The Sovereignty of God – What He Has Decreed and Permissively Allowed

21 10 2007

Psalm 93: The Majesty of the LORD.

(1) The LORD reigns, He is clothed with majesty;
The LORD has clothed and girded Himself with strength;
Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved.

(2) Your throne is established from of old;
You are from everlasting.

(3) The floods have lifted up, O LORD,
The floods have lifted up their voice,
The floods lift up their pounding waves.

(4) More than the sounds of many waters,
Than the mighty breakers of the sea,
The LORD on high is mighty.

(5) Your testimonies are fully confirmed;
Holiness befits Your house, O LORD, forevermore.
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Perhaps the single most comforting truth from Scripture for me to grasp hold of in faith is that of the Sovereignty of God. We believe in God Who is capable of performing all He wills to do and Who is in control of all things. He can be trusted by us for everything in this life. Should the end of my life come before the Lord returns, I will be able to trust in Him in that moment when eventually this life will ebb away. And yet He has allowed sin and death to exist in this world – somehow it is part of His plan that it should be so. Some thoughts on these difficult issues are presented in the commentary references that follow.

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The following two study resources provide explanations of God’s sovereignty, including what He decretively or actively makes happen, and what he permissively has allowed to happen – although it is contrary to or in rebellion against his preceptive will.

The following information is referenced from the New Bible Dictionary (2nd edn.) (Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Wheaton, Illinois – 1991)

A. God Sovereignly Carries Out His Plan

“God is sovereign. That means that he makes his own plans and carries them out in his own time and way. That is simply an expression of his supreme intelligence, power and wisdom. It means that God’s will is not arbitrary, but acts in complete harmony with his character. It is the forth-putting of his power and goodness, and is thus the final goal of all existence.”

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B. God’s Decretive Will vs His Preceptive Will

“There is, however, a distinction between God’s will which prescribes what we shall do, and his will which determines what he will do. Thus theologians distinguish between the decretive will of God by which he decrees whatsoever comes to pass, and his preceptive will by which he enjoins upon his creatures the duties that belong to them. The decretive will of God is thus always accomplished, while his preceptive will is often disobeyed.”

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C. The Distinction between God’s Active & His Permissive Will

“When we conceive of the sovereign sway of the divine will as the final ground of all that happens, either actively bringing it to pass, or passively permitting it to come to pass, we recognize the distinction between the active will of God and his permissive will. Thus the entrance of sin into the world must be attributed to the permissive will of God, since sin is a contradiction of his holiness and goodness. There is thus a realm in which God’s will to act is dominant, and a realm in which man’s liberty is given permission to act. The Bible presents both in operation. ……. Nevertheless, the sovereignty of God ensures that all will be overruled to serve his eternal purpose, and that ultimately Christ’s petition: ‘Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ shall be answered.”

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D. Our Inability to Reconcile God’s Sovereignty & Man’s Responsibility

“It is true that we are not able to reconcile God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility because we do not understand the nature of divine knowledge and comprehension of all the laws that govern human conduct. The Bible throughout teaches us that all life is lived in the sustaining will of God ‘in whom we live and move and have our being’, and that as a bird is free in the air, and a fish in the sea, so man has his true freedom in the will of God who created him for himself.”

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J.I. Packer also addresses the issue of God’s Sovereignty in Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois – 1993)…..

“The assertion of God’s absolute sovereignty in creation, providence, and grace is basic to biblical belief and biblical praise. The vision of God on the throne – that is, ruling – recurs (1 Kings 22:19; Isaiah 6:1; Ezekial 1:26; Daniel 7:9; Revelation 4:2; c.f. Psalms 11:4; 45:6:47:8-9; Hebrews 12:2; Revelations 3:21); and we are constantly told in explicit terms that the LORD (Yahweh) reigns as king, exercising dominion over great and tiny things alike (Exodus 15:18; Psalms 47; 93; 96:10; 97; 99:15; 146:10: Proverbs 16:33; 21:1; Isaiah 24:23; 52:7; Daniel 4:34-35; 5:21-28; 6:26; Matthew 10:29-31). God’s dominion is total: he wills as he chooses and caries out all that he wills, and none can stay his hand or thwart his plans.”

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“That God’s rational creatures, angelic and human, have free agency (power of personal decision as to what they shall do) is clear in Scripture throughout; we would not be moral beings, answerable to God the judge, were it not so, nor would it then be possible to distinguish, as Scripture does, between bad purposes of human agents and the good purposes of God, who sovereignly overrules human action as a planned means to his own goals (Genesis 50:20; Acts 2:23; 13:26-39). Yet the fact of free agency confronts us with mystery, inasmuch as God’s control over our free, self-determined activities is as complete as it is over anything else, and how this can be we do not know. Regularly, however, God exercises his sovereignty by letting things take their course, rather than by miraculous intrusions of a disruptive sort.”

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Isaiah 45:5-7

(5) “I am the LORD, and there is no other;
Besides Me there is no God
I will gird you, though you have not known Me;

(6) That men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun
That there is no one besides Me.
I am the LORD, and there is no other,

(7) The One forming light and creating darkness,
Causing well-being and creating calamity;
I am the LORD who does all these.”

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My hope is that this information can be useful to people struggling to understand how God’s sovereignty over all things is consistent or works together with the moral responsibility of mankind for our sin.

God bless, Churchlayman

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One response

4 01 2008
Kim T

This information is helpful. It is an article I will book mark and pass on to others. So many struggle with it. I am thankful to the LORD for the sources quoted and the added thoughts. They have presented a clear representation of one of them many great truths of our Sovereign God.

“God’s control over our free, self-determined activities is as complete as it is over anything else” Amen and praise be to Him. He is our rest, our comfort, our shelter, our certainty.




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