This Week's Focus Passage

God's Sovereignty and Man's Responsibility

Focus Passage: Philippians 2:12-13

‘Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.’

This verse speaks pointedly and well to the perennial theological, that is, soteriological, question of monergism versus synergism with regard to matters of one coming to God through Jesus Christ. It is equally characterized as a conflict between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility in the salvation of sinners. It is truly only a conflict in the estimation of man because of our greatly limited understanding due largely to the sin that remains in each of us, still hindering our minds and hearts. God understands perfectly that there is no actual conflict between His sovereignty and our responsibility. Man would insist that because he is disabled by the fall, therefore he is no longer responsible. This argument reminds one of the young man that murdered his parents and then pleaded at the bar of justice for merciful compassion because he was an orphan. There is, of course, the command given by God to man that he must repent of his sins, and his sinfulness, and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord if he is to be forgiven those sins, and saved from both the guilt and the power of them, and yet the Scriptures are very clear that man has been incapacitated by sin to be able to do anything righteous whatever; that God carried out His promise that ‘in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shall surely die,’ and man thus died the death which has rendered him incapable of doing anything to restore that life. In order to that, the only remedy is regeneration by the Holy Spirit. As Christ pointedly declared to Nicodemus, ‘ye must be born again.’

An illustration of this reality if given to us in each of the three synoptic gospel accounts, Matthew 12, Mark 3, and Luke 6:6-10. The Lucan passage seems even more dramatic—if that is possible—than the other two:

And it came to pass on another sabbath, that he entered into the synagogue and taught: and there was a man there, and his right hand was withered. And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, whether he would heal on the sabbath; that they might find how to accuse him. But he knew their thoughts; and he said to the man that had his hand withered, Rise up and stand forth in the midst. And he arose and stood forth. And Jesus said unto them, I ask you, Is it lawful on the sabbath to do good, or to do harm? to save a life, or to destroy it? And he looked round about on them all, and said unto him, Stretch forth thy hand. And he did so: and his hand was restored. —Luke 6:6-10

God, in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, was sovereign in healing that poor man’s hand; in restoring it. The man himself was absolutely incapable of doing anything to bring about that restoration. Yet he was responsible to obey the Lord when He commanded him to ‘Rise up and stand forth.’ He was responsible to obey when the Lord further commanded him ‘stretch forth thy hand.’ Our hearts and our minds react, do they not, to the apparent folly of this man being commanded to do something that he could not do, for his hand was withered? How can Jesus command this poor soul to stretch forth that bent, crippled, withered hand, and yet He did command him just that very thing. It was indeed the Lord who healed his hand, and yet we say—reverently—that if that man had not stretched forth his hand, it would never have been healed. God gave him the faith to obey the command. He obeyed, and in the act of obeying, his hand was healed. How can these things be? How can a ‘dead’ arm stretch forth? The God who gave the command also gave the ability to respond. We do not understand how that can be so, but we certainly do know that it is so. And we witness that very same thing, in principle, whenever we see a hell-deserving sinner; a helpless dead individual come to God through Jesus Christ.

The only answer to the apparent dilemma are those two beautiful words uttered, particularly by Paul in Ephesians two. He begins with simply stating to the Ephesians, ‘you did he make alive, when ye were dead’ but continues on with something by way of a further blessed explanation begun with those two words;

But God, being rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace have ye been saved)

He made us alive with Christ! how did He do it? How can life be brought out of death? What did He do to make us alive? What are the particulars, the details? He is God; He has not chosen to explain to us how He does this. It is enough to know that He does it. We may as well inquire why He loves us. We may never be given the answer to that question either. But is it not enough to know that He does love us? While Deuteronomy 29:29 may be thought to be trite by many; especially those who don’t even quote the words, but think it sufficient to simply state as a supposed answer to an enigma, “Deuteronomy 29:29”. That is expected to settle the matter once and for all. ‘The secret things belong unto Jehovah our God.’ There is nothing trite about that glorious truth. It references His sovereignty very well. The ‘rest of the story’ references our responsibility. Read the entire verse.

The secret things belong unto Jehovah our God; but the things that are revealed belong unto us and our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.

Why God loves any people at all; how He regenerates those whom He has placed in Christ before the foundation of the world, are secrets that belong unto Him. What has been revealed to us is the command, Repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved through His blood.

David Farmer, elder

Fellowship Bible Church


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