If we believe that God is entirely sovereign, then we must also believe that He is entirely capable of doing the work that He has set out to do on His own. The local church has nothing to offer. Families have nothing to offer. As individuals, we have nothing to offer. People were created in God’s image by God’s design. God has chosen to, over and over again, reestablish His image within and upon His people.
Part of the purpose that God has given us as people is to multiply and fill the earth, perpetuating the image of God and worship to God upon within creation. In our context, we remember that this translates specifically to the act of evangelism: the act of verbally inviting others to submit to the authority of Christ and have God’s image in them restored by Christ. There is an important question present as we think deeply together: If God is sovereign, why does He need me to accomplish His purpose? Why does God need us to practice evangelism? Why does God need us to cultivate His creation?
Genesis 18:16-33 HCSB
The men got up from there and looked out over Sodom, and Abraham was walking with them to see them off. Then the Lord said, “Should I hide what I am about to do from Abraham? Abraham is to become a great and powerful nation, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him so that he will command his children and his house after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just. This is how the Lord will fulfill to Abraham what He promised him.” Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is immense, and their sin is extremely serious. I will go down to see if what they have done justifies the cry that has come up to Me. If not, I will find out.”
The men turned from there and went toward Sodom while Abraham remained standing before the Lord. Abraham stepped forward and said, “Will You really sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are 50 righteous people in the city? Will You really sweep it away instead of sparing the place for the sake of the 50 righteous people who are in it? You could not possibly do such a thing: to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. You could not possibly do that! Won’t the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”
The Lord said, “If I find 50 righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”
Then Abraham answered, “Since I have ventured to speak to the Lord — even though I am dust and ashes — suppose the 50 righteous lack five. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?”
He replied, “I will not destroy it if I find 45 there.”
Then he spoke to Him again, “Suppose 40 are found there?”
He answered, “I will not do it on account of 40.”
Then he said, “Let the Lord not be angry, and I will speak further. Suppose 30 are found there?”
He answered, “I will not do it if I find 30 there.”
Then he said, “Since I have ventured to speak to the Lord, suppose 20 are found there?”
He replied, “I will not destroy it on account of 20.”
Then he said, “Let the Lord not be angry, and I will speak one more time. Suppose 10 are found there?”
He answered, “I will not destroy it on account of 10.” When the Lord had finished speaking with Abraham, He departed, and Abraham returned to his place.
God is sovereign
As we dive into this text together, I want to draw our attention to one important truth from the very start that will carry us through all of Scripture and all of life: God does not depend on people. In verses 16-19, we get a glimpse of God’s own inward thought and His deliberation. God, from His own just nature, was going to eradicate the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of their wickedness. Yet God chose to reveal what He would do to Abraham because He had chosen Abraham for Himself.
In this text, God has observed the cities and found there to be no hope for them. While there are some places in the text of Scripture where God declares contingencies (If the nation of Israel were to obey God things might have been different for them by God’s own design), this is not one of those times. God has made His decision. He is sovereign. There is nothing Abraham can do to change that plan because God does not depend on people.
I want to work this out just a little bit more for us. If God does not depend on people, then it must be true that He does not depend on human religion. There are a couple things that seem clear to me as we look through the annals of history. First, Baptist ideology was established not long after the Protestant reformation and is descended from the Puritans of that time. Second, the protestant reformation took place only 500 years ago. Third, Christianity as a religion stretches back to Christ, who walked on the earth only about 2000 years ago. Fourth, Judaism, as a religion, was founded at the time of Moses who lived only about 3,500 years ago. Fifth, Scripture gives us at least 6,000 years of history. For almost half of the time humanity has existed on the earth, God had not selected for Himself a religious people. He did, though, still choose for Himself a people. God does not depend on Human religion. The local church is God’s plan for today and God has a purpose for the local church (Hebrews 12:12-31), but God does not depend on human religion to any degree. Instead, the church depends completely and entirely on God.
If God does not depend on people, then He does not depend on organizational church structure to accomplish His work. As the church today, we seem to place so much emphasis on having the right programs, having the right music, and having the right preacher. Our mentality is that if we build it, they will come! God does not depend on us. God’s work is greater than and more important than any organization. God is reaching people for Himself, and not for the organizational church. Here, I have to make a very important clarification. As an organized local body of believers, there are some practical things we can do to prepare for the work that God has for us. We can place personnel in the right position. We can develop outreach and evangelism strategies. We can train our servants. We can use our facilities in a way that helps facilitate better ministry on our end. Let me be clear about this, though. God does not depend on us for the work of the Gospel. The work of the Gospel will be done with or without us. I want to be prepared organizationally for God to work through us. If we are not prepared, though, God will still accomplish His work without Eastside Baptist Church. This being said, our church has two great opportunities before us, two ways that we can prepare to facilitate the work that God will do. The first is provide an area to better facilitate our growing children’s ministry. Remaining where they are, there are too many ways that the children can escape, hide, and in general just be distracted from the Gospel. Moving them will help to facilitate their growth and the impact that God will have through that ministry. Second, we have a young man who has been called by God and desires to volunteer his time to direct the youth ministry. Having someone who can dedicate his attention to that ministry will be invaluable for us as a church and help us to better take part in God’s work for this community. Again, God does not depend on our organization; but we can be prepared organizationally for the work that God might do through us. Thus, the organization of the local church is not about numbers, it is not specifically about us meeting needs that we perceive, but, instead, about our being prepared for what God might do in us and through us. The more God opens doors, the more we will get to take part in His work. The more we make it our work, the more doors God will close to us concerning the purpose of His Gospel.
If God does not depend on people, then we are not saved by our works, our rituals, our ordinances, our rules, or our ability to keep the law (which was not given until long after Abraham had died). This is good for us. It is because God does not depend on us that we actually have even the slightest chance to be saved. If He did depend on us, we would never make the cut. It would be like a bad audition for American Idol (I know you’ve watched it and made fun of people who try out and cannot sing), and it would be impossible for us to earn a place with God.
God is revealer
God revealed His plan to Abraham, Abraham did not discover God’s plan on His own or come up with His own plan and ask for God’s blessing. If Abraham would have gotten his way, he would have spared Sodom despite the wickedness of the people, but Abraham did not have all knowledge as God has. God alone must be and is the one who reveals his plan to us; we cannot dictate our plans to God. There are so many people who encounter a problem or difficulty in life. In fact we all do. We develop a plan to overcome that problem or difficulty, and we ask God for His blessing. This is contrary to God’s very Word and is not consistent with God’s own character as revealed in this text of Scripture. God has all knowledge. God has a plan. God reveals that plan to us. In the local church today, so many churches are trying to figure out what went wrong, why they are not growing numerically, and what they can do to bring people in. The answer is simple, we must stop producing our own plans and then asking God for His blessing upon those plans. Instead, we would do well to humbly go before the God who has all knowledge and ask what He wants us to do. He will lead our hearts.
It is God who reveals salvation and, as with Abraham in the above text, reveals what is needed for the purpose of sanctification (our being conformed to the image of Christ). We tend to hurt ourselves when we plan first and then ask for God’s blessing, or come up with a plan on our own without first asking for God to reveal His specific plan to us. This is where genuine prayer has the impact that it does. Without prayer, we do not know God’s direction. Prayer is about seeking God’s direction rather than our asking God to submit to the plans that we have made. Without God’s direction, we don’t know how to plan and prepare according to His will and not ours.
God is preparer
God, here, is the one who is sanctifying Abraham and reassuring Abraham of both His just and merciful nature. There is a back and forth between God and Abraham. If God has all knowledge, then He already knows, at this point in the story, that Sodom and Gomorrah will need to be eradicated. His conversation with Abraham is for the purpose of Abraham’s sanctification: that He might be able to trust that God is both just and merciful concerning the people of the earth.
God puts people in places to assume responsibilities on this earth. It is God who draws the local church and her people to Himself through sanctification. God burdens our hearts so that we are driven to serve. He has given Scripture to help train us in righteousness and prepare us for good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). He has given pastors to help prepare the whole body to do the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). It is God who prepares us to fulfill the role that He has called us to on this earth.
Again, we arrive at our present question: why does God need us to accomplish His purpose? The answer is, again, simple. He does not. In His grace, though, God gives us a role in His Kingdom. Will we hurt ourselves by coming up with our own plans in life before asking God for His direction? Will we seek first God’s kingdom and plan for our lives? In our singleness, are we asking for God’s plan or is our attention on finding that special someone? Regarding our employment, have we asked God to reveal to us what He wants us to do? Should we go into ministry or have a secular job? If God desires that we pursue secular employment, does He want us to neglect His local church in order to pursue that employment? Where does God want me to serve in the local church? Does God want me to continue in school? Is it God’s plan that I live in poverty or with wealth? If with wealth, what does God want me to use that wealth for?
God is sovereign, God is revealer, God is preparer. We are given a place in His plan. He is not given a place in ours. God’s plan will always draw us closer to Him, not further from Him. Abraham was brought to understand more of God’s nature. We are brought closer to God as He prepares us also. If we find that our plans pull us away from God or away from the local body, chances are that those plans are not of God. Furthermore, we make this realization: God does not need us, we need Him. We often live our lives in such a way that we insinuate the opposite. There must be less of us, and more of God. Our response to God’s sovereignty in our lives is this: that we seek first His kingdom and not our own.