God’s Sovereignty & Man’s Responsibility
You clicked on this article for the same reason I choose to write about this topic. Because how one balances these two truths found in Scripture is still a hot issue in Christian culture and is one that is not going away. When we think about God’s Sovereignty and man’s responsibility we are talking about a pair of truths that stand side by side that seem irreconcilable, yet are both undeniable. A Christian cannot seriously read the bible and deny God’s complete sovereignty in all things. And yet, the same serious reader, cannot deny that man is responsible and that his actions, or lack thereof, have real consequences.
First, lets consider God’s sovereignty. Prov. 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.” Or consider Isaiah 46: 9-10 “remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, 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”. How can God declare the end from the beginning? Not only does God know what is going to happen but he is the one who will sovereignly bring it about.
Now for man’s responsibility. Consider Luke 13:3 which says, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” It is not merely the hearing of the gospel which saves someone but man is responsible to repent and trust in Christ to be saved. Another example is found in Jonah. Upon hearing that God was going to overthrow his city, the king of Nineveh commanded a city wide fast and said, “let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish?”
God is sovereign and yet man is responsible. Sometimes even in the same verse! Consider Acts 2:22, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. Jesus was delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God but who does God hold responsible? Scripture says that lawless men crucified and killed Jesus! Wow! How can both be true at the same time? The author certainly admits mystery but not contradiction.
J.I. Packer, a well-known and respected theologian echoes this truth when he says, “God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are taught us side by side in the same Bible. Both are guaranteed to us by the same divine authority, both therefore are true…they must be held together, and not played off against each other.”
God wants us to embrace his sovereignty in all things but he also expects us to act. God has end goals in mind which he will achieve through the means of sinful people like you and me. Pretty amazing, isn’t it? If this confuses you, even a little bit, you are in good company. God does not expect complete understanding in everything he has written down but does expect us to study what he has written down in an attempt to understand it in the best way we can. It would be a mistake to neglect the study of something even though we recognize we cannot understand it completely. It would also be an equal mistake to assume that we have arrived in complete understanding of this topic. Balance is the key. We should not over emphasize God’s sovereignty to the neglect of man’s responsibility and vise versa. God bless you as you continue your study.