Recently I witnessed an online conversation that (in my words) weaponized the word, “sovereignty.” The accusers stating this word was offensive and unbiblical were arguing that to say we are sovereign is to minimize the impact of God in our lives. They said it was New Age to use the word “sovereign,” and argued that this word was reserved to describe God, especially in the Old Testament wisdom literature, Psalms and Proverbs.
I was surprised by that, because though I’m very familiar with the passages they were referring to, I have a different understanding of the word “sovereign,” and it dates to Genesis. God created Adam and Eve to have DOMINION over the earth, which required them to be sovereign over it, in the context we think of, to have dominion. We can think of it in the context of our individual freedoms, too, to have sovereignty is to have control or autonomy over your body.
Think about it this way. I’m not talking about how we relate to God; I know that’s a concern for us Christians, but we need to expand our view. Sovereignty can also apply to having the wherewithal to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that our thoughts, words, actions, and bodies are under our care. I’ll get to the connection with God in a minute. If we think about it in relation to others, we should have sovereignty. To live otherwise is to be subject to others, which can make us either a slave or a victim. Both of which are not under God’s divine order, because He calls us to be submitted to Him. Even within our families, though there is an order laid out in Ephesians 5 as well as 1 Peter 2 and elsewhere, Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 2 talk about being submitted primarily to God. Then, listen to this, as we submit to God, and maintain sovereignty, we WILLINGLY submit to others.
Why am I going into so much detail? In the Christian community, there are some hot button issues, and our relationship to God is one of them. I’m making the argument that God’s sovereignty makes way for Him to give us sovereignty. You know what I just remembered, too? We are made in HIS image. Why can we not relate to the world with sovereignty? He said in Genesis 1:28 to be fruitful and multiply and have dominion over the earth. Why? He created us for that. Not only do we relate to God as children, but we mirror His glory.
We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10)! We MUST grab on to what that means. I believe most people who claim to be Christians have a preconceived notion of what that means and are not allowing God to speak into that space and show them the fullness of what He would have created them in advance to do. We must not limit God.
If we are made in God’s image, we do have His special anointing to do what He has created us to do. He creates, and we are both benefactors and agents. We mirror His character. I was telling my daughter yesterday that our character reflects God, whether we are allowing Him to work through us, or not. Let me explain. If we have the Lord in us, and the Holy Spirit is permitted (by us) to demonstrate His power, God is glorified and allowed to work. If we limit God’s power in us, and thereby demonstrate behavior or actions inconsistent with His character, people know. Why? Because we as humanity KNOW God’s character since we have the capacity to reflect God’s glory. We all know His character because He stamped it on us in our mother’s wombs. By virtue of being God’s workmanship and created in His image, we know when we see Him at work.
How much are you letting the Lord demonstrate His power through you? What does it look like? How do we let Him do that? Oh, friends, that’s the culmination of God’s work in us in daily submission to Him. He says we are to be perfect, and we are perfect when He is perfectly reflected in us! Daily submission, daily time with Him, daily asking Him what He would have for us, those are all necessary for giving the Holy Spirit room to have His way with us and be perfected in us.
Start by submitting to Him right at this moment. Confession is good for the soul, they say! Confess all your sins you are aware of at this moment and ask Him for forgiveness and for cleansing (Psalm 51:4). Ask Him to have more sway in your life (John 3:30) and to demonstrate His mercy toward you (Lamentations 3:23) because His compassion does not fail (Lamentations 3:22). Once off your knees, brush the dust off and rejoice! Check out what Jesus says about fasting (which can signify release of burden of sin) in Matthew 6:17!
Next, stand tall and walk with authority as a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17)!
As with beginning an exercise routine, you may find yourself deliberately taking these steps over and over until they become second nature! As God has increasing Lordship in your life, you will find yourself over time doing this naturally, just like consistently running, lifting weights, playing hockey, or dribbling a basketball makes that second nature! Walking with God takes focus and skill, and over time you will see the fruit.
To me, sovereignty in the context of our humanity is using my free will to choose God repeatedly!
“Do not fear the one who tries to kill the body but can’t kill the soul.” (Matthew 10:28)
We are in a REAL battle for our existence right now. Movies are made of this, though now I believe those movies were made to PROGRAM us for this time!
Christ Himself says we are to beware the enemy of our souls, because he can kill the body but can’t kill the soul. But boy is he trying!
Humanity is fighting. All the scourges we’ve learned about over time (which – are they true? Did they organically pop up? Were they manufactured? What do you mean, “manufactured?”) are converging on humanity for such a time as this. What will we do with it? Will they be successful? Not if we have anything to say about it!
How do we not let them kill the soul? We’re trying hard to keep our bodies alive, but man, are these mongers going after our souls! How are you fortifying your soul? Have you noticed all these things? What kinds of questions do you have? How do you get them answered? What do you do when faced with the terror that just seems to come out? What’s going to happen? We have so many questions.
I wager that one of the things this enemy feeds off is our fear. Why do I say that? One instance for every day of the year, 365 times, the Bible cautions against fearing. That’s SUPER comforting to me. Makes it seem like besides physical elimination, FEAR can lead to us losing our strength, leading to the potential of losing our spirit. Jesus advises the disciples in Matthew 10:28 to ultimately fear God, who can destroy the soul and body in hell. Ultimately, we are NOT to fear man or any evil works, but to fear God. That gives us a SUPER different vantage point than I think most of us have been taking. Try this on for size – look OVER the ensuing battle TO God. I know it sounds weird but remove yourself from the fray. Look to God for strength. Reminds me of the time in Exodus when God told Moses to raise the staff and have the Israelites look at it. When they looked at the staff, they were ok. When they took their eyes off it, chaos ensued.
What does this mean for us now?
Let’s turn to our opening verse for this blog post. We are focused on the wrong thing. Many of us are so focused on the “one who can kill the body” we have sold out to temporal things and forgotten the One who holds our lives in HIS hands. We have seen in the past that God allowed the devil to torment Job. We also see that God sustained Job and restored his belongings twofold, and his family size. We have been so focused on current events I wonder how we would fare in God’s consideration of our restoration (ignoring God’s infinite mercy, if He treated us the way we treat each other). What can we take from that? Let’s have a LONG GAME approach to our lives and focus on the One who holds our souls and bodies in His hands.
If we focus on the Lord (Isaiah 26:3) and make His renown our aim (Isaiah 26:8), then we demonstrate the long game in our attitudes and actions!
In addition, we cry out to the LORD (2 Chronicles 7:14), then He WILL hear from heaven and heal our land!
Our FOCUS is what matters to the LORD. We can cry out to Him, but He wants our attention focused on HIM and not on our circumstances. He cares about us deeply, and He is ultimately super interested in ensuring that He is glorified, honored, focused on, trusted, submitted to, and humbled before! And He will in His infinite mercy restore us and grant us both eternal and temporal blessing.
So, we note in this blog post that my focus shifted from being concerned about the one who can kill our bodies but not our souls, to being fearful of the LORD, the ONE who holds our bodies and souls in His hands. Jesus makes it clear that He knows who we are regarding and where we are focusing. It is supremely important that He takes our focus!
So, what do we do about our temporal concerns? Doesn’t God care?
Matthew 6:33 and Matthew 11:28 demonstrate a compassionate and all-knowing and capable God. Focus on HIM and pour out your hearts to Him. He knows your burden; He wants you to turn to Him and cry out to Him! He loves you and is ready to uphold you with His righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10).
I spoke last week about the FREEDOM we experience through abiding in and keeping our focus on the TRUTH!
Jesus says we will know the TRUTH and the truth will set us FREE (John 8:32). That’s been my theme this month. He also says HE is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and nobody comes to the Father, except through Him (John 14:6). That has by far been one of the most contentious and misunderstood verses in the Bible! If we know Him, we experience truth, because He is truth. “WWJD” is not just a 90s cliché, but a goal we can aspire to. We can see in this verse that He is establishing His authority in saying He is truth. But what does this really mean and how do we have a level playing field in Christ?
If HE is the way, the truth, and the life, and we know the Father through Him, then knowing Him is supreme. The plumbline emanates from Jesus. We learn about true life and character through spending time with and learning from Him. He teaches love, He teaches servant leadership, He shows us how to be truly human. We see Him perform miracles, and we can realize, if we choose to, that He invites us to the same epic life (John 14:12). Life is not limited in Him. As I said last week, He gives true freedom when we worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).
Then, truth is found in seeking Christ. You are not going to necessarily need to lay down your life or die for Him, though He does talk about that a lot in the Gospels (see Luke 9:23-26, for example). You will find yourself wanting to lay down your desires, hangups, tendencies, addictions, temptations, problems, all to get closer and closer to Him. You must be willing to put Him first; after all, He says in Matthew 6:33 that if you do, everything will be added to you. EVERYTHING. You may not see somethings in the word “everything,” but as I stated last week, God acts consistent with His character, so that will not mean absolutely EVERYTHING. It will mean everything GOOD and OF HIM (James 1:17) because, in Him, everything that can be shaken, WILL be shaken (Isaiah 2:1-5 and Matthew 24:21-22). The good thing is if we are with Him, WE will not be shaken. There is freedom in the confidence we gain from that. So that’s how this connects to last week’s blog post, HERE.
So, how does that grant us a level playing field?
Friend, I’m glad you asked. All of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), so the most put-together individual out there who does everything right can be leveled out alongside the individual who screwed up or feels like a screw-up. If truth is the standard, and the truth shall set you free, you know what the rules are to the game. Everyone who knows the rules can play.
As I waded through 2020-2022, observing humanity, I noticed that for so many of us the rules were confusing, unclear. That could have been an accident, or it could have been intentional. Imagine how uneven it is if some know the rules and others don’t. I saw that repeatedly during the pandemic! A shut down situation seemed to also illuminate lots about human nature, much because when we are pressed, we show who we are on the inside. That reflects whether we have a “my truth, your truth” or “THE truth” mentality.
If we truly choose to adopt a mentality that recognizes and honors the fact that truth is truth, truth points us to God, Jesus is THE truth, and “relative truth” is a mutually exclusive concept, we start to recognize that the rules that exist apply to everyone. Very simply, that levels the playing field for us. The rules are the same no matter who you are.
If you play a sport, you recognize the value of equally applied rules. A friend was recently telling me about a playoff game that her favorite hockey team was playing. Refs seemed to be inconsistently applying the rules, calling fouls on her team when they didn’t do anything wrong, and letting the other team get away with plays that should have gotten penalties. By the second half of the game, the fans were just baffled. Nothing was predictable, and so the fans were confused and didn’t know what to expect.
I think we don’t want to believe it, but we live in a world where rules are being applied like the game refs are calling life. Some people have one way of doing things and others have another way. When we know what the rules are, the game is clear, and rules are EXPECTED to play out a certain way.
Jesus levels the field for us. In fact, those who are religious might have a higher expectation than others. But really, Jesus clears the plays and applies the rules of life to everyone. Jesus calls all to the same regard for Him, ourselves, and others. There are no exceptions. In fact, to whom much is given, much is expected (Luke 12:48), so for those of us who do find ourselves on the side of Truth, we realize the standard is very specific and narrow. It’s simple to get off track. You tell one lie, and you cannot say, for example, “I do not lie.” Such is the path of consecration and holiness.
How do you know what those are? If you can discern the rules of life, would you write 1-2 below, and how do you know they are rules of life?
I mentioned several weeks ago the verse, John 8:32. It is, again, “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free!” To begin to discuss truth to hold individuals accountable seems to be counterintuitive to be set free! So, what in the world am I smoking? How could I say that FREEDOM and ACCOUNTABILITY go together and are held together by the absolute standard we’ve been discussing?
When there is a standard of truth, it is a beacon of light and a marker for all to see. Whether they do or not reflects their own desire to see or acknowledge this impartial standard. Truth doesn’t bend to your will or find a way to make you happy. It just IS. It reflects the Almighty God Who told Moses, “I AM.” When that happens, and we acknowledge this universal plumb line, we know what we must work with. If we don’t adhere to the truth, we get off track and things start to go awry.
If we acknowledge the truth, then we know what we must work with. We know where we stand in relation to God’s truth, and if we’re honest with ourselves, we know what is necessary to adhere to the truth. I’ll talk about it being God’s truth in a bit, or in subsequent posts. When we know what we’re supposed to do, we experience the responsibility of following the truth. We are accountable because we recognize the truth. The truth sets us free because we have an awareness that our actions and behaviors have an effect, whether we want to acknowledge that or not. When we know our effects or at least our intents are pure and noble, then we have freedom knowing that our actions and behaviors will be for good of humanity and go along with God’s intentions for us.
The irony of permissiveness is that besides being potentially incredibly destructive, when we engage in destructive acts, we unknowingly erode our character, and our souls suffer. God’s love IS unconditional, but it does have limits. You can’t just do what you want. We know from Christ’s own words that He directs us back to the law and the prophets, as shared in the Old Testament. Loving God and loving others come with the stipulation that one needs to do so in a way that he or she would direct this same behavior back to oneself if acting in that manner. Would you cut yourself down? Would you cancel people? Would you harm yourself willingly? Would you maim yourself? Then why would you do it to others?
When we see actions in this way, measured against the plumb line of truth, we know that constraints produce good results, which leads to freedom.
So, maybe the distinction is in the definition of “freedom!” Maybe the issue we have in our society is in the use and definition we give our words. Maybe the conventional humanist use of the word “freedom” needs to be replaced with “permissiveness.” When we make this switch, we see that the Gospel now can come through. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is permissiveness? NO! We know the answer is “no!” So, “freedom” must not relate to our actions. We’re not FREE to act in any way we see fit. There are bounds to our actions, limited to the Ten Commandments, or Jesus’s summation of them as we see in Matthew 22:34-40, and Mark 12:28-34.
Often what we do see in secular society which is problematic is the misuse of words, which can lead to fundamental confusion and perversion of the Gospel, which, to me, is the fundamental perversion of the truth. If you can misuse words, or twist their meanings slightly, you can fundamentally change the arc of the Gospel in the minds of the people and wreak great havoc on the cause of Christ.
“Freedom” from Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary is referred to as “exemption of power or control from another,” which relates to what we might call autonomy, or personal sovereignty. It also refers to “franchise,” where an individual is exempted from a burden or duty to which others are subjected. This could be our fate had there been no God to save us from ourselves. That exemption though does not allow us to act against the character of God if the Holy Spirit is in us. We have the autonomy to choose to act in a certain way that is consistent with God’s character.
If we don’t, is Christ really in us? (1 John 4:8) TRUTH, then, demonstrates the power of God at work in us. We are free but directed by the Spirit. “It is for FREEDOM that Christ has set us free.” With God at work in us to will and to act according to His good purpose (Philippians 2:13), we act consistent with His spirit, and thus enjoy freedom knowing that we will not be subjected to that which we COULD be if we stepped outside His gracious and glorious purposes and His ways. The Holy Spirit is our guide, keeping us along the narrow way that leads to life eternal, and ultimate freedom, and as we practice letting God guide us (Psalm 119:105), we will more and more seek more of Him and desire less of our own reckless thinking and actions and more of Him (John 3:30).
As we allow Him to guide us more and more each day, we experience freedom we once never knew imaginable, because, as Noah Webster said in his 1828 dictionary definition, we experience “immunity” from what we could experience, knowing that God provides us a hedgerow to follow when we love God and love others as He teaches, to sum up the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:40, referencing the Ten Commandments).
I brought up last week the significance of truth and its importance. Seems that in our generation, truth has been trampled and replaced with relativism. That is when you hear people talk about “your truth” and “my truth.” Somewhere along the way we neglected to remember that truth is an absolute!
TRUTH (n) conformity to fact or reality, true state of facts or things, purity from falsehood. Webster’s Dictionary (1828).
There’s no subjectivity to truth. It is what it is.
When I was in seminary, I remember touching on this idea about postmodernism and relative truth. I remember marveling at how ironic and paradoxical it was to have a term like “relative truth!” The two words are mutually exclusive. Relativism means there’s no objective standard by which to measure something, you just compare something to something else. The moment you change what you compare it to, the whole measurement changes. It’s impossible to have something called “relative truth.”
However, what happened next astounded me.
I began to see posts on social media and stories shared by others which told me that beauty was in the eye of the beholder, the standard known as truth was eroding. Once you lose your solid foundation, and anything goes, things start a steady slide downhill. And look where we are now! Anything goes. Standards are held for some, but not for others. In other words, “some are more equal than others” (Animal Farm). Can you look around and see that? Are there areas in your life where you can see that? Where are they? What tells you that there is a double standard?
Any time there is a double standard, there’s probably a problem with truth. These topics are going to bleed into each other. When there’s a double standard, there’s confusion on what we’re working with. We think things are one way, to find that they’re the other way. That shifty footing is tough! What is acceptable? What is right? What’s your standard? What’s mine? What happens when we interact, and our standards are different? What happens when we interact, and our understanding of reality is different?
We see that danger play out in our society! We’ve seen people get canceled, we’ve seen families and marriages break up, we’ve seen friendships end, all because one “truth” is right for one individual, and another “truth” is right for another.
You know what verse I just thought of, though?
“In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Judges 21:25
This phrase occurs twice in the Book of Judges in the Old Testament. In these days, the Israelites had made it under Moses’s and then Joshua’s leadership. They had had several judges in place over them, and several times in this recorded history there is “no king in Israel.” What could kings be good for? Issuing edicts, ensuring laws are administered equally. However, there was NO king, and everyone had their own standard. Their own truth if you will. And things were dicey. In Judges 21:25, the VERY next verse is the first verse of the book of Ruth, in which we see that there was a famine in the land. If we took away endings of books, the famine would follow everyone doing what was right in their own eyes. It's unclear without a little study how close these timeframes are to each other. However, poetically, it’s interesting how the result of “everyone doing right in his own eyes” is famine and exile! We also see in Ruth 1 that Elimelech and his family are exiled out of Bethlehem (the future place of Christ’s birth) to Moab, the location of horrific practices, the antithesis of Christ and everything He is about. See Ruth 1:2 for reference!
So, now we can see how relativism really undoes the fabric of a society. That’s where we go next. If we have no plumb line, anything goes. When we have devolved to a society that doesn’t notice the effects on others, it’s easy to have tunnel vision and miss the larger effects of relativism.
However, as we see from Scripture, we can infer that “everyone doing right in his (or her) own eyes” leads to demise and unraveling of a society at large. So, relativism, or the absence of truth, contributes to the demise of large swaths of people. This demise contributes to catastrophic loss of life and damage.
We NEED a plumb line! We NEED truth. We need a standard. We need good versus bad, right versus wrong, left versus right, up versus down. You can’t leave them to be inverted. I’m thinking of another Bible verse; Isaiah 5:20, “They say that what is right is wrong and what is wrong is right; that black is white and white is black; bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.” Sometime we’ll talk about sources, worldview, and the other inputs that lead to defining morality and truth, so we have a standard. I just did a quick search and the article that stood out to me said, “why right and wrong don’t exist.” Funnily, I see those absolute arguments against relativism all the time!!! Isn’t that hysterical? “There’s absolutely no such thing as ‘right’ and ‘wrong!’”