CHARACTERISTICS OF GOD’S DECREE
The decree is a single plan encompassing all
things. Nothing is outside the scope of God’s sovereign rule. Ephesians
1:11 emphasizes “all things” are brought to pass by His decree. Because
everything is encompassed in God’s sovereign plan it is sometimes spoken of in
the singular—it is one decree.
The decree covering all things was formed in
eternity past but is manifested in time. The believer was chosen by God
in eternity past (Eph. 1:4; the phrase “before the foundation of the world” =
“from all eternity” ). The believer’s salvation and calling is once more
related to God’s determination from eternity past (2 Tim. 1:9). In this passage
it is emphasized that it is according to “His own purpose.” Purpose (Gk. prothesin) emphasizes the resolve or
decision of God in His calling and saving the believer. The decision for Christ
to take on humanity and shed His blood for humanity was also made “before the
foundation of the world” (1 Pet. 1:20).
The decree is a wise plan because God Who is
wise has planned what is best. In Romans 9–11 Paul discusses the
sovereignty of God and His election of Israel and concludes this “difficult to
comprehend” section with a doxology extolling the wisdom of God in His
sovereign acts (Rom. 11:33–36). God’s wisdom and knowledge cannot be
comprehended, and His decisions cannot be tracked as footprints in the sand.
God has consulted no one and no one has advised Him. But because God knows all
things He controls and guides all events for His glory and for our good (cf.
Ps. 104:24; Prov. 3:19).
The decree is according to God’s sovereign
will—He does as He pleases.God does not adjust His plan according to
the events of human history; instead, His decree governs human history. Daniel
4:35 is all encompassing: God “does according to His will” in the angelic realm
as well as with the inhabitants of earth. In the context of the book of Daniel
God determines the course of human history and the rulers of the kingdoms of
earth (Dan. 2:21, 31–45). God has established His decrees in freedom and in
independence of everything and everyone else.
The decree has two aspects.(1) The
directive will of God. There are some things in which God is the author; He
actively brings about the events. He creates (Isa. 45:18); He controls the
universe (Dan. 4:35); He establishes kings and governments (Dan. 2:21); He
elects people to be saved (Eph. 1:4).
(2) The permissive will of God. Even though God
has determined all things, He may actively bring them about Himself, or He may
bring them about through secondary causes. Sinful acts, for example, do not
frustrate the plan of God, but neither is God the author of them. They are
within the scope of God’s decree and are part of His eternal plan and purpose,
but man is nonetheless responsible for sinful acts. Hence, “a distinction must
be made between the decree and its execution.” All acts—including sinful
acts—conform to the eternal plan of God, but He is not directly the author of
all acts. For example, when the people of Israel demanded a king to rule over
them, they sinned against the Lord (1 Sam. 8:5–9, 19–22). But the Lord had
foreordained that kings would come from Abraham’s lineage (Gen. 17:6; 35:11),
culminating in Messiah. The people sinned, but God’s plan was being executed.
The purpose of the decree is the glory of
God.The creation of the world is designed to reveal God’s glory (Ps.
19:1). The vastness of the heavens and the beauty of the flora and fauna of
earth reflect the glory of God. God’s sovereign act whereby He predestined
believers to salvation (Eph. 1:4–5) is “to the praise of the glory of His
grace” (Eph. 1:6, 11–12). God is glorified in the display of His unconditional
grace (cf. Rom. 9:23; Rev. 4:11).
Although all things are encompassed in the
decree, man is responsible for sinful actions. This is known as an
antinomy and is important in understanding the concept that although God is
sovereign and has decreed all things, nonetheless man is responsible for sinful
acts. Antinomy comes from the Greek word anti, meaning “against,” and nomos, meaning “law,” hence, an antinomy is something that
is contrary to law or contrary to human understanding. An antinomy, of course,
is such only in the mind of man; with God there is no antinomy.
In Acts 2:23 Peter explained that Jesus died
because of the “predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God.” “Plan” (Gk. boule) stresses the predetermined will
or decision of God. Foreknowledge is a rough equivalent and suggests not merely
previous knowledge but action. Hence, Christ died because of the decision of
God in eternity; nevertheless, Peter held the people responsible for killing
Christ saying, “you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him
to death.” Although Christ’s death was a result of the decree and plan of God, wicked
men were responsible for His death.
Similarly, in Habakkuk 1:6 God explained to the
prophet that He was raising up the Chaldeans to chastise His disobedient people
in Judah. But when the Chaldeans concluded their work, God would hold them
responsible (Hab. 1:11). Although God has decreed all things, man is
responsible for his sins.
Some aspects of the decree are carried out
by people.This distinguishes the decree of God from fatalism. The
decree cannot be fatalism because the decree also involves the means, not only
the end. For example, the decree of God involves electing certain ones to
salvation, yet no one is saved apart from evangelism. On the one hand, the
decree says the believer is chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world
(Eph. 1:4), yet someone must present the gospel to the person to enable him to
believe and be saved (Acts 16:31). In the matter of salvation, God uses people
in evangelism to carry out His decree.
MANIFESTATION OF THE DECREE
In the material realm. The creation
of the world and universe in all its aspects comes under the divine decree of
God (Ps. 33:6–11). Verse 6 emphasizes that heaven and earth were both created
by the decree of God and He governs them from generation to generation (v. 11).
Moreover, God has also appointed the nations and their boundaries (Deut. 32:8;
Acts 17:26). The length of human life has also been decreed (Job 14:5), as well
as the manner of our departure (John 21:19; 2 Tim. 4:6–8).
In the social realm.God has decreed
the family (Gen. 2:18) and ordained that marriage be indissoluble (Matt.
19:1–9); the decree of marriage also involved children (Gen. 1:28; 9:1, 7). God
also established government (Rom. 13:1–7); moreover, He is the One who
establishes and removes kings (Dan. 2:21; 4:35). God sovereignly chose Israel
and established her as a nation (Gen. 12:1–3; Ex. 19:5–6). Despite Israel’s
failure God has decreed her future restoration under Messiah (Joel 3:1–21;
Zech. 14:1–11), and all nations will come under Messiah’s rule (Psalm 2; Zech.
14:12–21). Although the church was decreed from eternity, it was not revealed
until the New Testament that God would unite Jew and Gentile into one in the
Body of Christ (Eph. 2:15; 3:1–13).
In the spiritual realm. (1) The
order of the decrees. Debate has gone on for centuries in attempting to relate
the sovereignty of God and man’s freedom of choice in salvation. This
difference is reflected in how different people have viewed the order of the
decrees. The accompanying chart reflects the range of belief concerning
election, the Fall, and the application of grace for eternal life.
(2) Sin and the decrees. Additional issues related
to sin may be summarized as follows. God may permit men to manifest evil (Rom.
God is never, however, the author of evil, nor does He solicit people to sin
(James 1:13). God may directly prevent evil (2 Thess. 2:7). God may direct evil
acts of men to accomplish His purpose (Acts 4:27–28). God does not make men
sin, yet all things are within the scope of God’s sovereign plan. God
determines the boundary of evil and overrules evil (Job 1:6–12). God limited
Satan in testing Job.
(3) Salvation and the decrees. God chose and
predestined believers to salvation from before the foundation of the world
(Eph. 1:4–5; 2 Tim. 1:9). He chose Jews and Gentiles united as one body in Christ
(Eph. 3:11). God chose believers for individual blessing (Rom. 8:28).
Objection: The decree does not allow for
man’s free will.The decree allows for man’s responsible action, and
man is held responsible for sinful choices. The concept of God’s sovereignty
and man’s responsibility is an antinomy but is such only in the mind of man.
With God there is no inconsistency in this; moreover, the biblical writers do
not view it as an inconsistency (cf. Acts 2:23—Peter saw no contradiction in
this). It should also be noted that God does not bring about all aspects of His
decree through His directive will but rather through secondary causes, hence,
sinful man acts according to his sinful nature. Man acts in harmony with his
nature, and all these acts are within the scope of God’s decree and man is held
responsible for them. Additionally, there is a difference between an unbeliever
and a believer. An unbeliever is compelled by his sinful nature to make
decisions on the basis of his fallen nature; he is incapable of making
righteous choices. The believer has greater latitude in making decisions
because he is capable of making righteous choices.
Objection: The decree makes it unnecessary
to preach the gospel.The objection relates once more to the antinomy
in the mind of man. Paul taught that God had predestined people to salvation
(Eph. 1:5–11) and taught the doctrine of election (Rom. 1:1; 8:30; 9:11), but
with equal fervency Paul taught the necessity of preaching the gospel in order
that people might be saved (Acts 16:31; Rom. 10:14–15; 1 Cor. 9:16). People are
lost not because it has not been decreed for them to be saved but because they
have refused to believe the gospel.
The decrees of God have very practical
ramifications. (1) We should stand in awe of a great God who is wise, powerful,
and loving. (2) We can entrust our entire lives to an Almighty God. (3) We
should rejoice in the wonder of our salvation—that we were the choice of God in
eternity past. (4) We should rest in peace as we observe the tumultuous world
events, knowing that God is sovereignly controlling all things (this does not
imply indifference). (5) God holds people responsible for sin. Although sin
does not frustrate the plan of God, neither is He the author of it. (6) This
teaching militates against the pride of man. Man, in his pride, desires to run
his own life; the recognition that God is sovereign is humbling.