Chapter 22 – God’s Sovereignty versus Man’s Free Will

Has God created man with free will? The debate about whether man has free will or not has been going on for centuries, dividing the ‘Christian’ world into two camps, those who believe in free will (Arminianism) and those who do not (Calvinism). Before we answer this vexed question about man’s free will, we need to first clearly understand the sovereignty of God.

There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that the one true God of the Bible, Yahweh Elohim, is absolutely sovereign over all. He is the creator of all things, living and non-living, and He takes full and complete responsibility not only for all of the good things that exist in His creation, but also, for all of the evil things too. There is absolutely nothing that exists or can exist outside of God’s sovereignty, including Satan.

So, if your definition of ‘free will’ is the ability to make free choices, totally independent or outside of God’s sovereignty, then there is no such thing as ‘free will’.  However, this is not how the Bible defines ‘free will’. The Bible defines ‘free will’ as the freedom to make choices within the confines and boundaries set by God in accordance with His sovereign purpose for each individual and for all.

To believe that man has no free will is not an option because there are many verses in the Bible that support the concept of free will, for example: Deuteronomy 30:19, John 7:17, 2 Corinthians 9:7, Galatians 6:7-10 and James 4:7-8. It is important to believe in free will as taught in the Bible. Remove the concept of free will and we create a huge problem in understanding many aspects of life, including the understanding of God’s love and His judgements. Without free will, our prayers and our relationship with God would become meaningless and we really would be reduced to mere robots. Yes, a robot can make choices, but it cannot have relationships.

In this chapter, we are only concerned with man’s will regarding salvation. We are not concerned with man’s free will regarding mundane everyday living. We know that man is able to exercise free will and make choices in everyday living within his physical, emotional and environmental limitations, all within the boundaries of God’s sovereignty. For example, a man can choose to walk or run, but he can’t choose to fly like a bird because of his physical limitations.

When God created Adam and Eve in His own image, He created them with free will, meaning a will which was free from sin so that they could have a loving relationship with God and with each other in obedience to the two great commandments of love, love for God and love for fellowman.

Genesis 1:27
So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

God is the Potter and we are the clay, and the clay, Adam and Eve, were created with free will to have a loving, meaningful relationship with God and with each other. God did not create man in the image of a robot, without free will. God created Adam and Eve to reflect the most important characteristic of God, which is love. God is love and He is free to show His love to all of His creation. Likewise, He made Adam and Eve in His own image so that they could freely show their love to God and to each other, without sin.

However, when Adam and Eve sinned by partaking of the forbidden fruit when tempted by Satan, their free will became marred by sin. Of course, God knew beforehand that Adam and Eve would succumb to the temptation from Satan, because He knows the end from the beginning.

Genesis 2:16-17
16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

When Adam and Eve sinned, they violated their God-given conscience. They knew that they had done something wrong, therefore, they hid themselves from the presence of God. In the day when Adam and Eve sinned by partaking of the forbidden fruit they truly died, first spiritually and then later physically. Also, because of their sin, sin entered the human world affecting absolutely all of their descendants. The Bible is clear that all people are born unrighteous with a sinful Adamic nature (Romans 3:9-10, 5:12). Fallen man is in bondage to sin, under the influence and deception of Satan, and spiritually dead and separated from God.

The most important question we need to ask and answer is, ‘Is fallen man, with an unrighteous sinful Adamic nature, free to accept or reject the free gift of God’s salvation?’

Arminianism, which is by far the majority view of those who claim to be Bible believing Christians, says that ultimately, it is down to a person’s free will to decide whether or not he or she wishes to accept the work of the cross and be saved. This is completely unbiblical.

Can a dead person make himself alive? If a dead man could make himself alive, then, it would be possible for a spiritually dead unrighteous man to make himself spiritually righteous by coming to Christ of his own volition. Just as it took a supernatural miracle for Jesus to raise Lazarus from the dead, before Lazarus could move or do anything, so it takes a supernatural miracle to give spiritual righteous life in Christ to a spiritually dead unrighteous person.

The often mentioned truth in the Bible is that fallen man is only free to sin, but he is not free to come to Christ unless Father God supernaturally draws him to Christ.

John 6:44
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. 

Yes indeed, Father God must first draw a person to His only begotten Son Jesus Christ before that person understands and believes who the true Christ of the Bible is, and His finished work on the cross for the universal salvation of the whole world.

John 15:16
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. 

This one biblical verse is sufficient, in and of itself, to totally destroy the whole of Arminian theology that says that man’s free will has the ultimate power to choose to either accept or reject God’s salvation. Please note that this scripture tells us that we don’t choose Christ, but Christ chooses us, and He only chooses those who are first drawn by His Father to Him, the Son. Without Father God through His Son first choosing us and empowering us with the gift of faith to believe in the true Christ of the Bible, we cannot be saved.

Our salvation is not dependent on man’s fallen free will. It is entirely dependent upon God’s will, and it is His Sovereign will to save only the 144,000 Firsfruits before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

The examples of Pharaoh and Apostle Paul

Let us now look at the examples of Pharaoh and Apostle Paul to learn how man’s free will regarding his salvation operates within the confines of God’s sovereign will and purpose for each individual and for all.

Several times, the Bible says that Pharaoh hardened his heart, but also, several times the Bible says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, as demonstrated by the following two verses.

Exodus 8:32
But Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also; neither would he let the people go.
Exodus 9:12
But the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh; and he did not heed them, just as the LORD had spoken to Moses.

These scriptures clearly demonstrate how man’s free will can only operate within the confines of God’s sovereignty. Yes, Pharaoh was responsible for making his own heart hardened, but also, it was God’s sovereign purpose that Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened. For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.” (Romans 9:17).

Apostle Paul, before his conversion to Christianity, was a self-righteous Pharisee who zealously persecuted the newly formed Christian church. He was dedicated in his purpose to destroy all those who accepted Jesus Christ, and Paul was even involved in the murder of Stephen. He went from house to house dragging both male and female Christian believers off to prison and tried to get them to deny their faith in Christ.

Both Pharaoh and Paul had free will in their everyday living and therefore they were responsible for their actions. However, there is a dramatic difference in how God dealt with Pharaoh and how He dealt with Paul. God allowed Pharaoh to remain hardened in his heart. However, God had mercy on Apostle Paul and he was powerfully and supernaturally converted to the Christian faith through his road to Damascus experience. This was because Paul was a chosen vessel of God (one of the 144,000 Firstfruits), chosen to bear God’s name before the Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel (Acts 9:15).

God chose to keep Pharaoh’s heart hardened but He chose to have mercy on Paul, according to His sovereign purpose. As Romans 9:18 says, ‘God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden’. Apostle Paul was predestined as one of God’s Elect to be saved in this life, according to God’s sovereign purpose for him, but it was not God’s sovereign purpose to save Pharaoh during this life, but during the next life. Pharaoh will first need to undergo God’s age-to-come righteous, refining Lake of Fire judgement when he rises at the Second Resurrection. This is when Pharaoh’s hardened unrepentant heart will be broken and he will humbly and joyfully accept, through the gift of God given faith, the true Gospel of Jesus Christ for the universal salvation of the whole world, and Pharaoh will be saved.

Salvation is not a matter of choice or chance; first chance or second chance. Our salvation is the most glorious gift from God to us. Our salvation is one hundred percent the work of God’s grace from start to finish, and man is in no position whatsoever to boast about any aspect of his salvation. Each person is entirely dependent upon God for his salvation and all the glory goes to God, who is the Author and Finisher of our faith.

Does the biblical truth of Universal Salvation mean a forced robotic salvation for all? Absolutely not! The Bible says that the Kingdom of God is like treasure hidden in a field, and when a man finds it, he is delighted to keep this treasure at all costs.

It is God’s most wonderful purpose and plan that all will find this great treasure of the Kingdom of God through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Ultimately, in God’s time and order extending beyond this age, all without a single exception will come to believe in the true Gospel of Jesus Christ, willingly, joyfully and thankfully, as we explain in detail in Chapter 12.

Next – Chapter 23, Do we have an Immortal Soul?