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God's Sovereignty and Man's Responsibility


Reconciling these two things often creates a problem in people's minds. Some take the view that the two conceptions cannot be reconciled in our minds and hold the two ideas in parallel. It is a bit like what some people try to do - hold evolution and creation as two parallel ideas. However there is no real difficulty if we follow Scripture.

God is from eternity and knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10). He knows people before they are formed in the womb (Jeremiah 1:5). He has predestinated persons who he foreknew (Romans 8:28-30) (not those he foreknew would accept the Gospel as some have been inclined to read it). Such persons are called the elect according to the foreknowledge of God (1 Peter 1:2). Even Christ is prophetically called the elect (Isaiah 42:1). There is nothing about persons being elected to be lost. In

fact, all would be irredeemably lost if none had been the subjects of God's election of grace (Romans 11:5). None deserve to be saved (Romans 11:32).

However God has intervened by sending his Son into the world that the world through him might be saved (John 3:17). Christ went to the cross to make atonement for sin so that all that now look to him may be saved. The message of the Gospel (Good News) can therefore now be presented to man for his acceptance. Messengers were therefore sent forth by Christ into all the world (Matthew 28:19/20). Men (including women) are called upon to believe on the Lord Jesus (Acts 16:31; 5:14). The message is presented to all, but only those who believe it get the benefit of it (Romans 3:22). It only profits if it is mixed with faith in those who hear it (Hebrews 4:2). The objective facts of the Gospel are that Christ has died for our sins, been buried and raised again (1 Corinthians 15:3/4). However on our side there needs to be repentance Godward and faith in Christ (Acts 20:21). We are not to look for anything in ourselves but look away from ourselves to Christ: "Looking unto Jesus" (Hebrews 12:2). The Israelites who had been bitten by the serpents had to look at the serpent lifted up, and nowhere else (Numbers 21:8/9). Again we have: "Look unto me and be ye saved" (Isaiah 45:22). (See note at end)

However, without there being a work of God in man's soul none would look to Christ. "No one can come to me except the Father who has sent me draw him" (John 6:44). Thus, apart from what God has done in sending his Son, there is what he has done by sending his Holy Spirit into the world. Christ's work is an objective work - it is outside of ourselves, but the Spirit's work is subjective - in ourselves. It is said of Lydia that the Lord opened her heart to attend to the things spoken by Paul (Acts 16:14). God ensures that those who have been the subjects of his election will not only have the Gospel presented to them but will be the subjects of a work in their hearts so that they will be willing to receive the Gospel. There is no idea in Scripture that there are persons who would receive the Gospel if they could, but they can't because they have not been elected. The Gospel is open to all, but only those who God has elected and made willing to receive it will do so.

God uses means to bring about his purposes. He uses preachers, but he may also use a famine to bring a man to his senses as he did the prodigal son (Luke 15:14). In Acts the Gospel was spread abroad partly as a result of the persecution of the Lord's people (Acts 11:19). God has in the past spoken in many ways (Hebrews 1:1) and today we must not in our minds put any limits on him.

God knows who his people are and who will accept the Gospel. He said of Corinth: "I have much people in this city" (Acts 18:9/10). We do not know where the edible (we may say) fish are, but he does, so that the preacher needs to be near the Lord so as to get his mind as to where to fish. The disciples were to become fishers of men (Matthew 4:19).

All men have at least some testimony as to God even if this is only the testimony of the natural world around them (Acts 14:15-18; Romans 1:19/20). All are without excuse. Those that have been under the sound of the Gospel and refused it are more blameworthy than the heathen. This will be taken into account when Christ judges the world (Luke 12:47/48).

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