RPM, Volume 16, Number 2, January 5 to January 11, 2014

Covenant Theology

Distinctive Features
The Sovereignty of the Creator
Sermon Number Two

By Jim Bordwine, Th.D.

Westminster Presbyterian Church 411 Chkalov Dr, Vancouver WA 98683


I stated in my last sermon that Covenant Theology is simply Biblical theology systematized. Covenant Theology is the approach to studying the Bible that the Bible itself requires due the nature of God’s revelation. God has revealed His Word to us within the context of the covenant: we have the covenant of works, which covered the period from creation to the fall of man; and we have the covenant of grace, which was announced after man’s fall, was progressively defined and revealed in a series of sub-covenants, and was finally and fully realized in the atoning work of Christ (I’ll have more to say about these matters later in this series.).

If I want to identify the distinctive traits of Covenant Theology, therefore, all I have to do is identify the distinctive features of the Bible. Conversely, if I define the distinctive features of God’s revelation to man, I have, at the same time, defined the distinctive characteristics of Covenant Theology.

There are certain facts that are prominently presented in God’s revelation; there are certain truths that are so pervasive that we must say that they characterize the teaching of the Bible. When we propose a system for studying and applying the teaching of the Bible, it is only reasonable to expect that our method would bear these same distinguishing features. To put it another way, if our method of studying and applying the teaching of Scripture does not stress and same facts and truths that Scripture, itself, stresses, then something is wrong with our approach. Unless our method of Biblical interpretation does justice to what the Bible emphasizes, then we are bound to be misled in our understanding and application of God’s Word.

Beginning with this sermon, I will be presenting to you what I believe are the most important distinguishing features of God’s revelation. And, as I do this, we will learn what are the distinguishing marks of Covenant Theology; we will see what Covenant Theology, as a method of Biblical interpretation, stresses. The way to begin this presentation of the most important distinguishing features of the Bible is to ask a few questions:

Within the covenantal framework of Scripture, what are the distinguishing features of God’s revelation to man? What truths are most prominently discerned when we read the Bible? When we study the Scripture, what facts are so obviously stated that they must be regarded as general characteristics of God’s revelation? What doctrines are not only clearly taught in the Bible, but also undergird every part of the Bible?

I propose that the revelation we have in the Bible can be categorized under three headings: The Absolute Sovereignty of the Creator, The Absolute Dependence of the Creature and the Absolute Necessity of a Mediator. Think about these categories. For a moment, think about the whole Bible—about all it teaches, all it commands, and all it reveals. May we not conclude that everything the Bible has to say can be placed under one of these headings? Isn’t it true that every teaching in Scripture is related to at least one of these three major doctrines?

The method of Biblical interpretation known as Covenant Theology emphasizes these three doctrines because the Bible emphasizes these three all-encompassing doctrines. Therefore, in the coming weeks, as we look at various aspects of Covenant Theology, we will find that these three truths are always present, sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly. These three great Biblical truths, the sovereignty of God, the dependence of man, and the necessity of a Mediator, form the foundation upon which every doctrine rests and the framework that ties each doctrine to all the others.

1. The Absolute Sovereignty of the Creator

When I speak of “the sovereignty of the Creator,” I’m referring to the fact that God’s power is superior to every other form or expression of power. To say that God is sovereign is to say He is completely free of external influences so that He does what He chooses, as He chooses, when He chooses. To declare that God is sovereign is to say that He is accountable to no one, but all creation is accountable to Him; it is to say that the will of God is the single determining factor for all that transpires.

Please note that the very first sentence in the Bible sets forth the concept of the absolute sovereignty of the Creator: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen. 1:1) I have described this verse and what it teaches as a gate. To reach the rest of God’s revelation, we have to go through this gate and we have to embrace what it teaches. We cannot go around this gate, we cannot climb over it, and we cannot dig under it. As I just said, we have to go through this gate to get to the rest of what God has to tell us. And as human beings deal with this monumental truth and pass through the gate, as it were, their whole perception of life?every last aspect of life?is formulated.

This is not a world where God exists along side of other entities and things. This world exists exclusively due to God’s creation of it. There is no part of this world that does not bear His mark of design and ownership. All of creation has its origin with God and that means nothing about our existence will make sense unless it is viewed and studied in that context. There is not a single atom in the entire universe that got here by some other means than the command of God by which He made what is out of what was not.

Let’s consider what Gen. 1:1 is saying. If God is the Creator of all things; then all things belong to Him and all things are subject to His desires regarding their purpose and disposal. This opening sentence typifies the Bible’s approach to the subject of God. What I mean is that no attempt is made to convince the reader that God exists before this powerful declaration is made. No argument is made to prove that there is a Creator. Instead, the Bible simply tells us what this God is like, what He has done, and what He is doing; it does not try to convince us that there is a God.

In addition, the Bible tells us what should be our response to this Creator who has no beginning and no end, but simply is. The first verse of the Bible, therefore, is a resounding proclamation of the absolute sovereignty of our Creator. Before anything existed, there was God; everything that does now exist was brought into being by Him. This truth establishes the relation of creation to Creator.

On a quick side note, let me add that one of the unavoidable implications of sovereignty is independence. If God is absolutely sovereign and if He did, in fact, command everything into existence that now exists, then that means He has need of nothing Himself. This is referred to as the independence of God. He exists in eternal perfection apart from any external element. Later, we will see that man’s situation is just the opposite. Man is an absolutely dependent creature.

Let me repeat that our understanding of our place in this world, our knowledge of our duties, our opinions of all of life’s issues are related to this one fundamental fact of God’s sovereignty, a fact with which God’s revelation begins. As Creator, God “defines” His creation; He determines how and where we “fit” into His creation. The development of a Christian, or Biblical, view of life begins with this basic truth. Unless we approach life with the presupposition that this world is God’s creation, then nothing about it will make sense and our study will lead only to frustration and confusion.

How can we rightly interpret any aspect of our existence if we fail to start with the origin of our existence? That is the mistake of the unbeliever who tries to analyze his world without reference to the Creator of his world. That is pure folly, but that is what sin has done to us as a race.

We must say that while all of creation is completely dependent upon the Creator at every moment, He is not dependent upon creation. He is the Source, Sustainer, and End of creation. Therefore, no dependent creature has the ability, much less the right, to define his existence; only the Creator, the one who made reality, can explain it. This is the humbling truth found in Paul’s statement in Rom. 11:36: “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”

If this doctrine of God’s sovereignty is as important and unavoidable as I have indicated, we would expect it to be emphasized in Scripture. The truth is, therefore, that what is found in this opening verse of the Bible is echoed throughout Scripture.

Here are a few examples: In Deut. 4:39, we find: “Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other.” And Deut. 10:14 says: “Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it.” In the book of Psalms we read: “For every beast of the forest is Mine, The cattle on a thousand hills.” (50:10) “The LORD has established His throne in the heavens; and His sovereignty rules over all.” (103:19) “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.” (115:3) “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.” (124:1) “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps.” (135:6)

I could multiply such verses many times over precisely because the doctrine of the sovereignty of the Creator is a truth that dominates and infiltrates, defines and confines everything in creation. Rather than add to this short list of Scripture, however, I want to move now to the implications of this doctrine. The Bible’s teaching on the sovereignty of the Creator demands certain conclusions, some of which I’ve already hinted at. Now, I want to explain the most significant of these ramifications.

The first implication of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty is that the world in which we live can be rightly studied and understood only in relation to its Creator. Man’s problem, since the time of the fall, is his desire to interpret the world in which he lives apart from the Creator and without regard for the Word of the Creator. Fallen man tries to make sense of his environment in a context completely foreign to his environment. Consequently, the unregenerate man continues to devise schemes, philosophies, theories, and ideas that fall short of his needs and expectations. He boasts in the wisdom of his insights but will not acknowledge that his insights are completely fabricated.

Imagine being blindfolded, flown to some faraway location, taken into some kind of building and then being told this: While standing and walking around in this enclosure, we want you to tell us which firm provided the blueprints for this structure, which company built this structure, why this structure exists, how much concrete is in the foundation, how many feet of wire are in the electrical system—and, be aware that we have created several dangerous pits in the floor into which you might fall as you move around. And one last thing—you must remain blindfolded.

This would be a ridiculous and impossible assignment. But fallen man’s condition is a million times worse than this. And to make matters even more difficult for fallen man, there is a powerful and vicious adversary stalking him night and day. Yet he relies on his own powers of observation, which have been corrupted, his own ingenuity, which has been corrupted, his own plans for the future, which have no chance of unfolding as he expects, and his own wisdom, which is mere delusion. Finally, on top of this, fallen man has a sentence of certain death hanging over his head from the moment of his conception the moment of his last heartbeat.

Fallen man cannot understand his world apart from this doctrine of the Creator’s sovereignty. We must begin with Him because that is where everything that exists began. The fact that God is our sovereign Creator means that all things, especially human beings, derive their purpose for existence from Him. The fact that God is our sovereign Creator means that any attempt to study or explain any part of our world is doomed to failure unless it starts with the truth: “In the beginning, God...”

Proverbs 9:10 says: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” There is no defense offered for such statements in Scripture; they are logical conclusions that follow from the great truth of Gen. 1:1. If man is going to understand himself and his world, he must first understand, as he is able, his Creator. True wisdom and understanding begin with a reverent and informed relationship with God. If this is true, then what is to be said about those seek to explain our purpose and our world without reference to the Creator? They are certain to fail because their initial perspective is misaligned.

A second implication of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty has to do with the Word that this sovereign Creator has given to man. If a sovereign and independent God speaks to us, if He causes His Word to be recorded in written form, should we not assume that what is recorded is without error in fact or command? Should we not expect that the Word of this sovereign God is trustworthy? There simply is no way to hold to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, as declared in Gen. 1:1 and repeated throughout Scripture, and, at the same time, have any view of His Word other than what I’ve just indicated.

And, I must emphasize, the only reason God’s Word is authoritative is because it is His Word. The Church does not provide the Bible with its authoritative status; no pronouncement of man is responsible for the Word’s authority. This, too, is a truth of tremendous import when it comes to making the Bible’s worldview our own.

When he wrote of the Scripture, the apostle Peter said: “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (2 Pet. 1:20, 21) The Bible came from God through the instrumentality of men. God used men to record what He wished to be recorded and to reveal what He wished to be revealed. God is singularly responsible for His written Word. Because the Bible is the Word of a sovereign God it has authority over everything, especially the lives of those made in God’s image.

Consider this: If God were not sovereign, but only one authority among many vying for our attention and allegiance, then His Word would carry no more weight than the word of some other source. Unless God is above all and unless all else has its origin in Him and exists by His permission, then His Word may be good for helping us develop a fuller perspective on a matter, but it would not stand all by itself as the only reliable resource for understanding and morality. But, God is sovereign and does not share any aspect of His existence or power with any other being or institution. God is the only true God, which means that His revelation is the only truly infallible revelation. The nature of His Word follows the nature of God Himself.

This means that every aspect of our lives, from our personal and most private thoughts to our participation in a family, to our membership in a church, to our activities from morning to night—everything about us is to be regulated by God’s Word. Our churches are to be regulated by the Bible; our communities are to be regulated by the Word of God. If God is sovereign, then whatever He says should be heard and implemented—whether we are talking about one man or a family or a community or a nation. As creatures, we have no right or ability to devise our own standards independent of God’s revelation; such an idea is preposterous if you take seriously the doctrine of God’s sovereignty.

When believers look to the university for insights regarding the human condition and for guidance regarding ministry to the human condition, then it can be said without fear of contradiction that those believers have abandoned one of the leading implications of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. You cannot believe in a sovereign Creator and seek your ethics from another source; you cannot believe in a sovereign Creator and look to another source for an explanation for life’s complexities.

If there is a sovereign God and this sovereign God speaks, then whatever this sovereign God says must be viewed as supremely authoritative. And, it so happens, the sovereign Creator of this universe has spoken and He has spoken to every area of life. This should help us better comprehend the nature of sin. Sin is ignoring, contradicting, or disobeying the Word of this sovereign God. Sin is no small matter.

As I’ve said before, the cross should forever put to rest the question of how serious sin is in the eyes of our sovereign God. Throughout the entire created universe, no satisfaction for our sin could be found. Imagine that—nothing existed to satisfy our offense against God. We could offer the blood of every creature, including man himself, and it would not be sufficient for atonement. We could add to that offering all the planets and stars and other marvels found in the creation and it still wouldn’t even begin to be enough. Sin against a holy God is serious on a level we seldom visit.

Were it not for the fact that God Himself paid for our transgressions against Him, we would have no way of escape. Can you begin to appreciate both the horrible character of your sin and the glorious nature of Christ’s atonement? It took the death of God in the flesh to atone for us. In light of this truth, ask yourself how you should relate to the Word of that same God. Does it sound reasonable to you that we would pay half-hearted attention to the commandments of God? Does it seem acceptable to you to wink at sin and act as if our violations of God’s holy Word are regrettable, but not profoundly perverse?

Given what was required to meet the judgment of our sovereign God, sin of any type and sin at any time should cause us to hang our heads and cry out in repentance to God, asking Him to forgive us. But how often does that happen in the lives of Christians today?

There is a third implication of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty that I must mention. This implication has to do with the will of God and the course of history. If what the Bible teaches about the sovereignty of God is true, what does that tell us about the nature of history? If God is sovereign, doesn’t this mean that His will is always done? If God is sovereign, if there is no being or power that can overcome Him or successfully oppose Him, doesn’t this mean that whatever God desires will come to pass? Is it possible to have a sovereign and independent Creator whose will is not the determining factor for the course of history? Is it possible to have a sovereign and independent God and also have such things as luck, chance, coincidence, or randomness?

If the Bible’s teaching regarding the sovereignty of God is true, then His will must be the basis for the course of history, both generally and individually. That is, not only does a sovereign God determine the general substance and direction of history, He also, if He is truly sovereign, must determine the course of every life.

This is what the Bible teaches in connection with the sovereignty of God. This doctrine means that poverty and prosperity are in the hands of God; God gives and God withholds as He chooses. This means that nations rise and fall according to the will of God; a land is blessed or a land is cursed according to the desires of God. This means that the way of man will forever be subject to the will of man’s Creator; man is not sovereign, he is a creature bound to honor and serve God. This means that the events of each day have been determined by our sovereign God; this means that the end of our days has been determined by our sovereign God.

The prophet Isaiah says that God, the sovereign God of the Bible, is the One who declares the end from the beginning; this God is the One who says, “My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.” (Isa. 46:10) The Bible is not silent concerning the implications of God’s sovereignty. The problem we face is that we read those passages, but don’t let them saturate our minds so that our lives start conforming to what we have learned.

This sovereign God chose His people in Christ before the foundation of the world (cf. Eph. 1:4). This sovereign God kills and makes alive (cf. 1 Sam. 2:6); those who contend with this sovereign God “will be shattered...” (1 Sam. 2:10). The sovereign God of the Bible is the One who speaks, and it is done; He commands, and it stands fast (Psa. 33:9)

Once again, there are dozens of verses and passages that make such wonderful statements about the God of the Bible. All of creation is subject to Him because He is sovereign. This God, as our Confession states, “from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass...” Therefore, there is no moment, no century, no life that is not encompassed by His decree. What an incredible thought! What a humbling doctrine!

These implications, which I have just explained, are seen in Covenant Theology. Covenant Theology gives proper emphasis to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty and its connotations. People mock Calvinism and reformed theology saying, “Those people really believe that nothing happens except what God allows” or “they teach that God alone decides who goes to heaven and who goes to hell.”

While they don’t agree with us, our critics recognize that our system of theology does, indeed, set forth the sovereignty of God at every turn. And I would add that, as a system of interpreting and applying the teaching of the Bible, Covenant Theology is superior to all other schemes because it interprets the Bible as the Bible requires and it lets the teaching of the Bible stand no matter what might be the reaction of man.

Think again of the three implications of God’s sovereignty that I covered. How are they handled in Covenant Theology? Covenant Theology unashamedly teaches that man must view his world and must understand his purpose in light of the existence of a sovereign Creator. When Covenant Theology speaks about this world and how man relates to it, this system doesn’t divorce the creation from the Creator.

When Covenant Theology speaks about the Word of God, this system emphasizes the absolute authority of that Word; it does so in proper recognition of the fact that the Word in question is the Word of a sovereign Creator. So, in Covenant Theology, the Word of God reigns supreme in all decisions and all discussions. In Covenant Theology, we are constantly asking, “What does the Bible say?”

And when Covenant Theology constructs a view of history, this system treats the subject as it should, as what has been determined by God. Covenant Theology doesn’t divide history into secular and sacred, but sees all history as nothing less than the unfolding of God’s holy decree. Covenant Theology teaches that there is meaning to history, that history is moving toward a glorious culmination.

This system sees every man at the mercy of God, every creature at the mercy of the Creator. Covenant Theology breeds humility; it develops godly character and mature vision because it consistently teaches us who God is and who we are. Maintaining that distinction in our minds is one of the critical keys to living honorably in this world.


It may sound like I’ve already covered the application, but I haven’t, at least not entirely. At this point, I want to provide a list of what I believe are the most significant consequences of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. This list is the fundamental application of this sermon, in terms of how what we have studied should affect you. Here, then, are five results that I believe should be present in our lives if we really believe the doctrine of God’s sovereignty.

First, there is comfort. What teaching, thought, idea, or claim can bring more comfort to our hearts than the doctrine of God’s sovereignty? According to this doctrine, prosperity and adversity are from the hand of a wise, loving, and all-powerful God. Nothing befalls us that is not part of His plan. According to this doctrine, God is always aware of us, always watching over us, and always guiding our steps. We have purpose and worth because we were put here by a sovereign Creator.

Life is not all pleasant, by any means, but this doctrine says that all of life is under the control of God; therefore, even the unpleasant periods of life can be endured. And, I trust you see the foolishness of complaining about life. If God is sovereign, there’s no basis for complaint. You can plead with Him to change your circumstances, but you must not grumble as if you are being treated unfairly; that is impossible for God.

Second, there is confidence. What teaching could give us greater confidence regarding our individual lives and the fate of our race than the doctrine of God’s sovereignty? According to this doctrine, all things are working together for good, as determined by the One who made all things. This doctrine lets us approach each day with assurance because we know that the course of each day has been ordered by our God. Whatever happens will be according to God’s perfect will.

Consequently, we can simply focus on God’s Word and do what we are supposed to do, knowing that if we are doing what God desires, we can’t go wrong. If the One that we are following is the strongest, wisest, and most powerful, why shouldn’t we have confidence? Why shouldn’t we be bold in our challenges to unbelief and sin? Why shouldn’t we live our convictions without apology? What do we have to fear? Is someone going to overthrow God and change the rules?

Third, there is hope. If God is sovereign, as the Bible claims, then hope should be a big part of our lives. Hope can be defined as the expectation of future blessings or as an optimistic anticipation concerning the future. Surely we can see that if the doctrine of God’s sovereignty is true, then we can view the future with nothing but hope. If a sovereign God is guiding us, if He is overseeing the course of history, and if this sovereign God is good and loving and righteous, then what are we to expect?

Should we expect that creation will be ruined by man’s fall and God will be unable to reclaim it? Should we believe that God will try, but at last will be unable to restore us? God’s sovereignty is the ground for hope; it is the ground for expecting that all things and all men are being and will be used for the glory of the Creator. Pessimism and the doctrine of God’s sovereignty are mutually exclusive. You cannot be pessimistic about the future and still believe in God’s sovereignty.

Fourth, there is humility. There is no more proper reaction to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty than humility. This doctrine puts man in his place and allows him no sense of importance apart from his Creator. To be told that you are a dependent creature, one totally at the mercy of an all-powerful Creator, is a humbling thing. But if it’s true, it’s true! Pretending that it is not true will not change the facts. Pretending that it is not true will not remove us from God’s oversight. Embracing the doctrine of God’s sovereignty with a grateful and humble heart, on the other hand, is where an enjoyable, productive, and peaceful life begins.

Fifth, there is obedience. Obedience is as much a logical result of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty as anything I’ve said. If we are not our Creator’s equals, then we are His servants. Servants do what their Master desires. And when servants have a loving, kind, gentle, generous Master, One who provides for life here and life in eternity, they are particularly eager to do the will of that Master. As I mentioned earlier, understanding the sovereignty of God should result in our absolute disgust with every manifestation sin—whether it is a sinful thought, a sinful word, or a sinful action.

Let me leave you with one final word. It is in Jesus Christ that we are able to understand this doctrine of God’s sovereignty. In Christ, we are given renewed minds with which to study the Scriptures; we are given renewed hearts from which flow these fruits of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty when we come to understand it and rejoice in it. In Covenant Theology, the doctrine of God’s absolute sovereignty forms a foundation for much of what the system teaches.

Covenant Theology emphasizes this doctrine and, therefore, as a theological system, emphasizes comfort, confidence, hope, humility, and obedience. And it also gives undivided attention to Christ because without Him, we would not and could not grasp anything about God. Covenant Theology glories God by glorifying the Son of God—just like Scripture.


Communion hymn


We conclude our worship of the sovereign God today with the observance of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Our participation in this sacrament signals our belief in the sovereignty of God. We are celebrating the life, death, and resurrection of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, as ordained by the sovereign God.

The Scripture says that Jesus was “delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). That was so He could be nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put to death. Our sovereign God appointed His own Son to suffer, die, and live again for us. In His wisdom, this was the means ordained whereby we are restored as His creatures. The God who is sovereign is the God who sovereignly loved us in Christ. Having given us His Son, will He not also guide us, protect us, and deliver us to Himself in due time?

As you receive the elements, give thanks to God for His sovereign provision of salvation; ask for His blessings and strength, which He can and will provide.

Matthew 26:26 While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” 27 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. 29 But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom.”

Even in these words, there is declaration concerning the sovereignty of God. How could Jesus promise to celebrate with us one day in the future unless that future is guaranteed? And how could the future be guaranteed except by the existence of a sovereign God? Amen.

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