Question: Can God really only do what we give him permission to?
Answer: Greetings friend. I will be happy to respond to your question today. It touches on who God is in his essence…but also on whom he is as he relates to us, his creatures. For this reason, there are two answers and a surprise conclusion. Let us begin by travelling down the roughest of the two roads, the one where we consider God’s attributes. We know that the person of God is forgiving. However, the theology of God is not. You will see what I mean by this when we look at God through our theological glasses, and after having donned them for a few minutes asking again, does God really need our okay to do things?
No, God does not need our permission to do anything. God is omnipotent and God is sovereign. This means firstly, that he is powerful enough to do whatever he wants, to whomever he wants, and whenever he wants, and secondly, that he can and will do all this without consulting humans about the appropriateness of his actions. He need not consider whether or not they meet society’s current standards of fairness, inclusion or political correctness. Please note well, however, that since God is sovereign, we cannot conclude that he is ever unfair in any of his dealings. Sovereignty simply trumps fairness and removes it from all measurement. Besides that, God prefers a more precise word to describe fairness—justice. Justice is God’s being fair to his holiness.
We call the known aspects of God, such as omnipotence, justice and holiness, his attributes. These attributes constrain God’s behavior without limiting his power or his magnificence. But by constrain I do not mean that he is overpowered by any of them. I mean that since God is a logical being, as evidenced by his creation of a logical universe, that he cannot do anything contradictory his nature. For instance, God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). This is not a limitation of his power. It is a manifestation of his person. God is truth itself (John 14:6). He is not merely a truthful being—although he certainly is all that. He is the Truth—and lying would contradict his nature. In like manner, God is love itself (1 John 4:8) and he cannot perform non-love to those who are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28). From a practicable standpoint, when God corrects us, even to our apparent hurt, this is a loving act…even though it may not feel like it at the time. This same principle applies to all of God’s attributes. They all reveal aspects of his nature, aspects which he can never violate. In summary, God will act certain ways because of who he is…and he will do so with us or without us. But I am not saying that we are totally without power or influence over God. On the contrary. God continually interacts with his children, and he wants us to participate fully in life, and fully with him.
According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the chief end of man (man meaning people, of course) “...is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” We can only accomplish this if we, as volitional human beings, work God’s plan to advance his Kingdom. God calls us to be disciples and to make disciples of others. That’s the job (Mat. 28:19). A disciple should pray, study God’s word, fellowship with believers and tell everyone about the redemption of sin by Jesus Christ. In this respect, God’s Kingdom only advances as we work our ministries. Therefore, God does indeed need our “permission”—although not specifically or verbally. We give God permission by implication when we decide for ourselves to serve him. Here is an example.
If the Holy Spirit were prompting me to send money to a particular missionary, but I ignored the urgency, then I would have derailed God’s will for me. God would never force me to give as if I were a mere puppet, and he the puppeteer. On the contrary. All our experience cries out that we are not puppets—that we are rather free agents who make our own decisions. Unfortunately, part of our non-puppet personalities is that we are selfish, lazy, distracted...the list goes on. And although we rarely know the full impact that our bad decisions had upon others, we surely would have missed the blessings that God reserves for us who serve. Therefore, the second answer to your question is only a guarded yes, because God will work his purposes with us or without us. However, something of what we could have had will indeed be missing if we stonewall the Holy Spirit, and in this respect, we would have refused God permission to bless us personally, or for us to bless others through our ministries.
Finally, the Holy Spirit indwells believers to make sure that the ports of communication remain open, and that the communications are clear between us and God (Rom. 8:26; Gal. 4:6)…and why would God do such a thing if he were not interested in our input? This is not to say that our prayers drive God around as if he were a ship that we steer with our holy wills. But as we pray and mature, we take on the mind of Christ. When that happens, we find that we walk where he wants us to walk—and do what he wants us to do…and the questions of limits dissolve as we become one with him. Permission, therefore, becomes a non-issue.
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20–21, ESV)
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:” (Philippians 2:5, KJV 1900)
I pray that this brief discussion has helped you.