“For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:47-48)
Is God sovereign? Every follower of Christ knows that the answer must be yes, for if he is not sovereign, he is not God, the maker of heaven and earth. But it is one thing to say that God is sovereign, and another thing altogether to realize the breadth of that statement.
Our inclination as sinful, fallen creatures is to reject, or at least restrict, the sovereignty of God, particularly when it comes to our salvation. We desperately want to have a part to play. We can easily explain away God’s singular role in our salvation in many of the verses of Scripture that seem to indicate that He alone, from beginning to end, brings salvation. But then we come to this passage in Acts 13.
“…and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” Here is a wonderous Scripture that speaks so clearly of the sovereignty of God in salvation. God chooses people for salvation, not the opposite. God is the divine initiator. Salvation is God’s idea, not ours. He is the author, architect, and finisher of HIS salvation. Some would at this point quote Revelation 22:17 (but only from the KJV – the infamous “whosoever wills” passage) to show that God still only saves those who are willing to be saved. And here’s the thing – that is true. Those believed to whom God gave the power to believe. They believed whose hearts the Lord opened. As Charles Spurgeon wrote:
A man is not saved against his will, but he is made willing by the operation of the Holy Ghost. A mighty grace which he does not wish to resist enters into the man, disarms him, makes a new creature of him, and he is saved.
Though “he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him,” he does this in time and space. God alone predestines, calls, justifies and glorifies (Rom. 8:30). As Josiah Conder wrote:
‘Tis not that I did choose thee, for, Lord, that could not be;
this heart would still refuse thee, hadst thou not chosen me.
Thou from the sin that stained me has cleansed and set me free;
of old thou has ordained me, that I should live to thee.
But the real shocker here was that these who believed were Gentiles, in the very heart of heathen Antioch of Pisidia. This was 1 of 7 different Antiochs in the Roman Empire during the 1st century. This particular one was a Roman colony and the most important city of southern Galatia. One historian wrote that these Gentiles were known for “all manner of hideous practices such as drinking blood from human skulls.” A few years later Paul wrote a letter to the church that was planted there, a letter to the Galatians. These blood-drinking Gentiles were among the very first Gentiles to receive the atoning sacrifice of God’s Son, the first of millions upon millions (for which each of us should be eternally grateful to God).
This is great news if there ever was any! God loves Gentiles, too, and wants them, along with the Jews, to spend eternity with Him. God is saving a people FOR HIMSELF. Oh what a thought, this grace has saved a wretch like me!