God's Sovereignty vs. Satan's Sovereignty

As I was listening to a sermon by John MacArthur I could not help but capitalize on a comment he made regarding the reign of Satan over the world system. The apostle Paul claims that "the god of this world" blinds the minds of unbelievers. (2 Cor. 4:4) The Greek word for "god" is the same Greek word for God: θεὸς. Contextually, however, we understand that this θεὸς, lowercase g for god, is not the same θεὸς who loves the world (John 3:16), who desires the gospel to be preached to all the world (Matt. 24:14), and who desires the salvation of all in the world. (1 Tim. 2:4)

The apostle continues: "For it is the God who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." (2 Cor. 4:6) Though θεὸς, God, is the sovereign ruler of this universe, the θεὸς of this world system, Satan, claims his own sovereignty over that realm. While reading the following from MacArthur, keep in mind his Calvinistic theology (all emphases added):
God, and Christ, and the Holy Spirit, and the Bible, and the church, and truth are the enemies of Satan. And Satan rules the world. He rules the world of sinners. And he has his power in high places. He is the ruler of the kingdom of darkness, and he hates and seeks to destroy all that is light, all that is truth, all that is pure, all that is holy, all that is virtuous, and all that is good. (link)
The word rule, or ruler, in Greek is δυνάστης and refers to a sovereign. Hence if we suggest that God the Almighty is δυνάστης, and yet Satan is also δυνάστης over the world of sinners, that seems to indicate two sovereigns. Yet we call God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Almighty, meaning mighty over all, and that includes Satan. Satan, then, can only rule, or be δυνάστης, sovereign, over that which the Almighty permits.1 Thus the two are not on equal terms. Satan is always and ever under the powerful sovereignty and permission of the Almighty. Divine permission, though, is a curious reality, and one that conforms well to a particular theology, namely Arminianism.

That Satan "rules" over the world of sinners is not a concession that he coerces people to act contrary to their will any more than suggesting that God's sovereignty indicates the same -- that He has causatively decreed what we will think and say and do. Satan has no inherent power to decree that a person think, say, or perform any evil. That is a statement of ability. God has no vested interest in decreeing that a person think, say, or perform any evil. That is a statement of morality and ethics. Due to His righteous, just, and holy nature God does not bring about sin.

The manner in which Satan rules the world of sinners, then, is by deceptive persuasion. The manner in which God rules His world, regarding human beings at least, is not by cause and effect but by holy influence and response through the Person of the Holy Spirit.2 How does God's sovereignty operate differently than that of Satan? First, in motive, Satan tends to rule and deceive; God rules in absolute righteousness and holiness and justice. When God tends to influence for the good His intention is holy. Second, Satan's intent is destruction (John 10:10), whereas God's intentions are restorative (2 Cor. 5:19). Third, Satan's intent is ultimately a treacherous act against God, whereas God's intentions are for His own divine and rightful glory in Christ through His Holy Spirit.

Note the apostle Paul's words regarding the character of Satan: because of his hatred of human beings (I am making an inference here), as well as Jesus Christ the Savior of human beings, Satan blinds the minds of unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ. (2 Cor. 4:4) Any creature who would blind the mind of someone from seeing all that is pure and good and holy indicates an intense hatred for that individual. This demonstrates an intensely evil and wicked character of Satan.

How, then, can any believer suggest that, in the divine and holy character of God Himself, He would blind the mind -- or perpetuate the blindness -- of any unbeliever so that he or she does not and cannot comprehend the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ and so remain unsaved? That character belongs to the Devil. Such persons are referred to by some as the "non-elect," those whom God has not unconditionally pre-selected for salvation. In essence, though, this is the character cast upon the shadowy God of some. Why do "non-elect" people exist? John Piper proffers:
So if I understand this passage [Rom. 9:22-23], Paul is saying -- and this is the key sentence -- God endured for a season the unbelief and rebellion of those who reject him [he means those whom God did not unconditionally pre-select for eternal salvation] so that his wrath and power would be justly displayed in their punishment so that those who do believe will see the glory of his grace more fully in relation to the justice of his wrath. (link) (emphasis added)
This conclusion corresponds with David Houston's Calvinistic worldview that "looks forward to a future time when all those [non-elect] enemies, infants included, are in hell so that he can rejoice in their damnation without qualification" (link); as well as with that of another who suggests that Arminians were created and decreed by God as a foil for Calvinists and biblical Calvinism on the stage of history. These are very interesting conclusions, especially given their view that God has fixedly foreordained and decreed every single event that happens on earth and among human beings -- even the devils and Satan himself.

No, friends, God's sovereignty is not to be understood as being indicative of a character flaw like that of Satan -- that is, not if God actually is just, holy, and good. When God judges a sinner, He does so on the basis of His own righteous standards, as well as His grace and mercy extended to such a sinner in and through the Cross of Christ Jesus, His resurrection, and His high priestly office at the right hand of God the Father. Sinners do not deserve such grace, such mercy, but such is derived from a God of grace and mercy.

God's sovereignty, when rightly and biblically understood, displays the glorious nature of all that his pure and good and right in the very nature and essence of our Triune God. His inerrant word informs us that "every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change." (James 1:17 NRSV, emphasis added) What the latter part of that verse reveals is that, in God, what you see is what you get.

When He declares that He loves the world (John 3:16), He means He loves the world. When He declares that His desire is the salvation of all in the world (Ezek. 18:23; 33:11; 1 Tim. 2:4; 4:10; 1 John 2:2), He means that He longs for the salvation of all in the world. While deception belongs to the character of Satan, deceptively sovereign ruler over the sinners of this world, a pure and holy and just character belongs to the Lord our God.


1 The patristics, Arminian in theology, also insist that, while "nothing happens in the universe that God has not willed, many things transpire because God permissively wills them." See Michael D. Robinson, The Storms of Providence: Navigating the Waters of Calvinism, Arminianism, and Open Theism (Lanham: University Press of America,® Inc., 2003), 69.

2 See F. Leroy Forlines, Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation, ed. J. Matthew Pinson (Nashville: Randall House Publications, 2011), 47-50.


Post a Comment


My photo

My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.