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Does Man have “Free Will” or God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Responsibility

14 Mar

(Something I wrote up about 10 years ago, I just dug up for this Sunday night’s topic on “What is Man?”)

God doesn’t even have “Libertarian Free Will” => A person is freely able to choose any of all available options.

Let me explain…

The Shorter Catechism asks the question, “Can God do all things?” the answer is “Yes, God can do all His holy will.”

See, to say God is omnipotent is to say He can do anything and everything which is consistent with His nature – HOLY.

God cannot lie (Heb. 6:18), He cannot tempt anyone with evil (James 1:13), in short God cannot sin.

Theologically, since Augustine this has been known by the phrase, “Not able to sin.” God, by His very nature is “Not able to sin.”

Adam and Eve were created in the image of God unmarred by sin.

In the garden, Adam and Even were told not to eat.

Adam and Eve were created “Able not to sin.”

In God’s covenant with Adam, Adam had the ability not to sin and his relationship with God was dependant on his continued obedience.

However, Adam disobeyed. He sinned. God promised on the day he ate of the fruit he would die (literally the Hebrew reads, “dying you will die”).

Adam died that day spiritually and began dying physically.

As a result all mankind is born with an unregenerate nature. They are created in the image of God, but with a nature that is completely sinful, dead, depraved, unregenerate.

From the time of Adam’s sin, he and all mankind became, by their nature, “Not able not to sin.”

Just like God in His actions and even His omnipotence is “restricted” by His nature, man being created in the image of God, but being Spiritually dead is also “restricted” by his nature.

He can only act and exercise his will within the boundaries of his nature – which is dead.

Therefore, yes he does have a free will, but it is not a “Libertarian Free Will” – man cannot freely choose God, he can only freely choose to do things consistent with his nature (just like God, being in the image of God), but in his unregenerate nature his is “not able not to sin.” Everything he does is sin – even his good deeds are “filthy rags.”[1]

Therefore, no one “seeks after God” (Rom. 3:11). They can’t, it is not possible for them to choose anything outside of their nature.

Unregenerate people seek after all kinds of things, many of them religious or even “spiritual” in nature. They are looking for something to fill the hole in their soul which only God can fill. However, no man on his own is seeking God. He may be seeking a solution to his pain, but it isn’t God.

That all changes when God, by the ministry of His Word and Spirit, begins to draw a man to Himself. But, even then, it is not the man who is seeking God, it is God who is seeking Him!

Only God’s Spirit can change a man’s heart, regenerate his soul and give him a new nature! By grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to Scripture alone, to the Glory of God alone.

Once God has regenerated a man he has a new nature. However, he still has within him the flesh, the old man.

Now, consistent with his new being, and with the fact that he is a creature created in the image of God, he is “able not to sin” – we are now like Adam in the garden – but even our ability not to sin is not really our ability as it is “he that works in me both to will and do His good pleasure.”

So:

Adam in the garden                                                                                                        Able not to sin

Adam and all mankind since the Fall                                                                        Not able not to sin

Adam and all mankind who are given a new nature by God/regenerate   Able not to sin

All of God’s children in eternity with Him                                                             Not able to sin

We all long for the day of total redemption when “we will be like Him for we shall see Him as He is” – we will finally have the unmarred image of God and like Him we will be “Not able to sin!”

So how does all of this – God’s sovereignty and Man’s Responsibility “make sense” this side of Glory?

Have you ever stood in the middle of a set of railroad tracks and looked way off in the distance?

Now, you know railroad tracks are parallel lines and parallel lines don’t cross do they? But your eyes tell you something different. If you look one direction, way off in the distance the two railroad tracks seem to cross. If you turn around and look the other direction, they seem to cross in that direction too.

Well, in actual fact they don’t.

Just like parallel lines and the optical illusion of those railroad tracks God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Responsibility are completely compatible.

They are both equally true, both clearly taught in Scripture.

Parallel truths that crossed in Eternity past and will cross again in Eternity Future.

The really cool thing is those concepts are only in our minds – we live in time and space – God does not – so Eternity Past and Eternity Future are non-differentiated time descriptors for Him – these things are just true in the same way as He just IS.

Isn’t our God awesome!

To God be the glory, great things He has done!


[1] Luther wrote, The Bondage of the Will while Edwards wrote, The Freedom of the Will. These books seems to have conflicting titles, but in fact were arguing the same point, just looking at it from differing perspectives. Man’s will is free, but not in the libertarian sense. Man’s freedom to express his will is in bondage to his nature.

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