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Volume 15, Issue 4: Doctrine 101

God's Sovereinty, Man's Responsibility

Patch Blakey

Often the accusation against those that proclaim God's sovereignty in salvation is that they make men out to be mere puppets. After all, if men are controlled by God's will, how can they be held accountable for their actions? How can they be condemned?

At face value, this argument seems to make good sense. The only problem with this line of reasoning is that it is unbiblical. The Apostle Paul addresses those who argue this way in his letter to the Romans.
"What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid… Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?" (Rom. 9:14, 18-21).
What Paul describes in this passage is that God saves whom He will, and He hardens whom He will. Paul's point is that God is sovereign in salvation, not to mention all of His creation. The problem comes when prideful Christian men want to judge God by their human standards. But Paul argues against such sophistry, saying, "Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?" (Rom 8:20). Who are we to question God?
Therefore if God is sovereign, how do we make the case that man is still responsible? One good example involves King David, whom Scripture describes as a man after God's own heart (Acts 13:22). "And again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah" (2 Sam. 24:1). God was angry with Israel, so he moved David to take a census. David pushed this executive order through, despite the strong protest of his top military advisor. "Notwithstanding the king's word prevailed against Joab, and against the captains of the host. And Joab and the captains of the host went out from the presence of the king, to number the people of Israel" (2 Sam. 24:4).
Having completed the census of the people, Joab returned and reported the number to King David. At this point, it seems that David did just as God wanted him to do, and so David should be at peace with God. But look at David's response. "And David's heart smote him after that he had numbered the people. And David said unto the Lord, `I have sinned greatly in that I have done: and now, I beseech thee, O Lord, take away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly'" (2 Sam. 24:10). Instead of being at peace with God, David was deeply troubled in his heart, and confessed his sin and foolishness to God for having numbered the people. Yet this was the very thing God moved David to do.
Some may want to suggest a perverted twist on an old saying, "God made him do it." If this is the case, then David should not be held accountable for his actions. But is this the case?
God then spoke to the prophet Gad, David's seer, and offered three choices of punishment to David as the representative of the nation of Israel for the sin David had committed. "For when David was up in the morning, the word of the Lord came unto the prophet Gad, David's seer, saying, `Go and say unto David, Thus saith the Lord, I offer thee three things; choose thee one of them, that I may do it unto thee'" (2 Sam. 24:11-12).
None of the choices God gave David were pleasant—seven years of famine, three months of fleeing before his enemies, or three days of pestilence in the land. From these severe options, we know that God was displeased with David's sin. God's displeasure with David for his sinful actions in numbering the people demonstrates that God held David responsible for his own sin. David did not question or challenge God for his own iniquity against God, asking, "Why have you made me to sin against You?" Instead, David acknowledged his sinfulness and fully agreed with God's discipline. "And David spake unto the Lord when he saw the angel that smote the people, and said, `Lo, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly: but these sheep, what have they done? Let thine hand, I pray thee, be against me, and against my father's house'" (2 Sam. 24:17).
God was sovereign in this situation, yet without sin. David was moved by God to sin, yet was fully responsible for his own sin. If some, at this point, find themselves arguing that David was unjustly treated by God, then they must acknowledge that they are on the opposite side of the argument from David and from God, who were both in agreement.
Whose side of the argument are such people then taking? They are arguing from the position of fallen, sinful mankind against their Creator and against His Word. God is not the One on trial. "God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged" (Rom. 3:4).
Are men puppets? No. Are they responsible for their actions? Most assuredly. And God is sovereign and just in the midst of it all. Amen!

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