Free Will vs. Determinism

One of the longest debated theological questions is the one of free will vs. determinism. Do we as humans already have our entire life, every choice we’ll make, everything we’ll say or do, already determined by God before we’re even born? Or do we ultimately have free will to make those choices for ourselves? I believe that we will never really know the true answer to this question during our time here on earth, but it’s still a fun and important one to discuss and debate. Today, I will be giving my stance on this issue but keep in mind that I am by no means a great philosopher or theologian so don’t take what I say as pure truth, these are just my personal beliefs and it’s okay if you disagree with me.

I’m going to start by giving my central belief on this issue and after that, I’ll go through and give the reasons why I believe this. I believe that since God is omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), and omnipresent (outside of time) he has the knowledge of every possible future choice we would make as well as the results of those choices, as well as the power to alter the decisions we could make, as well as the ability to do so by being outside of time. But even though he has all of these things and absolutely does have the power to determine our future path, he doesn’t.

To ask the question of whether who has power over our lives, we must determine what the ultimate purpose of our existence is in the first place. John Piper describes this as “Christian hedonism” which means to glorify God by enjoying him forever. I am a huge fan of Piper’s work and I completely agree with him on this. Piper also writes in his book Desiring God that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” So now that we have determined what our purpose is and how we accomplish that purpose, let’s shift to how this relates to free will vs. determinism.

Piper also writes that “God did not create to get wealth, he created to display wealth.” God doesn’t need humans. When he created Adam and Eve, the first humans, he already had an infinite amount of wealth that we could never comprehend. But he chose to create us in order to display that wealth to the world and show how awesome of a God he is. Now, that being said, ask yourself this question: Would it be a greater display of God’s glory, wealth, and power for him to create people and then choose which of them would believe and be saved by him, or would it display more glory, wealth, and power for him to create people who are given the choice of whether or not they want to be saved by him? I believe the answer to this question is the latter.

I don’t see how God can ultimately be glorified if we don’t have free will to choose him or not. If some of us are chosen by God to be saved by him and thus worship him, how does that speak to his nature? What would be the purpose of creating humans to glorify you if you were just going to program them to worship you? The “worship” would be manufactured and not true worship. I think humans being given the choice whether or not to choose God is much more powerful.

The idea of an “election” where God predestines each person before the beginning of time also seems to negate the idea of the personal relationship the New Testament claims Christians can have with God through Jesus Christ. Is the relationship really real, true, and personal if it’s something we’re forced to do?

The next two points I want to bring up are whether the election is really fair and if God desires for everyone to be saved. There are multiple verses stating the God does want for everyone to come to faith in him, such as 1 Timothy 2:3-4 which says, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” The next question is whether the election is fair or not. An argument made in favor of determinism is that even if God were to only choose to save five people out of the entire human race, that it would be an amazing demonstration of his grace. I do partially agree with this, but not entirely. While I do agree that it would be a demonstration of his grace, why wouldn’t God just save everyone since we know he has the power and the desire to do so?

As Aristotle says, I believe God to be an “unmoved mover,” or “that which moves without being moved.” I believe that God, through the Holy Spirit, is actively moving in the world and through the decisions we freely make and seeks to speak to and persuade people to come to faith God. But I still believe that each person has a choice whether they will ignore or accept this call and that God does not force anyone to do anything.

Now, I would be remiss if I wrote this post without including more than one verse from the Bible since, after all, we’re talking about the nature of God. I do acknowledge that there are verses that can seem to point to both sides of this argument. For example, the determinism side of the argument has verses that favor it. Romans 8:29-30 seems to be pretty clear, “For those whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Or in 2 Peter chapter 1 when Peter says “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love…Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.”

But if you were to look at another passage, such as John 7:17 when Jesus is speaking to a crowd at a festival, he says, “Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.” Or in Galatians 5:13 when Paul writes, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

It’s because of conflicting passages like these that I said at the very beginning that we’ll never really know the true answer to the question of free will vs. determinism. But just because we can’t ever know the answer that doesn’t mean we should never have the conversation.

Regardless of where you stand on this issue, you won’t go to heaven or hell based whether you believe in free will (as I do) or determinism. If you believe that you have been saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ as Paul writes in Ephesians, that’s all you need. This issue is not one of salvation and should not be one that divides believers and causes broken fellowship between us. No, this should be an issue that unites believers and we should come together to discuss these tough questions to help strengthen each other’s faith.

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1 Comment

  1. It’s not just a problem for Christians , philosophers are still debating this knotty problem. The famous atheist Sam Harris believes the self and free will are both illusions and he points to neuroscience which in certain cases seems to say the brain choses before we make the choice.
    I think Calvanists make the point that people are not capable of choosing God so it follows God must choose them. Unfortunately what this implies is that many who claim to be Christians because they have chosen God’s way are not Christians at all.
    Some scientists discuss the cause and effect link , the fact that every event must have a cause but it does create questions about the big bang theory the bang itself being the primary cause.
    Perhaps the worst problem for Determinism is the removal of responsibility because in a totally deterministic world we are not responsible for our actions. Of course we already see this in the science of psychology and certain crimes are excused by the state of the perpetrators mind.
    We might consider possession by evil spirits then of course the evil acts are not the person but the spirit.

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