Why believe in the sovereignty of God? Part 1

by: Roger Smalling


The sovereignty of God is the only legitimate basis for a solid faith. Although someone might claim to have faith without believing in God’s sovereignty, a close examination exposes a trust based on human ability. Divine sovereignty is so crucial to biblical Christianity that without it, our faith is scarcely worthy of the name Christian. But the pervasive influence of humanism in modern society has deeply affected every domain of thinking, from the political to the religious. Even among conservative Christians, the sovereignty of God is frequently neglected in the pulpit. This is unfortunate, because it is the only possible foundation for a stable Christian walk. Everything else crumbles under the pressures of life.

This doctrine contends that all reality is a product of divine decrees established before the creation of the world. It claims that God is in control of everything that happens, good or bad. This does not mean, however, that God causes evil or is the author of sin. Nor does He rejoice in the sufferings of his creation. It indicates that everything forms part of a great plan that will inevitably result in his glory.

 Why do we say it is the only valid foundation for the believer’s faith?

 First, only a sovereign God can guarantee his promises. Only if He controls everything can we trust him for salvation. Otherwise, something He does not govern might prevent him from saving us. Is it logical to trust in a God who does not control everything?

 Second, if God were not sovereign, it would be impossible to derive spiritual lessons from the events of our lives. We could never know if God is teaching us something, or if the episodes of life are mere happenstance. Trusting God would be little better than trusting to luck.

 Third, the sovereignty of God is the only basis on which to give him glory. Unless He is responsible for the entire work of salvation in our lives, why give him all the glory?

 Fourth, this is the only basis for prayer. Why pray to a God Who is not sovereign? Unless He controls everything, then perhaps He cannot answer us, either.

 The very idea of sovereignty implies unlimited control and authority. It is impossible for God to be little bit sovereign or even mostly sovereign. Thus, it is illogical to contend, God is sovereign, but ... If we add the word but, we confess we do not really believe God to be sovereign. Such affirmations are like proposing that God is somewhat infinite, or almost all-powerful. Any effort to qualify God’s sovereignty is a tacit denial of it.

 How we know God is sovereign ~

Four foundational biblical ideas establish the sovereignty of God. These follow in logical order:

  •  The divine attributes of omnipotence, omniscience and omnipotence.

  • The immutable will of God. (This means ‘unchangeable.)

  • Reality as a product of God’s will.

  • God owns everything.

 First Foundation: His attributes

The Bible teaches God’s Omniscience, meaning that He knows everything. Known to God from eternity are all his works. Acts 15:18 

Omnipotent means that God is Almighty…  because the Lord our God Almighty reigns… Revelation 19:6

 Denial of the sovereignty of God implies a denial of one or both attributes. Example: Suppose something happens that God did not ordain. It could only be for one of two reasons:  Either He did not know it was going to happen, or He lacked the power to prevent it.

In the first case, he would not be all knowing. In the second, He would not be all-powerful. The existence of these two attributes makes it impossible for anything to happen without divine permission.

 Second Foundation: Immutability

The word immutable means never changing. It also carries the idea of irresistible.  This term is found in Hebrews 6:17-19.  To better understand it, it helps to distinguish between two aspects of the divine will. These are his will of command versus his will of purpose.

 God expressed his will of commands as moral edicts, such as the 10 Commandments. God allows people to transgress these laws, and man sins in doing so. But when God decrees that He will fulfill a certain purpose, He allows no one to invalidate or hinder that it.

 Example: Suppose God said, Do you see that tree? I command that no one should cut it down. This would be a divine injunction, the expression of his will of commands. Would God permit someone to cut the tree down? Yes, because God allows his commands to be broken.

 Suppose, though, that God said, My sovereign purpose is that this tree never be cut down. Would God allow someone to cut it down? No power on earth, human or demonic, could cut down that tree. God would prevent it.

 Were it not for his will of commands, man would not be allowed to sin. And without his Will of Purpose, we would lack the confidence that God could fulfill his promises.

 Theological disaster results from ignoring the difference between these two aspects of God’s will.

 So, his will of command can be resisted. God himself may choose to change to his commands. Not only does He allow his commands to be broken, He may even annul them. (The Old Testament ceremonial laws, for example, are no longer binding.)

 Not so with immutable decrees. These never change, and no one stops him from accomplishing them. This idea is sometimes expressed in scripture as his counsels.

 My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure. Isaiah 46:10

 Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath,

 Other times, the word purpose expresses the same thought.

 … according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will. Ephesians 1:11

 For the Lord of Hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back? Isaiah 14:27

 Some texts may not use these terms, but the idea comes across unmistakably.

 … He does according to his will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain his hand or say to him, ‘What have You done? ’ Daniel 4:35

 Through this ‘Immutability’ concept, we see more clearly what is meant by the phrase sovereignty of God. We have more than solid grounds for trusting him.

(In Part 2, we’ll explore the other foundations for the sovereignty of God.)


Questions & Comments for Dr. Smalling