God is in control and we are responsible. These are both clearly taught in Scripture. Someone who says “God is in control” but does not recognize that we are simultaneously responsible for all our actions might be tempted to walk out in front of oncoming traffic and say “God is in control so if it is my time to go it is my time to go.” Someone who says “God helps those who help themselves” but does not recognize that God is sovereign is tempted to carry out responsibilities with, among other things, pride and anxiety because it all depends on them. These are real dangers in our thinking so we must listen carefully to Scripture on this point.
God is totally sovereign: The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, And His sovereignty rules over all (Psalm 103:19)
We are always responsible for our actions: That is why Scripture commands us about things that it also says God is sovereign in. Notice how these two things go hand in hand when we consider the death of Christ: this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death (Acts 2:23).
Much more could be said on this issue, but I want to draw our attention to a specific outworking of this biblical truth that God is sovereign and we are responsible. In 2 Chronicles 29 the reign of King Hezekiah in Judah is recorded:
Hezekiah became king when he was twenty-five years old; and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Abijah, the daughter of Zechariah. 2 He did right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father David had done. 3 In the first year of his reign, in the first month, he opened the doors of the house of the LORD and repaired them. 4 He brought in the priests and the Levites and gathered them into the square on the east. (2 Chronicles 29:1-4).
When Hezekiah came to the throne the temple was in disrepair and the worship of the Lord needed to be restored. 2 Chronicles records how Hezekiah led the repair of the Temple and the restoration of the worship of the Lord in the temple. If you read through this chapter it is very clear that Hezekiah and the LORD wanted the Israelites as well as all readers of this chapter to know that God’s people were responsible for what had happened to the temple and the worship:
“For our fathers have been unfaithful and have done evil in the sight of the LORD our God, and have forsaken Him and turned their faces away from the dwelling place of the LORD, and have turned their backs. 7 “They have also shut the doors of the porch and put out the lamps, and have not burned incense or offered burnt offerings in the holy place to the God of Israel. (2 Chronicles 29:6-7).
The responsibly of the people to repair the temple and restore the worship of the Lord is also very clear, for example:
Then he said to them, “Listen to me, O Levites. Consecrate yourselves now, and consecrate the house of the LORD, the God of your fathers, and carry the uncleanness out from the holy place (2 Chronicles 29:5)
“My sons, do not be negligent now, for the LORD has chosen you to stand before Him, to minister to Him, and to be His ministers and burn incense.” (2 Chronicles 29:11)
Then the Levites arose (2 Chronicles 29:12)
They assembled their brothers, consecrated themselves, and went in to cleanse the house of the LORD, according to the commandment of the king by the words of the LORD. 16 So the priests went in to the inner part of the house of the LORD to cleanse it, and every unclean thing which they found in the temple of the LORD they brought out to the court of the house of the LORD. Then the Levites received it to carry out to the Kidron valley. 17 Now they began the consecration on the first day of the first month, and on the eighth day of the month they entered the porch of the LORD. Then they consecrated the house of the LORD in eight days, and finished on the sixteenth day of the first month. 18 Then they went in to King Hezekiah and said, “We have cleansed the whole house of the LORD, the altar of burnt offering with all of its utensils, and the table of showbread with all of its utensils. 19 “Moreover, all the utensils which King Ahaz had discarded during his reign in his unfaithfulness, we have prepared and consecrated; and behold, they are before the altar of the LORD.” (2 Chronicles 29:15-19)
Then King Hezekiah arose early and assembled the princes of the city and went up to the house of the LORD (2 Chronicles 29:20)
He then stationed the Levites in the house of the LORD with cymbals, with harps and with lyres, according to the command of David and of Gad the king’s seer, and of Nathan the prophet; for the command was from the LORD through His prophets (2 Chronicles 29:25)
Now at the completion of the burnt offerings, the king and all who were present with him bowed down and worshiped (2 Chronicles 29:29)
Then Hezekiah said, “Now that you have consecrated yourselves to the LORD, come near and bring sacrifices and thank offerings to the house of the LORD.” (2 Chronicles 29:31)
These verses very clearly show the responsibility that God’s people had in repairing and restoring the Temple and worship. And yet, the remarkable thing is how Hezekiah and all the people viewed what happened. They did not say this when the temple was repaired and the worship was reinstituted: “O LORD, look what we have done. You have helped us because we have helped ourselves. We have done what we had to do. Your people are certainly showing what they can do when they work hard.”
This is not even close to their response, rather they said this:
Then Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced over what God had prepared for the people, because the thing came about suddenly (2 Chronicles 29:36).
Do you see the point? The people rejoiced, not in themselves and in the responsibilities they carried out, but in whom? They rejoiced over “what God had prepared” or what God had done for the people. Who did it? According to the people God did. Does this solve all our questions about God’s sovereignty and our responsibility as His people? No. But it does show us how we are to view God’s sovereignty in relationship to our responsibility. His sovereignty does not eliminate our responsibility but employs it in such a way that in the end God rightly gets the glory.
Here is the exhortation for us from all of this: Carry out your God given responsibilities fervently, faithfully and consistently and as you do so and as you enjoy the fruit that comes from this worship God for He is the one who has done this in and through you. We must be very careful not to point to our carried out responsibilities as a basis for our own praise. No, God has sovereignly employed our obedience so that He might be praised. Work hard, trust His sovereignty, and praise Him for what His sovereign grace has accomplished through you because of your union with Christ.