John MacArthur – What Is the Relationship Between Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility?

The relationship between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility is not instantly obvious, and at first glance it seems paradoxical. But Scripture offers us considerable insight into how these twin truths harmonize within the plan of redemption.

The first step in understanding the compatibility between God’s sovereignty and human will is to recognize that they are not mutually exclusive, and Scripture makes this absolutely clear. In God’s design, human responsibility is clearly not eliminated by God’s sovereign control over His creation. That’s true even though evil was included in His grand design for the universe even before the beginning of time, and He uses His creatures’ sin for purposes that are always (and only) good. Indeed, in His infinite wisdom, He is able to use all things for good (Rom. 8:28).

Consider the Lord’s opening statement in Isaiah 10:5: “Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger.” At first glance, this makes no sense. If Assyria is functioning as an instrument of God’s judgment, why is He pronouncing condemnation on the Assyrians? “Woe” is an onomatopoeic word (meaning the word sounds like what it means; in this case, a cry of agony) that warns of calamity or massive judgment to come. But how can a people come under divine denunciation and judgment while at the same time functioning as a rod of God’s anger? The rest of the verse says, “the staff in whose hand is My indignation.” Assyria, this pagan, godless, idolatrous nation, is the instrument of divine judgment against God’s own rebellious people.

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