Church Unity hinges on Understanding God’s Sovereignty, not Understanding Human Choice

I get asked a lot about my views on sovereignty and free will.  Since I believe that much of that is a lifelong explanation, I leave most of my beliefs stated in the pulpit by trying to assert the two truths clear in the scriptures:  1) God is sovereign over EVERYTHING and 2) Man is responsible for his choices.  My beliefs on how these two truths interact are best summed up by saying I do not believe that they are opposed (like enemies) rather I’ll affirm our statement of faith…

God, from eternity, decrees or permits all things that come to pass and perpetuates, upholds, directs and governs all creatures and all events through His providence, yet He is not the author or approver of sin.  He does not in any way destroy the free will and responsibility of any who will stand before God in judgment.

When God’s sovereignty and man’s will appear at odds, it’s our problem not God’s.  So, when there’s mystery I default to Paul’s statement in Romans 11:33-36 (closing out the whole section of Romans 9-11):

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”

36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

So, when we face mystery let’s fall on a Godward view of mystery…trusting Him.  A man-centered view of mystery says, “That cannot be true because I don’t understand!”

Church Unity…

Currently we have been studying the day of Christ’s crucifixion in John 18-19.  Regularly I have referenced the wonderful corporate prayer of the early church in Acts 4:23-31 because they so beautifully choose to articulate God’s sovereign work and goodness in the death of His own Son for the good of His people.

Now, I’d like for us to look at the context of that passage.  Consider the passage itself…

23 When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them.24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25 who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,

“‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
and the peoples plot in vain?
26 The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers were gathered together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed’

27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness,30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.

This prayer in the early church follows the release of Peter and John from the authorities, namely Annas, Caiaphas and a few others (familiar?).  Peter and John were in trouble for the healing of a man in his forties (next week, I’ll feel the need for some healing as I hit my “40’s”).  The above prayer is the immediate response of Peter and John’s testimony of the account.  I believe that the text speaks for itself especially understanding the context of the trying of Peter and John.

What I want you to notice today is what’s comes next…

32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Interesting isn’t it?  The affirmation of God’s sovereign work is the prayerful framework for the unity of the early church.  That is consistent because what unifies us is what we focus on.  This truth has been lived out negatively throughout church history in charting liberalism.  As soon as we believe that the gospel is solely a human event and that the greatest change agent in the world are humans banning together, we have given into liberalism, therefore ineffectiveness in the gospel.

Haven’t you seen this before?  Even in conservative evangelical churches we can just like ourselves too much and the “machine” that the church is.  Before you know it, God’s work has faded into the background.

I believe this is one reason we can be thankful for financial hard times.  It WILL NOT BE the collective good nature of people who sustain the church, it will be God at work in and through His people.  I believe that as we see that God is in control and we are graciously dealt with by Him, we will love the world less, sell some stuff, hate debt and yet still faithfully give to the church for the purpose of the gospel.  Sure, that sounds easy coming from the pastor whose salary depends on your giving, but that doesn’t change that my salary means nothing if I’m not faithful to God first.  In fact, I hope I preach as if you do not hold the “purse strings.”  Hopefully, I proclaim truth in love in a way that does not fear man on any level.  Hopefully, that is the kind of Christian you are as well in your management of your homes and finances.  Don’t let the world give you her twisted logic (like don’t give an offering until you’re out of debt, etc…).  Realize that God is sovereign and sovereignly gracious and we are called to be good stewards of His perfect will, especially in the caring for one another.

“O Sovereign Lord, help the followers of Christ of UBC speak boldly your testimony and may we trust your provision as we faithfully care for one another and proclaim boldly the resurrection of Jesus Christ!”

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