Perseverance (2): The Roots of Perseverance

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Roots of Perseverance: The Sovereignty and Grace of God

Success as a follower of Jesus means keeping pace with the sovereignty of God.  I plan my course, but the Lord directs my steps.  I make my plans, but God’s sovereign purposes will prevail.  He is directing my course, so I don’t have to try to understand everything along the way.  These truths stated in Proverbs arise from deep theological roots in the sovereignty of God.  But what exactly does this mean?

First, the sovereignty of God is explained by His supremacy.  

Sovereignty simply refers to the right of God as King to do whatever He deems best and most appropriate for His glory.  In short, it means that God can and will do whatever He must to make Himself famous.  Psalm 113 is a great starting text for understanding our God.  Verse 5 praises a God who, “is in the heavens, and he does as he wishes.”  Ordinarily, any human being would squirm in great discomfort at a phrase like this.  Why?  

Because we are generally ruled in our governments, rule in our work, ruled at school, and in many other places throughout life by men who believe themselves to be sovereign without any regard for the One who gave them the authority they possess.  Consequently they abuse it.  Most people in authority use their sovereignty for themselves, to promote themselves, build their own wealth, pad their own retirement, elevate their own reputation.  They give credence to the saying that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

We cringe with a deepening sense of rebellion arising within our hearts when we think of one’s sovereign right to do whatever they wish.  Even though they may not actually or legally have such power, they act as if they do.  What can be more frustrating is that most of the wealthy who show no regard for the law get away with breaking it, while most of the poor who do the same are never treated as such.  

That is because human beings who have sovereignty only seem to help and protect each other and those they are close to or have interest in.  If others can do nothing for them, then they use their sovereignty to reject them, but work diligently and often illegally to help and protect those who have something to offer when it benefits them.

Second, God’s sovereignty is energized by His character.  

The Psalmist in 115 knows this full well.  Israel’s history is one bookended by the sovereignty of fallen kings within its own realms, as well as realms beyond, in the kingdoms of those that oppressed and enslaved them.  And Samuel warned them well about this when they demanded a king like all the other nations had (1 Samuel 8).  

This wandering from the sovereignty of God to the seduction of the sovereignty of man, and the consequential and painful pinch in which it constantly put Israel, is no doubt the reason why the Psalmist repeats the refrain in the song three times in verses 9-11: “O Israel, trust the Lord!  He is your helper and your shield.” 

Since it is the God of the universe, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of Israel we are talking about here, it should not make us squirm, cringe, or rebel one bit that our God has the right to do as He wishes.  Why? 

Because as the Psalmist clearly proclaims, the thing He wishes to do is to help and protect us.  Unlike the human rulers of this earth who use their derived authority to use and abuse people, God uses His to help and protect us.  He is not like the other mythological gods of folklore, nor the pagan gods of the demonic realm, using His power to fight other gods or spirits for the right to continue to exploit those under his realm.  

Our God helps us!  Our God protects us!  This is why He can be trusted! Our God is Jesus Christ who did not count equality with God as something to be held on to.  Instead, He gave it up to take on the nature of a human being so that He could suffer with us and for us, rather than making us suffer for Him, as the other gods do.  Our God became a servant, rather than making us the slaves.  Our God chose to be murdered and suffer a public, gruesome, irreverent execution for us, instead of subjecting us to the same, as other gods do.  This is our God, according to Philippians 2:5-8.  He can be trusted, because He is humble…because He loves us.

The Psalmist then moves on to verses 12-13 to proclaim that our sovereign God also, “remembers us and will bless us.  He will bless the people of Israel…He will bless those who fear the Lord, both great and lowly.”  He is no respecter of persons.  He is not partial.  He does not choose to honor only, or even mostly, the wealthy and famous.  He remembers every type of person, especially those who are poor in spirit, as Jesus taught in the opening words of the Sermon on the Mount. 

For since the world began, no ear has heard, and no eye has seen a God like you, who works for those who wait for Him” (Isa. 64:4).  “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9).  “’For I know the plans that I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope’” (Jer. 29:11).  This is why David exclaims in 1 Chronicles 17, “O Lord, there is no one like you.  We have never even heard of another God like you!” (v. 20).  

That’s because of the simple fact that there is no other God like our God!  He is the only God, and has total sovereignty to do whatever He wishes, and tells us that all He wishes to do for us is to help us, protect us, remember us, and bless us!  Surely our God can be trusted in all things, at all times, in all places, in every situation, and through every question, frustration, conundrum, and discouragement.  

Therefore, “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed…We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you…That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won't last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don't look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever” (2 Cor. 4:8, 14, 16-18).  In short, we persevere, because God is sovereign, and because He is sovereign for us, to help, protect, remember, and bless us.

Third, his sovereignty is exercised in His grace.  

The most comforting thing about the character of God which drives His sovereignty is His grace.  Because of the substitution of Jesus Christ for us on the cross and His victory for us out of the empty tomb, God treats us as if we were Jesus Christ.  He gives us all the rights, privileges, benefits, and rewards that He also gives His Son, Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ never disobeyed and never fell.  But we do.  Yet God treats us as if we had never disobeyed and as if we have never fallen!  

He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.  For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.  He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.  The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him.  For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust” (Psa. 103:10-14).

Yet because He is sovereign, and because He does what He wishes, it may feel at times as if He has abandoned His essential character of helping, protecting, remember, and blessing us.  I have very much and very deeply felt at times as if God has been against me, out to harm me, forgetting about me, and cursing me.  I recall thinking and even crying out many times when I was younger, “why is your hand against me, God?!”  You and I are in good company when the Son of God, Himself, cried out, "My God!  My God!  Why have You forsaken me?!"

However, remembering that God is sovereign means that He can do whatever He deems best for me.  And if that should include difficult circumstances, falling to sin, struggling in temptation, or financial poverty, none of that changes His essentially good character.  All of these things are allowed if not designed by God to continue to help me, remember me, bless me, and protect me.  In other words there are things my good God knows He must do to me, with me, and through me in order to bring me to know more of His goodness.  As the expression in our culture goes, “no pain, no gain.”  In Jeremiah’s day the expression went something like this, when he was my age.

"The faithful love of the LORD never ends!  His mercies never cease.  Great is his faithfulness;  his mercies begin afresh each morning.  I say to myself, "The LORD is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!"  The LORD is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him.  So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the LORD.  And it is good for people to submit at an early age to the yoke of his discipline:  Let them sit alone in silence beneath the LORD's demands.  Let them lie face down in the dust, for there may be hope at last.  Let them turn the other cheek to those who strike them and accept the insults of their enemies.  For no one is abandoned by the Lord forever.  Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion because of the greatness of his unfailing love.  For he does not enjoy hurting people or causing them sorrow” (Lam. 3:23-33)

The act of God treating us like this all the time, despite our failures and frustrations and feelings, is the very essence of grace.  The roots of God’s sovereignty consist of the giant redwood of unending grace and mercy toward us.  And it’s not a reluctant grace or mercy, the kind that some give because they feel obliged or required to, or because they want to look good in front of everybody else. No, it’s a grace and mercy that He loves to exercise toward us.  He actually wants to flood us with it.  

About the Author: Rob is a church-planter and entrepreneur in Statesboro, GA. He and his wife Sherri have been married for 18 years and together have three sons and a daughter. Rob believes the mission of the gospel is summed up in four simple phrases: know God, obey Jesus, make disciples, and plant churches. This is the pursuit of his life, as well as the point of his blog.

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