How do we reconcile Man’s Free Will with God’s Sovereignty? our responsibility to make good choices with God’s ultimate control of our behavior?
It’s clear that we all make choices of our own free will, and that our choices are not always good, yet we pray as if God governs other people’s choices and can control them as He wills; we even accuse God of letting people make horrible choices – we instinctively know He can prevent them.
It’s very difficult to understand how God can be in control of our behavior while holding us responsible – it’s like an open contradiction. This mystery is so profound, so difficult to grasp, many rebel against God because of it, or deny His existence altogether.
Yet denying God’s existence is equivalent to denying the existence of evil itself, so evil can’t be evidence of God’s non-existence: our very cry for justice proves we’re made in God’s image.
And rebelling against God for being in control while holding us responsible accuses God Himself of being unjust and evil, yet we can’t rightly define justice or evil apart from God … in fact, in redefining good and evil we’re exalting ourselves as gods. (Ge 3:22)
To resolve this dilemma, note that paradoxes are often rooted in incomplete perspective; in stepping back a bit and challenging our underlying assumptions we often find our answer.
If we assume Man is truly acting freely, apart from divine restraint, then God isn’t in control of Man by definition: thus it must be that Man’s freedom of choice is limited by God’s restraint. (Ps 76:10)
And if we assume Man’s evil choices are actually caused by God, then holding Man responsible for evil violates God’s own standard of justice (De 25:1); so Man’s own will is the ultimate cause of evil. (Jn 3:19)
And if we assume that God has no good purpose in allowing evil, then God is acting in a way that is ultimately harmful and not good; thus it must be that God knows what He’s doing, that He will be pleased in the final outcome, and therefore that it’s good. (Ps 27:13)
So, we resolve the paradox of God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Free Will by attributing evil entirely to Man’s total depravity, and attributing goodness to God’s intervening restraint: when Man chooses freely, apart from divine aid, Man makes the most evil choice God allows him to make every time he makes a choice, because that’s Man’s nature, freely chosen by him. (Je 17:9)
Yet God is constantly and mercifully intervening and controlling Man’s behavior by perfectly and imperceptibly restraining evil according to His perfect will and plan (Php 2:13); whenever God does permit evil it’s for a glorious final purpose (Ro 8:28), by which He intends to reveal and glorify Himself. (Ro 9:22-23) For this we ought to be genuinely thankful. (Ep 5:20)
5 thoughts on “Free Will”
Great blog Tim,
“If we assume Man is truly acting freely, apart from divine restraint, then God isn’t in control of Man by definition: thus it must be that Man’s freedom of choice is limited by God’s restraint. (Ps 76:10)”
Is it possible that in eternity past that God in his sovereignty decreed that man’s free will and his own sovereignty would co exist by divine decree?
And is it also possible that God throughout human history has worked his divine will out in front of all human history; and including eternity past ie: the first sin; the fall of Satan.
It is apparent that God did in eternity past give man, and the angelic beings some measure of “free will” the dichotomy is how much.
And assuming that man having “free will” by any measure infringes on God’s sovereignty makes the assumption that for some reason they can’t co exist. We’re not the arbitrator of the measure of the “free will of man”. That was done in eternity past.
Could it be possible that God using his Godly attributes ie: omniscience, works out in front of all human history no matter how much “free will” he decreed that the angelic beings and man would be given be a sovereign God.
Again great blog
Sorry I didn’t see this until now. Thanks for the comment.
Yes, evidently Man’s Free will and God’s Sovereignty do coexist in harmony. I think this is the window through which God reveals Himself to us, and that He will be wonderfully glorified in all He does, and in all He allows.
All men legitimately searching for the truth have their box, I’m no different. (my box) The gospel of John plainly says to me if you believe in the promise of everlasting life offered by Christ to all who believe in him for it, you have everlasting life.
If I had scripture that said differently, and someone using the scriptures could answer this last question I might consider a change of boxes.
I wrote this question many years ago and still have it in my Bible today.
QUESTION: Why would God reveal himself to all men and base his wrath on the fact men know the truth but reject it, if some men cannot respond to God’s free gift or revelation of himself?
I “believe” I’m in God’s box.
I agree with you, Joe; God doesn’t send people to Hell who are unable to believe on Him; He sends people to Hell who are unwilling to believe on Him.
Also, and perhaps this is a rabbit trail, I only see a promise of everlasting life to those who receive Christ, who believe on Him, who love Him and obey Him; I do not see any promise to those who believe they can receive His gift of everlasting life without receiving Him, without loving Him and obeying Him (which seems to me to be included in receiving Him).
In other words, I think believing on Christ is a miraculous thing, whereby God gives us faith and a new nature; I don’t think it is a simple act of the human will, receiving a gift and then going our way if we like. I do think it is available to us all and that God will save all who diligently seek Him, but I don’t think it is a simple act of the will either.
Perhaps as an example, the most evil person I know personally, the person who appears to me to sin the most treacherously and flagrantly and carelessly, without conscience or concern, claims they have received Christ’s gift of eternal life and that they will go to Heaven. They do not believe God sees or cares about any of their sin; they actually believe they cannot sin, that sin no longer exists, and that they can live absolutely any way they wish and do whatever they please, and they do actually live like this as a manner of life. They have zero fear of God and appear to (to me to) have a seared conscience. I am not judging them; they have told me they believe this way and they are not at all ashamed to say so. They think they are serving Christ and that they are safe. I hope I am wrong about this particular person, but in my understanding of scripture (such as the following text) such people are deceived and have not actually received Christ yet.
“4 Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. 5 And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin. 6 Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him. 7 Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. 8 He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. 9 Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. 10 In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.” (1Jn 3:4-10)
Anyway, hope that is edifying in some way. It is experiences like this which have colored my understanding of the Gospel and what it means to receive and believe on Christ. I think very few are actually born again, but I don’t claim to know anyone’s particular case for sure.