But to all who did receive him, he gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born, not of natural descent, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God.  (John 1:12-13, CSB)

The Bible teaches two truths simultaneously: That God is sovereign over all things, and that people are responsible for all the choices they make. The relationship between these two truths is what is called an antinomy, that is, “an appearance of contradiction between conclusions which seem equally logical, reasonable or necessary.”[1] Note that the definition involves merely the appearance of contradiction, not an actual one. Whether or not we are able to explain how the two work together does not change the fact that they are in harmony with each other.

And as we see above, the Gospel of John teaches both these truths. In verse 12, John affirms human responsibility to receive Christ. However, in the next verse, he also teaches that when we do so, it is not by our own will, but by God’s. At a purely human level, we act as moral agents. But imperceptibly, the Divine Hand is at work in our decisions. As scripture elsewhere affirms, “A person’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps” and “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Prov. 16:9, 33, CSB).

The relationship between these two truths is not fully explained by John. Indeed, it is beyond human comprehension, as it is among the “secret things” of God (cf. Deut. 29:29).[2]  However, we may be assured that from the perspective of eternity, these two things do not contradict, and that in eternity, we will be able to understand how the two come together. As the famous preacher Charles Spurgeon once said:

Just as the rails of a train (track), which run parallel to each other, appear to merge in the distance, so the doctrines of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, which seem separate from each other in this life will merge in eternity. Our task is not to force their merging in this life but to keep them in balance and to live accordingly.[3]

Endnotes

[1] J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (InterVarsity Press, 1961), 18. I highly recommend this book to everyone as an excellent explanation of how sovereignty and responsibility relate to the topic of evangelism.

[2] This is not to say that there haven’t been some excellent attempts at explaining them in the past. Indeed, some of the greatest theological works have been created precisely to explain this topic, such as Freedom of the Will by Jonathan Edwards (https://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/will.html). However, all such works must be considered partial or tentative explanations, being subject to the limitations of human reason.

[3] Taken from Grace Quotes, https://gracequotes.org/topic/responsibility-human-divine_sovereignty/

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