The subject of man’s “free” will in relation to God’s absolute sovereignty is a doctrinal dilemma that is just as controversial today as it has been in past centuries. Many believers do not understand how the choices of men can be reconciled with the plans of God, and so it is often dismissed by the average Christian as being too hard a subject to comprehend. Theologians have tried their best to figure out this “mystery,” but instead of reconciling the two issues, they have divided themselves into two distinct camps—the “free” will camp (Arminianists), and the “sovereignty” camp (Calvinists). Both of these views have elements of truth, but both also contain falsehoods. In this essay, we will look at both views and see that they need not oppose one another, but together, they can give us the COMPLETE picture of how God uses the choices of men to bring about His will. While the “natural man” cannot understand these things, God, through His Spirit, illuminates the deeper truths of Christ to those who have the spiritual “ears to hear.” Proverbs 25:2 says:
It is the glory of God to conceal a thing, but the glory of kings to search out a thing.
We will not even begin to understand the mystery of the working out of God’s will until we see two very important truths: one, how POWERFUL God is, and two, (and this is more difficult), how PUNY man is. Certainly these two things are made abundantly clear in the Scriptures—however, reading about Truth in the scriptures is one thing; internalizing Truth into one’s heart is quite another. When Isaiah saw the greatness of the Lord in the temple (Is. 6), his own sinfulness was exposed and he cried out, Woe is me, for I am undone….for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of Hosts (verse 5). Has this same work been done in our own temple? Has the glory of the God exposed the pride, haughtiness, and self-righteousness that dwells in our own flesh? Do not think for one minute that Christians are exempt from these sins of self-exaltation. Let us remember that it was a religious man, a Pharisee, who looked at the humiliation of the publican and thanked God that he was not like him.
Beloved, we must receive a PERSONAL revelation of the wretchedness of our own flesh. Isaiah got this revelation from seeing the Lord of glory with his own eyes, not through the eyes of some “gifted” man or “anointed” teaching. Teaching is fine and I am very grateful for the men and women to whom God has blessed with great spiritual insight. However, unless we get a revelation of the glory of God in our own experience, we will only be eating the manna of someone else’s revelation, and thus we will have great difficulty discerning for ourselves the difference between Truth and a lie. If we somehow think that we will learn the most sacred things of God (Ezra 2:63) by study methods alone, we may instead find that we have accumulated nothing more than a wealth of carnal doctrines, but have not even come close to touching the heart of God on a matter. Even prayer, if not done from a spirit of brokenness resulting from a crucified life, will not move God into revealing a deeper glory of Himself.
With the pure You will show Yourself pure; and with the froward You will show Yourself froward. (Ps. 18:26)
I like what T. Austin Sparks said concerning the above passage:
If you and I are more or less careless about spiritual things the Lord will meet us on that ground, and we shall never get anywhere; but when we get to the point of being burnt up to the last ounce in the interests of the Lord, God will meet us on that ground. Is it not true with so many that the Lord has had to bring them to the place where it was a matter of desperation, life or death hanging upon a new knowledge of Himself? He has not been able to give them that inward unveiling until there could be for them no more life unless there was a new knowledge of the Lord. They wished not to live unless the Lord came to them in a new way.
“Father, grant to us such a hunger and thirst for You, that unless you fill us with the fullness of Your Son, we would surely die. Reveal Yourself, Oh, Lord, in a new, fresh, and living way!”
Romans 9 - God's Choice
Dealing with this issue of God’s sovereignty, Romans, Chapter 9 is the classic passage on the subject. Paul is making the case that, ultimately, it is God who will fulfill His own purpose, and that puny man cannot frustrate it. This truth is found all throughout the scriptures but no better place can be used as our example than in the 9th chapter of Paul’s great treatise to the Romans. Paul defines the truth of God's sovereignty by quoting from Exodus 33:19:
For He saith Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. (Rom. 9:15).
He reiterates the same truth a few verses later when he writes,
God has mercy on whom He will have mercy and harden whom he chooses to harden. (v.18)
Paul, being the scholar that he is, anticipates the skeptics charge that God is unfair.
You will then say to me, Why does he then find fault? For who has resisted His will? (v. 19)
In other words, “If God’s choices are greater than ours, why does he then judge us? Why does He hold us accountable for the choices He makes? That's not fair!”
Paul uses two Old Testament examples to defend his point. Pharaoh was chosen as a “vessel of destruction” to display God’s power (vs. 17, 22), and Jacob was chosen over Esau—not because of any good that Jacob had done, or any evil that Esau had done (v. 11). Paul then makes this powerful statement.
So then it is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy. (v. 16)
Neither Pharaoh nor the sons of Isaac had any choice in the matter—it was pre-determined by God Himself! This choice was made before either was born in order that God’s purposes might be fulfilled.
Paul’s answer to the skeptic’s charge that “God is unfair” is very simple. Who are we to argue against God?(v. 20) He then gives the analogy of the Potter and the clay saying, Does not the Potter have authority over the clay, out of the lump to make one vessel to honor, and one to dishonor? (v. 21) Paul’s point is clear: God is the Potter and He can do whatsoever He pleases with His creation (the clay).
God’s sovereign choices are above the will of man. He doesn’t do things in reaction to something that has gone wrong with His plan. This is the basic teaching of the organized church. Orthodoxy teaches that God never intended for Adam to fall, but since he did, God had to come up with another plan. We will attempt to show that this “theory” is not biblical and that there is never a plan “B” with God. God wasn’t surprised by Adam’s sin neither was He caught off guard. In fact, as we will show, Adam’s sin was a definite part of God’s overall plan and purpose. Not only was the “fall” ordained by God, but so was the remedy, and all of this was determined beforehand according to the counsel of His own will. (Eph. 1:4, 5, 11) God has specific reasons for doing the things that He does (we will elaborate later as to the reasons why the fall was necessary). God’s ultimate purpose is to be all in all (1 Cor. 15:28), and so everything He does accords with this purpose. Neither man nor Satan will ever be able to thwart God’s purposes or force Him to implement a plan “B”. Daniel 4:35 says,
And He does according to His will among the army of Heaven, and among those living on earth. And no one is able to strike His hand or say to Him, What are You doing?
For what purpose does God move the hearts of men and of nations? Peter talks of the restoration of all things (Acts 3:21), and Paul about the reconciliation of all things (Col. 1:20). What do they mean? To help us understand God’s great purpose, we must look at His role as Owner and Creator.
In the Beginning
If we want to understand where man is going, we have to go back to where he began, for it is in the garden that the principle of God’s ownership is first revealed.
Orthodoxy teaches that Adam was created in a perfect (complete) state—a state in which God was totally satisfied. In other words, if Adam had never sinned, God would have been happily content in keeping Adam and Eve in the garden with no higher purpose or goal in which to achieve. They would have continued in the same relationship as husband and wife, tending to the affairs of the garden, and fulfilling their role as propagators of the human race. I strongly suggest that this is not true. Ps. 8:5 gives us a hint of man’s incompleteness: For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels.... The Hebrew word for “lower” is chacer which literally means “to lack” or “fail.” Adam was not created perfect as most Christians teach, but lacked something. When Jesus was asked about the resurrection, He said this:
The sons of this age are given in marriage—but they who are worthy to obtain that age, and the resurrection of the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage; for they cannot die any more, for they are equal to the angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection (Luke 20:34-36).
It is clear from Jesus’ teaching that there was something higher and better awaiting Adam than what he originally had in the garden. Ps. 8:5 tells us that man was made LOWER than the angels, yet Jesus tells us that the sons of God will be EQUAL to the angels. In addition, Adam’s name literally means “the red earth.” While Adam was formed from the dust of the earth, God’s destiny for those now “in Adam” is heavenly, not earthly. The problem with the orthodox view is that most Christians believe that God is bringing man back to what Adam originally had in the garden, but the truth is God is bringing man forward to something higher and better!
The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. (1 Cor. 15:47)
God’s purpose is not found “in Adam” but “in Christ.” (1 Corinthians, chapter 15 is more than clear on this). Paul suggested this same idea when he prays that we might be granted a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the FULL (Gk. epignosis) knowledge of Him….(Eph 1:17) While it is certainly true that Adam walked in innocence, he did not possess a FULL knowledge of God and His ways. Adam did not know what it meant to be “in Christ.” He did not understand the effects of sin and the need for God’s judgment of it, or greater still, He did not know the great lengths in which God would go in order to redeem man back to Himself. Yes, Adam walked with God, but he was ignorant of many things and would, through struggle, have to learn who His God really was. No, it was never God’s original purpose to keep man in the state in which he was created, but to bring him to a deeper maturity...a fuller KNOWLEDGE (the knowledge of good and evil)—one beginning in the earthly realm, and progressing to a heavenly one.
Common theology also assumes that Adam and Eve had a perfect knowledge of good and evil. If this were true, why was it necessary for God to plant a tree that contained knowledge they already possessed? It is also interesting that the knowledge of “good” was not separate from the knowledge of “evil.” There were not two trees with two kinds of fruit, but one tree containing both fruits. Adam did not possess the knowledge of good anymore than he possessed the knowledge of evil—he was completely ignorant of these things. By eating the fruit of the tree, the process of learning both evil AND GOOD had been set into motion.
The philosopher and scholar Jacob Boehme wrote “that in order for Yes to be Yes, there had to be a No otherwise Yes would have no meaning.” He called this “Dialecticism.” Norman Grubb, who studied Boehme extensively, called this the “Law of Opposites.” Simply stated, the Law of Opposites says that in order for growth and maturity to take place, there must be an opposing force that resists or contradicts its opposite. For example, a muscle in the human body cannot grow unless there is a resistance or force applied to that muscle. This resistance first weakens the muscle actually breaking it down; however, with rest and proper nutrition, the muscle grows bigger and stronger. A child cannot understand what cold is until they touch something that is hot--they learn and become wiser by experiencing the opposite. Applying this to the spiritual, good cannot truly be understood until the effects of evil are seen and experienced. Obedience means nothing to us, until we see the results of disobedience. We cannot understand the holiness of God until we see the ravages and effects of hatred and selfishness in our lives and in the world around us. This is the “Law of Opposites” and it is the learning process that God has ordained for us. All we need to do is look at our own experiences to see if this is true. Does not a sunrise give us a great sense of peace and security only because we have experienced the loneliness and fear of the night? Can anyone really appreciate the joys of life until we have tasted the sorrows of death? Do we not appreciate the sweetness of His grace only because the law first condemned us? Is not the Cross of Christ embraced by us because we were first separated from God by our own sin? We must experience the evil in order to appreciate the good! I quote Don Godfroy:
However, they (mankind) will not be as they were originally, but in a higher dimension. When Adam gained the knowledge of good and evil, he gained resistance that would also grow him up. You can only build muscle by repetitive motion against resistance. Adam was innocent and immature. He now could experience the power of love against the power of evil. He now had something to “overcome.” He would find that he could only be an “overcomer” by the infinite mercy of God found in Jesus Christ. In this, he would have the experience of knowing the love his Creator had for him, by the depth He would go to save and restore him. He could also build spiritual muscle by carrying the disciple’s cross. This is why Paul cries out in Rom. 11:33, “Oh the depth of the riches of both the wisdom and knowledge of God!” What a master plan!
Adam was created in the image of God, but that does not mean he possessed the knowledge of his Creator. A child is created in the image of his or her parents, but that doesn’t mean they are exactly like them. They may look like them and have some of the same mannerisms, but they do not possess the same knowledge and wisdom that their parents do. Parents cannot pass those things onto their children at birth. While children certainly inherit physical traits from their parents, the knowledge of good and evil is not one of them. This has to come through a long process whereby their offspring learn by their own trials and experiences—their own triumphs and failures. It was no different with Adam and Eve. God had a plan for Adam (man) that would involve a long process of struggle (good versus evil) in order for him (mankind) to be brought into full maturity (sonship).
God made a tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He made it pleasing to look at. He didn’t place it in some remote place in the garden, but right in the center of man’s reach. There was no fence around it, nor were there cherubs with a flaming sword to guard it (until after Adam sinned). On top of all that, God allowed a tempter in the garden to be an adversary to Adam. So with all the pieces in place, let us now look at the issues of ownership and ultimate responsibility.
God created man and as owner of man, He holds Himself ultimately responsible. God’s own law (which He cannot violate) proves this. In Exodus 21:33-34, God gives laws for landowners. If a landowner digs a pit on his own land and fails to cover it up, and an animal falls in and dies (whether of its own stupidity or “free” choice), the owner of the land shall make restitution to the animal’s owner. The landowner then gets the rights to the dead animal (all souls belong to Him—Ez. 18:4).
So God made a pit in the garden (the tree) and failed to cover it up. Adam, unable to discern the difference between good and evil because of ignorance, fell into the pit by eating of the tree. So in accordance with God's very own law, He was responsible to make it right—and make it right He did! God’s restitution to man was none other than the blood of His own dear Son, and in this way He provided the only avenue of escape from this pit of death. As Creator of man, “all souls belong to Him,” and so God, being the owner of all that is in the world did the only thing a responsible owner could do—take the responsibility of restoration upon His own shoulders.
All of us inherited the result of Adam’s sin, which was death—even those who did not sin after the likeness of Adam’s sin. (Rom 5:14) And because we inherited mortality from Adam, we are in a constant state of dying—which quite naturally brings forth sin, resulting in separation from God. All men are born into this world in a state of death, separated from God. None of us had a choice of whether or not we wanted to be born in such a sorry condition. Nevertheless, each of us commits sin because of the mortality we inherited from Adam. While God indeed holds men accountable for the choices they make (Rom 1:20), He does not hold men ultimately responsible for the mortality and death brought about by Adam’s disobedience. We had nothing to do with that. So the question we should be asking ourselves is, “Who is ultimately responsible to make things right? Who should fix what Adam did to all of humanity?” The answer seems clear. Is God not the owner of the whole earth? Is He not responsible for it?
God’s responsibility as landowner is ultimately greater than the choices of men, and because of this, God sent His only Son to reverse the damage that had been caused by Adam.
As in Adam, all die, so in Christ, all shall be made alive. (1 Cor. 15:22)
This verse says it all. Adam brought death to all men. He was the origin of the “indwelling” sin problem that all men are cursed with. However, the good news is that because of what Christ has done, life will come to all men. This is what the verse says. The first Adam condemned all of humanity to a life separate from God’s life; the second Adam assures all of humanity to a life in God. For those who understand that God works in successive ages (or dispensations), we know that not all men will experience this life (in Christ) in this current age. In fact, Jesus made it very clear that narrow is the path that leads to life and few would find it. However, this doesn’t change the fact that God did what He had to do in order to undo the consequences of Adam’s sin. How can “where sin abounds, grace does much more abound” be true if most of God's creation will be forever lost? Is the first Adam’s disobedience greater than the second Adam’s obedience? Is the disease (sin) greater than the cure (the Cross)? Does Adam have the power to curse all of humanity but Christ only the power to save a few?
If God holds us personally responsible for Adam’s sin, then God is guilty of the biggest injustice in the history of the world. First, He sets up a chessboard that is impossible to overcome (the tree, the seductive beauty of it, and the tempter), and then as a result of Adam’s inevitable choice, He declares that most of His creatures will be lost forever. My dear friends, this goes against the very nature of God as love, His power to save all, and His ultimate responsibility to fix (not just provide a way) for man’s confused and lost state. According to modern theology, Christ did not fix the problem caused by Adam’s sin—He simply paves a way so that if a man chooses Christ by His own “free” will, then his own personal sin problem is cured. However, this clearly contradicts Paul’s universal thrust in Romans 5:12-18, 1 Cor. 15:22-28, Phil. 2:10,11, and all throughout the Scriptures.
He is the Savior of all men, but especially those who believe. (1 Tim. 4:10)
Evangelical theology cannot answer the truth that says, “Jesus IS the Savior of all men.” Their explanation is that Christ WANTS to be the Savior of all men. However, this is not what the Scriptures say. They not only declare that Christ died for all men, but that He is also their Savior. As believers, we have already appropriated that Saviorship and are receiving the blessings of that relationship right now. However, most people do not yet know the good news of the gospel. Their salvation MUST come in the “ages to come.” So instead of having the faith to believe God for the impossible, they offer a weak substitute that, in the end, can only manage to save a small percentage of all of God’s offspring. In essence, they have made God weak and ultimately a failure. They have placed the whole destiny of mankind on the shoulders of their own “free” will instead of rejoicing that God has already accomplished the victory in Christ (the complete fulfillment of this victory is yet to come).
Whether or not man has “free” will is really not the issue (although we try and make it the issue). The real issue is who is ultimately responsible? Modern evangelicalism tries to do everything it can to take the responsibility off of God. If we really think about it, God is the one who has “set us up” to fall. For reasons beyond our comprehension, God created man and put him in a "no-win" situation. (*See note 1 below) Adam really had no chance other than to fail. How long could Adam have held out against this temptation? A day? A week? A year? Maybe ten years? Do you really think that Adam had the strength to say “no” to that temptation day after day? Do we think that somehow we would have performed better than Adam? I think not!
Most of us can’t handle the thought that we were set up by God, so we blame Satan—but mostly we blame man. We do not want to think that ultimate responsibility lies with God. If we say that all of the world’s suffering is because of man’s choice or Satan’s deception, and we fail to attribute all things as coming from God (see note), even evil (Judges 9:23; Job 2:3; Is. 45:7; Amos 3:6; Rom 11:36), then God is not totally sovereign. In other words, something happened beyond God’s control. (*See note 2)
Arminianism teaches that God knew what would happen in the garden, but couldn’t prevent it because of man’s “free” will. If this is true and something actually happened beyond God’s control, what makes us think that something like this won’t happen again? If God had to put plan “B” into effect, what makes us think God won't resort to a plan “C” or a plan “D”? You say, “That's just being plain ridiculous!” Yes, this is my point exactly, but this is what the “orthodox” church teaches. According to the common view, God could not stop evil from coming in and putting a stain on His creation. God wanted Adam and Eve to remain in a state of permanent bliss in the garden, but He couldn't stop sin from entering in, so He had to change His plan—He had to come up with something better. This, my dear friends, is ridiculous. In our efforts to relieve God of the responsibility for evil in the world, we devise a man-made doctrine which undermines the sovereignty of God and should give every child of God a reason to question whether they can really trust God or not.
Calvinism, on the other hand, teaches that God not only knew what would happen, but wouldn’t stop it because the “fall” of man was ordained. In this case, there is an element of truth; however, the inevitable result of this view is to say then that God ordains most people to spend a conscious eternity without Him. This view is too grotesque to even dwell on it at length.
If, as a result of man’s choice, most men suffer endless torment, then God has failed—in particular, the Cross has failed. Either he can’t make it right (Arminianism) or He won’t make it right (Calvinism). Each view maligns the nature and character of God. The first says God is weak and limited by Satan and man. The second says that God is cruel, unjust, and unloving. Both are unthinkable.
Praise be to our God that the scriptures teach that He will take ultimate responsibility and reconcile all men to Himself (Acts 3:21; 1 Cor. 15:22-28; Col. 1:20). If God CAN’T save all men because of their “free” will, what does this say about His sovereignty? If He WON’T save all men because of His own choices, what does this say about His love and mercy? God is going to reconcile all things (Col. 1:20), restore all things, (Acts 3:21), make all things new (Rev. 21:5), sum up all things in Christ (Eph. 1:10), fill all things with Christ (Eph. 4:10), and become all in all (1 Cor. 15:28). How is He going to do this? Will He accomplish this restoration by FORCING most of His creation to bow the knee and make confession? Men take power and authority by force. Will God follow the ways of man? If God does, what does this say about His responsible ownership over the world He has created? Will He violate His own law in failing to take responsibility as Landowner of the universe? Will He throw most of His creation in the dumper all in the name of “free” will? What does it say about the sovereignty and power of a god who reconciles and restores most things by brute force? Which do you think brings more glory to God—forcing most of His creation to bow to Him OR winning each and every one of us by the power of His love? The good news is that the scriptures do not paint God as One who either cannot or will not save men. God will destroy all His enemies by making them friends!
Note 1: In actuality, God placed man in a "win-win" situation because in man's disobedience, God set into motion the long struggle in which man would eventually attain victory (in Christ) and ultimately receive the maturity of sonship. Yes, he would have to suffer the consequences of sin, but alas, this was the way God designed (from before the foundation of the world) for man to learn and to grow. So what has been explained by theologians as a bad situation for Adam that God had to somehow overcome, was actually intended for Adam's good. Satan did not foil God's creation, but was actually a pawn used in accomplishing God's will.
Note 2: There is no doubt that many will accuse me of calling God evil. I will address this later in the "arguments" section.
The “Free” will of Man
As previously mentioned, man DOES make choices, however, he DOES NOT have ultimate and final control over his own destiny. It is God who is in control of all forces and environmental conditions and He will use these however He chooses in order to accomplish His will.
Man devises his way, but the Lord directs his steps. (Prov. 16:9)
Man's goings are of the Lord. (Prov. 20:24).
The King's heart is in the hands of the Lord, He turns it wherever He desires. (Prov. 21:1)
Men make choices and decisions every day, but something (or Someone) creates a circumstance that causes these decisions. If I scratch my body (my own choice), I do it because I have an itch. If I eat a meal (my own choice), I do so because I am hungry. If I hurt another person (my choice), I do so because they did some harm to me. For every choice we make, there is a cause greater than the choice. It is your basic cause/effect principle. For every effect (in this case our choice), there is some cause that prompted the action. As no one would deny that God is sovereign over all things (including Satan), it is God who can change circumstances as He pleases to bring about the desired effect. In this way, we may think we are totally independent from God in the choices we make, but in reality, there is Someone greater than ourselves working behind the scenes to bring about a perfectly orchestrated finale. God is the great conductor who controls and leads men to respond with a simple wave of His baton.
Jesus said, If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to Myself. (John 12:32) The Greek word used for “draw” is the word “helkuo” which literal means “to drag.” Jesus says, “He will drag all men to Himself.” What does this say about man’s “free” will?
In Isaiah 10, the King of Assyria is bragging about how he had ransacked Jerusalem. He says,
By the strength of my hand I have done it, and by my wisdom; for I am prudent; and I have removed the bounds of the people, and I have robbed their treasures, and I have put down the inhabitants like a valiant man. (verse 13)
This sounds like someone very familiar, doesn’t it? Remember, Nebuchadnezzar? We all remember how God dealt with his arrogance. But it is clear that God not only chose this pagan nation to judge His people, but He turned the heart of the king to accomplish the job. The Lord says,
Shall the axe glorify itself over him chopping with it? Or shall the saw magnify itself over him moving it? As if a rod could wave those who lift it. As if a staff could raise what is not wood! (verse 15)
The king thought he had “free” will, but he was nothing more than an axe. It was God’s arm doing the chopping!
Another illustration I sometimes use is that of a dog being led by a leash by its master. A dog has some ability to roam from the master, but only inasmuch as the master allows. When the dog begins to stray too far or get into something it shouldn’t, one yank of the leash brings the dog back into submission. While we may devise our own way, it is God who “directs our steps” by yanking our leash whenever it suits His purposes. The idea that man can somehow act independently of God’s purposes is an idea totally foreign to the Word of God.
No, it is God who moves the steps and hearts of men and will work all things out according to the counsel of His own will. And what is His will? Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim. 2:4, KJV) LISTEN AGAIN... “WHO WILL HAVE ALL MEN TO BE SAVED....” The Greek word for “will” is the word thelo which means “intend” or “to be resolved or determined.” I find nothing in the Word of God that teaches that God will NOT get what He intends or determines.
...My counsel shall stand, and I will do ALL MY DESIRE. (Is. 46:10)
God is moving all of His creation toward His ultimate purpose of “summing up all things in Christ.” (Eph 1:10) and having His will DONE on earth as it is in Heaven.
NOTE: To accomplish His purposes, God allows this illusion of “free” will. However, it is only for a season and is used by God as a tool to teach His creation the principle that nothing exists apart from Him--not even our ability to make choices. And like all idols, the idol of man’s supposed independence from God will one day be totally destroyed. When the ages of the ages are complete, there will not be one speck of independence left in all of God's universe--all creation will be in absolute submission to God and be totally dependent on Him! (The orthodox teaching on the lake of fire contradicts scripture because it forever leaves a huge percentage of humanity in a state of independence).
Can Man really Reject God?
For those who believe in the “free” will of man, this question will seem rather ridiculous. Again, I cannot deny that man can make a choice to reject God—we see it all around us. However, there are two questions I want to pose: first, “Is it possible for man to make a “fully” informed decision to reject God forever?” Second, assuming that man can become “fully” informed, “Would it then be possible (or rational) for him to do so?”
It is important for us to understand that when a man rejects God, he is in essence rejecting his own self. The reason for this is simple: each man has his beginning in God, and so a rejection of God is to reject the very purpose for which he was born (to find his end in God). If God is a loving Creator, which no Christian would deny, then God’s desire for each and every one of His creatures must be that they experience total fulfillment and happiness. Those of us who have had our eyes opened to this truth understand that, without Christ, our life would be empty and unfulfilled. Not only does God desire man’s happiness, but man wants the very same thing for himself. I mean, honestly, can you think of one person, no matter who they are, who doesn’t want to be happy and to find ultimate purpose in their life? Each of us pursues different things, but nevertheless, all of us are trying to find that one thing (or person) that will give us lasting peace. So God, who desires man to be happy, and man, who desires himself to be happy, have the same end in mind. Therefore, a loving God will never be satisfied until He gives to man that which he is desperately trying to find. This is why it is God’s will that “none should perish, but that all would come to repentance.”
All men are born into this world lost and blind, stumbling in the dark, trying to find the answer to the question, “Why am I here and for what purpose was I born?” Each man, in the course of his life, seeks to answer that very question. Apart from God, all goals and dreams in this life are simply illusions at best, and until these illusions are shattered and revealed to us for what they are, man can never be happy and fulfilled. These illusions act as barriers to keep man from seeing clearly who God is. This reminds me of the story of the blind man whom Jesus touched to be healed. After the first touch, the man could only “see men as trees, walking.” It took a second touch from Jesus to complete the healing. (Mk. 8:22-25) Jesus was obvious showing us that “healing” is a process where, over time, things become clearer and clearer to us concerning the things of God. The same thing happens to us as we are trying to find the Source of true happiness. As each idol of man is torn down piece by piece, he slowly comes to realize that there must be more to life than what merely meets the eye. So until the last illusion of man is shattered, his rejection of God is NOT a rejection of God Himself, but rather of who he “thinks” God is or as He is represented by those who call themselves Christians. He sees contradiction and division in the Church and has a tendency to judge God based on the behavior of those who are supposed to represent Him. This is why our testimony is so important. If Christians are not walking as if they are clearly seeing God, then how can we expect an unbeliever to see God the way He truly is? It is sad fact that most Christians are often the biggest stumbling block as to why men CANNOT see God.
Does man really have the knowledge to be able to truly reject God in this life? Think about it. Man came forth (from God) and is born into this world with a dead spirit. Even though he is born lost, there is a part of him that yearns to find his Creator even though he doesn’t know who or what He is. However, there are forces outside of man (temptations) and forces within him (a foolish heart) trying to keep him from being reunited back to his God. God’s plan IN THIS AGE is to reunite only a few. The Bible calls these men “the elect.” The rest of humanity (non-elect) continues to stumble in the dark trying to find that one thing (or person) that will finally give them the happiness they yearn for. Unfortunately, most will die still clinging to the illusions that keep them from seeing God clearly. It is quite arrogant of Christians to condemn his fellow man for not being able to find “the answer” when he himself continues to cling to his own illusions apart from God. How can I say this?—because I speak from experience. In my own life every time I sin, I am saying, in essence, that God is not enough to meet my need in this particular area. In other words, God has not yet become my whole desire and so I must resort instead to that which I think will provide me some satisfaction. It would be wise for us Christians to remember back to the time when we were ignorant of the devices of the enemy who kept us in the dark, and even now keeps Christians in the dark. The apostle Paul tells us,
We see through a glass darkly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known. (1 Cor. 13:12)
If Christians are still holding on to some of the illusions of this world, how much more should they pity those who have not had their eyes opened to the reality of their own illusions? (We know much “theology,” but we know very little of the heart of God.)
I contend that it is impossible for a man to be “fully” informed concerning the true character and nature of God until ALL of his illusions are broken—and this will not occur in the non-elect until the coming ages. Those who reject God in this life are not rejecting the true God, but instead are rejecting a false impression of God. I quote Tom Talbott from his book, The Inescapable Love of God:
If I suffer from an illusion that CONCEALS me from the true nature of God, or the true import of union with God, then I am again in no position to reject God freely. I may reject a caricature of God, or a false conception, but I would be in no position to reject the true God Himself.
Those who die in this life without coming to a saving knowledge of Christ are NOT “fully” informed, and WILL NOT BE UNTIL the lake of fire shatters all their illusions. The illusions of this world that promise happiness and fulfillment keep men blinded to the true nature of God and His purpose for them. (2 Cor. 4:4) Man is incapable of seeing God as He truly is until every last self-effort of man has been totally destroyed. Until this happens, God cannot condemn a man forever for being less than “fully” informed. One day, however, man will become “fully” informed, and when he finally sees the true Person of God in Christ—with no barriers obscuring God’s true image—he will be unable to resist Him (nor will he want to).
Beloved, this is God’s plan for each and every person. We make a grave error in believing that this work will be completed in this lifetime. For believers, we are INTRODUCED to the true God, but even for us, there is much work yet to be done as God continues to tear down all falsities in us so that we may be able to see Him clearly. God shows no favoritism. What He’s been doing for us now, He will surely do for all men in the ages to come when He will shatter every illusion and break every ignorance that keeps each man from knowing the true source of his happiness. When this finally happens for each individual, they will then see God as the only true source of happiness for their life. If, after all this, a man can still reject God, then he would either be considered a fool or totally irrational for rejecting the only Source that could make him eternally happy. However, the scriptures teach that no man can forever resist the grace of God. On that day, man will be neither foolish nor irrationally for Paul prophesies, “as in Adam, all die, so in Christ, all will be made alive.” (1 Cor. 15:22) Men may be fools in this life by rejecting an obscure image of God, but in that day they will not reject the True God. When man finally sees God as He really is (through the work of the Cross), he will willingly and graciously bow to His Creator. On that day, it will be IMPOSSIBLE for any man to forever reject God, thus God’s purpose for man to have ultimate happiness will have been fulfilled, and man’s happiness for himself will have been found. On that day, when all of God’s creation is finally in accord with His will, all of us will be able to say with Paul,
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:10, 11)
What a day of rejoicing that will be when we will all “know as we are known!”
Note: It is impossible for man to forever reject God once he becomes “fully” informed. No one, seeing God in His full glory, will be able to curse Him and want to be separated from Him for all eternity. No doubt, there will be a special blessing for those who love God without seeing, for Jesus Himself said, “…blessed are those who have not seen and believe.” (Jn. 20:29) I, for one, do not know the exact details of how God will work out His plan to those who reject Him in this life. I do know, however, that He will use the elect to reach each and every lost sheep, and none will be forsaken. Each person is special to God and all will come to know their Creator in God’s perfect timing.
I want to very briefly address some arguments that are used to refute some of the ideas we have just discussed.
First, there will be those who will accuse me of teaching that God is evil because God wanted Adam to fall. I teach no such thing. God is good and in Him there is no darkness, but to accomplish His purposes, God can (and does) use evil in this world and yet be totally free from sin Himself. For reasons only known to God, He has chosen to teach His children by using the “Law of Opposites.” He has chosen to impart the knowledge of good and evil to His creation by having them experience both firsthand.
Secondly, it will be said that if God willed the “fall,” then why not continue to sin so God will be glorified? Paul addresses this very question in chapters 3 and 6 of Romans. Rom. 3:5 says,
But if our unrighteousness commend the righteousness of God...,
and in verse 7,
For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory,
and in Rom. 6:1,
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?
Paul teaches truth in the form of asking questions. It is clear that Paul is saying that our unrighteousness, lies, and sin commends God’s righteousness, truth, and grace. How does it do that? Very simply, it shows the contrast between the GLORY of God and the SINFULNESS of man (again, the “Law of Opposites” at work). Job saw it. Isaiah saw it. Peter saw it. Each of these three, when confronted with the glory of God, discerned a much greater distance between God’s righteousness and their own self-righteousness. Every time we sin, we show just how sinful we are, and by doing so, the contrast between God and man is made more distinct. (This, of course, is not for God’s benefit, but to show man the contrast.) The gap between God and man seems insurmountable. Could anything bridge the gap between the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man? This is what makes the Cross of Christ so wonderful and glorious! The greater the distance between God and man, the greater is the work of the Cross! The greater the depravity, the more glorious the saving!
But to answer the specific charge as to whether we should continue in sin so as to glorify God, Paul answers with an emphatic, “God forbid!” (Rom. 6:2) You see, neither I (or Paul) are advocating intentional sin so that God may be glorified. Man doesn’t need to intentionally sin because, by nature, he is quite good at it. However, once the distinction between darkness and light, good and evil is discerned by the individual (i.e. coming to an end of oneself), God imparts His life to that person by the work of the Cross. From that moment, the distinction between God and man should be getting less and less as God’s life begins to conform that man to the image of Christ and brings each of us into the maturity of sonship. This of course is a lifelong process. God’s eventual goal is to bring all of creation into this same process—the elect start this process in this current age; the non-elect will begin in the ages to come.
No, God is not promoting sin in order to exalt Himself. He wants us to hate sin and love righteousness. He wants us to reject evil and cling to that which is good. He wants us to overcome evil by its contrast, love. However, sin is needed in order to show the distinction between man’s glory and God’s. Eventually, there will be no need for this contrast because Christ will “fill all things,” God will be “all in all,” and all things will reflect His glory.
Lastly, some will say that God did not really want evil in the world, He simply allowed it. This is faulty reasoning because any omnipotent being who allows something to happen and has the power to stop it is ultimately responsible for it. If God allowed evil to enter His creation and had the power to stop it—but didn't—must have a very good reason for it. The modern church likes to use the phrase “foreknowledge” quite a bit when debating this question. However, it is impossible for an all-powerful being to simply have foreknowledge alone. Credit is usually given to the devil for all the bad things that happen in the world by justifying that “God only allows it, but Satan causes it.” However, when righteous Job was afflicted by Satan, it was God who said,
“...And he (Job) is still holding to his integrity, although you (Satan) INCITED ME (God) AGAINST HIM, TO SWALLOW HIM....” (Job 2:3)
Even though God gave Satan permission to attack Job, it was God who TOOK RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE EVIL! God said that it was He who came against Job although He used Satan to carry out His own will. It is simply impossible for an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-wise God to ONLY know what is going to happen. If God CAN stop it and He DOESN'T, then He must have willed it. There is no way around this. God Himself says,
I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD DO ALL THESE THINGS.” (Is. 45:7)
The Hebrew word for “evil” is the word ra, which is used all throughout the Old Testament to mean “wickedness.” God created wickedness by allowing a temptor to introduce sin into His universe—sin to be used by God to accomplish His purposes. Paul understood this as well when he said that ALL things are of Him, through Him, and to Him.... (Rom. 11:36) This is why the believer should never despair by the presence of evil because God allowed evil to be a part of His plan. Let us remember that evil is only temporary, but in the meantime, while it is in our lives, we can trust that God will use it for man's good in the end!
Man’s Enemy – His Carnal Nature
Perhaps our biggest problem is our lack of understanding concerning our own carnal nature, for if we really understood the state of this death that we are born into, we would know that none of us have any capacity in our old nature to seek after God. This is an extremely important point, for if we truly believed that all of us are born into this world spiritually blind, we would know that it is only God who can heal us from our blindness in order that we may see the truth.
All we like sheep have gone astray. (Is. 53:6)
Every man has turned to his own way. (Is. 53:6)
There is NONE that seeks after God. (Rom. 3:11)
A brother once said, “Men seek out God AFTER they are saved, not BEFORE.” This is so true. It’s amazing to me how often I hear pastors and musicians preach and sing about how we can’t do anything apart from God—and Amen!—this is a true testimony; but then in the very next breath proceed to tell the sinner that a decision for Christ is ALL UP TO THEM. Yes, we must come unto Christ, but who is the One who manipulates circumstances at the right time and manner to CAUSE a man to willingly come? When a man rejects Christ, he rejects Christ because God did not bring about the circumstances for that one man to come. But rest assured, God is not partial. What He has done for you and me, He will do for ALL men—in due season.
The doctrine of man’s sovereignty (“free” will) demonstrates how very little we know about the depths of our own depravity. Man always tries to come up with a way to help God or worse, become like God (Gen 3:5). The doctrine of man’s sovereignty, ultimately, is the same old lie that was told in the very beginning—that we can become as God.
Isaiah, when He saw the greatness of God said, “Woe is me. I am a man undone….” Job, when confronted with the glory of God said, “I abhor myself….” And Peter, when He saw the miracle of Jesus said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” God is trying to get us to see the same thing. He wants us to see the futility of doing anything—and I mean anything—in our own strength. God is (if I can say this) a “selfish” God (I speak as a man). He wants all the glory for Himself. God will not allow any man to usurp or steal the glory from Him. Oh, He may let man think so for awhile, and it does appear that God gives man the illusion that his will is totally free, but just as Isaiah, Job, and Peter, when we finally see Him as He is, we will see how little we really are. Isaiah 40:15, 22 says, that the nations are as a drop in the bucket, and the inhabitants of the earth are as grasshoppers. The problem is, most of us haven’t really seen the Lord (with spiritual eyes), and so in contrast, we really do not understand how lost and helpless we are apart from Him. Isaiah is the perfect example of the “Law of Opposites” at work. Once he saw the glory of God in fullness, he couldn’t help but see the opposite of God’s glory which was his puny, wretched self.
We have seen with our own eyes what man is like when he lives his life apart from God. We have seen it in the religious, the power-hungry, the political, and the greedy. Some of us have seen it in ourselves. Many are still blind to the wickedness that is in their own hearts. We still think that we are better than most others. God will eventually show all of us what abominations really hide there—things that many of us are unwilling to look at. And when we get to the point (through the fire of trials) where we see God’s great and ultimate purpose, that is, to become “all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28), we will then see how man is in no position to dictate to God who is going to be saved and who is not. We then begin to understand how we really are nothing apart from God and if left to ourselves, we would all wander forever in a state of confusion and lostness. Calvinism is wrong when it says that God only picks a few to be saved and suffers the rest to endless torments. Arminianism is wrong when it says that man picks, through “free” will, who will be saved and who won’t. Can't we see that without God’s intervention, none of us would be saved??
Why is this issue so important? As mentioned at the very beginning of this essay, many will either classify this topic as vain philosophy or simply resign themselves to never being able to understand it. However, understanding that “all things come from God” (including evil) is critical in recognizing that God has a sovereign purpose for everything—even the things we perceive to be negative. God is good and created man with only good intentions. Evil was not a mistake but a force that God allowed in His creation for a specific reason. Without evil, none of us would understand good, and most importantly, we would not have witnessed and experienced the glorious remedy for sin’s consequence—the Person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I see many Christians who simply do not have an explanation for the terrible things that happen in this world—causing many to fear and lose faith in God. They also have an unbiblical view of Satan in that they attribute to him more power and glory than he deserves. On top of all that, the doctrine of “free will” gives glory and preeminence to man and makes him the final determinate concerning his salvation—ultimately stealing glory from God and making himself the last word.
One day, God will humble all of us and show us that salvation is His creative work. It is God who opens our eyes, it is God who keeps us from falling, and it is God who will eventually deliver us from this “body of death.” He is the author and finisher of all things—and so we must see that salvation is His work, not ours.
“...He which hath BEGUN a good work in you will PERFORM it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 1:6)
Who begins the work? Who performs it? Who finishes it? Oh, I know it’s hard, but for some reason men have great difficultly accepting God’s free gift. We feel like we have to work for it or do something to keep it. But taking God’s free gift means we have to admit how bad we really are, and that’s hard for all of us. But on that day, we will realize the great truth of who the author of our salvation really is, and the only part we played was to simply respond to God’s “dragging” us to the Cross. When we stand before Him, none of us will accuse God of creating us to be robots. We won’t argue that it was unfair that we didn’t have “free” will. We won’t accuse Him of manipulating our choices to conform to His will, crying out to Him, “That isn’t fair.” (Shall the clay say to the Potter, “Why have you made me thus?”) Oh, no, no, no! We will be filled with eternal gratitude and praise for how great and mighty (and loving) God really is—how He has not just chosen to manifest Himself to a few, but to ALL men. Most of us will be terribly ashamed when we think of how we have trampled on the Cross of Christ by diluting its scope and effectiveness and exalting this so-called “free” will of man. No, on that day we will not boast or glory in ourselves. We will not take credit for anything that we have done in any way. We will be in awe of His great plan, purpose, and wisdom and we will be able to say, like Paul,
O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? (Rom. 11:33-34)
For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, all things to whom be glory for ever, Amen. (Rom. 11:36)
NOTE: The word “free” will has been placed in quotes throughout this essay because this phrase, as it is taught by the Church today, cannot be found in Scripture. The author does not deny that the Bible speaks of men’s choices and the will of men (self-will). But nowhere in Scripture does it say that man was given a “free” will that allows him to be totally and finally independent of God by choosing his final destination. This contradicts God’s ultimate purpose of being “all in all.” The viewpoint this author holds is that man is free to choose only in the direction of the strongest influence, and that God is in sovereign control over all influences (Acts 17:28). Each person is being fitted into God’s plan in God’s own special way for them. Each person responds to his or her own unique set of “strongest influences.” And ultimately, when the time period of the ages has ended, God will have transformed the consequences of everyone’s choices into something glorifying to Himself, and beneficial to the chooser. So in light of the hundreds of passages that speak of God’s ultimate sovereignty and responsibility over all His creation, this author’s conclusion is that the Bible clearly does NOT teach that man can usurp God’s plan and purpose by his own “free” will.
Ultimate Responsibility: Man’s “Free” Will and God’s Absolute Sovereignty by Ken Eckerty