THE SOVEREIGN WILL AND HUMAN RESPONSIBILITIES
GOD'S thoughts, Isaiah once humbly
remarked, "are not your thoughts, neither are your ways His ways ... So
shall My word be that goes forth from My month; it shall not return to Me void,
but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for
which I sent it" (Isa 55:8,11). In
spite of God's word being absolute and that we can never ever resist His will,
human choice still plays a part in every conceivable aspect of our lives.
When God created man, He had never
designed him to function mechanically.
Knowledge, freedom of choice ... were parts of man. He was created to be responsible for his
life. For man to disobey God's command
by taking the forbidden fruit, would have been incredible, if he had been a
programmed machine with absolutely no freedom to choose for himself.
God's election of the Israelites
was an explicit expression of the sovereign will. Yet He left them with a clear task, namely
they had a responsibility to obey Him.
In the Sinai Covenant, the interplay of God's will and human
responsibilities is vivid. He alone
initiated the process of deliverance.
The people had not in any way contributed to their own salvation. This was purely the sovereign grace (Exod
19:4). For the covenant to remain
binding between God and them, Moses had to pass from the point of initiation
(God) to the receiving end (man). He
further passed from divine love to human responsibilities (Exod 19:5). God's blessing would come upon them only
(Exod 19:6) when their part to the covenant was fulfilled: "You have seen
what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought
you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My
covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all
the earth is mine. And you shall be to
me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Exod 19:4ff).
The people had many occasions for
exercising their freedom of choice.
However, they had to bear the consequences of each of their
choices. " Your eyes have seen what
the Lord did at Baal Peor; for the Lord your God has destroyed from among you
all the men who followed Baal of Peor, But you who held fast to the Lord your
God are alive today, everyone of you" (Deut 4:3f).
Before Moses passed away, he
presented these two clear paths again to the people of God - to choose life or
to choose death (Deut 27:11ff). The
history of the Israelites tells us that God damned most of them because they
were rebellious, in spite of His numerous calls for their return (Heb 3:18; cf
Ps 95: 10f).
Thinking that God is the
mastermind behind all the things we do makes us lose not only our confidence,
but also our hope in Jesus. The
misconception that God damns whomever He wishes, without giving us a choice,
breeds fatalism and produces irresponsibility.
It is this long-held notion that has always made man shift his blame
onto God. The reason given being that
God is sovereign, and therefore can do what He desires, even to the hurt of His
peoples' souls, in this case damnation, and still remains righteous. Advocates argue that to have an element of
human involvement and will in our actions is contrary to God's sovereignty.
Quite the opposite: if God is
sovereign, is His sovereignty nullified when freedom of choice is instilled to
man? Certainly not. Rather the view that man has the freedom to
choose falls neatly in place with the entire Scriptures. If man is a living machine, then this only
means that God has caused him to sin.
His incarnation to save man by dying on the cross, is nothing but the
most perverted show of greatness.
God tried to restore His people
through the work of His Spirit. But they
chose to rebel and grieve the Holy Spirit (Isa 63: 10f, Acts 7:51). If they possessed no freedom to choose, was
it possible at all for them to oppose Him?
Definitely not. It is precisely
because we have this space of freewill that Paul encourages us not to grieve
the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30). God, being
orderly, would not confuse man by giving two contradictory inspirations -
motivating man to obey the Spirit and at the same time quenching the very
inspiration from Himself.
In fact, we have to do our part to
obey God. To whom we present ourselves
slaves to obey, we are that one's slaves whom we obey, whether of sin to death,
or of obedience to righteousness (Rom 6:16).
Christ ushers us into Him by His grace through baptism (Rom 6:1ff). But it would be utterly wrong to assume that
we who are in Christ have no part to play in guarding ourselves against sin.
"Therefore do not let your mortal body that you should obey it in its
lusts" (Rom 6:12).
In conclusion, Jesus came to save
us from sins and would not defeat His own purpose by making us sin. And to whom did He swear that they would not
enter His rest, but to those who did not obey (Heb 3:18)? The Holy Spirit and power of His truth have
already enlightened us. To sin willfully
is to sever ourselves from the grace of God (Heb 6:4ff).