This debate within Christisom has been raging for over 1,000 years. Christianity aside, it has been debated since day one with Eve and the serpent. But what does God make known about his sovereignty and our free will?
It is best to start with simple statements if truth.
- Is God sovereign over his creation? If you answer ‘no’ than you are not referring to the God of the Bible and thus this discussion would be vain. God declares, in holy scripture, that he is sovereign over all his creation. He is all-powerful and all-knowing (Psalm 147:5), outside of time (Exodus 3:14; Psalm 90:2), and responsible for the creation of everything (Genesis 1:1; John 1:1).
- Does human free will exist?. Yes. But there are less simple layers to this that we should also address. We do NOT make free choices spontainiously. That would mean choices that are completely void of reason, motivation, or intent. Thus, no reason or purpose to decide anything at all. Therefore something gives us reason and motivation to freely make one decision over another, or any decision at all. Our personal dispositions guide our free rational decision making.
We know that God is sovereign over all his creation AND humans are free to make decisions. So what’s the debate about? Welp, some feel that God’s sovereignty contradicts free will and either or. Some try to reduce and belittle God’s sovereignty to squeeze in free will to correct any preceived contradiction. And others deny God’s sovereignty and declare free will sovereign over God. We will address each perception.
- THERE IS NO FREE WILL
This idea called ‘hard determinism’ is contrary to what is made known in scripture. Again, holy scripture makes it clear there is free will that is motivated by our dispostions and we are held accountable for. Also, the existence and expectation of Love for God requires the existence of free will. The notion that there is no free will is ignorance.
2. GOD IS NOT SOVEREIGN OVER ALL CREATION
As addressed in simple truth 2, this idea is disproven by the fact that he created it and more powerful than it and not limited by it. Discerning those logical facts compels rational truth seeks to admit the obvious; God is God over all that he created. Scripture then makes it clear he alone sustains creation (Hebrews 1:3, Colossians 1:17). Matthew 5:45 is clear on this as well. Then it is God who will replace the old corrupted creation with a brand new creation (Isaiah 65:17, Revelation 21:5). From creating everything, sustainng everything, to rebooting everything – it is all God’s doing and will. Thus, complete sovereignty from start to finish and in all eternity.
3. GOD IS ONLY SOVEREIGN OVER SOME ASPECTS OF HIS CREATION.
The ‘quantity’ of what he is sovereign over here is not the point, but that he is just not sovereign over mans free will and is known as ‘libertarian free will’. This is the major debate currently.
First there is key points to be made here that does not seem to get addresssed by some of those who support this view.
Is Human Free Will eternal? Did IT exist WITH God before creation?
Since ONLY God existed before the beginning of all creation we are compelled to answer ‘no’; human free will was not before creation or eternally with God therefore was created with humanity. BUT God had knowledge of each and every persons free decisions before creation; that does not mean the essence of will was sovereign apart from God or brought into existence yet. For anyone to state that HUMAN free will existed with God before the creation of humanity; that is NOT supported by the eternal Word of God. Thus we must conclude that the Free Will of man was created and granted by God.
The boundaries of free will
As we have already established, free will is limited in that it did not exist and had to have been created and imputed. Also, humans can not will themselves to see everythought in the minds of people on the other side of the world; they can not will themselves to be actually present at multiple locations around the world at the same time; they can’t will themselves to instantly know all there is to know in the universe; they can’t will themselves to conception (birth), and can’t will themselves back from absolute bodily death. This alone establishes proof of the limitations of human free will. Thus, the boundaries of our free will is our nature.
In the spiritual sense, holy scripture makes it clear that humans can’t will themselves to salvation or righteousness either. These are the boundaries due to our sinful nature (Romans 6:6, 8:3; Colossians 3:5). Every human has this spiritual boundary (Isaiah 53:6, Romans 3:10-12). And Paul himself makes this explicitly clear (Romans 7:14-25). Solomon just drops the hammer in Ecclesiastes 7:20. Even from birth! If you’re a parent you see it in your children. They aren’t initially taught to lie, steal and covet; but they do. David makes it explicitly clear in Psalm 51:5, 58:3.
With in the boundaries
Now within the boundaries of our free will, we are free to make choices based on our disposition and desires. It is here that we are accountable for those decisions. God makes it clear we have the free ability to chose but also the responsibility to chose what God has made know to be right. We are all given the responsibility to repent and believe (Matthew 3:2; 4:17; Acts 3:19; 1 John 3:23). Jesus identifies this chosen refusal when he stated “You refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:40). They could have come if they wanted to; their problem was they chose not to. “A man reaps what he sows” (Galatians 6:7), and those who are outside of salvation are “without excuse” (Romans 1:20-21).
So here is the grand dilemma,
If no one is good and we all have a predisposition to sin, are slaves to sin, and dead in sin; HOW can we chose to repent and believe and be justly held accountable for not?
Keep in mind God has already seen all the decisions humanity will ever make given every possible event thoughout all human history. On a personal level, God knows what you will freely chose to do when given the absolute maximal opportunities in your life in the scope of your nature. He has foreseen the moment and event where you would chose to repent and believe; before creation. In that moment and event in time and space, he grants freedom to chose salvation through the work of The Holy Spirit (John 1:12-13, 15:16; Ephesians 4:24).
He also sees those who, when given every maximal opportunity in their life time to chose him, forever reject repentance and belief; grants them exactly that. But God is still God and is perfectly right and just. Thus the accountability for sin is still rendered; either through Jesus on the cross or through the individual to will forever reject repentance and belief in Jesus. Thus God remains absolutely sovereign and humanity retains their free will and freedoms to chose within their nature.
Determinism and libertarian free will
Determinism in relation to this topic suggests that a person given a decision in the same circumstances, will always make the same choice.
Libertarianism suggests that free will is autonomous and given a decision in the same circumstances, could possibly make a different choice in the exact same circumstances.
This is not referring to ‘learning from your mistakes’ but given the same situation and circumstances in a parallel universe; would the choice be the same or possibly different. Determinism would say ‘same’ but libertarianism would say ‘possibly different’.
I would argue that both, determinism and libertarianism have some truth but also some errors. And that we are not determined to always make a specific choice, but at the same time all our choices are limited in scope and disposition by our nature within a set space and time.
We are limited by time and space and held accountable by the willful choice we made in space and time. This choice is guided by internal influences like our desires and natural dispositions and external influences like environment, and family. God seeing all these possible real variables AND already knowing what we will chose in space and time does not change the fact that we freely made that choice within the scope of our free will in space and time. BUT we do not have the autonomous freedom due to our physical, mental, and spiritual limitations. Though it may be possible to make a different choice given the same situation and circumstances in the same space and time; we still can not will ourselves, apart from God, into salvation and rightness with God.
God’s sovereignty and humanities free will are not at odds; it is not one or the other. Both exist in unison and harmony but all by the Grace of God who created it.
God created and allows free will and our free choices because of His nature; through his loving kindness, mercy and forgiveness, righteousness and justice. He gives exactly what humans ultimately chose and rewards each human accordingly.
Since it is God who created and granted our free will, it is critical to go to him in regards to this matter. What has He made known about his sovereignty and our free will.
“The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”
This statement of universal truth shreds the ‘autonomous’ idea but still does not negate Free will.
“Romans 9(HCSB) 9 For this is the statement of the promise: At this time I will come, and Sarah will have a son. 10 And not only that, but also Rebekah received a promise when she became pregnant by one man, our ancestor Isaac. 11 For though her sons had not been born yet or done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to election might stand “
Boom. Their free will in their choices did not change God’s ultimate plan. They may be have liberational free will to make good or bad choices but that did not change what God had already promised before their birth. Then verse 12 drops the hammer:
Romans 9:12 states “not from works but from the One who calls — she was told“
Paul then drops the mic. Not from or by our choices but from and by the One who calls.
“(HCSB) 15 For He tells Moses: I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 16 So then it does not depend on human will or effort but on God who shows mercy.
So then is it unjust for God to be unmerciful to someone if it is in His Will? Paul continues:
Romans 9:18-23 (HCSB) 18 So then, He shows mercy to those He wants to, and He hardens those He wants to harden. 19 You will say to me, therefore, “Why then does He still find fault? For who can resist His will? “. 20 But who are you, a mere man, to talk back to God? Will what is formed say to the one who formed it, “Why did you make me like this? “. 21 Or has the potter no right over the clay, to make from the same lump one piece of pottery for honor and another for dishonor? 22 And what if God, desiring to display His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience objects of wrath ready for destruction? 23 And what if He did this to make known the riches of His glory on objects of mercy that He prepared beforehand for glory —
This is where a lot of heads will explode. To put it simple, some people will not be shown mercy because it is His Will that they are made examples of his wrath; despite their will. Not saying they don’t have free will, they do. Just they, in their free will, chose to not repent and believe; thus being objects of his wrath.
Some people hate to think that they won’t be shown mercy despite their ‘good’ choices (works). For this they either flat out reject Scripture or attempted to come up with seemingly sophisticated philosophical conclusions on how their free will choices deserve mercy and justify their own salvation.
Can Man’s will trump God’s Will?
“In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps”
“I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please“
God, creator and granter of mans free will within their nature makes it absolutely clear. Mans will can not trump or change God’s will. But going back to the original argument, God, in his loving kindness, incorporates the maximal dynamic of choices of man in His Will for salvation or not. God’s will doesn’t have to supersede human free will because it is already part of God’s will in mans freedom to chose.
Through scripture we see that God is absolutely sovereign and just in his Will and nature. We also see that human free will exists within the allotted peramitters of their nature. And at the perfect point of their agreement in space and time; man is free and rewarded accordingly, and God’s absolute will is done and He is glorified.
More key verses that need to be included in the free will discussions are:
2 Peter 1:10
Without reconciling these verses in understanding free will you are just left with a incomplete and bias understanding of all that God has made known which leads to belittling God, softly glorifying man, and inventing Man-centered philosophical attempts at justifying human sinful nature.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him and he will make your paths straight.”