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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Religion and Spirituality  |  House: Booksie Classic
Predestination or free will? Fore-ordained or free will? What exactly is free will?

Submitted: September 20, 2014

A A A | A A A

Submitted: September 20, 2014



by Rev. Jeff Hagan, DCE, DMin, (ThD)



When asked questions like - “Why did God even allow sin in the first place?” “Why does God save some people and not others?” “Why does God send people to hell?” “How come living life as a Christian can be so frustrating and difficult?” - both Christians and non-Christians tend to give the same type of answer. The automatic suggestion seems simple, “free will.” To a lot of people, that all they need. They reason to themselves and others: “Well, that makes sense I guess. Sure, if God does so and so it's to ensure my free will. Okay, next question.” I suggest we call a time out right here and re-evaluate this very important subject.


The title of this article is a question: “How 'Free' Is Our Will?” To some people it may be shocking or even troublesome because it hints at questioning something that many people just assume to be true. The first thing that must be done to resolve this issue is to figure out what exactly is meant by “free.” And, that's precisely what the rest of this article attempts to discover.


The issue of “free will” is an important theological topic for a few reasons. For one, it needs to be studied because many people just assume a particular definition of “free will” that is not correct. Also, “free will” is not technically defined in the Bible. Another reason it needs to be studied is because of it's complexity as it has a connection to several other larger theological issues; “it intersects with philosophy, historical theology, and systematic theology” (Andy Naselli, online article).


A Look At Free Will:

I want to start by looking at some basic terminology used in the “freewill” debate and discussion. It may seem a bit technical, but hang in there, I think it will be worth it.


FIRST - “Will” is defined as the function of choosing.


SECOND – Constraining causes force individuals into acting against their will. For example, a person being robbed while a gun is being pointed at their head is compelled in this sense. They are compelled to give up their wallet and money. Non-constraining causes, in turn, do not force individuals to act against their will but are adequate enough to cause an action. For example, if you have a phobia of heights, you probably will not want to walk across a skinny, swaying, suspension bridge made of rope; that phobia is a non-constraining cause.


THIRD – Indeterminism is a fancy word that purports genuinely free acts are not causally determined. Determinism purports that everything is causally determined (put simpler, prior events and conditions necessitate every event).


FOURTH – Another fancy word, incompatibilism, holds that determinism and human freedom are incompatible (that is, they cannot coexist); it rejects determinism and accepts human freedom. Compatibilism purports that determinism and human freedom are compatible (that is, they can coexist).


FIFTH – The philosophical term that labels one as a “free-willer” is libertarian. So, libertarian free will is the ability to either do something or not. Free agency is the ability to do whatever it is aperson wants to do (with the exception of constraining causes which was mentioned above). This is no little difference. For example, those who are not Christians have the innate ability to either choose to put their faith in Christ or not? Is a decision such as this ultimately a result dependent on their will?


SIXTH – God's general sovereignty purports that God is in charge of all things, but he does not control all things. God's specific sovereignty purports that God ordains, or predestines, everything and that he controls everything in order to accomplish his good purposes.


Bible and Theology on Compatibilism and Incompatibilism:

ONE – Scripture never claims that humans are free in the sense that they can autonomously make decisions that are not caused by anything. Libertarian free will is many times just assumed based on nothing more than common-sense experience but not on any actual evidence or proof. It's simply because to the human mind it “makes sense.”


TWO – God is completely and thoroughly sovereign. Ephesians 1:11 tells us that God “works all things according to the counsel of his will.” God does whatever he wants, and nothing or no one can stop him. Psalm 115:3, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” (See also Daniel 4:34-35)


THREE – The Bible clearly teaches that humans are morally responsible, which requires that they be free to some degree. There is no biblical evidence or reason that God cannot cause authentic human choices. The Bible clearly basis human accountability in God's sovereign authority as our Creator and Judge, NOT in libertarian free will.


FOUR – Both God's complete sovereignty and human freedom and responsibility are true. These things are not mutually exclusive. Following are a few passages where both are evident and there is no suggestion or implication of any kind of contradiction. Proverbs 16:9, 33, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps...The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” Acts 2:23, “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” (See also Acts 4:27-28)


FIVE – We do see people being condemned in the Bible for actions that were not done with libertarian free will. A key example of this would be, Judas Iscariot. He was destined to betray Jesus, he did not really have the ability to choose to do it or not.


SIX – God is omniscient, he is all knowing. He knows the past, present, and future. John Feinberg makes this observation, “If indeterminism is correct, I do not see how God can be said to foreknow the future. If God actually knows what will (not just might) occur in the future, the future must be set and some sense of determinism applies. God's foreknowledge is not the cause of the future, but it guarantees that what God knows must occur, regardless of how it is brought about” (Ed. David and Randall Basinger, “God Ordains All Things,” in Predestination and Free Will: Four Views of Sovereignty and Human Freedom, IVP, 1986, pp.33-34).


SEVEN – The Scriptures are inspired, they are breathed out from God to us. Yet God used humans in the process without compromising their personalities. The way that God inspired His Word necessitates compatibilism.


EIGHT – God enables Christians to persevere. The very thing he commands from us he does for us. We are able to do so because he does so through us, Philippians 2:12-13, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” In determinism would mean that Christians can reject Christ after they have already been regenerated and therefore lose their salvation, but the Scriptures teach us that all true believers are eternally secure and will persevere to the end by the grace of God.


NINE – God himself doesn't even have a free will in the libertarian sense of the word. We see this by asking if God can sin? Obviously answer is “no.” Since God cannot sin he does not have a libertarian free will, and therefore a libertarian free will is not necessary in order for a person to be truly free.


TEN – Believers do not have free wills in the libertarian sense when they get to heaven. God's children will not be able to sin in heaven, therefore they will not have a libertarian free will. So again, we see a libertarian free will is not required for people to be truly free.


Free Will and Original Sin:

Is libertarian free will the reason for the origin of sin? The short, one word answer is, “no.”


When looking at this very difficult question, it is essential to take into account the following:


ONE – God is in no way the author or agent of evil, and he is in no way able to be blamed for evil.


TWO – Dualism is false. That is, God and Satan are not two equals carrying out a battle.


THREE – God, who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his good pleasure, ordained that sin would enter into his creation. God sovereignly works through “secondary causes” (like us human beings) which frees him from culpability for evil and that responsibility is placed on us.


FOUR – Lucifer first sinned, and then Adam and Eve, and they did so because they wanted to sin, and it is they who are morally responsible to God for it.


FIVE - “Tension remains because compatibilists cannot explain exactly how God can ordain all things without being the author or agent of evil. It is at places like that that your head will start spinning if you try to put all the puzzle pieces together (we don't have all the pieces!). Rather than deny explicit statements of Scripture that support compatibilism, a far better option is to acknowledge that this is a mystery that we finite and fallen humans simply cannot comprehend exhaustively” (Andy Naselli).


SIX – There is no simplistic answer as to why God ordained there to be sin in the first place. A truly satisfactory answer is beyond full human comprehension.


Free Will and Conversion:

Is libertarian free will the reason for conversion?


Conversion is an almost simultaneous event consisting of turning to God (faith) and turning from sin (repentance). Why do people convert from unbelief to belief? Is it ultimately because of libertarian freewill? Or is it ultimately because of God?


As people we tend to do what we do because we want to do it (unless we are constrained, as we discussed briefly above). Unbelievers do what they want to do, and they will never want to surrender to Christ unless God first changes their heart. Here's a borrowed example, as most examples are, if someone is locked in a room but has no desire to get out, even though they can't get out, they are not there against their will.


ONE – Total Depravity. Unbelievers are totally depraved in that their depravity affects them throughout their entire being (Genesis 6:5, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Romans 1:18, 3:20, 23, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth...For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” - see also Eccl. 7:20; 9:3; Isa. 1:6; 64:6; Jer. 17:9; James 3:2; 1 John 1:8, 10) including their mind (Titus 1:15, “To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.” - see also Rom. 8:5-8; 1 Cor. 2:14) including the body (Romans 8:10, “But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” - see also Ephesians 4:17-19), and including he will (John 8:34, “Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.”)


TWO – Total Inability. As total depravity speaks of the human condition, total inability describes the result of that condition. This can be seen in many passages:


Ephesians 4:18,“They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.”


2 Corinthians 4:4, “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”


(See also John 1:3; Ezek. 36:26; 2 Tim. 2:26; Rom. 6:17, 20; 8:7-8)


In fact, unregenerate people are unable to obey the gospel. This can be seen in several passages: John 8:43-44, “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (See also Matt. 7:18; John 14:17; Rom. 8:7-8; 1 Cor. 2:14)


THREE – Regeneration is a work completely done by God (James 1:18, “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” - see also John 6:37, 44, 65). Regeneration transforms a persons will and heart and allows the person to recognize God has called them to Christ. Regeneration is the act where God, through the Holy Spirit, by way of his word instantly gives spiritual life to the spiritually dead (Titus 3:5, “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” - see also John 1:13; 1 Peter 1:23; James 1:18). Regeneration is a spiritual resurrection, a spiritual birth, and a new spiritual creation (Colossians 2:13, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,” John 3:3, “Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” - see also Ephesians 2:1-6; John 3:4-8).


FOUR – Human responsibility. All of this does not mean, however, that people are not responsible to be obedient to the gospel because God may command, or demand, people to do what they cannot do in and of themselves (cf. Lev. 18:5 with Gal. 3:12). Somehow, beyond our limited, finite minds can comprehend, human inability and responsibility are not mutually exclusive. Somehow they are mysteriously compatible.


FIVE – Prayer and evangelism. God ordains the ends and the means. Prayer and evangelism are God-ordained means to accomplish God-ordained ends.


Concluding Thoughts on Free Will:

ONE – We need to praise God for sovereignly planning the entire universe and for perfectly carrying out his plan. If you are a Christian, give glory to God for giving you spiritual life when you were spiritually dead and for giving you the gifts of faith and repentance. Praise God for the coming day when he will consummate his plan and transform us and the rest of creation into an eternal glorified state.


TWO – Realize that other biblically orthodox Christians who disagree with you on this issue are not the enemy, although sometimes some may act like it. Disagreeing with them on this particular issue does not question their commitment to Christ.


THREE – All living Christians are never going to agree on the issue of free will, so it's important we promote unity on this issue as much as possible. This does not mean that we overlook important differences, but it does mean that we keep those differences in perspective.


FOUR – As should be the case with all areas of controversial doctrine, maintain your position with humility. We are fallen and finite creatures who know only a tiny fraction of what there is to know. So when discussing this topic with people who disagree with you, and people who agree with you for that matter, always try and display grace and humility in your words and attitude.



*The basic format of this article, and much of the information, was drawn from an online essay by Andy Naselli.

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