3 Our God is in the heavens;
he does all that he pleases.
Archive for the ‘Free Will’ Category
“if God actually stood powerless before the majesty of man’s lordly will, there would be but little use to pray for Him to convert any one. It would then be more reasonable for us to direct our petitions to the man himself.”
From Tyndale’s An Answer To Sir Thomas More’s Dialogue, pp. 191-192.
Why doth God open one man’s eyes and not another’s? Paul (Rom. ix.) forbiddeth to as why; for it is too deep for man’s capacity. God we see is honoured thereby, and his mercy set out and the more seen in the vessels of mercy. But the popish can suffer God to have no secret, hid to himself. They have searched to come ot the bottom of his bottomless wisdom: and because they cannot attain to that secret, and be too proud to let it alone, and to grant themselves ignorant, with the apostle, that knew no other than God’s glory in the elect; they go and set up free-will with the heathen philosophers, and say that a man’s free-will is the cause why God chooseth one and not another, contrary to all the scripture. Paul saith it cometh not of the will, nor of the deed, but of the mercy of God. And they say that every man hath, at the least way, power in his free-will, to deserve that power should be given him of God to keep the law. But the scripture testifieth that Christ hath deserved for the elect, even then when they hated God, that their eyes should be opened, to see the goodness of the law of God, and the way to fulfil it, and forgiveness of all that is past; whereby they be drawn to love it, and to hate sin.
Bradwardine lived circa 1290 to 1349. This quote is cited in The Works of Augustus Toplady (Volume 1, p. 354), Toplady being the writer of the classic hymn, Rock of Ages.
What multitudes, O Lord, at this day, join hands with Pelagius, in contending for free-will, and in fighting against thy absolutely free grace; and against that great spiritual champion for grace, the apostle Paul! By how many is thy unmerited grace looked upon with scornful abhorrence, while they proudly insist, that free-will alone is sufficient to salvation! or, if they make use of the word grace, and slightly pretend to believe that grace is necessary; to what purpose is this pretence, while they boast of its being in the power of free-will to lay thy grace under obligation? thus making grace itself no longer gratuitous, but representing thee as selling it, instead of giving it.
Some, more haughty than, even Lucifer, are not content with barely lifting themselves to an equality with thee; but are most daringly desirous to govern and control thee, who art the King of kings. Such are they, who dread not to affirm, that, even in a common action, their own will walks first, as an independent mistress ; and that thy will follows after, like an obsequious handmaid: that they themselves go foremost, like sονereign lords; while thou walkest behind them, like a hired servant: that they issue their orders, as kings; and that thou, like an implicit subject, actest according to the imperial nod of their determining will(s).”
In fact, the doctrines of predestination and unconditional election represent God as being more, not less, merciful than the doctrines of conditional election and free will. Calvinism maintains that the salvation of some is certain, guaranteed, and sure. Salvation as the Arminians describe it is uncertain, precarious, and doubtful. In their view salvation depends on the mutable, independent will of man. They even hold that a man once saved can be lost, saved again, and finally lost. The Calvinists maintain that the mercy of God is such that he holds his own in his hands and that no one, not even the man himself, can pluck them out of the Father’s hand.
The opponents of predestination use several Biblical commands as if they were inconsistent with the Calvinistic position. An example than can stand for other similar verses is Isaiah 1:16, 17: “Wash you, make you clean.” This command is supposed to imply that a man can wash himself clean, or not, as he chooses. The “or not” presumably supports free will, and the ability implied in the command opposes total depravity, and both together refute irresistible grace. The argument is, If conversion were wrought only by the irresistible grace of God, and man were purely passive therein, these commands to wicked men are useless and indeed hypocritical.
In answer to this Arminian argument, the first thing to insist upon is that men are filthy and need to be washed; but more than this, they are so filthy that they cannot clean themselves, either by Old Testament ceremonial ablutions or by any New Testament ordinance. Proverbs 20:9 asks the rhetorical question, “Who can say, I have made my heart clean?” The cleansing of the heart is God’s work, for it is God who creates a clean heart within and washes sinners thoroughly from their iniquities (Psalm 51:2, 10). Recall also Ezekiel 36:25, “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean; from all your filthiness and from all your idols will I cleanse you.”
At this point the nonplussed Arminians reply, But if this is the work of God alone, and man does not help in it at all, then of what use are these commands? Since they must be of some use, man must be able at least to help in cleansing himself. This reply, however, fails because it is based on a logical fallacy. It supposes that since the command cannot have the use the Arminians want it to have, it can have no use at all. Since the Scripture very clearly says that man cannot cleanse himself at all, one must see what use the Scripture assigns to such commands. This is not hard to do. Romans 3:20 says, “By the law is the knowledge of sin.” Commands are given, not because any man can obey them, but in order to convince man that he is a sinner. Let him try to obey, and he will find he cannot. When a man discovers this, he will be more willing to see the need of divine grace. Proverbs 30:12 mentions “a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness.” The commands under discussion are intended to convince some sinners that they are not clean and that they cannot wash themselves. Hence the commands are not in vain, nor do they contradict the Gospel of grace.
If I [believe in libertarian freedom and] plead with God to remove my friend’s illness, that is not absurd, for God can answer that prayer without negating anyone’s freedom. But what about the request that God change the attitudes and actions of my friend’s tyrannical boss? What about petitions that ask God to move those processing applications for graduate school to accept my friend? Or what about prayers that ask God to keep my enemies at work from bothering me? And what about pleading with God to save a dear relative or friend? In all of these cases, what am I asking God to do, if libertarian free will obtains? I am either asking God to override others’ freedom, or I am asking him to move them to do something freely in spite of the fact that my belief in libertarian free will means that I believe Gold cannot get anybody to do anything freely. If I truly value libertarian free will as much as libertarians say they do, why would I ask God to override it just because of my petition? . . . Libertarians may be asking God to try to persuade their friends, but I repeat that God can only guarantee their persuasion by casual determinism, and that abridges libertarian free will.
On the other hand, if I am not asking God to override someone else’s freedom, then I’m asking him to do something which I believe he cannot do (make it the case that someone else does something freely). I may ask him to try to persuade the person, but I know that without God overriding their freedom, he cannot guarantee that they will change. In fact, since at the moment of free decision making nothing decisively inclines their will, regardless of what God or anyone else does or says, the matter may be hopeless. In light of such problems with interceding with God to change someone’s incompatibilistically free actions or attitudes, there is good reason for anyone committed to libertarian free will who understands the implications of the position to think twice before offering intercessory prayers of the kind mentioned. In fact, prayer to change either our or others’ actions seems problematic.
From the sermon, “A Jealous God,” based upon a portion of Exodus 34:14:
for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God
Spurgeon said this:
Let me add, dear friends, I feel persuaded that false doctrine, inasmuch as it touches God’s sovereignty, is always an object of divine jealousy. Let me indicate especially the doctrines of free-will. I know there are some good men who hold and preach them, but I am persuaded that the Lord must be grieved with their doctrine though he forgives them their sin of ignorance. Free-will doctrine—what does it? It magnifies man into God; it declares God’s purposes a nullity, since they cannot be carried out unless men are willing. It makes God’s will a waiting servant to the will of man, and the whole covenant of grace dependent upon human action.
Thanks to Facebook friend AWS for the tip.
Hello Pastor Jim,
Recently I have been watching your videos on YouTube of your messages and sermons about the Sovereignty of God, Calvinism, predestination, and Reformed Theology.
I am greatly encouraged by the messages but still confused because of how I was raised. People in the church I attended said Calvinists do not evangelize and they [Calvinists] think people are robots with no free will to love God.
So here are my questions:
- Are all events on earth already preordained by God?
- Do we have a “free will?”
- Are we robots already programmed?
- How does the aspect of love play into this if we are just puppets?
I understand your perplexity. It takes time to sort through the things you’ve been taught and separate traditions from valid doctrines. One of the most difficult aspects of learning and embracing what the Bible actually says is un-learning our traditions, assumptions, and presuppositions.
The things that you’ve written here are typical responses to Calvinism. For instance, people who do not know their church history will often claim that Calvinism inhibits evangelism. But nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is, some of the greatest revivals in history were led by Calvinists. The first universities planted on U.S. soil were established by Calvinists. Some of the most enduring missionary societies were established by Calvinists. So, the claim that Calvinists do not evangelize is mere folly.
The following bit of history is from my book By Grace Alone (which is available as a free pdf download on the GCA website), including a pericope from David Steinmetz’s bookCalvin in Context.
Calvinism, as it is commonly called, has a rich European history, but it finds its most striking influence during the foundation of these United States. Owing to Martin Luther’s commitment to reform, the church that bears his name was founded on the teaching of God’s election and determinate predestination. John Knox, the founder of the Presbyterian Church, held these doctrines. Early American history reveals that the vast majority of the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock were Calvinistic Presbyterians. The Congregationalist Churches of early America were once bound by these doctrines. And the original Baptists were avid predestinarians, which is why their modern counterparts advertise themselves as “Free-Will Baptists” to distinguish themselves from their ancestors.
This English Calvinist strain was strengthened by the Dutch Calvinists of New York and New Jersey, the German Reformed of Pennsylvania and Maryland, and the Scots-Irish Presbyterians who settled in the mid-Atlantic and southern colonies.While not all settlers in the New World were Protestant and not all Protestants were Calvinist, nevertheless there was from the very beginning a strongly Calvinist influence on American thought and institutions. Calvinists founded universities, pioneered the New England town meeting, insisted on the separation of powers in the federal government, played a prominent role in the movement for the abolition of slavery, and even promoted such characteristic institutions of frontier revivalism as ‘the anxious bench’ and the ‘camp-meeting’… In short, although Calvinism is not the only ingredient in American intellectual and religious history, it is such an important ingredient that no one can claim to understand American history and culture without some appreciation of its Calvinist heritage.
Or, let’s look at it this way: Calvinistic theology is drawn directly from biblical, Pauline doctrine. Of all the New Testament writers, Paul wrote the most complete arguments in favor of God’s absolute predestination and electing grace. Yet, Paul devoted his life, his wealth, his health, and everything in him to the work of evangelism. Calvinists follow Paul’s example. We teach everything that the Bible says and we do everything that the Bible instructs. We evangelize vigorously because we do not know who God’s elect are. And in reality, Calvinism inspires evangelism because we know that God’s word will not return to Him void; it will accomplish what God intends for it to accomplish.
So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. (Isa. 55:11)
So we preach the good news full of hope and expectation. By contrast, a person who believes in man’s autonomous free will has to fight the uphill battle of trying to convince someone to make a decision that is completely contrary to their nature and self-interest. The Calvinist is convinced that only the power of God changing a person from the inside will result in salvation. Therefore, the only tool we need is the truth of God’s word. And we know His word will be successful; His people are out there and they will respond. That takes a tremendous weight of pressure off of our shoulders and places responsibility for salvation exactly where it belongs — in God’s hands.
As for the robot argument, this YouTube sermon may help: http://youtu.be/ZJTjBg-QJ78
Basically, when someone poses the “robot” argument (also known as the “that would make us puppets” argument), it’s evidence that they have a sub-biblical anthropology. They think human beings are essentially good, capable, and willing to follow God if you just give them sufficient inducement. But, the Bible says just the opposite. Psalm 53 and Romans 3 come to mind.
God has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there is anyone who understands, who seeks after God. Every one of them has turned aside; together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, not even one. (Psalm 53:2-3)
As it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE. THEIR THROAT IS AN OPEN GRAVE, WITH THEIR TONGUES THEY KEEP DECEIVING, THE POISON OF ASPS IS UNDER THEIR LIPS; WHOSE MOUTH IS FULL OF CURSING AND BITTERNESS; THEIR FEET ARE SWIFT TO SHED BLOOD, DESTRUCTION AND MISERY ARE IN THEIR PATHS, AND THE PATH OF PEACE THEY HAVE NOT KNOWN. THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES.” (Romans 3:10-18)
In the YouTube video, I reviewed the various New Testament passages that describe the human condition from God’s point of view. You mentioned previously that you have been taught that Calvinism eliminates man’s “free will to love God.” The truth is, the Bibleeliminates man’s free will to love God. Nowhere in the Bible are human beings spoken of as being willing and capable of loving God unless God Himself awakens and quickens them. Calvinism simply places the emphasis where it belongs — on God’s will instead of man’s.
Now, with that bit of introduction out of the way, let’s address each of your questions individually.
Are all events on earth already preordained by God?
The short answer is: Yes.
All Christians agree, in essence, that God is in charge of the really large events. But the Bible also declares that God feeds the animals, hangs the stars, determines the days of every man’s life, and settles “the whole disposing” of things as minute as casting lots. In other words, anyone who says that God is not in charge of everything in His universe must be able to tell us exactly where the line of demarcation is. What things is God in charge of and what things are beyond His scope? Based on clear Scripture, I would inquire, what part of God’s creation does He restrict Himself from? And where is He absent?
The Bible declares that He is everywhere, has all knowledge, and even gives Himself the proper name “God Almighty.” So, if He has all the power, knows everything, and is everywhere, then there is nothing in His universe that escapes His grasp, is hidden from Him, or which He does not empower. Otherwise, we would have to argue that He is limited in His knowledge and presence, or that there is another power in His creation that is separate and distinct from Him. And that, biblically-speaking, is an impossible argument to win.
Do we have a “free will?”
The term “freewill” has been utilized in Christian circles for so long that the concept is simply assumed to be true, despite the lack of clear biblical evidence. For instance, the only place in the entire Bible where the actual terminology “freewill” exists is as a type of Old Testament offering. But importantly, that word never shows up in the New Testament. Now that fact, in and of itself, does not automatically undermine the concept of free will. The word “Trinity” is also not in the New Testament, but the concept is plainly and repeatedly displayed. So, what we really have to determine is whether the concept of “free will choice,” as a part of the salvation process, is ever mentioned, implied, or stated in the New Testament.
Here are the facts: wherever the will of man is referred to in the Bible it is always in the negative. In other words, because human beings are sinful, their will is equally depraved and is therefore limited. To say it more simply, human beings cannot act outside of the confines of their nature.
My YouTube teaching video “Thinking About Free Will” may prove helpful in this regard. http://youtu.be/j3oSqbLDGxc
According to the Bible, our wills are limited by our inability –
Can the Ethiopian change his skin Or the leopard his spots? Then you also can do good who are accustomed to doing evil. (Jeremiah 13:23)
So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. (Matthew 7:17)
Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. (John 8:43)
…the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:7-8)
And which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit? If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest? (Luke 12:25-26)
There is none that understands, there is none that seeks after God. (Romans 3:11)
Given our inability to do good, choose God, or enable our will against its nature, salvation must be the result of grace on God’s part and never the result of the “free will” decisions of any human. And the Bible states that repeatedly and emphatically.
For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. (Romans 9:15-16)
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)
But, here’s the really essential point — if free will (as the modern church defines it) were indeed an essential element in salvation, then the passages that deal with salvation should actually mention it. But, they don’t. You can read through every portion of Scripture that deals with eternal salvation and you will find words like: predestination, election, and “according to His will.”
But never — never once, not a single time — will you read the word “freewill.”
That really ought to tell us something. The language and concept of freewill in salvation is glaring in its absence. So, why is it so popular among confessing evangelicals? Despite the textual evidence, human beings love the idea that they contribute something to their salvation. It just seems more “fair” that way. And, our egos being what they are, we want to insert ourselves into the process in some significant way so that we can assure ourselves on the basis of our own actions and behavior. It is, for lack of a better term, human nature. Corrupt, fallen, prideful, arrogant, rebellious human nature.
Now let me be clear. I am not denying that human beings have a will or that they make decisions. What I am saying is that the human will is not truly free in any libertarian sense. The human will is limited by our incapabilities, resulting from our sinfulness. The fact that we make choices does not prove that we can choose anything we would like. As Romans 3:11 says, we cannot simply choose to understand, nor can we choose to seek God. And that is a very serious limitation.
Also, whenever man’s “will” is referenced in the Bible, it is always in the negative. “You were not willing…” “You do always resist the Holy Spirit…” “You will not come…” etc. That is completely consistent with what the Bible teaches concerning man’s natural state. Sinful humans are free to sin. But no sinful human is free to do what is righteous, what is just, or what is holy. In fact, there is no man who does anything that is good. And there is no one who ever sought God.
And that leads us right back to the topic of Biblical Anthropology. The first tenet of Reformed Theology (the “T” in the tulip acrostic) is Total Depravity. If you start there, then the entire rest of the five points fall perfectly in line. But if you deny that humans are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1), then you will end up advocating for human capability and wind up in direct opposition to the clear declarations of Scripture. It’s really just that simple.
Are we robots already programmed?
I offered a brief reply to this statement earlier, but let me also offer a bit of audio wherein I addressed this very question:
How does the aspect of love play into this if we are just puppets?
The question of love is used as a “red herring” by those who oppose Calvinism. They assume that human beings are free to love God or not love God according to their own “free will.” But, as I wrote above, if the biblical description of mankind is accurate then no natural human being has the capacity to love God. In fact, they hate Him with a vengeance. They are referred to as His enemies:
For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. (Romans 5:10)
The biblical reality is that only after God quickens and enlightens a person can they truly love God. I get weary of hearing preachers say, “Only love that is freely given his genuine love! Calvinism says that God forces His love on us. Forced love is not real love.” Norman Geisler went so far as to say that Calvinism posits a form of “divine rape.”
“Irresistible force used by God on his free creatures would be a violation of both the charity of God and the dignity of humans. God is love. True love never forces itself on anyone. Forced love is rape, and God is not a divine rapist!” (Norman Geisler, “God knows all Things,” Predestination and Free Will, (ed.) David Basinger and Randall Basinger (IVP, 1986), p. 69 ).
What sad rhetoric such men have to stoop to in order to avoid what the Bible says. Again, the fact is that humans will never “freely” love God until God removes their hatred and enmity and puts His divine spirit within them. And, as I have argued openly and often, God is indeed irresistible in every aspect of His character and dealings with mankind. http://youtu.be/e9SiY4HAgNg
So, how does the aspect of love play into this? It is God’s divine and eternal love that resulted in the grace that saved fallen sinners like you and me. In response to that reality, and as a result of His quickening power, we loved Him. But, as in all things, God is the “first cause.” He does not love us in response to our love. We love Him because He first loved us.
Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. (1John 4:7-11)
Don’t allow people to mischaracterize Calvinism and tell you that it limits evangelism, does damage to man’s free will, makes us robots and puppets, or reduces divine love to forced rape. I think you can see that those are all emotion-based arguments, not Biblical arguments. People are naturally suspicious and afraid of things they do not understand. I wish more of Calvinism’s critics would take the time to understand it before they begin criticizing it.
Grace and peace,
By Grace Alone is available via this link:http://www.salvationbygrace.org/uc/sub/docs/bygracealone.pdf
That man has not saving grace of himself, nor of the energy of his free will, inasmuch as he, in the state of apostasy and sin, can of and by himself neither think, will, nor do anything that is truly good (such as having faith eminently is); but that it is needful that he be born again of God in Christ, through his Holy Spirit, and renewed in understanding, inclination, or will, and all his powers, in order that he may rightly understand, think, will, and effect what is truly good, according to the word of Christ.
From “Ultimate Questions.”
A sovereign God is the necessary foundation for a sound theology. Any compromise in the doctrine of God generates a rippling effect that destroys the integrity of all other biblical doctrines. Once we accept a false view of God, the rest of the system cannot be Christian.
For example, a sovereign God contradicts the idea that man exercises free will when it comes to any matter, including salvation. The sovereignty of God and the freedom of man are mutually exclusive. To affirm one is to deny the other. Accordingly, a person who insists that he accepts Christ because of his own free will, and not because of God’s sovereign choice and direct action in his soul, cannot at the same time affirm a sovereign God. Since the only God presented in the Bible is an absolutely sovereign God, a person who affirms human free will cannot, without contradiction, affirm belief in God.
Some theologians perceive this dilemma, and so they choose to believe in a contradiction. But this makes them look stupid, and some of them cannot endure the humiliation. So they invent a way out, and say that God’s sovereignty is “compatible” with human choice. Sometimes it is even said that divine sovereignty is compatible with human “freedom” in the sense that the man who chooses is not coerced in his choice, but he chooses according to his desire.
Of course man chooses, but what makes him choose? What is the metaphysics of human choice? And what is the metaphysical explanation for his desire? If God is absolutely sovereign, then he also decides and causes human choice and desire. And if God is the one who decides and causes human choice and desire, then to say that divine sovereignty and human choice are compatible is only to say that God is compatible with himself. But we already know that, and man is still not free.
Human choice is irrelevant, since it comes under divine sovereignty. To say that man is not coerced is only to say that in this instance God does not cause one effect of his power to clash with another effect of his power, as he does when he causes two objects to crash into each other. But if there is no contradiction when God causes two objects to crash, then even coercion entails no contradiction. It would only mean that he causes a person to desire one thing but to choose another, and he remains compatible with himself. What would be the problem with that?
Indeed, the absolute sovereignty of God and the moral responsibility of man are compatible. Perhaps this is what the theologians are so worried about. But man is morally responsible only because God has decided to hold him accountable. This has no necessarily connection with choice or freedom. Even coercion does not eliminate responsibility. What does one have to do with another? The moral responsibility of man depends on the absolute sovereignty of God, and nothing else. Therefore, to say that man is responsible, once again, is only to say that God is compatible with himself.
It remains, then, that divine sovereignty and human freedom are incompatible. For man to be free in any relevant sense, he must be free from God, and if he is free from God in any sense and in any degree, then God is not absolutely sovereign. The God of the Bible is rejected.