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I have been mulling over beliefs surrounding free will.

I know we have a choice to choose Christ or to reject him, but to what extent are our day to day choices our own? A friend recently challenged me saying, God knows the beginning to the end, therefore he has already made his plans and our actions are destined to be whatever they are going to be.

I agree, God is omniscient but I feel somewhere in there we have a part to play in making choices. I would like to challenge my friend's thinking on free will but I'm not sure where to even being, it's a very layered matter.

Josh 24:15 - And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

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In some circles, there is a common mis-understanding that God's perfect omniscience (including fore-knowledge) eliminates the freedom of choice. This is logically false. Allow me to illustrate.

A well-trained and experienced school-teacher will often know, within a few weeks of the beginning of the year, who among the students will pass and fail. That knowledge, even where perfect, does not prevent the choices of each student to either (a) work and study hard and pass or (b) goof-off and fail.

The same is true of God - while God knows perfectly who will choose to accept God's free-offer of salvation and who will not, that does not alter the function of free will.

The theological basis for this is set out in a series of appendices below.

  • We are all required, under the prompting of the holy Spirit to choose to serve God because of his love for us - see appendix 1.
  • God wants all people to be saved - see appendix 2.
  • While God wants all people to be saved, some reject that gracious offer - see appendix 3.

Lastly, the decision to serve God (and accept salvation) involves the fundamental concept of love - love for and from God. Love that is forced is not love at all and thus, if we are not free to love, then there is no freedom. However, if love exist, then we must be free to choose else we cannot love. See John 14:15, 15:10, 13:34, 35, etc.

APPENDIX 1 - The Power to Choose Freedom of choice is another of the implicit teachings of Scripture. However, a few passages come close to being explicit. Let us examine a sample of the Bible data.

  • Gen 2:16, 17 – the original choice given to Adam and Eve to choose service to God.
  • 1 Cor 10:13 – God is gracious enough to only allow temptations that we can bear. This reveals that God recognizes the effect that sin has on our will; sin weakens our will but God helps by both strengthening our will and only allowing temptations that we can bear.
  • 2 Peter 3:9 – God is patient wanting all people to decide for Him.
  • Gal 5:13 – We are given freedom by God but the privilege should not be abused.
  • John 7:17 – People can choose to do the will of God and such a choice brings further enlightenment.
  • Josh 24:15 – The Israelites were encouraged to choose God.
  • Mark 8:34 – Choosing to serve God involves personal sacrifice which is why it is such a serious decision.
  • Rev 3:20 – God wants to be with us but we must choose to allow Him into our lives.
  • Gal 5:16, 17, John 8:34-36 – Sin enslaves but the Christian life by the Spirit gives freedom.
  • Isa 55:6, 7 – Isaiah encourages the people to choose service to God over all else.
  • Deut 30:19, 20 – Moses encourages the people to choose between life and death.
  • Exe 18 – an entire chapter about the consequences of choice which ends with the plea, “Repent and live!”

Thus, while Biblically implicit, the concept of the freedom to choose to serve God or otherwise is woven into the very fabric of scripture. See “Election” for a discussion about Calvinism and its attitude to Freedom.

In addition to the above, there is a more fundamental reason why freedom of choice is essential to the plan of salvation. Observe the following:

  • John 13:34, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
  • John 15:12, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”
  • 1 John 4:7, 8, 11, 16, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love … Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another … No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us … And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them … We love because he first loved us.”

It is immediately apparent that love is the very essence of God and our relationship with Him and each other. Now, here is the point; love cannot be forced else it is not love. A programmed machine can recite loving sentiments but does not love. Thus, love can only be love when there is a free choice to love.

Therefore, for love to exist there must be freedom of choice. Stated another way, if God were to force us to love and obey Him, we would not love God at all and God would be saving machines.

APPENDIX - God wants all to be saved

Note the following which explicitly speak of universal salvation, for ALL. John 1:29, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

  • John 3:16, “God so loved the world that He gave …”
  • John 12:32, “I [Jesus] … will draw all people to myself.”
  • John 12:47, “… for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.”
  • Acts 17:30, “God … commands all people everywhere to repent.”
  • Rom 3:23, 24, “… for all have sinned … and all are freely forgiven...”
  • Rom 5:8, 10, “… while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. … if, while were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him by the death of His Son, …”
  • Rom 5:15, “But the free gift is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s [Adam’s] offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to the many.” [Note the same word, “many” applies to all people.]
  • Rom 5:18, “Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all people, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all people, resulting in justification of life.”
  • Rom 11:32, “For God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.”
  • 2 Cor 5:14, “…we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.”
  • 2 Cor 5:18, 19, “…God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ …”
  • 1 Tim 2:3, 4, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
  • 1 Tim 2:6, “[Jesus Christ] gave Himself as a ransom for all people.”
  • 1 Tim 4:10, For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Saviour of all people, especially of those who believe.
  • Titus 2:11, “For the grace of God appeared bringing salvation to all people.”
  • Heb 2:9, “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”
  • 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
  • 1 John 2:2, “He Himself [Jesus] is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours [Christians to whom John writes] only but also for the whole world.”
  • Isa 53:6, “We all like sheep have gone astray … and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

The Bible frequently makes this same point of wanting to save all people by emphasizing that God does not show favoritism but treats all people impartially (Duet 10:17-19, 2 Chron 19:7, Eze 18:25, Mk 12:14, Acts 10:34 Rom 2:10-11; Eph 6:9, 1 Pet 1:17).

Thus, God saved (“elected”) all people by extending His Grace to everyone, even before they sinned! Further, God did this without any input from us, nor request from us, nor consultation with sinners (Eph 2:5). Unfortunately, many will reject this wonderful, free offer.

APPENDIX 3 - Some rejected God's Salvation

Here is a partial list of those who exercised their freedom of choice to reject God's salvation:

  • Eze 18:21-28 also teaches that the wicked can reform and be saved, and the righteous can apostatize and be lost. Both situations are incompatible with Calvinism’s view of salvation and humanity.
  • Rom 11:17-21 discusses the warning that people who had been grafted into the “olive tree” of the Christian community could be broken off if they were unfaithful.
  • 1 Cor 9:27 Paul says he disciplines his body to keep it under control so that after preaching to others he does not become a castaway/disqualified. That is, Paul believed that it was possible that he could lose his way and become lost.
  • 1 Cor 10:12 also contains a stern warning from Paul, “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.”
  • 2 Cor 6:1, “As God’s fellow workers, then, we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.
  • Gal 1:6, I am amazed how quickly you are deserting the One who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—
  • Gal 5:4: “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace”
  • Gal 6:9 says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
  • 1 Tim 6:10, For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
  • Heb 2:1-3, We must pay closer attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every transgression and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?
  • Similarly, Heb 6:4-6 also teaches that some “who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit…” can fall away.
  • Heb 10:19-35 contains an extended passage on enduring. It contains some real gems about the possibility of losing one’s faith and confidence such as:
    • o V26: If we(!) deliberately keep on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left
    • o V29: How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them and who has insulted the Spirit of grace. This verse clearly shows that it is possible to be sanctified and subsequently lost.
    • o V35: Therefore, do not throw away your confidence which has a great reward.
    • o V36: You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God you will receive what he has promised.
  • Heb 13:9, “Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace …”
  • 2 Peter 1:10, “make your calling and election sure”. This clearly allows for the possibility of losing one’s election.
  • 2 Peter 2:21, “It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.”
  • 2 Peter 3:17 contains a very stern and sobering warning to be on guard that we do not fall from our secure position. Verse 14 contains a similar warning.
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  • 'Make your election sure' does not, in any way, 'allow for the possibility of losing one's election'. The doctrine of election can never, ever, make anyone complacent, for it is God's election (not man's). But that it is God who elects makes it a certainty that the elect (whomever that may signify) shall, without doubt, be eternally saved and glorified. Whom he predestinated, them he also called; and whom he called, them he also justified ; and whom he justified them he also glorified, Romans 8:30. That is a certainty. You have laboured long and hard, sir. But the argument is not convincing.
    – Nigel J
    Jul 21, 2023 at 7:09
  • @NigelJ - we have been here before and this is one of the places where we must agree to differ. If God's calling and election is certain, then it would be impossible to be lost by sinning or any other means. This must mean that such people are miraculously kept perfect. I would love to meet such a person!! Do you know any? Lastly, you theory is a common Calvinist position but flies in the face of the above unambiguous evidence.
    – Dottard
    Jul 21, 2023 at 10:44
  • @NigelJ - further, if God has already decided who is saved and lost, before they are even born, then the lost ("it is God who elects makes it a certainty") then there are a large class of people whom God gives life for the apparent sole purpose of damming to (according to Calvin) eternal hell, who have no hope of any other destiny. Such a god is a sadistic monster whose wrongly created evil reputation has turned many away to atheism such as Ingersol and his intellectual progeny.
    – Dottard
    Jul 21, 2023 at 10:57
  • @NigelJ - why are we instructed to 'Make your election sure' if it is God's work to secure our salvation? Surely there is nothing we can do because we are either saved or lost?
    – Dottard
    Jul 21, 2023 at 11:06
  • We love him, because he first loved us. (Not the general love that God has for all his creatures, who do not love him in return. But loved in Christ from the foundation of the world : thus-loved, with an everlasting love that redeems, justifies, saves, sanctifies and glorifies, we are assured. ) But as you say, we differ, so let us argue no more but we have simply stated where we stand. Regards.
    – Nigel J
    Jul 21, 2023 at 11:15
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בַּחֲר֨וּ -translated choose is 2nd person plural imperative. Thus, it is a matter of individual choice, as opposed to when God gave Israel 2nd person singular commands to the nation.

לָכֶ֣ם - meaning for yourselves plural, thought usually not translate, gives further emphasis to individual choice.

This is classic in Scripture that God gives people choices and holds them responsible for their choices (Matt. 16:27; 2 Cor. 5:10).

However, predestination is also presented in Scripture, and it seems foreign to the text to say it is not individual predestination.

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Rom. 8:29, ESV)

As an engineer, when I look at science, I believe that God's predestination is what gives us the freedom of choice. The cause and effect of science gives no room for freedom of choice, and scientists struggle with this. What this tells us is we don't understand freedom of choice, and our knowledge about it is mostly limited to Scripture. It is clear that our choices are limited to our capabilities. If you choose to fly by jumping off a tall building, it isn't going to work.

Probably the best example of choice verses God's sovereignty is Pharaoh (see Exodus 9:12, How is it accepted that the LORD hardens the heart of Pharaoh, then Punishes him for that?). During each plague, Pharaoh gives it to stop the plague, but God removes the plague before Pharaoh follows through, allowing Pharaoh to do what he really wants to do. This is how God hardened Pharaoh's heart. So, did Pharaoh have a free choice. Yes, God's hardening Pharaoh's heart gave him a greater choice, because his choice wasn't forced by the plagues.

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Today I invoke heaven and earth as a witness against you that I have set life and death, blessing and curse, before you. Therefore choose life so that you and your descendants may live! (Deuteronomy 30:19 NET)

But if a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and practices wrongdoing according to all the abominable practices the wicked carry out, will he live? All his righteous acts will not be remembered; because of the unfaithful acts he has done and the sin he has committed, he will die. (Ezekiel 18:24 NET)

But if the wicked person turns from all the sin he has committed and observes all my statutes and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die. (Ezekiel 18:21 NET)

100% for sure we have free will. God of Israel is just and judges us according to our deeds.

edit as requested: the above verses will give us an indication that God's action is much upon our action (free to do whatever).

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