"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)


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  • « Q & A - Election and Evangelism with Pastor John Samson | Main | Amazed by Common Grace by Pastor John Samson »

    Is Determinism Compatible with Voluntary Choice? (Response to Question) by John Hendryx

    Consider the following: we all have freedom to act within the bounds of nature ... which also means that we are determined to act within the constraints of nature. Both determinism and voluntary choice are, therefore, true. i.e. a prisoner is free to move about as much as he wants in his cell, but he cannot move outside of it.
    To us this means that the natural man is free to act within the corruption of nature, but without the Holy Spirit, we are not free from the bondage of the will to sin. This bondage means we cannot act outside its constraints. We cannot do any redemptive good for ourselves. So, as you can see, both determinism and voluntary choice are at work in people simultaneously. We cannot and will not believe the gospel until the Spirit opens our blind eyes and changes our hostile disposition. We are determined (by our natures) to voluntarily choose to rebel against God until the Spirit brings us to see we have no hope save in Jesus Christ. This requires a change of nature (John 3:3; 6:63). In 1 Corinthians 2 the Apostle Paul states, "Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.” Paul is saying we cannot understand the gospel (the things freely given of God) until the Spirit illumines our minds and changes our hearts that we would understand.

    Taken from another perspective, compatibilism could be applied to the saints in heaven who have been sealed in righteousness (which is biblically defined freedom). But you could say they are no longer "free" to sin because they do not want to. Their new nature drives and compels them to always choose righteousness and this is what they want. They will act in accord with their new (glorified) nature.

    If I may say this reverently, God is likewise holy and cannot sin or lie, always acting in accord with his nature. So in every sense His acts are determined because He is always faithful to Himself. Even His voluntary choice is, therefore, made compatibilistically because if He issues a covenant promise and breaks that promise then he would not be God for He would be violating His essence.

    But it is He who defines what freedom is for us so when he sets us free in Christ we are free indeed. Biblical freedom is defined as freedom from bondage to sin. (Rom 6) Biblically defined, therefore, the fallen man has no real freedom (only within the constraints of nature) until the Spirit does a work of grace in him. So the freedom of the natural man is a hallow freedom indeed.

    There are 4 ways in which we deny freedom (from Steve Hays):
    We deny that (1) an agent is free to thwart the divine decree; that (2) the unregenerate are free to believe the Gospel; that (3) the regenerate are free to commit apostasy, or that (4) the glorified are free to sin.

    Posted by John on October 22, 2005 12:02 PM


    Excellent John. As you know, when looking back over his writings, Martin Luther described the most important book he ever wrote as "The Bondage of the will." There, the foundation of the Reformation sola of Faith Alone was described in the understanding of Grace Alone... and, according to Luther, Grace Alone cannot be understood without an understanding of our will being in complete bondage to sin. In John 6:44 Jesus said, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day." Here he makes it clear that no one is able to come to Him outside of the Father's drawing. "No one can come..." That's a universal denial of ability. Lets also not forget the end of the verse - the one who is drawn by the Father to come to Jesus in this way is also raised up to eternal life. Well done John - a great article.

    Thanks for the helpful overview. Very succinct and clearly written. I agree about the importance of Luther's "Bondage of the Will," and I would also direct anyone interested to one of the chapters in Calvin's Institutes called (if I remember correctly) "Conversion the effect of divine grace inwardly bestowed" -- something like that anyway.

    You need to validate, from Scripture, your major premise ("we all have freedom to act within the bounds of nature") otherwise you are just begging the question. Is this the correct understanding of your prisoner/cell analogy: unregenerate man is free from God's control as long as he stays in the cell of unregeneration. That men such as Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar and Joseph’s brothers were not under God's control and exercised their freedom to do what they did.

    Dear Brother Gordon:

    Thank you for your post. But perhaps you did not read it very carefully. You make an erroneous claim that I assert that "unregenerate man is free from God's control." But I never made such a claim nor do I believe this. In fact in the essay itself I deny outright that "an agent is free to thwart the divine decree." This article is not about meticulous providence but about our voluntary choices with regard to the determinism set in motion because of the corruption of nature. This doesn't speak of God's determinism, but that our nature determines the choices we make.

    You and my dear friend Vincent always seem to assume that whever someone uses the word "voluntary or "free" that we are speaking of freedom relative to God. But this is not what is being said.

    Jesus frequently alludes to the fact that persons make voluntary decisions because of who they are by nature. He says that the devil is the father of lies by NATURE. That is why he lies Jesus says. There may be another cause, but Jesus doesn't always speak of it this way. The unbelieveing Jews were the devils' children, Jesus said that is why they choose to lie and reject Christ he said. Jesus did not say the reason was meticulous providence. It may ultimately have been, but the Bible speaks of these events from another perspective. A good tree bears good fruit and bad tree bears bad fruit. This is biblical language and Jesus in John 10 speaks of people not believing BECAUSE they are not his sheep. Biblical language does not always speak about things with regard to meticulous providence but with regard to secondary causes and thus so should we. There is defintely a place for the kind of thing you are speaking of, but what brings people to Christ is not God's decree, but the effect of God's decree which is the illumination, calling and regeneration of the Holy Spirit. Election is a blueprint, but itself does not save anyone. It calls into action God's plan executed by the Trinity to actually do something for the sinner that He may believe ... That something is to change his hostile nature so that he would believe the gospel. The reason he does not believe, using biblical language, is that he hates the light (John 3:19). You should then take issue with the Bible itself by saying that it begs the question. IN the John 3 passage, using your standard, you would have to say it is not speaking of the ultimate cause which is that God cause dthem to hate him. The Bible does not always speak of these things by saying God made him do this or that.

    John Calvin whose position is VERY similar to my own on this issues, said:
    "...we allow that man has choice and that it is self-determined, so that if he does anything evil, it should be imputed to him and to his own voluntary choosing. We do away with coercion and force, because this contradicts the nature of the will and cannot coexist with it. We deny that choice is free, because through man’s innate wickedness it is of necessity driven to what is evil and cannot seek anything but evil. And from this it is possible to deduce what a great difference there is between necessity and coercion. For we do not say that man is dragged unwillingly into sinning, but that because his will is corrupt he is held captive under the yoke of sin and therefore of necessity will in an evil way. For where there is bondage, there is necessity. But it makes a great difference whether the bondage is voluntary or coerced. We locate the necessity to sin precisely in corruption of the will, from which follows that it is self-determined." (John Calvin, BLW pp 69, 70)

    But the definition of compatibilism is that divine sovereignty is compatible with voluntary choice so it even applies at other levels. For example, in Acts 2 & 4 it says that God predetermined that evil men would crucify his son.

    Acts 4:27, 28 says,

    "...for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place."

    God determined and ordained it, but man chose it willingly.
    Those men were doing the crucifying chose what they desired most. They certainly were not unwillingly choosing to do this against their will. Or would you argue they were? No, their wills and affections were engaged but not free from God's decree. So if you ever hear me say the word "free" I am not speaking of freedom in a libertarian sense, where a person is fully able to perform some other action in place of the one that is actually done, and this is not predetermined by God, any prior circumstances, our desires or even our affections. In other words, they believe our choices are free from the determination or constraints of God and human nature. For if our choice is determined or caused by anything, the libertarian reasons, including our own desires, they, it cannot properly be called our decision or free choice. Libertarians believe free action is one that does not have a sufficient condition or cause prior to its occurrence.

    Compatibilism, rather, is the belief that we make choices for a reason, that the will is not independent of the person's desires and so we will always choose what we want (Deut 30:16,17,19; Matt 17:12; James 1:14). It means that we can act "freely" (without coercion), not independent from God or free from our desires, but free to act according to our desires and nature. In other words, a self-determining will (to chose to act as we please) is compatible with determinism.

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