The Bible describes God as an all-powerful King who has dominion over the entire world. “For the Lord Most High is awesome; He is a great King over all the earth” (Psalm 47:2); NKJV). He is also called “God of gods, and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome . . . “ (Dt. 10:17), and “The Lord of Hosts . . . the King of glory” (Ps. 24:7-10), Who “has established Hi throne in heaven, / And His kingdom rules over all” (Ps. 103:19). Nor is this kind of language confined to the Old Testament. The apostle Paul, writing to Timothy, could say, “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (I Tim. 1:17). Theologians refer to this as “the sovereignty of God.”
But what does that mean in actual practice? What it means is that God commands and we are to obey. First of all, because God is the all-powerful Creator, He is the One who ultimately controls what happens in the universe.
“By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
And all the host of them by the breath of His mouth . . .
For He spoke, and it was done;
He commanded, and it stood fast.”
Theologians refer to this as God’s “decretive will,” by which God “works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11).
But God can also tell us how we ought to live our lives. God could tell Moses, “But as for you, stand here by Me, and I will speak to you all the commandments, the statutes, and the judgements which you shall teach them, that they may observe them in the land which I am giving them to possess” (Dt. 5:31). It is noteworthy here that Moses received a direct revelation from God himself, and that it took the form of verbal commands. The commands, in turn, carried the full weight of God’s authority: “Therefore you shall be careful to do as the Lord your God has commanded you . . .You shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which you shall possess” (vv. 32,33). This is what theologians call God’s “perceptive will,” the precepts and commandments by which we should live.
But, one may ask, doesn’t this sound tyrannical? At first it may seem that way. We as Americans in particular are used to thinking that governments “derive their just powers from the consent of the governed,” to quote the Declaration of Independence. But we forget that we exist as creatures of God – we owe our very existence to Him. It is not for us to decide for ourselves the terms of our existence.
The apostle Paul, addressing the Greek philosophers in Athens, pointed out to them that God is the One “who made the world and everything in it,” and is “Lord of heaven and earth” (Acts 17:24). He “gives to all life, breath, and all things,” and has created every nation of men “so that they would seek the Lord” (vv. 25-27). But now God “commands all men everywhere to repent” (v. 30). And why should they repent? “. . . .because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness . . .” (v. 31). As human beings, whether we like it or not, we live in a universe created by God and ruled by God. In the end it is His will that will prevail.
But does that mean that we are doomed to lead a dreary life of abject slavery, subject to the will of an arbitrary tyrant? No, not at all; because God is good, benevolent and wise. His ways are always best. Psalm 19 glories in the wisdom and goodness contained in God’s law: “The law of the Lord is perfect . . .The statutes of the Lord are right . . .The commandment of the Lord is pure . . . The judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether” (vv. 7-9). God has our best interests at heart, and because we live in a universe that He created, we can find happiness and fulfillment only when we live the way He wants us to. To avoid an accident, obey the traffic laws!
What God’s sovereignty means for us personally is that we are called to fear Him. Moses could tell the children of Israel, “You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him” (Dt. 13:4). When it says that we should “fear Him,” it does not mean that we should live in constant terror of Him. Rather it means that we should have a profound reverence and respect for Him, that we take with utmost seriousness everything that He says, and that we are always careful to obey Him. He is our Lord and Master; we are His servants. It is not for us to question His will for our lives.
But more than that, we should love God, and if we genuinely love Him, it will be our delight to obey Him. “Therefore you shall love the Lord your God, and keep His charge, His statutes, and His commandments always” (Dt. 11:1). God did not create us to have a hostile relationship with Him, and had we not rebelled and sinned against Him we would have enjoyed uninterrupted communion with Him. And even now, in spite of our sin and rebellion, He sent His Son into the world to die for our sins so that our communion with Him can be restored. The object, then, is not to keep us in servile fear, but that we should love Him – love Him for all that He is; love Him for all that He has done for us. But if we love Him we will obey Him; we will always want to please Him. God always remains God, and we are His servants.