We are going to talk about the subject of free will in regards to man and how it impacts this subject of the sovereignty of God and the elect. Free will is the ability of men to make choices that are caused by the person choosing, and are such that the person had the power to choose something over another. In this view, God cannot cause men to make decisions, he can only influence them. To be “free” the person himself must be the ultimate cause of his actions. God cannot cause a person to “eat breakfast” or else the action is not free.
This is a popular view, but is it biblical? Any verse where God says to “choose life” (Deut 30.19) or to choose “who to serve” (Josh 24.25) doesn’t mean that God cannot cause such decisions to be made. We make choices everyday, but do we really? The question is this, “What causes men to make the decisions they make?” Some say the Lord has the ultimate say, others say man himself has the ultimate say. We think that the Scriptures are clear on the fact that God controls all things, even choices.
If free will was defined as the power in a man to determine his own destiny, then we submit that there is no such thing. The basic argument against this is if God knows what you are going to do, then you are not free to do otherwise. This is because if you are to do otherwise, God would have been mistaken in what he believed you would do. If the Lord knows, then how can you be free is the basic argument.
But, does the fact that God is Omniscient (all knowing) prevent free will? If God knows you will eat breakfast tomorrow, then nothing you can do can prevent it, or so the argument goes. This debate has gone on for thousands of years and can be found in Jewish writings that predate the first century.
The Pharisees and the Sadducees argued about it (Josephus, The Jewish War) and it has gone unsolved all this time. But there is one solution that completely settles the issue. Man does not have free will (as in the ability to be totally free), it does not exist. Man cannot have free will as long as God exists, and here is why.
Everyone agrees that one day man will not sin and will be in no danger of it. Now you have to ask the question, “Does that mean that man is deprived of that freedom (to sin), the gift that humanity values so much and so important that God’s sovereign plan is subordinate to it?” We don’t think so. Using Hillel Rule of Interpretation #1 in reverse (the greater to the lesser), if in the Olam Haba we are not able to sin, and it is not inconsistent with freedom, why should it be thought of as incompatible on earth right now? In the Olam Haba, we do not have free will, then why not say in the Olam Ha Zeh (present age) we don’t either? If it is possible in the Olam Haba, it is at least possible now.
In the Olam Haba, we will all love the Lord and our neighbor by the working power of the grace of God. We will certainly make decisions and judgments, we will still be people with personalities. But, there will be no “free will” there (the Olam Haba) and is it so hard to comprehend that man never had it to begin with? There are no verses that say that God gave Adam and Chava (Eve) free will. Is God able to prevent sin? Gen 20.6 and 1 Sam 25.39 says he is able to do it. So, if God is able to keep Abimelech and David from sinning, was he not able to keep Adam and Chava from sinning?
If he has all power (omnipotent), could he have created a world without evil? Some claim he created man to have free will and have the ability to choose to have a relationship with the Lord, but is that true? If free will is the ideal, then why don’t we have it in the Olam Haba, at least in the sense of having the ability to disobey God? But, if we don’t have free will, how can he blame us for our sins?
In Rom 9.19-21, Paul answers this when he says that man cannot answer back to God and say “Why did you make me this way.” But he says that the potter has a right to make the clay into anything he desires. He can make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use, and another for common use. In v 22 he goes on to say that some vessels are “fitted” for destruction. The word “fitted” is “katartizo” which means “to make one what he is and ought to be.”
Nobody can resist the sovereign will of God. We may say “no” to his will of command, but not to his ultimate sovereign will of decree. Paul offers no concrete explanation because it is a mystery. We accept his word, even if we don’t fully understand it. The sovereignty of the Lord ordains our actions, but we are responsible for those actions, whatever they may be.
Now, how does “predestination” or “election” make a difference in our day to day lives? To know that the Lord is is absolute and in sovereign control comforts the grieving (Gen 50.20; Rom 8.28). However, free will can lead to a works based system of salvation and boasting. Here is an example: A judge condemns 10 criminals, and then offers to pardon them. Some accept, some don’t. Those who accept do not earn it, but enjoy their freedom because of the judge’s grace. But, they are indistinguishable from the one’s who rejected the offer. Only one thing separates them. Can you discern what that is? It is the “wisdom” of their choice and that can be a legitimate boast.
However, “election” is solely based on God’s “elective” grace decided upon before the world was created (Eph 1.4). Nobody can boast about being a believer because it is God who caused it to begin with (1 Cor 1.27-29). Paul is opposed to any doctrine that gives man any credit for his salvation (Eph 2.8-9). Election is God’s sovereign choice and that makes it impossible for a believer to think they were saved by their own works (Rom 9.10-13; 11.5-6). The grace in salvation is what causes election and we don’t initiate anything. If salvation is based on free will, then Paul’s words are meaningless in Rom 9.16 where he says, “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.”
This also agrees with John’s words in John 1.13 where he says that believers “were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” See also Phil 3.9; Titus 3.5 and 2 Tim 1.9.
In the second temple period, some Rabbi’s had an optimistic view of human ability, believing they could keep the Torah by exercising free will (Rom 9.30-32). This view is called a “synergistic” view and it stated that man “cooperates” with the grace of God and that leads to salvation. Paul’s view is that any action that we do was produced by God’s grace, called a “monogistic” view. Any “cooperation” between man’s free will and God’s grace leaves the door open for a works-based salvation. This was the root of the problem in Acts 15.1 and in Galatians. Does becoming a believer take action on our part or is it solely God’s work? Do we decide to persevere or does God keep his hand on us through his grace? How we answer those questions will change the way we see this issue and the Scriptures.
In Part 6, we are going to deal with some frequently asked questions concerning this issue and learn more about the Sovereignty of God and the Elect. We believe these questions and answers will clear up a lot of things you may have on your mind, so don’t miss the coming segments.