Rejoicing that our God is Able

“Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases”(Psalm 115:3). Sam Storms: When was the last time you thanked God simply for being able? I can’t imagine anything more disheartening and depressing than believing in a God who lacks the power to fulfill his purposes, whose energy wanes in the heat of battle or whose strength diminishes in a moment of crisis. Good intentions notwithstanding, if God can’t carry out his plans and can’t fulfill his goals and can’t keep his promises, I’m not sure I want anything to do with him. The apostle Paul consistently celebrated the ability of God and his limitless power to act on behalf of his people. Typical is this doxology in his letter to the Ephesians: “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in

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Four Implications of Martin Luther’s Theology

Sinclair Ferguson: What do the sovereignty of God, salvation by grace, justification by faith, and new life in union with Christ mean for the living of the Christian life? For Martin Luther, they carry four implications: The first implication is the knowledge that the Christian believer is simul iustus et peccator, at one and the same time justified and yet a sinner. This principle, to which Luther may have been stimulated by John Tauler’s Theologia Germanica, was a hugely stabilizing principle: in and of myself, all I see is a sinner; but when I see myself in Christ, I see a man counted righteous with His perfect righteousness. Such a man is therefore able to stand before God as righteous as Jesus Christ—because he is righteous only in the righteousness that is Christ’s. Here we stand secure. The second implication is the discovery that God has become our Father in Christ. We are accepted. One of the most beautiful accounts found in Luther’s Table Talk was,

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Paralysis Was His Good Plan

HOW PREDESTINATION CHANGED MY SUFFERING By Joni Eareckson Tada “Your broken neck is no accident, Joni. God has an amazing plan for your life.” Christian friends said something like this often when they came to visit me in the hospital after my diving accident. They longed to encourage their paralyzed friend, and they succeeded. To a point. Having been raised in the Reformed Episcopal church, God’s sovereignty was not a strange concept. But now, it raised sticky questions. I kept pushing the replay button on my dive off the raft, trying to imagine what was happening in the heavenlies. Did God take a hands-off approach and allow me to do something stupid of my own free will? Or did Satan go before God with the playbook he used with Job, asking for permission to shove me off the raft? Was God reluctant? Did the devil then twist his arm until God cried uncle? Or maybe God himself pushed me off the

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The Sovereignty of God

An essay by John M. Frame: DEFINITION 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 covenantal presence. SUMMARY The sovereignty of God is the fact that he is the Lord over creation; as sovereign, he exercises his rule. This rule is exercised through God’s authority as king, his control over all things, and his presence with his covenantal people and throughout his creation. The divine name, Yahweh, expresses this sovereign rule over against the claims of human kings, such as Pharaoh (Exod. 3:14). Because God is tri-personal, however, his sovereign control is not impersonal or mechanical, but is the loving and gracious oversight of the king of creation and redemption. The term sovereignty is rarely found in recent translations of Scripture, but it represents an important biblical concept. A sovereign is a ruler, a king, a lord, and Scripture often refers to God as the

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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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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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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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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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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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The Gospel of Sovereign Grace

Joel Beeke: One New Testament book that especially emphasizes God’s astounding sovereign grace is Paul’s letter to the Romans. According to Paul, this grace makes both Jew and Gentile co-heirs of God’s kingdom with faithful Abraham (Rom. 4:16). It establishes peace between God and sinners who are His enemies (Rom. 5:2). Since only this grace is stronger than the forces of sin, it brings genuine and lasting freedom from sin’s dominion (Rom. 5:20-21; 6:14). Divine grace equips Christian men and women with varied gifts to serve in the church of God (Rom. 12:6). This grace ultimately will conquer death and is the sure harbinger of eternal life for all who receive it (Rom. 5:20-21), for it is a grace that reaches back into the aeons before the creation of time and, without respect to human merit, chooses men and women for salvation (Rom. 11:5-6). This idea that salvation owes everything to God’s grace is the overarching theme not just in Romans

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God’s Secret Work of Election

  Colin Smith: If God had waited for me to seek after him, he would still be waiting. No one seeks God (Romans 3:11). No one! Not even you. By nature we run from God. If we seek him, it is only because he has taken the initiative to seek us. I came to Christ because his grace first came to me. Abraham was not seeking God. He was an idolater (Joshua 24:2). God swept into Abraham’s life uninvited and promised, not only to bless him, but to bless people from every nation on earth through him (Genesis 12:3). God always makes the first move, and he planned your salvation long before you were born. God chose us in Christ before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love, he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ in accordance with his pleasure and will (Ephesians 1:3-5). Think about this: You

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Piper, Platt, and Chandler on God’s Goodness in Your Pain

Matt Smethurst: So long as this broken world endures, suffering will remain a painfully relevant subject. It’s not far from any of us. As Christians we know we’re supposed to lean on God, but what kind of God is he? In light of all the heartache and sadness that plague our lives, is he really worth our trust? “One of the biggest mercies of God took place long before my suffering arrived,” recalls Chandler, who was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2009. For a while he had been working to prepare his young congregation for suffering. Little did he know, however, that all along God was preparing him. Contrary to popular belief, Piper observes, awareness of the bigness and majesty and sovereignty of God practically helps when we’re in the throes of perplexity and pain. Though it may sound comforting at first, the idea that “God didn’t have anything to do with this” is actually horrible news, since it means he’s not in control after

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