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