Free Will or a Predetermined Future?
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
August 19, 2007

 

Main Passage: Romans 8:26-30 (NLT)


This is our third week in our message series called “You Asked for It”, and all this month we’re dealing with topics or passages that you yourself have requested. In fact, this is our fifth year doing this. Every August, this is what we do.

And over the years, we’ve gotten a variety of questions. We’ve gotten a lot of questions that start with “How do I…”. You know, “How do I pray”, or “How do I get closer to God”, or “How do I get into Heaven”, or “How do I deal with failure”, or “How do I forgive someone who has hurt me?”

And we’ve had questions that just want to clarify or explore certain passages from the Bible. “How is the Lord my Shepherd?” “The Bible calls us a holy people. What does it mean to be holy?” “Paul talked about a thorn in his flesh. What was he talking about?”

And every once in a while, we get a question like we’re going to be addressing here today: a theological question. Basically, the question is this: If God knows everything about the future, how can any choice we make change the outcome of a predetermined future? Do our decisions really matter? How do you take God’s foreknowledge of everything that’s ever going to happen and balance that with our Free Will?

Because if God is really all-powerful and He has full knowledge of the future, does He not essentially cause that future to happen? Does He not predestine our choices? And if that’s true, doesn’t that destroy our Free Will?

And on the other hand, if we really do have Free Will and can make any choices we want to make, does that limit God’s knowledge and thus make Him less than God?

So let me say right up front, to the person who requested this topic, I will have my revenge. (Hey, don’t laugh. By the time we’re done, you might want revenge, too.)

Because the problem is, people a lot smarter than me… well, that’s not hard… people a lot smarter than you have been debating this for, oh, about four thousand years, going back at least as far as the time of Moses. And there are plenty of intelligent and wise Christ-followers who have come to different conclusions.

So what I want to do this morning is make you think a little. I’m going to present you with some of the different possibilities, and let you weigh them for yourself. Okay?

And let me warn you, this is going to be a bit more abstract than normal. I’m going to present you with three different concepts of how you can balance the all-knowingness of God with our ability to choose. This isn’t going to be nearly as hands-on practical as what we normally talk about, but it is a very important topic because it can help us understand a bit better how we interact with our Creator, and how our choices impact our eternity.


Okay? So let’s get to the heavy lifting…


Balancing God’s Foreknowledge with our Ability to Choose:


1.    Some claim that God directs all our choices according to His predetermined plan. (Calvinism)

There are people who would say that God directs everything that happens and every choice we make, and that everything that will ever happen has already been predetermined. According to this view, we might think we’re making our own decisions, but really we’re only deciding to decide what God has already decided for us to decide. (And I’ve decided to say that decisively.) Follow that?

Basically, every choice we make, every action we take, and anything else that ever happens, happens because long ago God decided it would happen. People who hold this view support it with verses like this one that we read earlier this morning…

Romans 8:29 (NLT)
For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son…

So they would conclude that the people who become Christ-followers become Christ-followers because God chose them. And people who don’t become Christ-followers… God didn’t choose them.

Now, personally, I have a really difficult time believing this could be true. Because there are some inherent weaknesses here.

Cons:

First, it virtually eliminates the possibility of Free Will. If we don’t actually have the freedom to make our choices, then Free Will is just an illusion.

•    It virtually eliminates the possibility of Free Will


Second, taken far enough, this means that God Himself is the author of all evil. The evil things we do, we do because He makes us. And that’s completely inconsistent with what we know about God as being an all-good, all-loving God.


•    It means that God Himself is the author of all evil


Third, to claim that God controls our decisions contradicts His own Will. For example, the Bible tells us…

•    It requires that God contradicts His own Will

2 Peter 3:9 (NLT)
He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.

So if that’s what His Will is, then wouldn’t He be contradicting it by choosing who would repent and who wouldn’t? And then what’s the point of telling others about Jesus and having missionaries go to places like Mozambique like we saw in the video earlier?


And one more problem, we would be nothing more than puppets and would bear no responsibility for our own choices.

•    It removes our responsibility for our own choices

But time and time again the Bible teaches us that we are responsible. We do make our own decisions.

1 Corinthians 7:24 (NIV)
Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to.

So how could we be responsible to God if God were the one making all the decisions?

So while some people hold to this view that in theory God directs all our decisions, it’s pretty tough to apply that belief to reality where we’re making decisions every day. So, personally, I can’t see it as being a real option. And just to take another look at that verse in Romans…

Romans 8:29 (NLT)
For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son…

… the problem of taking one verse like that is that it has to be understood in the light of the entire Bible. And hasn’t God chosen all of us to become His people? Isn’t that the overarching message of the Bible… that none of us has to die in our sinfulness? That all of us can receive forgiveness and eternal life? I could give you a multitude of passages that tell us that. God has chosen all of us to be His people, but we decide if we’ll take Him up on that or not.

[John 3:16; 2 Peter 3:9; Matthew 11:28; Matthew 28:19; Romans 10:13-15; Luke 19:10; Matthew 22:9; Luke 14:23; Luke 24:47; 2 Corinthians 5:14; 1 Timothy 2:1; Matthew 5:16]


2.    Some claim that God knows the choices we will make but doesn’t cause them. (Arminianism)

This is the view that God has perfect knowledge of the past, present, and future, and that nothing happens that He didn’t know was going to happen… even though some of the things that happen are a result of our choices, not His.

Think about the Back to the Future trilogy… do you remember how in one of those movies Marty got hold of a sports record book from the future? And apparently, in the year 2015, the Cubs are going to win the Worlds Series in a 5-game sweep over Miami. Well, does the fact that Marty knows that the Cubs will win the World Series in 2015 mean that he’s causing it to happen? No, he just knows about it, he’s not causing it.

What if that’s the way it is with God? What if He really gives us Free Will and allows us to make our own choices, but He just knows what those choices are going to be? Take a look at this verse Psalm 139… in fact, read it aloud with me…

Psalm 139:16 (NLT)
You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.

That verse seems to say that God knows the future, but that doesn’t necessarily mean He causes it. Or as Jason Dulle put it…

“It does not logically follow that God's perfect foreknowledge of all human choices means that God dictates those choices.”
~ Jason Dulle
http://www.apostolic.net/biblicalstudies/freewill.htm

Of course, the next question would be, “how does God know about something that hasn’t even happened yet?” Well, do you want to hear something that’s really mind blowing? God exists outside of time. Hey, He created time, so He exists outside of it. So for Him, time isn’t a limitation. There is no past, present or future. So when He looks at His creation, He sees everything at once.

So when Jesus, who is God, was hanging on a cross 2000 years ago, He could have actually been thinking about you.

There. Wrap your brain around that. But basically what that means for us this morning is, it’s not a problem for God to know the future. He sees it with perfect clarity.

Now, there are a couple dangers with this view, too.

Cons:

For one thing, it can lead us to view God as a distant God, uninvolved with His Creation. Whereas the Bible teaches us that God is intimately involved with His Creation and in our lives.

•    It can lead us to view God as a distant God, uninvolved with His Creation


Second, there seem to be times in Scripture when God changes His mind based on our actions. Like when Moses pleaded for God to show mercy to the Israelites and He did. Or when God planned to destroy the wicked city of Nineveh unless they repented and turned to God. They did and God relented.

•    It struggles to explain passages where God changes His mind or responds to our faith

Are those examples of the future not being fixed? Maybe, maybe not. Whatever the case, it’s important for us to recognize that any limitation that God has is Self-imposed. If our Free Will prevents God from knowing the future, it’s only because God chose to give us Free Will and thus limit Himself.

Which wouldn’t be the first time. I mean, when Jesus came to earth as a baby, He was still fully God. But for those 33 years, He limited Himself in some ways.

So there are a couple weaknesses here. But still, this is the dominant view of Christians throughout the centuries. And even those weaknesses have some pretty rational answers when you start looking into it.


And there is a third view, too, on how to balance God’s knowledge of the future and our Free Will.


3.    Some claim God doesn’t know the choices we will make. (Open Theism)

…Or at least He doesn’t know all of them.

Now, I debated about even mentioning this one this morning for a couple of reasons. First of all, this is a line of theology that has only been developed over the past couple decades. And really, we’re at the point now that it’s difficult to accept any theological idea that hasn’t been tested by a few centuries. Because if you’re not careful, you can wind up with some beliefs that belong in the “wacky” category.

Plus, there are a lot of Christian leaders and theologians that I respect who are opposed to this view. In fact, if you go online and start to sift through some of the articles and essays and message boards, you’ll come across some pretty heated arguments on this one.

So with that little disclaimer, let me try to explain this view. This view dismisses the idea of God existing outside of time and looking on, and says instead that God doesn’t know the future because it hasn’t happened yet. And that’s not really a limitation on God’s knowledge – the people who hold this view would say that God knows everything that can be known; the future just can’t be known.

But what they would say is that God knows the past and the present perfectly, and He knows us perfectly, and He knows all the possible decisions we could make and all the possible outcomes, too. So taking all of that into consideration, He can accurately predict what choices we will make.

Let me give you an example. If I were to offer my wife the choice between chocolate ice cream and vanilla ice cream, I already have a pretty good idea what her choice would be. She would choose chocolate, no question. (Unless, of course, it was going on a piece of pie in which case she would choose vanilla.)

Now, if I know she’s going to choose chocolate, am I making her choose it? Of course not! She’s still exercising her Free Will and she’s choosing chocolate. I’m not making her choose it; I just know that there’s more than a good chance she’s going to. Could she choose vanilla? Yeah, I guess. But it would be out of character.

And so this line of thought says that God doesn’t know the future because it’s not knowable. But He can foresee certain things. And in some ways, He does work out His will while not infringing on our Free Will.

Of course, there are several problems or obstacles with this view…

Cons:

First, Biblical prophecies are far too detailed and accurate to be good guesses. For example, the birth of Jesus, the crucifixion and resurrection, the spread of the early Church, the destruction of Jerusalem, the exile to Babylon… hundreds of prophecies about just these few things and every one of them came true to the last detail.

•    It fails to explain the accuracy of Biblical prophecies


Second, it diminishes the sovereignty of God. In fact, in some ways it puts humanity above God. It supplants God’s omnipotence with our Free Will.

•    It diminishes the sovereignty of God


And third, it ignores passages of Scripture that clearly state that God has a knowledge of what will happen in the future, and that goes beyond just making predictions based on probability.

•    It ignores passages of Scripture that clearly state that God has a knowledge of what will happen in the future


So this line of theology is relatively young and has some questions that must be answered before it can be seriously considered alongside the other two. I think it does make some interesting points and forces us to think things through a bit better, but at least for now this Open Theism has a lot more opponents than supporters.


So you’ve got these three primary strings of theology regarding God’s omniscience and our Free Will. And if I had to choose, I’d choose the second one. But the truth is, all three of them can present some compelling arguments and they all have something to contribute to the conversation. Hey, we’re trying to understand how God works here. And that’s no simple task. And that’s why you can end up with intelligent committed Christ-followers with differing opinions. Because none of us can fully comprehend God and how He works.


Okay, that concluded our lecture for today. If you’ve been zoning out a bit, I don’t blame you. But come on back for the next few minutes.

Because regardless of how you balance God’s knowledge of the future and our Free Will, the fact remains that we do make choices. And we are responsible for the choices we make.

Romans 14:12 (NLT)
Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God.

The way you act, the choices you make, the way you treat people, the things you say, the attitudes you embrace, whatever you do… good or evil… you will be answerable to God for it.

During this lifetime, we make a series of choices. And someday when this life is over, we will be held accountable for those choices.

2 Corinthians 5:10 (NLT)
For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.


So we will be held accountable for our choices. And the greatest choice of all… the choice that will determine where we will spend eternity… is this: Will we follow Jesus, or not? Will we live for Him, or won’t we? Will we accept His leadership, or will we go our own way?

Because as we’ve talked about here before, you can’t earn your way into Heaven by being good enough. Because you just can’t be good enough. Oh, you might be a better person than most of the people you know, but they’re not the standard. God is. And compared to His holiness, you just can’t measure up.

But thankfully you don’t have to. Jesus has provided another way. In fact, He’s provided the only way. He said…

John 14:6 (NLT)
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”

So if you’re counting on some other way, you’re going to be very disappointed. Jesus claimed to be the one and only way to God the Father and to eternity in Heaven.

Now, we’ve been talking about Free Will, and this is the ultimate challenge of Free Will. Will you choose of your own Free Will to be a Christ-follower?

In the Old Testament, Joshua expressed this choice this way…

Joshua 24:15 (NIV)
“… choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve… As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

It’s a choice. Joshua understood this, and now you do, too. It’s a choice, and God leaves the choice up to us. He will not violate the Free Will He has given us. God is a gentleman. He doesn’t force Himself in where He’s not wanted. So He waits for you to choose. Will you live for Him or will you reject Him and go your own way?


Close your eyes…

How many of you would say this morning that you’re ready to make that choice? You’re deciding this morning that you want to be a Christ-follower. If that’s you, then just raise your hand. I won’t mention you by name, but I want to be able to pray for you.

How many of you would say, “Greg, you’ve given me something to think about. This is all new for me, and I’m going to explore it a bit more.” If that’s you and you’d like to acknowledge that, then just raise your hand.




 

 

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