Freedom of Choice Versus God’s Sovereignty in Salvation!
In the following study of man’s free will versus God’s Sovereignty, it is absolutely essential to remember that this subject is a peripheral issue (an issue not essential to be saved). That means that you can be a Christian and not believe what I believe, and that I can be a Christian and not believe what you believe on this topic. This does not mean that these issues are not important, but what is important is that we can be brothers in Christ and disagree agreeably over this issue. In all peripheral issues we are warned to not break fellowship with one another, or not to stumble one another with our liberty. Paul said, “let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Rom. 14:5).
A.) First, we must answer one vital question. Does man have any choice in his own salvation?
1. If man has absolutely no choice in his salvation, why would God command men to repent? This would be a contradiction of terms. Paul clearly states that God, “Now commands all men everywhere to repent...” (Acts 17:30). Jesus said, “But unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). Yes, it does say that repentance is a gift of God, but that in no way negates the fact that man must still obey the command to repent (2 Tim. 2:25). If men do not obey this command, then there is only certain judgment (Luke 13:3). God gives this gift of repentance to those who are willing to obey this command. Men are also commanded to believe. The first words out of the mouth of Jesus were, “Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). This is something men are required to do if they are to be saved.
2. If man has absolutely no choice in his salvation, how can God justly condemn men for refusing to repent or believe? Jesus placed the full responsibility upon the Pharisee’s for their not coming to Him to receive eternal life. Jesus said to these religious leaders, “But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:40). They were not willing only because they had a choice to refuse His call. Men must willingly choose to receive the gift of repentance and the gift of salvation. God doesn’t save any unwilling individuals.
3. It is essential to understand that the Bible teaches that a non-believer can make a choice to repent of their sin, and turn to God. Notice how God promises restoration to any who will humble themselves and accept their guilt. The Lord promised, “But if they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers, with their unfaithfulness in which they were unfaithful to Me, and that they also have walked contrary to Me, and that I also have walked contrary to them and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if their uncircumcised hearts are humbled, and they accept their guilt--then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and My covenant with Isaac and My covenant with Abraham I will remember; I will remember the land. The land also shall be left empty by them, and will enjoy its Sabbaths while it lies desolate without them; they will accept their guilt, because they despised My judgments and because their soul abhorred My statutes” (Lev. 26:40-43). Therefore, men must accept their guilt and make a choice to confess their sins, and God will remember His covenant and forgive.
In addition, Paul in the New Testament taught that when we were dead in our sin and slaves to our passions, it was then that we obeyed from the heart to turn and follow Christ. Paul wrote, “But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered” (Rom. 6:17). Therefore, the choice of man is not removed from the process of salvation, but is clearly revealed in Scripture as essential for someone to be delivered and forgiven of their sin. If this is not the case, then human beings are just robots and not free moral agents.
B.) Next, consider the verses of Scripture that deal with this idea of choice.
These verses clearly reveal that God has created you with the ability and responsibility to make moral choices before and after you have been saved.
1. Moses said to the Children of Israel, “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live” (Deut. 30:19). It was their responsibility to choose life.
2. Joshua told the Jews to make a choice, “And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Josh. 24:15). This is still our choice today.
3. In this verse the prophet of God asks David to specifically make a choice when he said, “Thus says the LORD: Choose for yourself... (1 Chron. 21:11). In this case it was to choose the punishment he would receive for the sin of numbering the people contrary to God’s law.
4. Here Solomon taught why men make the wrong choices when he wrote, “Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD” (Prov. 1:29).
5. Solomon warned his son and all young men, “Do not envy the oppressor, and choose none of his ways” (Prov. 3:31). We are responsible to choose God’s ways and not the envious or the oppressor.
6. How should young men find good friends? Solomon declared, “The righteous should choose his friends carefully, for the way of the wicked leads them astray” (Prov. 12:26).
7. Isaiah revealed that people at some point as they mature will realize they must refuse evil and choose good. The prophet revealed, “Curds and honey He shall eat, that he may know to refuse the evil and choose the good” (Isa. 7:15).
8. Notice that God declared His blessings will be upon those who choose to please Him when He declared, “For thus says the LORD: to the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, and choose what pleases Me, and hold fast My covenant” (Isa. 56:4).
9. Eighteen times God used the word freewill when He spoke of the offerings people could bring to Him. He declared of His people, “The children of Israel brought a freewill offering to the Lord, all the men and women whose hearts were willing to bring material for all kinds of work which the Lord, by the hand of Moses, had commanded to be done” (Ex. 35:29).
10. Unregenerate men can perceive the truth, and can also make a willful choice to reject it and refuse to repent. Matthew records that Jesus charged the Pharisees with this fact. He said when John the Baptist came to them, “You did not believe him, but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him” (Matt. 21:32). Note that they chose not to believe and repent. Then Matthew records at the end of this same chapter that the Pharisees, “Perceived that He (Jesus) was speaking of them. But, when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitudes, because they took Him for a prophet” (Matt. 21:45-46). Therefore, the Bible clearly shows that unregenerate men can perceive the truth, and have the ability to choose to reject it. For other verses on rejection of the truth see: John 8:24; John 5:47; John 3:12.
C. Man’s choosing versus God’s choosing.
* One of the best examples to see how these two aspects work together is when God chose the disciples. He chose them, came to them, called them to follow Him, yet they had to respond to this call. They had to choose to follow Him. Christ did not force them, handcuff them or coerce them in any way. The command to follow, naturally implies a choice on the one being commanded. When Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24). The word “desires” in Greek, means to determine or to choose. To say they had no choice in the matter, because they were foreordained to salvation, would make them robots and negate every verse where men are commanded to choose. God’s foreknowledge is just that, His foreknowledge of events before they come to pass. He foreordains and chooses on the basis of this foreknowledge. See the following verses.
1. “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:2).
2. “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29).
God also determines His choices based on the moral choices men make. Notice in the following passage God’s declaration of His choice of judgment upon His people specifically because of their choice to reject His voice. God declared, “So will I choose their delusions, and bring their fears on them; because, when I called, no one answered, when I spoke they did not hear; but they did evil before My eyes, and chose that in which I do not delight” (Isaiah 66:4).
D. Can a believer choose to turn from the way of truth?
Those who declare that a person cannot choose to reject his or her salvation must see the glaring contradiction here. How can a person have the choice to become a Christian, and then not have the choice to reject their salvation? We must admit that a person has the choice in both circumstances. Examine these verses.
1. Notice that James admits that the brethren can wander from the truth. He writes, “Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19)
2. Peter also acknowledges that those who has escaped the world through faith in Christ can turn from God’s holy commandment. Peter declares, “While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage. For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them” (2 Peter 2:20-21). The Greek word for “knowledge” in this text is not a superficial knowledge, but refers to the full knowledge of Christ.
3. God spoke through the Prophet Ezekiel and revealed that a righteous man can turn from his righteousness. He warned, “But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, because of them he shall die” (Eze. 18:24).
4. Ezekiel also proclaimed, “Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die; because you did not give him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand” (Eze. 3:20).
5. Paul also spoke of women who cast off their first faith. He wrote, “But refuse the younger widows; for when they have begun to grow wanton against Christ, they desire to marry, having condemnation because they have cast off their first faith” (1 Tim. 5:11-12).
6. Paul again revealed that he had seen people straying from their faith. He wrote, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Tim. 6:10).
7. The author of Hebrews also writes about those who departed from the living God. He declared, “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:12).
8. Jesus also revealed that a believer could leave their first love. “I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place--unless you repent” (Rev. 2:4-5). This church made the choice to leave their first love, and they must make the choice to repent and do what Jesus commanded to restore their first love.
It’s clear from these verses that righteous men have the choice to depart and turn from their faith.
E. What is God’s response to those who turn from the truth?
* Does God excuse them because they have been chosen, or does He hold them accountable and responsible for their decisions and choices? See the following verses.
1. Notice that God is faithful to His Word. He must deny those who deny Him. He would be unrighteous and unfaithful to His own Word if He blessed unbelief, disobedience, and denial. Notice, Paul also includes himself when he says “we” in this text. Paul wrote, in 2 Tim. 2:11-13, “This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we endure, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us. If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.” If you deny Him, He will deny you!
2. In this passage in Hebrews, we are warned not to cast away our faith and confidence in His Word, which again, is our choice. The apostle states, “Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: ‘For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.’ But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul” (Heb. 10:35-39). It is clear, those who draw back, He has no pleasure in them.
3. In this passage, Ezekiel the Prophet warns the people of God, “And the Levites who went far from Me, when Israel went astray, who strayed away from Me after their idols, they shall bear their iniquity. ‘Because they ministered to them before their idols and caused the house of Israel to fall into iniquity, therefore I have raised My hand in an oath against them,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘that they shall bear their iniquity’” (Eze. 44:10,12).
4. But, notice God’s promise to those who turn from their evil. God declared, “If that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. (Jer. 18:8). He also promises, “If it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it” (Jer. 18:10). God will definitely change what He has promised to do based upon the action of His people.
5. Note in this New Testament passage what Paul declared about the church in Galatia when it turned from its faith in Christ (Gal. 5:1-4). Paul writes, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” Because this church went back to trying to justify itself through works, they became estranged from Christ. Paul also said that they had “turned away...from Him...,” and “the grace of Christ” (Gal. 1:6).
6. Jesus said He would take a very specific action toward those of His servants who would go back into their old sinful lifestyle. “But if that servant says in his heart, 'My master is delaying his coming,' and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and be drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers” (Luke 12:45). Notice that Jesus refers to these individuals as being once “His servants,” and they had returned to beating their servants and getting drunk. He plainly states that He counted them as an unbeliever.
7. The apostle who wrote Hebrews declared that salvation was only eternal to those who obeyed Him. Referring to the work of Christ he declared, “And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him...” (Heb. 5:9). Why is obedience to the Lord so important? Obedience is the proof and the demonstration that you love Him (John 14:15-21).
8. What is important to notice in this well-known passage of Scripture is the ability of God to save to the uttermost, which is conditioned with the requirement of men to continually come to Him in faith. God declared, “Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25). The word come in this verse is in the present tense, which means we are required to come continually to Him.
9. In the following verses, God gives a clear warning to the Christians in Rome who were very arrogant in their hearts toward the Jewish people who had turned away from the Lord. He explains to them, “Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again” (Rom. 11:20-23). God will be very severe toward those who turn away from Him in unbelief, and He will be very gracious toward those who turn from their unbelief and come to Him in faith, otherwise they will be cut off. The important part of these verses is the warning to the Christians in Rome that if they did not continue in faith, they too would be cut off. Continue in faith, and His goodness will follow you all the days of your life (Ps. 23:6).
10. Daniel the Prophet recognized the balance and justice of God in His dealings with men when He prayed, “And I prayed to the LORD my God, and made confession, and said, ‘O Lord, great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and mercy with those who love Him, and with those who keep His commandments...’” (Dan. 9:4). Daniel is acknowledging the righteousness of God’s judgment in sending the people into captivity, because God only keeps His covenant to bless and show mercy with those who keep His commandments.
11. Jeremiah the Prophet was also instructed concerning the balance of God’s sovereign choosing and man’s choice. God took Jeremiah to the potter’s house and instructed him by showing him the power of the potter’s hand to remake the vessel anyway he chose. Then God declared to the prophet, “The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it” (Jeremiah 18:7-10).
12. The Prophet Hosea tells the idolatrous people of Israel the reason why judgment was coming upon them: “They shall go to seek the Lord, but they will not find Him; He has withdrawn Himself from them. They have dealt treacherously with the Lord” (Hosea 5:6-7). Therefore, God’s response to His rebellious people is to withdraw from them. Why? They have dealt treacherously with the Lord. The word treacherously means to be unfaithful or to break away from their faith toward God. They may bring their sacrifices to seek Him, but they will not find Him, because they are living in rebellion against God.
All of these examples reveal that God responds in the most correct and the most righteous way toward men. If men turn toward God with honest repentance, He will have mercy and receive then. But, if men turn away from God in rebellion, then He will withdraw Himself from them. This is the only righteous thing God can do.
F. Reconciling other passages.
* There are many passages that seemingly contradict this premise of man’s free choice. Let’s look at some of these passages and balance them with the rest of Scripture.
1. Many read the words of Jesus and wonder what He meant when He said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29). Do these verses mean that no external force can snatch you from God’s hand? Yes, this is absolutely true; no one is able to snatch you out of the Father’s or the Son’s hand. The word “snatch” means to seize or to take by force. No one can take you by force from His hand, because of His keeping power to hold on to you. But Jesus is not saying that you can’t reject and turn from the truth yourself. If you could never reject the truth, that would remove your free will, make you a robot, and negate all of the previous verses that teach that you have a choice. If you believe in God, you would never consciously or willfully reject and turn from the truth. I do not believe anyone “loses” his or her salvation, as though one day you turn around and your salvation disappeared into thin air. No one loses his or her salvation, but men can forsake, reject, or turn from their commitment to Christ which is clearly illustrated in all of the Scripture I have already covered. This would have to be a conscious and willful choice on the part of any man, because of their unbelief and hardness of heart.
However, when you read verses such as: “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD, and He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; for the LORD upholds him with His hand… Depart from evil, and do good; and dwell forevermore. For the LORD loves justice, and does not forsake His saints; they are preserved forever, but the descendants of the wicked shall be cut off” (Ps. 37:23-28). These passages deal with God’s responsibility to uphold you, and not give up on His saints who sincerely love Him, but fail sometimes. However, if you forsake Him in rebellion, He will forsake you. God spoke to King Asa after he failed to trust God and began to rebel against Him these words, “The LORD is with you while you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you” (2 Chron. 15:2). All Scripture must be balanced with other Scripture, and not ever taken out of the context of the Bible as a whole.
2. Note the balance in God’s Word between God’s keeping versus your keeping yourself. Jude wrote, “Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh. Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy...” (Jude 21-24). Notice, the connection between your keeping yourself and His keeping you. These two truths must always go together. Peter taught the same thing. He wrote you are, “kept by the power of God through faith” (1 Peter 1:5). God’s part of salvation is to keep you by His power, and your part is to trust Him. When you believe in Him you will always come to Him. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). Jesus clearly connects coming to Him as proof that you believe in Him.
3. Then there are these verses that are quoted so often. Paul wrote, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: ‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’ Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35-39). This text declares the blessing of God commitment to each of you, that He will never stop loving you, and that nothing in this world or the world to come can change His mind from loving you. But, this passage in no way implies that you cannot separate yourself from Him, and refuse by a choice of your will, to love and obey Him. In Ezekiel 14:7, God declared that there were those among His people who separated themselves from Him. Note these specific words that God spoke of those, “Who separates himself from Me.” God revealed in the context of this verse that the separation occurred, because the people had set up idols in their own heart. Throughout the Scripture we are warned and commanded to “keep ourselves in the love of God”, “abide in His love” and many other passages implying our tendency to separate ourselves from His love. We must choose daily to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, and soul and to refuse anything, or anyone that might take the position of our first love. If we choose to sin or live independent from God, we are separating ourselves from His love and fellowship. Isaiah said, “Behold, the LORD'S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear” (Is. 59:1-2). Note that the responsibility for separation is placed upon man’s choice to sin, not God’s desire to reject us. However, even when our sin separates us, God still loves us and will attempt to do all in His power to draw us back to Himself. This is the confidence of Romans 8:35-39. His love endures!
4. Consider the balance of the Bible’s teaching on God’s forsaking of an individual. Most know the very familiar passage: “For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). Therefore, the question is, does God ever forsake someone, and if so, why? Note that the Scripture declares that men can choose to forsake the Lord for other gods. God proclaimed to the Jews, “You have forsaken Me and served other gods. Therefore I will deliver you no more” (Judges 10:13). Just before the nation was destroyed by the Babylonians, God said, “For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn themselves cisterns--broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jer. 2:13). Therefore, if a nation or individual persists in forsaking God, He will ultimately forsake them. Just before the destruction of the nation Israel, God spoke to His people and said, “Then the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest, who stood above the people, and said to them, “Thus says God: ‘Why do you transgress the commandments of the Lord, so that you cannot prosper? Because you have forsaken the Lord, He also has forsaken you’” (2 Chron. 24:20). He also said, “I have forsaken My house, I have left My heritage; I have given the dearly beloved of My soul into the hand of her enemies” (Jer. 12:7). This is not a place you would ever want to be!
However, God will never forsake those who seek His face. The testimony of Scripture is clear: “Those who know Your name will put their trust in You; For You, Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You” (Psalm 9:10). The prophet spoke to King Asa saying, “Hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin. The Lord is with you while you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you” (2 Chron. 15:2). However, the balance of Scripture reveals that even though God forsakes His people when they sin, He will not forget them or stop loving them, but will have mercy upon them, if they will humble themselves and seek His face. Note what the Lord said to His rebellious people, “‘For the Lord has called you like a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, like a youthful wife when you were refused,’ says your God. ‘For a mere moment I have forsaken you, but with great mercies I will gather you. With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment; but with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you,’ says the Lord, your Redeemer. ‘For this is like the waters of Noah to Me; for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah would no longer cover the earth, so have I sworn that I would not be angry with you, nor rebuke you. For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but My kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall My covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has mercy on you” (Isaiah 54:6-10). Isaiah said again, “Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me, and my Lord has forgotten me. ‘Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; your walls are continually before Me’” (Isaiah 49:14-16). What love our God has for His people!
5. John 3:16 declares, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Extreme Calvinist’s teach that faith is a gift that God only gives to His elect whom He has chosen. However, this contradicts the clear words of Jesus. When Jesus said, “whoever believes,” this clearly implies that all people are responsible and able to believe if they choose to respond. Jesus also stated that He is willing to receive any and all who come to Him. Jesus said, “Whoever comes to me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37). In Revelation 22:17, Jesus said again, “Let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.” These promises make it absolutely clear that anyone can come and believe in Christ.
6. In Romans 9:18-19, Paul writes concerning God, “Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens. You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” Many today teach that God’s will and grace are irresistible, and that if God has elected you to salvation, then you will be saved no matter what you choose to do. However, the Scripture also declares that the religious leaders in biblical times did resist God’s will, by their free choice. Stephen said, “You stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you” (Acts 7:51). Jesus also stated that the Pharisees stubbornly resisted Him, “But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:40). Therefore, if God’s will and grace can be resisted by these men, then it is not irresistible. The fact that God has mercy on whom He wills, means that He saves men based on His dispensing of mercy, not because of some effort by man.
7. In Ephesians 2:1, Paul declared, “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins.” Those who believe that man has no choice say that a dead men cannot make themselves come alive, thus all who are saved really have nothing to do with their salvation. However, spiritual death does not mean that men have no mental faculties or ability to reason and choose. Spiritual death is a metaphor referring to the fact that men are separated from the life of God (Eph. 4:18). Isaiah declared that, “Your iniquities have separated you from your God” (Is. 59:2). In addition, the Bible clearly teaches that unsaved people have, “clearly seen” God’s truth and are “without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). The image of God in fallen humans is effaced, but not erased (James 3:9). Paul also declared that those dead in their sin have the ability to be raised to life again, by their choosing to believe the power of God. Paul explained that you were, “Buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses” (Col. 2:12-13). Paul makes it clear that a dead man can believe, be forgiven, and raised to life in Christ.
8. Those who believe fallen man has no choice at all in his salvation point to John 1:12-13, which says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” However, verse 12 makes it absolutely clear that the new birth is obtained by the fact that, “as many as received Him” and to, “those who believe in His name.” This receiving and believing involves an act of a free will. This verse is simply denying that there is any other source of the new birth, that there is no other Savior but God Himself, not a negation of man’s choosing. The word “of” in this text means out of. Salvation is not “of” or out of any human resource. However, this free gift of God must be received by man.
9. Another passage that people use to teach that man has no free will is Paul’s instruction in Romans: “So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy” (Rom. 9:16). Again, in this text the Greek word “of” means “out of,” and again is a reference to the source of salvation, not the means by which we receive it. We receive salvation through a free act of our will and choosing to believe (John 1:12; Eph. 2:8). God is the one who thought up the plan of salvation, and He chose to initiate salvation through His mercy long before the world began (Eph. 1:4). God is the source of this mercy that we must receive!
10. Another passage that is misunderstood and taken out of context is when Jesus said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father” (John 6:65). This passage does not remove man’s responsibility to come, or anyone’s ability to come to the Father. It just states that it is God’s drawing people to Himself that saves them, because God is not willing that any should perish and desires that all come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). This passage simply teaches that God is the source and initiator of salvation, not man, and He is the one who draws men to Himself.
11. There are those who say that an unsaved man cannot understand any spiritual truth before they are regenerated, and thus deny the free will of man. They quote, “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). The word “receive” means to welcome, believe, or take hold of truth. Therefore, men do not welcome the truth, but they can perceive the truth (Rom. 1:20). This is why men choose to suppress the truth (Rom. 1:20). In other words, there is no welcome in a man’s heart for what he understands in his mind to be true, until the conviction of the Spirit takes hold of his heart. At that point a person must make a decision, yield to this conviction, or resist it. It makes no sense to say that a man who is unsaved cannot understand the gospel before he is saved, because salvation requires that a person repent of their known sins, and believe in the gospel message that they have heard preached to them. If total depravity has destroyed man's ability to know good from evil, and to choose the good over the evil, then there is no possibility for a person to repent and be saved.
G. God’s sovereignty is preeminent.
1. God has made a sovereign and independent decision and choice to reveal Himself to mankind. Paul declared, “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). Men cannot know God by their own effort or searching, apart from God’s choice to reveal Himself. God chose to send His Son to be the ultimate revelation of Himself to mankind.
2. God has made a sovereign and independent decision and choice to save you. Jesus taught, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you” (John 15:16). Man cannot save himself by his own effort or choosing. Men are saved by the sovereign work of the death and resurrection of Christ which He accomplished for the whole world. He is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
3. God has made a sovereign and independent decision and choice to bestow His salvation and gifts upon those who choose to believe. The Apostle John said, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). Paul said that God distributes His gifts, “to each one individually as He wills” (1 Cor. 12:11). Man cannot experience God’s salvation or His gifts by the determination of his own will. God’s will and choosing is preeminent in all things.
May the balance of what the Scripture teaches on this difficult topic, enrich and motivate you to trust in the God who has pursued you and captured your heart. He has loved you with an everlasting love and will lovingkindness He has drawn you (Jer. 31:3). In response, love Him with all your heart mind and soul, surrender to Him, and follow Him all the days of your life.