What makes a person a theologian is not a college education, and not a seminary education, and sure not a doctorate. What makes a person a theologian is seeing things in the Bible and getting on their knees and thinking until they see harmony and unity coming together at the root of their being. They just won’t let go. They won’t let any scripture go. They’re pondering and praying and say,
Keep me faithful to the whole counsel of God. Don’t let me run off in one direction and ride that hobby horse and don’t let me run off in the other direction and ride that hobby horse. Let me get it all together, Lord, as much as a human brain can get it together. Help me to be faithful, to hold in tension what has to be kept tension. I want to be true to the word of God.
My conclusion is that the will of God in the Bible has two meanings. It’s not rocket science. On the one hand, it sometimes means God’s absolute sovereign control over all things, which can never be broken and never frustrated. And sometimes it refers to what you ought to do because he commands you to do it: don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t commit adultery. You can break that will. You can disobey it. So we need to ask from text to text which of these two is being spoken of.
“What makes a person a theologian isn’t an education, but wrestling with the Bible until you see harmony and unity.”
Before I do that in Romans 12:2, let me pause here and try to help you feel why what I just said is precious beyond words to know and believe. I don’t think that it’s possible to handle deep hurt and great loss in your life without these two categories. Knowing God as sovereign and in control corresponds to a need that we have, and knowing God as a God who commands and commends and entreats his will — which can be broken — corresponds to a profound need that we have. And to know him in both of these ways can get us through situations where if we try to choose the one or the other will leave us very vulnerable.
Let me try to give you an example: Suppose that you were abused as a child. I mean, really badly abused — sexually abused, physically abused, and it has wrought havoc in your life. It begins to come out and you deal with it. Somebody asks you, “Do you think that was the will of God?,” which is a very common question, and a good one. “Do you think that was the will of God?” My earnest prayer is that after this sermon, you will be able to answer that question biblically in a way that doesn’t contradict the bible — as strange, as mysterious, as painful, as perplexing as it may sound. It would go like this:
No, it was not the will of God, because God commands that we not abuse each other, and he hates it when we abuse each other. He commands that we love each other. That was not the will of God. Indeed, when it happened, it unleashed a kind of grieving and anger, and quenching of the Spirit of God.
All three of those words are from the bible, from particular texts that the Holy Spirit himself experiences. After that lands on the person, they look at you funny and say, “I thought you went to Bethlehem. I thought you were one of these ‘sovereignty of God people.’” You, without any anger, without any defensiveness, say,
I am, and it was God’s sovereign will. The reason I know that it was is because there are a hundred ways he could have hindered it. And for reasons I do not yet fully understand, he did not hinder it, and thus ordained in his infinite wisdom that it come to pass. And I will see in due time how he works it all for my good. It’s just hard to see right now and that’s okay.
Here’s my point when I said these two things are needed to weather losses and pain and hurt: I think deep in every soul is a desperate need that God be strong enough, sovereign enough and in control enough to take me in the midst of my loss and pain, and get me through it, and work for good even in the wills of myself and the people around me, and if I surrender the sovereignty of God and the mighty power of God over me and them, I don’t have the very thing I’ve got to have to stand on to get through this horrible situation. And yet, I’ve got to have a God who understands me and who feels with me.
“Deep in every soul is a desperate need that God be strong enough and sovereign enough to get me through my loss and pain.”
Let’s use these two images: Jesus is an absolutely sovereign high king, Lord of lords and King of kings, and nothing comes to pass in this world apart from the dispositions and the decrees of King Jesus. And Jesus is a sympathetic High Priest who comes in alongside us and because he has already commanded “This should not happen to you,” he is able to be angry about it, he is able to be grieved about it, and he’s able to speak in terms of being quenched about it. And I think the way we’re wired as human beings in his image, we’ve got to have both of those traits.
If you try to choose between those two: I just want the nice, tender God without the sovereignty piece, or I’d just like the sovereignty piece, and I’m not into intimacy and tenderness and warmth and relationship. You won’t make it. You won’t make it, or at least you’ll distort the Bible so badly that your source of strength to get through won’t be God.
Read, watch, or listen to the full message: