Calvinists give lip-service to man’s free will, but they do not believe in it. They say that man, to have free will, needs only to voluntarily choose his acts in accord with his desires and motives; it matters not that God, as Sovereign, has foreordained these desires and motives, along with the choices themselves. Now, does this sound like free moral agency to you?
According to Calvinists, a person may have only one course of action open to him and still be free. “For example,” they say, “a man may be locked in a room, but not want to get out. He, therefore, cannot get out (that is certain), but equally he does not want to get out (he is not there against his will)” (D. A. Carson, Divine Sovereignty And Human Responsibility, p. 207). In other words, even though, in their view, God has foreordained every single choice one makes, every choice remains free because God has also foreordained that each choice man makes will be voluntary. Such nonsense is explained (?) by Carl F. H. Henry, the founding editor of Christianity Today, noted theologian, educator, lecturer, and author of more than twenty-five books, who said:
To be morally responsible man needs only the capacity for choice, not the freedom of contrary choice…. Human beings voluntarily choose to do what they do. The fact that God has foreordained human choices and that His decree renders human actions certain does not therefore negate human choice (God, Revelation And Authority, Vol. VI, pp. 84-85).
As the famed Calvinist Loraine Boettner asserts, “God so controls the thoughts and wills of men that they freely [?] and willingly [?] do what He has planned for them to do” (The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, p. 222, the brackets are mine). In an attempt to prop up his flawed theology, Boettner observed, “It is very noticeable, and in a sense it is reassuring to observe the fact, that the materialistic… philosophers deny as completely as do Calvinists this thing that is called free will” (ibid.). How anyone who claims to believe in the Bible could feel reassured because materialistic philosophers had come to the same conclusion as he is shocking. It is apparent that although Calvinists are disposed to cite their “free will” shibboleths, they do not, for a moment, believe that man has free moral agency.
Man Possesses Free Will
There are many Bible passages that present the reception of God’s blessing or cursing as contingent upon human choice. This is outlined in Deuteronomy 11:26-28, which says:
Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you today; and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way which I command you today, to go after other gods which you have not known.
When Joshua challenged the people to “choose you this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15), he was addressing individuals who were free to make a moral decision. This is no place made clearer than in Matthew 23:37, where Jesus cried:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!
Thus, the Bible teaches conclusively and emphatically that man has free will.
God’s Will Can Be Rejected
As the passages cited above teach, not only does man possess free will, but he can, in fact, exercise this free will in a way that defies God’s will. In other words, although God is Sovereign Ruler, He does not always get everything He wants. To the Calvinists, such a statement is utterly unthinkable and entirely contrary to their concept of God’s sovereignty. Even so, in Isaiah 65:12, God said, “Therefore I will number you for the sword, and you shall all bow down to the slaughter; because, when I called, you did not answer; when I spoke, you did not hear, but did evil before My eyes, and chose that in which I do not delight.” Again, in 2 Peter 3:9, it is plainly stated that God is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” If, as the Calvinists claim, God decrees everything that happens, and if, as the apostle Peter claims, God is not willing that any should perish, then all mankind will ultimately be saved. But even Calvinists reject the idea of Universalism. What, then, is their solution? Simply this: They must come to understand that Calvinism is not just anti-scriptural, which is certainly bad enough, but is anti-God as well. Calvin’s little “g” god is not the big “G” God who has revealed Himself in the Bible. Calvin’s god, apart from anything the creature may or may not do, predestines some to eternal life and others to eternal damnation. On the other hand, the God who has revealed Himself in the Bible pleads with His creatures to obey His preceptive will so they might be saved. This God, as opposed to Calvin’s god, “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
Why Does God Permit Men To Reject His Will?
When men begin to say that God can force a man to do His will freely, they are talking meaningless nonsense. Citing a passage that says, “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26), does not provide these folks any help. The “all things” that are possible with God are qualified by other scriptures and the law of non-contradiction. For example, the Bible says God cannot lie! (Titus 1:2). Therefore, it is not possible for God to lie. This means that the “all things” that are possible with God must be those things consistent with His divine nature. Further, God cannot make 2 + 2 = 5. He cannot make it be raining and not raining in the same place at the same time. He cannot give a hydrogen atom and a helium atom the same atomic structure. Finally, even God could not make man free and not free at the same time in the same way. For man to be free, God had to give him the opportunity to rebel.
But there is much more to this story. In Psalm 32:1, David says, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” In verse 5, he continues: “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.” In verses 8-9, the Lord replies:
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye. Do not be like the horse or like the mule, which have no understanding, which must be harnessed with bit and bridle, else they will not come near you.
Why did God allow David to sin? Why did He not simply stop David from sinning in the first place? The answer seems obvious: God did not want His servants to serve Him because they are forced to do so. He wants those who will serve Him to do so freely, willingly accepting His instructions and counsel. He wants a relationship with His creatures based on mutual affection and love, and not because of some force.
The Almighty God, if He so desired, had the power to bridle His creatures by forcefully manipulating their minds and hearts, turning them into robots, so that they do His will. But if He had done this, He would not be able to achieve His purpose of developing free relationships—like the one He desired with David—with His creatures.
Indeed, He wants all men to repent and enter a free-love relationship with Himself. If He forced them to do this, as Calvinists allege, their allegiance could not be freely given, that is, they would no longer be men but mules. God, who made man in His image, wants him to be conformed to the image of His Son (cf. Romans 8:29). Unless man has free moral agency, this simply cannot be done!
What Man’s Freedom Cost God
Man’s free moral agency is a unique gift from God Almighty. Without it, we could not be what and who we are. No other earthly creature has been given this special freedom. Furthermore, it should almost go without saying that only God could have made a creature with free moral agency. Therefore, man’s free will is a constant reminder of God’s omnipotence. But for many, and this includes Calvinists, the opposite is true. As the secular philosopher J. L. Mackie says,
There is a fundamental difficulty in the notion of an omnipotent God creating men with free will, for if men’s wills are really free this must mean that even God cannot control them, that is, that God is no longer omnipotent (“Evil and Omnipotence,” God and Evil: Reading in the Theological Problem of Evil, ed. Nelson Pike, p. 57).
In his book, The Inexhaustible God, Royce Gruenler says that man’s free will, which necessitates a future that is open and indefinite, is “logically incompatible with the doctrine of a sovereign God” (pp. 43-44). In other words, Calvinists believe that if man has free will, then God is, in fact, impotent.
The fallacy in all this will be more completely exposed in the section to follow on foreknowledge. At this point, suffice it to say that it is God’s foreknowledge which permits Him to maintain complete control of His world in spite of man’s free will, because foreknowledge gives God the option of either permitting or preventing man’s planned, free will choices, and as was pointed out in the previous chapter on God’s permissive will, prevention is really the ultimate in control.
Therefore, man’s free will does not render God impotent. Nevertheless, it does, in fact, limit Him. But if God is really limited, then how can He continue to be omnipotent? Are not these two concepts mutually exclusive? Only in the mind of the determinists! As has already been pointed out, the “all things” that are possible with God are qualified by both Scripture and the law of non-contradiction. God can do all things consistent with His nature and that are not, in and of themselves, illogical. Therefore, if God, of His own free will, chooses to create creatures with free moral agency, and in order to do so, He must limit Himself, such self-limitations are not a denigration of His omnipotence, as the determinists think, but are, instead, a powerful demonstration of it, which is exactly the point I made at the beginning of this subsection.
To ensure man’s autonomy, God, of His own free will, was willing to pay a tremendous price. Although He did not have to do so, the Almighty God was willing to limit Himself in relation to His creation. This gives us some idea of just how important man is to God. Furthermore, and this ought to humble us greatly, the final measure of God’s concern for man is to be found in the sacrifice of His only begotten Son. Praise God, the Sovereign Ruler, for His willingness to give us our freedom, even though it ultimately cost Him the sacrifice of His only begotten Son.
“Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns!” (Revelation 19:6).