Do we really have free Will?
There has been a debate in religious circles about Christian salvation; whether it is by choice or if it was predetermined. There are a number of scriptures which seem to support both positions. For example, one of the first verses most church people learn is 1 John 1:9.
“For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, but whosoever believe on him shall not perish but have eternal life”
But at the same time where our free decision seems to be the gateway of accepting salvation, we read also another passage.
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Romans 8:29–30)
There are a number of other verses which seem to bring us back to the table on this particular debate. However, there may be a way to embrace both predestination and free Will without contradiction. What I would like to offer through a graphic representation is a possible answer to this matter.
To begin with this approach there are three points which must be established as foundational.
- We are absolutely free to choose to accept salvation or deny it.
We are told that God is love. He desires us to love him. If we are not free to choose to love, then it would contradict the very nature of our relationship with him. Also if we are preprogrammed to behave and decide to serve God, then we would be living like robots without any range of decision-making, it would remove us from any responsibility. The greatest point of arguing for Free Will, is the level of sacrifice required, that God sent his only son to die for us in order to be saved. It would completely be a vain act of God to sacrifice his only son, where he could just as easily determined us to just worship him. But that was not the case. His son, Jesus had to die for us in order to offer the way to be forgiven and restored in a relationship with our God.
- God is not only a God of love, but also a God of immeasurable grace.
When you consider how frail we are in our walk of faith, there is no way we can expect any salvation based on our efforts. Consider the models we have in scriptures, with prophets, priests and kings. There was no perfect follower, no perfect person that would be worthy of following God, except for the love and mercy God so readily poured out upon those who followed after him.
- God is timeless.
God has always existed. There was no beginning or ending for our creator. Since he does not operate within the boundaries of time, he is able to transcend time. If God can transcend time, everything is known to him from beginning to end. In fact we read in Psalms 139:
“He knows all our days before we had lived a single day”
- God is intimate and knows us completely.
I remember a quote from a science class I attended long ago. The quote goes something like this:
“If we knew everything about one square inch of earth, we would know all answers of the universe”. If you knew how pressure, temperature, the nature of soil, its potential to promote life in plants, the way light is converted to the air we breathe, the organization of cellular matter, how molecules can organize and communicate to each other in order to scaffold life, etc. If we knew all things about that small region of matter, we would unlock all secrets to the very universe”.
More simply, if I could just know how any flipped coin could land on heads, no matter the height, the force of flip, the way the arm moves and the posture of the person flipping the coin, I would have to be thoroughly familiar with all aspects of physics and anatomy and physical sciences in order to have this confidence. Even our creator has this familiarity about his creation.
Now if we hold these principles to be true and foundational, we can move to the next section without any reservation.
Our freedom to choose
In order to understand how predestination and Free Will can coexist without out contradiction, let us consider the following example. Let us say, we enter a room that has a large table and we are handed a jump rope like the one above. Let us imagine that we only have one instruction given to us. We are told to stretch that rope from one end of the table to the other and we were told to make any design or pattern with that rope that we would like. You are free to arrange that rope as you wish, as you wanted without any other instruction. Let us say that I completed the task requested and you see the result below.
As you can see, the handles are over each end and I was free to arrange the rope to my liking.
If I am asked, “Were you free to choose the design you made?” My answer would be, “Yes, I was free to arrange it without any other influence, according to my liking”.
Now, I step back to the doorway of the room, and the Master steps up to the table. Let’s say he wants to add some of his own items to the table.
Without disturbing my pattern, which was a product of my choice, he adds a couple of shakers and a candle, where he chooses in order to accent my chosen pattern.
So now, after the Master has placed his items, which accents my pattern he returns to my side. What the Master has done is to use my decisions of my display in order to accent the items he has contributed.
The rope here is representative of my life, from beginning to end. I had the freedom to choose any pattern or points of decision during life’s course. Christ gave me freedom to choose and only after I made the decision, did he choose to add items to the table. All the items the Master added only result to give glory to the Father. There will be days of salt, of healing and preservation. There will be days of pepper, when pain and trials come my way. There will be days where I will find a candle, when insights, repentance and rededication will restore my footing. The things the Master adds, despite my choices in life, serve to glorify our Father in heaven. Even for the sinner, or the wickedness and wrongful acts of evil people, our God will use such situations to bring glory to the Father serve as a witness for knowing our Master.
Sometimes, the master will see the choices of others and understands how his glory can be magnified by our relationships with these of common faith. I do not believe the many souls we touch in our lifetime is by accident. The fellowship of believers is a very special addition to the table of our lives. In great wisdom, the Master has a way to bring glory to our Father by the people we encounter on life’s journey. It may be a church member, a parent, a sibling, a spouse, a neighbor, a pastor. Only an intimate Savior can know how to negotiate our life in such a way that would not disrupt the free Will of others we encounter in life.
The Start of the journey
Now, as the Master has returned to our side, he prepares to take the lifelong journey with us.
Knowing that our Master is aware of our free choice, knowing the Father will be glorified, knowing that there are no surprises for Christ, our companion and guide; we can walk in confidence that, not only does he walk with us in the journey, he will also perfect us in all things, no matter what we encounter, until the journey is complete.
Did I have Free Will? Was I predestined before I began?
I hope this helps to bring some clarity to what I imagine is the best way to answer the debate.
I hope it also brings both assurance and confidence in your journey.