Many of us are convinced from Scripture that God is absolutely sovereign. He can do whatever he wants to, and he can do it whenever he wants to. He has that kind of power. But does that mean God controls all things all the time? That’s the question today from Ryan in Jacksonville, Florida: “Pastor John, I thank God for using A.W. Pink’s book ‘The Sovereignty of God’ and your book ‘Spectacular Sins’ to reveal the biblical truth of Calvinism to me. However, there is one question that has always nagged me when sharing the truth of God’s sovereignty to others. I know from multiple examples in the Bible that God can control man and the weather and everything. But how do we know that God always controls everything?”
How do we know that God always controls everything? My answer is that we know this because the Bible teaches it. It teaches it by direct statements and by clear and sufficient implication. Let me give you five clusters of texts or kinds of texts.
How God Works
First, God works all things according to his will. Here’s Ephesians 1:11: “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.” Let me say it again. He works all things according to the counsel of his will. I think that means he always controls everything. There’s my answer.
We could just stop now. When it says all things, there’s no reason to assume any exceptions here (I don’t think). Sometimes people say, “Well, no, no, no. He’s talking about predestination of Christians.” Now when somebody says that, you need to pause and think about the words “he’s just talking about.” They are so vague. They can’t support the point the person is trying to make without more careful attention.
“The Bible sweepingly says that everything human beings do is, in the end, the will of God.”
When you give more careful attention, what you realize is that Paul is using a general statement about God’s working everything according to the counsel of his will as a support for a specific statement about predestination. We all know that a specific application of a general statement doesn’t nullify or limit the truth of the general statement.
For example, if I say my friend (who knows how to drive every kind of car) drove an electric car without instruction the first time he got into it, you wouldn’t think he knows how to only drive electric cars. The fact that we’re talking about an electric car is simply pointing out that it’s an illustration of his ability to drive every kind of car. That illustration doesn’t nullify the fact that he can drive every kind of car. My point was to say he can drive every kind of car, and here’s an illustration of it.
When Paul says, “God, who works all things according to the counsel of his will, specifically predestined us,” it doesn’t mean “He really doesn’t work all things according to the counsel of his will; he only predestined us.” That’s exactly the opposite of the way Paul is arguing. We need to think carefully when people make vague statements, trying to limit a context when the context is clearly expansive.
He’s Over All
Second, God governs all human plans and acts.
- Proverbs 16:9 says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” Just a general statement.
- Proverbs 20:24 reads, “A man’s steps are from the Lord; how then can man understand his way?” A general statement about all his steps.
- Proverbs 16:33: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” Human beings decide all kinds of ways to make a decision. They try rolling dice, and they draw lots, and they put out pieces of cloth on the ground — whatever. The point here is whatever means they use, it’s going to be God’s will in the end. Every decision is from the Lord.
- Proverbs 19:21: “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” Whatever humans anywhere in the world are planning and doing, what stands is God’s will.
- Jeremiah 10:23: “I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.”
All of those passages sweepingly say that everything that human beings do is, in the end, the will of God.
Third, behind human acts, the biblical writers assume God. This is amazing. Here’s Amos 3:6: “Is a trumpet blown in a city, and the people are not afraid? Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?”
“It’s arrogant to think you’re in control. God is in control.”
Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it? The answer is no. Well, what’s the implication? The implication is the biblical writer assumes every kind of event that comes to a city is ultimately from the Lord. He raises it with a rhetorical question that can’t be explained any other way. That’s his mindset.
This same thing happens in Lamentations 3:37: “Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it?” In other words, the only explanation the biblical writer sees behind anything being commanded is that the Lord ultimately brought it to pass.
If the Lord Wills
Fourth, this one is sweeping like the first one. God’s sovereign will governs all daily events. Here is James 4:13–15: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ — yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say” — this is what the biblical inspired writer James says we ought to say — “‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’”
What’s the point of that? That means “this or that” — anything you do — you should go into it saying, “I’m not in control here.” It’s arrogant, he says, to think you’re in control. God is in control.
Permitting or Controlling?
Lastly, God’s permission for Satan or man to act is nevertheless part of God’s ultimate design and final control. I’m trying to respond here to someone who says, “Well, God doesn’t control everything, but he permits lots of things.” I’m saying that’s right. He certainly does permit lots of things. How should we understand an all-knowing God with perfect foreknowledge permitting something in his infinite wisdom?
Here’s what Jesus says in Luke 22:31: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Notice he does not say, “If you have turned again,” but “when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”
“Every kind of event that comes to a city is ultimately from the Lord.”
In other words, “Yes, I’m going to give Satan permission to sift you like wheat, and I know it’s going to involve three denials. I know you’re going to turn, and I know that the purpose of bringing you back according to my prayer is that you might strengthen your brothers.”
Even in situations where God is permitting, he is permitting by design. When you permit something and you know what it’s going to do and you know all of its outcomes and you go ahead and permit it, you permit it wisely if you’re God — and then it wisely fits into the overall pattern of what you are planning and doing.
Let me end with a statement and a question. The statement is that human beings are responsible, accountable, praiseworthy, or blameworthy for what they do. God’s sovereignty does not diminish human accountability. That’s the statement.
The question is, which world would you rather live in? One where humans or Satan or chance govern what happens to you? Or one where an infinitely good, infinitely wise, infinitely powerful God works everything together for the good of those who trust him and for his glory?