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"...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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  • « Sola Scriptura (Continued) by Pastor John Samson | Main | Christ Lived For Our Righteousness by Pastor John Samson »

    Do Humans Have More Freedom Than God AND Does God Have a Libertarian Free Will? by J.W. Hendryx

    One of the main objections of Arminians, Semi-pelagians and other synergists to divine election is based on moral rather than exegetical grounds. While debating these issues online over the years, I have heard many of them contend that the Augustinian view of God is morally repugnant since God could and would never force humans to do something against their will. And since God is holy, they reason, He could not ordain all things that come to pass, because this would make God the author of evil. Well, instead of this being an essay defending God's sovereignty and meticulous providence over all things (both good subjects in themselves but best left for another time) I wish to use their belief in God's inability to act contrary to His nature to make a point ... one that is fatal to their belief in libertarian free will.

    We all know that the Arminians teach that man has a free will in the libertarian sense. What this means, simply is that they believe man has the ability to choose otherwise. That is, they affirm that human beings are free to choose between opposites ... to make choices uninfluenced any prior prejudice, inclination, or disposition. They believe the will, being neutral, can just as easily choose good or evil. On the surface this may seem reasonable but when you think about it for a moment it makes no sense because deep down we know, and the Scriptures affirm, that a person must always choose according to what he is by nature, otherwise how could the choice be rightfully said to be his own? Let us never forget that the nature of a person is not a thing he possesses. It is something he is. For example, When a person loves evil by nature, he will always make choices in line with what that nature desires most. Just as it is the nature of a dog to bark and a cat to meow so it is the nature of the unregenerate to be hostile to God and love darkness (John 3:19, 20).

    The small but important point I wish to make in all this is simple, and I think it packs the most punch by asking a question. The question is, does God have a free will in the libertarian sense? i.e. Is God able to choose otherwise? (is He "free" to choose good or evil?) And if not does this mean human beings have more freedom then God does, since, to libertarians, human beings do have this freedom to choose good or evil?

    According to the Arminians own testimony which affirms that God is holy and therefore cannot be the author of evil, it follows they must also deny that God is has a free will in the libertarian sense. By affirming one they must deny the other because they are mutually exclusive. When it comes to God, Arminians actually must acknowledge the compatibilist view ... that is, that God cannot make choices that violate His own essence; such as God cannot lie, be unholy or break His promise. These truths Arminians will defend with their lives. Because such is the universally acknowledged (Calvinist and Arminian) nature of our holy God. But since Arminians, at the same time, dogmatically confess that human beings have a libertarian free will and can therby violate their nature in a choice, does that mean Arminians believe that fallen humans have more freedom than God? Do we have the freedom to choose otherwise but God doesn't? Let me ask this again in another way. Since we all agree that God cannot make choices that violate his nature, do Arminians believe that God is less free than human beings are? Arminians define freedom as the ability to choose otherwise and since they claim that God cannot do anything to violate His essence, (but humans can) it follows that they believe human beings are in some way superior, in their natural abilities, to God. Simply put, the Arminian position is erroneously affirming that while God is bound to who He is by nature, human beings are not.

    To the Augustinian, God created us after His image and, like God, we can only choose according to what we are by nature. Fallen unregenerate man is unspiritual and thus cannot choose Christ without God's direct merciful spiritual intervention to save him. We need a new nature, a new birth or regeneration if we are to see Christ's beauty and excellence and thus desire to trust in Him. Water does not rise above its source. Jesus says, a good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bad fruit...Each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush.(Luke 6:44) This language speaks of the fact that a nature of a thing determines what it produces. Jesus is not teaching a botany lesson to us he is making an analogy about the nature of man. Evil men have evil thoughts and cannot produce thoughts and actions that violate who they are. Jesus said, "You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart." (Matt 12:34) Later when speaking to those who did not believe in Him, he said,

    "You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies." (John 8:44)

    Jesus claims they did not believe BECAUSE they were the Devil's offspring. Their nature, just like his, causes them of necessity to behave in a certain way, that is, to reject the truth.

    Lets take this another step ... The saints in heaven who are sealed in righteousness can no longer sin. So if Arminian theology were true, does this mean that when we are glorified on the Last Day that we are less free than when on earth? No, because in the Bible freedom is not defined as the ability to choose otherwise but means, rather, the freedom to be holy. When Christ says He sets men free, He sets them free from their bondage to sin. Like Romans 6 says, we were once slaves of sin but are now slaves of righteousness. This is what Christ means when He sets us free.

    To conclude: That God and the glorified saints in heaven do not have a libertarian free will, and the fact that our possession of one would make us more free than they are...alone should be sufficient to reduce the Arminian view of freedom to absurdity ....and should, therefore, be abandoned.

    As Luther said in his Disputation against Scholastic Theology,(71) The law of God and the human will are two enemies, which can never be reconciled apart from the grace of God. (5) It is false to say that the human will, left to itself, is free to choose between opposites; for it is not free, but in bondage. (74) The law makes sin abound, because it exasperates and repels the will. (75) But the grace of God makes righteousness abound though Jesus Christ, who causes us to love the law. (89) Grace is necessary as a mediator to reconcile the law with the will.

    True freedom, by biblical definition, is holiness, not the freedom to choose otherwise. We should, therefore, not boast in our freedom but in God's grace in Jesus Christ, which sets us free.


    Posted by John on February 18, 2006 10:40 PM

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    Comments

    Think of God's imagination. God created everything on this planet - the laws of nature, water, etc - from His own imagination. Man, in the image of God, has a similar, but inferior imagination. We can create new things, but we can't imagine anything that is not a liquid, solid, gas, or plasma (or thought or emotion). Our imagination is limited by the bounds that God has set in His creation.

    If our imagination is so limited, then is not our will the same? It is not that man has no free will - he does, but his will is inferior to God's, because it is limited by the bounds that God has set.

    Just my thoughts.

    God bless,
    A. Shepherd
    The Aspiring Theologian


    The Aspiring Theologian Blog

    So, what you're saying is that a person isn't free, he can not believe on his own. But is there a degree to which he can believe on his own, without the Holy Spirit's assistance?

    For instance, the Bible says "No man can say Jesus is Lord but by the Holy Spirit." However, we know there are cases when men believed on their own, but did not have saving faith -- Simon in Acts "believed and was baptized," yet he soon fell away, showing either that his faith was not saving faith or that a true believer can fall away.

    However, since man is totally depraved, doesn't even an intellectual acknowledgement, a superficial belief like Simon's, have to be enacted by the Holy Spirit? Or can man reach this by himself?

    When I first read the following statement a couple of years ago I didn't understand it. "True freedom is the ability to choose to obey God." I just couldn't grasp it. Of course, at that time I had no theological center. I just beleived what I heard from the pulpit of my church. However, after I became a convinced Calvinist, That statement became tremendously comforting. God is sovereign. Before He saves us we have no ability to "choose" to obey Him. After regeneration we now have the ability to be obedient Christians. I thank God for this every chance I get.

    Mike Ratliff

    A. Shepherd

    Where in the Bible does it teach that man has a free will? If you mean that man's choices are voluntary and not coerced, then I understand what you mean, but the Bible never teaches that man's will is free until Christ sets it free.

    Prior to that our wills are in bondage to a corruption of nature. That means we may choose what we want but what we want is of necessity contrary to Christ. If something takes place due to a necessity then it cannot be otherwise and is thus not truly free.

    John Calvin once wrote: "...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)

    Greetings Mr. Hendryx,

    I am afraid I must have been a bit ambiguous in my meaning. What I meant was that man always has the will to do what he wants to do. When we are in sin, we only want to sin. We don't want to come to God. Total Depravity thus, has deformed our will. My meaning was not that man has no will at all, but rather that man can never want to come to God so long as Total Depravity is in control.

    However, God's Irresistable Grace makes that desire, that 'will' irresistable for man in such a way that man cannot help but to turn to God. He really really wants God. HE comes with his will in a sense, therefore (he isn't dragged kicking and screaming into salvation), but he only comes because his inferior will is being acted upon by God's ultimate will.

    So, I am of course, a Calvinist. However, I do not think that Calvinism at all negates or destroys the idea of man's free will. We are not robots or chess pieces, moving without will at all. But neither can our will contend with God's, and we certainly cannot come to God without His divine intervention. In short, our will is free to do what we want to do, but our capacity to want to do righteousness is destroyed by original sin through our total depravity.

    I hope that makes better sense out of what I said above. It is the same view that I have recently posted on my own blog.

    Sorry if that was long-winded, by the way.

    On an end note - I love your website, www.monergism.com, and I visit it all the time. Keep up the good work!

    God be with you,
    A. Shepherd

    The Aspiring Theologian
    The Aspiring Theologian Blog

    A. Shepherd

    you said>>> I do not think that Calvinism at all negates or destroys the idea of man's free will.

    If we choose to sin, of necessity, is that a will that is free? Wouldn't you agree that the Scriptures teach that, prior to regeneration, fallen man is in bondage to a corruption of nature? The word 'bondage' is a word that succinctly describes a state in which we are not free.

    The kind of freedom you speak of is a philosophical definition of freedom perhaps but I would contend that the Bible never describes the fallen person as free. A lack of freedom does not have to mean coersion ... when we do something of necessity we are also not free. We have a will and we make voluntary choices (not coerced) and yet the will is not free because the affections are corrupted and in bondage to sin. Sin is his/her master. Romans 6 says prior to Christ setting us free we are "SLAVES to sin" How can a slave be free?

    I understand what you mean that we choose what we want or desire most and agree with you that all persons do so but that does not make the will free, especially if what we want is, of necessity, corrupt.

    Question for you....
    Free from what? may I ask... From God's decree? From sin? Fallen man is free from neither.

    Man is not free from sin before salvation. He is only free to do what he wants to do. He can never want to serve God or beg for God's forgiveness because of Total Depravity. Therefore, he is a prisoner of his wants, for he can only want to do sin.

    It is true, it isn't really a freedom. It is a bondage to desire. But man is still sinning because he wants to sin, not because sin 'forced' him to, and not because of anything else but his own sin nature, his wants.

    Fallen man not free from anything. He is certainly not free from his wants. But he is responsible for his actions. He is free to do what he wants to do.

    I know it may seem confusing, but I'm actually agreeing with you guys. I just must not be making myself clear or something. Sorry if this is the case... I'm not sure how to explain it further...

    A. Shepherd
    Aspiring Theologian

    A. Shepherd

    We all agree on your concept that man is not coerced, just do not like to call that freedom, because the Bible never speaks of freedom that way.

    You said: "He is only free to do what he wants to do"

    Consider this question in answer to your question -- "free from what?"

    You say free to do what he wants. Freedom always implies a freedom from something. It seems you are saying "freedom from coersion" -- then perhaps it would be more clear if you said it that way because the Scripture never uses the word "freedom" to describe an unsaved man or the state of his will. Rather the Scripture always equates freedom with holiness.

    Well, I would agree that man is not free from anything before salvation. I am saying 'freedom' from coercion, basically. I know what you mean. My only intent was to show that a Christian can still believe in Calvinism without having to believe that man has no will. That was all I meant.

    Anyways, thanks for helping me clear that up. I look forward to reading more excellent posts on this blog in the future. God bless!

    Your brother in Christ,
    A. Shepherd
    Aspiring Theologian

    A. Shepherd

    Indeed, yes .... man does have a will ... we are agreed. and we also agree that the choices of natural man are voluntary i.e. free from coersion. Just not free.

    May the Lord richly bless you brother.

    Solus Christus
    John

    John,
    If Arminians exalt their free will above God's Sovereignty,that God cannot usurp man's will, wouldn't that constitute idolatry?

    Paul:

    You asked>>> If persons "exalt their free will above God's Sovereignty,that God cannot usurp man's will, wouldn't that constitute idolatry."

    Yes I believe it does ... but we must be careful and remember that any kind of wrong thinking about God consistitutes idolatry and I believe we are all guilty to some degree (more or less) of committing this error. No one can know God exhaustively or have perfect knowledge of Him. Even what God has revealed to us is too glorious for us to fully comprehend. Nor do we love Him to the extent that we should...this is also idolatry because we are loving something else in part many times in ways that rob God of the full loves He deserves from us.

    But thanks be to God that we are saved by the free grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, not our perfect understanding or knowledge or love of Him. If a person looks to Christ and believes he is helpless and impotent to please God, then I can only give him the benefit of the doubt.

    That being said, let me just mention in passing. Arminians do not themselves believe they are exalting their free will above God's sovereignty. They believe rather that God has created a world in which free will is within God's sovereignty. Obviously most of them do not understand the full implications of their position and the attending biblical and logical contraditions this creates. They commit fatal errors I believe. And of course, just because they do not think they are doing it does not mean they are not committing this error. Yet in my estimation we need to understand that they believe that faith in Christ alone is their security.

    I believe, therefore, it is best, when in discussions with them, rather than flat out comdemn them, rather to explain why they are "in danger of committing a serious error"

    To those Arminians who believe we can actually lose salvation, I like to point out that this is tantamount to believing that Christ's atonement is insufficient and that they are trusting in something other than Christ for their salvation. Many of them perhaps are unsaved. But it is not up to me to determine this. If they say they trusting in Christ alone then I will point out the inconsistency and leave it to their conscience before God.

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