"...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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  • « This Faith That You Gave Me (A Prayer) | Main | Vessels Prepared for Destruction »

    God’s Sovereignty Part 2 by Marco Gonzalez


    In my last post, I discussed the extent, degree, and magnitude of God’s sovereignty. I understand, however, it may have raised questions and concerns. Naturally, if I am claiming God’s sovereignty and absolute control, how can humans still be responsible? Better yet—how then, can we be responsible for our actions? Is God a master puppeteer, while human beings are strung and maneuvered by his hand? If all of human history is sovereignly orchestrated by God and upheld by his independent governing will, how can we make choices? These questions I will address; specifically, how are divine sovereignty and human responsibility compatible?

    Let me begin by stating—Man is accountable for all his choices and decisions. It is a mistake to believe that man may sit idle, while God is governing all affairs. Human beings are responsible and accountable for all their choices. The scriptures continuously call for man to respond to God. In fact, Reformed Theology has always believed it to be an integral part of God’s sovereignty. Man is responsible to respond to the gospel. He is responsible to make upright and righteous decisions. He is responsible to love and care for his family. He is responsible even without sufficient saving knowledge of God. He is responsible to preach the gospel among the nations. God’s sovereignty does not negate human responsibility, but grants it, while also maintaining freedom and meaning to human decisions. Yet is an equal emphasis between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility even possible? The biblical writers, throughout the whole, find no problem coinciding God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.

    In Romans 9, Paul anticipates objectors who question God:

    You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”. (Romans 9:14)

    Paul responds with:

    20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump done vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? (Romans 9:20-21)

    Similarly, scripture condemns those who crucified Christ, but this event was also decreed by God (Luke 22:22; Acts 2:22; 4:27-28). The main point of Romans 9 is to explain why the Jews, God’s chosen people, have not believed. Paul points their unbelief to God’s sovereign hand. Yet in Romans 10, he attributes it to their unbelief in the gospel. Jesus identified Judas, who would inevitably betray him, while the scriptures indicated it was decreed by God. Judas, however, was fully responsible. The Assyrians were also decreed, by God, to plunder and punish the Israelites. However, they were a fully responsible, wicked people, before God (Is 10:5-10). Finally Joseph, whose brothers sold him into slavery, being wrongly accused by Potiphar’s wife, imprisoned and falsely accused, rebukes his siblings for their wicked intent. But at the same time, affirms God’s sovereign and good purposes (Gen 50:20). So how then, do our actions correspond to God’s sovereignty? Jesus, in Matthew 7, explains the nature of our ability to choose.

    So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit (Matthew 7:17-18).

    Our choices are determined by desire. We act and speak, according to our character. This has commonly been referred to as “compatibilist freedom.” What we most desire, is what we will choose. If Bill decides to eat leftovers, it is not arbitrary, but based on an inward desire to eat. Our choices, then, are completely free in the sense that they come from what we most desire. It is called compatibilism, because it is compatible with determinism. Determinism means that every event, including human decisions, has a cause other than itself. Therefore, we are free, because we still act according to our desires. If a natural disaster occurs, let’s say a storm caused by God, we are free to respond according to our character and desire. Naturally, this would look for different for all people. Some would ensure the survival of others, while many would protect themselves. Everyone in this scenario, is freely choosing what they most desire. However, the most common view that objects to compatiblism is called “Libertarian Freedom”.

    Libertarians emphasize that our choices are not determined in advanced, but that we are the ultimate causes of our choices. They do affirm that God is the first cause, but not in regard to human decisions.

    R.K. McGregor Wright states:

    “The belief that human will has an inherent power to choose with equal ease between alternatives. This is commonly called “the power of contrary choice” or “the liberty of indifference.” This belief does not claim that there are no influences that might affect the will, but it does insist that normally the will can overcome these factors and choose in spite of them. Ultimately, the will is free from any necessary causation. In other words, it is autonomous from outside determination.”

    Notice from the start that Libertarians are very concerned with their autonomy. Human freedom, the power to choose contrary, is defined as the ability to choose A or A- given the same state of circumstances. If Bill chooses to eat ice cream, given the same state of circumstances as when he had chosen ice cream, he could have just as easily chosen fruit. Our desires, character, and longings may influence our decisions, but we always have the freedom to choose contrary. Libertarians believe without “the power of contrary choice” we are not responsible for our actions. In reality, this makes human decisions arbitrary, and in some sense, our decisions are independent from our own nature! Since we ultimately have the power to choose contrary. The human will, then, becomes an independent faculty that can’t be moved by anyone or anything; if it is, we are not responsible. In other words, we must be “able to do otherwise” at any given moment. This type of freedom has many problems and inconsistencies. In fact, I believe it actually eliminates human responsibility, instead of protecting it.

    The scriptures in no way claim that we are responsible in the Libertarian sense. Libertarian freedom is not a biblical idea, or even exegetical, but is completely deduced. Unless we are going to begin inferring that every text that says “will” or “choose,” means “able to do otherwise.” Clearly, they don’t. Even in our judicial system, responsibility is based on motives. We are judged on character, motive of the crime, intent of our desires, all according to our character. A courts delineation of crimes is grounded upon causes, motives, and desires. In our example of Bill, he would therefore not be held responsible for his actions because he can act separately outside of his motives, greatest desires, and his character. As a result, Bill would be labeled as “criminally insane.” Libertarians want to preserve freedom and responsibility, but they in fact decimate it. Consequently, Libertarian freedom doesn't adequately answer God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. Compabatlism freedom is supported by numerous texts and answers the dilemma of sovereignty and responsibility.

    Wayne Grudem, in his highly acclaimed Systematic Theology, uses an analogy of an author writing a play. He uses the analogy of Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth. Shakespeare is the author of the story, dictating the events, mapping the progression, and naturally is the first cause of all events. In this magnificent play Macbeth kills King Duncan. But who killed King Duncan? Did Shakespeare commit the crime or did Macbeth? Within the storyline, Macbeth carried out the murder of King Duncan. Macbeth killed King Duncan using all the means that were accessible to him. However, outside of the storyline, Shakespeare set the story in motion, determined and causes all events, created all the characters, and was involved in every detail. The author and characters, therefore, have different sets of causes within their levels. The characters are within their level of the storyline, while the author is outside. Using this analogy, God fully causes all things within his rights, as creator and sustainer, and we fully cause things in another way, as creatures.

    Posted by Marco on April 28, 2014 11:16 AM


    Good analysis of the nature of the will.

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