God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Responsibility

The natural mind is not able to give due place to both sovereignty and responsibility, and hence all theological systems fail on one side or the other. But it is clear that Scripture maintains both, and the “spiritual mind” (Rom 8:6) is always in accord with Scripture.

God carries out His purposes in the sovereignty of His mercy and love; if He did not do so, they would most certainly fail completely, man being what he is. But the work of God is a moral one, and he addresses Himself to the conscience and heart of His poor fallen creature, and deals with him in a thousand ways which recognize his responsibility and awaken a sense of it in his soul.

The fear of God might almost be defined as the recognition of responsibility on man’s part; yet it is undoubtedly brought about by a sovereign act of God in new birth. The Father works sovereignly along lines which always recognize and maintain responsibility. The principle runs all throughout the history of the saints also. God is working out in them His purpose, which will culminate in there being conformed to the image of His Son in glory.

But in view of purpose He works along moral lines, and on this line the obedience of faith comes in, self-judgment, watchfulness and prayer, purpose of heart to cleave to the Lord, faith in Christ Jesus and love to the saints, Christ as Object and Teacher, meekness and lowliness as learned of Him. Sowing to the Spirit and “walking in the Spirit” (Gal 5:16, 25) come in here also, and all this and everything connected with the moral exercises of believers cannot be dissociated from the thought of responsibility (God eventually makes everyone reborn to be a responsible child – Phil 2:13—NC).

Thus the moral or responsible line and purpose line are very intimately blended in Christianity and both will ultimately coalesce, when believers are seen not only as the fruit of God’s purpose, but also as the subjects of His work and ways. We only reach the land, the sphere of His purpose, through the wilderness and through the innumerable exercises to which our responsible history gives occasion. At the end of the wilderness it can be said of the saints: ‘What hath God wrought’ (Num 23:23)! They are brought into moral suitability for introduction into the Land.

We cannot mentally reconcile sovereignty and responsibility, but we can spiritually, as seeing that the maintenance of both is essential. The Spirit alone can maintain the right balance of the two in our thoughts and I am sure, as we go on, we learn to attach the true value to each, neither letting ourselves off easily by enfeebling the thought of responsibility, nor stopping short of that depth of holy self-judgement that casts us altogether upon the sovereign mercy and love of our Father.

- C A Coats

Excerpt from MJS devotional for Dec. 19:

The law will not touch us if we do not touch it.

“We were born in the first Adam. He was responsible before God to stand in righteousness. He failed. We were responsible in him and we failed. We sinned in Adam (Rom. 5:12, 19). What did God do about it? He gathered us up into the Last Adam, and we died in Him. God allowed His holy law to condemn us utterly and the law, seeking to slay us, found us in Christ on the Cross and set upon us and slew us.” -W.R.N.