What is the Work of God?

God’s Plan

When we talk about the work of God, we are referring to the outworking of his external plan for this life, based upon his wise and holy purpose, whereby God controls and oversees all that comes to pass. Everything was created and exists for his glory. The work of God is founded upon his self-existence; and, because God always has existed, he knew all things from all eternity. Therefore, his work fits into one eternal and unchangeable plan, that all come to the saving knowledge of his Son, and through this salvation God is glorified-the ultimate will of God.

The work of God is based upon God’s sovereignty. From “before the foundation of the world” (1 Pet. 1:20), God had foreordained his plan to save men. While God’s purpose was determined in eternity, his work is performed in time. However, a few facts must be kept clearly in mind.

Some theologians emphasize that God works in salvation by choosing certain individuals, that Christ died for them, and that the Holy Spirit sovereignly brought them to salvation. Others emphasize that God offers salvation to all men because Christ died for the sins of the world. Although these views seem contradictory, the Bible seems to teach that both are true (2 Thess. 2:13, 14).

The Source of Salvation

The ultimate source of our, salvation is the Lord (Jonah 2:10). The apostle Paul used several words to describe God’s sovereignty; “predestinate,” “foreknowledge,” “chosen,” “the counsel of God,” “God’s will,” and “God’s good pleasure.” A proper understanding of these words will help us understand God’s work in salvation. These words are used in Scripture in relationship to God’s programs, principles, and plans that relate to salvation, sanctification, and God’s ultimate glorification. We know that God has an eternal Plan for the salvation of those who call upon him.


One of these words is “predestinate”-proorizo (Acts 4:28; Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:5, 11, translated “determine”). This word means “to decide upon beforehand.” God originated a plan for man’s salvation and offered it to everyone who would respond in faith. The apostle wrote of God’s predestined plan for the world because he loves the world he created (John 3:16), then he died for the sin of the world (John 1:29), and calls everyone to partake in that plan. Therefore, “predestinate” deals primarily with those who respond to his plan (Rom. 8:28, 29).


Another of these words is “foreknowledge”-proginosko. Foreknowledge speaks of God’s knowledge of the future (Acts 2:23; 26:5; Rom. 8:29; 11:2; 1 Pet. 1:2, 20; 2 Pet. 3:17). Foreknowledge means foreordination (Acts 2:23; 1 Peter 2:20). Those whom God foreknew, those upon whom he set his love beforehand, he ordained to be conformed to the image of his Son.

On the day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter vividly illustrated the harmony that exists between the sovereignty of God and man’s personal responsibility. Even though the cross was in the eternal plan of God and a part of his sovereign will, those who crucified Christ did so as a rebellious act of their will. God had predetermined the plan, which Peter said, “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (Acts 2:23).


Paul used the word eklegomai, translated sometimes “chosen,” to describe the people God will save (1 Cor. 1:27, 28; Eph. 1:4). The word is also translated “elect” (Rom. 11:7; Col. 3:12; 1 Thess. 1:4). Those who responded to God’s call were those that God had chosen for salvation. God’s election is an (exercise of his choice (John 15:16; 1 Peter 2:9), as he gives salvation as a free gift to those whom he has chosen (Eph. 2:410; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:4-7).


The word “call”-kletos-originates out of his sovereignty (Rom. 1:1, 6, 7; 1 Cor. 1:26; 7:20; Eph. 1:18; 4:1; 2 Thess. 2:11). Those whom God has elected hear his call to salvation. Jesus laid. “He that is of God heareth God’s words; ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God” (John 8:47). Those who have been given to Christ hear him (John 10:25-28). The command to preach the gospel is not a contradiction of the truths concerning election. The invitation to receive Christ is the means used by God to call out those whom he has chosen.


Paul used the verb protitheemi, translated “Purpose,” in terms of his overall plans (Rom. 1:13; 3:25; Eph. 1:9). The other word, boulee-“counsel”-also carries the same meaning (Acts 13:26; 20:27; Eph. 1:11). These words relate to the volitional nature of God, that he can translate his desires into an organized program relating to his creation. God’s will is related to his knowledge, here the word eudokia-“good pleasure” [of his will]-relates to sovereignty (Eph. 1:5). These words describe the initiative God has taken in salvation, but they never deny man’s moral responsibility before God. The basis of God’s acts of sovereignty is his nature, “For it is God which worketh in You both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).

At times God calls, expecting man to answer and at other times God punishes so man will respond. On other occasions, God sovereignly directs through inner direction such as giving a burden to men (Isa. 21:1, 11, 13). The Christian can be led of the Spirit both consciously (Rom. 8:14) and when he is captive to circumstances (Acts 21:14). Whether God leads directly or indirectly, by leading or Pushing, by enticement or by compulsion, God works all things to his glory (Rom. 8:28). But in freedom, man will sin and miss God’s best road, or man will reject and go to bell. And in the final analysis, God’s sovereignty cannot be man’s defense at the judgment. Because man was created in the image of God, so each man is responsible for his free choice.

God’s Wisdom

The work of God is based upon God’s wisdom. God does everything in infinite wisdom and holiness. Sometimes this may not be readily seen by us, but with Paul we must recognize “the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” (Rom. 11:33). We need to be reminded constantly that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men” (1 Cor. 1:25).

Habakkuk failed to understand that God had a wise plan on earth, so he encountered problems trying to understand the work of God. He knew that God’s people had sinned and deserved the judgment of God. Habakkuk could not understand why God did not judge them. Then he began to see how God was working to raise up a wicked nation to judge Judah. The Old Testament prophecy of Habakkuk records the intellectual struggles of a prophet trying to understand the work of God.

The work of God is consistent with his nature. There is nothing and no one capable of motivating God’s work apart from his nature. There was no one to advise and counsel God or influence any of his decisions (Isa. 40:13, 14). The nature of God demands the sovereignty of God in all areas of his work.

God is Sovereign

Some have misunderstood the sovereignty of God by denying it or misapplying it. Those who deny it fail to recognize that “salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). If God is sovereign in the matter of salvation, it is easier to understand the security of the believer. We are neither saved nor kept by our own works. “Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25).

The work of God is committed to glorify God. God has “created all things, and for [his] pleasure they are and were created” (Rev. 4:11). The psalmist wrote, “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps. 19:1). Paul told the Ephesians that their conversion was performed “to the praise of the glory of his grace” (Eph. 1:6). The purpose of God’s work is to bring glory to himself. The responsibility of all creation is to glorify God. If in our lives and conversation we bring dishonor to God, we have failed to do the will of God. When we do what God desires, we will naturally glorify God and direct honor him.

The work of God is both passive and active. Sometimes the work of God is active. This occurs when God causes things to happen to us according to his plan for our life. Understanding what we need and what is best for us, God will sometimes direct the circumstances around us to provide experiences, opportunities, and provisions to aid us in our lives.

At other times, the work of God is passive. The classic example of this is found in the life of Job. God allowed the devil to hinder the life of job but not the purpose of God. When the devil was permitted on two occasions to test job, on both occasions divine limits were set on the testings. God used the devil to accomplish something in the life of job while God remained passive. Today, when God allows the same to be accomplished in our lives, we have the promise of divine limits set by a God who knows us better than we know ourselves. “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13).

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Dr. Elmer Towns is a college and seminary professor, an author of popular and scholarly works (the editor of two encyclopedias), a popular seminar lecturer, and dedicated worker in Sunday school, and has developed over 20 resource packets for leadership education.His personal education includes a B.S. from Northwestern College in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a M.A. from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary also in Dallas, a MRE from Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, and a D.Min. from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.He is co-founder of Liberty University, with Jerry Falwell, in 1971, and was the only full-time teacher in the first year of Liberty’s existence. Today, the University has over 11,400 students on campus with 39,000 in the Distance Learning Program (now Liberty University Online), and he is the Dean of the School of Religion.Dr. Towns has given theological lectures and taught intensive seminars at over 50 theological seminaries in America and abroad. He holds visiting professorship rank in five seminaries. He has written over 2,000 reference and/or popular articles and received six honorary doctoral degrees. Four doctoral dissertations have analyzed his contribution to religious education and evangelism.

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