The Sovereignty of God and the Free Will of Man


I suppose it would be somewhat accurate to describe me in regard to my Christian theology as a Reformed Restorationist. I walk in lock step with those who love the ideals of the founders of the Restoration Movement. Their plea for the unity of all believers, for Bible preaching, for a more pure and primitive way of worship, are each ideals I heartedly embrace.

At the same time I cannot deny those clear passages in Scripture that teach the foreknowledge of God, election, and predestination. When I read those passages I have two choices. I can honestly try to understand them in light of the whole of God’s revelation in the Bible, or I can just conveniently read right over them without much thought and no comment and pretend they are not there. The second choice is the one most of my Restoration Movement friends evidently choose to employ.

I, long ago, came to the conclusion that God’s choice and man’s responsibility are both equally true at the same time and without any contradiction. In my view, the fact that God chooses is undeniable, he has a track record of doing just that very thing. And, at the same time, those chosen, those predetermined by God, each had to choose to obey his will.

The Sovereignty of God and the free will of man is dramatically and clearly seen in story of the death of Jesus. The following is what Peter said in the very first gospel sermon after Pentecost. It was powerful truth, so much so that 3,000 were “cut to the heart” by what they heard and “those who received his word were baptized”.

Peter’s truth claim #1

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus,… YOU CRUCIFIED AND KILLED BY THE HANDS OF LAWLESS MEN.”

Peter’s truth claim #2

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know ,this Jesus, DELIVERED UP ACCORDING TO THE DEFINITE PLAN AND FOREKNOWLEDGE OF GOD.”

Now here is the passage quoted exactly as it is written:

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” (Acts 2:22-24)

One perspective is that wicked men, by their own volition executed an innocent man. That is absolutely true! They acted by their own free will. They were not robots or puppets on a string, they were a “lawless” mob doing what sinners do.

The companion perspective is that these lawless men were doing exactly what God had planned. It is clear from this passage that God not only had foreknowledge, but it was his “definite” plan.

Just a few verses later we see the same seemingly opposite truths standing side by side once more. Peter is finishing his sermon and he says:

“For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom THE LORD OUR GOD CALLS TO HIMSELF.”

Then almost immediately he gives the opposite perspective by saying:

“And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “SAVE YOURSELVES  from this crooked generation.” So THOSE WHO RECEIVED HIS WORD WERE BAPTIZED, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”

It is true that God calls people to himself and it is also true that those who are called (chosen) must themselves choose their fate. Both are true and stand side by side over and over again in the Bible.

Once more in the book of Acts we read these same truths. This time the preachers are Paul and Barnabus at Antioch. After they preached, the Bible says this was the response:

“And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and AS MANY AS WERE APPOINTED TO ETERNAL LIFE…BELIEVED.” (Acts 13:48)

You see, both components are there. God appointed some to eternal life and those who were appointed (chosen) had to put their trust in Jesus.

God’s choosing, his predetermination, never invalidates the free choice of man. I think almost every person who studies the Bible will agree that not everyone will be finally saved. In my view, those who are saved are the elect, those whom God has sovereignly chosen. But, while that is true, every last one of them (excepting infants and those mentally impaired) must repent and put their faith in Jesus to be saved.

Perhaps those of us who lean more toward the Reformed side of the equation should not be so quick to criticize the teaching of our free will brothers. And, our free will brothers should perhaps be more thoughtful before writing off the Reformed position.

When properly understood, I believe that maybe Calvin and Arminius were twins. Most of what both men taught is true. Neither was infallible, neither had a monopoly on God’s truth but both were good men who saw the redemptive purposes of God from different vantage points. And, I and my dear brothers who emphasize one view of truth over another, follow in their steps today.

If you missed Edward Fudge’s article I posted previously on this subject, I heartedly recommend it. You can read it here or here.

The glad tidings of the gospel are to be told to every person and “Whosoever will” can still come to the Lord. That truth I affirm with all my heart.

Agape’

Royce


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5 comments on “The Sovereignty of God and the Free Will of Man

  1. “I can honestly try to understand them in light of the whole of God’s revelation in the Bible, or I can just conveniently read right over them without much thought and no comment and pretend they are not there. The second choice is the one most of my Restoration Movement friends evidently choose to employ.”

    Wow! I must admit, Royce, after a statement like that, it’s hard to see the point in discussing any of this. So you are trying to read in light of God’s revelation and the rest of us are not thinking and merely pretending certain passages aren’t there?

    In other venues, you have encouraged people to be loving and respectful toward those who believe in predetermination. Should that not go both ways?

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

    Bro’ Tim,

    Of course it should go both ways. When was the last time you heard a RM preacher preach those texts, that at a minimum on the surface, seem to contradict free will?

    In almost 11 years I remember only 2 men who have commented on any of those passages in a sermon, and one of them only tried to explain that the text didn’t really mean what it says.

    I have been a student of the Bible for about 50 years and for most of that time I absolutely rejected any hint of election, predestination, etc. I had been taught only free will and so for over 40 years I went right past those difficult passages with little notice to teach what I believed was truth.

    I say it often, “I am not infallible”. Not one of us has a corner on truth. So, I, like you and others, teach what I believe to be true.

    I am still a student, still learning, and still open to be corrected and taught. My statement that you take issue with is as much my own confession as an accusation against others.

    Royce

  2. In my discussions with those that deny free will, I’ve seen what you’ve seen. When pointed to a text that seems to contradict their position, they merely point to one that seems to support their position. Few, if any of us, seem willing to study in the light of all the Scriptures.

    Fewer still choose to present well the arguments that contradict their own, on any subject. Dr. John Willis at ACU is one that comes to mind. He would try and present all sides, leaving his own views toward the end, but doing his best to show why others believed differently.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  3. Good post Royce. Sovereignty and Free Will of Man is a subject that most steer clear of but, I believe that there are few things that are mysteries persay in the Bible that cannot be understood through study and the guidance of the Holy Ghost. All my years in the church I do not believe that I have heard one sermon dealing with these sticky verses that speak of predestination and election. Though Calvin taught Baptism of Infants, denied the millennium reign and believed in the persecution of heretics one cannot glibly dismiss (if you are a true student of the Bible) what the Bible says about the elect/election. You have summarized the topic as well as I have read thus far.

    I mean passages like this make you go hmmmm. “Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: FOR I HAVE MUCH PEOPLE IN THIS CITY. Acts 18:9-10.

    Now we are talking about the corrupt city of Corinth. In Paul’s day all one had to do was lable you a ‘Corinthian” and everybody knew what that meant! But Jesus speaks to Paul and says, “I have much people in this city’. What? How could that be? The people had not been converted yet! So, I do agree with you that we have to show grace in some areas where there can be disagreement. But, personally (I know people that believe in Election as Calvin taught) and the problem I see is that it leaves people sure of thier own salvation while claiming that others are not ‘chosen’ ( I have heard some calvanists say this). How do you know YOU are the elect of God while your neighbor is doomed to hell even if they say the have repented and given thier heart to God? I never got an answer. I think that God’s Sovereignty and the Free Will of Man work together to bring God’s plan full circle. Anyway, that you for the post, very enlightening.

    God Bless

    Thanks Terri,

    Royce

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