The Sovereignty of God and Man’s Free Will

It must be understood that men are free to make decisions or choices that fall within the boundaries of their abilities. A man cannot safely step off a third story balcony. An individual cannot of his own free will just walk into a bank a pauper and walk out a wealthy man, not legally. Free will is obviously limited to a set of predetermined parameters. Conversion is no exception. Individuals are not able on their own to gain right standing before God, which is a definition of conversion. Right standing is freely granted by God to those He has promised that right standing to. This right standing cannot be earned nor is it ever granted to someone because they deserve it. So if God is sovereign over all things, and He is, does man have free will to choose to be saved or does God make that choice for him?

It must be understood that even in framing the latter question, the Calvinist position contends God changes man’s heart so that he willingly and wonderfully chooses to repent and by faith accepts God’s offer to be saved. So, conversion is the result of man’s free will choice to come to Christ. He simply does what God effectually has called him to do.

What about the non-Calvinist perspective? How does the perspective of man’s free will frame itself against the sovereignty of God and still maintain its Scriptural integrity? One must keep this one overriding principle in mind: man’s decisions and choices are made within a prescribed framework. Calvinists limit man’s choices to his sinful nature. If one were to limit man’s choices to the parameters God in His sovereignty sets, then things change drastically. The Scriptures teach that God offers His provisions to those who are obedient by faith to the promises found written in His Word. He leaves the choice to choose to the individual and He blesses those who respond positively to His promises and He punishes those who respond negatively to His promises. This is true in this life and it is true in the life to come. It would seem consistent with the tenets of Scripture that God blesses those who follow Him by faith and that is true because He has divinely chosen this way to be the determining factor for the quality of life that men enjoy.

This does in fact seems to be the basis for the covenant aspect of both the Old and New Testaments. God made the declaration that He wanted to be God to the children of Israel and He wanted them to be His covenant people. He gave men the law and He promised to bless those who kept that Law. It does not appear that He gave the Law and had some predetermined plan as to what select individuals would and would not keep His Law and those were the ones He would bless and those He never planned to bless in the first place would be the ones who did not and could not keep His Law. God’s sovereign choice was subject to men’s choice. He chose to bless those that followed Him. It should also be noted that those who chose to follow Him one day were the very same ones who refused to follow Him the next. This is very problematic for the concept of regeneration in the Old Testament and even a consistent concept of unconditional election as well.

So what about man’s conversion? Is God in complete control of who is and is not saved or is man in complete control of His conversion? The answer to both of those questions is yes and no. God is completely and totally in control of who is and who is not saved. He is the One who gave His Son to pay the penalty for the sins of the world. He is the One who has set the parameters for the provisions that would be made available to those who would be saved by the blood shed at Calvary. Man had no say in any of these matters. God alone set those parameters. Now remember, man is a free moral agent and is only able to choose among the parameters that have been pre-set and predetermined, not by his sinful nature but in this case by God Himself. Man has no say in the parameters of the provisions; he is only free to choose from the choices that are set before Him by God.

So in this sense, God is 100% sovereign and man 100% responsible for his eternal destiny because his destiny is determined by his decisions made in this life concerning the provisions and promises of Christ on the cross on his behalf. Man is not free to choose outside those parameters set for him by God where his conversion is concerned. If he does not choose the right choice given to Him by God, his conversion will not take place and he will never have right standing and right thinking so right living will never be possible.

Man’s choice is his to make given the parameters God Himself has set for him.

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About sbcissues

Interested in bringing the issues facing The Southern Baptist Convention to light.
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8 Responses to The Sovereignty of God and Man’s Free Will

  1. Bob Wheeler says:

    You may want to take a look at a piece I wrote on the subject at http://bereanobserver.blogspot.com/2013/08/total-depravity.html.

  2. rhutchin says:

    All seem to agree that God had already identified the elect and non-elect when He created the universe. To preserve omniscience, God’s knowledge of the elect and non-elect could not be based on any foreseen actions of either party. The goal for theology is to explain how the elect come to salvation while the non-elect do not while preserving man’s free will. The issue is not whether those who choose to be saved do so from a free will but how the person gains the freedom needed to make a free will decision.

    All seem to agree that the unsaved begin with a corrupt nature devoid of free will that prevents a person accepting salvation. Reasons for this generally center around 2 Corinth 4 that tells us that Satan has blinded those headed for destruction. Satan is an outside force who influences a person to make a bad decision. Thus, the unsaved respond to the preaching of the gospel by concluding that it is foolishness (1 Corinth 1) or by rejecting the witness of creation (Romans 1). How do people escape a blindness imposed on them by a magical being (Satan) in whom they do not believe?

    The simple answer for the Calvinist is that God frees the elect from Satan’s blindness and the elect then exercise their new-found freedom to accept His salvation. This process is not explained very clearly in the above but it is not really more complicated than that.

    The issue for the non-Calvinist is a little more difficult.

    As a matter of free will, the decision to accept Christ is a no brainer – eternity in torment vs eternity in heaven. The person with free will would naturally choose salvation; if not his freedom to choose must have been compromised in some way.

    All people start out dumb – blinded by Satan – so all people initially reject God and His salvation. Then something changes, but for the non-Calvinist, all must be made equally able to freely choose salvation – or as above “he is only free to choose from the choices that are set before Him by God.” Each person has the same set of choices set before him by God and each person is equally free to choose within those parameters. The result should be that all choose salvation or all reject salvation. If some choose salvation but some reject salvation, then some (the elect) have been favored in some way by God with the rest (the non-elect) not favored in the same way.

    The difficulty for the non-Calvinist is to get to a conclusion where some freely choose salvation while others do not. This is what the non-Calvinists have yet to be able to explain and why the above makes a presumption of free will without really explaining much about where it comes from or how it works. The non-Calvinist position regarding free will is an extremely difficult position to argue – so difficult that we do not find the non-Calvinist doing much with it.

    The Pelagians resolved the issue by declaring people free of a corrupt nature requiring only that people be given sufficient information to make a good decision – to accept salvation. The emphasis, then, is on evangelizing to get the gospel to people so they can make good decisions. However, most non-Calvinists seem to reject the Pelagian solution and stick with a corrupt nature position that initially prevents the person accepting salvation until receiving help. Since God seems to be the source of this help, it has proven difficult to keep God from favoring the elect and passing over the non-elect – at least, no one has yet been able to explain how this might be done.

    • sbcissues says:

      rhutchin,

      I understand the difficulty presented with why some ARE saved and why others are NOT saved. You wrote, “The difficulty for the non-Calvinist is to get to a conclusion where some freely choose salvation while others do not.”

      Here is a major problem I have with calvinism: calvinism basically exists to answer THIS question… why the lost are not saved. The conclusion calvinism posits is simple: people are lost because God chose not to save them.

      I believe the choice rests with the individual as opposed to with God. It is not that God cannot save them, we both know that is not the case. The issue is for me, God has made provision for anyone to be saved; some repent and many do not. While I do not understand why this is true, I cannot accept the answer that it is true because God never intended for them to be saved and therefore they are not.

      The fundamental difference in our positions rests on that premise. The whole notion that man has no ability to respond to God without God FIRST giving him new life is very problematic and you are right… much of theology rests on this Augustinian position, which I believe is errant. God created man in His Own image and he still reflects that image; nothing has changed. What did change is that Adam lost his right standing before God and every person born with the exception of the Lord Jesus has been born without this right standing. This is a secondary nature or an acquired nature that men have that blinds their eyes and causes man to seek to be the master of his own life.

      One of the plaguing problems with the total depravity/inability positions can be found in God’s response to Adam’s sin. First of all, Adam could not have lost his created nature. The calvinist argument that a leopard cannot change his spot… works here as it does for the inability argument. Be even more problematic than this is God’s response. God said, “Man has become like US.” Unless you are going to contend that God is totally depraved, then textually I believe the total depravity position has serious problems with that statement alone.

      This to me explains the activity of Satan in the first place; if people are totally depraved and have no ability to respond positively to the gospel message there is no need for Satan to blind their eyes. So while you are correct, there are problems with why many are not saved, my position is that the answer calvinism gives is simply not true. God did not send His Son to die on the cross for a select group of people He intended to save and that is it. That is simply a dog that will not hunt for me.

      God’s choices are based on our choices related to the sacrifice He paid at Calvary. We all have to answer the same question Pilate answered; what am I going to do with Jesus?

      Now one other thing. This notion that EVERY PERSON has the same opportunity etc… I see no Scriptural justification for that assumption. Opportunity and the propagation of the gospel are all tied into evangelism and are essential in the masses being saved. Once again this is OUR responsibility to carry the gospel to the nations and not God’s choice to simply let them perish because He made that decision. I understand there is a fine line there in both of our positions that come very close to being the same thing but again man’s eternal condition rests with every individual’s choice and not with God’s deterministic choice.

      Thanks again for the comment. It was well written.

  3. rhutchin says:

    Pastor, you write, “Here is a major problem I have with calvinism: calvinism basically exists to answer THIS question… why the lost are not saved.” Every theology exists to explain how some (the elect known to God when He created the world) are saved and why some (the non-elect, also known to God when He created the world) are not saved – it is not just Calvinism. The theology you espouse is “I believe the choice rests with the individual as opposed to with God,” and this choice explains, for you, why the lost are not saved – they make bad choices (so you embrace a theology of bad choices).

    You also write, “God’s choices are based on our choices related to the sacrifice He paid at Calvary.” This is not really true. God’s choices were made before He created the world – God had already identified the elect and non-elect at that time and no more would be saved or any less lost – and God’s knowledge of the elect and non-elect could not have reflected foreseen choices by people (as this would negate God being omniscience). However, it is true that people do make choices with respect to the sacrifice Christ of Christ and we do observe a distinction between the elect and non-elect because of this – but all theologies say this (except Universalism, I guess).

    Every theology embraces “free will” decisions by those elect known to God in the process whereby the elect come to salvation. The Calvinist explains that God grants free will to the elect with the result that the elect choose salvation. You embrace free will as do many non-Calvinists. You and your compadres choose not explain where this free will comes from (but you do reject the Pelagian notion that people are born with this free will).

    Your theology rests on the presumption of free will. The only difference between you and the Calvinist is that the Calvinist does not start with the presumption of free will but explains the source of free will within the Calvinist theology. You may not like Calvinism and seek to distance yourself from Calvinism but you accomplish this only by being very fuzzy on the issue of free will. It is this fuzziness that non-Calvinists use to take a position against Calvinism – but fuzziness on free will argues nothing.

    Finally, you write, “We all have to answer the same question Pilate answered; what am I going to do with Jesus?” Every theology deals says this. We see the elect and non-elect choosing differently. You explain, “The issue is for me, God has made provision for anyone to be saved; some repent and many do not. While I do not understand why this is true, I cannot accept the answer that it is true because God never intended for them to be saved and therefore they are not.” Your complaint against Calvinism is personal – thus, you never really argue against Calvinism; you just don’t like the conclusions the Calvinist has come to. Fine, so how about making a positive argument for your position rather than just a negative argument against Calvinism.

    Enjoying the dialog…

    • sbcissues says:

      The point to everything I write has to do with a positive argument for what I believe. The comment section highlights responses.

      Here is another thought that I had earlier. I am not sure the Scriptures deal with the answer as to why people do not repent. I believe they are clear that everyone is a sinner and that every one needs to repent and that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for their sin. The goal of the gospel is to bring people to a saving place in Christ Jesus.

      As to why some do and some do not, I am not sure the Scriptures deal with the “why they do not.” That was the thrust of my comments above.

      As I said, I do not like the language “free-will.” I prefer to speak in terms of choice. Another major contention related to all this is the whole purpose of revelation and reconciliation which are God’s doing… they require a response on our part. Our response determines God’s response.

      I do not see why that is that problematic…

      • rhutchin says:

        How do people make choices and to what extent are they affected by external and internal factors? 2 Corinth 4:4 tells us that the gospel is hid from the lost and this is because Satan has blinded them. This would explain why 1 Corinth 1 tells us that the lost respond to the preaching of the gospel by concluding that it is foolishness. So long as Satan is able to keep the lost in blindness, they cannot positively respond to the gospel and be saved. The lost do not have a “choice” in the matter – they are pawns of Satan. Only God can intervene and remove the blindness imposed on the lost by Satan. Remove that blindness so that people see clearly and what happens – the person repents and believes. How could a person choose otherwise? If a person were to choose otherwise, then he must still be in blindness.

        Then, there is the issue of the person’s nature. Even if God removes the blindness, are a person’s choices influenced by his nature? Could it be that a person might still consider the gospel to be foolishness even after God removes the blindness of Satan? Here, the Calvinists say, Yes, the person is spiritually dead and still cannot respond to the gospel until given life – regenerated – by God (using the raising of Lazarus as an analogy).

        The simple choice of accepting the salvation offered by God is a no-brainer. No person who understands the situation would rationally choose eternal torment over eternity in heaven. To deny salvation is as irrational a choice as a person can make. The question, then, is how can people rationally reject salvation? Something has to be biasing the choices people make. Obviously, if Satan has blinded the person, that would explain the irrational choice. What is not as clear is the influence of a person’s nature on the choices he makes – the Scriptures have much to say about a person’s nature (e.g., the heart is desperately wicked) and the Calvinist concludes that, by nature, a person has no desire for salvation.

        Saying that people have choices is a good approach. However, how is it that perfectly rational people can make the most irrational choice to reject salvation? Something else has to be at play to account for this.

      • sbcissues says:

        rhutchin,

        Let me ask you a question. If man by nature cannot or will not respond to the gospel in repentance, then what is the need for Satan’s blinding… isn’t that like saying tie that dead guy up so he does not go anywhere? The very fact that Satan has blinded the eyes of those who do not believe almost certainly debunks the total depravity/inability position… I believe it in fact reinforces my position that man has 2 natures… his created nature that like vacuum needs God’s filling… and then there is his acquired sinful nature which is the result of his loss of right standing… it is the second that Satan works on.

        God through revelation and the proclamation of the gospel and reconciliation through the convicting work of the Holy Spirit work together in bringing some to repentance. Some continue on their own paths… following their own desires and refuse to repent and acknowledge their need for God in their lives. I believe the following statement is an overstatement: “So long as Satan is able to keep the lost in blindness, they cannot positively respond to the gospel and be saved. The lost do not have a “choice” in the matter – they are pawns of Satan.” Satan’s only power is deceptive in nature not controlling in power. I believe where Satan is concerned, man’s choice is to follow the deceptive lies and in doing so he is blinded.

        However, how is it that perfectly rational people can make the most irrational choice to reject salvation?

        If I am not convicted of my sin and my need for a Savior then repentance will not come. If I accept the fact that there are many ways to go to heaven then I will not come to God in repentance. If I am too smart to accept the Bible as the Word of God then I am not going to repent. So I am not so sure your premise of salvation being rational is in and of itself irrational. That is why understanding and comprehending the faithfulness of God is so important to the salvific process. That is why God’s Word is so vital because there we learn Who God is and what it is that HE has done to restore the right standing that man lost when God put him out of the garden. That is why the gospel is so important and faith.. believing that God is everything He says He is and He will do everything He says He will do. For many, that is too simple; like the rich young ruler… we want to pay a price.. we want to do it our way when God’s way is so simple because He has already done it all for us and those provisions are available if we will JUST BELIEVE.

  4. Pingback: 61. Isaiah’s Classic Four Point Sermon on the Deafness of Judah – Introduction (Isaiah 5:25) « Swimming Up the Niagara

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