Volume 9, Issue 3: Doctrine 101
God is Sovereign
Sovereign is a word that is not often used in our egalitarian and democratic American society. As a result, its true meaning is distorted or lost, even among Christians who have more frequent use of the word than the rest of the populace.
The word sovereign, used as an adjective, is defined in Noah Webster's 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language as meaning "supreme in power; possessing supreme dominion; as a sovereign prince. God is the sovereign ruler of the universe." The implication is that there is no higher authority and no equal but opposite authority. It does not preclude lesser authorities, but it is implicit that even the lesser authorities are subject to the ultimate or sovereign authority.
Most Christians that I know would willingly confess that God is sovereign. Indeed, the Bible gives many clear proof texts that this is so (for others, see footnote). For example, David praised the Lord in 1 Chronicles 29:11, 12 by saying, "Yours, O LORD, is the greatness, the power and the glory, the victory and the majesty; for all that is in heaven and earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and You are exalted as head over all. Both riches and honor come from You, and You reign over all. In Your hand is power and might; in Your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all." Nebuchadnezzar also acknowledged the Lord's sovereignty in Daniel 4:34, 35, "For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom is from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, `What have You done?'" Even the Lord Jesus Himself claims complete sovereignty in Matthew 28:18, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth."
The Scriptures are full of these passages, so much so that it is impossible to deny God's sovereignty. And so we acknowledge it. Yet at the same time, many Christians want to vacillate and say that although God is sovereign, He is not exhaustively sovereign. That is, God does not reign supreme in every point in the universe.
Christians who do not want to acknowledge God's exhaustive sovereignty fail to recognize the fallacy of their position, oppose the plain teaching of the Scriptures and demonstrate their misunderstanding of the word sovereign. But what is the consequence of not believing in the "exhaustive" (redundant) sovereignty of God?
Suppose we were to argue that God is sovereign over all the universe except for some incredibly small volume such as man's heart (in the biblical sense). If this were true, then we may legitimately ask whose authority dominates in this small volume. If not God's, then whose? Those who argue against God's exhaustive sovereignty will more than likely say that man rules in his own heart and that God has left it to man to do so. But what they don't realize is that they have now postulated two independent and ultimate authorities. If their position were true and everyone rules over his own heart, then there could be no real absolutes, just personal preferences.
In other words, if man has the authority over some small piece of the universe, and God has the rest, then who's to say what good is, or evil, or any other absolute that we cling to, including truth? At this point, it would depend entirely on who the authority is in the given domain. But if there are multiple authorities, then there are of necessity multiple and contradictory absolutes. Now we must keep in mind that the universe is a single domain, of which man is a created subset. There cannot be two or more ultimate authorities. As a result, there can be no concept of sovereignty in such an argument, since the word implies a singular, ultimate absolute.
So why do Christians take such a position? Most do so because they have, somewhat innocently, never taken the time to think through their understanding of Scripture. This is mental laziness, which is just as sinful as physical laziness. Others want to maintain the false perception of man's autonomy, which is generally driven by human pride, not godliness. In this vein, they want to assert that man, not God, has the final say in his own salvation. To their way of thinking, man is sovereign over the universe of his own heart, not the sovereign Lord who has been given all authority in heaven and on earth. This perspective verges on rank rebellion and should cause those who subscribe to it to seriously question the basis of their assurance of salvation.
Other reasons are offered, but none are good or legitimate. In addition, the unfortunate consequence of any of these reasons is a denial of the God of the Bible, although maybe not consciously, but which nonetheless equates to a violation of the First Commandment and is certainly a false teaching subject to God's chastisement.
God is sovereign over all, exhaustively so. To have to emphasize this point only shows how far the Church has strayed from a right understanding of the word. If God is not sovereign over all, then He is not sovereign. If He is not sovereign, then there is no truth, and we are all lost in our trespasses and sins. Biblically, we have no alternative.