Table of Contents
FREE WILL VS PREDETERMINATION OF GOD’S WILL
God’s will for salvation compared to humanity’s attempts to bypass His means
There are two fundamental options according to the Bible about Free Will vs Predetermination –
- We either receive and believe God’s truth from the outside coming in or we believe the devil’s outside influence on our will.
- We determine our will from within, which turns out to be a similar approach as the devil’s option in #1.
Christians share the same passages, such as Romans 10:9-10, in defense of their differing views about the roles of free will vs. predetermination and predestination affecting salvation. The cause that leads to variations in interpretation can be traced to core beliefs. Core beliefs often force an interpretation instead of letting Scripture breathe freely. We will go to the Root of beliefs to see if there is a clear biblical foundation before answering this most important, life-changing question – Are we to believe or not to believe in free will?
In this example below, we will examine belief itself. What are we to conclude when “belief” is a requirement for salvation? Romans 10:9-10a –
… if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified…
When we examine two extreme viewpoints, we notice that the term “believe” is nothing without association to deeper theology.
The term “heart” is important to understand within this context. Is it our inner being or some other meaning? David thought he needed a new heart created for him in Psalm 51:10 – Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
Jeremiah 17:9a The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick;
However, there is good news that Ezekiel shares with us!
Ezekiel 36:26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
Acts 15:7-9 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us,and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.”
Calvinists and similar viewpoints interpret that to “believe” means to trust in God instead of depending on their belief. The focus is the Object of belief, not individual degrees, or strength of belief. This key stems from God’s predetermined will, not that a person can “will” themselves toward salvation. We just learned that our heart is not capable of making any good decisions, so we cannot will ourselves into God’s grace as an acceptable act.
The opposite of free will is true. We are to deny our will, our self (Luke 9:23).
It does not matter how deeply you believe in Santa Claus. Truth is objective in this case. Subjective truth does not bring gifts to you, even if you are 100% certain Santa exists.
The objective truth of predestination is paramount to understand. The explanation we are looking for points to reliance and trust in God’s predetermined will.
Arminianists and similar free will advocates believe that some willful response on our part is required to complete God’s acceptance of our faith (i.e., God created free will as part of the salvation process to determine who is a genuine believer). Can humanity respond to the gospel under our natural condition?
Adherents to a free will view may believe that God is testing people to make sure we answer His question about accepting the plan of grace. Here, faith and belief are connected as an act required by humanity.
This brings faith to our attention. When considering two extremes, faith is tied to free will or is a gift exclusively from God’s predetermined will. There is no middle ground. A progression of faith starts from the outside of us before it transforms us. This is crucial.
Romans 10:17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
A paradoxical view of free will and God’s predetermination at work during the same process will not be discussed. We will conclude that this is unnecessary to consider.
One issue with faith being connected to free will is that it adds works of the flesh upon grace. This is because free will could be considered a necessary act that enables grace unto salvation. Thoughts and decisions under our “control” should be considered as works of the flesh that attempt to finalize grace and faith.
Is faith a work on our part or a gift from God? The later, as we shall examine. There is only one answer to this question since there is no formula like grace + works = salvation.
We can look at another aspect of free will of the spirit, not of the flesh, to see a similar example. This seems to be a way of bypassing the idea of performing a good work to go to Heaven because the flesh is always mentioned as corrupt (Romans 7:18). A person could believe their flesh or mind is sinful, but somehow their spirit can make a decision acceptable to God that will enable faith.
Romans 8:5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.
When we first look at Romans 8, we notice the importance of the Spirit. However, it is the Holy Spirit, not ours. We see this later in Romans 8:13-14 –
For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
Without the Spirit of God coming into our lives, we cannot make any good decision. We should notice this in Job 32:8 – But it is the spirit in man, the breath [Spirit] of the Almighty, that makes him understand.
Job did not state “the spirit of man.” God’s word comes first, through the Holy Spirit, before we can believe. He comes into us since the Spirit is not natural to us (John 3:3-6).
Ephesians 1:13-14 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
We notice a progression of salvation in many passages. It is repeated from the Old Testament to the New. God’s word is delivered, then people can believe it through the Holy Spirit, or they can remain in their natural unbelief.
1 Corinthians 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
We also notice in Peter’s first recorded sermon, the Word was spoken into their inner being (heart) before the listeners were ready to repent (deny themselves) and trust in God’s grace.
Acts 2:37-38 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
God has predetermined how people are saved. It is His election by grace through faith. This is the means He established where the process begins by delivering His word through the Holy Spirit. His word is tied to His predetermined will.
Acts 13:48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.
God saves us by His promises established in His word, since we cannot do any work to help God, or save ourselves by trusting our strength of belief.
2 Timothy 1:9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,
Ephesians 1:4-5 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In lovehe predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,
We also need to understand universalism compared to individualism.
Universally, everyone is able to be saved through His single act on the Cross, and we are all universally born subject to sin and death (Romans 5:18).
Individually, there are people elected for God’s purpose before the foundation of the world, as we saw in the passages above. However, the non-elect remain within the universal category of people born under sin, death and the devil.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.
Ephesians 2:3b were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
1 John 5:18–19 We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.
The Meaning of Life
This brings up an important question. Why did God subject all people to the devil, sin and death under His perfect will? It is to magnify His mercy (Romans 11:32; Titus 3:3-7).
It does not seem “fair” that God predestined Adam and the entire earth to death if He only elected some out of this state to eternal life. It would seem fairer that we get to choose eternal life or reject God. It is easier if we blame Adam for sinning and not think about the complexity of Adam’s will. It is good that we did not make the rules. There is a better way.
There is no mention in the Bible that God foreknew we would choose to believe Him so we can be saved. Foreknowledge of our acts is not related to predetermination that allows predestination. God foreknew us by His will to be His children (Romans 8:29-30).
Are we missing something? Did God pre-program everything so that we are like robots to worship Him with no free will?
God did not create robots to worship Him since He does not need our worship (Psalm 50:7-15).
Acts 17:24-25 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.
The answer we are looking for is that He created us to give His loving nature to us so that we can be like Him and ultimately dwell in person with Him.
1 John 4:7–8 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
James 4:5b He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us?
Revelation 21:3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”
Judgment Day for the Unrighteous
There are more aspects about judgment to consider. Can God fairly judge people He did not elect out of the death condition? This makes little sense from a human perspective. Since “His thoughts are not our thoughts,” we need to look at another perspective.
Certainly, God can elect whomever He desires. This is fair because it is His creation. However, the non-elect case is very interesting.
When God judges the non-elect, will they complain about not being elected? In response, the entirety of humanity is in the same boat of sin and death. Also, Christ’s act has allowed the forgiveness of sins for every person. But still, it does not seem completely fair.
Romans 1:18-25 reports a great explanation, concluding with – Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity… because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator…
The conclusive answer is that all people will be judged by their deeds. It boils down to selfish acts of the human heart compared to living outside of self through God’s word. Their deeds will convict them, not that they were unelected. See Matthew 25:41-46.
Is there any other difference between the elect and non-elect groups even if the elect have been temporarily given over (consigned) to sin?
Paul thinks consignment is the smartest concept ever invented. Romans 11:32-33 –
For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
Jews and Gentiles, saints and sinners, are allowed to be tempted, subjected to the devil, etc. The reason God has determined this is His focus on grace and mercy. Nobody may claim credit or add to His plan of salvation. This includes decisions by human free will.
The good news is that our adverse condition is temporary. We are purchased back, redeemed, from our natural state.
Galatians 4:3-6 In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
People can blame Adam, God, or the devil for allowing sin to come into the world. Romans 9 explains it from God’s responsibility on a universal scale (other passages speak about Adam and us on the individual scale of our responsibility).
Romans 9:13-24 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?”Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?
Solomon summarizes in Proverbs 6:4 – The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.
2 Corinthians 4:3-4 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
Judgment Day for the Elect
As with the non-elect, the elect will be judged by our deeds. See Matthew 25:31-40.
This is where more confusion comes in. How can we be judged by works if the flesh is corrupt and we are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone?
There are two sets of judgments. We are judged and we are not judged. Now enters the paradox of judgment – we are not judged by our works to be saved, but we are judged for rewards. There are many passages to support a separate judgment for eternal life compared to judgments of works. See John 3:18-21 and these examples below.
John 5:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
Romans 2:5b-8 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will render to each one according to his works:to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.
Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who arein Christ Jesus.
Matthew 16:27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.
2 Corinthians 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil.
Revelation 22:12 Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.
Please read Romans 5:12-21. This explains why Adam is blamed for sin coming into the world. Since Adam, man has always been created in the womb as flesh. Christ gets credit for saving the world because He was born of the Spirit (Matthew 1:18). The works of the flesh can only produce selfishness, while the Spirit of Christ produces good works.
Romans 8:9-10 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
Interestingly, we get rewarded for doing good works we cannot take credit for. Paul stated he cannot boast in his works since Christ became righteous for us.
1 Corinthians 1:27-31 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are,so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Paul also stated a thorough explanation of judgment and good works of the righteous. This is based upon the foundation of God’s grace he mentioned in 1 Corinthians 3:6-15.
I [Paul] planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.
Summary of God’s Determination for Our Salvation
- To summarize judgment and fairness on God’s part, we can state – All people are subject to the same adverse conditions of death and the temporary nature of our life. God has predetermined this judgment long ago (Genesis 3:19 and Hebrews 9:27). This is fair on a human level in that we are all equal.
- People who reject God are self-centered. Rejection is to remain in their natural state, only having the ability to sin. They have no free will to accept God under human nature (called the flesh in some passages). See 1 Corinthians 2:14.
- The non-elect are judged by their works. This is fair as established by God’s creation. There is no excuse since the fundamental knowledge of God is apparent to every person. This is fully explained in.Romans 1:18-20 and Romans 2:6-16. They reject God’s natural law to remain in their death condition.
- People who believe in the true God are called the elect. We know we cannot save ourselves and it is only by grace we are saved, not free will. It is by the Holy Spirit that we received the Word of faith to believe. However, we experience human nature that Paul describes throughout Romans 7 and in a shorter form found in Galatians 5:16-18. At any time, we can reject God (not believe) under the free will of human nature. The two natures of Spirit and flesh run parallel our entire lives.
- The elect will be rewarded for good works. This is quite amazing since we are given the ability to carry out God’s will through the power of His spirit working in us. We get “paid” for stewarding gifts we did not originally own. We receive the gift of grace for salvation, then the gift of faith to carry out His will. His will includes good works (love our neighbor, etc). His nature is to love, so we are expected to love others by spreading His grace with good works (2 Corinthians 9:8).
1 John 3:10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.
1 John 4:10-13 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
Once Saved, Always Saved?
There is a line between “once saved, always saved” and God’s election. The latter is certain, while the former is not true according to Scripture. There are many conditional election passages that repeat the same theme. Here are a few –
1 Corinthians 15:2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
Colossians 1:22–23a [H]e has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard.
Hebrews 3:12–14 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.
It seems complicated when we think about someone who was saved then lost their salvation. Although the warnings are clear, we do not need to overcomplicate this anymore. The solution has always been the same – do not reject God’s word. There is absolutely no need to worry about if we are elected or not. We are the elect if we believe God’s word and abide in Him (John 15:1-17).
We are to live by every word that comes out of the mouth of God (Deuteronomy 8:3).
This means we have all the promises that God will keep us, preserve us, in the faith (Ephesians 1:13-14). This comes with a 100% guarantee.
2 Corinthians 1:21-22 And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.
1 John 2:25 And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life.
The free will argument doesn’t address that all people are born to die (Hebrews 9:27) from one aspect of the universal election perspective. Many believe that choosing to sin makes a person a sinner to deserve death. This is true, but there is a higher level of importance that supersedes individual acts that will be punished or forgiven.
We are born selfish. It is our nature to sin. This creates the basis for sinful acts. The Bible speaks plainly about us being born into sin and death such as in the previous passages.
Rejection of God’s will is to remain within our “constrained” will we were born with. We are free to sin all we want, yet that is not true freedom. It is bondage (John 8:34). Being free to roam within limits is a constraint. Restricted areas control our lives (Romans 6:16).
We may feel we have options to get out of our restricted zone by methods such as accepting God’s forgiveness. If we believe that we chose to sin in the first place, it makes sense from a human perspective to choose our way back into God’s grace where we started. However, we were not born into the life of the Spirit. It is the Church’s role to baptize people into a new life (Matthew 28:19-20; 1 Corinthians 12:12-13).
I think confession of faith is confused with choice by some people. Confessing something is not a choice. It is based on a fact. It is belief that the article confessed is true. Christian confession is based upon Objective Truth delivered by the Holy Spirit.
“Upon this rock” of confession is a good example. Peter believed Christ is Lord in Matthew 16:16. He did not believe that his choice mattered at all. He believed in something greater than his thoughts or actions.
This is all explained in Romans 10 – the Object comes first with the Word being delivered. Some free will advocates seem to pass by verse 8 and skip to verse 9. They may interpret “if you confess” as a choice, but it is not a decision we make to accept God into our heart.
Romans 10:8-11 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”
Summary of Free Will and Predestination
God’s will and His word come first when considering the order of the salvation process. Salvation is a process. It is not a onetime event. God’s will is to keep us, save us, preserve us, until the resurrection. Please see the appendix for Bible passages that use different verb tenses to help describe salvation as a process over time.
We need to trust that His intended purpose alone allows salvation and good works through the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, we remain in the state of rejection (self-centeredness). This is the state we are born into, known as man’s will or the flesh.
Rejection can be seen in John 6:63-65. Here, Christ did not ask the listeners in the passage if they understood His message so they can make an intelligent choice. He simply stated that people need to believe. We do not fully understand election, predetermination, or other aspects of God’s will. However, we are asked to believe.
Peter made another confession as an example in John 6:68-69. He stated Christ has the words of eternal life, not that he needed to convince Christ how strong his faith was.
Remember, Peter said in Acts 15:7-11 that new Gentile believers had the same gift of faith as the apostles. Apostles had a great calling but not greater faith since no person can generate their own faith.
Faith forms when we receive God’s grace, then is completed when we act in obedience to God. Faith is a bridge from grace given to living by this gift.
God does everything on purpose. We do not understand all His plans, but consignment to sin and death is temporary. We are subject to remain in sin and death until we are purchased back – redeemed. We were purchased when we became born again. We are not our own self anymore, or self-centered, as the Spirit’s will now lives in us (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). We moved from a relationship with death to life.
The aim of this article is to focus on Objective Truth. Once we believe in this principle, hopefully, it will lead us to a clearer understanding of free will vs. predestination.
James 4:6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
The proud reject God’s grace. The humble deny themselves and lose their life to save it.
Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
“Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.” All scripture quotes in italics.
All bold-face type within Scripture quotations has been added by the author for emphasis.
© 2021 by K.J. Soze
Reference material – Please click the salvation passages link here. This is a list of past, present and future verb tenses that help explain salvation as a process God uses.
Here are some links of interest that are related to this article –
Click here for a response to hyper-calvinism being anti-missionary. This link is from page 417 of this book – https://www.google.com/books/edition/Baptist_Church_Perpetuity/LyF8148-tccC
or here – https://www.amazon.com/Baptist-Church-Perpetuity-Continuous-Existence/dp/1579789064