in Control

God is Sovereign, 20 May 2018

God is Sovereign
D6 Series—
None Like Him
Romans 8:28-30

Series Overview: This topical series focuses on the attributes of God.

Big Idea: God is sovereign and in control…but we also must be responsible with our free will.

We are spending several weeks this month talking about the attributes of God. There is
None Like Him. Amen?

Two weeks ago, we looked at the holiness of God. We said God is holy, set apart, and we are to be holy, too, fully devoted to God while being present in the world bearing witness to God’s presence, power, love, and glory.

Today we look at another word frequently used in church but less often in the culture—sovereign. God is sovereign. Great, but what does that mean? Some dictionaries may use words like ruler, supreme in power and authority, or greatest. I’m going to suggest the best way think about God’s sovereignty is to say, “God is in control.” This is great news, but it can be difficult to understand. Hopefully our time together will engage your mind and heart and cause you to grow deeper in love with Jesus.

True or false: God is in control of everything?

True or false: God’s will is always accomplished?

True or false: God controls history down to every detail, micromanaging individuals’ lives?

The Bible is clear about many things, yet others are difficult to discern. We’re talking about God, after all, and while we can know God and know Him personally, we can’t fully grasp everything about God.

Is God really sovereign? Is God in control? If so, why are children killed by shooters at school? How can sex trafficking thrive not only around the world but right here in Toledo? What about those victims of drunk drivers?

I’m fascinated by people who will blame God for the sins and stupidity of people. After all, God has given us freedom. We have free will. We were not created as robots, but rather we have the capacity to love…and hate. Relationships cannot be authentic without choice. So God can be in control, yet allow humans the opportunity to do good or bad. Most of our suffering stems not from God, but the sins of others—or ourselves. God is in control, but He has also given us responsibility. Can you really blame God for an unwanted pregnancy? Is it His fault you failed the exam you never studied for?

But why does God allow evil? Why did God create satan in the first place? Did He know Lucifer, the once-mighty angel, would rebel against God and be cast from heaven (Ezekiel 28:12-19; Isaiah 14:12-14)? These are great questions I’m not fully able to answer. Again, there are things we simply cannot know—yet—about God. But there’s one thing of which I am sure:

God is sovereign and in control, He can be trusted, and He is working for the good of those who love Him. His plans and purposes are in process. It might not seem like it today, but just wait. God is not surprised by anything in today’s
Toledo Blade. He’s not asleep or aloof, but there is a tension between His sovereignty and our responsibility. If we seek first His Kingdom and His glory—not merely our own pleasures—we will discover true meaning and purpose. Jesus said,

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:31-34)

God is in the process of working out His plans and purposes—not necessarily ours. He loves us, but His highest priority is our holiness, not our happiness; His glory, not our gratification. But let me say again God loves us. As His children, He has our best interest at heart…even when it doesn’t feel like it.

All parents understand the tension of discipline. We’d love for our kids to always do the right thing, but when they don’t, we must punish…out of love, not hate.

When I was a young boy, I was so frustrated with my parents. I wanted to have total freedom to play with my friends as long as I wanted and mom said I needed to be home by dark. “My friends can stay out as long as they want!” I said. My mom replied, “Because I love you, I want you home.” I didn’t understand the boundaries at the time, but I sure do now!

It feels great to say God is in control…until we encounter trouble in life and we ask God, “Why?” or “Where are you?”

I must say (again) there are many things I don’t understand. I have plenty of questions for God. But I’ve also learned as I read the Bible and get to know God personally He is good. His ways are not like my ways. His wisdom far exceeds mine. He is God and I’m not. He can be trusted. That has been true when I’ve unexpectedly lost my job, when my dad died after years of battling Alzheimer’s, when my daughter was hospitalized for months, when my son struggled through the teen years, when our daughter’s leg was amputated, when our family faced an array of mental illnesses, when friends have abandoned us, …do you want more?

Oh sure, let me throw this one in…when your airplane fills with smoke and you have an emergency evacuation, climbing out the window onto the wing, and then jumping to the tarmac! Yes, that happened…to begin our vacation in Colorado. Fortunately, the plane had landed and nobody was seriously hurt, praise God!

But what if the cabin filled with smoke midair? What if my mom, step dad, Heather and I all perished? Would we still praise God? Would He still be trustworthy? What about those families this morning in Texas planning funerals for their children? Are they singing “Great is Thy Faithfulness” this morning?

I want to encourage you an oft-abused passage of scripture, but one which is nevertheless true. Romans 8 says,

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30)

Family, please think twice about quoting these verses when someone is in the midst of a sudden crisis. Timing is everything. The passage is always true, yet often people need to grieve. Quick answers are not adequate when someone is dealing with intense suffering. Job’s friends demonstrate often the best thing we can do when a loved one suffers is be present and quiet. But let’s look at this text.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

God is in control. He is at work, and because He loves us, He is working for our good. But there’s a condition. The condition is that we love him and have been called according to his purpose. Sometimes things take time. Tomorrow you might understand that which you cannot begin to fathom today. Your story is not over. You’re not abandoned, even if it feels like it. This too will pass. God sees you. God knows. God is with you. God loves you. And as we’ve learned from David in the Psalms, it’s ok to let Him know how you feel. He can handle your anger, questions, doubts, and even rage. But let me declare God is at work…accomplishing His purpose.

Now this text raises one of the most hotly debated questions in theology, the study of God. Look at the rest of the passage:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30)

The Message translation declares

God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun. (Romans 8:29-30,
The Message)

God foreknew us. He predestined us to follow Jesus. He calls, justifies, and glorifies. Now here’s the question:
does God choose us or do we choose God? If God is in control, does that mean we have no choice, no options? When God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus, was it God’s fault the people of Israel remained in slavery throughout the plagues (Exodus 9:12)?

Christianity is divided in many ways. For example, there are Catholics and Orthodox and Protestants and Messianic Jews, all deeply committed to following Jesus and the Bible, but doing so with differences in worship style, tradition, and sometimes even beliefs. There are charismatic Christians who are very demonstrative in their worship while others are very reserved.

Another division in Christianity involves
Calvinism and Arminianism. Have you ever heard of Calvinism? Arminianism? The issues behind the debate between the two began in the 5th century, but it wasn’t until the 17th century when it took its current form.

Calvinism is named for John Calvin, a French theologian who lived from 1509-1564.
Calvinism has at its core the belief that God chooses us to be saved. We really have no choice in the matter. Reformed, and Presbyterian churches generally follow Calvinism.

Arminianism—which is not the same as being Armenian, which I am by my family of origin—places the emphasis on human choice. We can choose to accept or reject Jesus Christ as LORD and Savior. Jacobus Arminius gave his name to Arminianism. He was a Dutch theologian who lived from 1560-1609.

Who’s right, Calvinists or Arminians? It depends upon who you ask! In case you’re wondering, the Christian & Missionary Alliance does not take a position on the matter. You will find those in the Alliance who are Calvinists and others who are Arminians—and some who are something of a hybrid!

A.W. Tozer, in his classic book
The Pursuit of God, began by saying,

Christian theology teaches the doctrine of prevenient grace, which briefly stated means this, that before a man can seek God, God must first have sought the man.

Before a sinful man can think a right thought of God, there must have been a work of enlightenment done within him; imperfect it may be, but a true work nonetheless, and the secret cause of all desiring and seeking and praying which may follow.

We pursue God because, and only because, He has first put an urge within us that spurs us to the pursuit. "No man can come to me," said our Lord, "except the Father which hath sent me draw him," and it is by this very prevenient drawing that God takes from us every vestige of credit for the act of coming. The impulse to pursue God originates with God, but the out working of that impulse is our following hard after Him; and all the time we are pursuing Him we are already in His hand: "Thy right hand upholdeth me."

Does God pursue us? Yes.
Do we pursue God? Yes.

I actually believe it’s not an either/or but a both/and scenario. It’s two sides of the same coin. Like a dance, God leads, and we join Him…or not!

Why am I married? Is it because I asked Heather to be my wife, or because she said yes?

Since the Alliance refuses to take a position toward Calvinism or Arminianism, it behooves us to follow their example and say there’s room for both at First Alliance Church. God is in control. God can be trusted. Even if it doesn’t feel like it today.

D6: The fact that God’s authority supersedes all other authority demonstrates that He is the Sovereign Lord of all.

D6: God’s actions and characteristics in Exodus 15* illustrate that He is the Sovereign Lord of all.

(*look it up!)

We can rest in the fact that God is in control. He knows and understands all things and has the power to make all things work out for His glory.

I know many of you at this moment are questioning God. Life is not what you expected. You can’t harmonize God’s goodness and sovereignty. If He’s really in control, why is He allowing my life to be such a mess—or maybe even causing my life to be such a mess? I get it. Really. I’ve asked God questions through tears. I’ve cried out to Him so many times, failing to understand Romans 8:28…or much of the Bible. At this moment I still have questions for Him…but I’ve learned He can be trusted. The things He allows today will not be permitted forever. Judgment Day is coming—for all of us—and I urge you to repent and trust Jesus Christ to be your Savior and LORD if you have not yet done so.

If there’s any injustice, any scandal, anything that doesn’t make sense, it’s why God would send His only Son, Jesus, to live and die and receive the punishment for our sins. If anyone had reason to question God’s sovereignty, it was Jesus on the cross! But praise God the story of Jesus didn’t end on the cross…He rose from the dead and is alive today!

Likewise, your story is not over. As Laura Story sings in her song

Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops What if Your healing comes through tears What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

I started to cry just reading those lyrics again as I reflected upon God’s faithfulness.

Recently Pastor Soper in Mission 119 stated regarding Numbers 22-24:

When God has determined to bless a people, nothing but nothing but nothing is ever going to interfere or block that plan.

Nothing will ever thwart God’s purposes and plans. He may use a talking donkey, a pillar of fire, plagues, the changed heart of a leader, miraculous healing, …but God is ultimately in control.

My friend Lewis Winkler writes in his blog

Herein lies the secret to finding real safety, in the arms of a good and loving God.  But being in His arms is not actually intended to make us feel safe.  Sometimes it does, but at other times it feels like the most dangerous place on earth.  That’s because His goal is to make us more like Jesus, and that’s often an uncomfortable and unpleasant process.  It doesn’t necessarily feel fun or safe.

It might not look or feel like God is in control today, but whatever we experience is shaping us—it is for our good if we are truly following God.

So What?

Because God is sovereign, we don’t have to be! I often say, “God is in control…and I’m not!” I don’t always appreciate that in the moment, but I’m certain it’s good.

And God is good…even when it doesn’t feel like it. Sometimes we must simply wait.

We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. (Psalms 33:20-21)

God and His plans and purposes are worth the wait. I have many questions for God and I bet you do, too. There are some things we simply won’t understand today—or maybe in this life. That’s where trust comes in. That’s where faith comes in—not a blind faith, a leap of faith, but rather a step of faith which trusts God above our limited understanding.

Still, there are other times when our questions
are answered and we get glimpses of God’s will, His plan, His purposes in the midst of what appears to us to be anything but good.

Here’s a great example:

Alliance Video

Credits: some ideas from D6, Robert Saucy

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
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