A reader recently posted a reply in response to an article I wrote. He said that someone who believes in foreordination and freewill is contradicting themselves. I’m saying that one who believes in the pagan version of human “free will” will find contradictions between human “free will” and God’s foreordination/predestination. And that’s by design.
The reader suggested earlier in our discussions that perhaps “we need to clarify some terms,” and then later wrote that to make sense of this “problem” I would have to re-define “free will” into something unrecognizable. I finally see his point, and I do agree that further discussion of definitions is necessary, but I disagree with him that the redefinition will leave the concept in unrecognizable shambles. You be the judge.
So let me dig a little deeper and draw five common distinctions regarding free will that are held today:
- Man makes his own choices and does not do anything under compulsion – the Bible teaches this. God determines what men will do, but he does not compel them to do those things – it’s a metaphysical mystery how that is so.
- What men choose to do is determined by their inner character. Man’s actions are a reflection of the qualities inside of him: the state of his heart; the condition of his soul; and what kind of person or character he has. The Bible teaches this also: trees are known by their fruit [Matt. 12:23, Luke 6:43] . Men are limited by their character: bad seeds don’t produce good fruit.
- Man can do things contrary to God’s choosing or contrary to what God has determined to happen. Man’s will is above Gods determination. This is contrary to Scripture, and probably the most commonly-held idea of what “free will” means.
- Man’s will is uncaused and arbitrary. In the end, nothing determines what we do: neither God, nor training, nor heredity, nor social conditioning, etc. This is the metaphysical libertarian view. At every point, man can go contrary to all inclination of context and arbitrarily do something else. The Bible doesn’t teach this. Every man sins when he’s led astray by his own lusts and temptations that spring forth in his heart. If men didn’t make choices by any cause at all, he couldn’t be held responsible for his actions. For an example, picture a man whose arms just start flailing around wildly at random. “It’s not me doing it!”
- Men have the ability to do what is morally good or morally evil. The Bible doesn’t teach this either. This was once true (before the Fall), but is no longer true. Christians have regained this in principle through regeneration in Christ; in principle we’ve been definitively sanctified, and the power of sin has been broken in our lives. In practice, we gain progressive dominion over the sin in our lives as we are progressively sanctified, though we’ll not be perfected until after our physical death.
We should also ask just how “free” is your “free will?” Men do what they want to do, yes. He is free to choose his actions, thoughts, and words, but man is a slave to sin ethically. Consequently he will always choose sinful things when he is in bondage to sin. What he does, he freely does, and he freely chooses to sin.
Men suffer a bondage of the will morally, and a freedom of the will metaphysically. Men are not puppets; God governs all things, but mysteriously does not take away our freedom. His plan does not destroy man’s freedom; we mysteriously do what God predestines.
Ask yourself this: if you choose to never sin again, will you succeed?
We’ll come back to that one.
IT’S NOT ABOUT LOGIC, IT’S ABOUT ETHICS
You need to recognize this: pagan ideas of “free will” are not merely intellectual exercises people chew on for fun, but rather they are rival theologies to Christianity. They are completely incompatible with the Biblical view.
Traditionally, what the philosophers who debate this issue really want to say is this: God’s predestination/foreordination of all things is logically incompatible with man’s responsibility before God. However, as I’ve explained, those two things aren’t logically incompatible — it simply remains a metaphysical mystery how God brings them both to pass.
More on that a little later.
So, to get around this problem, they do some word-play and change the debate to say that “God’s predestination/foreordination of all things is logically incompatible with man’s free will.” They then conceive of non-Biblical ideas of man’s “free will”, and in doing so they appropriate a power and apply to themselves what is only rightly and justly held by God — God can have free will, or man can have free will (they say), but both can’t exist simultaneously.
Then, in that sense, Yes, the two concepts are logically incompatible.
At that point, they will preferably take the argument to its conclusion: since man has free will, God does not.
They then suck Christians into endless debates over the issue. Christians suck other Christians into this same debate. Christians take the bait because they think that it’s simply a matter of logical persuasion: if they can show the unbelievers that they are making a logical error, then the unbeliever will repent and convert to Christianity.
But the problem is that the atheists seem to have locked the debate up with logical precision such that their version of free will is proven true, we tend to agree with them, and then they show that Christianity must be false. Then we are left on the defensive.
But the game is rigged. As Dr. Bahnsen said, neutrality is a myth. Pagan philosophers have defined the terms, and their terms have dominated this debate for over 2000 years due to the insidious influence of pagan Greek and Roman thought on Christian culture.
By engaging them, on their terms, we can only end up where we started: with their blasphemous conceptions of reality. As Proverbs warns, we are answering a fool according to their folly and ending up fools ourselves. [Prov. 26:4] To borrow Dr. Bahnsen’s example, we are using their custom-made apple sorting machine to sort our apples. We put our apples into their machine, and their machine always, for some reason, spits it into the “rotten” pile.
Their apples, on the other hand, are always dropped into the “delicious” pile.
It’s time to expel this manner of thinking from our midst as a Church and restructure the way we look at the world in terms of how the Bible would have us view the world.
CHANGE YOUR DEFINITION
The point of my article is to show that the idea of “free will” as is commonly defended (especially by atheists) is a figment of profane imaginations. Does your idea of “free will” come from the noetic effects of sin, or does it come from the Bible? To hold an idea of “free will” that is different from the Bible’s is sinful.
As Christians, we should un-hang ourselves from this ancient debate that’s gone on for centuries between God-haters and confused Christians alike.
In fact, Martin Luther, who by strength of faith and colossal courage was instrumental in rescuing true religion from the depths of the corruption into which it had sank beneath the bowels of Rome, point-blank executed this blasphemous notion of “free will” which is so often promoted by pagan philosophy.
Instead of an apple, he sent a hand-grenade into their apple-sorting machine and blew it to pieces.
He dispatched it with gusto and eloquence when he wrote to Erasmus in The Bondage of the Will that “This, therefore, is also essentially necessary and wholesome for Christians to know: That God foreknows nothing by contingency [by chance or coincidence], but that He foresees, purposes, and does all things according to His immutable, eternal, and infallible will. By this thunderbolt, ‘Free-will’ is thrown prostrate, and utterly dashed to pieces. Those, therefore, who would assert ‘Free-will,’ must either deny this thunderbolt, or pretend not to see it, or push it from them.” [Section 9, Emphasis mine.]
In fact, Luther hated using the term “free will” at all. Just a little while later, he wrote that we should teach “that it is to be called by some other term than ‘Free-will’; especially since we know and clearly see, that the people are miserably deceived and seduced by that term, taking and understanding it to signify something far different from that which Theologians mean and understand by it, in their discussions.”
THE BIBLE SAYS
The Biblical stance is that God holds us morally responsible for our actions, even though he has predestined every single event and fact of history. This is clear. Luther described just how clear it is: “In Isaiah he saith, ‘My counsel shall stand, and My will shall be done.’ (Isa. 46:10.) And what schoolboy does not under- stand the meaning of these expressions, ‘Counsel,’ ‘will,’ ‘shall be done,’ ‘shall stand?’”
For another example, God predestined that Jesus would be crucified. It’s stated in Chapter Four of Acts that Herod, Pontius Pilate, and many peoples were gathered together in Israel “to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” [Acts 4:28] As we also read, Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God,” and he was “crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” [Acts 2:23]
God had foreknowledge because it was his definite plan, predestined before the foundation of the world. Scripture is explicit: God planned for Jesus to be crucified at the hands of lawless men, and he brought it to pass. Because he knew that he was going to bring it to pass, he had foreknowledge of the events. He then held those men (unrepentant Israel) morally responsible for their actions and executed his judgment upon them in 70 A.D. when he destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple at the hands of the Romans.
As Luther said, what schoolboy doesn’t understand the meaning of these things? Whether or not we like the implication is a different story. Christians should take comfort in this.
In one sense, we cannot do anything other than what God predestined us to do. But in another sense — in the morally responsible sense — we have complete freedom because, to be held morally responsible for your actions, you must act without being coerced to act. It is logically consistent to say that God predestines a person to act in a specific way, but yet brings their actions to pass without coercing them, and then holds that person responsible for their actions because they acted without being coerced.
Here’s another Biblical example that provides illumination: Ask yourself, were Jesus’ bones able to be broken?
Jesus’ bones were, in one sense, incapable of being broken, and in another sense, they could’ve been broken. His bones were made of the same materials as our bones; they were not capable of withstanding being smashed by an iron rod. But in another sense, he was incapable of breaking his bones. It was predestined that his bones were not to be broken long before he was born. See Exodus 12:46 and John 19:31-36 for proof of this.
So, again, could Jesus’ bones have been broken? In one sense yes, in another sense no. He was incapable of breaking them in one sense because God predestined that he would not break them. But in another sense he was free to choose to break them if he wanted because he was not coerced into not breaking his bones. He chose not to break them, and the Roman soldier also chose not to break them — just as God had predestined.
Bottom line: God holds us responsible for our actions. He predestined how we would act, but he’s not a puppet-master pulling our strings. He gave us complete metaphysical freedom to act as we choose, and what we freely decide to do is what God predestined.
WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY, ANYWAY?
“Philosophy” is, basically, a secularized intellectual framework of man’s own invention that is substituted for the Scriptural view of God, Man, Ethics, Judgment, and History. In other words, it’s the secularized version of the theological doctrines of creation, the Fall, redemption, and the consummation of all things.
It’s man redefining God, man, and the world in his own terms instead of abiding by those terms God has set forth for us. It means asking questions like “Do you suppose man is naturally good or evil?” or “Do you think there’s an end to time, or does it stretch on forever?” and speculating on the answers without consulting the Bible.
The goal of the heathen “free will” debate is to thwart Paul’s assertion that what can be known about God is plain to them “because God has shown it to them” and that they, consequently, cannot be, by their unrighteousness, suppressing that truth. [Rom 1:18-19]
If they do not know the truth, they cannot willingly suppress the truth, and therefore they cannot be held guilty or liable to God’s wrath and judgment for turning away from that truth. This line of thinking is contrary to what Scripture teaches.
MAGICIANS AND LOGICIANS
Consider the magician. A magician tries to manipulate the universe and history through alchemic formulas and word equations in order to elude God’s grasp — or, more explicitly, they seek to manipulate God through their magic. They imagine that the universe is a fabric of woven, impersonal facts, and that if they apply the correct word formula they can cut into that fabric and manipulate those facts however they see fit, wholly apart from God and his plan.
If they want to become rich and powerful, for example, they can simply transmute lead into gold and buy their power. By this magic, they can bypass the hard work of serving others and earning their wealth by ethical means — as God requires. They want to truly be able to say “My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth” in abject defiance of God’s commands. [Deut. 8:17]
They want to manipulate reality instead of living within the bounds of reality that God established.
God forbids this behavior and makes it punishable by death. But the lure to evade God’s judgment is so great that even King Saul resorted to divination to try and escape his fate.
Samuel had previously told him that, because of his disobedience, God had ripped the kingdom from Saul to give it to someone better suited to rule [1 Sam. 15:28]. Saul didn’t really want to believe this. He disobeyed the Lord because he wanted to do things as he saw fit, not as the Lord saw fit, and he lost his inheritance.
But he also wanted God’s blessings. The way to receive God’s blessings is by being obedient to God. Saul wanted God’s blessings, but not by the way prescribed by God. So, he hired a witch to conjure up the ghost of Samuel in an attempt to learn the future [1 Sam. 28], hoping that perhaps he could strike a bargain and change or manipulate his destiny in some way; why he thought he would listen to Samuel now, when he refused to listen to him before, who knows. But Samuel condemned Saul to death for his defiance, and later he died [1 Sam. 32] just as Samuel told him he would — and just as God required for engaging in the rebellious offense of conjuring [Deut. 18:10-12, Ex. 22:18].
In the same way, the pagan philosopher uses his sophistry and mashing of words to try and escape God’s judgment by erasing the ethical link between God’s predestination and man’s moral responsibility. He fancies that he can manipulate reality — God’s law-order — by the cleverness of his tongue.
Pagan philosophy then, by design, automatically finds God’s predestination incompatible with individual moral responsibility. Many Christians, unfortunately, try to fit the Bible’s stance on predestination into their secularized intellectual framework, cultivated through years of pagan philosophy classes, pagan math classes, pagan history classes, and so on, all taught by pagan professors hostile to God. Instead of trying to fit the Bible’s ideas into ill-conceived, paganized notions of cause-and-effect that eradicate God’s complete control over all things, they should be conforming their minds to Scripture and abandoning the foolish ways of the world (Eph. 4:17-18).
Since they don’t, these ideas infect Christian doctrines and give birth to heresies. They allow room for tolerance — and incorporation of — heathen myths like the evolutionary chain of being, where man’s position is always somewhere between cosmic sludge and divinity. He’s always moving further away from his humble origins and steadily gaining in his progress to break forth into the heavens where only gods may dwell.
LET’S GET PRACTICAL
Practically-speaking, this debate probably has little impact on the way you live your daily life. In fact, all one has to do is look around to get a sense of how much free will he has. It’s obvious that you are not being coerced to do anything. You know that if you take your hand off the steering wheel of your car that eventually you’re going to crash.
But you also know that, even if you choose to never again sin, and then you try with all of your might, that it is impossible for you to actually bring that to pass. So if you exchange the yoke of God’s predestination for human “free will”, you merely succeed in replacing it with the yoke of bondage under sin.
So, in one sense we do have “free will” because we are not being coerced to act as we do. If you choose to lift your left middle finger, you can do that. If you choose not to, you can do that. If you choose to jump off a cliff and die, then you can do that. You are metaphysically free, in one sense, to do those things, and yet God has predestined all of history before the foundation of the world. He has foreknowledge because he predestined.
He doesn’t have foreknowledge because he’s capable of seeing all the potential actions we could take and then watches to see which one we’ll take, or any such silliness that otherwise respectable Christian leaders have put forth (in an attempt to compromise with atheists, in my opinion).
You are still in bondage to sin, at least partially. That’s what the Bible teaches. You are not free to never sin again.
So it’s a matter of in what “sense” do you mean you are free? That distinction is described in my original article, and I elaborated on five specific distinctions above.
As I said earlier, pagan philosophy is concerned not about “free will” per se but moral responsibility. From Wikipedia we read “In ethics, [free will] may hold implications for whether individuals can be held morally accountable for their actions.” Later on down the page, we read that “Humans have a strong sense of freedom, which leads us to believe that we have free will.”
But why should this debate even arise? Were a couple of philosophers sitting around a room one day, randomly discussing different problems, dispatching them as they came up, only to accidently, randomly, stumble onto this concept of “free will” and find themselves unable to solve it as easily as they were the other problems?
Or does this remain a highly-debated topic for more important reasons?
The Biblical view of the world teaches us that man is subordinate to God, and as such he is to be obedient to God. Sinful man is disobedient to God and seeks to become a law unto himself by seeking autonomy apart from God. To demonstrate just how much God hates this kind of behavior, God explicitly condemns human autonomy: when everyone does what is right in their own eyes. [Jud.21:25]
He forbade this kind of behavior explicitly when he wrote “You shall not do according to all that we are doing here today, everyone doing whatever is right in his own eyes,” [Deut. 12:8] but on the contrary we are to “Be careful to obey all these words that I command you, that it may go well with you and with your children after you forever, when you do what is good and right in the sight of the LORD your God.” [Deut. 12:28]
It’s because all unregenerate men know these things in their heart of hearts that some seek to escape judgment through the back door of philosophical legalism.
They would try to bind God with their sophisticated eloquence.
As such, entering philosophical debates that vomit forth every profane babbling that man can conjure forth from his depraved mind — an “idol factory,” as Calvin called it — is man’s attempt to escape his moral accountability before a very personal God. He wants to avoid being held responsible to Him for his actions.
Those in rebellion try to say this: “Since I’m not in control of my actions, I can’t be held personally responsible for them. So, you see, it’s not my fault that I didn’t accept Christ, and therefore you can’t toss me into hell. Nyah nyah.”
Unregenerate men hate God, but they know him in their hearts, and they know they are suppressing the truth of his divine authority and sovereignty over all things (Rom. 1:18) because his wrath is revealed to them. They seek to invert the order of His creation in order to usurp His power through the wiles of what they think are their clever thoughts.
This is vain foolishness indeed, for “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes.” [Prov. 12:15]
God predestined all of your actions, and yet you are still held morally responsible for your actions. This is repulsive to pagan philosophy — but shouldn’t it be, since paganism, by definition, hates God and his law-order? As discussed in the original article, the condition of responsibility is met if someone performs an action without being coerced into doing so. We are not coerced to do the things we choose to do, we have been given complete metaphysical freedom to act, and yet we can only do those things which God predestined us to do. He predestined us to do them without coercing us to do them. We willingly perform our own actions; God doesn’t perform them for us.
A CAUSE FOR REJOICING
Christians should rejoice at this truth. If God weren’t in total control of all things, how could we rely on his promises? When Jesus said that not one of his sheep would be lost who was entrusted to him, how could we trust him if he weren’t in total control? Luther said it nicely in his work The Bondage of the Will:
“For if you doubt, or disdain to know that God foreknows and wills all things, not contingently [by chance], but necessarily and immutably, how can you believe confidently, trust to, and depend upon His promises? For when He promises, it is necessary that you should be certain that He knows, is able, and willing to perform what He promises; otherwise, you will neither hold Him true nor faithful; which is unbelief, the greatest of wickedness, and a denying of the Most High God!”
LUTHER’S EXPLANATION OF FREE WILL
Luther acknowledged that people are going to talk about “free will,” as much as he would have preferred they not. He knew they would be led astray by the term. So he provided some instruction to us for when we know we must use the term:
But, if we do not like to leave out this term altogether, (which would be most safe, and also most religious) we may, nevertheless, with a good conscience teach, that it be used so far as to allow man a “Free-will,” not in respect of those which are above him, but in respect only of those things which are below him: that is, he may be allowed to know, that he has, as to his goods and possessions the right of using, acting, and omitting, according to his “Free-will;” although, at the same time, that same “Free-will” is overruled by the Free- will of God alone, just as He pleases: but that, God-ward, or in things which pertain unto salvation or damnation, he has no “Free-will,” but is a captive, slave, and servant, either to the will of God, or to the will of Satan.
My reader wrote: “Saying that God determines the actions we take and that we determine the actions we take (i.e., God does not determine the actions we take) is explicitly contradictory, and therefore, both foreordination (of all things) and free will cannot both be true.”
Just to be fair to the both of us, his terms need some clarification, too. To characterize what I have been saying more accurately, he would have said something like this:
“Saying that God predestined and brings to pass the actions we take, and that we then freely choose to take those actions God predestined without being coerced to do so, and because of this we can be held morally responsible for those actions, is logically compatible.” God can bring things to pass in such a way that we do them without being coerced. How? That remains a mystery of his divine will.
Again, the debate isn’t about human “free will,” but about man’s moral responsibility before God. And again, human “free will” as popularly and traditionally conceived by fools is a figment of vain imaginations. By their ill-conceived notions, they steal God’s glory and transfer it to man.
This is because they reject the Bible’s guidance: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge and of wisdom [Prov. 1:7, 9:10]. They begin their search for knowledge and wisdom elsewhere than with the Bible, and thus they are fools because fools despise wisdom and instruction — which require foundations of fear of the Lord.