God’s Sovereign Will and Man’s Allowed Will
This relatively brief statement is my effort to explain the basic nature of these decisive forces in the design and operation of what is, what we can observe and experience and seek to understand in this world in which we live. I’m sure that books have been written about this subject, and I’m not going to try to summarize their points. This statement will basically be my personal perspective on this matter from my understanding of God’s revelation in the Bible and my personal experience with him in decades of personal and professional study and training in learning how to live in a trusting willful relationship with him. It is written as a subordinate statement to my longer statement on “God’s Work of Redemption” in my website. I hope that my readers will find it to be helpful in their understanding of this matter.
The basics regarding these wills
God has expressed and demonstrated his sovereign will in his action of creating and designing all that exists that is in the spiritual realm of his heaven and the physical realm of his universe. This sovereign will basically governs the way these realms and all of their features and inhabitants, including angels and human beings, operate throughout all of eternity. There is nothing that exists anywhere or happens anywhere that is not subject to his sovereign will.
His created angels and human beings have individual minds and wills through which they can make individual choices, but none of their choices are outside of the sovereign authority of God’s will. All of God’s sovereign willing acts and designs have been intended and conducted in accord with his character to express his love and order for what is holy and ultimately good for all of his creation. God in the expression of his sovereign will is not only the creator of all that exists, but he is the absolute judge over its quality in its existence and ongoing operations. He is not prone to change his nature or his will, but he can change various ways in which these spiritual and physical realms operate from time to time in order to maintain his desire to have spiritual and physical realms that express and reflect his qualities for love and holy order that are parts of his divine nature. Man’s will, the allowed willful choices of human beings, has no power to block or to effectively change any expression that God chooses to make in accord with his sovereign will. So human beings (and angels) have the ability to make willful choices, in accord with the image of God which he gave to them, but their ability is limited and it is not completely free from God’s sovereign will and authority.
Man chooses to rebel against God
In his creation of human beings God intended for them to “have dominion” (Genesis 1:26) over the other living things on the earth and to share with him in the orderly operation of living creatures that live in the “sea”, fly in the “heavens”, or roam or creep upon “the earth”. God blessed his human creatures and instructed them to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28) and he provided food for all of his creatures to eat. When God reviewed everything that he had created with its intended order and it’:s providing “seeds””, he judged it all to be “very good” (Genesis 1:31).
When God took “the man”, the man that he had created, “and put him in the garden” (Gen. 2:15) he gave him this specific commandment: “‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’” (Gen. 2:16-17) It was apparent that God in accord with his sovereign loving and holy will wanted his created “man” and all of the other human beings that would descend from him to trust him to provide for them what would be ultimately good and to depend upon him for his guidance in gathering it and handling the operations for its distribution throughout his creation and anything that would be contrary to his sovereign loving and holy will would be judged to be evil by God. But Eve, the female wife and partner for the man, and Adam willfully chose to rebel against God by disobeying his commandment and ate of the forbidden fruit in their decision to claim for themselves the knowledge of what would be good or evil in their lives on the earth where God had placed them.
When God in his personal relationship with Eve and Adam discovered that they had rebelled against him by disobeying his commandment and were not willing to trust him for his loving and holy guidance and providential care, the personal relationship of holy order and guidance with them and all of their human descendants was broken. God then in his sovereign will issued several serious judgments against Eve and Adam and all of the human descendants that would come from them, Satan (the &ldquoserpent”) who had seduced them with his lies, and even the ground from which they would get their food and physical resources for living on the earth before they would physically die. (See Genesis 3:14-19) Because of the rebellious allowed willful choice of his initial human creatures, God in his sovereign will chose to make some basic changes in the operation of his created physical universe, particularly in regard to the earth and its creatures, and the personal relationship that he had intended to have with his created human beings was drastically changed. Human beings were no longer able to daily enjoy the blessings of God’s goodness and holy order in their lives, but were daily being subjected to the evil effects of their own and Satan’s willful sinful and foolish choices.
And God chooses to redeem humanity and his creation
But God in his sovereign love began immediately to do his holy work to redeem his human creatures and his creation from the disorderly and unproductive damage that Satan and his rebellious human servants had caused God to impose upon them. God did not willfully cause the rebellious choice of Eve and Adam and their descendants, and he did not create the evil nature of their unblessed changed circumstances for living. Through every aspect of God’s creative and redeeming work God is in control through his loving and holy sovereign will.
Jesus, in his very important teaching discourse with his disciples in which he was preparing them for his departure, indicated that the “Helper”, who is the holy Spirit, that God would be sending into the world to help them and other human beings to receive and to respond to his word would “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). Paul, in his teachings to the Corinthians regarding the role of the Spirit in receiving and understanding the will of God indicates that “no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:11). And that they, and other understanding believers, had “received…the Spirit who is from God, that” them and the others “might understand the things freely given” to them all “by God” (1 Cor. 2:12), because “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). So rebellious human beings who have rejected the loving and wise personal guidance of God for what would be good in their lives are not able in their own wills to even receive and to understand “the thoughts of God” and “the things of the Spirit of God” apart from the presence of the Spirit within them.
Paul, in his teachings regarding the role of the Spirit in the praying endeavors of God’s redeemed sinners, indicates that it is “the Spirit” who “intercedes” for them “according to the will of God” so that “all things” can “work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (his sovereign will) (Romans 8:26-28).
Paul,in his teaching letter to the Ephesians, emphasizes the importance of God’s saving work of his sovereign will in his loving act of grace in Jesus that they have received from God as He does his creating and redeeming work “through faith” which enables them to live “in Christ”. (Ephesians 2:6 and 8) He indicates that their trusting believing faith in God’s willful call and instructions to them is “the gift of God” and “not a result of” their allowed willful choice for any acts in response to God that could be considered by him to be “good works”, because he alone is able to produce and prepare them for such “works” (Eph. 2:8-10).
So, according to my above comments regarding this matter, human beings can only receive and respond to God’s loving and wise holy ordered instructions to receive and to enjoy what is ultimately good in this world by saying “yes” to his personal call to each of them to trust him by faithfully believing his gracious message of love and instructions for their holy ordered lives in their personal relationship with him in accord with his sovereign will and the indwelling presence of his Spirit. All that their allowed personal non-Spirit renewed wills and minds can do is to enable them to say “No” to God’s general revelations of his love and holy instructions for living that are contained and displayed in his creation and the records of his revelation and holy glory in Jesus that are in the Bible and the history of God’s redeemed human beings and servants. The only human beings who are not subject to this application of these wills are the “little children” whom Jesus welcomed to “come to” him, although the disciples had tried to “hinder them” from doing so as he was teaching among a crowd of followers in Judea. His reason for receiving them into his close person presence was, as he stated, “for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14). His authoritative evaluation of their spiritual condition was such that he did not regard them as being personally accountable to God for any willful acts of distrust or disobedience to God’s will and personal instructions to them. He considered them to be personally too young to understand and to personally respond to God’s personal call for their trust and repentant response of belief. But all human children have throughout all time in everywhere that they have lived acquired through the early years of their lives a personal sense of what was good and what was evil, what was right and what was wrong, and what was selfish and what was loving in regard to the choices that they could make in their lives and in their relationships with others including their gods. In accord with God’s sovereign will he could choose at any time to exercise his authority over his human creatures by inviting any of them personally to trust him and to accept his loving grace and holy order in their lives or to impose his judgment upon them by just allowing them to continue to express their own rebellious choices against him. Therefore, God’s redemptive work among human beings and within his creation is always done in accord with his loving and wise holy sovereign will, which is good, and every expression of man’s allowed self-glorifying will is always evil. No human being has any excuse for his or her willful rebellious choices against God.
For the related statement regarding this matter go to “God’s Work of Redemption” on this website.
Scripture quotations are from the ESV Study Bible English Standard Version (ESV®), copright © 2008 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved