The Shortened Arm

In Isaiah 59:1, Scripture records these words, “Behold, the LORD’S hand is not so short That it cannot save; Nor is His ear so dull That it cannot hear.” (NASB) Why, then, is God treated by so many people as well-meaning in His desire to save individuals but impotent to actually do so? Is God’s arm actually shorter than the prophet Isaiah thought it was? It irks me to no end to hear sloppy preaching that says, “God has done all He can do, now it is up to you to be saved. You must take that final step on your own.” As if God is helplessly standing by watching millions of people slide into outer darkness because they will not take that step and He cannot reach out to them. That is not what Isaiah 59 says! If you go on to read the chapter you see a picture of man’s descent into sin and his impotence to help himself. The verses talk about how we fell so far that we hope for salvation (11) but are unable to bring it about. Then, because we cannot save ourselves, God’s own arm (16) brought salvation.

Jesus was sent to save His people from their sins. His very name reflects this truth. All the Father gave Him, He redeemed. He did not and cannot fail to save those the Father has elected to be adopted into His family. As has been written many times before on this site, God is Sovereign over the affairs of men and Jesus is both willing and able to save those whom He chooses to save.

I also get tired of preachers spouting, “The Holy Spirit is a gentleman, He will never force you to do anything you do not want to do.” Really? Where do they find that in Scripture? Must be from one of those “lite” versions of the Bible. Mine describes Him as  a counselor, a rebuker, a teacher, a convicter, a judge, an exhorter, an enabler, a baptizer, and a consuming fire but nowhere in Scripture does it say that the Holy Spirit is a gentleman. Certainly Saul of Tarsus was rudely interrupted on his way to Damascus to merrily kill more Christians. Scripture records Ananias being told that Saul would be taught what things He would suffer for Jesus’ sake. Hardly a gentlemanly way of dealing with someone, and this after being blinded. The Holy Spirit is likened to a wind – it rushes, catches, carries and moves us. It caught up Phillip and deposited him miles away from the Ethiopian eunuch, it swept up Elijah and blew as tongues of fire at Pentecost. Yes, a gentle zephyr is wind also but God works in many ways. Sometimes He does deal gently with us but sometimes He moves violently, swiftly, surely. There are times when God does force people to do certain things. He gives commands – Repent or perish. That is hardly a gentlemanly statement. He whips merchants from the Temple and calls people names. God sends a storm to stop Jonah from going on his merry way and keeps Paul from entering Bithynia. God is sovereign over His creation.

Sovereignty is such a frightening concept to those under the illusion that they are in charge of their little piece of the universe. Instead of seeing sovereignty as a doctrine of complete comfort, allowing us to rest in the hands and plans of a good God who knows what is best for us at all times; instead of seeing sovereignty as God loving us so much He actively keeps us from destroying ourselves, those who undermine this great doctrine do so because of a false notion that they are in charge of their own life. If God is, as Scripture states, sovereign over the affairs of men, don’t you see that this includes their salvation?

I serve a God whose arm was long enough and strong enough to reach down and save me when I was yet unaware of my condition. It was He who awoke my spirit to life, He who gave me spiritual sight to behold His glory, He who gave me faith to believe the promises He told to me, He who granted to me grace, mercy and forgiveness and He who sealed my spirit with His forevermore. Praise be to the God with long arms — great things He has done!

3 thoughts on “The Shortened Arm

  1. Of course man is unable to save himself. And yet, he must still make a choice. God does all the work, but faith is not a work.
    Irresistible? We have all resisted his will in our lives. I resisted his call to salvation for years.
    God is sovereign over his sovereignty. Yes, he could force us to repent, but he wants us to obey out of love, not fear.

    If God irresistibly chooses only certain “elect” people, why would he stop with their salvation? Why isn’t sanctification also irresistible?
    He is not willing that any should perish.
    If he were irresistibly saving whoever he wished, all would be

    • Thank you for reading the article and taking the time to comment. Occasionally I have read articles at your site and find some interesting thoughts there that cause me to think (always a good thing — especially the BROKEN poem.) Perhaps we are talking past each other in regards to “irrestible” grace, a term I did not use because I think it is poorly constructed to convey the idea behind it. Sometimes the term irresistible grace is used to refer to the fact that God effectively calls people and also gives them regeneration, and both actions guarantee that we will respond in saving faith. As our heart is made alive spiritually and our eyes are opened to the beauty and grace of the Lord we are drawn to Him as a natural reaction of the new person we have become. The term irresistible grace is subject to misunderstanding, however, since it seems to imply that people do not make a voluntary, willing choice in responding to the gospel—a wrong idea, and a wrong understanding of the term irresistible grace. The term is valuable, though, in that it indicates that God’s work reaches into our hearts to bring about a response that is absolutely certain—even though we respond voluntarily. It doesn’t mean that we don’t kick and scream along the way, it means that in the end His will is accomplished as He brings us to our senses by intervening in our lives. I would also say that God has not stopped with “salvation” as you put it, since salvation is more than the initial act of belief. We are being conformed each day to be more like His Son and will, one day, be presented before God holy and blameless, a bride adorned in white. I do agree that God is sovereign over His sovereignty. I think we need to be careful not to assume what that sovereignty entails.

  2. I agree that a lot of our terms are subject to being misunderstood. And I suspect we have different views of what God’s sovereignty entails, especially in regards to salvation. But, if you’ve been to my site, you’ve already seen that, so I won’t go into it farther here.

    Another misunderstood term is “free will” Even though I believe that we have libertarian free will according to scripture, our will certainly has limits. I can’t respond to God unless he is calling me, but I also have the option of rejecting his call. So, yes, I believe that there are many people who he is willing to save and many he would take onward to a closer walk, but they are not willing. Does he sometimes use drastic measures to reach us? Certainly, but many will refuse to see even if a dead man came back and told them the truth. God in his sovereignty has created a world where men can choose to reject him.
    Anyway, it’s all good, we can agree to disagree.

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