God's Supreme Sovereignty
Chapter Two of "The Really Good News About God" discusses God's ability to do whatever he decides and to fully achieve his purpose for creation.
Some of these quotations remind me of a movie I saw a few years back.
It was called “Bella” and was based on a true love story about how events that happened one day in New York City changed the lives of three people forever.
As the opening titles were being shown, Jose, the hero of the story, was heard to say in a quiet voice-over,
“My grandmother used to say,
‘If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.’’’
I have never forgotten that line.
I think Solomon would also agree. He said,
“People may plan all kinds of things, but the Lord’s will is going to be done.”
[Proverbs 19 : 21 GNB]
Have you ever thought about the consequences of God not being sovereign, of God not being in control?
It raises the prospect that any of his plans can be undone at any time.
He might be over-ruled by someone or something else.
Something might turn up that he wasn’t expecting, that catches him off-guard.
His plan to save the world through Jesus might be unravelled or circumvented in the future.
The possibilities are endless – and way too scary to think about.
He just has to be sovereign or he is not God.
Just as God is love, he is sovereign or Lord.
What About Freewill?
That’s another good question.
If God is the Creator-Owner of all and is in control of all he created, then where does this thing called “freewill” fit into the picture?
I know humankind’s freewill is proudly proclaimed in the world, indeed highly valued and promoted in many Christian churches.
But let me say something else that might shock you.
Freewill is a myth.
Not the “will” part, but the “free” part.
As Dan Sheridan says, “There is only room for one person to have freewill in this universe – and it’s not us.”
God, in his sovereignty, has given us the authority and ability to make choices in many areas of our lives, but those choices are never made freely.
They are never free from one sort of influence or another.
God has a plan for all of us.
We have the authority to exercise our wills and make all the choices we want, but these will only determine the quality of the journey – they can only make the journey wonderful or dangerous.
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"The Really Good News About God" has been published in various formats. You can purchase a copy, or download a pdf version, using the "Book" link.
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Mainstream Christianity holds two strong, but very different, views about God's plan of salvation.
The first view considers that God has selected only certain people to be saved (forgiven and live in harmony with him forever), and that God will have his way and make this happen. It is believed that those not selected, the majority of mankind, will be tormented in hell forever.
The second view considers that God wants all people to be saved (forgiven and live in harmony with him forever), but the choice of whether that happens is up to each individual. However, it is believed that most people will not accept God's offer of life with him and spend forever in torment in hell.
Supporters of each view use the Bible to justify their beliefs and yet there is little in common between them.
Let's see if we can identify the basic beliefs that underpin each of these views.
First View (often called Calvinism)
C1. God is sovereign, so he makes the big decisions and makes sure they are carried out.
C2. God has already chosen his friends who will live in harmony with him forever.
C3. Hell is severe punishment which lasts forever for those God has not chosen.
Second View (often called Arminianism)
A1. God is love and wants everyone to live in harmony with him forever.
A2. We have been given freewill and are free to make God's desire happen for us or not.
A3. Hell is severe punishment which lasts forever for those who do not choose what God wants.
Both views arrive at the same conclusion, that some of us will spend forever with God while the majority will spend the same forever being severely punished, although they get there by very different paths.
And both views claim the Bible supports their conclusion, as well as the particular path they travel to get to it.
Although many books have been written and many Bible Colleges teach and promote these views, both views concern me greatly as they lead us to two unacceptable and unbiblical positions.
The first view paints a picture of God who is a sadistic, capricious tyrant. He chooses his friends and torments those he hasn't chosen. Sounds a bit like some of the worst dictators the world has seen in the 20th century.
I'd rather believe the Bible when it says that "God is love" (1 John 4 : 16 NIV) and that "God has shown us how much he loves us - it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us! " (Romans 5 : 8 GNB)
The second view assumes that our will has greater power than God's - the desires of the Creator can be vetoed by the desires of those he created.
I don't think a Creator who can be outvoted by his creation is worthy of the title "God". God needs to be all-powerful, in control, and trustworthy to be worthy of our worship, respect and service.
In fact, in a battle of wills, God must win if he is indeed God; otherwise we have become god over him.
So let's create another view, a Third View, that uses the basic beliefs of both of these previous "opposite" ungodly views, with some slight modifications. That sounds strange, doesn't it, to use all the major beliefs of opposing views to formulate a new one?
Third View (I like to call this the GRACE view)
G1. God is sovereign, so he makes the big decisions and makes sure they are carried out. ( = previous C1)
G2. God has already chosen ALL OF US TO BE his friends. ( = modified C2)
G3. God is love and wants everyone to live in harmony with him forever. ( = previous A1)
G4. We have been given a will and ALL OF US WILL USE IT to make God's desire happen for us EVENTUALLY. ( = modified A2)
G5. Hell MAY WELL BE punishment and/or purification FOR MANY, but will NOT last forever for ANYONE. ( = modified C3 and A3)
(I have continued to use "hell" as it is used in the two previous views, but it would be more correct to use "the lake of fire" in this discussion as the word "hell" only refers to the unseen realm, and has nothing to do with punishment per se.)
Before we demonstrate the Biblical support for the GRACE view, please try this little experiment.
Consider, on one hand, the mainstream views of God's plan of salvation (Calvinism and Arminianism), in which most people will be excluded from living in harmony with God forever.
On the other hand, consider the GRACE view, in which God achieves his loving purpose of reconciling all people to himself and living in harmony with all of us forever.
Now consider ........
Which view most strongly supports the Biblical concept of a God of love?
Which view best describes God’s eventual victory over evil?
Which view best honours and celebrates the victory won by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross?
Which view best demonstrates "grace out-performing sin" that Paul describes in Romans 5?
Which view most helps us to honour and worship God?
Which view gives the better idea of a loving Father raising and disciplining his children?
Which view most likely inspires hope?
Which view is more consistent with God as a model of kindness and mercy for us to follow?
Which view makes it easier for us to introduce our God to unbelievers?
Doesn't this seem a much better view than is currently held by mainstream Christianity?
Let's see if it can be supported by a correctly translated English Bible.
The Third View ( the GRACE view )
G1. God is sovereign, so he makes the big decisions and makes sure they are carried out.
The glorious God is the only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords. [1 Timothy 6 : 15 CEV]
The will of the Lord alone is always carried out. [Lamentations 3 : 37 GNB]
Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails. [Proverbs 19 : 21 NIV]
G2. God has already chosen ALL OF US TO BE his friends.
He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. [1 John 2 : 2 NIV]
... we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe. [1 Tim 4 : 10 NIV]
For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. [1 Cor 15 : 22 NIV]
G3. God is love and wants everyone to be saved (to live in harmony with him forever).
... God our Savior ... wants everyone to be saved and to come to know the truth. For there is one God, and there is one who brings God and human beings together, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself to redeem the whole human race ... [1 Tim 2 : 3 - 6 GNB]
G4. We have been given a will and ALL OF US WILL USE IT to make God's desire happen for us EVENTUALLY.
For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. [Romans 11 : 32 NIV]
Jesus said, "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." [John 12 : 32 NIV]
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. [Phil 2 : 9 - 11 NIV]
G5. Hell MAY WELL BE punishment and/or purification FOR MANY, but will NOT last forever for ANYONE.
But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. [Malachi 3: 2 NIV]
Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come. [Matthew 12 : 32 NKJV](The only "unforgivable" sin only remains unforgivable for this and the next age.)
It is interesting that the one belief common to both of the mainstream Christian views has no strong backing from Scripture. There is not a single verse in the Bible that says hell is eternal.
However in many English Bibles, Matthew 25 : 46 seems to suggest that. Jesus finishes the parable of the sheep and the goats with the statement "then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life".
The word "eternal" is not a good translation of the Greek "aionion" in both cases in this verse, or in fact, in any verse in which "aionion" is used in the New Testament. "Aionion" is the adjective formed from the noun "aion", which means "age" or "eon" or "period of time", but certainly not an eternity.
And to translate this verse using "eternal" as the adjective formed from "aion" to describe the life and punishment in the next age contradicts so many other verses, including many that we have quoted above.
On the positive side, as well as verses that declare God's intention to have mercy on all, there are several verses which imply that punishment is for a given time or at least for a period which has an ending.
Luke 12 : 47 - 48 suggests different degrees or lengths of punishment, as do Matthew 10 : 15 and Matthew 11 : 24; certainly not eternal or everlasting punishment.
And even Matthew 25 : 46 itself contains another interesting aspect. The Greek word for punishment in this verse is "kolasis", a word which meant "pruning" or "remedial punishment" in Greek literature. Trees are pruned and children are punished so they will grow better, take a better shape or produce better or more fruit.
So "a period of pruning or remedial punishment" is an appropriate term for Jesus to use here if he has the eventual reconciliation of all in the back of his mind while talking to this crowd.
In summary, the GRACE view begins with the most basic of all Christian beliefs, expressed in a song many Christian parents teach their young children.
"Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so."
This view then adds the Biblical truth that God is sovereign who desires to save all, without exception.
Simple logic then draws the conclusion that God will save all.
And the process of salvation of all?
1. Salvation is God's gift of grace. (Ephesians 2 : 8)
2. Salvation comes through faith, which is also given by God. (Ephesians 2 : 9; Romans 12 : 3)
3. Salvation is given to all people. (1 Timothy 4 : 10)
Quite simply, in order to be the Saviour of all, God has to save all.
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In Chapter 2 of "The Really Good News About God" the myth of mankind's freewill is discussed.
Events in the lives of several Biblical personalities are used to illustrate this myth - Job, Jonah, Joseph, Saul/Paul.
There is another excellent example in Matthew 26.
Peter was determined to stand by Jesus, no matter what.
"Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will."
"Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you."
[Matthew 26: 33, 35 NIV]
However, Jesus knew better; he knew what was to eventuate.
To his disciples, he said:
This very night you will all fall away on account of me."
[Matthew 26 : 31 NIV]
To Peter he said:
"Truly I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times."
[Matthew 26 : 34 NIV]
And, of course, Jesus was correct. Peter's determined will was overridden by what had previously been ordained to happen.
... those standing there went up to Peter and said, "Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away".
Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, "I don't know the man!"
Immediately a rooster crowed.
[Matthew 26 : 73, 74 NIV]
The thought that God might be sovereign over his creation is scary to some people, foolishness to others and a challenge to the supposed integrity, independence and freewill of others.
However, like every creator or inventor in the earthly realm, God ensures his creation fulfils the purpose for which he created it.
For that I am very thankful.
Because it means that whatever God has decided will happen, must happen, regardless of the will or plans of others.
Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails.
[Proverbs 19 : 21 NIV]
And what is God's purpose in creating the heavens and the earth?
He (God) made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfilment - to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
[Ephesians 1 : 9, 10 NIV]
And Jesus promised to do the heavy lifting to get the job done.
As well as paying the death penalty for our sin, he took the responsibility of bringing all people to himself over the course of time to complete God's unity plan.
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.
[John 12 : 32 NIV]
It seems to me that anyone who does not believe God will achieve what he has planned does not believe God is sovereign, is in total charge of his universe.
Even so, I know many Christians who say they believe God is sovereign and yet expect billions of people to "out-will" God and thwart his plan to save and unite the world. Go figure.
The only freewill in the entire universe is God's !!
First of all, let's be clear about what the Gospel is.
For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them.
[2 Corinthians 5 : 19 NLT]
Most churches would claim that they faithfully proclaim this gospel message.
But many don't.
Their main message is:
We are all sinners with our sins standing against us.
We have a choice.
If we repent of our sins and we accept Jesus as our Saviour we will be forgiven and secure peace with God and a place for ourselves in heaven.
However, if we refuse to do this, we are forever lost, alienated from God, and on our way to everlasting torment in hell.
The difference between heaven and hell as an eternal destiny is determined by our freewill choice.
Chapter 2 of "The Really Good News About God" deals quite extensively with the common concept that mankind has freewill showing that at best we have limited freewill.
I have also addressed this topic in several posts on the BLOG, but here I wish to deal with a serious consequence of this belief in freewill.
It torpedoes the gospel!
Let me explain.
The salvation message of many churches is that because we are sinners, our sins stand against us and, unless we do something about it, we are on our way to everlasting torment in hell.
And this is where our freewill comes in. We can freely choose Jesus or not.
If we use our freewill to choose Jesus, we are forgiven for our sins and we avoid that terrible hell consequence.
In other words, our freewill choice saves us. Unless we make that choice, we are lost. Jesus doesn't save us; our freewill choice does!
Wow! How subtle is the deception.
The truth is that God, through Christ, is the Saviour of the world.
We struggle and work hard, because we have placed our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all and especially of those who believe.
[1 Timothy 4 : 10 GNB]
He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
[1 John 2 : 2 NIV]
Jesus has done it all - with absolutely no assistance from us.
Salvation is a done deal because of what Jesus achieved on our behalf.
That is THE gospel. That is THE Good News.
We must not dilute what Jesus has achieved by claiming he needs our assistance to complete the deal or to put the deal into effect.
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One of the issues that I seem to be continually addressing with people is the nature of eternity. Although this concept was discussed in Chapter 7, and mentioned briefly in Chapter 3, it is included here as it contributes to the more general discussion of God's sovereignty.
Most people seem to think that eternity is a state in which time goes on forever. This is not an unreasonable idea, but the fact is that the exact opposite is true.
Eternity is time-less. There is no time at all in eternity.
Everything is in the now. Everything in eternity just IS.
And God did say his name is "I AM".
God has given us time "down here" so we don't have everything happening at once. Events happen one after the other for us in our universe.
Occasionally two things do happen together, simultaneously, and look at the trouble that gives us. What would it be like if everything happened simultaneously?
We find this idea of timelessness difficult to comprehend, mainly because we have only ever experienced life in which time is an essential and controlling ingredient.
So I have developed a few simple illustrations to help people see the difference between the eternity where God IS and the ages where we currently live.
The TV Series
An advertisement for an upcoming series on TV says there will be 6 episodes and then shows us a peek preview of the first episode.
It even tells us when the series will begin being telecast.
How does the advertiser know there are 6 episodes, and how can he show us a peek preview of an episode that has not even been aired yet?
The advertiser has already seen the whole series, or spoken to its producers, and knows all about it long before it begins to be shown on TV. (Eternity)
He even knows when the station plans to commence airing the series, whereas we can only see what the TV station shows us after it has begun to show us. (The Ages)
The Train on the Back Fence
One house in which we lived had a major train line on its back boundary. Through a knot hole in the fence, we could see trains coming and going, but we could only see one carriage passing at a time.
We never knew how many carriages there were until they had all passed and we had counted them. (The Ages)
If however, when we heard a train coming we climbed up onto the fence, we could see everything about that train all at once. How many carriages, what sort of carriages, what sort of engine, were all known to us before the engine had even reached our knot hole. (Eternity)
The View from the Hot Air Balloon
Watching vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians approaching a busy intersection from a hot air balloon hovering above and back a little from that intersection tells us everything that is going to happen at that intersection, and from all directions, long before any of it happens. (Eternity)
Standing at the intersection and looking in one direction would give an observer a more limited and sequenced view. He could only see things as they arrived at the intersection in the order they arrived and from the direction he was monitoring. (The Ages)
Mother's Basket of Goodies
Mother has a basket of goodies. When she looks into the basket, she sees all the goodies at the same time. (Eternity)
Mother takes items out of her basket, one at a time, and gives them to her children. They see the goodies as they are given to them, one at a time, and in the order in which they are given. (The Ages)
The School Teacher's Curriculum
A teacher plans the curriculum for his class. The contents, learning methods, tests, remedial classes, excursions, pupil and parent interviews, reporting procedures and the timetable for them are all planned before the school year begins.
When completed, the teacher can see all of these curriculum ingredients at the same time as a complete package. (Eternity)
The student, however, sees all these things as they happen on a day-to-day basis as the year progresses. (The Ages)
In Revelation Chapter 4, John was told to "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this."
He was then able to see God's view of things by looking into his basket of goodies. And his description was like .... "I saw ... then I saw ..... and I saw ..... then I saw .... " as he rattled off in quick succession all the things that caught his eye. He saw them all "at once" because he was where God IS. (Eternity)
When John returned to earth, he had to wait with everyone else to see where and when each of those events he saw in heaven would arrive on the earth. He was back in the space-time constraint of the ages. (The Ages)
How many books have been written by Christians, also confined to the space-time realm, trying to establish the order of arrival of all the things John, and the other prophets, have been shown?
Maybe we just have to get ready for them all, then wait and see.
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