Write or Wrong

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Sunday, September 12, 2004

Theology Paper #1

BIB 4360-03
Prof. Ronn Johnson
Free to choose?

To assert that God is sovereign is correct. To affirm that humankind has free will is also correct. What is to make of this seeming paradoxical relationship between God’s sovereignty and human will? Can the answer be found through simple faith, or active study? Or is the solution just too complex for complete human understanding? And who’s to believe? The Calvinists have their TULIP points and the Arminianists have their set of beliefs as well. What’s there to do when there are parts of both that seem to be true? Scripture seems the only logical answer. But even there, questions abound and confusions arise when the subject isn’t properly defined.
First of all, it is important to distinguish that when approaching sovereignty and free will, there are two aspects in which to consider their involvement. One is salvation. The other is everyday life. In relation to the former, the questions raised concern the intricate process in how a sinner becomes saved by grace. Simply stated, does God choose certain people to be saved, or is His offer of salvation open to all and those who choose it are saved?
Dealing with sovereignty and free will in every day life becomes a question of how much a supreme God actually involves Himself in the lives of mere mortals. Does He plan out each detail according to a strict plan? Or does God only determine the final product—the end result—and leave the “in the meantime” to free will?
Before diving into the complexity of how sovereignty and free will go together, it is absolutely necessary to define and examine some of the terms used in relation to the subject. For without understanding the terms, it is impossible to understand the subject. These terms include election, predestination and foreknowledge.
“Election, taught in the Word, must be consistent both with the sovereign will of God and the freedom of man,” said Arthur T. Pierson as quoted in Samuel Fisk’s Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. “[A]nd if we cannot reconcile these two, it is because the subject is so infinitely lifted up above us.”[1]
Is the subject of election really too lofty that it cannot be understood at all? Or is it possible to establish an educated study of election that marries both Divine will and human freedom? The word “election” comes from the Greek word “eklektós” meaning “to call out or to choose.” Eklektós comes from two words: “Ek, meaning “out of” and the root word “légó,” which means “to call,” “to select” or “to choose.”[2] So election means “to call out,” or “to call someone out unto yourself for a purpose.”[3] Since the word translated “elect” can be translated “chosen,” the two words become interchangeable. But to what is someone called or chosen? Perhaps this is where some of the confusion arises.
One of the most important examples of election in Scripture is the election of Jesus Christ. Isaiah 42:1-4 refers to a chosen servant (“mine elect” in the KJV). Matthew 12:18-21 quotes this same passage from Isaiah and shows that the “chosen” or “elect” servant is fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. To what do these passages show Christ was chosen? Obviously, Christ was not chosen to be saved, because He was never lost![4] Isaiah 42:5-7 clearly shows that Christ was elected to the position of being a covenant to the people of Israel, and through them also a light to the Gentiles. In other words, Jesus was elected “to be a channel of blessing to the people of the earth.”[5] And 1 Peter 2:6 refers to Christ as being elected to the position of “chief cornerstone.” Jesus was elected for a specific purpose—not for salvation, but according to God’s plan. And God’s plan is not opposed to free will as Fisk shows by quoting H.H. Hobbs. “Election is not mechanical. It involves a God who is love and a man who is morally responsible. It never appears in the Bible as a violation of human will.”[6]
Another important example is the election of the nation of Israel in Isaiah 45:4. God made a covenant with Israel, but just because Israel was chosen, doesn’t mean all Israelites were automatically saved. In order to obtain salvation, one had to be identified with Israel through circumcision (Genesis 17:9-14) and uphold the covenant God had made with them.
And of course, one of the most common passages regarding election deals with the mention of Jacob and Esau in Romans 9:10-13, which refers to the event in Genesis 25:23 as well as Malachi 1:2. Many people believe that this passage deals with individuals being chosen to be saved, while others are not chosen. But, as Finck so clearly states, “[t]he issue here is not which man was chosen to be saved, but rather, which nation would be chosen to serve God.”[7]
There are other important elections, as mentioned by Joel Finck in his book, The Power of God unto Salvation. The 12 apostles are chosen to a privileged position in Luke 6:13-18. One of the “spiritual blessings” for the body of Christ is stated in Ephesians 1:4 as being “chosen in Him before the foundation of the world.” And the apostle Paul in Acts 9:15 was elected/chosen to be the one to bring the gospel to the Gentiles. Throughout all of the elections dealing with humankind, it becomes clear that election does not refer to who is saved, but rather who will serve. And election occurs only in relation to identification with the first Elect One, Jesus Christ.
The next significant concept to examine is predestination. The word “predestinate” comes from the Greek word “proorízō,” which means “to determine beforehand.”[8] One of the main passages referring to predestination is Romans 8:29-30, referring to believers, members of the body of Christ. It becomes clear in this passage that God is not predestinating individuals to be saved, but rather believers (who are already saved) “to become conformed to the image of His Son.” (v.29) This reveals God’s goal for believers: that they become conformed more and more to the image of Christ. Verse 30 relates to the previous verse. God predestined believers, those who have become identified with the body of Christ, not only to be conformed to Christ, but also to be “called”(“saints” in Romans 1:7), “justified” and “glorified.” This predetermined progression to glorification begins first with predestination.[9]
Another important verse to consider is Ephesians 1:5. This verse occurs in the list of spiritual blessings that believers have in Christ. And it shows that believers have been predestined to be adoptees through Jesus Christ “according to…His will.” This reveals God’s intentions towards those who become saved. It doesn’t show God picking out people to be saved.
The last concept to consider in relation to sovereignty and free will is foreknowledge. The word “foreknow(ledge)” comes from the Greek words “proginōskō” and “prógnōsis.”[10] The latter is a familiar transliteration meaning “to know before.” Like predestination, foreknowledge also begins with “pro,” meaning “before.” Foreknowledge means to know something before it happens.[11] For instance, Christ’s death on the cross was no surprise to God. Why? God foreknew Jesus’ death in advance because God had planned, or predestined it. And in Romans 8:29, God foreknows because He has already predestinated the goal for those who believe.
So now that the terms are understood, it is time to look at the subject in regards to salvation. It is true that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”(1 Timothy 2:4) So why doesn’t God just decree all to be saved? Once again, to borrow from Samuel Fisk who quotes E.Y. Mullins:
There are two choices necessary in a man’s salvation: God’s choice of the man and man’s choice of God. Salvation never comes otherwise than through God’s choice of man and man’s choice of God. Man would not be man without it (free will) and God never robs us of our true moral manhood in saving us.[12]
Therefore, as contradictory as it may sound, God’s sovereignty and human will are both interconnected in the salvation of sinners. Yet when it comes to circumstances of daily life, it would seem that that same interconnectedness, no matter how complex, would apply as well. Jesus himself proves the existence of both Divine free will and human free will in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus, being fully man and fully God, acknowledges both the will of His Father and the fact that He Himself has free will in Luke 22:42 when He says, “Father if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.”
But if God is sovereign and He has supreme, absolute control of everything, “how could man have any measure of independent action?”[13] Is God’s will simply the trump card in the game of free will? Or it could be that God Himself voluntarily limits Himself from dictating humans to behave on command. Said another way, “God can forsee how men will act without decreeing how they shall act.”[14]
It is clear that humans have free will and the freedom to exercise it. In Deuteronomy 30:19 God sets a choice before Israel: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendents.”
W.H. Griffith Thomas in his book Epistle to the Romans is quoted appropriately by Fisk in saying, “As has been well pointed out, it is open to a man to choose whether he will or will not take poison, but if he takes it the result cannot be fixed by his own will; the power of God in the laws of nature settles the issue.”[15] This explains very well both the predestined course of the believer, as well as the natural consequences of humankind’s decisions.
“In order to be sovereign, God must also be all-knowing, all-powerful and absolutely free. If he were limited in any one of these areas, he would not be entirely free.”[16] Humans, on the other hand, are not all-knowing, all powerful, but they are still free to choose. The difference is that a sovereign God has gone before them, not to compel human action, but to use their free will to accomplish His purposes. For instance, Joshua implores the Israelites to “choose for yourselves today whom you will serve…but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15) Circumstances, good decisions, bad decisions, etc…do not thwart the plans and purposes of God. On the contrary, God uses the circumstances to carry out His will.
The best example of “the relationship between divine sovereignty and human freedom” is an illustration presented by Robert Lightner in his book Doctrine of God and recorded by Fisk:
An ocean liner leaves New York bound for Liverpool. Its destination has been determined by proper authorities. Nothing can change it. On board the liner are several scores of passengers. These are not in chains; neither are their activities determined for them by decree. They are completely free to move about as they will…but all while the great liner is carrying them steadily onward toward a predetermined port. Both freedom and sovereignty are presented here and they do not contradict each other. So it is, I believe, with man’s freedom and the sovereignty of God. The mighty liner of God’s sovereign design keeps its steady course over the sea of history. God moves undisturbed and unhindered toward the fulfillment of those eternal purposes which He purposed in Christ Jesus before the world began.[17]
When it comes to sovereignty and free will, one doesn’t exist without the other. Both have a unique and uncontradictory role in God’s master plan. Therefore, in dealing with sovereignty and free will, it could be said that God is pro-choice—both for Himself and for humans.

Boice, James Montgomery. Foundations of the Christian Faith. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1986.
-- -- -- -- The Sovereign God. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1978.
Finck, Joel. The Power of God unto Salvation. Rapid City: Grace Bible Church, 1999.
Fisk, Samuel. Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. Neptune: Loizeaux Brothers. Inc., 1973
Hayford, Jack W. Hayford’s Bible Handbook. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995.
Holy Bible, King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2002.
NASB Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999
Zodhiates, Spiros. The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament. Chattanooga: AMG International, Inc., 1992.

[1] Samuel Fisk, Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. (Neptune:Loizeaux Brothers, Inc., 1973) 10-11.
[2] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament. (Chattanooga: AMG Int’l, Inc.
1992), 545.
[3] Joel Finck, The Power of God unto Salvation. (Rapid City: Grace Bible Church, 1999) 29.
[4] Ibid. 29
[5] Ibid. 30.
[6] Samuel Fisk Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. (Neptune:Loizeaux Brothers, Inc., 1973) 42.
[7] Joel Finck, The Power of God unto Salvation. (Rapid City: Grace Bible Church, 1999) 33.
[8] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament. (Chattanooga: AMG Int’l, Inc.
[9] Joel Finck, The Power of God unto Salvation. (Rapid City: Grace Bible Church, 1999) 52.
[10] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament. (Chattanooga: AMG Int’l, Inc.
[11]Joel Finck, The Power of God unto Salvation. (Rapid City: Grace Bible Church, 1999) 54.
[12] Samuel Fisk Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. (Neptune:Loizeaux Brothers, Inc., 1973) 16.
[13] Ibid, 51.
[14] Ibid, 54.
[15] Ibid, 57.
[16]James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press,
1986) 117.
[17] Samuel Fisk Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom. (Neptune:Loizeaux Brothers, Inc., 1973)


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