Earthly Free Will and the Sovereignty of God
Someone asked a question on a forum regarding what part free will plays with God’s sovereignty. I answered the question the best way I could explain it, and will share that answer with you here (though in more complete form). While some may disagree, I have found this to hold true based on what I have seen in scripture.
How Free will is Affected by God’s Sovereignty
I have a “free will choice” to walk over to my bookshelf, pick up my bible and read it. I made the choice. God can plant the thought and put it in your heart to follow it through to take an action. This can be viewed as “man’s” earthly choice to do something that is in accordance with God’s instructions. However, we cannot, being born in sin, make the choice to want to be holy without God first planting the seed in our hearts.
Second, I can walk over and pick up a stick off the ground and toss it to the dog. Having nothing to do with the regeneration of man, it is safe to say, in my opinion, that this is a “freewill” choice that you made, which God knew beforehand that you would make. To toss a stick does not have anything to do with becoming a more holy person. Rather, it is just an action that is neutral which doesn’t affect you, in terms of your spiritual heart condition.
However, if I pick up the stick, and toss it, and then go back in and sign onto Facebook and engage in a war of words, cursing and swearing, or putting down fellow Christians due to their beliefs (while acting in a manner which is unholy in God’s site) then that “free will” action, while I did it myself, was allowed by God. Satan has the power to inject evil thoughts into the mind, and our desire for sin comes easy, so many times we take the bait.
Free Will to Choose Your Own Salvation?
One who is chosen by God as one of the elect does not lose their place in heaven if something like this occurs. Likely, the Lord knew, based on our sinful state, that we could be guilty of sin. He then has the power through His Holy Spirit to inject a feeling of remorse or shame in our hearts, causing us through His Sovereignty to address Him in prayer and ask forgiveness of the sins we commit. He can then forgive us through His grace, keeping us on the road to salvation with Him in heaven. We can receive punishment by God for sins or lacking obedience, which we are accountable for. However, the more one grows in grace, the more they become accountable under God due to excess knowledge of right vs wrong in a spiritual sense.
So, the free will one exercises that causes them to approach God in prayer was in regards to a sin that was already known would occur. God doesn’t need to play guessing games. The sovereignty of God can keep us on the path to His Kingdom. John 10:27-30 reminds us of our security in our salvation. This is why He died on the cross; So that He could provide us with forgiveness and grace.
Whether one will go to God for forgiveness regarding a specific sin is foreknown by God. Whether the person realizes that they are given such grace, and whether they accept it now or later, is also known by God. Just because we take part in the devil’s tricks due to our own sinful states, doesn’t mean we are automatically doomed to the fire of hell. We just may be punished, and drawn back to the Lord through God’s mercy and love. This is the refining process which helps us grow spiritually. But, just because one does good deeds doesn’t mean they’re headed for the stairway to heaven either. A common belief amongst humanity goes something like this : “I figure as long as I try to be a good person, that should be good enough for God. I don’t need to read the bible or be some kind of Jesus freak.” The statement alone shows the lack of thirsting for God, and blatant disregard for His grace.
Why Does God Keep Calling Me Back?
God is all knowing and all powerful. Nothing can happen apart from God allowing it, whether we like it or not. God knew Job would remain faithful. Jeremiah was sanctified (made holy) before he was born. Jesus knew who would betray Him before it happened. He knew which ones would betray Him, because He knew of the sin we could not be kept from. He also knew which ones would repent and be counted worthy. Assurance of one’s salvation is good news, however one needs to remember that though we make “free will” choices on earth, something much bigger is going on in the realm of the Sovereignty of God.
If we credit ourselves for doing good, then we don’t give God the glory, which is also wrong. But, if we are consistently going to Him in prayer, or are concerned about our spiritual state, then it is possible that we are being regenerated, made clean, and being given a new heart, so we are able to fully appreciate all He has the ability to allow. He can allow us to sin, but that doesn’t mean He authored or caused it. Only He can continually draw us back. If this is the case, and we are always feeling something pulling at us, making us want to turn from our bad ways and return to Him, then this is evidence of the power of His Holy Spirit, through which He calls us most effectually. When this occurs, the growth in Him continues, we find ourselves more hungry for Him, and our actions begin to show that He is operating within us.
Did God’s Foreknowledge of our actions cause Him to decide to save us individually?
Just because God knew what we would do before we did, doesn’t mean we saved ourselves, and God awarded us salvation because of our actions. We were not born holy people. In fact, we were born to know sin from the moment we were able to steal a cookie when mom wasn’t looking, or tattle to purposely get our neighbor in trouble. Sin is known at a very young age. However, God’s plan for His true followers does not first depend on how the sinner will act and react in life. God has His chosen vessels, as He also has those who do not honor Him. He works the cleansing in our hearts from the time we begin to understand the heavy weight of sin. He does not choose us because we chose Him first. He loves us enough to have first chosen us, as He knew us before we were born. If God is to act in someone’s life, there is nothing they can do to interrupt His Sovereignty.
When realizing the difference between earthly free will and the Sovereignty of God, we can see it is easy to make human mistakes, which can be attributed to the earthly decision we made to take part in sin. We are then punished out of God’s love which reminds us to stay on the path He wants us to be on. However, in terms of fine works, which are an example of those who realize their salvation in Christ, who is it that first put it in your heart to explore the love and grace of God? Were you born holy enough to wish to do this on your own?
Scriptures to consider in further study: (click each for quick reference)
1 Cor 8:3
2 Tim 2:9
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