On God's Sovereignty

From a Biblical Prespective

Leland M. Haines

Creation

The Bible begins with the statement "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" (Gen. 1:1). In the beginning God alone created a universe as He willed. Creation involved bringing something into existence from nothing (cf. Eph. 3:19; Col. 1:16). The author of Hebrews wrote, "The world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear"; (Heb. 11:3). As Paul wrote, God "calls into existence the things that do not exist" (Rom. 4:17).

Things at the beginning were different than we know: "The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep" (v 2; cf. Mark 13:9). This did not last because "the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters,"and a series of creative events occurred. The crowning event of God's creation was when He said,"Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. . . . So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (vv. 26-27; cf. 5:1; 9:6). As the psalmist wrote, "[God] made him [man] a little less than God, and dost crown him with glory and honor. Thou hast given him dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet" (Ps. 8:5; Heb. 2:9).

Image and Likeness

Image and likeness do not necessarily carry different meanings. In Hebrew repetition is often used to clarify or expand the meaning of the words being considered. Many see two possible ways an image could exist, one a "natural" and the other a "moral." The natural image would cover such likenesses as reason, memory, will, freedom, immortality, spirituality, etc. The moral likeness could involve personality traits such as love, holiness, no sinful tendencies, etc.

Also, being created in the likeness and the image of God means man was a representation of God, but this does not imply that man was an exact copy. We know this is the case since "the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground" (Gen. 2:7). Men "are made in the likeness of God" (Jas. 3:9).

Man's spirituality means he shares a likeness to God that no other creature has. When God "breathed into his [man's] nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" (Gen. 2:7), man received a distinctive nature and place in creation (1:26-28; 5:1; 9:6; I Cor. 11:7; Jas. 3:9). Being created in God's image and likeness, and having a soul, means that man has a spiritual nature, and is not just a "material" being. As God was righteous (Pss. 7:9; 11:7; 116:5; John 17:25; II Tim. 4:8; I John 2:1) and holy (Lev. 19:2; 20:26; 21:8; Josh. 24:19; Exod. 22:31; Eph. 4:24, et al.), so does man reflect these characteristics. Man as created knew only right, and had no concept of wrong.

Being made in the likeness of God means that man has an intellect that is unique in all creation; he can think and reason. His intellect also gives him a unique personality that enables him to relate to his Maker, to love and serve Him. >Fall from perfection to sinful

Man lived in a perfect environment; he was free from even the knowledge of evil. He understood God's will and never even considered not doing it. As God is moral and approves of good and hates evil (Deut. 16:22; Pss. 5:5; 11:5, Isa. 1:14; Matt. 2:16), so man is a moral being and is able to choose between moral options.

Man's sharing in God's likeness by having freedom of will does not mean man had no bounds. He was to reflect his Maker's will and live in harmony with His bounds. To make man's free will meaningful, God gave him the power of choice in the Garden of Eden. There man and woman could live by simple faith in God's word not to eat of the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil" (Gen. 2:17). That they had a choice shows that evil was already present in the world, but man had no understanding of it at that time. Satan, an angel fallen because of pride, subtly challenged the woman to rethink God's command. Doing so, she saw that "the tree was good for food" (3:6). Seeing its pleasant looks and hearing the promise that it would make her wise, "she took of the fruit . . . and did eat." Giving the same fruit to her husband, he too ate. Thus through doubting God's word, man chose to disobey Him (Gen. 2-3).

Disobedience to God's word resulted in the fall of man. He thus became a sinner and received a depraved nature (Rom. 5:12, 19; I Cor. 15:21-22; I Tim. 6:5). One immediate consequence of the Fall was man's separation from God (Pss. 5:4; 11:5; Isa. 59:2; Hab. 1:13). By nature God is holy (the most often mentioned attribute of God; see Exod. 15:11; Lev. 19:2; Pss. 99:9; 145:21; Isa. 6:3; I Pet. 1:16; Rev. 4:8; 6:10; 15:4; et al.); therefore, He cannot tolerate sin. Thus sin brought about a breach between holy God and sinful, fallen man.

As a consequence of her sin, Eve and all women since then experience sorrow and pain in childbirth, and they experience emotional feelings ("desire") under the authority of their husbands (Gen. 3:16). Because of Adam's sin, he and all men since have had to toil and sweat for their sustenance and return to dust soon after death (v. 19). Because of their choices, paradise was lost, and they experienced both good and evil.

Because of their sins, all men are depraved, have a sin nature, and stand under condemnation. They became so depraved that when God "saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually, . . . the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the LORD said, 'I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the ground, man and beast and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.' . . . Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth" (Gen. 6:5-7, 11, 12; cf. 13).

Scriptural evidence of man's reasoning and judgmental abilities

The Christian worldview is rationally defensible. The Fall did not cause man to lose the reasoning abilities he received when created in the "image of God" (Gen. 5:3; 9:6). Man is able to use his reasoning power to understand the meaning of the evidence God placed in the world to show He is God, and that He has revealed Himself through His only Son, Jesus Christ. All men intuitively know there is a God, but a few may try to deny His existence. These can resist and reject the Good News of the Gospel through unbelief.

Man's reasoning power elevates him above the animals. Animals may be clever, respond to various stimuli, learn to do certain things, etc., but they never learn to reason like people can. Men are able to make moral decisions that no animal can make. Let us look at several scriptural concepts that show man has the reasoning power God gave him at creation.

Fear of the Lord

Men are admonished to fear the Lord. "Fear" is in the key verse of Solomon's Book of Proverbs: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction" (Prov. 1:7). The "simple ones" become scoffers because "they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord" (v. 22). So if men will only open their eyes and see the design and power in God's creation, they will fear Him and thus begin on the route to become His children. They will find "His mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation" (Luke 1:50). Thus the natural man can develop "fear" before receiving mercy and grace, implying that he can still use his God-given abilities to come to Him.

When Jesus saw the mother weeping at the loss of her only son, He raised him from the dead. "Fear seized them all; and they glorified God, saying, 'A great prophet has arisen among us!' and 'God has visited his people!'" (Luke 7:16). Later Jesus spoke,"I tell you, my friend, do not fear those who kill the body. . . . I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has power to cast into hell; yea, I tell you, fear him" (Luke 12:4-5).

Near the start of the church, Cornelius, a gentile centurion, was "a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms liberally to the people, and prayed constantly to God" (Acts 10:2).

Philip spoke, "Men of Israel, and you that fear God, listen. . . .Those among you that fear God, to us has been sent the message of this salvation" (Acts 13:6, 26).

In summary, men respond to fear before coming to full knowledge of God and receiving salvation. We must acknowledge too that some are so wayward and deep in sin that they have "no fear of God before their eyes" (Rom. 3:18).

Seek the Lord

Men are admonished to seek the Lord. Solomon of old wrote, "Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it completely" (Prov. 28:5). Isaiah wrote, "O Lord, in distress they sought thee, they poured out a prayer when thy chastening was upon them" (Isa. 26:16). As he wrote, men should:

"Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake his way
and the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn to the Lord,
and he will have mercy on him." (Isa. 55:6-7)

Jesus spoke, "Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness" (Matt. 6:33; cf. Luke 12:31). "Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened" (Matt. 7:7-8).

Paul spoke, " [God] made from one every nation of men to live . . . that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him. Yet he is not far from each one of us" (Acts 17:26, 27).

In summary, men are told to seek God; they must use their minds to know to "seek." This can occur at the prompting of the Holy Spirit, or even before. We must remember that there must be some awareness there is a God: "Whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him" (Heb. 11:6). So let us all, as Jesus said, "Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able" (Luke 13:24).

Light of the world

Jesus spoke, "You are the light of the world. . . . Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:14, 16). Surely sinners can be brought to Christ by His own light; therefore sinners can use their reasoning abilities to find Christ. Light is used in a figurative sense, and this implies that others can understand what is behind it, and come to the Lord. As the Scriptures teach:

"The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light" (Matt. 4:16).

"You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven". (Matt. 4:14-16).

Jesus was "a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel" (Luke 2:32).

"In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:4, 5).

"The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world" (John 1:9). "The light has come into the world. . . . But he who does what is true comes to the light" (3:19, 21).

John the Baptist " was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light" (John 5:35).

"I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12).

"I [Jesus] am the light of the world" (John 9:5).

"Jesus said to them, 'The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light. . . . While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light. . . . I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness" (John 12:35, 36, 46).

"Now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good)" (Eph. 5:8, 9).

Apologetics

Jesus and His disciplesí use of apologetics shows that men can respond to truth. Jesus told the disciples on the road to Emmaus: "O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken . . . And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:26-27).

In the Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:14-39), Peter argued: "Jesus of Nazareth, [was] a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs which God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know" (Acts 2:22). "Jesus, [was] delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God" (v. 23). This was according to David's promise (vv. 25-36).

Peter addressed the people from Solomon's portico: "Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this [causing the cripple to walk], or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk?" (Acts 3:12). "The God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied . . . [you] killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses" (vv. 13-16). "What God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ should suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord" (vv. 18, 19). "God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you in turning every one of you from your wickedness" (v. 20).

Later, "Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, 'Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today . . . be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead . . . there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which to be saved'" (Acts 4:8-12).

Before the council, "Peter and the apostles answered, 'We must obey God rather than men.' The God of our fathers raised Jesus whom you killed by hanging on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things" (Acts 5:29-32).

"Stephen said: 'Brethren and fathers, hear me'" (Acts 7:2). He spoke of Abraham, the patriarchs, and Moses (vv. 2-50), and concluded, "You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it" (vv. 51-53).

To "Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man . . . Peter opened his mouth and said. . . . He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that he is the one ordained by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that every one who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name" (Acts 10:22, 34, 42-43).

At Antioch, "Paul stood up, and motioning with his hands said, "'Men of Israel, and you that fear God, listení" (Acts 13:16, 26). He spoke of the fathers, Canaan, David, and "of this man's posterity God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised" (v. 23). And referring to John the Baptist, Paul said, "Brethren, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you that fear God, to us has been sent the message of this salvation. For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets which are read every sabbath, fulfilled these by condemning him. . . . But God raised him from the dead. . . . And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus" (vv. 26-33).

At Lystra a cripple man was healed; "he listened to Paul speaking," and the people tried to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:8-18). "Men, why are you doing this? We also are men, of the like nature with you, and bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God who made the heaven and the earth and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways; yet he did not leave himself without a witness, for he did good and gave you from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness" (vv. 15-18).

At a synagogue in Thessalonica, "Paul went in, as was his custom, and for three weeks he argued with them from the scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead" (Acts 17:2-3).

"So Paul standing in the middle of the Areopagus said: 'Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. . . .What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything. . . . The time of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all men by raising him from the dead" (Acts 17:22-31).

At Corinth Paul "argued in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded Jews and Greeks" (Acts 18:4).

At Ephesus Paul "entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, arguing and pleading about the kingdom of God" (Acts 19:8).

From the steps of the Roman barracks, Paul spoke to the Jews, "Brethren and fathers, hear the defense which I now make before you" (Acts 22:1). "You will be a witness for him to all men of what you have seen and heard" (v. 15). Later Paul said, "I beg you in your kindness to hear us briefly" (24:4). "Paul replied: 'Realizing that for many years you have been judge over this nation, I cheerfully make my defense" (vv. 10-11).

Before Festus, "Paul said in his defense" (Acts 25:8). "Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I offended at all" (v. 8). "To the Jews I have done no wrong" (v. 10). Before Agrippa, "Paul stretched out his hand and made his defense" (Acts 26:2). "I stand here on trial for the hope in the promise made by God to our fathers" (v. 6). "I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so" (v. 9). Paul spoke about his own conversion on the road to Damascus: "I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining round me . . . I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, Ď"Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It hurts to kick against the goals.' And I said, 'Who are you, Lord?' And the Lord said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and bear witnessí" (vv. 12-16). "I send you to open their [gentiles] eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me" (vv. 17, 18).

"To this day I have the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer, and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to the people and to the Gentiles" (Acts 26:22-23). "As he thus made his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, 'Paul, you are mad; your great learning is turning you mad.' But Paul said, 'I am not mad, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking the sober truth. For the king knows about these things, and to him I stand freely; for I am persuaded that none of these things escaped his notice, for this was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.' And Agrippa said to Paul, 'In a short time you think, to make me a Christian!' And Paul said, 'Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am'" (Acts 26:24-29).

Preaching brings faith

As we see from the above, God uses preaching to make His appeal to men. Paul emphasizes, "But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher? And how can men preach unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who preach good news!'" (Rom. 10:14, 15). Later he writes,

"For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has wrought through me to win obedience from the Gentiles, by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Holy Spirit, so that from Jerusalem and as far round as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ, thus making it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on another man's foundation, but as it is written, 'They shall see who have never been told of him, and they shall understand who have never heard of him.' This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you" (15:18-22).

Paul wrote to the Corinthians that "Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel . . . or since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles" (I Cor. 1:17, 22, 23).

He wrote, "Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission. What then is my reward? Just this: that in my preaching I may make the gospel free of charge, not making full use of my right in the gospel" (I Cor. 9:16-18). "We preach and so you believed" (15:11).

"For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we preached among you" (2 Cor. 1:19). "When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, a door was opened for me in the Lord" (2:12). "Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men" (5:10). "So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God" (v. 20). "What we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For it is the God who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (4:5, 6). "We do not boast beyond limit, in other men's labors; but our hope is that as your faith increases, our field among you may be greatly enlarged, so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in another's field (10:15, 16). "I preached God's gospel without cost to you" (11:5; cf. v. 4). "I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel" (15:1).

Paul wrote to the Galatians, "The gospel which was preached by me is not man's gospel" (Gal 1:11; cf. v. 8; 4:13).God who "called me [Paul] through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with flesh and blood" (vv. 15, 16).

"This grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places" (Eph. 3: 8-10).

"The hope of the gospel which you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister" (Col. 1:23).

"You remember our labor and toil, brethren; we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you, while we preached to you the gospel of God" (1 Thess. 2:9).

"Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory" (I Tim. 3:16).

"Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descended from David, as preached in my gospel" (2 Tim. 2:8). Paul charged Timothy to "preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching" (2 Tim 4:2).

Peter wrote, "'The word of the Lord abides for ever.' That word is the good news which was preached to you" (I Pet. 1:25).

In summary, God initiates the "call" through preaching the Gospel. Man does not on his own initiative find God. God has revealed Himself through Christ and the Word, but men must respond to God's call; man can accept or reject it. If the Fall destroyed man's rational thinking abilities, the unbeliever could never reason to come to faith because he could never understand the Word.

Man is responsible for the truth he receives through the Bible. "In him was life; and the life was the light of men. The light shines in darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. . . . The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He [Christ] was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God" (John 1:4, 5, 9-11).

"Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse" (Rom 1:20).

Thus man is responsible for the light he has and can perceive many things correctly. The Fall did not destroy man's ability to use the laws of inductive inference, logic, contradiction, etc. Yet man must have God's initiation through Christ and the Holy Spirit to come to the Father. Man's depravity does not mean he no longer has the image of God in him. He may be perverted and live independent of God, but the evidence of God's creation is still seen, even though it may be seen only faintly to him.

Men can respond to God's initiation

We see this in the interactions between Moses and the Egyptians. Moses gave them signs that he was acting as a servant of the Lord. Pharaoh chose to ignore these, even after his own magicians told him the plagues were "the finger of God" (Exod. 8:19). Finally, after smiting the first born, Pharaoh let Moses and the people go, saying to him, "Go, serve the Lord, as you said" (12:31). Before the Israelites got out of the country, Pharaoh changed his mind, and sent his chariots after them. The people were fearful of dying since the Red Sea blocked their escape. The Israelites were slow to understand what the Lord was doing for them, and Moses told them "to see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. . . . The Lord said to Moses . . . stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it" (Exod. 14:13, 18). "And Israel saw the great work which the Lord did against the Egyptians" (v. 31). Moses told the people not to forget, "take heed, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen" (Deut. 4:9, 34).

When John asked Jesus if He was the Christ, He responded, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up" (Matt. 11:4-5). John, even before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, could evaluate the evidence, and know that Jesus was the Christ.

All totaled, the four Gospels specifically mention in detail some thirty-five miracles, and briefly mention many more, and explain how many of the Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled. These represent only a small portion of Jesus' miracles. As John wrote, "Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book" (John 20:30). Some of these are contained in the other three Gospels, but many are not recorded. John wrote, "There are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written" (John 21:25). When one considers the fact that the four Gospels record only a small fraction of approximately sixty days of Jesus' three year ministry (roughly 5 percent of the days), and that many, many books have been written on this ministry, it is evident that an innumerable number of books could be written about the rest of His life and ministry.

These miracles occurred in very reasonable ways--ways that one could easily expect God to use--and were never done in a circus atmosphere, but were always done openly with good purposes in mind. Thus one should easily accept the conclusion that the miracles point out that Jesus was the Christ sent from God. The following Scriptures emphasize that the common people responded positively to these signs, while the Jewish leaders rejected their witness. The following Scriptures show the common people's response:

They were astonished beyond measure at Jesus' works, saying, "He has done all things well; he even makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak" (Mark 7:36-37).

"Many believed in his name when they saw the signs which he did" (John 2:23).

"Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews ...[said,] 'Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him'" (John 3:1-2).

"And a multitude followed him, because they saw the signs which he did on those who were diseased" (John 6:2).

"Many of the people believed in him; they said, 'When the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?'" (John 7:31).

"How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?" (John 9:16).

As a result of Lazarus' resurrection from the dead, "many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him" (John 11:45).

"I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou gavest me out of the world; thine they were, and thou gavest them to me, and they have kept thy word. Now they know that everything that thou hast given me is from thee" (John 17:6, 7). "Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name" (John 20:30-31; cf. 21:25).

"Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs which God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know, this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2:22, 23).

Peter preached about how Jesus "went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed" (Acts 10:38). Even while Peter was preaching, "the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word" (v. 44).

"It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his own will" (Hebrews 2:3-4).

But not everyone believed. This is seen in the following Scriptures:

"He began to upbraid the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent" (Matt. 11:20).

"And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. . . .You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times" (Matt. 16:1-4).

"When the Pharisees heard it they said, 'It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.' Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, . . .† 'If it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you'" (Matthew 12:24-28; cf. Luke 11:15).

"Herod ... was hoping to see some sign done by him" (Luke 23:8).

"Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves" (John 6:26).

"I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness to me. . . . Believe the works" (John 10:25, 38; cf. 32).

"For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on thus, every one will believe in him" (John 11:47-48).

"Though he had done so many signs before them, yet they did not believe in him" (John 12:37).

"If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. It is to fulfil the word that is written in their law, 'They hated me without a cause'" (John 15:24-25; cf. Ps. 35:19).

In summary, one finds that the miracles of Jesus were overwhelmingly accepted by the common people, but less so by the leaders. However, some of the leaders did not deny that Jesus had done the miracles, but they sought other explanations for them (Matt. 9:34; Mark 3:22). In coming to Jesus and asking for a sign, the leaders indicated that they thought Jesus could do miracles. At least they must have gathered some idea that He could work miracles. If they thought Jesus could not do them, they would never have approached Him and asked for a sign (Matt. 16:1-4). We can also see that the gentile king, Herod, appeared to accept the fact that Jesus could do signs because he "was hoping to see some sign done by him" (Luke 23:8). These testimonies by the common people and leaders, along with the fact that there is no evidence that Jesus did not work miracles and signs, gives us ample reason to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. But there is yet another even greater sign that needs to be considered, that of His resurrection.

Peter and the others did not follow "cleverly devised myths," but knew Jesus was the Son of God through various evidences they received:

At the Transfiguration, Peter, James and John "were eyewitnesses of his majesty" (II Pet. 1:16).

They heard "the voice [that] was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, 'This is my beloved Son; with whom I am well pleased,' we hear this voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain" (vv. 17, 18; cf. Matt. 17:18).

Jesus raised Lazarus "on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that thou didst send me" (John 11:42). The people responded to the evidence; they that "had seen what he did, believed in him" (v. 45).

Peter preached, "Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mightily works and wonders and signs which God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know" (Acts 2:22).

Jesus told the two on the road to Emmaus, "'Why are your troubled, and why do questionings rise in your heart?' See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see me" (Luke 24:39).

Thomas did not believe that the other disciples had seen the Lord, and said, "Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the marks of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe." Later Jesus told Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing." Thomas, seeing the evidence, responded, "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:25, 27, 28).

So we see men can respond rationally to evidence, and believe and act according to the Word's teachings. Men can do this because of the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit in their lives. Seeing the work of Christ and responding to the Holy Spirit is not the result of men doing something to earn salvation. Men's response is an act of repentance and faith made possible by Christ. If men could not respond of their own free will, God would have forced some to be saved. God may use gentle persuasion, but this does not work against a person's will. Men can choose to accept the gift or reject it.

The act of God selecting only few to be saved would be contrary to His holiness and loving character, the example of Jesus' signs-and-miracles ministry to unbelievers, and the example of the apostolic preaching and outreach to unbelievers.

God's special use of some men

God has used man's free choice to work His purpose in bringing about His redemptive plan. For example, God used Joseph's betrayal to carry out His will: "As for you, 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" (Gen. 50:20). God used manís betrayal to bring Joseph to power in Egypt. This enabled Abraham's family to come there and grow to a large nation so Jesus Christ could become the Savior of man.

Let us look again at the example of Pharaoh. When Pharaoh confronted Moses, "he hardened his [own] heart" (Exod. 8:15, 32; 9:14). Because of his own actions, his heart "was hardened" (vv. 7:14, 22; 8:19; 9:7, 25), and "God hardened" it (7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20; 14:4, 8). All three of these statements describe the same fact. These things did not mean that God sent Pharaoh to spend eternity in hell. God told Pharaoh what His purpose was: "I let you live, to show you my power, so that my name may be declared throughout all the earth" (9:16). This purpose was to bring about a Chosen People living in a Chosen Land to bring salvation to men.

Another example involved the Assyrians. God used the Assyriansí desire for spoil and plunder and power "to tread them [Israel] down like the mire of the streets" (Isa. 10:6). Yet Assyria did this on its own; "he [Assyria] does not so intend, and his mind does not so think; but it is in his mind to destroy, and to cut off nations not a few" (v. 7). The Assyrians helped out God's anger to carry out His purpose for Israel: "the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem" (v. 12).

These examples do not show that God used His sovereignty arbitrarily, but they illustrate "the law of habit--the law that a good man grows better and a bad man worse through his right or wrong choice--and this is a law God has imposed on man" (C. Ryder Smith, Bible Doctrine of Man, pp. 25-27).

What the Scriptures say

We would now like to look at some Scriptures that some think suggest God chooses to save some and reject others. First, let us look at Paul's statement: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God" (Rom. 3:11). Yes, morally none are righteous, and God takes the initiative and seeks all. Paul used this Scripture to show all men have sinned, and not to show God needs to use His sovereign power to save man.

"The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned" (I Cor. 2:14). Another translation says, "A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised" (NASV). It is true they do not receive or understand the gifts of the Spirit. This does not mean they cannot understand the preaching of the Gospel. Inability to understand the things of the Holy Spirit does not mean they cannot understand other evidence.

Are men "totally" depraved? Let us look at some scriptural examples that can give us insights to this. We know Jesus "marveled because of their unbelief" (Mk. 6:6). Would He have marveled if He thought they were totally depraved? Peter preached "Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs which God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know" (Acts 2:22), and "testified with many others words and exhorted them, saying, 'Save yourselves from this crooked generation'" (Acts 2:40). Would he have preached this if the unbelieving hearers could not evaluate the evidence and believe? "And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ" (Acts 5:42). "Unregenerate" Cornelius sought God (Acts 10:1-4, 22). If totally depraved, why do "evil men and impostors . . . go on from bad to worse" (II Tim. 3:13)?

We conclude man's total loss of reasoning ability is not taught in Scripture. We can all respond to the Good News.

The Love of God

Because God is also a God of love, He provided a way of redemption for sinful man. God chose Abraham and his descendants to prepare man for the coming Redeemer, Jesus Christ. In the beginning of his gospel, John writes that "the Word [Jesus] was made flesh and dwelt among us . . . full of grace and truth. . . . And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses; but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ" (John 1:14-17). God first showed man his need for salvation through the Mosaic Law. Although they were the Chosen People, the Jews learned throughout their history that the best they could do was to teeter-totter between good and evil. They needed something more than laws to make them good; they needed a new nature. God sent His Son as the perfect Man when the "fulness of the time was come" to redeem fallen man (Gal. 4:4). When Jesus was about thirty, He began His ministry. His mission was to establish a new way for God to deal with man. He was to become "the mediator of the new covenant" (Heb. 12:24; 8:8, 13; Luke 16:16; Rom. 10:4) of "grace and truth" (John 1:17; cf. I Pet. 1:10; 2 Tim. 2:1).

Jesus Christ and His redemptive work shows that God limited His sovereignty in redeeming man. He could not save any one due to His holiness, just nature, love, etc. Recognizing this, we need to be careful in carrying His attributes too far.

Copyright 1999 by Leland M. Haines, Northville, MI 48167-2053

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