This post is a part of the Sovereignty of God Blog Series going on throughout the months of July and August. You can read about the series and see a schedule of the posts here. You can subscribe to all the posts here.
Today’s post is from Jake Belder. Jake is studying at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, FL. He is enrolled in the Master of Arts in Theological Studies program, and hopes to go on for doctoral studies in historical theology once he is finished there. He also has an undergrad degree from Redeemer University College. Some of his interests include Eastern Orthodoxy, music, cars, photography, and cooking. He blogs over at café de soirée.
For many people, God’s sovereignty raises questions about His control, foreknowledge, and omnipotence, specifically as we wrestle with the seemingly irreconcilable tension between a good God and the presence of evil and suffering in His good creation.
Perhaps this is part of the reason that a lot of people have trouble conceiving of God as sovereign in the sense of having ultimate control or power. Thoughts of fatalism or totalitarianism cloud the way they think of sovereignty such that God becomes a sort of heavy-handed despot who controls us like marionettes. When sovereignty is understood in this way, it does not square with the portrait of a loving Father or tender shepherd that characterizes the common evangelical perception of God. Since we prefer the latter (and who wouldn’t!), we try to rework our understanding of sovereignty to fit that picture.
Yet when that happens, it seems to me that the resulting conceptions of sovereignty cause us to think of God in an abstract way. While I certainly want to affirm the importance of recognizing an element of mystery surrounding God, given the distinction between the infinite and the finite, the Creator and the creature, I also think we need to be careful not to posit a radical separation between His transcendence and imminence.
Sovereignty as Lordship
I don’t want to bog us down in heavy theological discourse, so let me get to the point—I think the best way to look at God’s sovereignty is to understand it not as an attribute or a description of God, but to see it as something personal. To say God is sovereign is to say He is Lord. And to say He is Lord is to say that He is Lord not just over something, but also over someone. Thus there is a relational aspect to sovereignty.
God is revealed as Lord throughout the Bible; this is the most dominant portrait Scripture gives us of Him. In the Old Testament, we may know it best from what is probably the most well-known confession of Israel, the shema of Deuteronomy 6:4-5. Israel declared that the Lord was the only true God, the only one worthy of their worship, and all their love and allegiance. It is also impossible to speak of Israel’s covenant relationship with God without talking about His role as the sovereign Lord. In the New Testament we see the description of God as Lord coming to the forefront as well. The confession that “Jesus is Lord” succinctly summarizes the message of the New Testament. If you like statistics, you may be interested to know that the word “Lord” appears 7,484 in the New International Version, almost all of them referring to God or Jesus.
It’s all well and good to see how the Bible reveals God as Lord, but we then need to face a question. What does it mean to understand God as the sovereign Lord? What implications does that have for us?
The Shape of Life in the Kingdom
Well, it means lots of things. I’m going to sidestep questions about salvation, the existence of evil, and foreknowledge, because there’s another point I want to make. God’s sovereignty and Lordship does not just tell us who God is, but it tells us who we are to be. Because the sovereign Lord is the creator and the Redeemer, He is worthy of all our worship and adoration. And so our lives assume a posture of worship because all that we are is owing to God’s sovereign act of giving us both the breath of life and the water of life through Jesus Christ.
The sovereign Lord is also our King. We are His people because He has brought us into a relationship with Him through the covenant established between Him and us. By virtue of this relationship, we find ourselves showered with grace and with His blessings. But this relationship also requires us to submit ourselves to His rule because we are citizens of His Kingdom. He demands our total allegiance. The beauty of it, however, is that these are not the demands of a power-hungry dictator, but the loving demands of the One who has created us to live most freely and completely when we live according to His designs and His will.
When God called Israel to be His people and gave them an elaborate code for how to live as such, He proceeded to place them right at the heart of the Ancient Near Eastern world. It wasn’t a sporadic choice, but a deliberate one. They were to make Him known to the world around them in order that all the nations would come to confess Him as Lord. As we all know, they failed. But Christ, the true Israel, came to show us what life looked like when lived in perfect submission to God. His arrival ushered in the Kingdom, and He then commissioned His disciples (and us) to make its presence known to the whole world.
An Intimate Relationship with a Sovereign King
And so today we too are called to take up that role, to be ambassadors of our sovereign Lord and to bring His rule to bear over all of creation. Our status as the people of the King, as His servants, gives shape to all that we think, do, and say. Nothing is left untouched by His Lordship. Nothing is neutral. Christ’s redemptive work does not just redeem sinners, but reclaims all of creation. The implications of this are tremendous.
If you’re still with me (this got a lot longer than I anticipated), I hope that brings the discussion full circle. When sovereignty is understood as Lordship, it doesn’t do away with the difficult questions, but I think it does help us understand our relationship to God in terms of the bigger story. God certainly loves us as a Father, and we certainly are His sheep. But it goes way beyond our individual relationship with Him.
God’s sovereignty is not just about His control or His power. It’s about the beautiful, majestic, perfect, wondrous orchestration of a plan that encompasses all of history, a plan which we are an intimate part of. It’s about the Lord grafting us into the life of the Kingdom. It’s about God, through Christ, showering us with immeasurable grace and mercy so that we would have a life more blessed than we could ever imagine, and such that we cannot keep from singing His praises.
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