Imagine, if you will, the following game-show scenario: The production features ten intelligent, honest, and sincere adults. These people, though they are very well educated in every other area of inquiry, have absolutely no knowledge of the Bible or Christianity whatsoever. One last bit of info on our ten hypothetical folks: They have a perfect understanding of language. They are unencumbered by any weakness in this area.
Now, let’s imagine that these ten intellectual and linguistic freaks of nature are summoned to appear on our game show. Or maybe it’s more like a “challenge show” in that there is a prize offered for doing an immense amount of detailed research in solitude and then correctly answering simple, clear questions pertaining to the subject under consideration.
No tricks or trick questions. No gimmicks. No wacky, out-of-the blue surprises or peculiar angles to be played. Just clear answers to simple, unambiguous questions.
Now, imagine that these participants are each individually sequestered for as long as it takes them to thoroughly read the Bible. Then, having just studied it for the very first time, and without exposure to outside sources or contaminants of any sort, they are asked to answer four simple questions about Christianity based exclusively on what they had just read:
- How did our world come into being?
- What was “the fall”?
- Who is Jesus?
- Who determines salvation for each individual member of fallen mankind?
Our ten participants are not required to agree with or evaluate the concepts under consideration. They are merely asked to explain what this sacred book has to say on the matters. Nothing more; nothing less.
If the potential of a ginormous cash payout would help to emphasize the point here, feel free to imagine a multi-million dollar windfall promised to any of the ten who are able to give clear and accurate responses to each of these four questions.
Most modern American professing Christians of the conservative sort would expect clear and unified responses to these questions. At least the middle two, anyway.
“The Fall” was the fall of mankind through the original sin of Adam’s disobedience of God. This transgression plunged the human race and all of creation into its current darkened state. This basic description would surely be the unanimous position taken by our ten participants, and on that point we’d all agree, too. Similarly, Jesus would be rightly identified as God—the Word made flesh; the exclusive Savior, come into the world so that He might bear the price of sin that had submerged His people into their depraved state. Unanimous harmony on this answer as well would be the clear expectation of every “good, conservative, Bible-believing” Christian viewer of this particular game-show.
But when it comes to those bookend questions, we run into some trouble. Not trouble with the ten participants. Nope, they will each still provide completely harmonious and unanimous answers based upon Scripture alone where the first and fourth questions are concerned. The problem is with the Christian audience.
You see, the Christian audience would not agree on the answers to those two questions at all, no matter how complete the harmony was among the game-show participants’ understanding off what Scripture – and Scripture alone – had to say on these matters.
The God Who Struts Unencumbered
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. ~ Romans 8:28–30
Having read through the Bible unencumbered by any personal tradition, habit or outside interference, these ten would each answer questions one and four as follows:
Q1. How did our world come into being?
A1. God made it in six literal days.
Q4. Who determines salvation for each member of fallen mankind?
A4. God does, and He does so alone.
Having read the Bible, and only the Bible, and with millions of bucks on the line, I might add, these ten people would be thankful for the clarity in those pages on even these two subjects. They would have no trouble at all providing these answers, and with total confidence in their accuracy.
Money in the bank, they would think. And they’d be right.
With no pet tradition to steer them and no outside whispers in their ear to explain why the book they just read doesn’t actually mean what it so clearly said (there’s that “did God really say?” deal again – see: Genesis 3), these good people would consider their multi-million dollar paydays in the bag, so to speak. Especially since, as we’ve already covered, they are not being asked to affirm or agree with these sentiments at all. All they have to do is accurately express what the written Word says. That’s all.
Of course, were they required to express only interpretations of this new-to-them Scripture that they agreed with, well, that’s a whole ’nother story. With that significant change of rules in place, we could expect significant divergence between the ten answers provided. Kind of like the division we find in the Christian audience.
While some would maintain the same positions expressed in Scenario #1, there would be many—almost certainly a majority—who would not. They would feel compelled to mold the creation account in Genesis 1 to conform with contemporary scientific postulates and theories. The Genesis record would be dismissed by some as a mere “story.”
Similarly, many of these folks would have no interest whatsoever in acknowledging, much less claiming, a God who owned them so completely. They’d want nothing to do with a God so total in His sovereignty (“total sovereignty” being redundant, of course), that He would be the determiner of their fates. Thus, Romans 9, John 6, and countless other crystal clear proclamations of God’s inescapable, ultimate sovereignty over all things would be radically modified in their minds, or jettisoned altogether.
It’s important to note that, in all likelihood, question one, on the matter of creation, would inspire less controversy than question four. The reason for this is that question four completely impacts each and every person considering it in a manner that is comprehensive. It hits the macro, it hits the micro, and it hits everything in between. It is both worldview and personal identity defining in its nature. Being told that one is not the center of the universe—or even the central figure in determining their own fate—is not something that one will, of his own volition or nature, ever embrace.
Which is precisely why God has to impose upon us even the ability to do that very thing. Remember: Before He did that for each of us on an individual basis at a specific moment in time, each and every Christian was in that sovereignty-rejecting boat. That was our nature. That was who we were.
During the answer section for question four—the portion of our show where contestants vocalize their answers to the questions put to them—we’d witness the full fury of indignant human opposition to the very notion of a sovereign God. We’d be treated to rants about “robots,” “puppets,” “free will,” and the ultimate expression of outrage regarding the clear pronouncement of Scripture on the matter of predestination: “But that’s…not…fair!”
God’s response to this? Boo. And Hoo.
I am, of course, paraphrasing. His actual Word on the subject is much more abrasive and challenging.
The God Who Owns Your Will
But the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the LORD had spoken to Moses.
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Rise up early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, “Let my people go, that they may serve me. For this time I will send all my plagues on you yourself, and on your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth. For by now I could have put out my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth. But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth. ~ Exodus 9:12–16
Our God is sovereign. Completely sovereign.
As He is the only being capable of holy perfection in all things at all times, we must celebrate the notion that He is also complete in His sovereignty over all things at all times. Any lesser view of God’s sovereign control always has catastrophic results. This was, it should be noted, the prevailing view of Christians who founded the first colonies in the now-United States of America as well as many of those who actualized the American Revolution.
This is no small thing. It is not coincidental.
The fact that the Reformation and the Pilgrims are so closely linked by this very specific understanding of Christianity is one great key to our understanding how and why we have fallen as a nation, as well as how we might be revived. History declares that this high view of God and low view of man was an essential component to both the Reformation and Revolution. It is therefore only reasonable to expect that this view is an essential ingredient for any genuine, lasting American renewal.
The one true God saves His people, and perfectly so. He saves completely and without fail. He never “tries” to do anything.
This God is sovereign over every action befalling or taken by any creature that He has made:
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. (Matthew 10:29)
This God is sovereign over every roll of the dice:
The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD. (Proverbs 16:33)
There is no randomness in this God’s cosmos. Nothing is left to chance. Nothing happens outside of His purpose. This God even uses apparently random devices to secure significant decisions as a part of His perfect plan:
And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. (Acts 1:26)
This God is sovereign over the hearts of men:
The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will. (Proverbs 21:1)
This God has crafted everything and everyone, including the wicked, for a specific purpose:
The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble. (Proverbs 16:4)
This God is sovereign over every step that every man takes in life:
A man’s steps are from the LORD; how then can man understand his way? (Proverbs 20:24)
This God is sovereign over every human will, even regarding that man’s salvation:
So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (Romans 9:16)
This God is sovereign over every ruler or person of power, be they evil or good. He makes them and uses them for His purposes. They are His tools; His property. Yes, even Michael Moore. He lifts them up and brings them down all according to His will in pursuit of His perfect, self-glorifying plan:
For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” (Romans 9:17)
This God is sovereign over who will receive His mercy and who will not:
So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. (Romans 9:18)
This God commands dead men to rise from their graves, and they always obey:
[Jesus] cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth… (John 11:43–44)
This God slays those who steal His glory:
“Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.” (Acts 12:23)
This God sends delusions to men, so that they will not believe what is true and be condemned:
Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (2 Thessalonians 2:11–12)
This God is the sovereign determiner over all things, including the eternal state of every individual:
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Romans 9:6–13)
And right on cue, this God demonstrates His sovereignty even over our own silly questions, as He anticipates our favorite (“But that’s not fair!”) right here:
What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (Romans 9:14–15)
We really hate that part. Until He chooses to regenerate us, that is. It’s bad enough that He’s sovereign, but He comes across as such a smart-alecky sovereign when He answers our questions before we even ask them. How rude!
Then again, as I paraphrased earlier: Boo and Hoo.
Sovereigns do what they want to do. They always get their way. That’s what sovereign means. Even so, before one is regenerated, they hate even the thought of this. Afterward…they adore it (some quickly, some slowly, but all eventually).
By His grace, this Sovereign has commanded and equipped us for a supernatural mission. He has called us – you and I; every true Christian in His creation – to take up the Gospel-fueled Great Commission, so that we might proclaim and apply His Nature throughout every realm of His creation right here and right now; so that we might become and make disciples who will obey all that He has commanded, by His grace, for His glory, and to our eternal benefit.
. . . Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” ~ Matthew 28:18-20
If we believe that He is sovereign – that He is who He tells us that He is in His perfect Word – then we will see this Great Commission not as the impossible, delusional flight of fantasy that the world and worldly tell us it must be. If we believe Him, we will know that while our Great Commission is indeed fantastic and impossible by the standards of this world, it is at the same time a completely assured supernatural success, because He has assured us that it is so.
It cannot fail because He cannot fail.
That belief – that true faith – makes all the difference between sorrow and joy…laziness and self sacrifice…apathy and effort…
It is the great and vital distinction between American religion and biblical Christianity.
The above post is adapted from a subsection of the book Fire Breathing Christians entitled The God Who Struts.
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© 2014 Scott Alan Buss – All Rights Reserved.