God’s Sovereignty on Display (Acts 13:46-48)

Acts 13:46-48 – 46 And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us, saying,
“ ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ”
48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and
as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.

These verses contain in themselves a fascinating pairing of God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom. Often people will ask questions about God’s sovereignty in our salvation that basically amount to questions of the fairness of what God does. Specifically, there is a false assumption out there that God chooses to save some, but prevents others from being saved.

Such a view is not true, but only by half. God does choose to save some. Did he not, none would be saved. However, those he does not choose to save are not somehow prevented by God from salvation. Instead, they, by their own will, nature, and desire oppose God and his plan of salvation. Or, as a friend of mine recently wrote to me, “For those God does not choose to save, he chooses to allow them to suffer the consequences of their own free sinful choices—most notably their choice to “suppress the truth of God in unrighteousness.”
What I am saying here is clearly depicted in the verses above. Notice the two groups. One group is lost and the other is saved. What language does the Bible use to describe the lost? To them, Paul says regarding their response to the gospel, “you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life.” Thus, in the language of Paul, the lost person is fully responsible for his lostness. Each lost person should believe. Each is commanded to believe. But, when Paul presented the gospel, those who were not saved thrust aside the gospel, shoving it away like a child who pushes away a bite of something healthy. They simply do not want it.

On the other hand, how does the scripture speak of those who were saved? Luke, the author of Acts, writes, “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” Notice that those who believed were also those “appointed to eternal life.” Those who were saved were already, beforehand, appointed to receive eternal life from God. There was a prior action of God that was followed up by the people believing. This depicts God’s sovereignty at work, as God appointed those men for salvation and then they believed.

What does this tell me? What it tells me is that, if any person is not saved, they are not saved by God because they do not want the gospel. It also tells me that, if anyone is saved by God, they are saved because God did it, appointing them to eternal life before they believed. This gives God total credit for and glory for anyone’s salvation. It also places the responsibility clearly on the shoulders of the one who rejects Christ for rejecting him.

Why am I saved? I am not saved for wanting God. Ephesians 2:1-3 and Romans 3:10-ff tell me that I did not want God at all in my sinful state. I am saved because God, in his own wisdom and for his own purposes, chose to appoint me for eternal life and change my heart so that I would believe. Yes, I chose to believe, but only because it was granted me to believe by God (John 6:65). Thus I take no credit for my salvation, as it all is a work of God from beginning to end.

But, were I not saved, I would have no grounds for blaming God or accusing him of unrighteousness. Were I lost, I would be doing exactly what Paul accused the lost men of Acts 13:46 of doing. I would have chosen, by my will, to thrust away the gospel and turn away myself from the only thing that could save me. And, were I to remain lost, that would only be God giving me that which I, in my heart, wanted.

Does God violate man’s free will in this process? Yes, when a man is saved. But he does so in such a way as to change our evil desires to a desire for him. Therefore, when we believe, we feel that we believe and we also know that we could not continue in our unbelief. When we are saved, we know that something has changed in our hearts that makes us realize that God is wonderful and we want to serve him. People often speak of “a light coming on” or everything suddenly “becoming clear.” This is the wonderful, powerful, sovereign hand of God breaking into our hearts and making them alive whereas they were dead before (cf. Ephesians 2:1-9).

So, how does this impact my life. First, it reminds me that my salvation is a total gift from God. He did it, he deserves the credit, and he gets all the glory. Second, it encourages me to share the gospel, as I know that God can and does break into the dead hearts of sinners to make them alive. Third, it reminds me of the justice of God, because those who do not come to know God do not want to come to know him, and God responds to them with perfect justice. And finally, it causes me to thank God, because I deserved his perfect justice, I wanted nothing to do with him; but he broke into my heart, changed me at the point of my desires, and showed me the ultimate of mercies in Christ.

8 thoughts on “God’s Sovereignty on Display (Acts 13:46-48)”

  1. The only problem with this thought is the fact that God HAS do the work of salvation. You said yourself that, if not for God, no one would ever want to be saved. So, although the lost do reject Christ, without His involvement, they really do not have a choice. Meaning that when God chose the elect, He also chose, by default, if nothing else, those that would not be saved. If God is punishing people, and we all deserve it, then the punishment should not be considered unrighteous. He is the Creator and can do as He pleases, even if it seems unfair to us.Why must we try to explain the sovereignty of God?BTW, I agree that all the credit should go to God, while all of the responsibility falls on man. Just do not necessarily think that it can be explained so easily.


  2. Dave,Thanks for the comment. My goal is not to so much attempt to “defend” God’s right to not choose a person as it is to emphasize the interesting way in which the issue of sovereignty is presented in those verses. Limiting myself to the text, I see that there is exactly what I posted, God totally responsible for someone being saved and the lost person totally responsible for being lost. Of course, in the end, nothing will have occurred over which God is not sovereign. However, I find it interesting that God inspired Luke to present the issue in the way that he did.Either way, if the people of God will continue to grow in their grasp of the fact that nobody, absolutely nobody, is saved without God sovereignly reaching into their hearts and granting them eternal life, I’ll be happy. BTW, for anyone curious, the post I deleted from Dave was a duplicate of the first, so nothing is hidden.


  3. What I was trying to say is that the argument sounds like a contradiction when it is explained this way. You state that God does ALL the work of salvation and there is nothing man can do to even desire to be saved unless God grants that desire to him. Then you state that if anyone rejects Christ it is not because God prevented them in some way. If He does not begin the work, and they cannot begin the work, then He has prevented them, has He not? The question remains, is there anything at all wrong with that?You did not completely limit yourself to the text, as you referenced at least three other Scriptures. And you should not limit yourself to a specific text.


  4. Dave, My trouble with the logic that declares that God “prevents” a person from being saved by not bringing them to himself is that it paints a picture that is seldom if ever demonstrated in scripture. Person A does not desire God.God does not break through Person A’s will (by God’s own choice) to change this fact.We can say that God did not choose person A if we’d like, but we cannot say that God prevented him—because to prevent is to actively impose something against that person’s progress. If person A has no intent on going in a particular direction, God has not prevented them from going that direction simply because he has not turned him to that direction.This, by the way, is not intended to be a defense of God. If God did want to actively prevent a sinner from coming to him, it would be totally righteous of God to do so. However, it seems to me that the thing that God does is allows the lost person the exercise of their will. This is just, to be sure; and it will necessarily lead to the damnation of anyone that God does not supernaturally transform. However, I am not quite ready to call it God “preventing” that person from coming to himself since there is no evidence that God had to take any action to accomplish the outcome.For clarification, I’m not saying that God is somehow making no decision about the lost. Clearly he is. But that decision is not preventing the lost from coming to God. The lost person’s heart is preventing him from coming to God. God’s decision has been to allow that person to continue in the direction that his heart is naturally taking him. So, yes, God has made a decision actively, but he is not actively preventing (putting up some sort of barrier to stop) the person from coming to him. Now, with that said, I’m pondering through Romans 9, and the hardening passages that are there. So I know that there is more to this topic to consider. And, if you have some other passages to demonstrate the scripture discussing the lost in these terms, I’d be happy to think them through too.Also, let’s try to find our logical conclusions in scripture (which you can certainly call me to do as well). The Acts 13:43 and 48 passage seemed to me to say what I have been saying by its language. So, what are some passages that say what you are saying? ** Also, I write all of this with no crankiness at all. I know it is sometimes hard to tell that when you read someone’s typed words. I find working through this process valuable, and I value thoughtful input. **


  5. Let me attempt to clarify a bit. I was not trying to take the position that God does prevent salvation, nor am I trying to take the position that He does not prevent salvation. I was simply trying to follow your logic in the original post, in which you say that God does not prevent anyone from salvation. Perhaps, this is more semantics than actual disagreement.I am thinking of Romans 9:19-24. God gets credit for the work of salvation. Agreed. Man is responsible and accountable for his sin. Agreed. That is where I will stop. Maybe God does prevent some from being saved. Perhaps He does not. However, He does it, we cannot accuse Him of being unrighteous or unfair. That is not a question for me to answer according to these verses.


  6. Just to clear the air, I am not cranky at all, either. Just a guy that is confused and frustrated with the all of the attention and energy that is being spent by so many people to try to explain the sovereignty of God. I agree that we should make sure that our logical conclusions come from Scripture. That is why I responded. I am not sure that we can say with any certainty that God does or does not prevent, either actively or passively, the salvation of anyone. We need to be careful to take the explicit in its entirety. The implicit needs to agree with the entire context of Scripture.Thanks for the discussion.


  7. Dave,Thanks for your thoughts. I think that, though we understand much that God has revealed, we still find ourselves, at the end of the day, bowing to the fact that he is sovereign and his ways are not ours. We know for sure that his ways are perfect and perfectly righteous. As you said, thanks for the discussion.


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