Libertarian Free Will: It’s Not Biblical – Part 3

Well, I am back now to finish up this series, which I had planned to do two months ago; however, the Lord had different plans, which included back surgery. And I praise God his plans included it because I wasn’t able to tie my own shoes for the last 9 months. I am truly grateful—Amen!

In part 2 of this series, I provided Scriptures demonstrating that God brings about human free actions that we are responsible for. As stated, this view of free will is referred to as compatibilism. This means that Human free will is compatible with God’s sovereign will by which he determines what will come to pass according to his divine decree and ultimate plan.[1] Our freedom is not constrained; rather, it is unconstrained within God’s decree, and our choices and actions are part of what he has ordained to take place.

Before going further, I want to again define what Libertarian free will is:

“An agent is free with respect to a given action at a given time if at that given time it is within the agent’s power to perform the action and also in the agent’s power to refrain from the action.”[i] Ultimately, a person has the ability within his own power to make any decision, and any decision contrary to it, in any given situation. “The will is free from any necessary causation . . . [I]t is autonomous from outside determination.”[ii]

My perspective, and that of the Reformed community, is that this view is unbiblical. Nowhere in Scripture do we see that humans have this kind of freewill; rather, our wills are enslaved to sin and can only do the freewill-actions within an enslaved state (John 8:34; Romans 6:6, 16-17, 19-20; 7:14; 2 Peter 2:19; Titus 3:3; Galatians 4:8-9). Fallen man’s desire is to only do wicked actions, regardless of any good action he might do (Matthew 7:11; Luke 11:13). We cannot do anything righteous; Christ was the one who did the righteous act on our behalf (I refer you to my post examining Romans 5:12-19).

Further Understanding Compatibilism

God decrees all things; therefore, he knows all things that ever occur. His knowledge is in advance to the future events that are to come about in his plan of redemption. His knowledge of future events “in no way causes anything to happen; it merely guarantees that what [he] knows will in fact happen.”[2] But the certainty of the actual events that ensue for everyone does not mean that people are then mere robots. Rather, in God making people as “non-glorified human beings,”[3] they are given a nature that is inclined to make choices that are common to all humans. Just as various animals have natures that are different than humans, though common to each animal within its species, predetermined actions can be known due to the environment and situation they are put in.

Mankind’s understanding of the animal kingdom is ascertained by the observation of an animal’s actions and habits based on its nature and how it interacts within the environment it lives in. In knowing the nature of animals and how they respond (make choices) in their environment, scientists can create an environment and setting for an animal that, with most certainty, they can get a desired result (choice) based on the use of the nature of that animal in that environment (example: lab rats in a maze).

Likewise, as it pertains to human nature, and God’s exponentially greater understanding of human nature, God gives humans a nature and puts them in an environment that he knows he can use to bring about choices (that conform to his will) made by humans. But just as the animal that is placed in an artificial, man-made environment makes choices that are made freely in accordance with its own nature, humans also, based on their nature in the environment that God has placed them in, are free to act in “accordance with their desires, dispositions, inclinations, knowledge, and character.”[4]

In Matthew 7:15-20, Christ told his disciples that they would know those who are of God by their fruits. A good tree only bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit; thus, you will know them by their fruits. A tree can only give a certain fruit based upon its nature. “The tree is not free to produce good or bad fruit at random, but is governed by its nature.”[5]

Scripturally speaking, this perspective makes the most sense (again, look at the Scriptures discussed in the first post). God is sovereign over all, and he is the primary cause of all things to take place. The Scriptures bear witness to the fact that nothing in creation can act independently of God’s sovereignty (: Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:17; Acts 17:28; Nehemiah 9:6; 2 Peter 3:7; Job 12:23; Job 34:14-15; Job 38:32; Matthew 5:45; Matthew 6:26; Numbers 23:19; 2 Samuel 7:28; Psalms 33:14-15; Psalms 104:14; Psalms 104:29; Psalms 135:6; Psalms 139:16; Psalms 141:6; Psalms 148:8; Proverbs 16:1; Proverbs 16:33; Proverbs 20:24; Proverbs 21:1; Proverbs 30:5; John 17:17; Ephesians 1:11; Galatians 1:15; Jeremiah 1:5; 1 Corinthians 4:7).

God has exhaustive knowledge and knows what humans will do based upon the nature he gave them. He has the ability to persuade and compel people to make choices, which they willing make, to conform to his will. Likewise, people make decisions in accordance with their will that do bring about actions that cause harm or evil to others. God too permits these situations. In these instances, God permits these and uses these actions to conform to his will; for God “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11).

Genesis 50:20 is a clear example of this. Prior to this verse, Joseph’s brothers were fearful because when Joseph revealed his identity to them, they were afraid of what he might do to them. In an act of evil, they sold him into slavery. And now Joseph is second-in-command over Egypt and has the power to return evil to them. In Genesis 45:5, Joseph says, “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.” Joseph understands that he is in the position that he is because God is sovereign. It was God’s plan for the events and circumstances to happen to Joseph in the manner they did. Joseph recognizes this. A severe famine was coming to Egypt, God’s doing, and it was God’s plan for Joseph to be there prior to this event and to be used by God to save the people.

After the famine, Joseph’s brothers come to him again and were in fear for their lives. But Joseph says to them, “‘Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them” (Genesis 50:19-20). God had two different designs within his plan. This verse “did not say that God used their evil for good after they meant it for evil. It says that in the very act of evil, there were two different designs: In the sinful act, they were designing evil, and in the same sinful act, God was designing good.”[6] The brothers acted in accordance to their own wills and desire to commit evil. But that act of evil was in accordance with the will of God. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Joseph was called for a purpose, and God worked out all things for good for Joseph because he loved God.

There is a tension between man’s freewill and God’s sovereignty, and while we cannot fully reconcile this tension due to our puny, finite minds, what we can do is seek to be consistent in our theology. We have to take what Scripture teaches, regardless of what we think it should teach. Scripture does not portray a God who is like that of the pagan, Greek gods, who are only supported and empowered by the creatures that worship them. Rather, the God of the Bible is sovereign over everything in all of creation, for he is the one who supports, sustains, and empowers it (Acts 4:24; Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:15-16). Furthermore, the Bible does not portray mankind as a robot or puppet. Man makes choices and is held accountable for them (Genesis 2:16-17; Exodus 20; John 3:36; Acts 2:23; 4:27; Romans 1-3; 6:23; 1 Corinthians 9:21; Galatians 3:10; Titus 3:3; 1 John 3:4).

Conclusion

In looking at the biblical and theological evidences put forth in these last 3 posts, I believe the biblical understanding of freedom is the ability to choose according to our greatest desires in the moment of that choice. Man always chooses to sin, which is why he needs God to change his nature of desiring to do so. If ought implies can, then everyone has the ability to be morally perfect because we ought to live a sinless life. If we had a truly free will in the libertarian sense, then we would have the freedom to save ourselves by never sinning.

While this subject is truly a weighty one, we must be ok with seeing that the sidewalk ends at some point. Speculation can lead to unnecessary frustration, and even dissension among believers, and more time wasted trying to understand the mind of God, instead of glorifying God for his perfect, omnipotent mind. He has it figured out, so rest in that.

 

—Romans 11:36

For further reading:

The Sovereignty of God, Arthur Pink
Freedom of the Will, Jonathan Edwards
Election and Free Will, Robert A. Peterson
The Doctrine of God, John Frame
Still Sovereign, Tom Schreiner and Bruce Ware
No One Like Him, John S. Feinberg
Bondage of the Will, Martin Luther
Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin

 

_________________________________

[1] When speaking of God’s foreknowledge and foreordination of events, sometimes there is a confusion of terms, which leads to a misunderstanding of God’s eternal decree. We need to avoid the error of fatalism. From creation to glorification, God has foreordained (i.e., planned from eternity past) all human actions and events of nature and history. However, God’s foreknowledge (i.e., his perfect knowledge beforehand of all actions and events from eternity past; and of the elect, it’s an intimate, personal knowing of them) of all events and human actions that occur in history does not infer they must happen or that one can’t refrain from doing so because God foresees them. Rather, God foreknows certain actions or choices take place because the one doing the action does not refrain from doing otherwise.

God has foreordained all that shall come to pass and foreknows all things because of his foreordination of them, and these events may come to pass through the free will actions of humans or through God’s causative actions in accordance with his eternal decree. However, no one makes a choice that is against one’s will; rather, all choices are made because one most desires to make that choice because it is most desirable to that person.

[2] John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: Doctrine of God, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), p. 741.

[3] Feinberg, No One Like Him, p. 788.

[4] Loraine Boettner, Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1991), p. 219.

[5] Ibid., p. 220.

[6] John Piper, Spectacular Sins: And Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008), p. 81.

About

I am a servant of Jesus Christ, a husband to an amazing wife, and a father to a blessing of a daughter. I am a pastor at Sovereign Way Christian Church in Hesperia, Ca.

I believe Reformed theology presents the clearest expression of biblical doctrine, grounded in God-centered exegesis. Reformed theology, as Charles Spurgeon says, is the gospel.

Also, I feel a special calling to minister and share the gospel with Jehovah’s Witnesses. The people of that cult have been truly deceived, embracing a false Christ and a false understanding of God and his Scriptures. Defending what we have been entrusted with is one of the most important tasks in the advancement of the gospel that a Christian can take part in, for I believe all Christians are called to be doctrinally sound to do so.

Ultimately, all things for the cause of Christ should edify the church and bring us closer to him and our fellow brothers and sisters in the faith.

I pray my blog does nothing but bring glory to the Lord

—Romans 11:36

      Education
  • London School of Theology
    Historical Theology, 2016 – present
    Ph.D student

    Supervisors: Prof. Tony Lane and Prof. Paul Helm

  • Columbia Evangelical Seminary
    Master of Divinity, 2013-2015
    Systematic Theology
  • Columbia Evangelical Seminary
    Master of Theological Studies, 2012-2013
    Systematic Theology
  • Columbia Evangelical Seminary
    Bachelor of Theology, 2011
    Apologetics – Thesis : “A Look at the Contextual Misuse and Lack of Reasoning by the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Reasoning from the Scriptures.” In this work, I give clear examples of the Watchtower Society using reputable, scholarly sources out of context or misquoting altogether to support its claim that the doctrine of the Trinity is not taught in Scripture.