Posted in theology, word of the week

Word of the Week: Sovereign

By Elizabeth Prata

In addition to the familiar Bible verses speaking to God’s sovereignty, one of which is at the conclusion of this essay, there is a famous quote from RC Sproul that exalts God’s sovereignty:

If there is one single molecule in this universe running around loose, totally free of God’s sovereignty, then we have no guarantee that a single promise of God will ever be fulfilled.

It is a great quote because it speaks to how God created and upholds every single atom in the universe. He is the author, architect, and absolute king over all. Continue reading “Word of the Week: Sovereign”

Posted in theology

The intersection of Sovereignty and free will

By Elizabeth Prata

sovereignty

Read these first-

Matthew 4:6 – and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

Psalm 91:11-12 – For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.

Psalm 91:13 – You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.

From Twitter: Jerry Edmonds, (@jerryedmonds) on those verses-

In Matthew 4:6, Satan quotes Psalm 91:11-12 to tempt Christ to disobedience. Read Psalm 91:13 to see the irony of Satan quoting this passage. If you don’t catch the irony, consider this: who does scripture elsewhere call a serpent and a roaring lion?

Barnes’ Notes, “it may be understood figuratively of Satan, who, for his voraciousness and cruelty, is compared to a lion; and, for his craft and subtlety, to a serpent, 1 Peter 5:8.”

Satan unwittingly complied with God’s ordination of prophetic utterance that in fact, does not tempt Jesus but instead negatively characterizes and indicts satan instead!

It’s like Pilate, who, in God’s ordination of all things but in Pilate’s employment of his free will, he unwittingly proclaimed to the world that the person convicted and executed at Calvary was not a criminal but in fact was “Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews.” (John 19:17). The Jews wanted Pilate to write that Jesus said He was king of the Jews, not that He was King of the Jews. Pilate said “I have written what I have written.” Pilate wasn’t made to write it, but he freely chose to write the truth and it was what God wanted.

In my opinion, these are examples of how God’s sovereignty intersects with free will. Satan thought he was outsmarting Jesus by tempting Him, but instead uttered a verse containing a prophecy on how he will be slain, and the Jews thought they would outsmart God by putting Jesus to a criminal’s death but instead was proclaimed King.

Isn’t God wonderful!

For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts.
Isaiah 55:8-9

Posted in theology, word of the week

Sunday Word of the Week: Sovereign

By Elizabeth Prata

In addition to the familiar Bible verses speaking to God’s sovereignty, one of which is at the conclusion of this essay, there is a famous quote from RC Sproul that exalts God’s sovereignty:

If there is one single molecule in this universe running around loose, totally free of God’s sovereignty, then we have no guarantee that a single promise of God will ever be fulfilled.

It is a great quote because it speaks to how God created and upholds every single atom in the universe. He is the author, architect, and absolute king over all.

Jesus, His Son, has been given all power and authority as God. (Matthew 28:18). Jesus is the exact imprint of His Father.

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (Hebrews 1:3).

We Americans are unfamiliar with sovereignty. We shed our King back in 1783 when we signed the peace treaty at Paris, concluding the Revolutionary War. Today, sovereignty has changed somewhat from the kings of old. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, sovereignty means

Sovereignty, though its meanings have varied across history, also has a core meaning, supreme authority within a territory. …  Historical variants can be understood along three dimensions — the holder of sovereignty, the absoluteness of sovereignty, and the internal and external dimensions of sovereignty.

Sovereignty can also be absolute or non-absolute. How is it possible that sovereignty might be non-absolute if it is also supreme? … absoluteness refers not to the extent or character of sovereignty, which must always be supreme, but rather to the scope of matters over which a holder of authority is sovereign.

Today, many European Union (EU) member states exhibit non-absoluteness. They are sovereign in governing defense, but not in governing their currencies, trade policies, and many social welfare policies, which they administer in cooperation with EU authorities as set forth in EU law.

The major change to international sovereignty happened in 1648 with the signing of a treaty called the Peace of Westphalia. Please bear with me for a brief history lesson. The rise of the Holy Roman Empire and the Catholic Church had caused friction, Martin Luther’s theses complicated matters, and the continent of Europe had been at war ecclesiastically and politically for a very long time (Thirty Years War, Eighty Years War, etc). The Westphalia treaty effectively ended those wars, and also limited the Roman Catholic Church’s widespread and growing power. In addition, the RCC’s claim as the only moral and spiritual truth was now effectively void. Catholicism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism were officially recognized as religions, within which, an adherent could worship freely.

Henry Kissinger wrote:

The Westphalian peace reflected a practical accommodation to reality, not a unique moral insight. It relied on a system of independent states refraining from interference in each other’s domestic affairs and checking each other’s ambitions through a general equilibrium of power. No single claim to truth or universal rule had prevailed in Europe’s contests. Instead, each state was assigned the attribute of sovereign power over its territory. Each would acknowledge the domestic structures and religious vocations of its fellow states and refrain from challenging their existence

The Treaty itself is explained here

The Peace of Westphalia was a series of peace treaties signed between May and October 1648 in the Westphalian cities of Osnabrück and Münster, largely ending the European wars of religion. The treaties of Westphalia brought to a close a calamitous period of European history which caused the deaths of approximately eight million people. Scholars have identified Westphalia as the beginning of the modern international system, based on the concept of Westphalian sovereignty.

The Peace of Westphalia established the precedent of peace established by diplomatic congress. A new system of political order arose in central Europe, based upon peaceful coexistence among sovereign states. Inter-state aggression was to be held in check by a balance of power, and a norm was established against interference in another state’s domestic affairs. As European influence spread across the globe, these Westphalian principles, especially the concept of sovereign states, became central to international law and to the prevailing world order.

Of course, the Roman Catholic Church was furious at this continental limit to the Holy See’s sovereignty, with Pope Innocent X calling the Treaty “null, void, invalid, iniquitous, unjust, damnable, reprobate, inane, empty of meaning and effect for all time” in the papal bull Zelo Domus Dei.

People today aren’t aware that the Pope is the world’s last absolute monarch. In framing the concept of sovereignty, of course we understand that our nation has sovereign powers with its globally recognized borders. Every nation is recognized so, and this is codified in the UN Charter. Political sovereignty is a normal, natural concept readily understandable by even a young person learning history.

The RCC is spiritual entity as well as a global power with a territory, standing army (The Swiss), internationally recognized borders, taxes extracted, a treasury, and sovereign power, in fact, an absolute power that cannot be contested. The Pope is the last absolute sovereign power in existence on the planet today.

The Holy See is the last absolute monarchy in the world today. The pope, when he is elected, is answerable to no human power. He has absolute authority over the entire Roman Catholic Church, direct authority that reaches down to individual members.

All of the governing officers in the Vatican itself, what we call the Vatican Curia, operate on delegated authority from the pope. They speak in the name of the pope. In the Roman Catholic Church, there are no separation of powers as we know of in most democratic societies. In the Roman Catholic Church, the office of pope includes the three main offices of government. He is the supreme judge, the supreme legislator and the supreme executive, so there’s no separation of powers. There is no possibility of checks and balances. Source PBS

The problem comes in with the Roman Catholic Church’s view of supremacy and sovereignty. The Protestant Church acknowledges Jesus as Head of the Church in heaven and on earth. The RCC acknowledges Jesus as head of the Church in heaven only. The Pope is supreme on earth in matters spiritual. Vicar of Christ means the pope operates as a vicarious substitute for Christ on earth. That God has handed the Pope the jurisdiction of earth in the sovereign execution of matters spiritual.

Paragraph 937 of the Catechism of the RCC states,

Papal supremacy is the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church that the Pope, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ and as pastor of the entire Christian Church, has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered: that, in brief, “the Pope enjoys, by divine institution, supreme, full, immediate, and universal power in the care of souls.”

Of course this is wrong. It competes with Jesus’s own statement in Matthew 28:18 that all authority in heaven and on earth has been granted Him. The difference in a Catholic’s view of sovereignty of God and the Protestant’s view of the sovereignty of God is vast. It is an eternally damning error. Only Jesus enjoys, by divine bestowal from God and in conjunction by the working of the Holy Spirit in Truine unity, supreme, full, immediate, and universal power in the care of souls- on heaven AND on earth. What it comes down to is, do you serve a sovereign Pope, or a sovereign God?

What’s so great about the sovereignty of God?

Many people do not believe in God’s sovereignty, yet still serve the Lord. But there is a great difference. Those who see the Lord in His sovereign glory have an inward compulsion to serve this God. Serving God is the glory of their lives. Their service is measured not so much in what they achieve–or what God achieves through them–but rather in the sheer wonder of the God they serve. Like little boys dividing up into teams on the playground, being picked to play on this team is the greatest joy imaginable, especially for those who are so unworthy. “Here am I! Send me,” is not merely the response of those who see God’s sovereign glory, it is their delight. Since God is certain to be glorified, they want to be among those glorifying God.

I’ll finish with AW Pink

“What do we mean by [the sovereignty of God]? We mean the supremacy of God, the kingship of God, the god-hood of God. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that God is God. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the Most High, doing according to His will in the army of Heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, so that none can stay His hand or say unto Him what doest Thou? (Dan. 4:35).

To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the Almighty, the Possessor of all power in Heaven and earth, so that none can defeat His counsels, thwart His purpose, or resist His will (Psa. 115:3). To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is “The Governor among the nations” (Psa. 22:28), setting up kingdoms, overthrowing empires, and determining the course of dynasties as pleaseth Him best. To say that God is Sovereign is to declare that He is the “Only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15). Such is the God of the Bible.” A. W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God, chapter 1.

1 Sunday sovereignty verse

Posted in calvinism, theology

Let’s not be spiritually merciless or censure harshly

By Elizabeth Prata

John Owen’s book ‘Indwelling Sin’ is a guide to knowing our enemy, sin. Spiritual pride comes from that place of sin, and Owen’s book talks at length about how to deal with this mortal enemy.

In one section, Owen talks about the hypocrites & the importance of knowing sin’s penchant to puff us up in pride, blinding us to sin’s potency. Owen says that we must always be searching our hearts so as to beat the sin nature down and to walk the path of grace, “that our souls may be humbled”. He offers two methods of soul humbling, 1) In walking with God, and here as he describes:

“2). In walking with others. Being humbled helps to prevent the great evils of judging, spiritual mercilessness, harsh censures, which many have thought themselves entitled to use, even though they have been guilty of greater or worse crimes than those which they have raved against in others. It will produce meekness, compassion, readiness to forgive, willingness to overlook offences; when we consider what is our state, as the apostle plainly declares, Gal. 6:1.”

Our teaching pastor delivered a powerful sermon this past Sunday from John 6 (and other texts) that teach predestination, or the Doctrine of Election. This doctrine usually gets people debating, sometimes the parties even becoming angry and upset.

In small group afterward, I commented that a few days prior to this sermon, I’d listened to Phil Johnson deliver a sermon on election from Acts 27, “The Shipwreck.” Phil is an excellent preacher, and I always enjoy his sermons. He is also an expert on Spurgeon, and he has been given a clear gift of discernment and he spots fads encroaching into evangelicalism well before they arrive. He preaches against fads, and in so doing, continues to draw the clear line between the world and the church. I recommend his sermon The Shipwreck.

Last year he did a guest post at Effectual Grace blog called Is Arminianism Damnable Heresy? Arminianism is described by John Gerstner as

Arminian evangelism rests on profound error: that fallen man is not dead spiritually but only dying. He is therefore supposed to be able to bring about his own new birth by his self-generated faith.

When you hear people say “I have free will to choose Jesus,” or “I decided for Jesus,” you’re hearing Arminian language.

In his Damnable Heresy article, Phil Johnson outlined his stance when debating Arminianism v. Calvinism v. Hyper-Calvinism. His attitude brings us back to the opening words of this essay by John Owen and the ‘great evils of judging, spiritual mercilessness, harsh censures’, especially in debate. Phil Johnson wrote:

Furthermore, I’m not one of those who wears Calvinism like a big chip on his shoulder, daring people to fight with me about it. It’s true that I can get feisty about certain points of doctrine—especially when someone attacks a principle that goes to the heart of the gospel, like substitutionary atonement, or original sin, or justification by faith and the principle of imputed righteousness. When one of those principles is challenged, I’m ready to fight. (And I also don’t mind beating up on whatever happens to be the latest evangelical fad.)

But Calvinism isn’t one of those issues I get worked up and angry about. I’ll discuss it with you, but if you are spoiling for a fight about it, you are likely to find me hard to provoke. I spent too many years as an Arminian myself to pretend that the truth on these issues is easy and obvious.

Now, don’t get the wrong idea. I do think the truth of God’s sovereignty is clear and ultimately inescapable in Scripture. But it is a difficult truth to come to grips with, so I am sympathetic with those who struggle with it.

That’s a wonderful way to approach it. I’ve seen Phil bear this out, especially on Twitter. He is measured, clear, and patient. I learn a lot by watching mature men of the faith engage in this manner with Christians and non-Christians alike.

After conversion, I read the Bible and saw throughout the Bible God’s sovereignty in electing His own. I knew from my own experience and testimony that I did not choose Jesus. I resisted Him almost unto death. I went kicking and screaming to the cross. I never would have chosen Him unless His irresistible grace converted my heart and nature.

I am an adherent to the doctrines of Grace. The Lord opened my eyes to His sovereign election of His people and I wholeheartedly embraced it by the grace of His Spirit. As sermons like my pastor delivered this past Sunday show, people tend to get heated about the doctrine. I hope that any discussions about this doctrine online or in real life will cause understanding, wonder, and be drenched with grace. I think Iain Murray stated it best and I leave you with it:

The final conclusion has to be that when Calvinism ceases to be evangelistic, when it becomes more concerned with theory than with the salvation of men and women, when acceptance of doctrines seems to become more important than acceptance of Christ, then it is a system going to seed and it will invariably lose its attractive power.

god is sovereign

Posted in encouragement, Uncategorized

The LORD is Creator and Commander of the animal kingdom

The Lord in His power directs every atom, every person, every angel, every demon, and every animal on earth (and in heaven). He created all and He is in control over all.

Not that He makes humans like robots, but His providence sees to it that His will and His plans are carried out. I enjoy pondering His power over His creation, don’t you? There are many verses that speak to this fact. Here are a mere few that demonstrate His sovereignty.

“The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters” (Psalm 24:1-2).

Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90:2).

He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).

One demonstration of His power is His control over the animals. Let’s take a look.

The most obvious one is His control over animals when He sent them to Noah to board the ark.

Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground, according to its kind, two of every sort shall come in to you to keep them alive. (Genesis 6:20).

In Exodus, He sent the plagues of flies, gnats (Exodus 8:16-19), frogs (Exodus 8:1-15) and killed all the cattle- except the ones who belonged to the Hebrews. Lest someone believe that it was an accident, the Bible declares that the LORD did it.

And the Lord did so. There came great swarms of flies into the house of Pharaoh and into his servants’ houses. Throughout all the land of Egypt the land was ruined by the swarms of flies. (Exodus 8:24).

EPrata photo


And the next day the Lord did this thing. All the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one of the livestock of the people of Israel died
. (Exodus 9:6).

Prophet Elijah was fed by ravens.

And the word of the Lord came to him: 3 “Depart from here and turn eastward and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. 4 You shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” (1 Kings 17:2-4).

Lest anyone think it was an accident, note that the LORD “commanded” the birds to do this. It was His will and desire that this should occur. And it did.

In Numbers 22:28 He made a donkey speak. What I found funny was that Balaam argued back. He was arguing with a donkey! He didn’t say, “Hm, this donkey which I have ridden all my life and it never spoke before, suddenly began acting strangely and then it talked to me. It must be the LORD.’ No, Balaam said he was so mad at the donkey he would like to kill it. The donkey then pleaded his case. A strange scene, for sure. But the LORD made the donkey speak. Once again, He is in control.

Of course one can think of the bears God sent to maul the taunting youths, the great fish He sent to swallow Jonah, the lions’ mouths he closed in the lion’s den for Daniel, the ram he sent to Abraham caught in the thicket atop Mt Moriah, and many other instances of how the LORD used animals to fulfill His will.

In the New Testament, He made the fish overload the disciples’ nets so much that their net broke. (Luke 5:6). In Matthew 17:24-27 he put a drachma coin into a fish’s mouth. He will call the birds of the air to the Great Supper of God. (Revelation 19:17).

EPrata photo

God communicates with His creatures. He cares for them. They indicate that there IS a Creator as a product of God’s creative energy and will.

I enjoy thinking about the sovereignty of God through these topics. His created order, the world, and heaven contain animals of which he creates, communicates with, and cares for. They do what He wishes and they even give praise to their creator. (Psalm 148:10-13).

We can do the same.

EPrata photo
Posted in encouragement, Uncategorized

God is a gentleman … or is He?

A common rebuttal to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty in salvation by people who insist that man can “choose Jesus” is the statement,

“God is a gentleman and would never force Himself on anyone.”

This statement is supposed to support the notion that man can enact salvation for himself by ‘accepting Jesus’ or some such notion. God might make it available, enticing, even, but ultimately, we choose.

Not so.

I wrote about God’s sovereignty in salvation in 2015, rebutting the ‘God is a gentleman’ notion, here:

Is God a gentleman? The illusion of a Gentleman God

Today I want to look at other cases besides salvation where God is certainly not a ‘gentleman’ (a foolish statement anyway, because God is God and not man, even a gentle man).

So I ask the question, using reverse logic, if God is a gentleman and never forces someone to convert, then why is He not a gentleman in these situations?

The spirit:

So the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria, the spirit of Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, and he took them into exile, namely, the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, and brought them to Halah, Habor, Hara, and the river Gozan, to this day. (1 Chronicles 5:26).

The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will. (Proverbs 21:1).

The heart:

But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had spoken to Moses. (Exodus 9:12).

for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. (Revelation 17:17).

The mind:

As Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to attack Israel. But the LORD thundered with a mighty sound that day against the Philistines and threw them into confusion, and they were defeated before Israel. (1 Samuel 7:10).

God can and does intervene in man’s affairs. He governs man’s spirit, man’s mind, and man’s heart. He does so in man’s life, his salvation, and his death. God is God and there is no other.

I will extol you, my God and King,
and bless your name forever and ever.
2 Every day I will bless you
and praise your name forever and ever.
3 Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,
and his greatness is unsearchable.
Psalm 145:1-3

Posted in discernment, Uncategorized

God’s sovereignty in providence: Esther and Jael

God is sovereign of the entire universe. He plans what he plans and He does what he pleases.

Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. (Psalm 115:3).

It’s admittedly hard to understand how God can and does orchestrate all events at once, constantly, over the earth and throughout the stars, so that His plans providentially combine in perfect harmony to enact His will. But He is God and we’re not supposed to understand it! It is also hard to understand how our personal decisions are still personal but also are part of His will and plan and the outcome is predetermined. That our decisions are our own yet are part of a pre-ordained plan that all leads to the cross and beyond is a tension our finite minds can’t comprehend. It is a joy to ponder them though, because in so doing, we come up against God’s power, omniscience, and will.

Here are two things to consider when looking at God’s providence and will, with our decisions and will.

Esther

The book of Esther was not written by Esther but it is about Esther, her Hebrew name was Hadassah. She lived during the time of King Ahasuerus of Persia, also known as King Xerxes. Through a series of providential events, Esther wound up as Queen to Ahasuerus and also was put in a position to save her people. However the saving of her people was at dire risk to her own life. She was discussing what to do with her uncle Mordecai, and Mordecai famously said,

“For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).

Esther could make her own decision. She could risk her life and go in to the King, or she could stay in the harem and not go to the King. Mordecai knew God’s character well enough to know that His promise to keep a remnant of His people alive would indeed happen, whether Esther decided to participate at this particular moment or not. God would keep His promise no matter what Esther decided. The choice was hers. Esther decided to go in and speak to the King even though he had not called for her (usually this meant death). We know the rest, Esther’s action revealed to the King the evil deeds of Haman and Haman was killed instead of the Jews.

Jael

Jael was the wife of Heber the Kenite. Sisera had been cruelly oppressing the Hebrews for 20 years. The people cried out. Deborah was civic leader at that time, prophesying and judging. She sent for Barak, the military leader and told him to go take care of the problem. Barak could freely decide what to do. He could go or he could not go, the choice was his. He said he would not go unless Deborah came with him. (Judges 4:8). His answer was in effect, no. Deborah replied that she would go with Barak, but it would be an embarrassment to him because God would deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman, and Barak would not get the military glory for the victory.

Barak freely made his choice, but now the outcome would occur from another quarter, just as Mordecai had said it would if Esther decided against her action.

Into the story enters Jael. After Barak routed Sisera’s army, Sisera fled. Sisera aimed toward the tent of Heber the Kenite. Sisera knew there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor (Sisera’s King) and the house of Heber the Kenite. Heber had separated from the Kenites and was settled far from the action. Sisera ran, believing he was safe to go toward the area where there was no fighting and where there was peace between the parties. Normally he would be right, especially since hospitality customs were so strong in protecting those who are invited into the tent. However in this providential case, Sisera was wrong. Jael invited Sisera into the tent, gave him drink, and covered him as he fell asleep.

Note that Sisera fell asleep. He had a hard day of fighting, but even though his life was in peril he felt comfortable enough where he let down his guard and fall asleep. Women in those days were responsible for pitching the tents and so Jael was strong enough and familiar enough with how to efficiently hammer a tent peg into the ground. As Sisera slept, she drove a tent peg into his temple and pinned his head to the ground. The verse succinctly states, “So he died.” (Judges 4:21b).

And behold, as Barak was pursuing Sisera, Jael went out to meet him and said to him, “Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.” So he went in to her tent, and there lay Sisera dead, with the tent peg in his temple. 23So on that day God subdued Jabin the king of Canaan before the people of Israel
. (Judges 4:22-23).

Barak had kind of said “I will go” but not really. Placing conditions on your obedience isn’t really obedience to God. I like how the verse says God subdued Jabin.

Whether Esther went in or didn’t go in, God would deliver the Jews from Haman. Whether Barak went to battle or didn’t go to battle, God would deliver the Jews from King Jabin and Commander Sisera. Both Esther and Barak freely decided on a course of action. Yet both outcomes occurred at the providential hand of God.

God is amazing.

Anonymous.
Jael and Sisera
pen drawing  — c. 1440 – 1450
Museum Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum, Braunschweig. The name of the drafter is not known. He is thought to be someone close to Van Eyck and his workshop. Source: Art and the Bible