Can God’s Warnings and Our Response Be Genuine If He Is Absolutely Sovereign?
The shipwreck story of Acts 27 is a fascinating paradigmatic story illustrating the compatibility of divine sovereignty, human responsibility, and the role of promise and warning to achieve God’s ends.
In a nutshell, here are the three key elements at work in this regard:
The situation on the ship: “All hope of our being saved was at last abandoned” (v. 20).
A word to Paul from the Lord: “There will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship” (v. 22). “God has granted you all those who sail with you” (v. 24). “Not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you” (v. 34).
Paul’s warning to the centurion and the soldiers on the ship: “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved” (v. 31).
Tom Schreiner explains:
The storm struck with such fury that all aboard despaired of living (Acts 27:13-19). Paul, however, received a word from the Lord that every single person on the ship would be saved, i.e., every single person’s life would be preserved (Acts 27:20-26).
The word that all aboard the ship would live was a divine promise, pledging safety for all. Some of us might be inclined to relax and “take it easy” after receiving such a promise. Paul, on the other hand, did not think that such a promise ruled out the need for admonitions and warnings. This is clear as we read on in the narrative. The sailors feigned that they were merely lowering anchors, when actually they intended to lower the lifeboat and escape the ship (Acts 27:29-32). Paul responded by warning the centurion that if the sailors left the ship the lives of those on board would not be preserved.
Why would Paul even bother to admonish the centurion about the scheme of the sailors? After all, he already had received a promise from an angel that everyone on the boat would escape with their lives. Paul did not reason the way many of us do today, “God has promised that the lives of all will be saved, therefore, any warning is superfluous.” No, the urgent warning was the very means by which the promise was secured. The promise did not come to pass apart from the warning but through it.
This same approach should be applied to the promises and threats in the scriptures regarding our salvation. It is by means of taking the warnings seriously that the promise of our salvation is secured.
An accessible elaboration of Schreiner’s perspective on the warning passages of Scripture and the doctrine of perseverance can be found in his book Run to Win the Prize: Perseverance in the New Testament.