God's Sovereignty & Human Choice

God judged it better to bring good out of evil than not to permit any evil to exist.” – Augustine

God is fair (I believe that) but it does seem at times like he has not dealt us a very fair hand. Just thinking about why a guy like me would be born into such opportunity while so many other people in the world are born into very little opportunity causes problems with regard to topics like fairness, choice and how they relate to God and his nature. Who hasn’t at times in the face of pain, struggle or suffering secretly empathized with Job’s wife as well as Job during this memorable dialog in Job 2:9-10?

Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die! He (Job) replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.”

When Luke, Kenny and I decided to write concerning the question “How is God sovereign over the details of human choice?” My mind did not wander into happiness, light, rainbows and flowers it went kinda Tim Burton on me. So I decided to address this question through the lens of imputed sin. I hope to show how God is personally sovereign over the details of human choice by using Romans 5:12-19. I believe God sovereignly, personally effected our volition when he allowed us to share not only in the fall of Adam but the guilt as well.

The Text

“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come. But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:12–21)

Some Observation & Interpretation.

From this passage we can conclude that Adam’s sin touches every human in three distinct ways.

(1) We have inherited a corrupt nature. Every person is corrupt as a result of the fall or original sin.  

  • 12 “…so death spread to all men…”
  • 15 “…many died…”
  • 17 “…because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man…”

I found it interesting to read what J.N.D. Kelly wrote concerning how the greek patristic tradition discerned “original sin”. He says the following…

“(1) All humanity is understood to be involved, in some manner, in the disobedience of Adam. A strong sense of the mystical unity of all humanity with Adam can be discerned within the writings of this period. All of humanity is somehow wounded by Adams disobedience. (2) The fall of Adam is understood to affect the human moral nature. All human moral weaknesses, including, lust and greed, can be put down to Adam’s sin. (3) Adam’s sin is often represented as being transmitted, in some undefined manner, to his posterity. Gregory of Nyssa speaks of a predisposition to sin within human nature, which can be put down, at least in part, to the sin of Adam.”

(2) Adam’s guilt is corporately and personally everyman’s guilt. Adams sin guilt has been charged to humanity’s account.

  • 17 “because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man”
  • 19 “…For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners.”
  • This idea of imputation or charging the guilt of Adam to the human account is clearly seen as well in 1 Corinthians 15:21–22 “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.”

(3) We are pronounced sinners sovereignly by God. We all participate with Adam sin and guilt by nature and by choice.

  • Paul brings this out clearly again in 2 Corinthians 5:19 when he says… 2 Corinthians 5:19 (ESV) …not counting their trespasses against them…”.

From this passage we can conclude that Imputation is not simply a matter of our personal choice but God’s sovereignty & divine prerogative.

  • It becomes clear from this passage that a person cannot stop sinning by choice no more than I can commit suicide by simply choosing to stop breathing. God through divine prerogative has made us sinners. His sovereignty is clearly seen in His act of the imputing Adams nature and guilt to our account without our consent.

From this passage we can conclude that The brokenness of our fallen and guilty nature limits our ability to make choices.

  • God sovereignly choosing to impute on all of us the sin of Adam effects our ability to make healthy and right choices apart from Christ’s work on our behalf and the indwelling counsel of The Spirit. Jeremiah 17:9, Romans 3:10–12, Romans 7:18, Romans 7:23, 1 Corinthians 2:14, Ephesians 2:1, Ephesians 2:3

Conclusion & Application

How is God sovereign over the details of human choice? When we look through the lens of imputed sin we can conclude three things

(1) He is mysteriously sovereign over our nature and guilt. He has allowed Adam to be our benefactor. God has displayed his sovereignty in that He has charged without our consent the nature and guilt of Adam to our account and we are unrighteous because of this imputation and representation.

(2) He is mysteriously sovereign over our volition. He reminds us of the boundaries of our volition. If we are rendered fallen or deprave with and in Adam then we must conclude that our volition is as well. We do have volition but it is not God like volition.

A free will desires nothing of its own. It only cares for the will of God, and so it remains free, cleaving and clinging to nothing.” – Martin Luther

God's Sovereignty & Human Choice(3) God is mysteriously sovereign over our Salvation. If we are going to accept God’s perfect sovereign will to choose to save through Christ as our representative we must also accept God’s perfect sovereign prerogative and will to condemn us because Adam is our representative. They are both in a certain sense unfair in the sense that in both cases it is God who chooses the ways and means. Wayne Grudem put it very well when he said…

When we first confront the idea that we have been counted guilty because of Adam’s sin, our tendency is to protest because it seems unfair. We did not actually decide to sin, did we? Then how can we be counted guilty? Is it just for God to act this way? In response… The most persuasive answer to the objection is to point out that if we think it is unfair for us to be represented by Adam, then we should also think it is unfair for us to be represented by Christ and to have his righteousness imputed to us by God. For the procedure that God used was just the same, and that is exactly Paul’s point in Romans 5: 12– 21.

G. K. Chesterton said in chapter two of his book Orthodoxy

“Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved,”

God is in control. Perhaps more than we might be comfortable with in our anthropocentric culture. The greatest proof of his power and sovereignty is the representation of Adam as seen in our choices. Some might think this is grim or a maybe even bleak outlook concerning life they may even get hung up on how unfair it all seems but I would say it’s just the opposite. I think we bear and participate in the sin of Adam in such an uncomfortable and personal way so that we might remember that we are not God no matter how hard we try.

“But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:4–5 (ESV)

I invite you to read the other two contributions to this discussion here and here, and then jump in to the comment threads.