Omnipotence. (Power, Sovereignty)

by Wayne Grudem

God’s omnipotence means that God is able to do all his holy will. The word omnipotence is derived from two Latin words, omni, “all,” and potens, “powerful,” and means “all-powerful.” Whereas God’s freedom referred to the fact that there are no external constraints on God’s decisions, God’s omnipotence has reference to his own power to do what he decides to do.

This power is frequently mentioned in Scripture. God is “The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle!” (Ps. 24:8). The rhetorical question, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” (Gen. 18:14; Jer. 32:27) certainly implies (in the contexts in which it occurs) that nothing is too hard for the LORD. In fact, Jeremiah says to God, “nothing is too hard for you” (Jer. 32:17).

Paul says that God is “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20), and God is called the “Almighty” (2 Cor. 6:18; Rev. 1:8), a term (Gk. pantokratōr) that suggests the possession of all power and authority. Furthermore, the angel Gabriel says to Mary, “With God nothing will be impossible” (Luke 1:37), and Jesus says, “With God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26).

These passages indicate that God’s power is infinite, and that he is therefore not limited to doing only what he actually has done. In fact, God is able to do more than he actually does. For example, John the Baptist says in Matthew 3:9, “God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.” God is one who “does whatever he pleases” (Ps. 115:3); he could have destroyed Israel and raised up a great nation from Moses (cf. Ex. 32:10), but he did not do so.

However, there are some things that God cannot do. God cannot will or do anything that would deny his own character. This is why the definition of omnipotence is stated in terms of God’s ability to do “all his holy will.” It is not absolutely everything that God is able to do, but everything that is consistent with his character. For example, God cannot lie. In Titus 1:2 he is called (literally) “the unlying God” or the “God who never lies.” The author of Hebrews says that in God’s oath and promise “it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18, author’s translation). Second Timothy 2:13 says of Christ, “He cannot deny himself.” Furthermore, James says, “God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13). Thus, God cannot lie, sin, deny himself, or be tempted with evil. He cannot cease to exist, or cease to be God, or act in a way inconsistent with any of his attributes.

This means that it is not entirely accurate to say that God can do anything. Even the Scripture passages quoted above that use phrases similar to this must be understood in their contexts to mean that God can do anything he wills to do or anything that is consistent with his character. Although God’s power is infinite, his use of that power is qualified by his other attributes (just as all God’s attributes qualify all his actions). This is therefore another instance where misunderstanding would result if one attribute were isolated from the rest of God’s character and emphasized in a disproportionate way.

God’s exercise of power over his creation is also called God’s sovereignty. God’s sovereignty is his exercise of rule (as “sovereign” or “king”) over his creation. This subject will be discussed in more detail in chapter 16, on God’s providence.

As we conclude our treatment of God’s attributes of purpose, it is appropriate to realize that he has made us in such a way that we show in our lives some faint reflection of each of them. God has made us as creatures with a will. We exercise choice and make real decisions regarding the events of our lives. Although our will is not absolutely free in the way God’s is, God has nonetheless given us relative freedom within our spheres of activity in the universe he has created.

In fact, we have an intuitive sense that it is our ability to exercise our wills and make choices, and to do so in a relatively free way, that is one of the most significant marks of God-likeness in our existence. Of course our desire to exercise our wills and our desire to be free from restraint can show themselves in sinful ways. People can become proud and can desire a kind of freedom that involves rebellion against God’s authority and a refusal to obey his will. Nonetheless, when we use our will and our freedom to make choices that are pleasing to God, we reflect his character and bring glory to him. When human beings are deprived of their ability to make free choices by evil governments or by other circumstances, a significant part of their God-likeness is suppressed. It is not surprising that they will pay almost any price to regain their freedom. American revolutionary Patrick Henry’s cry, “Give me liberty or give me death!” finds an echo deep within every soul created in the image of God.

We do not of course have infinite power or omnipotence any more than we have infinite freedom or any of God’s other attributes to an infinite degree. But even though we do not have omnipotence, God has given us power to bring about results, both physical power and other kinds of power: mental power, spiritual power, persuasive power, and power in various kinds of authority structures (family, church, civil government, and so forth). In all of these areas, the use of power in ways pleasing to God and consistent with his will is again something that brings him glory as it reflects his own character.


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