By Joseph Diop
Copyright © 2015 by Joseph Diop
Who’s running the show, really — the show we call life? Is the sovereign God like a benevolent dictator? Does He move men around the board of life like pawns? Or, does man’s free will determine his destiny? Who would win in an arm wrestling contest? Silly question, huh. But, the answers to these questions occupy two whole formal schools of thought in the religious world. I am going to try to make it simple.
This is a commentary on the second of man’s two biggest problems, the first being human nature. I deal with that in my previous blog, “The Man in the Mirror: Spiritual Anthropology for Dummies.” Actually, this may not be a problem at all, depending on how you look at it. If you don’t mind being used by God, then this is just an overview of the human condition. This article postulates that we are not anything, until God makes something of us, for better or worse. And oddly enough, this awareness brings us to the doorstep of a perfect faith.
The Bible tells us that man is nothing more than a lump of clay in God’s almighty hands. At best, human nature is nothing in and of itself. It is weak, vain, helpless, blind, and completely powerless. Jesus said,
The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38). And,
“I can of mine own self do nothing” (John 5:30).
Those are not the words of a mighty Messiah displaying false modesty. Contrary to all our assumptions, Jesus is not just humbly underplaying his abilities. Jesus never said one untrue word in His whole life. For, he is the truth personified (Jn 14:6). No! Jesus is simply accurately reflecting the limitations of the human condition. And, Jesus was a full-fledged human being. The apostle Paul used slightly different words, adding up to the same thing. He said, “If a man thinks himself to be something, when HE IS NOTHING, he deceives himself” (Galatians 6:3). Whether it’s Paul saying it, or the Lord Jesus Christ himself, man is in fact an impotent ‘nothing,’ at best.
At worst, human nature is utterly evil, completely lawless, chronically rebellious, and absolutely delusional.
When Jesus walked the earth, the Bible says that He knew man’s evil, fickle, unstable, and unreliable nature. He knew not to trust in man, nor partner with him. The scripture says,
Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man. John 2:23-25
Paul takes the time to actually outline and itemize just how totally depraved human nature actually is. Listen carefully.
What then? Are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved… that they are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understands, there is none that seeks after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that does good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulcher; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes. Now we know that… every mouth [will] be stopped, and all the world [will] become guilty before God. Romans 3:9-19 (brackets mine)
If we believed and accepted what these verses say, then we would know that human nature is utterly hopeless, and we would completely give up on it. That includes every program of self-improvement. We would end all personal resolutions for betterment. That’s exactly what we should do. That’s precisely what the doctrine of the cross demands. Then, we would cast ourselves completely on the grace of God that is in Christ Jesus, and entrust ourselves entirely to the operation of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, we would give much slack to others and their faults.
Ultimately and truly, a man can make nothing more and nothing other of himself than what God Himself chooses to make of him. That’s precisely what the scripture declares when it says,
And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls, it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.” Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens. You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory.
That should settle it. Esau had no choice but to be Esau, the profane (Heb 12:16). Jacob had no choice but to be Jacob, God’s elect. Moses had no choice but to be Moses — the blessed and revered prophet of God. And, Pharaoh had no choice but to be Pharaoh — an example of God’s indignation and judgment. But human nature just can’t stand to hear those words. That’s because, man in his pride, stubbornness, and delusion simply refuses to believe that his fate is not in his own hands. Against all truth, man insists on believing that he is in complete control of his own life. “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul,” declares the famous poem, Invictus.
Years ago, there was a famous song sung by the renowned Frank Sinatra, called “My Way.” That song expressed the typical thoughts of fallen man. Since then, there have been 10,000 others echoing the exact same sentiments. Sinatra used these words,
I planned each charted course
Each careful step along the way
And more, much more than this
I did it my way
For what is a man, what has he got
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way
Let the record show that man does have free will. However, man is answerable to God for every choice that he makes and every deed that he does. But, man himself does not and cannot decide what he becomes. Ultimately, man’s freedom of choice only extends to whether he decides to say ‘Yes’ to God, or whether to say ‘No’ to God. Repentance means that man retracts his default choice of answering God with ‘No,’ and surrenders to flip the switch of his heart to the ‘Yes’ position. Those are the only two things man can really choose — the only choice substantially and eternally that matters.
Man chooses his master. He selects God, if he answers ‘Yes.’ But, he’s stuck with Satan for a master, if he tells God “No.” So, man can pick his master, but God alone determines his destiny. It’s the heart and hands of the great Potter that decide what manner of vessel a man turns out to be — one of the best, or one of the worst. In and out of himself, man is a big nothing. The word says,
And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and [God] doeth according to His will… among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou? Dan 4:35.
And, in Isaiah 40:22-23 NIV, it says:
He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers… He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
Yet, man has the potential — yes rather, the very design specification — to become a living, custom-fit garment for God Almighty (Gen 1:26-27). For example, the word says, simultaneously:
Know that the Lord hath set apart him that is godly for himself… Psalm 4:3
“And the Spirit of the LORD clothed himself in Gideon…” Likewise, the scripture also says, “And the Spirit of the LORD clothed himself in Zechariah… (Judges 6:34; 2Chron 24:20, Jubilee Bible 2000).
At the same time, the word equally declares:
The Lord hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil. Proverbs 16:4
Man always objects to the idea that God is in complete control of his life. “That’s so unfair,” man always retorts. “We don’t have any real choice as to what we become, yet we get judged for what we do.” Well, let me be the one to break it to you, Grasshopper. That’s just how God’s world works. Man universally and naturally starts out being evil; therefore, judgment is an absolutely essential element of life. Otherwise, the most evil people would prey upon other people until they were all consumed. And, a man’s works (and that includes the exercise of his free will) are the basis of his judgment. As the word says,
But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? I speak as a man. God forbid: for then how shall God judge the world? Romans 3:5-6
God is God — sovereign, eternal, and almighty. Man is man — weak, frail, and finite. And, the final disposition of a man’s life is God’s private province and sole discretion. Protest though he may, man DOES NOT get a vote on how the system works. It is what it is. What else can I tell you? We have no choice in the matter, but to take it and work it as is. All man can do is be advised, fear God, deal with it, and govern himself accordingly. As a friend of mine used to say, “It’s hard, but it’s fair.”
You may be objecting at this point, “Hey, we’re not automatons. And, God does not deal with us as robots, but as his children.”
Let me be even clearer. In John 15:16 Jesus said,
Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit…
Do you believe the Lord when he said “Ye have NOT CHOSEN ME”? He never lies. He can only tell the truth, because He is the truth (Jn 14:6). He could never have looked ahead in history and seen anyone choose Him, for again the word says:
There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understands, there is none that seeks after God… There is none that does good, no not one… There is no fear of God before their eyes. Romans 3:10-12,18
That’s human nature. And, you and I, and all others are human beings. So, even what APPEARS to be a wise choice on our part is actually not our own decision. God is the one who made the choice that we would be his. So, He put into our hearts by his Spirit the deciding influence to make the right decision. That’s called G-R-A-C-E (the grace of God).
Does this make us robots? No, because robots are not human beings; they are not sentient, self-aware, essentially-intelligent beings. They can’t manage the simplest task, unless you pre-program them first. But nevertheless, we are subject to the programming of the Most High. In lieu of the digital programming of robots, God feeds us His will by his Spirit, directly into our spirits. And so, we feel a liberty in our decision making, as was noted: “not as robots, but AS HIS CHILDREN.” As the word also says,
“And where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Corinthians 3:17). In other words, where the Spirit of God is, there is a wonderful sense of freedom.
And, different from robots, we can be eternally thankful to be programmed the way we are. And unlike robots, we can respond to our Programmer with true love, honor, thanks, praise, and worship. And, those are the joys of the heavenly Father and his children.
Or, as the word describes this living and advance programming it in another place,
According as he hath chosen us in him BEFORE the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having PREDESTINATED us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of HIS WILL, To the praise of the glory of his GRACE, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.
You see, God leaves absolutely nothing to chance. God simply has to intervene on our behalf ahead of our human nature and divinely incline us to respond positively to Himself. Left to our own devices, we would ALL be on our merry way to hell. But instead, our names were written in the Lamb’s book of life BEFORE the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8; 17:8), and our works were also predetermined by Him (Eph 2:10).
So then, Mr. Bigshot, what does this now tell you? It tells you that although you have thought that you were a “self-made man,” in reality, there is no such thing. Whatever you think that you have made of yourself, God owns the patent and the process. He supplies the material, He sets the mold, He gives the design specifications, and He presses out the final product. It is He alone who makes men into whatever it pleases him in His divine purpose to make them. And, whatever the product quality, ultimately He gets the praise, or else He boldly declares, as President Harry Truman did, “The buck stops here.”
The Spirit of Grace is God’s pre-programming that causes us to make right, godly choices and do godly things. At the root of the matter, grace is really a spirit from God. It is the spirit of infused desire and power to do God’s will.
“For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” Philippians 2:13
Theologians call that, “Prevenient Grace.”
And so, where does that leave us? It leaves us with an overwhelming impulse to offer a thousand thousand thanks to God for our personal salvation. It leaves us with the incredible sense that we are co-winners of the great, cosmic lottery. The grand prize is eternal life for our sin-sick souls. And, it impels us to lift up unceasing Hallelujahs in acknowledgement of God’s amazing grace.
Now then, this brings us to the very threshold of a mighty and vibrant faith. Understanding that man is nothing, we now can see more clearly than ever that God is indeed everything. God is really God — the supreme being, the Almighty, the omnipotent, the omnipresent, and the omniscient One running the show. The old theologians used to call Him “the Unmoved Mover.” Unlike Dorothy and company discovered when they got to the emerald city of Oz, God is really the One behind all the scenes and curtains of life — commanding, controlling, orchestrating, resolving, and directing all things for His glory and for our good (Romans 8:28). God is pulling all the strings, throwing all the levers, and pushing all the buttons, in accordance with His own good will and purpose. And this is the key, the code-breaker, the cipher, and the “Rosetta Stone” to all prophetic mystery. Understanding this solves all the enigmas, conundrums, paradoxes, and riddles of the prophetic scriptures, including the book of Revelation. But, that’s another subject for another time.
So, what I am saying to you is simply this, “Your God reigns!” (Isa 52:7). ‘Reign’ is defined as: “to exercise royal authority, dominion, or sway over.” In other words, to reign is to have CONTROL. To say then “Your God reigns” is to say, “God is in control.” Yes, we now know that He controls everything, even the fate of all men and all the events of history too. As He boldly proclaims in Isaiah 45:7,
“I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I, the Lord, do all these things.”
And, in Deuteronomy 32:39 He boasts,
“See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no god besides Me. I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal; neither is there any that can deliver out of My hand.”
God is sovereign over the universe. He rules supreme and absolute over the world and over everyone and everything in it, with no apologies. He is indeed the One and only One on the throne. In the original Greek language of the New Testament, the simple English meaning of the word for throne is “seat.” This provides us with the perfect acronym for thinking about the sovereign reign of our God. God sits on the highest seat; S—E—A—T. God is in “Supreme, Everlasting, Absolute, and Total” control.
With a much more complete view of God’s immediate and complete control over everything and everyone, it is much easier to believe that, “With God all things are possible” (Matt 19:26). Now, I myself do not claim to have absolutely perfect faith, but I do at least know that I am on the right track. With my trusty GPS, the spirit of understanding, I do know that this persuasion is the site from which all perfect faith must be launched. Having said this, let me give the final words to a man with much clearer vision and much more perfect faith than myself, Apostle Paul.
Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on… toward the goal for the prize… Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this [in] mind. Philippians 3:12-15 NKJV
Now, think about that.
Contemplating a God who has your whole life and destiny in His hands can be a scary thought. Well, it’s meant to be. Allow me to let the wisest man who ever lived, King Solomon, paint the picture for you.
13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil. Ecclesiastes 12:13-14
So, the fear of God is a good thing. It can and will save your soul for eternity, if you let it. God commands our fear, and promises life to those who obey Him. Jesus therefore said, “Repent… and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). The prophet Isaiah said, “If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it” (Isaiah 1:19-20). So, what more can we say? Your decision here is of eternal consequence. So, if you are willing to comply, and are ready to invite the Lord Jesus Christ to be your personal Lord and Savior, then please pray the following prayer.
Lord Jesus, I need you. Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. I open my heart and life now and receive you as Savior and Lord. Come in and take control of my life. Give me your Holy Spirit. Come and make me the kind of person you want me to be. Amen.
Did you pray that prayer? Then, on the solid-rock foundation of simple child-like faith, I now pronounce you a born-again believer in Jesus Christ. Mark this date on your calendar. It’s the first day of your eternal life. Congratulations! And welcome to the family.
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If you are already a Christian, but are in need of repentance and rededication, then pray this prayer,
Lord Jesus, please forgive me not serving you the way that I should. I open up my heart now, and give you full access and control. Have your way, Lord. Cleanse me from all my sin and idolatry. Fill me with your Holy Spirit again. Renew me, Lord. Make me the kind of person and servant I ought to be. Amen.
For 24-hour prayer and for help finding a church, call 1-888-731-1000