How the Cross of Christ Reflects the 'Balance' of Sovereignty and ResponsibilityWednesday, October 26, 2005
An online friend of mine, and fellow blogger, Diane Onifer (a.k.a. Charismatic Puritan), is a member of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, where C. J. Mahaney used to pastor, and where Josh Harris now pastors. Diane is a great thinker and I've enjoyed reading her stuff, so I wanted to recommend her to my readers.
In particular, I'd especially like to recommend a post she wrote back in April called "Sovereignty and Responsibility." I've reentitled it "How the Cross of Christ Reflects the 'Balance' of Sovereignty and Responsibility." She has perceptively and accurately described for us how the cross is and should be the most central illustration in all conversations dealing with this difficult subject of how sovereignty and responsibility work together. In other words, the gospel message itself helps quell rebellious hearts that rear up in defiance at the mere mention of God's sovereignty or, for hyper-Calvinists, at the mere mention of human responsibility.
I put 'balance' in quotes because as is so often the case in theology, our finite, human minds tend to try to strike at some sort of middle ground in a theological case like this where both sides of the equation are clearly enunciated in Scriptures. But is 'balance' really a good word? And is the thought behind it good?
Even though this digresses from the main point of this post, I think 'balance' is not a good concept to utilize. They are both to be emphasized just as the Scriptures do, and that means there is no 'middle ground' to emphasize. This issue is not a see-saw on which one must stand equiposed in the middle to keep both sides off the ground. And they are not subjects that must somehow be 'reconciled' or 'harmonized,' as I have so often heard. So even though this brief discussion on 'balance' may digress a bit, I point you again to Diane's post in which the cross essentially solves the debate in terms of how we view the two sides of the debate. They both find culmination at Calvary.
First, I would like to say that I invite and appreciate comments on what I write here. I have no formal theological training, and so expect that I will make mistakes and say things that are in error. I ask you, whoever you are, as a brother or sister in Christ, to help hold me accountable to the truth of God’s Word.
Human responsibility and divine sovereignty must be correlates in the relationship with God. This is an extension of the relationship of Father and Son within the Trinity. Christ was completely responsible for His actions and His submission to death on the cross was a totally voluntary submission.
Yet simultaneously, His heavenly Father had complete sovereign control over the situation, including Christ’s choice, so that the Father’s plan for redemption would be executed perfectly. Jesus’ choice was a completely voluntary choice end God’s control was a completely authoritative control. This is necessary, for if Jesus went to the cross by coercion or manipulation, or was somehow programmed to do so, such that His choice was not autonomous, then His death was murder; and if Jesus went to the cross without total assurance of His Fathers complete control over all things, and the knowledge that God would accomplish His plan of redemption, then Jesus’ death was a hopeful suicide.
As it is, because these two seemingly opposed principles are actually, mysteriously, correlated, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ was a propitiating sacrifice: propitiation being God’s sovereign response to Jesus’ willing self-sacrifice, and Jesus’ submission to death being His voluntary action in response to the knowledge of God’s sovereignty.
This correlation of autonomy and sovereignty exists for us who are in Christ as well as those in the world. The significant difference is that, because we are set free from sin in Christ, we have the choice to obey God or not. This freedom is given by the regeneration of our hearts and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Prior to that miraculous conversion we are completely enslaved to sin and our choices, though completely ours for which we are fully responsible, can only be sinful. In both situations, regenerate in reprobate, God is sovereignly, mysteriously, works all things such that our individual choices accord His master plan.
Ultimately, our “free will” is a subordinate free will, which exists only within the context of God’s sovereignty. So then, we are equally responsible as God is sovereign, yet the mystery is that His sovereignty is “more equal.” No human action, despite the fact that the human agent is completely responsible, occurs outside of the context of God’s authority such that God would be wondering or anticipating the results.
This must be! For every human action, from a single breath to the most historic achievement, all occurs within the context of complete dependence on God to sustain the existence of the universe.How glorious is this? You and I are free to act as we choose, yet not one of our choices, though they be opposite God’s will and therefore sin, could ever thwart God’s sovereign design for all time.