(In 2017, I wrote this series for the 40 days prior to Easter to prepare our hearts and minds for the significance of Jesus’ resurrection. I’m reposting the series now for the 40 days after Easter to encourage us to follow through, living in the risen Savior and King.)
But, admittedly, God’s complete rule can also raise some questions and concerns. The most common of which might be, “If God is in control of everything, what’s the use of even trying? He’s just going to do what He wants to do anyway.”
And I understand these questions. I had the same concerns in college and hotly debated other Christians over God’s sovereignty and exactly how free our will is as rebellious people enslaved to our own desires. At times it became so heated that some on both sides accused the other that “If you believe that, you’re not even a Christian.”
Looking back, there wasn’t much love behind my passion to defend my personal views. But even later, when I came to embrace the truth of God’s grace and praise Him for His sovereignty, I simply exchanged my fear for pride.
Before, when I believed that I was the Captain of my soul, I was constantly afraid that I had to bring my self to life by mustering my own goodness, passion for God, etc. to off-set the weight of my sins and earn God’s love. Later, when God showed me the truth of His initiating and sustaining grace, I foolishly developed an intellectual sense of superiority that I accepted one of the deeper truths of Scripture – a truth that even many in Biblical times had rejected. (John 6:35-66, Romans 9:1-20, etc.)
But both of my passions had been wrong. The wonderful and humbling truth is that only by God’s sovereign grace are His people truly free.
Before, I had thought that I was already free. Free to choose what I wanted and do whatever I chose. And that was partly true: I freely chose to pursue sin. Scripture described me as free as any addict, but that’s no freedom at all. I craved self-satisfaction, not self-sacrifice to know Jesus more intimately. And my self-love daily strengthen the chains to choose whatever brought me immediate pleasure. I was a slave to sin.
No one but Adam and Eve ever had a completely free will – fully able to do good or evil. Those who now trust and follow Jesus do so because He has given them a freed-will. Freed from slavery to self-indulgence, self-protection, self-promotion, self-absorption. You get the picture.
His Word tells us over and over that He brings dead souls to life. (Jeremiah 31:31-34, Ezekiel 36:25-32, Acts 16:13-15, Ephesians 1:3-11 and 2:1-10, etc.) He draws us to Himself when we would have otherwise run from the idea of serving Him. (Psalm 14 and 53, Jeremiah 17:9, etc.) That is why we need re-birth from above by God’s Spirit. (John 3:3-10) Our decisions made from our flesh are always only plots to achieve our fleshly desires: fire-insurance from hell (Luke 16:19-31), theological superiority (John 5:39), for material needs (John 6:26-27), financial prosperity (1 Timothy 6:3-11), etc. This is why Jesus will say to many actively religious people, “Depart from Me. I never knew you.” (Matthew 7:21-23)
But God’s sovereign grace frees us from being self-centered. He causes our spirit to grow in His image from our first day of new life in Him to our final arrival in glory with Him. (Romans 8:28-30) He frees us from fear and causes us to grow in faith for real freedom. (1 John 4:7-18)
Still, this new freedom in Christ is a paradoxical battle. The sovereign Lord is our certain Redeemer, but in order for us to experience daily confidence and joy of the fruit of His Spirit in our lives (which is entirely different from salvation) we must daily put to death the desires of our flesh and walk in the ways of His Spirit. (Galatians 5:13-26) Otherwise, we may have been completely freed from hell but still live in a personal prison of shame, fear and depression. That’s not the freedom He intends for us. (Galatians 5:1)
Opponents of God’s sovereignty (as if anyone could oppose anything from God) argue that His rule makes us robots and puppets, not redeemed and precious. If you’re struggling with that thought, consider the following.
First, God sent His Son, Jesus, to die in the place of sinners and His Spirit to live within them, securing their new freedom by grace. The Father, Son and Spirit don’t play games with each other. Although, even when I am in glory, I may never fully understand His ways, Jesus’ obedient life and agonizing death on the cross is proof that I can trust Him. You can, too.
Second, God continues to love His people with whatever it takes – usually at great cost to Himself – to ensure that His children grow in their new freedom to love Him and live in His image. His Spirit lives within us; He disciplines us; His providence watches over us; He makes and keeps every promise to us, though we still sometimes grieve Him with our doubts and sins. We are reminded of this in Ephesians 4:8 and the reference to God leading His “captives” from Egypt to the Promised Land. Yes, we learn later than most who died in the desert were never true believers. But even those who loved the Lord sometimes doubted, rebelled and caused Him grief – even though He was leading them to real freedom. And He remained faithful to them.
We have the same inconsistencies today. But, praise the Lord Jesus, He has the same gracious commitment to His people. “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of Him who sent me. And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those He has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:37-40)