Some wrongly place the doctrine of an absolutely sovereign God in opposition to the idea that we are responsible for our actions. The Bible teaches us to believe both.
Abraham’s great-grandson Joseph was treated unjustly by his brothers – they sold him as a slave and deceived their father, Jacob, into thinking he was dead. He found himself as the chief servant of Potiphar, but then was falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife (who had tried to seduce him) and landed in prison. In prison, Joseph met two of Pharoah’s servants, interpreted their dreams – one would die and one would be restored. The promise was made to remember Joseph before Pharoah, but forgotten for two years. Yet through all this, the Bible reminds us that the LORD was with Joseph (Gen. 39:2-3, 21, 23).
Finally, Pharoah dreamed two troubling dreams. Then the chief cupbearer remembered Joseph. God enabled Joseph to interpret Pharoah’s dreams, which told of a coming famine. Pharoah promoted Joseph to second-in-command and God used him to preserve Egypt through the famine. But God also used Joseph to keep His promise to Abraham to make his descendents like the number of the stars in the sky and the sand by the sea.
But what does this portion of the Bible teach about divine sovereignty and human responsibility? It is encapsulated in Joseph’s observation to his brothers:
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (Gen. 50:20 ESV)
Joseph’s brothers did wrong. They sinned. They meant evil. But God did not merely “allow” them to do this. It was part of His plan. They unknowingly were advancing the means of their own preservation. God “meant it for good.”
But the ultimate proof of the fact that God is sovereign and man is responsible is seen in the cross.
Notice the words of Peter:
Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know–this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. (Acts 2:22-23 ESV)
Also, notice the prayer offered two chapters later:
“Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’– for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. (Acts 4:24-28 ESV)
The Scriptures are clear. God is sovereign and man is responsible. God predestined Jesus’ death and yet it was wicked that He was crucified. How should we respond to these truths?
- Have faith in God. This God is sovereign and He is good. And He always wins. Our opposition is futile, and God is always faithful. We must trust Him.
- Take sin seriously. God’s sovereignty doesn’t negate the reality of sin. When we do wrong, it is still wrong, and we have this sovereign God to reckon with.
- Hope in God. These passages about Joseph and Jesus teach that those who suffer for righteousness do so according to the plan of God. Evildoers unwittingly accomplish God’s sovereign purpose.
- Marvel at the mystery of these two truths and praise God that He can take the wicked things we do and have had done to us and bring good out of them. The cross was the worst crime ever committed, from the standpoint of human responsibility. It was utterly reprehensible to treat the innocent Jesus in such a way. Yet it was God’s plan and out of the worst evil, He has brought the greatest good of glory for Himself and salvation for all who trust Him. Who else but God could do such a thing?