This study will present the biblical doctrine of God’s sovereignty (rule/governance/control), that unlike the theories of Evangelicalism, preserves the equally biblical doctrine of human free-will.
- God exercises His sovereignty in relation to everything that exists (small and big events, blessings and calamity, governments and cultures, who wins, who loses, planets, weather, animals, humans and angels – all of creation).
- God possesses the right to exercise His sovereignty in relation to everything that exists since He is its Creator and Owner.
- The purpose of God exercising His sovereignty is the accomplishment of His plans/promises/prophecies.
- All that God plans/promises/prophesies wb perfectly accomplished (e.g. Cyrus -Isa 44:28-45:6 [>700 B.C.]w/Ezr 1:1-11 [538 B.C.]).
- (Reformed) Evangelicals have made the mistake of embracing the heresy of theistic determinism as the way to understand how God is able to perfectly accomplish His plans, promises and prophecies.
5.1. Theistic Determinism
All things – including the decisions, actions and paths of humans and angels, are predetermined to the degree that free-will cannot exist. Our lives are instead fixed in eternity past versus being the result of our free choices in the present. As such, our future fates – or eternal states, are also fixed or predetermined (e.g. Calvinistic election: those going to heaven or hell were decided before we were created). The reasoning behind such thinking is that by allowing any level of free-will you are inviting the possibility of God failing to accomplish His will in all things. He must therefore preprogram all things in His creation to secure His intended outcome.
Why this theory should be viewed as heresy:
5.1. God is not the author of sin and evil.
If God has truly determined all our decisions, then it would include our decisions to do sin and evil. He would therefore be their author. Yet the Scripture presents God as distancing Himself – or taking no ownership, of our rebellious actions or the wickedness in the world. He is also portrayed as expressing genuine displeasure for such things, and a desire that we repent (Gen 6:5-7; Jer 7:30-34; Eze 18:23, 33:11; Mat 23:37-38; Rom 1:18; Rom 2:4 w/1Pe 3:20 = Who is God being patient toward if He has already decreed what men will do?; 2Pe 3:9).
5.2. We (us and the angels) do possess free-wills and are therefore the culpable (or responsible) authors of sin and evil.
If that were not the case, then all Scripture could ever identify us as —is victims. This however is never how the Scripture views anyone – human or angel. We are instead said to be without excuse – or having no right to complain. We are presented as possessing free-wills and therefore culpable and responsible for the sin and evil that exists (Deu 30:19; Lam 3:37-39; Eze 18:20; Rom 1:19-20 = Excuses remove responsibility. That is the purpose. God says we don’t possess excuses which means we possess the opposite: responsibility – which also means we possess free-wills!; Joh 15:22, 24-25; Jam 1:13-15 = No one can give the excuse that “God made them do it” – they are instead the ones responsible for their actions—again confirming the possession of free-wills!!; e.g. 1Ki 11:6, 9; 2Ch 12:14; e.g. a child missing school b/c they are sick versus a child missing b/c they are playing hooky).
5.3. God’s judgment of us as just, righteous or impartial is dependent on us possessing free-wills.
God is identified as just, righteous or impartial in His judgments because they are based on what we have freely chosen to do never what He decreed (Eze 18:30-32; 1Pe 1:17; Rom 2:5b-11 = The reason Paul can proclaim God as impartial in His judgment is bc [as he states in the previous verses) it wb “according to [our] works” –or the choices we made [to “seek glory and honor” or to be “self-seeking” and disobedient to “the truth”]. If God were predetermining such things, than His judgment wb partial and therefore unjust. Justice or “righteous judgment”, prohibits any form of judgment that is not based on the free [and known] choices of the person. IOW: justice requires culpability! Hence the reason our judgment before God is always spoken of as being according to our deeds [and never God’s decree or predetermined choices], Ecc 12:14; Isa 59:18; Zec 1:4; Joh 5:28-29; Co 5:9-10, 11:5; Rev 20:11-15. This [btw] is also the reason for God’s instruction in Deu 17:6 and 24:16 = For our judgment of others to be just, we must prove culpability -i.e. those being punished are those who made the choice to do the crime; See also Isa 10:5-15 = Notice God’s condemnation of the Assyrians is not based on what He sovereignly guided the nation to do – but for their [free] choice to boast as though it were accomplished by their great might).
5.4. God reacts and plans according to the actions and potential actions of people.
This may (possibly) be the greatest proof that God’s sovereignty is not deterministic nor men robots: the fact that God is reacting and planning according to what we freely choose to do – or may do (Ex 32:7-14; Jon 3:1-10; Jer 18:7-10; Exo 13:17)
5.5. God genuinely rewards and gives praise to people.
To accept this as true is to equally accept that people must possess free-wills (i.e. that they deserve the praise bc it is their actions that secured it); to deny this is to call God a liar (or fake) since He clearly does it (e.g. Gen 6:7, 22:12; Mat 25:21-23, 31-40; Rev 3:4; btw – Num 23:19 = God is not like those people who hand out medals even to kids who lost or didn’t do anything).
5.6. The early church viewed theistic determinism as heresy
“Let some suppose, from what has been said by us, that we say that whatever occurs happens by a fatal necessity, because it is foretold as known beforehand, this too we explain. We have learned from the prophets, and we hold it to be true, that punishments, chastisements, and good rewards, are rendered according to the merit of each man’s actions. Now, if this is not so, but all things happen by fate, then neither is anything at all in our own power. For if it is predetermined that this man will be good, and this other man will be evil, neither is the first one meritorious nor the latter man to be blamed. And again, unless the human race has the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions…We have learned from the prophets, and we hold it to be true, that punishments, chastisements, and rewards are rendered according to the merit of each man’s actions. Otherwise, if all things happen by fate, then nothing is in our own power. For if it be predestinated that one man be good and another man evil, then the first is not deserving of praise or the other to be blamed. Unless humans have the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions—whatever they may be.” – Justin Martyr (Christian apologist, 100-165 A.D.)
“Neither praise nor condemnation, neither rewards nor punishments, are right if the soul does not have the power of choice and avoidance, if evil is involuntary.” – Clement (Bishop of Alexandria, 150-200 A.D.)
“We were not created to die. Rather, we die by our own fault. Our free will has destroyed us. We who were free have become slaves. We have been sold through sin. Nothing evil has been created by God [He is not its author]. We ourselves have manifested wickedness. But we, who have manifested it, are able again to reject it.” – Tatian (Christian apologist, 120-180 A.D.)
“This expression, ‘How often would I have gathered my children together, and you would not,’ set forth the ancient law of human liberty, because God made man a free (agent) from the beginning, possessing his own soul to obey the precepts of God voluntarily, and not by compulsion of God…And in man as well as in angels, He has placed the power of choice…If then it were not in our power to do or not to do these things, what reason had the apostle, and much more the Lord Himself, to give us counsel to do some things and to abstain from others?…But man, being endowed with reason, and in this respect similar to God, having been made free in his will, and with power over himself, is himself his own cause that sometimes he becomes wheat, and sometimes chaff.” – Irenaeus (Bishop of Lyon, 130-200 A.D.)
“men…have freedom of choice as to both virtue and vice for you would not either honor the good or punish the bad; unless vice and virtue were in their own power, and some are diligent in the matters entrusted to them, and others faithless…” – Athenagoras (Christian apologist, 150-190 A.D.)
“There is, therefore, nothing to hinder you from changing your evil manner to life, because you are a free man.” – Melito (Bishop of Smyrna, 100- 180 A.D.)
“I find, then, that man was by God constituted free, master of his own will and power; indicating the presence of God’s image and likeness in him by nothing so well as by this constitution of his nature. For a law would not be imposed upon one who did not have it in his power to render that obedience which is due to law. Nor again, would the penalty of death be threatened against sin, if a contempt of the law were impossible to man in the liberty of his will…Man is free, with a will either for obedience or resistance.” – Tertullian (Christian apologist, 155-225 A.D.)
“This also is clearly defined in the teaching of the church that every rational soul is possessed of free-will and volition…There are, indeed, innumerable passages in the Scriptures which establish with exceeding clearness the existence of freedom of will.” – Origin (Christian theologian, 185-254 A.D.)
“Those [pagans] who decide that man does not have free will, but say that he is governed by the unavoidable necessities of fate, are guilty of impiety toward God Himself, making Him out to be the cause and author of human evils.” – Methodius (Slavic missionary, 260-315 A.D.)
“The soul is self-governed: and though the Devil can suggest, he has not the power to compel against the will. He pictures to us the thought of fornication, if you will, you can reject it. For if you were a fornicator by necessity then for what cause did God prepare hell? If you were a doer of righteousness by nature and not by will, wherefore did God prepare crowns of ineffable glory? The sheep is gentle, but never was it crowned for its gentleness; since its gentle quality belongs to it not from choice but by nature.” – Cyril of Jerusalem (Christian theologian, 312-386 A.D.)
“All is in God’s power, but so that our free-will is not lost…it depends therefore on us and on Him. We must first choose the good, and then He adds what belongs to Him. He does not precede our willing, that our free-will may not suffer. But when we have chosen, then He affords us much help…It is ours to choose beforehand and to will, but God’s to perfect and bring to the end.” – John Chrysostom (Archbishop of Constantinople, 347-407 A.D.)
“He [God] has revealed to us, through His Holy Scriptures, that there is in man a free choice of will… God’s precepts themselves would be of no use to a man unless he had free choice of will, so that by performing them he might obtain the promised rewards.” -Augustine (Bishop of Hippo and adopted saint of the Evangelical/Calvinistic Reformers, 354-430 A.D.).
5.7. Theistic determinism is not much different than the view held by many popular atheists.
In our world today, atheistic determinism (subtract God and add the universe as the controlling or sovereign agent) is the view held by many of her most popular speakers and writers.
“The moment we catch sight of the stream of causes that precede [the criminal’s] conscious decisions, reaching back into their childhood and beyond, their culpability begins to disappear.” – Sam Harris (Freewill)
“By losing free-will we gain empathy, for we realize that in the end all of us, whether Bernie Madoffs or Nelson Mandelas, are victims of circumstance…” – Jerry Coyne (Why We Really Don’t Have Free-Will)
“When a computer malfunctions, we do not punish it. We track down the problem and fix it, usually by replacing a damaged component, either in hardware or software. Isn’t the murderer or the rapist just a machine with a defective component? Why is it that we humans find it almost impossible to accept such conclusions? Why do we vent such visceral hatred on child murderers…when we should simply regard them as faulty units that need fixing or replacing? My dangerous idea is that we shall eventually grow out of all this and even learn to laugh at it, just as we laugh at (a man) when he beats his car [when it breaks down].” – Richard Dawkins (Let’s All Stop Beating Basil’s Car).
Given Calvinism’s long and formative influence on the western world, it would be both irrational and irresponsible not to assume there is a strong causal connection between its view of sovereignty and the victim mentality so prevalent today. Theistic determinism is the direct opposite of (and therefore stand opposed to) God’s justice since through its practice (justice), mankind’s ability is acknowledged and empowered.
CLOSING CONTEMPLATION: How does God exercise His sovereignty over everything that exists and perfectly accomplish His plans, promises and prophecies while at the same time never destroying the free-wills of angels and humans?
 “If there is one single molecule in this universe running around loose, totally free of God’s sovereignty, then we have no guarantee that a single promise of God will ever be fulfilled.” – RC Sproul; “This is my absolute opinion: he that will maintain that a man’s free-will is able to do or work anything in spiritual cases, be they never so small, denies Christ. This I have always maintained in my writings.” – Martin Luther