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  • « Testing Traditions: The Love of God and the Will of Man | Main | "Mean-Spirited" Theology »

    Predestination & Free Will?

    Visitor: You can not be dogmatic and say it's all election and predestination when there are specific verses that talk about mans response. I recommend you listen to John MacArthur's sermon on election and free will.

    Response: Thank you for sharing your assertion. First, I want to assure you that I believe man is required to respond in faith to the gospel. But that does not mean that the natural man has a free will to believe in Jesus. I think the issue here is about definitions. It is important to define what we are talking about up front. When you say man has a free will, what do you mean? Free from what? Free from sin? Also let me say that if you think Dr. John MacArthur is arguing for free will then, I believe, you may have profoundly misunderstood him. He actually affirms exactly the same thing all other Reformed thinkers do about this issue. With him, we affirm that all men make voluntary choices and no one is coercing anyone against their will to make a choice. We always chose what we desire the most. But that is not the issue of the free will debate...

    Problem is that the person without the Holy Spirit (the unregenerate) always desires that which is contrary to God. Nothing he does proceeds from a heart that loves God. The issue of free will (or not) is to ask this: left to themselves (as fallen human creatures who are in bondage to a corruption of nature), does anyone have a free will to believe in Jesus Christ? We all have a will, but we use it wrongly ...we do not have the will to believe in Christ, apart from grace. The need for grace does away with free will altogether because if man's will was naturally free he would not need grace at all. He could come to Christ on his own. But ask yourself, apart from the work of the Holy Spirit will anyone freely come to faith in Christ? If your answer is no, then you reject free will the same way I do. So to teach man has a free will in this sense, i.e. that the natural man has a free will overthrows the gospel ... it is precisely because man is in bondage that he needs Christ to set him free." (John 8:34, 36)

    The discussion about free will has always historically been about the bondage of the will and affections. And that which is in bondage is not free. We are not talking about not being free to choose which toothpaste we are going to use tomorrow morning. We are talking about does a fallen person have the ability to make a good saving choice apart from the work of the Holy Spirit? The Bible seems pretty clear on this. Hope this helps clarify a bit.

    Solus Christus
    John W. Hendryx

    Posted by John on January 29, 2013 06:49 PM


    Whether or not your answer was helpful to your visitor which we all hope it will it doesn't get any more clear!

    Thanks for the answer John!

    Far too many people think that "free will" means having the capacity to make choices. However, the capacity to make choices is merely will. In order for the will to be free, it must have the right to make those choices.

    Man clearly doesn't have the right to choose evil since God punishes evil. Rights are inalienable and are not subject to punishment by any authority, including God - He who is presumed to be the source of so-called "free will."

    Again, what many are calling "free will" is simply "will."

    Are humans capable of choosing salvation while in their totally depraved state? No. Jesus said regarding salvation "With men this is impossible." Paul quoted from the Old Testament when he wrote that there is none that does good, none that seeks after God. The only ones who are capable of choosing salvation, of choosing God, are those whom God chose from before the foundation of the world and, even with them, the capacity to choose salvation and choose God cannot come about until God regenerates them.

    Thank you, John for this brief but great write-up. However, it will still be a tough task to explain this to the average Christian today because of the way we have all been brought up. I myself have believed in "free will" all my life until only about half a year ago.

    Excellent response John, thanks!

    I fall in with the response Benjamin made - sort of. I also believed in "free" will most of my life, or rather, I never considered the issue that much because I didn't think it mattered so long as I believed.

    Due to a series of oddities I saw at my (now previous) Pelagian Church that didn't seem to line up with what I was reading in the Bible I started investigating and questioning. (That's how the Lord led me to this website a year or so ago.)

    Looking back there were a number of inconsistencies at the church I attended but two main things got my attention:

    - "Saving" people by having them repeat a prayer after the preacher without any hint of them having grieved about their sin and needing to repent was my first issue. (Other than saying "I believe Jesus died for my sins")... you all know what I mean. How can a person really believe it they don't even know what their sins are, how can they admit they need redemption, etc....

    2nd issue - was the music at my Church. Many songs in the theme of "I have decided to follow Jesus" made me question and again look to the Bible. That led to invesigation of The Attributes of God which led me to a much MUCH larger understanding of how truly magnificient God is. I don't think he "needs" me to "decide" to follow him. I am sure he put that desire to make a decision in my heart and I can no more decide to follow or not follow than water cascading down a mountain can decide its direction.

    PLEASE feel free to correct me if I am wrong. Thanks


    Thank you for your interest. But your post actually misses the point of my post ... and really misses out on the entire historic debate of this important subject. This is not a discussion about compatibilism (which is a discussion about meticulous Providence, Divine Sovereignty and human responsibility which is an entirely different discussion - important but not what we are talking about). It is about the debate throughout the history of the church which was discussed at the time of Augustine, Luther and Calvin - on the bondage of the will (to sin) and liberation of the will (FROM SIN). When Jesus said that ONLY he could set people free, he was talking about freedom within the context of sin. So the biblical discussion is about bondage of the will. Our choices may be voluntary but we choose sin of necessity because the fallen heart is in bondage to a corruption of nature. And that which is done in necessity and bondage is not free.

    Perhaps you can understand the discussion better simply by answering this question-- According to the Bible, left to yourself and apart from any work of the Holy Spirit do you affirm you can freely come to faith in Jesus Christ? If you could answer this question it would help bring the discussion on the same topic.

    You may call this inability but through the history of the church this debate is called bondage and liberation of the will... that after the fall freedom has turned to necessity and only Jesus Christ can set us free. If you believe you can come to Jesus Christ of your own boasted free will apart from the Spirit then you are treading on a graceless religion which has little in common with Christianity.

    Jesus said, "no one can come to me unless God grants it" (John 6:65). and "All that the Father give to me will come to me." (John 6:37)

    Why is it that people are unable to come unless God grants it?. Because they love darkness and hate the light (john 3:19). Their affection are so bound to the world that they won't come as a matter of will. Also those without the Spirit cannot understand spiritual truth and consider it folly (1 Cor 2:14) But he gives us the Spirit that we might understand and believe. "the Spirit gives life, the flesh counts for nothing."

    So I am not putting forth some novel view. Jesus himself teaches this in no uncertain terms. I am just bringing it to the surface and saying the same thing.


    Thanks for your response. I guess I would say generally that compatiblism isn’t an idea that can be pulled down from the shelf when needed (i.e. when discussing divine determinism) and then put back on the shelf when discussing freedom/bondage from sin. My general concern is that your philosophy (compatiblism) conflicts with your theology (total depravity). So saying, “I am not talking about compatiblism” doesn’t address the issue.

    “According to the Bible, left to yourself and apart from any work of the Holy Spirit do you affirm you can freely come to faith in Jesus Christ?”

    I say no, because I am not a compatiblist. If I were, I would have to say yes. On compatiblism, what counts is, if I wanted to, I would do it. This is how compatiblists explain “freedom” and “ability” and how they ground moral responsibility.

    “If you believe you can come to Jesus Christ of your own boasted free will apart from the Spirit then you are treading on a graceless religion which has little in common with Christianity.”

    I don’t believe you have avoided your own charge here. Per compatiblism, depraved people are able to come to Christ and this compatiblist sense of free will grounds responsibility.

    God be with you,


    You said, "Per compatiblism, depraved people are able to come to Christ and this compatiblist sense of free will grounds responsibility."

    Your information about me is actually wholly inaccurate. Not sure where all of these assumptions about my beliefs are coming from. Are you pulling this out of left field? Just so there is no misunderstanding, let me state up front. I reject free will altogether. Also, contrary to your claim, I affirm that our responsibility is not grounded in any kind of free will. And even though man was free from the bondage to sin prior to the fall, he has never been free from God's decree.

    We are responsible as human beings because God is our LORD, and God commands us to obey. As sinners prior to regeneration,our lack of free will and inability to obey, or come to Christ, does not alleviate us of responsibility to do so. As a simple example from every day life of how this can be true... if you borrowed $10 million from a bank to fund a new company, but squandered it in a week of wild living in Las Vegas, your inability to repay the debt does not alleviate you of the responsibility to do so. The Bank still requires that you pay your debt. Likewise in Adam we owe a sin-debt we cannot repay. Our inability to obey God therefore does not alleviate us of responsibility. He does not change his holy standard to us after we fell in Adam. His standard remains the same and holy perfection under God's law is the standard. So with all due respect I think your whole argument against what I believe is actually a straw man ... something I don't even believe. you appear to be making it up.

    but thanks be to God...Jesus does for us what we are unable to do for ourselves. He provides EVERYTHING we need for salvation, including a new heart to believe. Salvation is by grace alone.

    It is "because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 1 Cor 1:30-31

    Salvation is ALL of Christ INCLUDING the wisdom to believe, our right standing, our growth in grace and all of our redemption. For all of these we must thank God. Otherwise we would be thanking God for everything else EXCEPT the wisdom to believe which we would be boasting that we produced ourselves.

    In the end, we cannot ascribe our repenting and believing to our own wisdom, humility, sound judgement or good sense, but must give glory to Christ even for the new heart we have to believe. (Ezek 36:26, John 6:63)

    Lastly I believe that since you acknowledge that you need the Spirit to believe it reveals that you reject free will as well. You would not need the Spirit to believe if you naturally had a free will to do so.



    You would be mistaken if you think I believe in what some people call compatibilistic free will. I don't and never have.



    I am not making up a strawman. Calvinists are typically compatible determinists. For example:


    An alternative concept of freedom, one consistent with Reformed theology and held by a number of philosophers (the Stoics, Spinoza, Locke, Hume, Hobart, Richard Double et al) is often called “compatibilism,” for on that basis, free will and determinism (the view that all events in creation are caused) are compatible. … Reformed theology recognizes that all people have freedom in the compatibilist sense… I believe that compatibilist freedom is the main kind of freedom necessary to moral responsibility.

    I am sure I could come up with dozens of examples of this if needed. Occasionally, a Calvinist will deny the term “free will”, but when they do so they are not doing what you just did (i.e. denying compatiblist free will). Most often, they are denying libertarian free will under the term “free will”. For example, when Clarke denies free will, in context, he clearly means libertarian free will, not compatiblist free will:

    "The question therefore is, Does the Bible teach the freedom of the will? By freedom of the will is meant what most ordinary people mean: the absence of any controlling power, even God and his grace, and therefore the equal ability in any situation to choose either of two incompatible courses of action. There are some semi-Calvinists who, presumably through fear, assert the freedom of the will, and then more or less disguise the fact that they define freedom of the will in a way most people would never guess. .... Freedom of the will, almost universally, means that God does not determine a man's choice. It means that the will is uncaused, not predetermined. The present book uses free will in its ordinary, commonly accepted sense. The question is Does the Bible teach freedom of the will? It is so obvious that the Bible contradicts the notion of free will that its acceptance by professing Christians can be explained only by the continuing ravages of sin in the minds of men." (Gordon H. Clark. Predestination. The Trinity Foundation. 1987 P.81)

    Cases of Calvinists clearly denying compatiblist free will must be very rare, though perhaps you are an exception.

    God be with you,


    By denying compatiblist free will, do you also deny the ability to do otherwise?

    God be with you,


    Thank you for your interaction.

    IMHO the use of the term "free will" is a very poor choice of words for any Calvinist, not only because he does not have a free will but because it confuses the issue. But I have been studying this issue for years and the vast majority of Calvinists who use the term simply mean by it, that man's choice is voluntary, not coerced. In other words, they affirm that God's predetermination and meticulous providence is "compatible" with voluntary choice. Like the men who were predetermined to crucify Jesus, they also voluntarily carried it out (Acts 2 & 4) They were not coerced ... i.e. they did not kick and scream against it. That our choices are only our choices because they are voluntary, not coerced. But they do not believe that man's choice is EVER free from either sin or God's decree.

    Calvin is very helpful here in distinguishing the difference between voluntary and free. (Especially the second paragraph). In his very helpful book, The Bondage and Liberation of the Will he said,

    There are four expressions regarding the will which differ from one another “namely that the will is 1) free, 2) bound, 3) self-determined, or 4) coerced. People generally understand a free will to be one which has in its power to choose good or evil …[But] There can be no such thing as a coerced will, since the two ideas are contradictory. But our responsibility as teachers is to say what it means, so that it may be understood what coercion is. Therefore we describe [as coerced] the will which does not incline this way or that of its own accord or by an internal movement of decision, but is forcibly driven by an external impulse. We say that it is self-determined when of itself it directs itself in the direction in which it is led, when it is not taken by force or dragged unwillingly. A bound will, finally, is one which because of its corruptness is held captive under the authority of its evil desires, so that it can choose nothing but evil, even if it does so of its own accord and gladly, without being driven by any external impulse.

    According to these definitions 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)

    Solus Christus


    Thanks for the explanations and conversation.

    I take it your disagreement with Calvinists who affirm compatiblist free will is at least mostly semantic rather than substantive. That is to say, you more or less agree with what they mean by CFW, though you disapprove of the label. If fact, if you really did disagree with what they mean by CFW, we really would be getting into straw man stuff (people being dragged kicking and screaming into heaven, depraved people with something like turrets syndrome…). But you have made it clear that that’s not what you believe.

    If I am right about that, then maybe in your case I would have to reword my argument to remove the CFW label, but the underlying concept still stands.

    God be with you,

    John does a fine job in a small space, Berkouwer helps as well:

    We must then speak without any hesitation of human freedom as a creaturely freedom given by God. No misuse of the desire for freedom, not even complete anarchy, should tempt us to stop speaking boldly and emphatically of freedom.

    The anxiety regarding the use of the term which we find in Christian circles is indeed historically and psychologically understandable, since life has often been shaken to its foundations through an appeal to “freedom.” Freedom is often understood as autonomy and arbitrary power, as a purely formal power of man to go his own way. Thus man can be “liberated” from many restrictions, and thus Cain can “free” himself from Abel — “Am I my brother’s keeper?” — and thus freedom can become an idol, a myth, which fills the heart and passions of man.

    Such practices can bring into the open the hidden and demonic motivations that lurk beneath what is often misunderstood as “freedom,” and they who have been made aware of these hidden forces tend to talk freedom only in whispers and certainly without emphasis. It is clear, however, that such an approach to the problem arises from a perverted and secularized concept of freedom, within which it becomes increasingly difficult to keep in mind the Biblical witness regarding the Christian’s freedom in Christ.

    Speaking Biblically, we can only say that sin enslaves man, just as it originally robbed him of his freedom and made him a man bound in the fetters of sin, as Calvin says (Institutes, II, III, 5). The Bible never embarks on a crusade against true human freedom; it is not so that, for example, divine omnipotence and providence rule out human freedom or annihilate it. The perspective is wholly different: the Scriptural witness on freedom is limited to man’s relation to God. Man’s enslaved will (servum arbitrium) does not mean impotence in the face of divine omnipotence, but rather sin, guilt, alienation, rebellion.

    Man’s sin is not a manifestation of his freedom, but its perversion. And it is thus of great importance to give our full attention to, and not in reaction ignore, the fact that divine grace forgives this perversion of freedom, this rebellion, and annihilates its effects, and so renders man once again truly free.

    (“Studies in Dogmatics”, Man: The Image of God [Eerdmans:GrandRapids, MI], 1962. Paragraphs created by me for readability)

    The question of "free-will" must be explored in the question of ABILITY. To choose a drink of pop rather than a glass of beer, without the actual ability to stretch forth the hand and take the desired choice, is meaningless and irrelevant. In scriptural terms, Jesus explicitly affirmed that all who sin are enslaved by and to sin. He also affirmed that freedom FROM sin was/is possible only by and through He Himself. Jesus also denied that anyone CAN (has the ability) DO "good" ( as defined by Him as "good fruit"), who was not living in dependent faith to and in Him. He said plainly, "For without Me, you can do NOTHING" (Jn 15:5). Since He denied the ability to do "good" to anyone who is not abiding in Him with a genuine, dependant faith, He left open to sinful man, only the ability to do evil. That sinners do this evil "voluntarily" -meaning their sinful heart and darkened mind assent to the sin they do and they love it, does mean they are in any regard, "free" to not sin. IF they could do that, and do it apart from Jesus, they would then indeed possess a "free-will". As it stands, according to Jesus at least, it is ONLY "whom the Son sets free is free indeed".


    Does God control who is saved and who is lost? Is it man's choice or is it God who dictates man's decisions concerning salvation and the Christian's lifestyle?


    John 5:39-40 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me, 40 and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.

    Jesus was speaking to certain Jews who were trying to kill Him. Jesus said they were unwilling to come to Him. They had free-will; they just rejected Him.

    Luke 6:46 "Why do you call Me, Lord, Lord,' and do not what I say?

    Why would Jesus ask, why they disobeyed, if they did not have free-will? If they did not have a choice, Jesus would have commanded them to do His will. They would have had no option, but to obey.

    Acts 7:51 "You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did.

    These men resisted the Holy Spirit . You cannot resist the Holy Spirit if you do not have free-will.

    2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

    The Lord does not want any to perish. If men do not have free-will, everyone would have already repented. All mankind would be saved. Without the free-will of man the Lord would not need patience.

    1 Peter 5:8-9 Be sober of spirit, be on alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.

    It would be a hollow warning to tell Christians to resist the devil, if men do not have free-will. Resisting the devil would be impossible without free-will.

    Without free-will , there would be no sin that could be resisted.

    Without free-will, no man could resist the gospel, and all who heard it would be saved.



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