Christians believe that God is in complete control of the world. After all, it is His world: He made it. He knows how many hairs are on our heads and He clothes the lilies of the field (Matthew 6). He controls the weather and the wild animals (Job 39-40). And He even controls human hearts, whether we respond to the gospel of grace or whether we don’t (as in Romans 9).
This is known as God’s sovereignty. God is the sovereign, or King, of the whole world. And it is a most comforting thing for Christians to consider. God is the king of the whole world and yet we can call him our Father, and know that like a perfect father he works all things for the good of those who love him (Rom 8). What an amazing blessing that is!
Yet the Bible also teaches that we are responsible for our sin and rightly judged for it (Romans 1-3). We are called to use our will and effort to serve God in all kinds of ways (Matt 5-7 for example). There are many commands and instructions in the Bible for his people to follow.
Balancing these two wonderful truths, God’s sovereignty and our responsibility, is not easy. The Bible teaches them both to be true. I see it as a matter of perspective; we need to use our wisdom in whatever situation God has put us, knowing that ultimately God is in control. We cannot see God’s plans from our perspective but it is important to know He has it all in hand.
We run into problems if we overemphasize one of these two great truths at the expense of the other. In the Reformed tradition I belong to, the imbalance usually falls on the side of God’s sovereignty. Sometimes well-meaning Christians are so focused on the idea that God is the King that they forget that they too have responsibilities in the Christian life. This is known as hyper-Calvinism.
What might this look like? Well, the easiest way to see it is how someone might think about evangelism and prayer. If someone only sees God’s sovereignty, they will focus on the fact that God chooses people and fail to see the need to tell them the gospel. And if God chooses people, why pray for their salvation? God has already decided, after all.
But this is a major mistake and runs against the teaching of the Bible on quite a few fronts.
Paul, who wrote Romans 9-11, clearly didn’t interpret it this way. He worked hard, putting himself in constant danger so that people would hear the gospel. Paul trusted that God would save the ones He had chosen, but the way God did that was through people trusting in Jesus. To trust in Jesus you need to hear about Jesus; to hear about Jesus someone needs to tell you. (That’s the exact logic of Romans 10 by the way).
And prayer is not telling God what He doesn’t already know (Matt 6:8). God loves his children to pray to Him, and if we are praying in line with God’s kingdom, we cannot help but pray for those who are not yet believers.
We cannot use God’s kingship as an excuse not to work hard in spreading the gospel and praying. We cannot be fatalists. We don’t know how God’s plan for our lives might unfold, and we are urged to use our minds to think of God rightly and serve Him well (Rom 12). Knowing God is in control gives us assurance, but knowing we live in a broken world that needs Jesus gives us motivation.
Sitting back without engaging the world with the gospel is a sign of selfishness, not superior Biblical understanding. It shows we are happy God has chosen us, but shows a disregard for our call to pray for and influence others. Let’s serve God well, trusting his control as we run the race as hard as we can.