The Meaning and Goal of God’s Sovereignty

What do we mean when we say that God is sovereign?  It is true that God’s sovereignty speaks to God’s kingship over creation.  However, some would attempt to define God’s kingship by first defining the kingship of men.  They use the pattern of an earthly king to influence and inform their understanding of God’s kingship, as if God’s kingship is fashioned after the kingship of men.  Such is folly in the highest order.  The kingly office that men have held throughout the centuries is a humble reflection of the infinitely glorious kingship of God.

We must not limit God’s sovereignty to a mere affirmation of kingship, however.  It is so much more.  When we speak of God as being sovereign, we are speaking of the godhood of God.  He is God and there is no other, and his varied works manifest that he is God:

I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other.  I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things (Isa. 45:5-7)

When we say that God is sovereign we are asserting that he does as he pleases and no one can thwart his purpose: “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?” (Dan. 4:35). [1]  When we say that God is sovereign we are saying that he is the Eternal One whose decree is the source of time itself and all that takes place in time:

Declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country.  I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it. (Isa. 46:10-11)

Such things cannot be said of earthly kings.  No earthly king can lay claim to being the only true God, the Creator of all things.  No earthly king possesses the knowledge, wisdom, and power necessary for accomplishing all that he purposes.  No earthly king can declare the end from the beginning, much less infallibly.  Behold, our God is an awesome God who reigns over all and whose purpose will be carried out according to the good pleasure of his will.

What then is the goal of God’s sovereignty?  That is, why does God do what he does?  What does it all ultimately lead to?  This question necessarily concerns us with the redemptive historical narrative of the Bible, as the Bible is essentially the divinely inspired historical account of God’s wondrous works in accomplishing that which he has purposed in eternity.  So, what is the central theme throughout redemptive history?  James Hamilton, Jr. states that this theme “will be what the biblical authors resort to when they give ultimate explanations for why things are the way they are at any point in the Bible’s story.”[2]  In other words, the central theme of redemptive history and the goal of God’s works are essentially the same.  When we find the biblical authors, or God himself, consistently stating the reason or goal of God’s works, then we will know what the central theme of the Bible is and we will have the answer to our question.

The goal of God’s sovereignty, or the end of his works throughout redemptive history, is none other than the glory of God.  This theme is abundantly supplied throughout the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, as I will demonstrate below.[3] The Baptist Catechism, Q/A #10,[4] likewise affirms this biblical truth: “The decrees of God are His eternal purpose according to the counsel of His will, whereby, for His own glory, He has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass” (emphasis added).  This truth is summarily stated by Paul in Romans 11:36, “For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be glory forever.  Amen.”

Numerous Scriptures teach us that God is ultimately concerned with his name being glorified in all the earth, and the means of this self-glorifying work is in his saving and judging acts.  Let us now consider just a handful of passages that should leave us with no doubt as to this central theme of the Bible and the goal of God’s sovereignty.

God repeatedly hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that he would not let the Israelite people go.  Why did he do this?  He did it for the purpose of manifesting his glorious power in judgment over Pharaoh.  He did it so that his name would be proclaimed in all the earth (Ex. 7:3-5; 9:14-16).  God comforts his covenant people in the midst of trouble with these words, “Be still, and know that I am God.  I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Ps. 46:10).  From this we gather that God’s self-glorifying endeavors entailed the continuation of a chosen people, Israel, the means by which he would bring salvation to all peoples (i.e. elect among the nations; cf. Rev. 5:9).  If Israel had been utterly destroyed then there never would have been the Christmas story with the Immanuel (God with us).  There never would have been the Messiah to accomplish redemption for his people, followed by his Great Commission to go into all the world with the good news of his victory over Satan, sin, and death.  The reason Israel was never utterly destroyed, though they should have been numerous times before, was because of God’s ultimate concern with his glory.  Again, God’s people rightfully recognize the worthiness of God to be glorified throughout the whole earth (Ps. 72:18-19).  The book of Ezekiel makes abundantly clear God’s concern for his name to be known among all the nations, as the phrase “know that I am the LORD” appears 87 times (e.g. 36:23-27).  Without doubt, God is concerned with making his name known throughout the world; he has fulfilled his desire and will fulfill it still more until our Lord returns.  The prophet Habakkuk prophesied of the whole earth being “filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (2:14).  This again is a promise to God’s people that they will not be utterly destroyed, that God will judge the nations through whom Israel was judged.  This promise comes to us today as a promise of success in missions.  This knowledge of God is not a mere intellectual knowledge, but a saving knowledge (e.g. Jn. 17:3; 2 Cor. 4:6; Col. 1:9-10).  God will see to it that he gathers his people from among the nations.  The apostle Paul saw his trial-laden gospel ministry as a means of extending God’s grace to the peoples, leading to thanksgiving and the glory of God (2 Cor. 4:15).  Lastly, Ephesians 1:3-14, which speaks of our triune God’s redeeming work, repeatedly states that God’s saving grace toward those he has chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world is ultimately to the praise of his glory (vv. 6, 12, 13).

So, we see that God does what he does for the ultimate purpose of glorifying his name among the nations.  This glorious work of God involves the demonstration of his wrath and justice and his grace and mercy.  In the case of the exodus, for example, God hardens Pharaoh’s heart so that he may demonstrate his power over Pharaoh and the nations may know that he is the LORD.  Israel, God’s covenant people, receive his grace and mercy and are delivered from their enslavement to Egypt.  Their deliverance, of course, is due to the Passover lamb whose blood was placed on the doorposts so that God would pass over them and not kill their firstborn, as he did with the Egyptians (Ex. 12).  Grace and mercy, at least in a redemptive sense, is not without judgement.  That judgment is actualized vicariously, through a substitute; in this case, the Passover lamb, and ultimately in Jesus Christ (cf. Rom. 3:25-26; 1 Cor. 5:7).

 


[1] Pink, A. W. The Sovereignty of God (FL: Bridge-Logos, 2008), 7-8.

[2] Hamilton, James M., Jr. God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, 49.

[3] For a categorized list of Scriptures that reveal God’s zeal for his own glory, see Piper, John. “Biblical Texts to Show God’s Zeal for His Own Glory”.  https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/biblical-texts-to-show-gods-zeal-for-his-own-glory.  Last accessed on December 28, 2017.

[4] The Baptist Confession of Faith & the Baptist Catechism (AL: Solid Ground Christian Books), 95. Cf. Q/A #7 in the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

[5] Hamilton, James M., Jr. God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, 50.

[6] Ibid., 57.

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