God’s Sovereignty and Human Free Will

Did God choose me or did I choose Him? Am I saved because I decided to accept Jesus Christ, or did He select me to become a believer before time began? I'm running into conflicting Christian teachings that are making it hard for me to reconcile God's sovereignty with the idea of human responsibility and free will.

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When dealing with a subject like the nature of God it makes sense to assume that human understanding will only take us so far. Beyond that point we have to proceed by faith. We can only move forward by trusting in His goodness and faithfulness. We can do this because He has already persuaded us of His reality and reliability by other means. This is particularly true with reference to the problem you’ve raised: how do we reconcile what the Bible says about the absolute sovereignty of God with the equally valid scriptural teaching that man has been endowed with free will? If God controls everything, how can man be genuinely responsible for his own choices and actions?

Before going any further we want to point out that Focus on the Family is a non-denominational, family-oriented ministry. As such, we don’t make a habit of getting involved in theological controversies. But we can tell you this much: even those Christians who fully embrace the doctrines of election and predestination would never say that you are merely a “puppet.” Not even the staunchest Calvinist believes that God has created your non-Christian friends specifically to send them to hell. The question is far more complicated and subtle than that. It conceals a tremendous mystery, a truth that the human mind cannot grasp in its own strength.

Let’s get more specific. If you study everything the Bible has to say about divine sovereignty and human free will, what you will find is that, in some way we can’t fully explain, both are completely valid ideas. Is God completely in charge of everything? Yes: “For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure'” (Isaiah 46:9, 10). Is man answerable for his choices and actions? Absolutely: “For whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7). If we’re going to be faithful to the testimony of Scripture, we have to find a way to acknowledge both sides of the coin.

TheWestminster Confession of Faith , one of the most important and definitive documents of the Reformed wing of the Christian church, expresses it this way: “God has freely and unchangeably ordained whatsoever comes to pass: yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established” (Chapter III, section 1). On the one hand, then, God is absolutely sovereign. On the other hand, human beings have free will and are fully responsible for their own actions.

Look at it this way. You owe everything to God’s grace. It’s literally by His favor and mercy that you are what you are (1 Corinthians 15:10). But that doesn’t mean that you’re off the hook and free to do as you please. You also have to remember that the choices you make, the words you speak, and the things you do are heavy with significance. Your actions are pregnant with eternal implications. How can both statements be true at the same time? We don’t know. But God does. And we can be sure that He will explain it to us when we see Him face to face.

If you need additional help understanding these concepts, call our staff of pastoral counselors.

 

Resources
If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

What Every Christian Ought to Know Day by Day: Essential Truths for Growing Your Faith

Willing to Believe: The Controversy Over Free Will

The Faith: What Christians Believe, Why They Believe It, and Why It Matters

Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know

Mere Christianity

Basic Christianity

What The Bible Teaches: The Truths of the Bible Made Plain, Simple, and Understandable

Referrals
Christian Research Institute

Insight for Living

Lee Strobel

Articles

Becoming a Christian

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