Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jun 13 2020 - Romans 9:1-24 – Holding it all together

Can you understand the relationship between the sovereignty of God and the freedom he has given to us as those made in his image? Can you understand how all things can be under God’s control and yet we are not mere puppets but are free moral agents, responsible and answerable for our every action? Can you understand how God is both sovereign and perfect in goodness and yet there is evil in the world? I readily confess that I cannot fit all of these things together; the very effort to do so makes my head hurt.

Yet Scripture is clear in insisting on both of these perspectives on the world and even on bringing both together is such statements as that of Peter who, when preaching on the day of Pentecost said of Jesus, “This man was handed over to you by God's set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross” (Acts 2:23, see also Acts 4:27-28). Scripture affirms both the complete sovereignty of God and undiminished human responsibility; it will not allow us to affirm the one in order to deny the other. We tie ourselves in knots and end up denying the testimony of Scripture when we so emphasise one aspect of these truths that we all but deny the other.

This may seem very confusing but it is surely both challenging and encouraging. It is challenging because we can never excuse our own sins and failings or our lack of zeal for God with the excuse, “That’s just the way God made me.” We cannot blame God for our sin. Rather, God calls us to continual repentance; to a radical change of heart and of mind and of behaviour. And it’s comforting because we know that God is able to do in us and with us and through us all that he calls from us. The power is from him and not from ourselves, and this drives us to our knees in prayer.

The mystery of divine sovereignty and human responsibility finds its practical application in earnest prayer and faithful discipleship. These two also are intimately connected.

We see these two connected in the ministry of the apostle Paul. He is convinced that God’s purpose is to save both Jews and Gentiles and that God’s purpose will not fail. But he does not therefore sit at home praising God for the greatness of his saving plan. Paul is a man driven by his understanding of God’s purpose. He will let nothing, not shipwreck or persecution, turn him back from his mission of proclaiming Christ to all the world. But neither is he so busy that he has no time for prayer, convinced that it all depends on his furious activity. Paul is always on his knees, praying continually and exhorting others to join him in prayer for the success of the Gospel. Paul is a wonderful example of a man who believed both in the sovereignty of God and in the efficacy of human activity. He believed that God fulfils his purposes through people who are gripped by his Spirit and captivated by Christ.

Heavenly Father, my mind cannot comprehend your mind, but you have revealed your heart to us in the Lord Jesus Christ, and shown us that your love is wide as the oceans, high as the heavens, deep as the deepest sea and more enduring than the universe. Enable me to know that without you I can do nothing, but keep me from doing nothing because I am waiting for you to do without me what you have called me to do. Help me to be fervent both in prayer and in the work of the kingdom.

Peter Misselbrook