I know the Bible teaches God is sovereign in the salvation of humanity, but where do free will teachers find Biblical support for their views?
“Free will” theology is the view that faith in the Gospel is a matter of personal choice unrelated to the work of God in the heart. It believes that nothing is required to cause faith in the Gospel other than a person’s choice to believe.
This is not the teaching of the Bible. Apart from Adam and Woman (and Christ), no human being has been born with a truly free will. On the contrary, Paul says all men since Adam are born enslaved to sin and cannot choose nor please God by their fallen nature. At the moment the Lord acts to bring faith, the person is born again by the Spirit and is made a slave to Christ.
Our prideful nature assumes (and prefers to believe) that we played a part, however small, in our own salvation. We point to our decision to believe in the Gospel as the moment we “chose” Christ, yet the Bible says plainly that He chose us:
Ephesians 1:3-6 (NKJV)
Redemption in Christ
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.
The false teaching that salvation is a product of man’s “free” will is nothing new within the Church. Even in Paul’s day men were confused and misled over the origins of their faith and the manner of salvation.
For example, Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth begins with a teaching on the sovereignty of God in choosing believers from among the lesser classes of society to shame the strong and powerful. Paul wrote this chapter to dispel the myth in Corinth that men were coming to faith in the Lord because of their associations with the “right” teacher (i.e., Paul vs. Apollos), which was a type of free will heresy:
1 Corinthians 1:26-31 (NKJV)
Glory Only in the Lord
26 For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. 27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; 28 and the base (insignificant) things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, 29 that no flesh should glory in His presence. 30 But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption— 31 that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.”
Notice Paul says in verse 30 that the believers in Corinth were “in Christ Jesus” (i.e., they were believers) not because of Paul’s doing or even their own free will, but by “His doing” they were believers. It was Christ’s doing that caused the men in Corinth to accept the Gospel. Their faith was not a result of each man’s own will; it came as a matter of God’s will.
Paul taught this same principle in Romans when he says:
Romans 9:16 New (NKJV)
16 So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.
In the context of Romans 9, Paul is talking about how men receive God’s mercy. Paul says God’s mercy doesn’t depend on a man’s will, nor does it depend on how a man “runs,” which refers to his life’s works. Rather, it depends entirely on God, the One Who extends mercy according to His (God’s) will.
Furthermore, Paul taught the church in Corinth that men are not naturally receptive to the Gospel message:
1 Corinthians 1:18 (NKJV)
Christ the Power and Wisdom of God
18 For the message (preaching) of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.
Men do not accept the Gospel by their will because our fallen nature is spiritually opposed to God and therefore can never seek for God:
Romans 3:10-12 (NKJV)
10 As it is written:
“There is none righteous, no, not one;
11 There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.
12 They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable;
There is none who does good, no, not one.”
Since men lack the capacity to seek God and accept the Gospel, God must initiate faith in the heart to bring men to Himself, as Paul explains in Ephesians:
Ephesians 2:8-10 (NKJV)
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
We can only assume this false doctrine (like all false teaching) originated with Satan, since “free will” salvation is teaching that mirrors the first lie told in the Garden. Just as Woman and Adam were called to “be like God” and to determine the course of their own future independent of God’s will, likewise the enemy is determined to corrupt the Church with a message of self-reliance and independence from God, even in the matter of grace and salvation.
Many Biblical references are cited by those advocating free will salvation, but these citations are always taken out of context, misinterpreted and misapplied. Being “free indeed” (i.e., true freedom) comes by “God’s changing our nature” to free us from being “slaves to sin. .We could show many examples, but let’s examine one of the most common. John 3:16 is commonly cited as “proof” of free will salvation and the opportunity for every person to believe if they choose:
John 3:16 (NKJV)
16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
To the ears of a free will advocate, Jesus seems to be saying that salvation is equally possible for every person, but this interpretation does not fit Jesus’ words, especially in the context of John 3 overall. In 3:16 Jesus declares that the means of salvation is the belief in Him, and the outcome of belief is everlasting life so that anyone who takes the step of belief will be saved.
Free will teachers have made the (false) assumption that Jesus was defining who could be saved (i.e., everyone has equal opportunity to believe), but in reality, Jesus was speaking only about the manner of salvation (i.e., salvation is by faith in Christ). Jesus’ statement has nothing to teach regarding who might be inclined toward saving faith.
In fact, if we simply read a little further in the same chapter, we can see clearly Jesus teaching that saving faith is a consequence of God’s choice, not man’s will. Two verses later, Jesus states that if saving faith is evident in a person’s heart, it is evidence that God has chosen to open the heart and appoint the person to faith. But when faith does not come, it is evidence that the person has been judged by God already:
John 3:17-18 (NKJV)
17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
Notice that Jesus expands on His comments in John 3:16 by reminding us that those who do not accept the opportunity to believe and be saved are showing evidence that they have been “judged already” by God. According to Jesus, the inclination to believe (or not believe) was a reflection of the Father’s sovereign will for that individual.
I could point to numerous other scripture references commonly cited to support free will teaching and uncover in a similar fashion how each is misapplied and misinterpreted out of context to support a free choice viewpoint. However, that would be redundant as such false teaching tends to echo false hope. opposing the sovereignty of God. I trust the Holy Spirit will reveal the truth of these matters to you in the course of your personal studies.
“The author’s biblical interpretations and conclusions presented in this document rely on original teaching used by permission of Verse By Verse Ministry International (VBVMI). The author’s views may not represent the views of VBVMI, it’s Directors or staff. Original VBVMI teaching may be found at http://www.vbvmi.org.”
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