Arminian Presuppositions # 11 & 12 Refuted

Since these last two presuppostions are closely related, I have chosen to consider them together.
Arminian Presuppostion #11–Choice and “free will” are synonymous. If a person acts freely and voluntarily, he must have “free will.”

One of the difficulties in all theological discussion is the definition of terms. Though Arminians speak a great deal about “free will,” it is often difficult to get them to define what they mean by their use of the term. They seem to believe the only thing necessary to prove “free will” is a call for sinners to make a choice. It seems for them, choice and “free will” are synonymous.

I don’t like denying that sinners have free will for fear some will think I am denying they act freely and voluntarily in what they choose. If that is all the Arminians mean by the term, I would certainly agree. Do sinners have a choice as to whether they come to the light or reject it? Absolutely!

In reality, that is aside from the real issue. The real issue is not whether sinners may choose what they desire, but whether they can choose contrary to their desires. That sinners are free to choose eternal life if they wish does not mean they are able to choose life. They are able to choose whatever they want; they simply can’t want to choose what they ought.

When we deny “free will,” we are not suggesting they have no ability to choose. We are merely arguing they are not able to choose to do what they do not want. John Calvin wrote,

In this way, then, man is said to have free will, not because he has a free choice of good and evil, but because he acts voluntarily, and not by compulsion. This is perfectly true: but why should so small a matter have been dignified with so proud a title? An admirable freedom! That man is not forced to be the servant of sin, while he is, however, a voluntary slave; his will being bound by the fetters of sin. I abominate mere verbal disputes, by which the Church is harassed to no purpose; but I think we ought religiously to eschew terms which imply some absurdity, especially in subjects where error is of pernicious consequence. How few are there who, when they hear free will attributed to man, do not immediately imagine that he is the master of his mind and will in such a sense, that he can of himself incline himself either to good or evil? It may be said that such dangers are removed by carefully expounding the meaning to the people. But such is the proneness of the human mind to go astray, that it will more quickly draw error from one little word, than truth from a lengthened discourse.
Calvin, Institutes, book II, Chapter 2 # 7

If by “free will,” they mean sinners are equally able to choose good or evil, then we absolutely disagree. They cannot choose that for which they have absolutely no desire and to which they are complete averse. They cannot choose the light because they hate it (see John 3:20).

When we deny that sinners have free will, we simply mean the will is not an independent entity within the person that is unaffected by the his nature. In this sense, not even God’s will is free. Though he acts freely and chooses to do whatever he wishes, he cannot choose to do what is contrary to his holy character.

Arminian Presupposition #12. If God has predetermined anything that will occur, then he must “force” people to act against their wills.

People always do what we want to do most. We may wish to watch a movie or play a video game instead of studying microbiology unless the consideration that we might spend the rest of our lives asking the important question, “Do you want fries with that?” interposes itself into that decision. At that point, our desire to study may become greater than our desire to entertain ourselves. Either way, we are choosing according to our highest inclination and desire. If presented with the choice of amputating a limb or losing our lives, it is likely we will choose to lose the limb. In both these situations, we are choosing according to our highest inclination.

When Judas betrayed Jesus, he did exactly what he wanted to do, even though Jesus said, in regard to that betrayal, “The son of man goes as was predestined for him. . . .” Because sinners do what we want to do, we are responsible for our actions. If we were forced to act against our wills, we would not be accountable.

Often people have the idea the issue between Calvinists and Arminians is whether God chooses sinners or sinners choose God, or whether God seeks sinners or sinners seek God. In reality, this is not the question at all. We do not need to choose between these two alternatives since both are true. If you are a believer, it is because there was a time in your life that you freely chose to seek Jesus Christ as he is offered in the gospel. You chose him to be the new master of your life. You sought him and found him because you sought for him with all your heart. The real issue is how this seeking and choosing began. Is it the sinner who first seeks God or God who first seeks the sinner? The consistent answer of Scripture is that God is the great initiator in the sinner’s salvation. He never forces sinners to come to Christ. Instead, he causes us to be willing by giving us a new heart. Consider the words of the following hymn,

I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew
He moved my soul to seek him, seeking me;
It was not I that found, O Savior true;
No, I was found of thee.

Thou didst reach forth thy hand and mine enfold;
I walked and sank not on the storm-vexed sea;
‘Twas not so much that I on thee took hold,
As thou, dear Lord, on me.

I find, I walk, I love, but oh, the whole
Of love is but my answer, Lord, to thee;
For thou wert long beforehand with my soul,
Always thou lovedst me.



4 Responses to “Arminian Presuppositions # 11 & 12 Refuted”

  1. January 29, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    Well put, Randy. One quick note about a typo: near the top, you stated: “We are merely arguing they are not able to choose to do what they do not what.” Methinks that last word ought be “want”. More when I have time. Blessings in Christ.

  2. February 4, 2013 at 11:32 pm

    Randy, I am reading a little more closely now, taking a break from sermon prep. I do not quite understand your point in this “Do sinners have a choice as to whether they come to the light or reject it? Absolutely!” By coming to the light, I infer that to mean salvation; but this you rightly disagree with right after the quote from Calvin. Please clarify that coming to the light statement.

    Having worked for a few weeks at McDonald’s in college, your “important question” cracked me up!

    I would encourage you to be a little more lengthy and explicit in clarifying the choosing to be saved a person does. You state that God is the One Who initiates this transaction, but spent a lot more words endorsing the person’s choosing than explaining what preceded and caused that choosing. A little more explanation would, I think be very helpful.

    Soli Deo Gloria!

    • February 5, 2013 at 12:42 am

      Thanks for your comments. It was not necessarily my purpose to defend the Calvinistic position here, but to show that choice and “free will” are not the synonymous.
      That sinners are free to choose eternal life if they wish does not mean they are able to choose life. They are able to choose whatever they want; they simply can’t want to choose what they ought

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