Sovereignty of God

The Well-Meant Offer: God May Desire What He Doesn’t Decree (Deut 5:29), Part 2

Detail from The Prodigal Son, Nikolay Losev, 1882.

Read Part 1.

The Objections Addressed

Some object to the exegetical and theological conclusions above. On the basis of texts like Psalm 115:3, they argue that God’s desires must be coterminous with God’s decrees. That is, all that God desires he must decree. Or, all that God decrees exhausts all that God may desire. Accordingly, they impose one or more of the following limitations on the text.

God Desires the Good of the Israelites Only

John Gill denies that this text supports the notion that “God has vehemently desired the salvation of all mankind” on the grounds that “these words can be no proof since they only regard the people of Israel, who were the fewest of all people.”5

There are at least two problems with this line of reasoning.

First, even if it were true it would still establish the point that God may desire what he does not decree. Thus, one of the primary arguments against the well-meant offer is removed. For if God may desire the salvation of certain Israelites whose salvation he does not sovereignly bring to fruition, what objection can there be to the notion of God desiring the salvation of certain non-Israelite sinners whose salvation he does not sovereignly bring to pass?

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The Well-Meant Offer: God May Desire What He Doesn’t Decree (Deut 5:29), Part 1

Detail from The Prodigal Son, Nikolay Losev, 1882.

Unlike you and me, God has both the power and prerogative to bring all his desires to fruition. “Our God is in the heavens,” declares the psalmist, “he does all that he pleases” (Ps. 115:3). Nevertheless, the Sovereign God of all creation has not chosen to fulfill every one of his wishes he has disclosed to us.

God expressly desired that Adam and Eve refrain from eating the forbidden fruit (Gen. 2:16-17), yet he ordained their Fall (Gen. 3:1-6). He plainly wants all moral creatures on earth to conform to his revealed moral standard, as do the moral creatures in heaven (Matt. 6:10). Yet he not only allows men to break his law but also uses their evil deeds to accomplish his plan (Gen. 50:20; Acts 4:27-28). And the Lord wants sinners to turn from their sinful autonomy, embrace him as Lord and Savior, and enjoy his saving blessing. But God has not chosen to bring to fruition the salvation of every sinner. In other words, while God fulfills all his decreed desires, he hasn’t chosen to fulfill every one of his prescriptive or revealed desires.1 This mysterious reality2 is underscored in a text like Deuteronomy 5:29.

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A Guy Named Sihon

Christians can get tangled up when they consider the knotty conundrums of God’s divine sovereignty and man’s free will. How do these things go together? Well, we’re not quite sure, because our perspective is a bit limited. But, both are true.1

God is in charge. He does what He wants, and everything He does flows from His character, which means it’s all holy, righteous and good, and nothing can happen without His permission and consent. People do make their own decisions and do what they want to do, and are rightly held accountable for them.

So, where does that leave us? It leaves us with the concept of compatibilism, which simply means that God uses means (like you and I) to do what He wants, and works in and through our own innate desires to accomplish His will. We see this in Scripture over and over again, if we look for it:

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From the Archives: God Is Sovereign!

Of all of the theological issues that have arisen in the last couple of decades, the matter of what God is like has to be one of the most crucial. As A. W. Tozer has written, “[T]he most portentous fact about any man is…what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God” (A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, 7).

Of course, all orthodox Christians agree that God is a Trinity, three persons in one essence. But just how powerful is this God? Does He control all things, even the details of life? Does He even know all things past, present, and future? Some evangelicals seem to be unsure.

Other evangelical theologians are passionately arguing the negative: God is neither in full control of the world, nor does He even know the details of the future. According to these Open Theists,

God knows a great deal about what will happen….he knows everything that could happen and what he can do in response to each eventuality. And he knows the ultimate outcome to which he is guiding the course of history. All that God does not know is the content of future free decisions, and this is because decisions are not there to know until they occur. (Richard Rice, The Grace of God and the Will of Man, ed. Clark Pinnock, 134)

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Book Review: Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God

Image of Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God
by J. I. Packer
IVP Books 2012
Paperback 122

J.I Packer’s little book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God is a great resource. His aim is to show that divine sovereignty and personal responsibility to repent and believe the Gospel are not mutually exclusive. He explained, “The supposition seems to be that you cannot evangelize effectively unless you are prepared to pretend while you are doing it that the doctrine of sovereignty is not true. I shall try to make it evident that this is nonsense” (10).

This book is only four chapters long, but it’s probably the best resource you can give a Christian who wants to know more about this topic. Many readers know Packer has a thoroughly Reformed soteriology, and this is clear throughout the book. However, he takes a very irenic tone and isn’t interested in flying a particular theological standard. This approach makes this an excellent gift to Christians of all theological flavors.

Chapter One - Divine Sovereignty

He begins by discussing divine sovereignty. If you’re a Christian, Packer says, you believe God is completely sovereign, no matter what soteriological camp you belong to. You know God is sovereign, because you pray. Simple. You’re acknowledging you’re helpless, and God alone can help and comfort you. “The very act that a Christian prays is thus proof positive that he believes in the Lordship of His God” (12).

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To the Valley and Beyond

I am fast approaching two major milestones. First, I will shortly celebrate my seventieth birthday and three weeks later, our church will celebrate its forty-fifth anniversary. Since, in God’s good providence, I have pastored the church from the beginning, the church’s milestone is also the completion of my forty-five years as pastor of Beacon Baptist Church. Both of these celebrations are remarkable tokens of God’s kindness. I frankly did not expect to reach either one, but unless something unexpected intervenes, I will soon be looking at these milestones in the rear view mirror of life. God is so good!

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God Is Faithful, but Is He Consistent?

I enjoy playing vintage hymns with my concertina. It is a pleasure to hear songs that, in some cases, I haven’t sung in decades, hymns you may never have heard, like, “Let the Lower Lights Be Burning,” “The Old Fashioned Way,” and “He the Pearly Gates Will Open.”

But there is one hymn with a few lyrics that trouble me, namely, “It Is No Secret What God Can Do.” Although the premise of the hymn is fine (God’s work is renown), one statement ruins it for me: “what He’s done for others, He’ll do for you.”

That statement, in my mind, reflects a misjudgment many Christians make: equating God’s faithfulness with consistency and predictability. Put simply, God does not treat each one of us alike, and we never know what He is going to do next.

God’s faithfulness and His hesed (faithful, steadfast love) indeed do endure forever, as Psalm 136 reminds us time and time again. The Bible often uses repetition to emphasize a key truth, and God’s faithfulness is one of those emphases.

Western thinking is based upon a system of logic developed by the Greek philosophers. The ancient Hebrews, however, thought in terms of principles they could hang onto (like Proverbs), with stories and mental pictures central to their thinking.

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