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We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. (1 Jn. 5:19)
Who is in control of this world—God or Satan? The apostle John says that Satan is in control. But is John correct? How can any creature of God ever really be in control when such a creature can’t even sustain his own existence? Can Satan prevent God from uncreating him? Not hardly. Well, if Satan can’t protect himself from total annihilation, he is hardly in a position to control anything.
When we talk about God’s sovereignty, we’re talking about His power, control, and authority. God says He is totally sovereign over all things—that He is in absolute control over all that He creates. You can have a lot of wrong ideas about God and still function pretty well. Not all theology is critical theology. But the sovereignty of God—that’s a critical issue. You can’t afford to believe God’s control is anything less than absolute because then you’ll spiral off into all kinds of delusions.
Your theology (what you believe about God) can be compared to a house of cards. You can list off many different things which you currently believe to be true about God, but these things don’t stand alone—they build on one another. For example, you have to first believe that God is good in Character before you can say “Everything that God does is for the best.” You have to first believe that God sincerely loves your friend, before you will encourage her with, “I’m sure God has a good purpose for putting you through this trial.” Our beliefs build on each other, and they also affect our actions.
Suppose you are going to pack for a vacation in Hawaii. You’re told the weather will be warm and sunny, and that you’ll spend a lot of time at the beach. What you believe about the kind of experience you’re going to have in Hawaii determines which items you put in your suitcase. You’re going to put in the swimsuit, but you’ll leave out the snow boots. You’ll put in the sunscreen, but you’ll leave out the scarf. Your beliefs are not only influencing your actions, your actions are revealing your beliefs. If a stranger were to unzip your fully packed suitcase, he could get a good idea of where you think you’re going just by observing what you’ve packed. In the same way, as a Christian, you are constantly declaring to yourself, God, and others what you really believe about God by the way that you pray and the way that you respond to the world around you.
When you read in the news that some terrible thing has happened, what do you say? Perhaps you say something like, “Another terrorist attack? How awful. Satan has this world by the throat.” What do these comments reveal about your view of God’s control? Clearly you think it is only partial. You obviously view Satan as a very influential figure in this world—one who is doing things that God does not approve of. What happens once you believe that God is not in total control? You get a lot more anxious. It seems very reasonable to fret and fear that terrible things will happen which have no redeeming purpose whatsoever. If Satan is managing to trump God in any way, then it becomes reasonable to assume that God is sometimes reduced to some crippled state, during which time, He might not be able to hear and/or answer your request. And if God is getting constantly outwitted by some dot of a demon, then He mustn’t be very smart, in which case it’s quite reasonable for you to jump into the role of His advisor. If God can’t get His will done by Himself, then it’s reasonable to assume He needs help—your help. Bring on the manmade ministry strategies. Let’s start brainstorming ways that we can be logically smart about where we try to plant churches and how we try to build up our congregations. Focusing on target audiences, striving to be truly relevant in our sermons, analyzing the strategies of ministries that thrived in the past—all of these things become really smart moves once you accept that God isn’t in total control. But if God is in total control and if He is a lot wiser than you are, well then you’re being rather irreverent to sit around telling Him how He ought to operate.
God’s sovereignty is a critical issue. What you believe about the extent of His control defines how you talk to Him, how much you respect Him, and how you attempt to serve Him. Here’s a chilling reality: if you believe God has limited control, your submission to Him will be limited as well. It is reverence that drives submission, and reverence is the fear-based awe that comes over us once we realize how truly powerful God is. If you think God is a Being of just limited power, then your awe of Him will be limited as well. Once your reverence for God is just some mediocre thing, your motivation to submit to Him will be mediocre as well. You’ll only submit to God when you agree with what He’s doing or you like the call He’s making. But when you disagree with His strategies or you find His orders displeasing, you’ll tell Him to stuff it.
Look around at the Church today, and you’ll find that most Christians are refusing to fully submit to God. They scoff at the idea of waiting on His timing. They rush ahead of Him into ministries in order to gain glory for themselves or to earn the approval of others. Whenever God tells them something that they don’t want to hear, they just pretend they didn’t hear Him. Ever wonder about these prophets who only ever hear ego stroking “revelations” from God? If God never says anything that pricks your pride, you’ve got a problem with your listening skills. All of these issues are linked to your beliefs about God’s sovereignty. If God is less than all powerful, why should you fear Him? If He’s some bumbling halfwit who can be conned by both demons and humans into giving them their way, why should you break your neck trying to honor Him? Who cares what God wants if in the end you can shove your way into Heaven with or without His approval? We’re only in this for the goodies, right? Well, if we are, we’re going to be in for quite a rude shock in eternity.
While there are a lot of useless statements in the Bible, there are also a lot of good ones. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” is one of those priceless gems that can change your life if you really take it to heart. The fear of the Lord is another term for reverence. This statement means that reverence is the first step: it’s when we truly revere God that we become highly motivated to submit to Him for the right reasons—to earn His approval, not just to con Him into blessing us.
In the Bible, the apostle Paul talks way too much about Christians getting glory, honor and power on the other side. Getting to co-reign with Christ is his idea of a good reason to obey our Gods today. Well, no, this is a lousy reason. Our Gods are very jealous Beings who are zealous for glory. They aren’t going to scoot over and let us share Their thrones with Them in Heaven. When we don’t have sufficient reverence for God, we fall into the trap of thinking He’s going to be showering us with gratitude for helping Him run the world and hold that pesky devil back. Well, no, He’s really not. God doesn’t need our help. He isn’t struggling with some mighty foe even as we speak. Satan didn’t take over the world one day when God’s back was turned. God rules. Satan dreams of ruling, but in reality he only ever helps God’s plan along by doing what God wants him to do. Satan doesn’t want to cooperate with God’s agenda, but he doesn’t have a choice because Satan is not in charge. God is in charge. The apostle John was wrong to say that the whole world is being controlled by Satan. If you put your trust in people, you’ll end up in a mess, so don’t do it. Check everything with God and refuse to accept someone’s theory about how things work until you receive confirmation from the Holy Spirit.
If God controls everything, how is it fair that He punishes us for making certain choices?