The Sovereignty of God


He who is the blessed and only Sovereign,
the King of kings and Lord of lords,
who alone has immortality,
who dwells in unapproachable light,
whom no one has ever seen or can see.
To him be honor and eternal dominion.
Amen.

1 Timothy 6:15-16 ESV

One year before, Nebuchadnezzar’s advisor, Daniel, had interpreted a dream for the Babylonian king. In the dream, a mighty tree grew so that it was visible to everyone on earth; however, an angel, heralding the judgment of God, declared that the tree was to be cut down. Daniel warned the king that the tree represented Nebuchadnezzar and that God was calling the king to repent of his sins and to practice righteousness.

Yet twelve months later, the king stood upon the roof of his palace and pondered to himself, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty” (Daniel 4:30)? Daniel reports that, “While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: ‘The kingdom has departed from you’” (4:31). The LORD immediately struck the king with madness, and he wandered as a wild beast for a season. And when the madness was lifted, Nebuchadnezzar recorded these words:

At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,

for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
            and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
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?”

At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

Daniel 4:34–37

THE ONLY SOVEREIGN

Many, many passages within the Bible ascribe to God the “everlasting dominion” that is His sovereign right, but we find three explicit declarations within the New Testament that God is sovereign. First, in Acts 4:24, the freshly persecuted early church cried to God in prayer which began by saying, “Sovereign Lord, who made heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them.” Second, in Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he writes a glorious doxology that calls God “the blessed and only Sovereign” (1 Timothy 6:15). Third, in one of John’s visions in Revelation, he sees the martyrs at the altar, crying out, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth” (Revelation 6:10)?

God’s sovereignty is intimately bound to His omnipotence. Both are descriptions of His divine power, yet while omnipotence refers to His powerful nature, sovereignty refers to His powerful authority. Thus, omnipotence is power in a more general sense, whereas sovereignty necessarily implies government. To call God omnipotent means acknowledging Him as the Creator for Whom nothing is impossible, and to call Him sovereign means recognizing Him as the King Who sits on the throne ruling and reigning over all His creation.

In fact, God’s sovereignty is at the very center of our study because it marks a transition into a slightly different set of attributes. As we noted while discussing God’s simplicity, categories of attributes and even the attributes themselves are made for our benefit, since God is in Himself gloriously simple and one. Therefore, His goodness is eternally immutable, and His mercy is infinitely a se. God is wholly God, but as we are finite creatures attempting to comprehend the incomprehensible Creator, we must somehow find a way to study His character in smaller segments.

I say all of this again in order to somewhat downplay the distinction that I am about to make. The first twelve attributes of our study (from Incomprehensibility to Omnipotence) are attempts to convey God’s self-existent and self-sufficient being; whereas, the following twelve (from Wisdom to Holiness) are attributes that bear a particular relationship to us, His creations. Again, I pray that the personal significance of God’s omniscience, for example, is just as real to you as His grace, and I hope that we will remember that God’s faithfulness is just as intrinsic to His being as His triunity. Nevertheless, the distinction between the two halves of this study are still present, and the sovereignty of God is a notable transition because it stands in both categories. His categorical sovereignty is displayed through His beginning of the beginning in Genesis 1:1, yet sovereign authority, being almost always thought of as a king in governance over his people, certainly also marks the King of kings.  

When discussing God’s absolute sovereignty, the issue of human freedom is ever at hand, since these two concepts appear to be contradictory. R. C. Sproul, however, makes a powerful clarification that human freedom (note: not autonomy, we are in no way autonomous) does not undermine God’s sovereignty because our freedom is ultimately subject to His sovereignty.[1] He notes:

God is sovereign. Man is free. Man’s freedom is limited, however, by God’s sovereignty. God’s sovereignty is not limited by man’s freedom. This is simply to say that man is not God. God is free and man is free. But God is more free than man. Man’s freedom is always and everywhere subordinate to God’s freedom. If we reverse these we pass from theism to atheism, from Christianity to humanism, from Christ to Antichrist.[2]

A. W. Tozer provides a similar thought by noting that our freedom requires God’s sovereignty. “A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures. He would be afraid to do so.”[3] Only a truly sovereign God could work human freedom into His fixed will. The reality of our moral responsibilities only magnifies all the more His sovereign and eternal purpose, rather than diminishing or negating it.

THE PROVIDENTIAL KING

As with each of God’s attributes, His sovereignty is far more applicable to us than we have time or space to explore (both now and within this lifetime). We will, therefore, focus upon two particular applications.

First, as the only Sovereign, God alone is our King, and we owe Him our fealty. His is our Lord; we are His servants. He is our Master; we are His slaves. He is our Father; we are His children. We do not, therefore, hold ultimate authority over our lives; He does. Yet this runs counter to our sin-ridden impulse. By nature, we live by the mantra of Satan from Paradise Lost that it is “better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” And yet our total submission is actually for our benefit because God’s sovereignty is wise, good, true, merciful, graciously, loving, patient, and faithful. Furthermore, His sovereignty is also omniscient, which means that He knows what is better for us than we do ourselves.

This leads to our second application: we can trust in God’s providential sovereignty. Providence is particular aspect of God’s sovereign authority that “involves God’s execution of [His] decree within the time and space of his creation.”[4] As Ephesians 1:4 declares, God sovereignly chose us for redemption in Christ “before the foundation of the world.” Our salvation is fixed from before time itself, yet by God’s grace, He has not only sovereignly secured our destination but He also providentially guards and guides our entire journey. Joseph made particular note of God’s providence after ascending to Pharaoh’s right hand, which followed his enslavement and imprisonment. When Joseph’s brothers, who sold him into slavery as a seventeen-year-old, feared his wrath, he responded by saying, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20).

For we who have been redeemed and adopted through the blood of Christ, we have a confidence similar to Joseph’s that our “God is for us” (Romans 8:31) and is working “all things together” for our good (Romans 8:28). The King of kings and Lord of lords has adopted us as sons and daughters. Thus, even when sorrows befall us, we know that it is not outside the plan of our Father, who will right even the greatest of wrongs in the end.

In The Horse and His Boy from The Chronicles of Narnia, Hwin (a talking horse) meets Aslan (a lion who is Jesus within Narnia) for the first time, and although she is terrified, she walks over to Him and says, “Please, you’re so beautiful. You may eat me if you like. I’d sooner be eaten by you than fed by anyone else.” All who meet the good, loving, wise sovereignty of God have a similar heart. Even when the skies are dark around us, we still cry with David, “your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you” (Psalm 63:3) because we know that the Sovereign One’s beautiful light will soon pierce the thickest of clouds.


[1] I do agree, nevertheless, with Luther and others that sin has placed our will under bondage, so that while we are free to do evil, we are no longer capable of doing good. Jesus, however, gives us true freedom through His atoning sacrifice by empowering our will by His Spirit to do good works.

[2] R. C. Sproul, Enjoying God¸131.

[3] A. W. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy, 189.

[4] Mark Jones, God Is, 119.

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