Is God in Control?

Is God in Control?

The answer, a person would think, should be obvious. Of course God is in control! Most Christians would be indignant at even questioning God’s sovereignty and power over his own creation. Yet, many sincere believers will boldly proclaim this truth, then turn around and state with equal conviction how man has free will to choose whatever he wishes. It is not a question to be taken lightly, by any means. The answer will color our perception of God’s very nature and character. Our understanding of his mercy and grace are at stake!

I don’t think any sane person (other than an atheist) would question God’s ability to control everything. It is quite apparent that someone who is powerful enough to speak creation into existence also has the ability to govern it by his own hand. I think the issue comes down to God’s willingness to direct or delegate the course of human history.

The flip side of this question is: Does man have free will?

If the answer to both questions is ‘yes’, then a third question must be addressed.

How can God be in control while at the same time allowing man to exercise his free will?

The quick and easy answer to the first question is: God has absolute control and not man. He is the creator and sustainer of everything. All are subject to Him and Himself subject to no one.

Someone might object: But man is in rebellion so God does not have control over him.
My answer: Has this rebellion overthrown God? Has the rebellion ended in a coup where God has been displaced by Satan or a mere man?

No! God is still reigning on his throne with Jesus at his right hand. Yes, man as a whole is living in open rebellion but he is yet subject to God, his laws and judgments, whether he realizes it or not.
Every man must answer to God on the day of judgment. He must account for all his actions and every idle word spoken. Entry into eternal life is only by God’s mercy. Entry into hell is according to God’s justice. Be not deceived, God rules and reigns righteously from His heavenly throne.

God’s power and justice is often displayed through hard-hearted man.

Romans 9:17 For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.

Either through submission or in rebellion, mankind accomplishes the will of God in the earth. God’s purposes will fully be accomplished for this age in the tribulation period which climaxes with the battle of Armageddon and Christ’s second coming. All that is written in Revelation, Daniel and other books shall come to pass just exactly as God foreordained, not just as he foresees.

Isaiah 46: 9-10 states:

Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:

So what does this speak for the free will of man that is so popular in most Christian circles? How free do people that hold this view really believe we are?

One of the ‘free will’ views would have us believe that God reacts to man’s sovereign acts of free will. He responds to man’s decisions in an attempt to bring him into alignment with His perfect will. In this view, who is enthroned and who is subject? Does man’s will determine the course of this world, while God stands on the defensive, developing countermeasures to steer him the right way? Is God some kind of cosmic cheerleader leading the Rah! Rah! rally for our redemption? Was the death and resurrection of Jesus simply God’s reaction to the way man would treat Jesus? Was the cross a sort of ‘Plan B’ option God executed because man had rejected his ‘plan A’?

Or was it a plan foreordained before the foundation of the world?

In Acts 2:23 Peter preaching the first gospel message on the day of Pentecost utters this truth concerning Jesus;

Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:

Wicked men freely and unjustly put to death an innocent man. However, in doing so, they accomplished God’s decree that it should happen exactly as it did.

Is man truly the master of his fate?


Here are a couple of questions all free-will advocates should ask themselves.

  1. Do you believe the Holy Spirit plays any role in the salvation of men?
  2. Do you believe that apart from the ministry of the Holy Spirit that we can of ourselves develop the proper desires, affections and thoughts to get saved?

The answer by any true evangelical Christian should obviously be yes and no respectively. So again the question must be asked;

Is man’s will free to choose his own way? Is man a free moral agent, able to decide between good and evil without undue influence by either party? If man is above influence by forces outside himself, and able to choose freely between heaven and hell, why do the scriptures declare only a few will find the narrow path to eternal life? Why would anybody who has heard the gospel therefore willingly choose to go into hell? Remember, in the parable of the sower, only one of the four who hears the word is transformed by it.

Before we begin to answer these questions lets look at the definition of free will. The dictionary says:

· The ability or discretion to choose; free choice: · The power of making free choices that are unconstrained by external circumstances or by an agency such as fate or divine will


In light of this definition, what do the scriptures say about the freedom of our will?

John 8:44 Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do.
The spiritual father of all the unredeemed is the devil and we by nature do the things he lusts after. Does this indicate man is free to choose his activities or is he in bondage to an overpowering influence?

John 6:44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.
Does this verse support the definition of free will where it states we are unconstrained by the agency of divine will?

John 8:34 Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.
Is a servant free or is he bound to the will of his master?

Romans 7:14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
We are sold into the slavery of sin by our carnal nature.

Romans 7:23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
We are unable to escape the law of sin because it is in our members and will always hold us in captivity. The only hope of freedom is by the redeeming power of a merciful and compassionate God.

It is apparent that man’s will is not free to do whatever it wishes concerning both good and evil. The scales are tipped in favor of evil and we have not the strength to move the weights over to the scales of goodness and righteousness. We are weighed down under the burden of our sins and it has broken our power.

Man is a completely ruined creature, unable to escape the power and consequence of sin due to his perpetual transgression. He is unwilling to turn from it because his corrupt nature inherited by Adam fills him with pride and self-righteousness.

In summary, Lets emphatically answer the burning questions asked at the beginning of this article.

Is God in Control?

Yes! Absolutely! God is sovereign over his creation. The doctrines of His sovereign grace confirm that even in salvation, God is in control, exercising his boundless mercy and love upon his creation.

Does man have free will?

No! …and yes. It is clear that man does not have absolute free will. He is bound by his sin nature and to the devil to fulfill the lusts of the flesh, to do the will of his spiritual father. Man has no spiritual life abiding in him. He is dead, not just sick. He is completely unable to revive himself and drink the medicine of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Giving medicine to a dead man is a hopeless endeavor because he cannot receive it. God must proclaim;

Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. Ephesians 5:14

With that said, man does have a certain measure of free will. It lies within the boundaries of his own corrupt nature. We would never say that a prison inmate is free. However, within the strictly enforced parameters of prison rules and routines he does make free will decisions each and every day. Man has the freedom to sin and rebel against God in any manner he sees fit. He can even don a cloak of religiosity to soothe his own guilty conscience, but he is never free to break loose from the chains of his sinfulness.

Without the ministry of the Holy Spirit the cross of Christ would be of no interest to the people of this dark world.
This is simply because the gospel is veiled. Man is blind, deaf and spiritually discerned. Satan holds him in complete bondage and the will of man has no voice in the matter.

The Godhead, however, contracted together to effectually save man from his sin. God elected certain men to salvation before the foundation of the world. Christ secured their salvation at the cross, dying for sin. The Holy Spirit completes salvation by regenerating the hearts of God’s elect so that they may repent and believe the gospel.

If God elects and saves man by his own good pleasure and purpose, does it mean he has no choice but to submit to God whether he wants to or not?

No! Man comes to God of his own free will.

Wait a minute! How can that be?!

When the Holy Spirit gives man a new spirit and replaces his hard heart with a heart of flesh, he is born-again; Man has a new nature that desires God more than anything the world can tempt him with. Overcome with the enormity of his sinfulness, he is brought to his knees by the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit. This, coupled with the new heart, causes true repentance to be produced. Faith, which is also a gift from God, can now be exercised willingly by the regenerated man to come to Christ believing and confessing. The prison inmate has been released from his shackles, free to flee to the Savior in gratitude and thankfulness.
How is God in control while at the same time allowing man to exercise his (limited) free will?

God is absolutely sovereign over man by allowing him to exercise his will to do as he desires. The wicked, who have been reserved for wrath and judgment, will choose to do evil all of their days. This is according to God’s permissive will. In other words, God permits the wicked to continue in their sin until the time comes for them to reap what they have sown in judgment.

God’s elect are given new hearts and they respond to God’s call with repentance and faith in Jesus as their Savior. They spend their lives in service to their Lord, obeying Christ’s commandments by the grace given them by their Heavenly Father. This is according to God’s decretive will. In other word, God has decreed the salvation of a remnant of people before the foundation of the world and actively secured their redemption through Christ.

God is sovereign over all good and evil within His creation. The scriptures clearly proclaim the truth that God always…

worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: Ephes. 1:11

6 thoughts on “Is God in Control?

  1. Pingback: Mailbag Musings: For God So Loves the World... Or Does He? « A Peculiar Pilgrim

  2. The sovereignty of God is very comforting to me; however, I have this one nagging question I can find no answer to: If the “un-called” are not predestinated to salvation, that means they are predestinated to Hell. Why would God punish people so severely (i.e. Hell) for simply doing what He created them to be? Aren’t they being obedient to His will? Aren’t they doing exactly what He foreordained for them to do before He even created them? Why punish people for doing what He created them to do? I welcome any help with this question.

  3. Very interesting question. This is called the doctrine of double predestination and honestly, no credible theologian can deny that God in some sense predestines both the elect and non-elect. Rom 9:17-18 sums up the doctrine succinctly;

    For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”  So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

    Perhaps predestination is too strong a word when it comes to the non-elect. The bible never uses the word in association with the unsaved.The big picture is a world full of people who hate God and his holy ways. God, wishing to demonstrate his attributes of mercy, compassion and love chooses a remnant for himself and calls them out of the world. By doing so he is leaving all others to wallow in their sins and receive their just due at the final judgment. God is glorified in this because his holy attributes of justice and wrath toward all sin and evil are exalted. The end purpose of every thing in all creation is to bring glory to God. In double predestination we see God is always glorified.
    I realize this is a very short and insufficient answer but its a launching point for further discussion.

  4. I know that this topic may very well be a paradox that man will never understand until we get to heaven or hell, but I simply must continue the discussion because the question has had my stomach in knots for 13 years.

    I agree that God is just in punishing Evil, and I am very grateful that He is going to do that – for my personal sense of vindication, for the vindication of those whom I’ve hurt and especially for the sake of His own Holiness and Righteousness.

    But, I don’t know if I can accept a theory that views God as the ultimate mover in creating something in order for it to become evil, so that He would have something to justly punish.

    If Evil is really just the absence of Good (like darkness is just the absence of light), and God cannot be anything BUT Good, then something NOT-God had to exist in order for Evil to even be a possible concept. Further, that NOT-God-thing had to be created by God, since anything NOT-God couldn’t exist or sustain itself by itself.

    If you agree with the above logic, are you saying that God created creatures with the intention that those creatures would fall and thereby give the universe a real-life example of Evil, which God could then punish for the glorification of His Justice? And that He would then glorify His mercy and grace by extending love to some of them thereby saving them?

    I have no problem with the Universe being God centered – and that man is of no more value in himself than a clay pot (per Paul), but that doesn’t seem to square with the whole concept that Jesus gave us in comparing God with the best earthly father we can imagine… a God who loved us so much that He sacrificed His only son for us. A God who says that He doesn’t wish anyone to perish. God Himself seems to have made salvation about US, and put US before Himself… and though He is ultimately glorifying Himself in all of this, even that is to our benefit (per the WCF, purpose of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever).

    It just seems to me that, in your view, Mankind (and even Angel kind) never really had a fighting chance at staying Holy, even before they sinned… and that bothers me. (But Im not disagreeing with you either… I just really am in knots about this…)

  5. ps… the reason I say we never had a fighting chance, even before Adam sinned, is that the only thing that kept Adam from being corrupted in the first place is Gods sustaining grace. For Adam to even be able to sin, God had to somehow remove that grace. By removing it, Man followed what can be metaphorically called the 1st law of (spiritual) thermodynamics – his energy to be Holy could only be sustained by God and without that input, man could do nothing but become corrupt.

    To back this up, take the idea that when we get to heaven, God has promised that we won’t ever sin again… that can only be possible because He intends to never withhold his sustaining grace again… otherwise we would have to say something in ourselves – as heavenly beings – sustained us. And that cant be if we truly believe God is sovereign.

  6. I no longer struggle with predestination, or suffering and tragedy, or anything to do with God being a regular interventionist in the physical world for that matter. I’m not saying I have it all sorted out, but I’m learning – and a key thing I have learned (that helps an awful lot) is that we are all still learning. I now tend to believe Christianity is more dynamic than static. What does dynamic mean? A number of Christian thinkers have pointed out that the Bible starts in the garden and finishes in a city (a creative/redemptive progression forward), while others point out that we are in the engagement period – if we (the church) are the ‘bride-to-be’ then we are still getting to know each other before the ‘wedding’. There is also the simple parallel with any human relationship, it takes time to get to know each other – with a God this big this may take unknown generations. Another parallel is that of human progress. Despite what every older generation thinks, humanity has and is progressing. It may look like a stock market chart, but the trend is still up. Humanity is still learning (and often relearning) about itself… adding to, re-evaluating and sometimes correcting a growing pool of self awareness and understanding. Can this same growing awareness, understanding and re-evaluation be applied to our knowledge of God and Christianity? No doubt God is big enough, and the Bible is confusing enough to make me think this is true. And it fits with a big-picture view of the Bible ending in a city and the analogy of us (the church) as the ‘bride-to-be’. If Christianity is dynamic, evolving, growing… corporately and individually, then we are still learning (or should be) about God, the gospel message and ourselves. We are continually working out and building the relationship, and working out how it impacts a constantly changing culture. We also, are constantly adding to, re-evaluating and/or correcting the learning of the past.
    What also helps and fits with the above, is how we view and use the Bible. Around 300ad many Christians believed the earth was the centre of the universe and that the sun revolved around the Earth! All because of a dogmatic, rigid view of the Bible. A quick look at church history also confirms our misuse of the Bible. Is the Bible primarily a book of rules on how to live? To me such a view simply reinforces religion- where the focus is on us and what we do to be saved. Or is the Bible a collection of stories, songs, metaphors, analogies, narratives etc describing God, us and his divine rescue mission? NT Wright compares the Bible to acts in a play, he essentially sees the Bible as four acts with us now being in the fifth. So all the principles, examples and ‘rules’ are not supposed to be mimicked or rigidly followed, rather they are meant to provide a foundation for feeding and informing our own working-out of the relationship (with God and each other), and the acting-out of our Christianity here and now. If the Bible is viewed as God’s story about who he is, what he is like, who we are and what he’s done for us (with all this being growing and accumulative knowledge) rather than the Bible being viewed as a rulebook for life – then dogmatism, self-righteousness and aggressive criticism would fade away. Good luck with us ever achieving that!

    Back to ‘predestination’, would a simple re-evaluation (in light of above) of that term – of how it has been translated, clichéd and used by traditionalists – change our view on this topic? Do we always try to rationalise out the character and nature of God from a human perspective (and a distorted view of the Bible)? Could it just mean that God, unaffected by time and space, has already seen (and still sees) those who respond to him ‘choosing’ them (there are numerous verses about salvation being for all people) or those who have ‘hardened their hearts’ or done anything else of their own choosing – and then God using the circumstance that creates? Is the term more about God knowing and using, rather than God causing? I had a friend who believed she confirmed God as the interventionist by a prayer. Feeling that God had abandoned her (because of a certain physical circumstance) she prayed for two birds to turn up at her feeder that she had never seen before (an atypical prayer for her). A week later she had forgotten about this prayer until two unusual birds did turn up. When I pondered this story, I suggested that God had already seen the birds coming and simply prompted her to pray the way she did. So God not as a physical interventionist, but as a counsellor who works with the willing. This line of thought may create more questions than answers – but that’s okay, I/we are still learning!
    I’m still fuzzy on how God works within us without impacting our free will, but as far the physical world, I no longer see God as the regular interventionist that most Christians seem to think he is. I now see God as a macro-manager of the affairs of men, rather than a micromanager. I must point out that this is primarily in reference to the physical world and the actions of men – in a spiritual/relational sense it’s a different thing altogether, in this I see him as desperately longing to counsel and empower us, and I suspect it is primarily through such people that God becomes the ‘interventionist’ in the physical world (whoosh… there goes fatalism!). Anyway, all the verses I read about God as a micromanager (of the physical world) can easily be viewed as God the macro-manager. I no longer agree with the cliché that says “God is in control” – He is in authority but that is quite different to control. He created this world and all in it, he set the laws of nature and physics in motion, he gave us a conscience or a sense of ‘moral obligation’, he gave us the scriptures (which are primarily about his rescue mission through Christ and a foundation for understanding who he is and what we are – and not primarily a book of rules life) and he gave us free will – a free will, as this article points out, that is fundamentally designed to be in relationship with something greater than itself. Ideally, if in relationship with God, then the individual is meant to be part of an ongoing creative/redemptive process that culminates in the restoration of everything. Presented with a real picture of God, and a clear understanding of the gospel message, we can only accept or reject the invitation that presents (no rationalising here, it either blows-your-socks-off and you accept or it offends and you reject). This choice is open to everybody – but the real problem as I see it, is that most people don’t get presented with, or pursue, a clearer picture of God and the gospel message (and I suspect this is even true of most Christians). So how can someone choose without understanding their choices? This is a question I really struggle with. I was a Christian for 28 years before I finally decided it was my responsibility to actively and continually pursue a clearer picture of God, his nature and character, and what Christianity was all about. For me this was and continues to be life changing, but did God prompt me for this course change or is it because another Christian (receptive and submissive to God) painted a clearer picture for me? Don’t know, but I’m sure our kids, kids will have a much clearer understanding of this issue – while battling with a new one. Hope this helps – and look forward to your take on all this.

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