When He appeared to Abraham He said, “I am Almighty God” (v. 1). We can only know Almighty God as He is revealed to us in His infallible Word: Moses said, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29). Only eternity will be long enough for us to understand all there is to know about our sovereign God. Until then, we must be satisfied with “those things which are revealed” and wait for the complete revelation of His glory when He returns to this planet.
Therefore, to attempt to explain the sovereignty of God is an attempt to put into words the inexplicable. We must search God’s Word for “those things which are revealed” that will help us to grasp His sovereignty. Sovereignty means that God has supreme authority and power over the universe. All other authority is delegated. It means that He has all power over, and absolute control of, all things in heaven and all things on earth (Matthew 28:18).
Writing of the sovereignty of God, the apostle Paul must have recorded these profound words in a state of awe and worship: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor?’ ” (Romans 11:33, 34). When the prophet Isaiah compared the sovereignty of nations with the sovereignty of God, he said, “Behold, the nations are as a drop in a bucket, and are counted as the small dust on the scales” (Isaiah 40:15). Sovereign nations have boundaries but the sovereignty of God knows no boundaries and is under no external restraints. It is immeasurable, without limits of any kind.
5-2 The Sovereignty of God at Work
Like so many of God’s children, Habakkuk did not understand how his sovereign God worked. He was frustrated and baffled: why had not Almighty God corrected the corruption in Judah? He prayed, “O Lord, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear?” (v. 2). Then Habakkuk listed the evils of Judah violence, iniquity, oppression, tyranny, strife, discord, lawlessness-and said, “The wicked surround the righteous; therefore perverse judgment proceeds” (v. 4).
God answered Habakkuk: “I will work a work in your days which you would not believe, though it were told you” (v. 5). God is the sovereign “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:13, 14). He is not obligated to reveal the what or why of His works, even when we think God is not working and we cry, “Why, O Lord?”
God did tell Habakkuk what He was doing (vv. 6-11)—using an ungodly nation (the Chaldeans) to punish Judah, “the apple of His eye” (Zechariah 2:8). Judah was shocked and refused to believe what Habakkuk told them that God was doing. So, Habakkuk prayed, “O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years…in wrath remember mercy” (Habakkuk 3:2). His prayer was highly emotional, because he could not understand God’s unusual actions. But who can fully understand the workings of our sovereign God? No one. For if we could, we would have knowledge that spans all eternity. Only our sovereign God is omniscient.
When we cry, “Why, O Lord?” the answer is: “Whatever the Lord pleases He does, in heaven and in earth” (Psalm 135:6; cf. Psalm 115:3). God’s sovereignty is free from imperfection; it is absolute.
5-3 The Sovereignty of God Illustrated
In the darkest hour of Jeremiah’s ministry, God gave him a vision of His sovereign throne. It is called “a glorious high throne from the beginning… the place of our sanctuary” (Jeremiah 17:12). His throne is the place of worship and refuge. Without this great and comforting truth, the doctrine of the sovereignty of God would be a dreaded and frightening fact. We would live in constant fear. But now we know that His throne “is the place of our [the believers’] sanctuary”—a refuge to flee to. And someday we, who are believers, can come bodily to the place where Jesus is seated with the Father, on the Father’s throne (Revelation 3:21). It is also called “the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16), where we can find refuge from the powers of Satan, demons, temptations, and sins of the flesh. It is truly a “glorious high throne.”
In chapter 18, on the background of the vision of the sovereign throne in chapter 17, Jeremiah can better understand sovereignty as it is illustrated and interpreted at the potter’s house. The first thing Jeremiah learned from the potter was that God is sovereign, that He has unlimited authority over all things, and that He always creates and molds everything perfectly. Now we come to the purpose of sovereignty. The potter was molding a clay vessel on the potter’s wheel; he was a skilled craftsman; he had a purpose for his work and he knew what he was making. But his purpose was thwarted when the clay “was marred in [emphasis added] the hand of the potter [not by the hand of the potter]; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make” (v. 4). Now the lesson shines forth in sovereign grace: “ ‘O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?’ says the Lord. ‘Look, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel!’ ” (v. 6). God, in sovereign grace, would make Judah and Jerusalem into another vessel; but they refused. So God sent them into captivity for seventy years. By doing so, He remolded them as He desired.
God is sovereign over all nations and individuals. He either dispenses sovereign judgment or bestows sovereign grace, according to His just nature. But He never punishes or shows grace arbitrarily; He always has a purpose that befits His holy character.
5-4 The Sovereignty of God and Salvation
(Romans 8:29, 30)
In this profound and difficult portion of Scripture we have five words that must be taken in the order given by the Holy Spirit if we are to understand the sovereignty of God in salvation.
1) Foreknow. “For whom He foreknew” (v. 29). God’s foreknowledge is not like our foreknowledge. Human foreknowledge means simply to know beforehand, i.e., to have foresight of things to come. Our “foreknowledge” is naturally very imperfect, very fallible. But with God the entire course of history, in every detail is perfectly clear and settled. This is why history is sometimes referred to as “His story.”
Actually, God’s “knowledge” is even more active than this. The biblical Hebrew and Greek words for “know” and “foreknow” commonly have a more profound meaning. This is seen in God’s remark concerning Abraham, as correctly translated, “For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household” (Genesis 18:19). As in similar cases where the word “know” is used, God here indicates a special relationship which He had established between Himself and Abraham. This special, personal, unmerited relationship was the basis of everything God had eternally decided to do with Abraham and Abraham’s people. It is in this way that God also speaks to Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you” (Jeremiah 1:5). In this sense Paul also writes to the Romans, “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son” (v. 29). God saves us by grace (unmerited favor) because He “knew” us by grace—before we were born.
2) Predestinate. “He also predestined” (v. 29). “Predestination,” “election,” and “being chosen” have similar meaning in God’s Word. Therefore, predestination, election, or being chosen is always according to God’s “foreknowledge,” as in the case of Abraham and Jeremiah. Predestination is threefold:
a) God predestines nations according to His foreknowledge. According to His foreknowledge, i.e., according to His previous and unmerited favor, He chose Israel to fulfill His sovereign purpose (Genesis 12:1-3; cf. Isaiah 41:8, 9; Matthew 24:21¬-24).
b) God predestines individuals for service according to His foreknowledge. Thus He chose Moses to lead Israel, His chosen nation, out of Egypt (Exodus 3:1-14). When God has a work to do on planet earth, He chooses a man or woman to accomplish His sovereign purpose.
c) He predestines individual to eternal salvation by the same principle—according to His foreknowledge. This means that He intimately and eternally knows those who will believe on His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:3 1).
Predestination means that God, in His sovereign will, chooses to save those who, according to His eternal foreknowledge, will surely believe in Him (John 3:14-16)
3) Called. “He also called (v. 30). Foreknowledge and predestination precede calling. God in eternity past called nations good and bad to fulfill His sovereign purpose on this earth. He calls individuals to serve Him in spiritual ministries, according to His sovereign will. He calls sinners to repentance and salvation according to His sovereign grace (Ephesians 2:8-10). “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4, 5). God has chosen us and called us to salvation by grace. Grace is unmerited favor. We are not called upon to decide whether God has chosen us. The responsibility is ours to respond affirmatively to His free offer of salvation in Christ.
4) Justified. “He also justified” (v. 30). Foreknowledge, predestination, and calling precede justification. To be justified is to be judicially declared righteous by God through faith in the vicarious death, burial, and bodily resurrection of God’s only begotten son, the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). God calls the sinner to salvation by His sovereign grace; the sinner answers the call by faith. Then God judicially declares the sinner righteous, whom He elected (chose) according to His foreknowledge.
5) Glorified. “He also glorified” (v. 30). Foreknowledge, predestination, calling, and justification precede glorification. Glorification of the saved will complete the believer’s redemption; Christ died to save the whole man, “spirit, soul, and body (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Our salvation will not be complete until Jesus returns to this earth, raptures the saved, and glorifies their bodies. John tells us, “We know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:1, 2). All believers will be glorified when Jesus comes. When we see our God and Savior Jesus Christ in His glorified body, “we shall be like Him.” Our new bodies will be like His eternal glorious body. But there will be one difference—His glorified body will bear the scars of Calvary forever; ours will not (Zechariah 13:6).
5-5 The Sovereignty of God and the Responsibility of Mankind
The subject before us, which the apostle Paul addresses in a forthright way, has been very controversial in the experience of the Christian church throughout history. How can God be absolutely sovereign, while man is completely responsible for his own decisions and actions? We have elsewhere shown, and the Scriptures affirm, that there are mysteries in God’s secret will and knowledge that necessarily defy human comprehension, just because these mysteries are understood completely by God alone. God is God, and man is man.
As humans—indeed, sinful humans—we dare not imagine that we will ever comprehend more than we have been gifted to understand, even in our finally glorified state in the presence of God. Thus, when Paul says, “It is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy” (v. 16), we bow before this truth, and acknowledge our inability to penetrate all that is said here. Similarly, when he says, “Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens” (v. 18). However, at the same time, Paul makes clear that God holds us accountable for our response to His overtures of grace, love, and government: “Who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to Him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ ” (v. 20) So Paul makes clear that God is truly sovereign, and we are truly responsible. Further, he says, we have no reasonable basis for questioning these truths merely because they cannot humanly be understood—in the same way, for example, that the Trinity cannot humanly be understood. God has the right, grounded in His sovereignty, goodness, and trustworthiness, to expect and demand that we trust Him with all things—both the seemingly easy and the seemingly difficult matters of His self-revelation. Therefore, in reverence and obedience, let us resolve not to question the ways of God that surpass our understanding. Rather, let us humbly respond to His earnest invitation to become His adopted, compliant children through the finished work of Christ presented in the gospel.
Master Outline 5 – The Sovereignty of God
 How does Acts 15:18 describe the “sovereignty of God”?
 The word “sovereign” means what?
 What are the two (2) aspects of the sovereignty of God?
 What three (3) things does this lesson detail about the sovereignty of God?
 How can we know Almighty God?
 How did the Apostle Paul describe the sovereignty of God?
 What did Isaiah use as a comparison to the sovereignty of God?
 Is the sovereignty of God measurable? YES or NO. Explain.
 What did Habakkuk not understand?
 What seven (7) evils of Judah did Habakkuk list?
 What was God’s answer to Habakkuk’s questions?
 How did Judah respond to Habakkuk’s word?
 When we cry, “Why? O Lord,” the answer is?
 In the darkest hour of Jeremiah’s ministry what did God do?
 God’s throne is a place of ___________________ and _______________________?
 Explain the importance of the throne to the believers.
 What illustration does the Lord use to help Jeremiah understand His sovereignty?
 God either dispenses sovereign ________________________________ or bestows
Sovereign, __________________________________ according to His just nature.
 What does He not do with grace?
 What’s the difference between human foreknowledge and God’s foreknowledge?
 Predestination, election or being chosen is always according to what?
 What two things precede calling?
 Grace is God’s __________________________ favor.
 To be justified is to be ________________________ declared righteous by God through faith in the vicarious death, burial and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.
 What will complete the believer’s redemption?
 Because of what two (2) virtues do we resolve not to question the ways of God that surpass our understanding?