A young woman asked the great preacher Charles Spurgeon if it was possible to reconcile God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.

“I wouldn’t try,” he said. “You don’t reconcile friends.”

It’s hard for us to understand the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, just as it’s hard to understand how light seems to act like waves and particles. Just because something’s hard to understand, though, doesn’t mean that it’s not true.

“In the Bible, divine sovereignty and human responsibility are not enemies,” observes J.I. Packer. “They are not uneasy neighbors; they are not in an endless state of cold war with each other. They are friends, and they work together.”

Two cases in point:

  • “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13). We work out our salvation; God is at work in us.
  • “But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:12-14). God will guard what he’s entrusted to you, so guard what he’s entrusted to you.

Why This Matters

Emphasize one side of the tension at the expense of the other, and you lose an important truth.

  • Overemphasize God’s sovereignty, and you lose the importance of your actions.
  • Overemphasize your responsibility, and you lose the confidence that God is at work. You’ll feel crushed under the pressure.

Our actions matter. God is at work. Both are true at the same time.

In your walk with God, know that your obedience matters. Take the warnings of Hebrews seriously. At the same time, have confidence that God will complete the work he’s started in your life.

In your evangelism, remember that God will use your efforts. God uses means. At the same time, take the pressure off. The Spirit’s at work; God draws people to himself. Have confidence that God is at work.

In ministry, give it your all. Preach your guts out. But never put confidence in how well you’re doing. Your best isn’t much. Trust God to work in ways that can’t ever be explained by your ability or skill.


It’s the best of both worlds.

Our actions matter. We must follow, love, and serve with our whole hearts. Our obedience and our actions can and will make a difference for eternity. Give it your all.

God empowers. He’s in control of the outcomes. He takes our feeble efforts and does something with them that can’t be explained. Even when we fail, he will remain faithful.

We need to hold these two together. So much rides on it. Let’s never lose sight of God’s sovereignty and our responsibility.

God’s Sovereignty and Our Responsibility
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