Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Sovereignty Excuse

Have you ever heard someone excuse a lack of action with the justification that actions don't make a difference because God is sovereign? Perhaps you've even done this yourself a time or two.

I heard a joke a while back that deals with this very issue. You may have heard it, but I'll tell it now in case you haven't.

There was a man standing on the roof of his home after a devastating flood turned his yard and street into a river. The waters continued to rise as rescuers went from house to house in boats, picking up stranded citizens and carrying them to safety. While everyone else called to the boats and got in them right away, this one Christian man sat on his roof and refused every boat that came by, telling the rescuers in confidence that he didn't need rescuing because God would provide an escape.

Eventually the waters rose too high, and the man, having denied every opportunity for help, drowned. Once in Heaven, the man asked God, "Why didn't you help me in the flood? I trusted you to save me and you never did!" In response, God asked, "What did you think all those boats were?"

As believers, we recognize the awesomeness of God's sovereignty. Every particle of dust and grain of sand is under His complete control. Nothing in the universe happens apart from God's will. This being true, it is easy to sit back, relax, and rest in the comforting knowledge that everything is progressing exactly as it should be.

Unfortunately, this comforting mindset can also produce an attitude of laziness. After all, if God's will is going to be done regardless, do our actions really matter?  

Indeed, God's plan will unfold regardless of circumstances that seem to contradict His will, because God Himself is dictating every action; but our Father never allows us to use His sovereignty as an excuse to not live up to our high calling. As ambassadors of Christ, we are charged with doing things related to our faith, not merely knowing about them. God uses us as instruments to accomplish His purpose, and that use requires action on our part. In this sense, God's will doesn't unfold "in spite of" human action; it unfolds, in many ways, because of it. We, the clay, cannot escape the Potter's hand.

Read every verse of Scripture, and you won't find a single passage where God says or implies that it's acceptable to sit back, relax and do nothing because He is in control. On the contrary, He commands us to do things, as does Paul, our apostle. Trusting in His control gives us peace of mind, security and hope, but neglecting to act in light of God's control is a mockery of the charge God has graciously granted us.

I often hear Christians cite God's sovereignty as an excuse for their lack of action in pretty surprising ways. They get diagnosed with cancer and refuse treatment because "God will cure their cancer without human medicine." They refuse to help someone in need because "God will help that person somehow if He wants them to be helped." They neglect to discuss their faith with anyone because "If God wants that person to believe, He will put it on that person's heart to believe at some point." Never mind that God instructs us to help those in need and to share our faith unashamedly.

It's ironic how easily foolishness can be disguised as faithfulness. When we witness someone refusing to look for a job because he has faith that God will miraculously provide one, we may initially stand in awe at that man's level of "faith." In reality, though, his motives are anything but faithful. They are foolish and indicative of a complete lack of faith. Paul told the Thessalonians that a man who will not work should not be allowed to eat (2 Thes. 3:10). "Working" would certainly include the effort to obtain work for someone who is unemployed.  

We are slaves to Christ, charged with obeying our Lord, and ambassadors, required to act on His behalf. An ambassador, by definition, is "an official representative of another who promotes a specific message or activity." When we neglect to act and hide behind God's sovereignty as an excuse, we do the opposite of what our ambassadorship demands. In 2 Corinthians 5:20, Paul reminds us that our duty as ambassadors of Christ is "beseeching for Christ's sake, 'Be conciliated to God!'"

In reality, people who foolishly excuse themselves from acting on their faith do so more out of fear or laziness than a belief in God's sovereignty. They are scared to approach others, so they pass the buck to God and hide behind a deceitful excuse. They would rather continue driving to their destination than take time to stop and help a stranger stranded on the road. They would rather sit at home collecting a free check from the government than work for their own money. All of these disgraceful habits are easily defended with the deceitful claim of faith in God's sovereignty.     

When Paul instructs us to carry our salvation into effect with "fear and trembling" in Philippians 2:12, he reminds us that a life devoted to following Christ is anything but easy. For, to us "it is graciously granted, for Christ's sake, not only to be believing on Him, but to be suffering for His sale also (Phil. 1:29)." As a general rule, the harder our lives are, the more we can be confident that we are living faithfully.

If you are one of the many who has neglected to act and hid behind God's sovereignty as an excuse, commit to forsaking that deceitful mindset in the future. God is, indeed, in control, and this article may be an instrument God is using to remind you of your purpose as one of His chosen ambassadors. Take comfort in God's control, but be active in your high calling as an ambassador for our Lord. Never use God's sovereignty as an excuse for a faithless lack of action.

© 2012 by Stephen Hill

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