The Sovereignty of God
Unwanted Results of an Inordinate Emphasis on the Exercise of Sovereignty
An inordinate emphasis on sovereignty – especially election – can produce a sense of superiority and pride concerning exclusive representation and understanding of God’s person and purposes. The Pharisee’s mantra about being Abraham’s seed is a prime example. Their appeal concerning heritage was to the special election of God toward them as an earthly nation. They haughtily believed that they by merit of election exclusively represented God on earth. They alone were God’s people with God’s message.
Matthew 3:7–10 (KJV 1900)
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: 9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. 10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
And think not to say within yourselves (και μη δοξητε λεγειν ἐν ἑαυτοις [kai mē doxēte legein en heautois]). John touched the tender spot, their ecclesiastical pride. They felt that the “merits of the fathers,” especially of Abraham, were enough for all Israelites. At once John made clear that, reformer as he was, a breach existed between him and the religious leaders of the time. Of these stones (ἐκ των λιθων τουτων [ek tōn lithōn toutōn]). “Pointing, as he spoke to the pebbles on the beach of the Jordan” (Vincent). (Robertson, A. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Mt 3:9). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.)
As Robertson points out, John the Baptist struck them in their pride that they were the chosen of God with exclusive representation of God on earth. The Pharisees made this appeal of heritage to insinuate and accentuate their uniqueness and advantage with God. As a result, they were religiously haughty and disdained the slightest appeal by others of knowing the purposes of God apart from them. No one else was the chosen except them; and therefore, they could never be replaced as God’s only source of understanding or knowing His presence. At least they thought that way.
The haughtiness of the Pharisees was very overpowering about spiritual matters. Their pride made them unbearable, and other sects in Israel gave way to their proud spirit. An example of such spiritual haughtiness was Gamaliel’s address to the Jewish Council, and his advice to leave the way of Jesus alone. Gamaliel was speaking to many Sadducees who were prone to accept the Pharisees spiritual understanding in most things.
Josephus said that the Sadducean officials usually yielded to the recommendations of the Pharisees because the latter enjoyed the support of the masses. Gamaliel may have used this occasion as another opportunity to assert this Pharisaic ascendancy over the Sadducees. (Polhill, J. B. (1995). Vol. 26: Acts. The New American Commentary (170). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers).
The Pharisees might have to share power, but they did not have to submit since they were the exclusive voice of God. This election-spirit led to a separatist position which disallowed others. It produced a system of human rules, laws, and unwritten expectations to disallow others. They, in effect, blocked entrance or worthiness to enter God’s elite.
Matthew 23:4 (KJV 1900)
4 For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.
Matthew 23:13 (KJV 1900)
13 But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.
The application to the church is simple. Election haughtiness based on an inordinate emphasis on the sovereignty of God can lead believers to establish a series of expectations added to Salvation by those who claim to be saved.
Christian’s can become so increasingly selective about who is worthy to name the name of Christ and identify with Him that they should be glad no one put this same standard on their salvation experience.
Christ’s burden is light; man’s burden is heavy.
The burden of Christ will not include discipleship before salvation. It will not demand a human standard to demonstrate worthiness of spiritual belief. It will not make salvation a work and not a step of faith. No one wants “easy believe – ism”, but neither can we tolerate “faith-plus believe – ism”.
The burden of Christ will not produce a censor board of would-be demagogues becoming an earthly holy spirit to determine worthiness to claim the name of Christ. The mantra of these demagogues should be, “We protect God from saving the wrong people who claim salvation but don’t live it according to our censorship.”
This is quite an increase on the simple job of proclaiming the Gospel. We preach; He saves. Today, “we preach” is lost. It has been replaced by “we examine."