My Free Will Mea Culpa – Part 1
I keep coming up with ideas for future posts and have come to realize that the majority of them emphasize human choice. I was always taught that the Christian way of life centers around making good decisions from a position of strength (for the Christian, the more bible doctrine, or truth, you know the stronger you are spiritually). So, rather than beat around the bush, I have decided to declare my position on the subject and show my reasoning.
I am not really trying to win anyone over “to my side” with these posts (there will be at least two). If anyone reads this and disagrees with me then that is fine, you do not answer to me and I do not answer to you. As Christians we all answer to a higher authority. However, be forewarned. If you accuse me of advocating libertarian free will, semi-Pelagianism, or Arminianism do not expect me to crawl into a corner and assume a fetal position. I don’t accept that my beliefs are really consistent with any of these positions so I tend to ignore such stuff.
My plans for this are larger than a single post should be so I am going to break it up into at least two. In Part 1 I am going to briefly demonstrate my logic on a few well known passages of scripture. Of course, entire books have been written on the subject so I will not do justice to it. My hope is that you all will be able to see how I approach the subject and, at least, see that I am being consistent with my core beliefs.
In Part 2 I will briefly summarize my understanding of the some of the philosophical ideas about free will and why they leave me flat. Then I will briefly give my main reason for believing that the bible teaches free will.
Are We Predestined to Heaven or Hell?
In the many arguments that I’ve had regarding this subject there are a few passages that have repeatedly come up so I have made a point of studying them. I know that those who hold to limited atonement use more passages than these few. However, if you will follow my logic here you will probably get a good idea of how I would approach the other passages as well.
It is very easy when dealing with this to write a lot of words but not provide much information. My hope is that you can get a feel for how I think without boring you to death.
Most of the passages used to buttress the limited atonement argument come from Romans chapter 9 along with Ephesians 1:4. I have always leaned toward the view that Paul in Romans 9 is speaking about the nation of Israel rather than individuals. That is consistent with his theme of his mourning over Israel. The Old Testament passages that Paul quotes also appear to me to be speaking of the national entity rather than individuals.
First, one of the most famous passages from the Book of Romans:
11 for the children being not yet born, neither having done anything good or bad, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth,
12 it was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger.
13 Even as it is written, Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.
Before going on I would like to point out that verse 13 is a quote from Malachi chapter 1:
2 I have loved you, saith Jehovah. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother, saith Jehovah: yet I loved Jacob;
3 but Esau I hated, and made his mountains a desolation, and gave his heritage to the jackals of the wilderness.
4 Whereas Edom saith, We are beaten down, but we will return and build the waste places; thus saith Jehovah of hosts, They shall build, but I will throw down; and men shall call them The border of wickedness, and The people against whom Jehovah hath indignation for ever.
In Malachi 1:2 Jehovah (or YHWH if you prefer) declares his love for Jacob (the nation of Israel) and in verse 3 He states His hatred of Esau (the nation of Edom). As I had mentioned before, the emphasis of Romans 9-11 is the nation of Israel. The quote from the Book of Malachi emphasizes the nations that are descended from Jacob and Esau and is consistent with that theme. I tend to believe that the Apostle Paul is not discussing individuals here, he is discussing nations. Jehovah elected the nation of Israel to a purpose (a nation, a seed, and a worldwide blessing per the Abrahamic covenant). It was Jehovah’s right to choose the nation of Israel (Jacob) over the nation of Edom (Esau). Personal salvation is not being discussed here.
The next several verses continue the theme and are often claimed to bolster the case for a predestined elect:
14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.
15 For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.
16 So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy.
Here Paul is referring to this passage from Exodus:
18 And he said, Show me, I pray thee, thy glory.
19 And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and will proclaim the name of Jehovah before thee; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.
In Exodus 33:18-19 Moses is asking permission from God to see His glory. If the passage in Exodus has nothing to do with personal salvation (and it doesn’t) why should the passage in Romans have anything to do with personal salvation? God had mercy and showed Moses His glory but Moses was saved long before this.
I will quote one more passage from Romans 9:
20 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why didst thou make me thus?
21 Or hath not the potter a right over the clay, from the same lump to make one part a vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?
22 What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction:
23 and that he might make known the riches of his glory upon vessels of mercy, which he afore prepared unto glory,
24 even us, whom he also called, not from the Jews only, but also from the Gentiles?
The potter and the clay were used in several passages in the Old Testament (Isa. 29:16, Isa. 45:9, Isa. 64:8, and Jer. 18:1-6). I once again view the “potter and the clay” passages as speaking about the nation of Israel.
I will admit that I could be wrong about the “nation of Israel” interpretation of these passages yet even then I still hold that free will is in play regarding personal salvation. However, rather than trying to inarticulately cobble together an explanation I am going to give an extended quote from “Calvinism: A Closer Look.” I believe the author makes the points I would like to only much better.
In the following quotes I am going to provide links to the passages he quotes rather than produce the quotes themselves in order to save space.
…But again we would not agree with certain non-Reformed commentators who think Romans 9 is using the term ‘Pharaoh’ as merely a metaphor of the entire nation he ruled. Pharaoh is treated in Romans 9 as an individual, much like Jacob and Esau are treated earlier in the chapter, and not merely (though perhaps primarily) as the representative head of a nation. For example, the phrase, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated,” is an Old Testament reference from Malachi 1:2ff, which refers to the nations which descended from these two men; yet Romans 9:16 states that the matter of salvation is not of him that desires, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. As for Jacob and Esau, these were individuals whose relationship with each other would be largely representative of the kind of struggle experienced by their respective descendents. Thus we ought not to follow certain (non-Reformed) scholars into concluding that the “vessels of wrath” refer only to nations, not individuals, as we have earlier noted. It should be observed further that Romans 9:17 is certainly speaking of Pharaoh as an individual. Moreover, it is Pharaoh the individual who serves as the example of divine judgment which prompts the skeptic’s question in Romans 9:19, which in turn prompts Paul’s general answer via the pot/potter metaphor in verses 20 and 21. But again, the chief question at hand is whether the vessels of wrath in the Old Testament are described as merely the recipients of God’s constructs upon them, or whether they are willful nations/persons acting in rebellion of their own accord. The answer seems plain enough in Isaiah 45:1-19 and Jeremiah 18:1-17:
Notice the strong similarity between Isaiah 45:9 (”Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker—An earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth! Will the clay say to the potter ‘What are you doing?’ “) with Romans 9:20 (”…who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it?”). The preceding verse (Is. 45:8) explains what prompts men to accuse God with such belligerent questions. It is, in fact, their resentfulness against God and His righteousness. They would not have God (”He has no hands”) nor His righteousness which drips down from heaven and pours itself out on the earth (”What are you doing?… What are you begetting?”). God’s righteousness is an effrontery to man because it shows the standard of measurement by which he (man) shall be judged. Man resists any outside system of accountability and wants to believe that his responses to life are always justified. And he wants to justify himself so that divine mercy can be regarded irrelevant. Putting the matter as a kind of financial metaphor, we might say that a man wants to be his own accountant, his own IRS, his own government, and his own judicial system. Naturally, then, man resents and replies against any other system. The Bible even indicates that a man’s death will not alter his rebellious attitude in this regard. Note those, for example, whom Christ said would make a reply against Him in the afterlife while still calling him ‘Lord’: “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then will I profess unto them, ‘I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.’ ” In effect, people will be saying, “Are we not righteous, Lord? Surely the good works we have done are also regarded favorably in Your system of reckoning, are they not?”
Jeremiah 18:1-17 likewise gives us the metaphor of the pot and potter to show how all vessels are subject to God’s standard of righteous judgment. The pot is found marred in the potter’s hand, not by the potter’s hand. Despite the strong language God uses in verse 6 (”Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel”), the pot is not regarded at any time as unable in will to resist God, but unable in will to resist the judgment of God [my emphasis]. This is made plain by the context. God says if a nation repents of its evil He will change His mind regarding the destruction He had thought to bring. Conversely, if a nation does evil He will reconsider the blessing He had intended to bestow. God is thus seen here as responding to what a nation itself decides will be its moral course. This manner in which God speaks of changing His mind does not affect the argument that God will respond according to what men do. God can change His intention despite His foreknowledge, for His foreknowledge is not tantamount to predestination (as Calvinists would understand and define predestination). At any rate, clearly, these pots are not void of exerting their will. This is made even plainer with the examples of Judah and Jerusalem who displeased God and were therefore admonished to turn back to Him. Their decision to remain rebellious is shown in Jeremiah 18:12 and echoes the same attitude of the belligerent vessel of Isaiah 45: “It’s hopeless! For we are going to follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.” Where, we ask, is the Calvinistic doctrine of divinely-appointed reprobation even suggested in all this?
In closing I want to quickly touch on Ephesians 1:4 which is another text often used to support dual predestination. Mr. Gracely (the author of “Calvinism: A Closer Look”) provides an extensive series of quotes by Andrew Telford who wrote “Subjects of Sovereignty.” There is one short quote that truly sums up my understanding of the passage:
III. The Certainty of Adoption
Let us now turn to Ephesians 1:4, 6
4. “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:”
6. “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.”
…For our blessing, and for our comfort, and that we might have full assurance, God has made a tremendous statement in this Scripture regarding the certainty of our Adoption. Notice this verse: “Having predestinated us unto the Adoption.” Our Adoption is in the predestination purpose of God for the Church which is His Body. Remember that the word “Predestinate” always carries with it certainty and surety. Our Adoption is certain since it was predestinated that every believer shall arrive at that goal. Let us look up and thank God, that one day we shall be Son-Placed. Bless God for the assurance of it, and let us daily live in anticipation of this coming experience. God has given us this truth to strengthen our faith and deepen our hope. God says we will be Son-Placed, and please remember that God cannot lie.
We (believers) were predestinated for adoption the moment we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. No unbeliever is ever predestined to anything while they are still alive; predestination comes at the moment of salvation. Chapter 16 is full of good information and I recommend that any reader follow the link and go through it.
I will finish with these three verses:
16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.
9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some count slackness; but is longsuffering to you-ward, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
2 Peter 3:9
3 This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;
4 who would have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth.
1 Timothy 2:3-4
I see no reason to believe that these verses are only speaking of the elect (unless the Apostles John, Peter, and Paul were all very sloppy in their writing). If Christ paid the price for the world’s sins and God the Father desires that we all come to repentance then the explanation is man choosing to reject the offer of salvation.
To be continued…