Posts Tagged ‘free will vs. free grace


Predestined–But When?

Southern Baptist Traditionalist, Leighton Flowers, along with his merry band of soteriological synergists, has posited a view they call “Corporate election.” The idea is that God has chosen no one but Christ, and believers become God’s elect when they, by their libertarian free will decision, unite themselves to Christ by their faith. Additionally, he states that predestination occurs once a person has made this decision. Once the sinner has made his choice, a choice that he is able to make because he is humbler and more pliable than other sinners, God, then and only then, predestines that he will be conformed to the image of Christ or glorified.

Has anyone noticed that in Romans 8:30, predestination precedes calling—“Those he predestined, he also called?” And, this call is “according to God’s purpose”(v.28). The call could not be according to his purpose [a purpose Leighton argues did not exist antecedently to the sinner’s decision] if the purpose were subsequent to the call.

They have also denied that there is a biblical distinction between the universal call of the gospel and an internal and effectual call. It should be clear to any thinking person that if the call eventuates in justification, it must have been an effectual call. Still, even if one understood the call as nothing more than the hearing of the gospel message, God’s decree to conform his people to his Son, would have to have occurred prior to their being united to Christ by faith and not subsequent to that union having been established.


Questions About “Free Will”

As I have stated, I believe in free will in the sense that every person is free to choose what he desires. It is not the inability to choose that I deny but the inability to desire. To put it another way, I have no ability to choose what I do not desire. I agree with the statement John Calvin made about free will,

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.

The proponents of libertarian free will argue that if God must regenerate a sinner before he/she will be able to believe, that sinner’s free choice to trust God’s promise cannot be a real and meaningful choice. The choice would only be meaningful if the sinner had equal ability at that point to choose to  remain in his sins. According to their view, at some unspecified point God has granted “free will’ to every individual through prevenient grace. Apparently, this grace [enabling] cancels the effects of Adam’s fall into sin.

But is it true that a confidence in God’s promises is meaningless if it is God who has effected it by grace?

1. It has been my assumption that in the glorified state in the eternal kingdom every believer will be confirmed in holiness. That glorified state will be one in which God’s people are secure and from which we cannot fall. There will be no rebellion or defection from that kingdom. In that state it will be impossible for us to sin. It would seem that once we are glorified there are certain options we cannot choose. That would seem to follow from the biblical description of those believers who have died. Their spirits are referred to as “the spirits of just men made perfect.” The Westminster Shorter Catechism states, “the souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness and do immediately pass into glory. . . .” (Q. 37). One would assume we would not be less perfect once we glorified.

Perhaps there will be some who will disagree with those statement and who would like to show biblical proof that my assumptions are errant.

2. It has often been alleged by those who argue for libertarian free will that faith cannot be meaningful if God must call sinners effectually and regenerate them before they can believe. If once they are called they will certainly believe, faith cannot be a real choice. Only faith that flows from our free choice [By this they mean a libertarian free will choice not a choice made freely] can be meaningful. It must be our choice to obey by the power of free will that has been granted us in prevenient grace. Apparently for them, a choice that is made freely from a heart that is set free by regenerating grace cannot be meaningful. I must be able to choose to remain in my sins for my choice to be a real and meaningful choice.

It would seem to follow that if God must give us the desire to obey him and if he must enable us to obey him, praise him, worship him, glorify him, etc., that obedience, praise, worship and glorification cannot be genuine and meaningful either.

It should not escape our attention that in Ezek. 36:25-27 God promises to replace the sinner’s heart of stone with a heart of flesh. He promises to give the sinner a new spirit [disposition]. He promises to put his Spirit within and cause  him to walk in his statutes and keep his rules.  Should we assume that obedience is not “meaningful” since God caused it?

When the apostle tells the Philippians that God works in them both to will [i.e., cause them to desire to obey God] and do [give them the ability to obey God] for his good pleasure, should we assume their obedience was meaningless since God enabled it?

3. It appears that God is pleased with the worship of heavenly beings and of redeemed sinners who have been perfected in holiness and who have no inclination to sin whatsoever. Elect angels are confirmed in holiness so that they cannot choose to rebel. Since they are created beings they must be dependent beings. Yet, their choice to depend on God and to praise, worship, and glorify him is the only choice they can make.

4. Must we believe that our joyful obedience, our delightful dependence on God, our exultant praise, and our grateful glorification of God will be meaningless for all eternity since all of this will spring from hearts that have been bound to God by grace?

My conclusions are these:

1. Glorified beings  in the eternal state will not have free will in the sense that we will be free to sin and rebel against God.

2. If those who posit libertarian free will are correct in saying faith, obedience etc. are not meaningful unless we have a free will choice, all we do in the eternal state will be meaningless since our hearts will have been bound back to God by grace.

3. We have every indication that God will be pleased for eternity with our grateful expressions of praise and with our obedience in dependence on him.

4. It is a faulty assumption that faith is only meaningful if it is not enabled by free grace.


Is the Sinner’s will truly free?

It seems to me, the crucial issue that separates those who have written the Southern Baptist statement we have been discussing from the current minority in that Denomination who believe in God’s sovereignty in salvation is the doctrine of total depravity or total inability. If the minority is right, then the theological system of those who have penned this statement is totally unworkable. If, on the other hand, the majority is right, there is no need for most of what the minority believes. If sinners are not totally depraved [that is if sin has not radically affected and perverted every aspect of the sinner’s personality including the will], there is no need for God to choose anyone for salvation, and there is no need for God to enable sinners to believe through calling them effectually. If sinners are in a state of neutrality, the likelihood that sinners would choose eternal life over eternal torment would be very high. Who in his right mind wants to suffer for eternity? It would just make sense that anyone who heard the gospel would immediately embrace it rather than endure an eternity of agony. If sinners are not totally depraved, there would be no need for God to enable them to believe since they would already possess that ability. If God in his sovereignty has chosen to grant the power of “free will” to every sinner, would not that grant insure the ability to choose bliss rather than agony? Again, who in his right mind would refuse the offer to be freely forgiven of his sins and accepted as righteous in God’s sight without having to do a single thing? All sinners would have to do is believe the message. Clearly, the view of those who have penned this statement is vindicated by the fact that we see so many sinners making the right choice and coming to faith in Christ every time the gospel is preached with clarity, right? Certainly, no one with the ability to choose between continuing in sin and trusting Christ to save him from sin would choose to face an eternity of torments, right? If this is true, all we have to do is make the message plain and clear and every intelligent person who hears it will immediately embrace it. I think anyone who has ever been involved in the work of the gospel should know this doesn’t square with reality.

Please be clear in your understanding of what I am saying. I am not suggesting that evangelists cannot with high pressure tactics, and clever psychological and emotional manipulation cajole sinners into making a decision, walking an aisle, signing a card etc. I am talking about genuine life-changing, fruit-producing conversion. Walking an aisle doesn’t change a sinner’s heart.

You may recall the biblical account of a rich young man who approached our Lord with an expressed desire for eternal life. He wanted to know what he needed to do to obtain such a blessing. When Jesus told him to sell what he had, give it to the poor, and come follow him, he went away sorrowful because he had great riches. If sinners have such great ability to “decide for Christ,” one wonders how Jesus let this one slip through the net. The disciples were astonished when Jesus began to speak about how difficult it is to enter the kingdom. Consider the following words carefully,

And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God (Mark 10: 23-27).

It is impossible for a person to choose that for which he has absolutely no desire and to which he is utterly averse.

It is incredible to me that anyone who has ever been involved in evangelism could believe such a doctrine as “free will.” If people had free will, only the imbeciles and morons among them would choose to burn for eternity. The real issue, of course, it that the gospel calls on sinners to love a God against whom they are hostile and for whose fellowship they have no desire.

I could spend a great deal of time demonstrating from the Scriptures that sinners do not have “free will” in the sense that they are equally able to choose righteousness or sin. For example, the apostle Paul describes sinners as being “dead in trespasses and sins,” “alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them,” yet all the while, hostile toward God. How much freedom does a dead person have? How much ability does a dead person have? Sinners are clearly free to rebel against God, but are we free to love and obey him?

Are sinners free to choose any course of action they wish? Absolutely! Are they free to choose between faith in Christ and rebellion against him? Of course, they are! That sinners are able to choose freely does not mean sinners have free will. The issue of the sinner’s “free will” is not whether he acts freely in choosing what he wishes; it is whether he is able, by nature, to make proper choices. If, by the use of the term “free will,” a person means the sinner chooses what he desires voluntarily and apart from external compulsion, then, of course, we believe in free will, though we would prefer the term “free agency.” If he means the sinner possesses, by nature, the same ability to choose Christ in the gospel as to reject him, then, of course, we must disagree. Regarding the ill-advised usage of the term “free will” 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?

(John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II, Chapter II, #7)

Instead of producing passages without end that indicate sinners are without spiritual ability to make right choices, I will simply ask, what do sinners always do when presented with truth? In other words, I am asking not what sinners Can do but what do sinners invariably do as long as they continue in a state of sinful nature?

In Romans 1:18, the apostle Paul tells us that God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. Wherever and whenever sinners encounter truth, they will invariably suppress it and turn from it. Later in the same chapter he wrote concerning sinners in a state of nature, “who knowing God’s decree that those who practice such acts of unrighteousness are worthy of death no only go on practicing such things, but take pleasure in those who do them.” The Psalmist wrote, “The wicked through the pride of his countenance will not seek after God. God is not in all his thoughts” (Psa. 10:4).

John wrote, “This is the condemnation that light has come into the world and men loved darkness rather than the light. And everyone who practices evil hates the light and refuses to come to the light lest his deeds be reproved” (John 3:19-20).

Would a person not think that if someone who had experienced death should return to give a first hand account of the afterlife, his hearers would immediately give him a serious hearing and make a free will decision to repent and believe? Yet, Abraham said, “They [the rich man’s five brothers] have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them. If they will not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should return from the dead (Luke 16: 29-31).

Would not a person think that if sinners possessed the ability to repent and believe they would certainly do so to be delivered from horrible anguish and pain? Yet, the book of the revelation informs us that when sinners are plagued by fire, fierce heat, huge hailstones, and darkness so that they gnawed their tongues in anguish, “They did not repent and give him [God] the glory.” (Rev. 16:9).

The issue in this discussion is not freedom of choice, but the state of sinners by nature. Consider how the apostle Paul described unconverted Gentiles. He wrote,

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity (Eph. 4: 17-19).

These verses clearly teach that the intellect has been darkened by sin, the emotions have become hardened by sin and because of the depravity of their nature they have given themselves up [an act of the will] to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.

Here is the question: According to the Scriptures, when sinners, acting according to sinful nature, choose what they truly desire, what do they invariably choose?

There are two Psalms that tell us what God actually saw when he looked down from heaven, contrary to those who claim he chose those whom he foresaw would, by their free will decision, seek him and obey the gospel.

Based on his understanding of Psalms 14 and 53, the apostle Paul wrote, “as it is written: “None is righteous, no not, one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:11-12).