Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom

By John M. Frame: DEFINITION Divine sovereignty, which is that God exercises efficacious, universal, and loving control over all things, is compatible with human freedom in that humans are free to do what they want to do, although God is sovereign over our desires.   SUMMARY The sovereignty of God is the same as the lordship of God, for God is the sovereign over all of creation. The major components of God’s lordship are his control, authority, and presence. To discuss the sovereignty of God, though, is to focus particularly on the aspect of control, though this should not bracket God’s authority and gracious presence out of the discussion. The control that God exercises over all things is both efficacious and universal; there is not one thing outside of his control. This even extends to human sin and faith. However, people still remain free and God remains innocent of sin. This is because humans have the freedom to do whatever it is that they

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8 Reminders in These Days of Panic

Dane Ortlund: These are strange days, days of fear, days of hysteria—in other words, days that simply bring all our latent anxieties up to the surface, anxieties that were there all along and are now made visible to others. What do we need to remember in these days of alarm? The World of the Bible. Now we know how the people of God felt throughout the Bible, especially the Old Testament. The prophets and many of the psalms speak to people who are caught up in mass hysteria or subject to pandemics. Maybe the current cultural moment is precisely the hermeneutic we need to read the OT deeply for the first time, which can otherwise feel so foreign. Our True Trust. Times of public panic force us to align our professed belief with our actual belief. We all say we believe God is sovereign and he is taking care of us. But we reveal our true trust when the world goes into meltdown. What’s really our

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3 Doctrines That Sustain Us in Suffering

  Ligon Duncan: Undergird Your Hope While we may not understand what God is doing, we can always trust who he is. We must never interpret God’s character by our circumstances. We must instead interpret our circumstances by God’s character. In Psalm 89, we can find three doctrines that undergird the psalmist’s hope in God and that sustain him in the midst of his suffering. 1. The Doctrine of Election First, we find the psalmist taking comfort from the doctrine of election. The doctrine of election is not an esoteric theological point for seminarians to fight about. Election in Scripture is meant to generate both hope for the people of God and worshiping hearts in the people of God. Notice how the psalmist celebrates God on account of his electing grace: I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations. . . . You have said, “I have made a covenant

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Is God Sovereign over Viruses?

Gene Edward Veith: The coronavirus epidemic has disrupted our lives, shut down the economy, and killed thousands of people. If God is sovereign and good, some are asking, why doesn’t He stop it? There are often, at the heart of such questions, misconceptions about both God and the world. The prevailing view of God today is that of “moralistic therapeutic deism.” God is loving and good, which means that He just wants us to be happy. He can help us with our problems and wants us to be loving and good too. But He is not particularly demanding or judgmental, and He basically leaves us alone. This view is rampant among teenagers, research has shown, but it can also be found among contemporary theologians who insist that God is so good that He would never condemn anyone to hell or punish His Son for other people’s sins. But while this sentimental view of God seemingly puts Him in a very

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What Is God Up to with Corona?

Erik Raymond: “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.” (John Piper) I appreciate this quote because it reminds us of our limited perspective. We simply cannot see all that God is doing. But even above blind spots, we have capacity issues. Not only is God doing more than we can see, but he is also doing more than we can fathom. Therefore the first steps in Christian humility have to be in the path revealed by God’s Word. In it, we are given a divine intel briefing that helps us to know what’s going on. Take the current pandemic, for example. If I had a buck for every time someone postulated as to what God was doing in this situation, we’d be making our church budget. There are mysteries here that we simply do not know. But there are things revealed that we do know. Amid this current trial,

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Is God in Control of Everything?

R.C. Sproul: One of Scripture’s most difficult concepts is that God can bring good out of evil. We remember that Joseph’s brothers betrayed him and, upon being reunited with him in Egypt, feared his revenge. But Joseph said to them, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). That was God’s intention. He used the brothers’ treacherous activity in order to save lives, sanctify Joseph, and bring His plan to pass. One of the most comforting passages in the New Testament is Paul’s statement that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). We must be careful here. Paul does not say that everything that happens, considered in and of itself, is good. Nor is our theme song “Que Sera, Sera,” “Whatever will be, will be.” We do have the astonishing promise, however, that everything will work together for good for those who

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God’s Sovereignty Over Leviathan and Behemoth

Christopher Ash: G. K. Chesterton suggests that as Job listens to God’s speeches, “he feels the terrible and tingling atmosphere of something which is too good to be told. The refusal of God to explain his design is itself a burning hint of his design.” What is conveyed to Job—and to us—in the Behemoth and Leviathan descriptions is indeed almost too good to be told. And yet it’s true. Leviathan and Behemoth—Figures of Darkness It seems Behemoth may be the storybook embodiment of the figure of death. And the Leviathan in biblical imagery is the archenemy of God. In the Leviathan we see the embodiment of beastliness, of terror, of undiluted evil. When, at the climax of his description, we read “he is king over all the sons of pride” (41:34), we’re reading of the one who elsewhere is called “Beelzebul, the prince of demons” (Matt. 12:24). This second divine speech to Job addresses the problem of supernatural evil in

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What Does “coram Deo” Mean?

RC Sproul: I remember Mama standing in front of me, her hands poised on her hips, her eyes glaring with hot coals of fire and saying in stentorian tones, “Just what is the big idea, young man?” Instinctively I knew my mother was not asking me an abstract question about theory. Her question was not a question at all—it was a thinly veiled accusation. Her words were easily translated to mean, “Why are you doing what you are doing?” She was challenging me to justify my behavior with a valid idea. I had none. Recently a friend asked me in all earnestness the same question. He asked, “What’s the big idea of the Christian life?” He was interested in the overarching, ultimate goal of the Christian life. To answer his question, I fell back on the theologian’s prerogative and gave him a Latin term. I said, “The big idea of the Christian life is coram Deo. Coram Deo captures the essence of the Christian life.” This phrase

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Seven Ways God Reigns over Evil

Satan Always Asks Permission John Piper: What does the Bible present to us, through the whole range of redemptive history — from beginning to end — as the way God relates to Satan’s will? I don’t want to speculate. I want Bible verses. I want Bible statements about how God relates to Satan, and then maybe seeing enough ways that God relates to Satan, I could project back and say, Well, if he relates to him that way here, he related to him that way there. That’s my approach, and you can assess whether you think that’s wise. What I want to do is just give you seven glimpses of how God relates to Satan in the Bible. 1. Satan is just God’s lackey. Satan is called “the ruler of this world” in John 12:31. However, other texts say things like this: “The Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” (Daniel 4:17) The Lord

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How Does God’s Sovereignty Not Violate Our Decision-Making?

John Piper: There aren’t many things more important than the sovereignty of God in our personal lives and how we make choices. The way we think about this does have implications for how we worship and serve and persevere as Christians, so let’s make a stab at it. I’m going to lay out seven points in what I think is a biblical view of the relationship between the human will and God’s sovereignty. Each one could have a book written about it, so these are simply pointers with biblical passages to think about. 1. Devastating Bondage Until someone is born again by the power of God’s Spirit, all human beings, ever since Adam, are spiritually blind (2 Corinthians 4:4). They are darkened in their understanding, hardened in their hearts (Ephesians 4:18). They cannot grasp spiritual truth (1 Corinthians 2:14). They are rebellious against God (Romans 8:7), spiritually dead in trespasses (Ephesians 2:1), enslaved to sin (Romans 6:6), and unable to

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The Comfort and Security of Knowing that God is in Control

Sam Storms: It’s not easy today to remain hopeful and encouraged and confident about the future of our society and the world as a whole. Things are a mess. For every one step forward it seems like we take two steps backwards. For every victory that is won for truth and morality and the Christian faith, it seems as if there is a multitude of defeats. In his excellent commentary on Revelation Dennis Johnson puts it this way: “When evil is everywhere and the world is ripe for judgment, can God protect his own? When economies crash, when civil order falters and the social fabric frays, when restraint and respect give way to rude aggression and random violence, when greed and animal appetite reign supreme, this question weighs on the hearts of God’s people: Can God keep Jesus’ little flock safe as they stand, it seems, defenseless in the crossfire? On the one hand, Christian believers will be targeted for

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How Satan Serves God

John Piper: Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. (James 5:11) Behind all disease and disability is the ultimate will of God. Not that Satan is not involved — he is probably always involved in one way or another with destructive purposes (Acts 10:38). But his power is not decisive. He cannot act without God’s permission. That is one of the points of Job’s sickness. The text makes it plain that when disease came upon Job, “Satan . . . struck Job with loathsome sores” (Job 2:7). His wife urged him to curse God. But Job said, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10). And again the inspired author of the book (just as he did in 1:22) commends Job by saying, “In all this Job did not

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How Do You Get a Revival?

Jared Wilson: It is not a miracle, or dependent on a miracle, in any sense. It is a purely philosophical result of the right use of the constituted means–as much so as any other effect produced by the application of means. There may be a miracle among its antecedent causes, or there may not. The apostles employed miracles, simply as a means by which they arrested attention to their message, and established its Divine authority. But the miracle was not the revival. The miracle was one thing; the revival that followed it was quite another thing. The revivals in the apostles’ days were connected with miracles, but they were not miracles. I said that a revival is the result of the right use of the appropriate means. Those are the words of Charles Finney from his Lectures on Revivals of Religion. I say that Finney is dead wrong. Dangerously wrong. But Finney’s words here serve as the philosophical precursor to countless

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God’s Sovereignty and Glory

By Derek Thomas: God is sovereign in creation, providence, redemption, and judgment. That is a central assertion of Christian belief and especially in Reformed theology. God is King and Lord of all. To put this another way: nothing happens without God’s willing it to happen, willing it to happen before it happens, and willing it to happen in the way that it happens. Put this way, it seems to say something that is expressly Reformed in doctrine. But at its heart, it is saying nothing different from the assertion of the Nicene Creed: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty.” To say that God is sovereign is to express His almightiness in every area. God is sovereign in creation. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). Apart from God, there was nothing. And then there was something: matter, space, time, energy. And these came into being ex nihilo—out of nothing. The will to create was entirely

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Doctrine Is Precious in the Storm

Erik Raymond: Theology often gets a bad rap. Pitted against application, doctrine is painted as stuffy and out of step. But so often when we read the Bible we find that it is the theology that drives the devotion. Orthodoxy gets pressed down into the crevices of our lives to make us grow. Like an expert mason with his trowel, the Lord uses trials to press the mortar of doctrine into the deepest parts of our lives. One story that brings this out in a refreshing way is the time when Rebekah was pregnant with twins. Like us, Rebekah was not promised an easy life on the road of blessing. She experienced great conflict. We read in Genesis 25:22, “the children struggled together within her.” The NIV says that the babies jostled together within her. There was a conflict in Rebekah’s womb, and it was most certainly painful. In response, Rebekah asks a very appropriate question, “and she said, “If

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Two Wills, One Outcome

Sam Storms: In his book, What About Free Will? (Presbyterian & Reformed, 2016), Scott Christensen seeks to articulate the significance of what is known as compatibilism. On pp. 77-78 he says this: “Biblical compatibilism seeks to demonstrate one simple reality. Every human action in the course of history has a dual explanation, one divine and one human. In this model of “double agency,” the human side of the explanation is the more tangible, visible and familiar side. The divine side is largely intangible, invisible and less familiar. This juxtaposition is expressed simply and clearly by Solomon: “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Prov. 16:9; cf. Prov. 19:21; 20:24). The vast throngs of earth’s inhabitants contemplate, deliberate and articulate their plans to pursue the paths that define their lives. Then they act upon those plans. Yet, God secretly stands behind them all directing each set of footsteps along the specific course he designed. His

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When God’s Timing Is Not Our Own

    Sam Storms: The God of the Unlikely Time Often our schedule and God’s seem out of sync. He acts earlier than we had expected, or later than we had hoped, or when it seems most awkward and inconvenient. The result is that sometimes we are impatient with God or choose to act impetuously, while on other occasions we are lazy and inactive. I suspect that’s how the Israelites must have felt as they stood on the banks of the Jordan River, prepared to enter the Promised Land of Canaan. They learned a lesson there that all of us must learn sooner or later. The lesson is simply that the God we love and serve is often the God of the unlikely time. When the two spies returned from Jericho, Joshua received the news he had been waiting for: “And they said to Joshua, ‘Truly the LORD has given all the land into our hands. And also, all the

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How Big is Your God?

Sam Storms posts on Scott Christensen’s, What About Free Will? Reconciling our Choices with God’s Sovereignty (P&R, 284pp.). In Chapter Three, titled, “How Big is Your God?” Christensen describes God’s sovereignty in these terms: When the Bible unfolds God’s supreme control it speaks of a glorious choreographer who causally determines the course of history in a way that is not conditioned by anything his creation or creatures do. Rather the whole panorama of the cosmos is entirely dependent upon his meticulous guidance. His foreordination of all things was forever settled before the foundations of the earth were laid and nothing can change this fact. He neither established his plan by consulting the future choices of his creatures nor does he alter it by considering what they have already done. The Scripture is replete with passages that paint just such a portrait of God. As the psalmist says, “The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules

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Who Gave Paul His Thorn?

. Andrew Wilson: Who gave Paul his thorn in 2 Corinthians 12? It might sound like a slightly obscure, angels-on-a-pinhead question, but it is actually very significant, because it cuts to the heart of questions about divine sovereignty, suffering, goodness and the agency of the devil. Does God send adversity, to teach us or bring us to maturity? Do God and Satan work together, in some weird way? Is Satan able to act on his own initiative? Does God sometimes actively will for people to experience things they find painful, that good may result? You get the idea. The text doesn’t tell us what exactly the thorn was, and it doesn’t tell us who exactly gave it to Paul. So let’s start with what we know. 1. The thorn was “a messenger of Satan.” 2. It was given “to keep me from being too conceited” (hina mē huperairōmai). 3. It was painful, to the point that Paul pleaded with the

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The Continental Divide of Theology

Steven Lawson: Through the western regions of North America, there runs an imaginary geographic line that determines the flow of streams into oceans. It is known as the Continental Divide. Ultimately, precipitation falling on the east side of this great divide will flow into the Atlantic Ocean. Likewise, water falling on the western slopes of this line will surge in the opposite direction until it finally empties into the Pacific Ocean. Needless to say, a vast continent separates these immense bodies of water. It is seemingly far-fetched to ponder that a raindrop falling atop a mountain in Colorado will flow to the Pacific, while another drop, falling but a short distance away, will flow into the Atlantic. Nevertheless, once the water pours down on a particular side of this great divide, its path is determined and its direction is unchangeable. Geography is not the only place we find a great divide. There is a high ground that runs through church history

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