From the outset, in order to understand a Reformed soteriology and therefore be faithful to Scripture, it is crucial to underscore a fundamental doctrine pertaining to the origin of sin. Although God did ordain and decree sin to enter His perfect universe through the voluntary choices of moral creatures, it is a supreme blasphemy to consider God the author or cause of sin. Because God is infinitely holy (Lev 11:44,45), utterly bereft of any form of unrighteousness (Dt 32:4; Ps 92:15), He cannot act wickedly (Job 34:10). Habakkuk said of the Lord, “Thine eyes are too pure to approve evil and Thou canst not look on wickedness with favor” (Hab 1:13). Scripture also reveals that God cannot be tempted by evil or solicit anyone to do evil. This is also affirmed in James 1:13, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.”
While our holy God is never the cause of sin, He does bring it about indirectly through the willing, voluntary actions of moral creatures. This is evident in God’s testimony of Himself when He said, “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things” (Isa 45:7 KJV). This would include not only the evil propensity in Satan and the angelic beings, but also the actual decree that they would eventually rebel. Although all the angelic beings were created originally “very good” (Gen 1:31), the New Testament makes it clear that Satan was a “murderer from the beginning” and is “the father of lies” (Jn 8:44). This means that sometime subsequent to his creation he, along with other angels, chose to sin and rebel against God (Isa 14:12-15; cf. 2 Pet 2:4; Jude 6; Rev 12:4). While God allowed the “ancient serpent” (Rev 12:9) to enter His original paradise, He also makes it clear that that same serpent and his minions will not be allowed in the final paradise (Rev 21:27). So none of this caught God by surprise, for He said of Himself, “I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done” (Isa 46:9c-10).
John also tells us that “the devil has sinned from the beginning,” referring to the first time he rebelled against God. But he went on to add, “the Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil” (1 Jn 3:8). This indicates that even the devil’s diabolical works had to have been divinely ordained because Christ was “delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). Satan’s original rebellion against God, his temptation of Eve in the garden, his temptation of Christ, his future empowerment of the Antichrist, his notorious opposition to the work of God, all had to have been known by an omniscient God who also ordained them by His influenced will. To say otherwise would deny His right and claim to sovereignty and cause these texts to beg for relevance.
We can therefore conclude that God’s elective, eternal purposes were decreed and set into motion before creation. This would include the Lord’s incarnation and atoning work that defeated Satan and sin. Here again we see that He ordained to allow evil to enter His perfect universe through the voluntary choices of moral creatures in order to dramatically display His glory through His holiness, wrath, mercy, grace, love and power. Indeed, all of His elective purposes were ordained “from all eternity” (2 Tim 1:9; Titus 1:2), literally, “before time began,” which would by implication include His divine decree for Satan to rebel, Adam and Eve to sin, and by imputation, all men to sin in Adam, thus requiring “the Lamb (to be) slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev 13:8).
That God brought about evil to accomplish His glorious purposes was well understood by His covenant people in the Old Testament. We see this in their repentance when in utmost contrition they cried out to God and said, “Why, O LORD, do You cause us to stray from Your ways and harden our heart from fearing You?” (Isa 63:17). Speaking through Isaiah the LORD said, “I am the Lord, there is no other. Besides Me there is no God . . . The One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these” (Isa 45:6-7). Likewise, the prophet Jeremiah lamented, “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth?” (Lam 3:38). Solomon reminds us that, “the Lord has made all things for Himself, even the wicked for the day of evil.” Hannah praised God’s sovereignty—even over evil—when she prayed, “The LORD kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up. The LORD makes poor and rich; He brings low, He also exalts” (1 Sam 2:6-7). The prophet Amos also declared, “If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it?” (Amos 3:6).
We see another example of God’s providence orchestrating evil through the choices of sinful men in the story of Joseph. The essence of this doctrinal truth can be seen when Joseph forgave the sinful acts of his brothers and said, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Gen 50:20). Similarly, when Israel conquered the exceedingly wicked people of Canaan, in Joshua 11 we read, “Joshua waged war a long time with all these kings. There was not a city which made peace with the sons of Israel except the Hivites living in Gibeon; they took them all in battle. For it was of the Lord to harden their hearts, to meet Israel in battle in order that he might utterly destroy them, that they might receive no mercy, but that he might destroy them, just as the Lord had commanded Moses” (vv. 18-20; emphasis added).
God’s sovereign rule over the affairs of men by indirectly bringing about sin through their choices is also evident in the story of the Exodus when “The LORD said to Moses, ‘When you go back to Egypt see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go’” (Ex 4:21); then later God told Moses, “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart that I may multiply My signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt” (7:3; cf. 9:16; 14:17).
When God judged David for his sin, He also brought about evil through the willing actions of David’s family. There we see God using sin to punish sin. We read of this in 1 Samuel: “Thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you from your own household; I will even take your wives before your eyes and give them to your companion, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. Indeed you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and under the sun’” (1 Sam 12:11-12). This was later fulfilled during Absalom’s rebellion when he publicly violated David’s royal concubines as an act of total domination (16:21, 22).
Though God’s actions may seem impulsive, vicious, and even unfair to our fallen and finite mind, nevertheless this theme is repeated over and over in the Old Testament. While God never directly acts wickedly, nor does He take pleasure in evil, He indirectly brings it about through individuals who voluntarily exercise their own will and are thereby held accountable for their actions. This is apparent in 2 Samuel 24:1 where we read that “the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah.’” Then later, after the census had been taken, David confessed what God had incited him to do was sin (2 Sam 24:10). It is fascinating to note that even though the LORD incited David to sin (by using Satan to achieve His purposes; see 1 Chr 21:1), David was clearly held responsible for his actions.
GOD’S WRATH POURED OUT UPON HIS SON
Perhaps the most striking example of all can be seen in God’s providential working in the lives of evil men who, by His sovereign decree, independently chose by their own free will to act wickedly in participating in the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ. None of it caught God by surprise, neither were their choices a violation of His sovereign will. This was evident in the prayer of Peter and John when they stated, “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur” (Acts 4:27; emphasis added).
Every Christian would do well to remember that the Father’s wrath of judgment against sin was poured out upon His Son and our substitute, Jesus Christ. Notwithstanding the responsibility of wicked men who cried out for Him to be crucified, Peter made it clear that God ordained His murder when he said, “this Man, delivered up 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; emphasis added). What an amazing concept: Jesus willingly chose to suffer and die on a cross because God ordained Him to do so. He was delivered up by the “predetermined plan.” The word predetermined is the Greek word horizo, meaning “to mark out a boundary beforehand,” from which we get our English word horizon. The word plan translates the Greek word boule used in Scripture to describe God’s will of purpose; that which He has designed, ordained, or decreed in eternity past. Sometimes this is referred to as His decretive or sovereign will. So Peter is literally saying that our sovereign God decreed that Jesus die on the cross; it was His predetermined plan.
Furthermore, he attributes His sacrificial death to the “foreknowledge of God.” The word foreknowledge is the Greek word prognosis meaning “to foreordain”—a meaning that far exceeds the English concept of merely knowing something ahead of time. Moreover, grammatically speaking, since the term is in the instrumental dative case, it must be understood that Peter was actually saying “it was God’s foreknowledge (foreordination) that was the sole cause or the means by which the men nailed Him to a cross.” Said simply, Jesus did exactly what God ordained Him to do, yet those who called for His death and hung Him on the tree were responsible for His murder. Here again we see not only the mysterious convergence of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, but also God deliberately ordaining evil to exist as a part of His plan and purpose to glorify Himself—the greatest act of evil in all of history: the murder of Jesus Christ.
Unlike the misguided musings of the Sunday school class (Part 1), the testimony of Scripture plainly reveals that God is indeed sovereign over His creation. And though He is never responsible for sin, He does bring it about through the voluntary choices of men and He holds them accountable for their actions. Moreover, not only is God removed from actually doing evil, never do we find an instance in Scripture of any act of evil surprising God and requiring Him to react with a plan “B.”
In light of all this, it is obvious that no example can be found supporting the Arminian notion that God merely allowed the possibility for evil to exist in order to give His creatures freedom of choice, thereby guaranteeing that man’s choices would always be meaningful, as some would suggest. Instead, we see a sovereign God orchestrating His universe through the use of both good and evil, a concept perfectly summarized by one of John Calvin’s chapter headings in his classic work, “Institutes of the Christian Religion” which states: “God So Uses the Works of the Ungodly, and So Bends Their Minds to Carry Out His Judgments, That He Remains Pure From Every Stain.”
We will see this in Part 3 in the example of Israel’s unbelief found in Romans 9.