I have many Calvinist friends, and when we discuss matters of theology or doctrine, almost inevitably, the conversation turns to them saying something like "That's because of God's sovereignty," or "That undermines God's sovereignty."

In fact, most (if not all) of the 5 points of 5-point Calvinism hinge on the sovereignty of God as their cornerstone, either directly, or as they build on the other points.

I have my own idea of what God's sovereignty means, but it must be quite different than what Calvinists mean by this phrase, because when they throw that phrase at me to support their views, I usually see my concept of God's sovereignty contradicting their view.

So... what is the Calvinist view of God's sovereignty, and where is it based in scripture?

  • 2
    comes across as overly broad... it might be helpful if you gave an example where God's sovereignty is appealed to, where you disagree that the doctrine applies. Perhaps such would make for a more focused question
    – Ray
    Oct 13, 2011 at 22:51
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    The truth is, I'm hoping for a general answer, so that I can frame my more specific questions more appropriately. One example could be "How does a person choosing God's gift of salvation undermine God's sovereignty? Can't God, in his sovereignty, choose to give people the ability to make that choice?" But I feel like this is too narrow to provide a useful understanding/definition of what Calvinists mean by "God's sovereignty."
    – Flimzy
    Oct 13, 2011 at 22:59
  • The question is fine. It's asking for a definition, which is well within the scope of the site's standards. Great question. +1
    – Jas 3.1
    Jul 13, 2013 at 2:16

2 Answers 2


As a Calvinist, I believe God's Sovereignty to mean God has actively decreed all that will come to pass, and has done so for His glory in all things. God knows all that will come to pass because He has determined it, however not in the passive sense like I determine the temperature of water by touching it. Rather, God has actively determined all that will come to pass, and nothing occurs outside of God's decree.

Further, God's decree does not strive against man's will, in that man is forced into doing all that God decrees man will do, but instead man's will is determined by the decree. We willingly do that which God has decreed we will do (yet not necessarily that which God has prescribed).

With regards to Salvation, our view is that man is depraved and incapable of doing anything that pleases the LORD. In this state of depravity man will always despise the things of God, and will never seek them. It is only when God, in an act of grace, replaces the sinners heart of stone with a heart of flesh that the sinner will then will to do the things of God, and will come to God in obedience and belief.

So it's not God's choice vs man's choice. God doesn't coerce man into becoming saved. Rather, God's power radically changes man's heart so that man will willingly seek the LORD.

There are many very clear passages regarding this, however one very popular text is John 6 where we can read the following statements from Jesus:

"All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." - John 6:37 KJV

Calvinists read here that anybody the Father gives to the Son will indeed come to the Son.

"And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day." - John 6:39 KJV

Here we read further that Christ came to do the Fathe'rs will, and that will is that all of those whom the Father gave to the Son, the Son will lose none of them, but will raise them up.

"No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day." - John 6:44 KJV

"And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father." - John 6:65 KJV

So no man has the ability or desire to come to Christ outside of the affectionate drawing by the Father.

This is by no means exhaustive. If I might suggest a book on the topic, I would suggest The Potter's Freedom, by Dr. James White.

  • "Further, God's decree does not strive against man's will, in that man is forced into doing all that God decrees man will do, but instead man's will is determined by the decree. We willingly do that which God has decreed we will do (yet not necessarily that which God has prescribed)." Is "free" will omitted for anyparticular reason? :) Sep 6, 2017 at 13:22
  • Good is good. So if he could control everything then he is therefore responsible for all the bad. All rape, murder and hate. Clearly that's error. So God is not in control of everything but gives you and I freedom to choose including independent ability to believe in His salvation plan.
    – hookenz
    Mar 17, 2018 at 8:14

I agree with Jonathan, but here's a more comprehensive answer: Total depravity teaches that we are so corrupted in nature that we are unable to come to God in faith (since that would count as a good work, which we're unable to do):

Romans 8:7, 8 (NIV)
7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

Titus 1: 15, 16 (NIV)
15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. 16 They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.

John 6:44 (NIV)
44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.

Unconditional Election teaches us that God chooses us before we do anything to merit being chosen (i.e. nobody ever deserves it, but God chooses some people anyway):

Ephesians 1: 4-6 (NIV)
4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he[b] predestined us for adoption to sonship[c] through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

Ephesians 1:11 (NIV)
11 In him we were also chosen,[e] having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will

Romans 9: 11-13 (NIV)
11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”[d] 13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

Limited Atonment teaches that Christ didn't effectively die for everyone but only for Christians (i.e. those who would accept) - as opposed to the Arminian view that Christ's death had potential effectiveness for everyone although few benefit from it because not everyone believes in Jesus.

Matthew 1:21 (NIV)
21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,[f] because he will save his people from their sins.” (note that He can't be saving everyone from their sins - just His people)

Romans 8:30 (NIV)
30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (note that he would not have justified those he know wouldn't accept Him)

John 17:9 (NIV)
9 I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.

Irristable Grace teaches us that when God chooses, He enlightens the unregenerate man and that person, understanding the Gospel, always accepts it:

John 6:37 (NIV)
37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.

Acts 13:48 (NIV)
48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.

Acts 16:14 (NIV)
14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.

Perseverance of the Saints is sometimes incorrectly understood as Once Saved Always Saved. The sentiment is correct but the tone is not. Calvinists believe that true Christians will always persevere - they cannot fall away from faith if they're true Christians.

John 6:38 (NIV)
And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.

Ephesians 1:13, 14 (NIV)
13b When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

Philippians 1:4-6 (NIV)
4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

John 10: 28, 29 (NIV)
28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all[c]; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.

I think there are good arguments for the both sides of the debate (based in Scripture) but I personally favour Calvinism. You'll note how beautifully Calvinism fits together (indeed, that integration is required) - if we're too corrupt to accept God, then God must choose us, which means He only has to die for the ones that He knows He'll save knowing that he can save them with irrisistable grace at the right time, and knowing that the ones he chooses will always stay Christian.

  • 1
    An interesting answer, but I note the word 'sovereignty' doesn't show up even once in your answer--and that's what the question is all about. Can you tie this back to the actual question some how?
    – Flimzy
    Oct 15, 2011 at 17:13
  • Absolutely. I was adding to Jonathan's answer so didn't feel the need when I wrote my answer above. The Calvinist view of God's sovereignty is that God controls man's salvation even to the point of deciding whether a person will accept or not. So people are saved because God chose them, or they go to Hell because God didn't choose them. A person simply will not ever choose to serve God unless God has decided it first. The 5 points above (also called TULIP) explain how and why God acts like this (summarised in my final paragraph). Will be writing the Arminian answer to Calvinism shortly.
    – Screamer
    Oct 15, 2011 at 19:49

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