We received the following question:
Victor & Paul,
I am glad we are in agreement that a true believer can be incorrect about various doctrines and still be a genuine believer.
I have a question about “free will,” and yes, I have read your treatise on the doctrine. Now, I consider myself neither a Calvinist nor an Arminian–why should I say, “I follow Calvin” or “I follow Arminius,” as Paul warned against? Moreover, people who claim either view assume an oversimplified binary, and it is clear to me that there are far more than TWO ways to look at the subject.
Now, I agree with you that we are not “free” until we are totally conformed to the image of Christ. Any other concept of true “freedom” is a lie. We are in agreement there. However, in the doctrine of “free will,” the word “free” has never suggested to me that people are actually free from bondage to sin. It has merely suggested that they make genuine choices according to their *currently existing options*. These options, for a fallen and unredeemed human being, do not include sinless living, but may perhaps include choosing to believe in the gospel upon experiencing/hearing it. They may include choosing whether to disobey their parents at a given moment, or not. It has been seeming to me that people who believe in “free will” are trying to get at the idea that God shares power with us–he crowns us with glory and honor (as in Psalm 8:5) and made us in His image. This suggests to me that God has given us SOME power, for which we are held responsible, but He retains the power to accomplish anything He likes (even manipulate us at His whim, whenever He chooses). The combination of His infinite power and infinite knowledge allows Him to craftily use people’s own chosen evil actions and chosen good actions to accomplish His own purposes, according to His own purpose and foreknowledge. As it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are swept away,” “to the pure you show yourself pure, but to the crooked you show yourself shrewd,” and “The LORD works out everything for his own ends- even the wicked for a day of disaster.”
My question is this: Are you suggesting that the “the sovereignty of God” necessarily means that human beings have absolutely no control over anything at all whatsoever in any way–that we have not, in fact, been given any power by God to influence ANYTHING? That God directly determines and controls every action, every word, every choice, that every human ever carries out, so that we humans are not actually influencing, let alone determining, anything at all?
In a nutshell, does God’s sovereignty NEGATE the possibility that the Lord uses a combination of His own “direct” activity and the “mixed bowl” of good & evil human choices (which could be what His “sovereignty” actually means) to accomplish His perfect plans exactly the way He wants to?
I await your answer expectantly.
Amen on your words about Calvinism, Arminianism, and any human partisanship! Camps everywhere…Republican/Democrat; Conservative/Liberal; Catholic/Protestant; Right and Left; religious and secular…as though man can be right. He never is. (Have you perused The Issues of Life on our site concerning voting?) Concerning trust in man, there is no spiritual and physical, religious and secular. It is all one. All of creation is… (what do you know!)… the Creator’s!
What a debate there has been from the very beginning on this matter of free will, ever since Adam and Eve exercised a choice contrary to God’s command that they not eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, though they were permitted every other tree!
The desire and demand for free will is the expression of the very essence of sin.
Why did they choose to eat of the Tree of Knowledge? The Bible says:
“For God knows that in the day you eat of it, then your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as God, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasing to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make wise, she took of its fruit, and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate” (Genesis 3:5-6).
Notice that the serpent did not lie in those words so much as that he tempted Eve to do the forbidden. He gave her motive to disobey God. In previous words, he did lie, saying they would not die, although by his definition of “death,” he was telling the “truth” from his perspective. After all, he had been permitted to eat of that tree. That tree was there for someone or something to partake of its fruit. Where did the serpent get his knowledge of good and evil? Apparently he had it. After partaking, was he not still there? As it turned out, Adam and Eve did not cease to exist and their eyes were opened to know good and evil, thus becoming as God. He Himself confirmed this: “And Jehovah God said, Behold, the man has become as one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever…” (Genesis 3:22). However, they did die in that their relationship and favor with God was broken.
The capacity to desire free will was there, and choice was exercised to have it. The consequence came upon the acting of it. God said to Cain:
“If you do well, is there not exaltation? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is toward you; but you should rule over it” (Genesis 4:7).
John, by the Holy Spirit, wrote:
“Because all that which is in the world: the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:16).
What is carnal man’s concept and definition of free will? Free will is the state of independence from any restriction. The Bible calls it “lawlessness.” Like it or not, know it or not, the desire of “free will” is that very disposition of rebellion against the Creator.
Adam and Eve chose to believe the serpent, to have free will, to be independent in their own right, to do anything they wanted to do, and now they had the bondage, the very opposite. When we submit to Jesus Christ as Lord (by His will and grace), we renounce “freedom of will,” something we only perceive to, yet do not, have, but now, we in Christ, begin to receive, earn, or develop a freedom, a fulfillment, progressing to perfection. “He that keeps his life will lose it, and he that loses his life for My sake will have it.” “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free…and when the Son of man makes you free, you shall be free indeed.”
Free to do as we please, in our own right, does not exist. Man mistakes “free” choice for free will. We have the “freedom” to desire, wish, or choose, but we do not have the freedom to do. Even in our choices, as when David chose to count Israel, God was behind it. When Jonah chose to flee from God’s presence, not wanting to see Nineveh granted mercy, he had the power to choose and partially follow through on his choice, but the power and final outcome remained with his Maker. Furthermore, in Jonah’s disobedience and incapability to fulfill his choice, he became the prophetic, symbolic representation of the one and only sign given to mankind…the death and burial of the Son of God for three days and three nights, and the resurrection from the invincible, irreversible, incontestable, implacable, impartial, impossible, and final enemy. Jonah never dreamed or imagined such a thing. All that was happening to him was entirely beyond him. Jonah’s insistence on his own will was God’s predetermined occasion for demonstration of HIS will. Thus, Jonah, in a figure, represented the death and resurrection of the One Who was to come. As it is written:
“For He has made Him who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). God is all in all. Jonah was “made subject to vanity, not willingly, but because of Him Who subjected him in hope.”
Do we have any power at all to influence or control anything in all of creation? Only as instruments in our Maker’s hands, but not as independent authorities or agencies. Either there is The Ultimate, Final Source, or there is not. We are not Him, obviously. Man likes to think otherwise, and so he has (as a proud son of Leviathan), humanism, socialism, atheism, agnosticism, theories of evolution, barbaric “medicine,” tyrannical “secular” governments, ignorant and unsubstantial educational systems, fanciful spiritual kingdoms in the Name of God, heroes, and other vain, destructive “creations,” all of varying sorts and sizes, proceeding out of our chosen realm of death and hell we expected would be life.
A remarkable truth: We can do nothing right, and God can do nothing wrong. We are to blame for anything evil, and He gets the credit and glory for anything good. As Jesus said, “No man is good; only God is good.” We are, after doing our duty, altogether unprofitable and unworthy servants. If anything good appears to come from us, it is because He causes us “both to will and to do of His good pleasure.”
In 1997, when the Lord took me, with gracious opportunity granted to consent (choose), and lowered me down to the very bottom, He revealed to me, Justin, that we were, all of us, in “wrongness.” Knowing what I know now, after that terminating, needful, and ultimately blessed event, I suppose that it would be madness and folly for God to give man any opportunity to determine anything on his own, until he becomes one with His Maker. However, then, it is not on his own, is it? Ironically, at that predestined point of oneness with his Maker, man no longer seeks to be independent of Him (to have a “free will”); he has become God, a mature son, grown and formed into his Father’s very image (“like Father, like son”), finally free, not to do what is inappropriate, but what is right and good, always, by a Divine Nature.
Because we are the object of His work, and because He is forming us to be the subject, like Him, we begin at the outset of our spiritual awakening to experience the exercising of our wills.
Take the caterpillar, whose nature it is to “choose” to spin a cocoon, whereby, when the process is done, it is a new creation. Could a fly spin a cocoon? Or an earthworm? Or a bird? Did the caterpillar choose to be what it is? Did the caterpillar spin the cocoon, enclosing itself perfectly in its own substance and work? Could it choose not to do so? Not that I know of. It had no choice but to do what it was formed to do by its Maker. The Maker gave it the nature, will and ability to spin its cocoon, but only for itself. By the grace of God, we become butterflies, leaving the confines of earth, and taking to the air.
Because we are also the verb, an active, conscious ingredient, exercised in partaking of our own formation, we have the sense of being able to determine the existence and outcome of things, but being raw or green, it is only potentiality we sense. Who can understand without Him?
However, we are being formed in the Image of the One and Only One Who determines all things. It is argued that because we, and not caterpillars and butterflies, are formed in His image, and because we have His latent or potential faculties, that therefore we are different, and can choose. That is ultimately true. Those who overcome to the end receive power and authority to grant ability to create, among other things, other caterpillars, to spin cocoons and to become butterflies.
Did you consider that God Himself does not have a “free will,” as we know or have known, or have wished or desired it to be?
Now, lest we continue on a path of error, it does not behoove us to figure these things out, though we ponder them. That would be partaking of the forbidden fruit, resulting in death. If these things are not revealed to us, we are without hope of understanding, even as it is impossible to view the stars and galaxies with a microscope. “With men these things are impossible,” but lest we believe those who deny one can know these things, Jesus said, “but with God, all things are possible.”
What is the issue? What is our duty before God? Devils and men say, “You are not going to tell me what to do!” Those who do the will of God, say, “I am Yours to do with as it pleases You.” The will of God, as Jesus submitted in Gethsemane, is perfectly expressed in these words:
“Not My will, but Yours be done.”
Justin, I hope I have done you justice in reply to your query. This is my understanding, with the grace of the One Who has formed me thus far.
I have taken your letter as a cue to finish a writing, which I had begun some time ago on “free will.” It will answer your question, though more at length. I hope you will read it carefully and consider what is being said. You will find the Scriptures are prominently used and are irrefutable in what they say.
The short answer I can give you here is that you are quite mistaken in your doctrine, or at least in what you conjecture. I quote from your letter:
“These options, for a fallen and unredeemed human being, do not include sinless living, but may perhaps include choosing to believe in the gospel upon experiencing/hearing it.” (My emphasis added.)
If no man comes to the Lord Jesus, except he is drawn by God, how can you say that perhaps a person can choose to believe in Christ? Obviously many heard the call to repentance from authentic men of God and the Lord Himself, but not nearly as many followed Him. Jesus plainly attributed that to the drawing of the Father, which is selective. He also said that He had chosen the disciples, and that they had not chosen Him. If the drawing of the Father was determined by preaching or experiencing exposure to the gospel, then ALL would have come and believed on Him at that time. But He said this of His preaching:
“He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given” (Matthew 13:11).
You will find no Scripture that supports your idea, Justin. It is also not our experience. He chose us and gave us faith. We were and are dead in the water without Him. It is that simple. If man could choose Christ, then Christ died in vain.
“For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6).
You are saying that perhaps some have a little strength in this matter. That is not true. Remember, there was no man found that could open the Book of Life:
“And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon” (Revelation 5:3).
Now, the Scripture you refer to does not talk about just a little power that man might have with God, but says this:
“…what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man, that You visit him? For You have made him lack a little from God, and have crowned him with glory and honor. You made him rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet…” (Psalms 8:4-6).
All things put under His feet. Who is this Man? Of course, it is the Lord Jesus Christ. Only in Him is this is possible:
“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first-fruit, and afterward they who are Christ’s at His coming; then is the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God, even the Father; when He makes to cease all rule and all authority and power. for it is right for Him to reign until He has put all the enemies under His feet. The last enemy made to cease is death. For He put all things under His feet. But when He says that all things have been put under His feet, it is plain that it excepts Him who has put all things under Him. But when all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subject to Him who has subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all things in all” (1 Corinthians 15:22-28).
Does man have any power or influence on things, as you ask? Have you red this?
“And John answered and said, A man can receive nothing unless it is given to him from Heaven” (John 3:27).
All things are determined from above. It is from there that the believer rules with Christ. In Him we participate in His works, being part of His Body.
“And has raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus…” (Ephesians 2:6).
The Lord is in Heaven, and is ruling on earth in these earthen vessels:
“Truly I say to you, Whatever you shall bind on earth shall occur, having been bound in Heaven; and whatever you shall loose on earth shall occur, having been loosed in Heaven. Again I say to you that if two of you shall agree on earth as regarding anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them by My Father in Heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst” (Matthew 18:18-20).
Justin, I would like to give you even more of an answer, though between this letter, the writing, and Victor’s reply, you will receive an abundance of riches, if you can receive these things as from the Lord, Who has given us to know them. And I will yet give you more of an answer by saying that what you need more than explanations and our answers, as good as those might be, is to be born again yourself. You will not comprehend or know these things until you have the Spirit of Christ indwelling you. You have yet to be baptized in the Spirit. This is not a criticism. It is an observation for your sake.
You must be born from above to see from God’s perspective. You are trying to view the operation of God from the perspective of man. That is impossible without the new birth. God says that His ways are not your ways, nor are His thoughts your thoughts. When you receive the Spirit, then you will begin to take on His mind, as you walk by His power in the Spirit and obedience.
“For who among men knows the things of a man except the spirit of man within him? So also no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. But we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit from God, so that we might know the things that are freely given to us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:11-12).
The only way to be in Christ, is that He is born in you. Only in Him can we know and see the things you wish to see. Nevertheless, if God is with you there will be witness that we speak from Him. If not, nothing we say will ever satisfy you, just as with Jesus and Paul, whom the religious Jews could not hear or receive.
I had this Scripture that I also wanted to share with you, Justin, which speaks to where you will find your ultimate answer:
“That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and to all riches of the full assurance of the understanding, to the full knowledge of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; in Whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2-3).
The Lord has given you much, and therefore, much will be required. Be faithful, and you shall be blessed abundantly.