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Answering The Atheist
March 4, 2007 / Volume 7, Issue 9

Do humans have free will? Some Bible texts indicate yes (Deuteronomy 30:19; Joshua 24:15), whiel other texts indicate no (Acts 13:48; Romans 8:29-30; Romans 9:11-22; Ephesians 1:4-5; 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12; 2 Timothy 1:9; Jude 4). Is there a contradiction?

There are several other texts in the Scriptures besides Deuteronomy 30:19 and Joshua 24:15 which demonstrate that we have free will. I do think it interesting that only two Old Testament texts are thus employed by the questioner, and then a series of New Testament (no OT) are given as proof that we do not have free will. First, notice a few New Testament verses which reveal man's free will:

Romans 6:16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, youa re that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?

A choice is demanded and thus the exercise of free will is needed. We choose to present ourselves before sin or obedience.

Revelation 22:17 And the Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!' And let him who hears say, 'Come!' Ad let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.

The invitation is extended to "whomever desires". The Lord will not force any to be saved, and will not turn away any who desire.

Acts 17:30 Truly these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent...

God does not command what we are not able to do. Thus, "all men everywhere" may freely choose to repent.

There are certainly other New Testament texts which demonstrate our ability to choose, to exercise free will, but these will suffice. Now, to address the verses which the questioner claims contradict the notion of free will.

Acts 13:48 - Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.

Who is appointed to eternal life? Those who believe. It is not that those who are appointed will believe (which is Calvinism), but those who believe are appointed (exercise of free will).

Romans 8:29-30 - For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreoever whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.

The word "predestined" is confused at times, just as "appointed". Many believe predestination involves God's chosing one but not choosing another, but the Bible tells us that God is not a respecter of persons (Acts 10:35). The bible does not teach that some people are chosen, but others are not; rather, the Bible reveals a predestined place (Ephesians 1:3-5; Galatians 3:27).

Romans 9:11-22 - (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, 'The older shall serve the younger.' As it is written, 'Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.' What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.' So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, 'For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My powe in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.' Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens. You will say to me then, 'Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?' But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, 'Why have you made me like this?' Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction.

Just prior to the portion of text which is quoted above, Paul argued that the children of God are determined, not by fleshly seed, but by spiritual seed (Romans 9:1-10). This is so for all, whether of the nation Israel or not. However, with regard to the selecting of a nation to be His people of the Old Covenant, we read, "...Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated..." In the text, Jacob represents Israel; Esau represents Edom. This took place, not as a result of man's will or work (see Genesis 27:1-5), but God's choosing and mercy (Genesis 25:23).

As we consider Pharaoh, he willed to keep the children of Israel captive, and worked to that end, but God's plan was different. Pharaoh, who set himself against the LORD was used to display the power of God in all the earth. How is it that God hardened Pharaoh's heart? Simply by giving him a command that he would not obey. God did not violate Pharaoh's will; Pharaoh violated God's will.

Verse 19-22 answer Jewish complaints against the LORD regarding their rejection and judgment by the LORD. If God wants to show His wrath and make His power known through judgment of the Jews, it is in His power to do so. Several times through the history of the Jews, He had done so, as they wandered in and out of sin. But it is no violation of man's free will for God to judge the nation.

Ephesians 1:4-5 - just as He cose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.

How did God "choose" and "predestine" us? It is "in Him", that is, in Christ Jesus. As noted earlier (in the notes on Romans 8:29-30), Galatians 3:27 reveals how we get "in Christ" - through obedient faith, and being baptized into Christ.

2 Thessalonians 2:11-12 - And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

Notice that the initial occurrence here is that these folks in queestion "...did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness." This being their desire, God sends delusion upon them, allowing them to believe the lie which they have loved. God does not violate their free will in this; they chose a lie over the truth.

2 Timothy 1:9 - who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began

Verse 10 reveals that Christ has "...brought life and immortality to light through the gospel..." It is not by our own works that we have been saved, but through our subjection to the LORD's will, and obedience to the gospel message. Our salvation is dependent upon us forsaking our own will and purpose, and submitting to the will and purpose of God. This is not contrary to free will. We are free to choose whether we will serve God or ourselves.

Jude 4 - For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Why were these men marked out for condemnation? Is it because God has simply rejected them and desires to destroy them? Or, is it because of their wicked works? The former is contrary to the desire of God (2 Peter 3:9). These mark themselves for condemnation because they walk in an ungodly manner.

None of the texts listed stand contrary to free will. God has given each of us the ability to choose to serve Him or to reject Him. All are free to choose life or death. There is no contradiction.

This article is a response to Skeptic's Annotated Bible