Divine Sovereignty and God’s Will

The Sovereignty of God

What is meant when we speak of the sovereignty of God? First of all we mean that God has supremacy of authority or rule. There is no authority above Him. God is the supreme authority in all Heaven and Earth. In this study we shall seek to learn the extent of God’s sovereignty, the exercise of God’s sovereignty, and how God’s sovereignty and man’s will relate.

The Absolute Sovereignty of God

There is one thing we must be assured of: God is absolutely sovereign. There is no authority above Him. “There is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” (Rom 13:1) (KJV) God is the ultimate authority and the source of all other authority.

God’s sovereignty is over all of Creation. There is neither one thing nor one person that is not under His authority. Whether it is the weather or the heart of one who is a powerful person, God is the authority over all of them. “Thine, O LORD, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O LORD, and thou art exalted as head above all. Both riches and honour come of thee, and thou reignest over all; and in thine hand is power and might; and in thine hand it is to make great, and to give strength unto all. Now therefore, our God, we thank thee, and praise thy glorious name.” (1 Chron 29:11-13) (KJV) “The LORD most high is terrible; he is a great King over all the earth.” (Ps 47:2) (KJV) “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.” (Prov 21:1) (KJV)
“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.” (Isa 45:7) (KJV) “The LORD is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked: the LORD hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet. He rebuketh the sea, and maketh it dry, and drieth up all the rivers: Bashan languisheth, and Carmel, and the flower of Lebanon languisheth. The mountains quake at him, and the hills melt, and the earth is burned at his presence, yea, the world, and all that dwell therein. Who can stand before his indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger? his fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by him. The LORD is good, a strong hold in the day of trouble; and he knoweth them that trust in him. But with an overrunning flood he will make an utter end of the place thereof, and darkness shall pursue his enemies.” (Nah 1:3-8) (KJV)

God’s sovereignty is also one that cannot be thwarted. He used the prophets to say: “He is in one mind, and who can turn him? and what his soul desireth, even that he doeth.” (Job 23:13) (KJV) “Yea, before the day was I am he; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand: I will work, and who shall let it?” (Isa 43:13) (KJV) “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: Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.” (Isa 46:9-11) (KJV) “All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and

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he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?” (Dan 4:35) (KJV)

God’s sovereignty is not an arbitrary rule in this world, but a ruling that is according to the good pleasure of His loving and holy nature: “Our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.” (Ps 115:3) (KJV) “Whatsoever the LORD pleased, that did he in heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places.” (Ps 135:6) (KJV) Paul the apostle also spoke of “him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.” (Eph 1:11) (KJV) While God works His will in this world, He does it in a manner that is pleasing to His loving and holy character. In all things, however, God is the King of kings and Lord of lords. “In his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.” (1 Tim 6:15-16) (KJV)

Divine Sovereignty and Providence

The doctrine of Divine sovereignty is a great comfort to those who understand that God’s sovereignty is always linked with His providential care for His people. What is providence? Providence speaks of God’s foresight, forethought, and plan to care for His people. Paul stated that, “we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28) (KJV) It is only logical to understand that the sovereignty of God is the only way by which He could providentially cause all things to work together for our good.

Solomon spoke of God’s sovereign providence when he said, “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.” (Prov 16:9) (KJV) As we live our lives we make plans, but our plans are often not wise. Thankfully, God cares for His children and, in sovereign love, directs our lives so that we benefit from His great love instead of destroying ourselves. David stated, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand.” (Ps 37:23,24) (KJV) What a blessing it is to know that God is not only watching over our lives, but is actively involved in holding us up in spite of our often falling.

Divine providence often leads us through paths that we don’t understand. Life is often difficult, dark, and perplexing. In the midst of this we must understand that God’s providence is still real. The Psalmist understood this when he said, “Thou, O God, hast proved us: thou hast tried us, as silver is tried. Thou broughtest us into the net; thou laidst affliction upon our loins. Thou hast caused men to ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water: but thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place.” (Ps 66:10-12) (KJV) Sometimes God, in His providence, sends us through hard trials that we might be purified and made holy. At other times we are caused to suffer grief and heartache at the hands of other people. It is often as though we are deluged with trouble, or burned in the flame. Life is often extremely difficult. In these dark times we are often tempted to think that God has forsaken us. He has not. He is still caring for us, and, in the end, will bring us through our trials having made us better and happier servants of His. In spite of this wonderful assurance, we often think that we must immediately understand all that is happening to us. May God help us to remember the wise statement

of Solomon, “Man’s goings are of the LORD; how can a man then understand his own way?” (Prov 20:24) (KJV) We simply cannot see into the mind of God. We must trust Him as David did when He said, “I will cry unto God most high; unto God that performeth all things for me.” (Ps 57:2) (KJV)

There is no doubt that Joseph understood the providence of God. It is only because of Joseph’s faith in God’s providential care that he could forgive and comfort his brothers who had sinned against him. After the death of Jacob, his father, Joseph’s brothers came declaring that Jacob had left word for Joseph to forgive his brothers. Joseph’s reply was, “Fear not: for am I in the place of God? But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them.” (Gen 50:19-21) (KJV) One can only do that if they have faith in the overruling sovereignty of God and His providence. What a great help it would be to all of us if we would but repent of bitterness and resentment and embrace the fact that God is at work in our lives even when times are the most difficult.

Divine Sovereignty and Sin

As we study this great truth we find ourselves questioning the issue of sin. Did God create sin? Does God condone sin? After all, it seems that He uses sin to further His purposes. Joseph told his brothers that God used their sin to accomplish good.

The first thing we must notice is that God by no means condones or creates sin. The scriptures declare that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”( 1 John 1:5) (KJV) The God of all creation is righteous with no sin about Him. The Psalmist stated, “Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness.” (Ps 45:7) (KJV) God despises sin. Not only is this so, but God does not condone sin in any fashion. “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.” (James 1:13) (KJV) God does not in any manner create, encourage, or condone sin.

What do we do, then, with statements such as the following? “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.” (Isa 45:7) (KJV) “Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it?” (Amos 3:6) (KJV) One important thing to keep in mind is the fact that there is more than one sort of evil. There is moral and ethical evil, and then there is evil which is nothing more than the difficulties and tragedies of life. When the prophets spoke of evil coming from the hand of God, they were saying that He controls the world and that the good or the bad happenings are in His control. Remember that Nahum said, “The LORD hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.” (Nah 1:3) (KJV) Whether it is an earthquake, or a hurricane, God is in control. Yes, these things are evils in the sense that they are horrifying events. Insurance companies still call these “acts of God.” The reason that they do so is because they know that the occurrences of natural catastrophes are beyond human control. They are, however, in the control of God. “Who is he that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not? Out of the mouth of the most High proceedeth not evil and good?” (Lam 3:37,38) (KJV) Everything that occurs in this world does so because of the decree of God. Destruction and its attending heartache are no exceptions.

Now we are faced with another question. How does God not approve of evil, nor create sin if all things happen because of His command? This question is a valid question that certainly needs to be addressed. This writer is convinced that evil occurs because God allows it to happen. God’s decree does not necessarily demand His active participation in a deed. God simply commanded/ordained that sin and evil be allowed to occur since men could make such a choice for their lives. In so doing, God would still retain control over the world and men would have a great deal of choice in their lives. In other words, God did not decree that Adam sin without Adam’s choosing to sin. Neither did God encourage and condone Adam’s sin. Rather, God decreed that Adam would have the choice between sinning and doing rightly. Knowing that Adam would choose to sin, God ordained that Adam would be allowed to do so.

As we consider this decree of God to allow sin but not approve of it, let us notice an instance where it did indeed happen in life. The man is Balaam. He is a prophet of sorts. He is called by a wicked king, Balak, to curse the children of Israel. There’s a lucrative offer made to Balaam if he will only come and pronounce a curse from God on Israel. God’s command to Balaam is, “don’t go.” (See Num 23:12) Balak’s men return with another lucrative offer. Balaam seems to desire to go, even though he declares that he can only do what God tells him to do and can only speak what God tells him to speak. In fact, this time, Balaam even gets permission from God to go. (See Num 23:20) There is a problem, though. The will of God had already been expressed to Balaam. God did not desire for Balaam to go. God had revealed His will. Now, however, God is allowing/permitting Balaam to go to Balak, although it is not the desire of God that Balaam do so. As we read further in the chapter we find that God stops Balaam on the road and shows Balaam his error. Although Balaam is still allowed to go, we find that God only allowed it and did not endorse Balaam’s going to Balak. Balaam sinned by going, yet God permitted that sin. I believe that this shows us the fact that God’s command concerning sin is not His directly being involved in sin, but His permitting men to make their own foolish choices in life.

Another instance in which this can be seen is in the fact that God wills/desires that all men be saved; yet not all are saved. Consider the following verses: “Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim 2:4) (KJV) “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) (KJV) God desires the salvation of all. All are not saved, however. In fact, some are spoken of as being ordained to destruction. “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Jude 4) (KJV) “Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.”( 1 Peter 2:7,8) (KJV) “The LORD hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.” (Prov 16:4) (KJV) Most serious Bible believers hold to the truth that God does indeed desire that all be saved and sincerely offers the Gospel to mankind. Yet the Bible teaches that there are some who are ordained to judgment and condemnation. How? Why? They are ordained of God to condemnation

because God knew that they would refuse to honor God. While God reveals His hatred for sin and His desire that all be saved from sin, He forces no one to be saved. This being so, God permits men to choose sin and continue in it to their destruction.

Finally, we should consider the sovereignty of God in relation to the sin of other people and its effects upon us. Many times people ask, “Why does God permit (fill in the blank with any specific tragedy)? At other times it is asked, “Why does God do things such as this?” One Jewish rabbi wrote a book about bad things happening to “good people.” All of these questions miss the true issue. The issue is not whether bad things happen (they do). It is not about God doing the bad things (He doesn’t). It is not altogether about God permitting those things (although He does). The real issue is that all of us are sinners, not good people.

All of us are sinners who do not deserve good from God. “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23) (KJV) All of us are under the judgment of God. “We know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” (Rom 3:19) (KJV) “You hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins…. and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” (Eph 2:1,3b) (KJV) We were destined to face the wrath of God. We do not deserve the good that happens to us. Now, those of us who are saved do indeed have hope and assurance that things are well between us and God. On the other hand, we are still in a world that is sinful. “The creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” (Rom 8:20-23) (KJV) All of creation is subject to futility, emptiness, and sorrow. Rape, murder, torture, war crimes, domestic violence, wrecks caused by drunken drivers, cancer, heart disease, and all other ills of this world are the result of Adam’s sin. All of creation is filled with the turmoil that came into the world because of man’s sin. Man chose to sin. God didn’t make that choice for him; man made the choice for himself. Man knew that trouble, pain, and death would be the result of sin, yet he sins even today. Thankfully, there is the promise of a future deliverance from all sorrow. One day Jesus Himself shall return to this Earth and change the whole world into a place of peace and righteousness. “We, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness.” (2 Peter 3:13) (KJV)

Concluding Remarks

It is very difficult to address every question and objection to a truth that is as great as this. There is no way to righteously overlook, or treat lightly, the pain, sorrow, and suffering of people in this life. I do trust, however, that the glorious truth that God is in control will cause someone to look upward and place their confidence in Him, knowing that He alone holds the future in His hands. Most objections to this truth are emotional objections. That being so, we would do well to consider the wise words of a man who lived a life of depression, yet chose to trust in the sovereignty of God:

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God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; The clouds ye so much dread Are big with mercy and shall break In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, But trust Him for His grace; Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast, Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err And scan His work in vain; God is His own interpreter, And He will make it plain.

God Moves In A Mysterious Way William Cowper

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The Marks Of True Conversion

Marks Of True Conversion

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man.” (John 2:23–25)

There were many people who believed during Jesus’ ministry, and on this particular day many believed because they saw His miracles; yet Jesus did not commit Himself to them. That is, though they believed Him, He did not believe them. Bearing this in mind, we must recognize that there is such a thing as a false conversion.

Jesus said, Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matthew 7:21–23) While many people love to quote, “Judge not,” from the first verse of this chapter, Jesus explicitly states that there are some whom He will reject in the judgment because they professed Him while not being truly converted.

James also taught about false conversions saying, Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:19–20There is a faith that is not a real faith. There is a faith that is a dead faith. There is a faith that does not save. It is the faith of devils! Certainly we should beware of this and search ourselves to be sure that we are truly converted.

We can even read that Jesus warned that Satan was busy making false converts. Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.” (Matthew 13:24–30) “Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field. He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:36–43Immature tares, we are told, look just like wheat. It is only when the crop nears maturity that it is evident that tares are present. Some have even called tares, “bastard wheat.” That is very interesting considering the fact that we are told of some who are “bastards and not sons.” (Hebrews 12:8) 

This is a very sobering reality, and it is one that must be taken seriously. Can you imagine hearing Christ tell you, “Depart from me, I never knew you?” This is why we should all examine ourselves to be sure that we are saved. None of us needs to be so cocksure that we never take God’s words of warning seriously.

With these things before us, we can see that there is such a thing as a false conversion; but what are the marks of true conversion? This is what we will now seek to determine from the Scripture.

Jesus began His ministry by preaching And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.” (Mark 1:15

As we study this text, we find three important things:

  1. We are to repent. What is repentance? But what think ye? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work to day in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went.” (Matthew 21:28–29Repentance literally means, a change of mind. Notice that the young man who repented did exactly that. When we change our minds, our behavior also changes. After the young man repented, he obeyed his father’s command. The apostle Paul said that it was a profitable thing that he preacher “ repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 20:21When we change our minds about our sins and our heart toward God, we will then trust Christ. We also find that true repentance not only brings us to faith and salvation, but it also results in a changed life. Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter.” (2 Corinthians 7:9–11
  2. Believe the gospel. What is the gospel? Mark said that Jesus preached the gospel of the kingdom. We find that the gospel is the good news that God rules (Isaiah 52:7), and this is what Paul stated that this is the gospel (Romans 10:14-17), and we must believe it. What is meant by it being good news that God rules as king? It simply means that God is fulfilling the promise to redeem His people by His promised king (Genesis 3:15), forgiving us of our sins and making us His children and citizens of His kingdom through the death of Christ for our sins and His resurrection from the dead as conqueror of sin and Satan (Colossians 1:13-14;1 Corinthians 15:1-4;Romans 4:25;Romans 6:9-10).
  3. Believe the gospel. This good news of which I just spoke is what we are to believe. What is meant by believing the gospel? It simply means that we put our trust in the God who gives us good news and promises us eternal life through Jesus Christ. In fact, faith and trust are used as meaning the same thing in Ephesians 1:11-14. In what are you trusting? Faith is trusting in God and not in ourselves and our goodness. Paul said, Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” (Romans 4:4–5) Faith is when we stop trusting in anything other than God and His goodness, willingness, and power to save our souls.

The next thing that we need to notice is that the gospel message gives glory to God. Paul spoke the Romans saying, What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” (Romans 4:1–3God has determined to save men so that His name will be honored (Ephesians 2:8-10;1 John 2:12), and the gospel is called “the glorious gospel of the blessed God.” (1 Timothy 1:11). The gospel is the good news that God is glorious and will glory and exalt Himself by freely forgiving and saving all who trust in Him. Notice that the gospel is not about the man who preaches, nor is it primarily about the person who is being saved: the gospel is about God’s greatness. When God saves a person, He will give that person a love for God (See 1 John 5:1), and that person will learn to exalt and honor God above all. In fact, that is the gospel promise: And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.” (Deuteronomy 30:6And this happens when we trust Christ: Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.” (1 Peter 1:22–23

Not only do we love God after we are saved, but we see that we will love the brethren. We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.” (1 John 3:14We are told that we are indwelt by the Spirit of God when we are saved, and that He will lead us to love God and love others: the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” (Romans 5:5Love for others is a mark of true conversion. Sadly, many cult leaders or cult like leaders tell their followers that they are converted and then lead them to be hateful toward their family members who are either unconverted or who refuse to follow this particular leader. We must realize that this sort of divisiveness is not of God: Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” (1 John 4:7–8One who is truly converted will love his family members enough to want to see them converted also instead of turning against them. Love is a mark of true conversion.

As we saw when we spoke of repentance, a changed life is a mark of conversion. In fact, that is what conversion is, a change: it is a change of heart, life, and eternal destination. John said, This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” (1 John 1:5–7) “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.” (1 John 2:4–6) When God saves a sinner, He rescues him from the condemnation of sin as well as from the power of sin. The old sinful habits will be exchanged for holiness. In conversion, the old man has died and we are new creatures in Christ: Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17Remember, however, that Jesus stated that those who do not do the will of God do not enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21-29). When a person is converted, they are truly and forever changed.

There are three important things to take from this:

  1. If you do not bear the marks of true conversion, you need to closely check yourself to see why. Have you truly trusted Christ? 
  2. If you are struggling with confusion, yet know you have trusted Christ, take comfort in the signs of God’s grace that are present in your heart and life.
  3. If you find that you have not been truly converted, repent and believe the gospel!

Hermeneutics 6 notes

Lesson 6

The Heart and Bible Study

Psalm 25:9,14;119:1-2

  1. To be with/in the Word is to be in God’s presence. 2 Timothy 3:16-17;Hebrews 4:12-13 cf John 1:1-4,14;Revelation 19:11-13
  2. Meekness James 1:19-25 cf Philippians 2:12-13 See also 1 Samuel 3:1-10,19
  3. Prayer and submission Psalm 119:18,27,36 
  4. Laying aside things in order to receive the Word James 1:19-21;1 Peter 2:1-3;Psalm 119:113
  5. Desire to be changed in order to glorify God Psalm 119:7,32-33;139:23-24
  6. Crave the Word and cry aloud for understanding. 1 Peter 2:1-3;Proverbs 2:1-5 cf Psalm 119:131;James 1:5 and diligently apply yourself to learning 2 Timothy 2:15
  7. Meditate Psalm 1:1-6 Notice that the one who meditates in the Word and enjoys the Word is described as a godly man who will stand in the judgment. Cf Joshua 1:7-8
  8. Godly fear and trembling Habakkuk 3:16-17;Isaiah 65:1-2
  9. Be committed Psalm 119:50-51;112,143 cf John 8:31-32

Of Legalism And Holiness

Of Legalism And Holiness

And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:24–25) 

As it is obvious from the title, this article is about legalism and holiness. It seems that these two terms are often viewed as being synonymous, yet they are vastly different. There are many people today who are legalists who think that they are holy, and there are many holy people who are called legalists by others. Can one be a legalist and be unholy? Can a person be holy and not be a legalist? What in the world is legalism anyway? And what is holiness? 

We must begin by defining the terms. Legalism– The belief that salvation demands or depends upon total obedience to the letter of the law. Examples of legalism include an excessive concern for minute details of the law coupled with a neglect of its fundamental concerns, and a preoccupation with human legal traditions.1 To this we can add that legalism is often seen in the effort to establish our sanctification by external fleshly means rather than by living in the grace of God by faith. Holiness- The quality of God that sets him utterly apart from his world, especially in terms of his purity and sanctity. The holiness of God is also manifested in the persons and work of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Believers are called upon to become like God in his holiness.2 I believe that it is obvious to even the most casual of readers that holiness and legalism are different things, although they have one similarity in common, which is an adherence to certain standards that are found in God’s Word. The difference is what is the great thing, and that is the motivation behind the rule keeping and standard following. Why does a person do what he does? Does he do it to be saved? Does he do it to earn brownie points with God so that God will hear his prayers and count him holy? Does he do the things he does to honor God and yield his flesh, mind, and heart to Him?

Our text above comes from the book of Galatians, and I want us to spend most of our time in Galatians as we consider this issue.

In chapters one and two of Galatians, Paul takes a very strong stand against legalism. There were those who were preaching a so-called gospel that was anything but good news. It was not revealed by God, not given by God, and was accursed of God. The Spirit of God is so vehemently opposed to the idea that a person can work for salvation or add works to faith for salvation that He pronounces a curse against anyone, even angels, who would preach such a perverted gospel! Paul then tells us about rebuking Peter for acting hypocritically and refusing to fellowship with Gentile believers because they were not circumcised. In a strong blast against legalism, Paul said that he was trusting Christ alone to be saved and to live the Christian life. “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” (Galatians 2:20–21) 

Chapters three and four present the believers as being heirs of God in Christ and partakers of the Abrahamic blessing and covenant. Paul stands strongly against the idea that one’s salvation is completed by fleshly works, reminds them that the law brings a curse, and the none of us have obeyed the law or will fully obey the law. Instead, the good news is that Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law and counts us righteous by faith alone. Because of this we are God’s children and heirs according to the promise.

Chapter five of Galatians is where the rubber meets the road for Christian living. It is there that we see the issues of legalism and holiness in stark contrast. There are those who seek to be holy by fleshly effort. They think that there are things that they do which will cause God to love them more, to hear their prayers, and to bring blessing upon their lives and families. They are seeking to earn the blessings of God which only come by grace. This is a form of legalism regarding sanctification. (As an aside, it should be noted that it has much in common with the paganism that treats God as one who has needs and will repay us as we help Him out. It also has much in common with the modern paganism of the prosperity gospel, which speaks of doing certain things in order to move or manipulate God to bring health and wealth to us.) When Paul calls on us to walk in love and walk in the Spirit instead of walking in the flesh, he is fighting against two extremes: one is that of yielding to unbridled lust and sin in the name of freedom and the other is that of trying to please God by fleshly efforts. Both of these have the same results: “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19–21) It cannot be said too strongly that legalism will often lead to immorality, because legalism is living in the flesh. This is why we are told to walk in the Spirit and live the life of one whose flesh has been crucified and continues to be mortified.

As we look at the issue of walking in the Spirit, however, we do see that there are standards of holiness mentioned to us. We are to measure our lives by what we need to get rid of (Galatians 5:19-21) and by what we add, which is the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Those who live in the Spirit have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires and are commanded to walk in the Spirit. This means that we are to follow the leadership of the Spirit in the Word of God and trust in the power of the Spirit of God to enable us to glorify God in our bodies. These standards of holiness are to be evident in our lives. They are not optional. They are essential to Christian living. Paul stated that those who lack those things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21). 

While these standards do not earn our salvation, they are things that we should use as a measure of our sanctification. I need to be sure that I am growing in godly love, possessing and spreading joy in the Holy Ghost, learning to suffer long in adverse circumstances, growing in kindness and gentleness, controlling myself both in the passions of anger and fleshly desires, and ever yielding myself to God. As we read and study God’s Word, we find that these things will show up in the things we wear, the places we go, the things we do, and the words we speak. 

With this in mind, we must recognize that there are some of us whose standards may be what appears to be more strict concerning certain things such as clothing, music, various media involvements, and perhaps other things. A person can have standards that are more strict that yours, and you can disagree with them on those things, and yet that person may not be a legalist. If they are seeking to walk in the Spirit, and they are convinced that these things are part of walking in the Spirit and helpful in submitting the flesh to God, then they are more likely holding to these standards as an issue of holiness rather than legalism. In such a case, it would be very uncharitable to label such a person a legalist. In fact, in our day when folks seem so prone to saying, “Judge not!” it is very judgmental to declare a person is trying to earn their salvation or earn the blessing of God when they are simply trying to yield themselves to God and walk in the Spirit. It is crucial that we understand this.

Finally, Paul uses chapter six of Galatians to call the saints to live out their faith in Christ by showing mercy and kindness to sinning brethren, to sow to the Spirit, and to not give up in their walk with God. He assures them that who faithfully serve God will reap the good results of sowing to the Spirit in God’s time. As he concludes, Paul warns against those whose legalism was real, who took pleasure in appearances, and who tried to lead others to follow them for the sake of appearances alone. He declares that all boasting and glory belongs to God alone, is to be in Christ alone, because of His cross that is the means of our salvation and sanctification. We must recognize that anyone can glory in appearances, whether the legalist who walks in the flesh or the one given to license and walks in the flesh. One glories in the appearance of holiness while the other often glories in yielding the flesh and the appearance of liberty from the legalism under which he or she long lived. Both are sinning by not giving the glory to God. I pray that we will all take the time to soberly meditate on these things, live in the grace of God, and show one another the meekness that God’s Word commands.

1 Martin H. Manser, Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies (London: Martin Manser, 2009).

2 Martin H. Manser, Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies (London: Martin Manser, 2009).