Sunday, January 4, 2009

"Free Will" or "Sovereign Will"?

" question is: Am I correct in saying His sovereignty always wins out in the end, despite our mishaps? Our 'free will' sounds pretty scary in comparison to God's perfect omniscience. "

This is the question that Christians from the Apostle Paul's day to our own day have been wrestling with. The Bible places both paradigms side by side in a puzzling acceptance of both "wills" -- our own and Almighty God's.

For example, listen to this passage in Judges 2 (These are excerpts. To get the full impact of this passage, please read chapters 1 and 2)

"Now the angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, "I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, 'I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.' But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become (thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you." (Judges 2:1-3)

"So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he said, "Because this people has transgressed my covenant that I commanded their fathers and have not obeyed my voice, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations that Joshua left when he died, in order to test Israel by them, whether they will take care to walk in the way of the LORD as their fathers did, or not." So the LORD left those nations, not driving them out quickly, and he did not give them into the hand of Joshua." (Judges 2:20-23)

Did you see it? Apparently, Joshua and all his stalwart warriors were doing their utmost to rid the land as God commanded. But God "...did not give them into the hand of Joshua." God was both angry with His people for not completing the mission (God allowing their free will to not completely obey) AND God intended to test His people, so He therefore prevented Joshua from succeeding in completing the mission of ridding Canaan of all Canaanites (God sovereignly intervening).

Free will or Sovereign will?

Martin Luther suggested that God's will has actually three facets: Declared will , Desired will and Determinate will.

God’s Word, what He has declared in scripture, is not always obeyed even though God commanded it. God's desires are not always realized, such as that no one would perish, but all would find eternal life, even though it would please Him. But God's determined ends always come to pass.

1) Declared will – Though God’s sovereign will is hidden until it happens, God’s declared will is always available for us to see. God has declared His will through His word, the Bible. Jesus declared God’s will when He gave His instructions to the apostles. When we talk about being "led" by the Holy Spirit, we discover the Spirit is always in tune with God’s word in Scripture, so we must think about God’s word every day, and live by it.

2) Desired Will – There is tension between what pleases God and what God sovereignly wills to do. If not a sparrow falls from the sky without God caring, then how much more deeply is God concerned with what happens to His people. Sin, persecution and opposition grieve Him in ways you and I can not even imagine (Genesis 6:5-6 "Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart" ).

3) Determinate (Sovereign) Will – God is never thwarted, never frustrated or delayed or interfered with in moving forward with what He decides to do. Even when we talk about God permitting, or allowing, something – like sin, rebellion, opposition or persecution – to happen, God chooses to permit. God always has the power to intervene, to prevent actions and events.

Because God permits events, we can say, in a certain sense, that He has willed them.

God’s laws, whether written in Scripture, or written on our hearts, is binding and we have no authority to rebel against it. But God has allowed us the power, or the ability, to defy His declared will.

You and I have no excuse for our sin, there is no hiding behind the explanation that God’s sovereign will permits us to sin. It is wrong to say "What I did must be God’s will since He is in control of everything." To permit is not God’s permission.

God is not surprised by evil and God does not approve of evil. But God has sovereignly decreed that people exercise their ability to make moral choices – choosing between good and evil. Sin is proof that God does not control people the way you and I can control a puppet. But God is all-knowing and all-powerful. God gives real choices and works out His will within them from the infinite possibilities that are raised.

God says for you and I are to make every effort to work out in our lives what He has worked into us, and His promise is to "in all things work together for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose." He is able to work in, around and through people to insure the outworking of His purposes. If God were any less sovereign He would not be able to give people moral freedom because He would not be able to guarantee that His will would be done.

Understanding that God is sovereign, that ultimately He is the First Cause of all things, that nothing is out of His control, is what gives comfort and security when the going gets tough. It is God's all-powerful and all-sovereign attributes that gives the guarantee that you will endure to the end, for those who believe, for He indwells every believer.

There are many who dispute that last paragraph. In tomorrow's blog I'll lay out the basic differences between Arminian thinking and Calvinist thinking, as I understand them (and with the help of many other resources I visited to research this subject).


  1. Good stuff! You are never afraid to handle the hard truths of the Bible. Blessings, my friend.

  2. You are never afraid to handle the hard truths of the bible. Good stuff! Blessings, my friend!


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