How Can the Bible Affirm Both Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom?

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  • How Can the Bible Affirm Both Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom?

    by Bruce A Ware

    God is the sovereign ruler over the universe and all human affairs, and human beings are responsible before God for the moral choices and actions they make. Yes, the Bible teaches both divine sovereignty and human freedom, and both are true.

    What does the Bible teach about God’s sovereign rulership?

    Consider Daniel 4:35, where we are instructed that God “does what He wants with the army of heaven and the inhabitants of earth. There is no one who can hold back His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” In light of this verse, three observations are needed. First, God’s rulership is the exercise of “His will.” That is, He decides in advance what He wants to happen, so that His will precedes and directs all that occurs. Second, He exercises His will universally-- over those in heaven and all that occurs. Second, He exercises His will universally-- over those in heaven and all the inhabitants of earth. There is no place where His will does not pertain or is not exercised. And third, no creature of God can thwart the fulfillment of God’s will or charge God with wrongdoing. In short, God’s rulership by His will is absolute, universal, and effectual.

    Consider further the kinds of reality over which God reigns. The Bible contains a number of “spectrum texts” that display God’s ultimate control for both good and evil, light and darkness, life and death. In Is 45:6-7, God announced, “I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make success and create disaster; I the Lord do all these things” (see Ex 4:11; Dt 32:39; 1 Sm 2:6-7; Ec 7:13-14; Lm 3:37-38 ). And, while we gladly affirm that God is good (only!), and that God neither approves evil nor has any evil residing in Himself (Ps 5:4), yet we must affirm with Scripture that He reigns over all of life, both its good and evil, and that in all that occurs “the decision of His will” (Eph 1:11) is fulfilled.

    What does Scripture teach about human moral responsibility?

    From page 1 of the Bible, all humans are put on notice that God holds us accountable for the moral choices we make and actions we take. The law of God-- whether the simple law not to eat of one tree in the garden (Gn 2:16-17), the law given on Sinai (Ex 20), or the law of Christ (1 Co 9:21; Gl 6:2)-- establishes the moral framework within which human lives are to be lived. God will “repay each one according to his works” (Rm 2:6), and this judgment will be based on whether we persevere in doing good (Rm 2:7), or whether we do not obey the truth but obey unrighteousness (Rm 2:8 ). There is no denying that God considers humans as being responsible for the choices and actions we make, and the final judgment day will bear testimony to how we have chosen to live our lives.

    So God is the sovereign ruler over all, and human beings are responsible before Him. But just how can both be true?
    We cannot understand fully how both are true together, but that they must work together is demanded by Scripture’s clear teaching. Consider one illustration from scripture where both are seen-- namely, a lesson from Joseph’s story (Gn 37-45).

    Joseph’s brothers were deeply jealous of him and grew to despise him. When the opportunity presented itself, they sold him into Egypt (Gn 37:25-36), where Joseph was misunderstood and mistreated. Despite this, God’s hand was on Joseph and he was elevated to second in command in Egypt (Gn 41). During a famine, his brothers traveled to Egypt to purchase grain, and there Joseph made himself known to his brothers. What Joseph told them is as incredible as it is instructive. “It was not you who sent me here, but God” (Gn 45:8 ).

    “Wait!” we might protest. “Surely they did send Joseph to Egypt!”

    So they did, and so Joseph previously acknowledged (Gn 45:4). But to get at the full reason he was sent to Egypt requires looking not just to the brothers but also, and more importantly, to God.

    So it is clear: Both God and the brothers were responsible for sending Joseph to Egypt. Both God’s sovereign rulership and the brother’s moral actions were active. As Joseph put it later in speaking to his brothers, “You planned evil against me; God planned it for good” (Gn 50:20). The brothers acted for evil, and God acted in the same events for good.

    Not every question is here answered, but we see that we must affirm both the sovereign rulership of God and the genuineness of our moral responsibility. Both are joined together in Scripture, and what Scripture has joined together, let no man separate.

  • #2
    I just read this article not from this website but in the Apologetics Study Bible; I didn't want to have to type it out. As this article points out Joseph said to his brothers it was they who sent him to Egypt, but that God used this evil for good; God sent Joseph to Egypt because it was within His provision to allow it to happen. Therefore, the brothers had free will, they were not forced by God to send Joseph to Egypt. But God used evil for good and allowed Joseph to be second in command in Egypt through Joseph's good conscience and good works. Therefore let no Calvinist "separate what Scripture has joined together." What the Calvinist doesn't understand is that not only is everything is within God's providence, but that free will is afforded to us all in that providential care. The god of Calvinism can't do this. He does not have that ability or power.

    "And Joseph said unto his brethren, Come near to me, I pray you. And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt" (Gen. 45.4).

    Since Calvinists refuse to repent and believe in Christ to be regenerated, according to the Bible they are going to Hell, for they will admit they reject for eternity the God who provides sufficient grace for all to have the free choice. Amen.

    So all 5 points of Calvinism are false, whereas all 5 points of OSAS Arminian are true. God provides sufficient grace to all to have the free choice: a conditional election, unlimited atonement, resistible grace, for preservation of the saints (OSAS). Amen.

    Now that is a God you can trust and respect who fellowships with free willed beings not robots.
    Last edited by Patrib; 03-08-2015, 09:38 PM.
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    • #3
      Sure you are not Pelagian, Patrib? Your understanding of Arminianism and Calvinism appears lacking. As a Reformed/Calvinist I agree with the article, but I do not believe you have understood nor comprehended it correctly. The article defines human freedom in such a way that I would doubt an objection by any other Calvinist. Hyper-Calvinist however, might object to the article's points by unwittingly relieving man from all human duty/responsibility/accountability. Calvinist do not define "free will" as the article or you have suggested - by having a choice moral or otherwise, but speak to the extent of man's depravity, thereby rejecting autonomous will. Lastly, you committed the fallacy of equivalence, having changed a statement or two in order to promote your own doctrinal understanding, or should I say presuppositions and ideology? Refrain from condemning others with your doctrinal judgments. For this I am issuing you a verbal warning. Refrain from such attacks and address the OP. Leave out the personal attacks indirectly or directly.

      Genesis 50:20 presents your doctrine with a major problem, Patrib. I suggest you read it and reread it.
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      • #4
        It doesn't, referring to the OP. Everything is predestined from the beginning. God is almighty and all knowing. That is sovereignty. People are enslaved to sin, and only God can free us from it, and does so according to His purpose according to election. We must believe that "In the beginning God..." or we don't believe in the God of the Bible. God's plan is all-encompassing, as He is all and in all. The moment we say, "except", we deny the sovereignty of God. Man is made to be corruptible and sins, though God does not. Man must be chosen and saved by God or that man is not saved. It is done by grace through faith, and is a gift of God, not of any works of ours. Ephesians 2:8-10.
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        • #5
          [FONT=Arial, sans-serif]I am a Baptist and I believe in the doctrines of grace referred to as Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Preservation and Perseverance of the saints. God must grant being born again because it is Spiritual life. We do not have the Holy Spirit in our unregenerate state. [/FONT][FONT=Georgia, serif]Romans_8:9[/FONT][FONT=Georgia, serif] But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. [/FONT]


          [FONT=Arial, sans-serif]God makes two kinds of vessels, vessels of mercy and vessels of wrath fitted to destruction (Romans chapter 9, all people in this world fall into one category or the other). I have yet to see a lump of clay form itself into anything. Jesus said there are tares and wheat. Yes, dead sinners,those without the Holy Spirit, live in this world, but they cannot and will not suddenly decide to believe in Jesus as their Saviour or that they want to serve God. Proverbs 16:4 The LORD hath made all things for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil. [/FONT]

          The lost walk among us, but their will is bound by their sinful nature. It was God that put the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the garden of Eden; it is God that controls evil as we read in Job. Satan was limited as to what he could do to Job by God.

          Was Joseph in control when he was put in a pit and sold or was it God setting up a deliverance for his people during famine? As William has said, man is accountable to God. [FONT=Georgia, serif]Jeremiah_17:9[/FONT][FONT=Georgia, serif] The heart [/FONT][FONT=Georgia, serif]is[/FONT][FONT=Georgia, serif] deceitful above all [/FONT][FONT=Georgia, serif]things,[/FONT][FONT=Georgia, serif] and desperately wicked: who can know it? Joseph's brothers hated him. Do you think it was the hand of God that prevented them from killing him or made the pit with no water in it?[/FONT]

          [FONT=Georgia, serif]Gen 37:20[/FONT][FONT=Georgia, serif] Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit, and we will say, Some evil beast hath devoured him: and we shall see what will become of his dreams. [/FONT]
          [FONT=Georgia, serif]Gen 37:21 And Reuben heard [/FONT][FONT=Georgia, serif]it,[/FONT][FONT=Georgia, serif] and he delivered him out of their hands; and said, Let us not kill him. [/FONT]
          [FONT=Georgia, serif]Gen 37:22 And Reuben said unto them, Shed no blood, [/FONT][FONT=Georgia, serif]but[/FONT][FONT=Georgia, serif] cast him into this pit that [/FONT][FONT=Georgia, serif]is[/FONT][FONT=Georgia, serif] in the wilderness, and lay no hand upon him; that he might rid him out of their hands, to deliver him to his father again. [/FONT]
          [FONT=Georgia, serif]Gen 37:23 And it came to pass, when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that they stript Joseph out of his coat, [/FONT][FONT=Georgia, serif]his[/FONT][FONT=Georgia, serif] coat of [/FONT][FONT=Georgia, serif]many[/FONT][FONT=Georgia, serif] colours that [/FONT][FONT=Georgia, serif]was[/FONT][FONT=Georgia, serif] on him; [/FONT]
          [FONT=Georgia, serif]Gen 37:24 And they took him, and cast him into a pit: and the pit [/FONT][FONT=Georgia, serif]was[/FONT][FONT=Georgia, serif] empty, [/FONT][FONT=Georgia, serif]there was[/FONT][FONT=Georgia, serif] no water in it.[/FONT]

          [FONT=Georgia, serif]Jeremiah_10:23[/FONT][FONT=Georgia, serif] O LORD, I know that the way of man [/FONT][FONT=Georgia, serif]is[/FONT][FONT=Georgia, serif] not in himself: [/FONT][FONT=Georgia, serif]it is[/FONT][FONT=Georgia, serif] not in man that walketh to direct his steps. I see this on all men, not just the saved. [/FONT][FONT=Georgia, serif]Psalm_94:11[/FONT][FONT=Georgia, serif] The LORD knoweth the thoughts of man, that they [/FONT][FONT=Georgia, serif]are[/FONT][FONT=Georgia, serif]vanity. [/FONT]
          [FONT=Georgia, serif]1Co_3:20[/FONT][FONT=Georgia, serif] And again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain. God knows our very thoughts. [/FONT]
          [FONT=Georgia, serif]We were sinners and ungodly. In election, God chose from before the foundation of the world to save a number that no man can number and He gave them to Jesus to die for at Calvary. Am I a robot? I will just say this, if it had not been for God drawing me to Christ in regeneration, I would have perished and gone to hell. [/FONT][FONT=Georgia, serif]Joh_15:16[/FONT][FONT=Georgia, serif]Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and [/FONT][FONT=Georgia, serif]that [/FONT][FONT=Georgia, serif]your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.[/FONT]


          [FONT=Georgia, serif]If we can resist God in this life, why not in the next? Why wouldn't people stand before the judgment seat and say, “I'm not going to hell and You can't make me!” Men think that they can resist God. Wouldn't that make the creature stronger than the Creator? Consider Jonah too. I think he thought that when he was thrown overboard that he would drown, but God had other plans and accomplished the preaching to Nineveh through Jonah. Why didn't Jonah's will prevail?[/FONT]
          Last edited by baa baa; 03-09-2015, 03:37 PM.
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          • #6
            Truly I cannot say it better than those who ''typed before me'' and posted their thoughts. As a Calvinist, I believe God to be sovereign. Sovereignty means to be in COMPLETE CONTROL ..so, with that in mind, one has to realize that Joseph and his plight was directed by God from the foundation of the world. God directed what ''played out'' EVERY step of the way; from Joseph being sold into slavery, to the reunion with his family many years down the road. It was no accident that this happened (and God ''trying to figure out'' .. what to do next). It had nothing to do with Joseph's Good Conscience (and least of all, his Good Works).
            God planned much for Joseph ..
            Daniel 2:21 ''It is He who changes the times and the epochs;
            He removes kings and establishes kings;
            He gives wisdom to wise men
            And knowledge to men of understanding.
            It all happened exactly as God planned it.

            Patrib .. don't know where you're getting your info re: (Calvinism) from .. but you are being ''steered wrong.'' Calvinists Repent .. Believe .. and hold God's Word (the Bible), as their Truth .. and nothing but that Truth.
            Last edited by Eagle; 03-09-2015, 04:16 PM. Reason: *spelling error
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            • #7
              Originally posted by William View Post
              Sure you are not Pelagian, Patrib? Your understanding of Arminianism and Calvinism appears lacking. As a Reformed/Calvinist I agree with the article, but I do not believe you have understood nor comprehended it correctly. The article defines human freedom in such a way that I would doubt an objection by any other Calvinist. Hyper-Calvinist however, might object to the article's points by unwittingly relieving man from all human duty/responsibility/accountability. Calvinist do not define "free will" as the article or you have suggested - by having a choice moral or otherwise, but speak to the extent of man's depravity, thereby rejecting autonomous will. Lastly, you committed the fallacy of equivalence, having changed a statement or two in order to promote your own doctrinal understanding, or should I say presuppositions and ideology? Refrain from condemning others with your doctrinal judgments. For this I am issuing you a verbal warning. Refrain from such attacks and address the OP. Leave out the personal attacks indirectly or directly.

              Genesis 50:20 presents your doctrine with a major problem, Patrib. I suggest you read it and reread it.
              Are you pelagians William? OSAS Arminians are not pelagians so you seem confused about that. Nothing in this article suggests man is totally depraved. Both the brothers of Joseph had the free will to send Joseph to Egypt and Joseph had the free will to pursue his life in Egypt and all under God's providential care and used evil for good. Whether hard or soft Calvinists all Calvinism is wrong since all 5 points of Calvinism are false. God does not irresistibly impose salvation on anyone. What love is that? So don't be like Satan that great false accuser of equivalence when you don't proceed even try to try to show it. It is a sin to bear false witness. Satan when he accuses does so vaguely as you have done. I think your position is wrong to not tell Atheists, Muslims, Deists and Calvinists they are not saved, for clearly the Bible shows it that they are going to Hell. Why leave this part out of the gospel? Why need to get saved if not from Hell? Consider this a verbal warning. You have been warned you are teaching a false gospel, not the gospel of salvation in Christ alone. No false Christs! The 5 points of Calvinism are diabolically opposed to the doctrines of grace: free will or human ability, conditional election, unlimited atonement, resistible grace, for preservation of the saints or OSAS.

              Since the Bible says repent and be converted, not pridefully assume oneself converted and repent, don't endorse the latter for salvation. Gen. 50.20 doesn't say what God did was irresistibly imposed. The person intended harm, but God used it for good. Who intended harm? The person. God brought a person not by irresistibly imposing it on him, but through His sufficient prevenient grace. Why reject God's prevenient grace? What you can say is your god can't do that, so God trumps your god every time; I love that latter and rebuke the former. I think the glory of God is seen in his prevenient grace, not irresistibly imposed Satanic grace.

              Often it helps to put into perspective the evils of Calvinism by comparing it to other evils of the world that hold a similar view. For example, Hitler preteritioned the Jews from birth for the gas chambers, giving them no opportunity for salvation and irresistibly selected his Aryan racist race. How is that different from Calvinism?
              Last edited by Patrib; 03-09-2015, 09:10 PM.
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              • #8
                Since the Bible says repent and be converted, not pridefully assume oneself converted and repent, don't endorse the latter for salvation.
                Why Repent and Believe if man is not depraved? Is your projection upon god nothing more than a wishful thinker up there hoping that someone will choose him? Lemme ask, if your god is Sovereign and man himself declines is not man sovereign over god? You stated grace is resistible, by this I will assume you understand effectual grace and just grant you another logical inconsistency. A dead man can resist nothing. However, I realize you are probably fully prepared to do theological gymnastics as necessary in order to win an argument, forget discussion, debate or fellowship.

                God does not irresistibly impose salvation on anyone. What love is that?
                You demonstrate a total lack of understanding for the doctrine of Irresistible Grace. You ask what love is that? Lemme give you some advice, stop defending God and let Him speak through the Scriptures. I nor anyone else here wants to compete with your overly exaggerated sense of self importance.

                As to the rest of your post:

                Arminians may not be Pelagian, especially in the classical sense, but your understanding and application towards the nature of man comes across as semi or full blown Pelagian. I asked you a question, and you verified my suspicions in your last reply. You seemingly make up for your lack of knowledge in ignorance. I see no evidence that you can actually comprehend Scripture, but imagine only how many theologically sound people you attack due to your lack of comprehension. You appear using any post as a means to state your misconceived notions pertaining to Calvinist, and obviously, you have no problem projecting upon others your misunderstandings. You have been given your last warning, either address the OP and not the Poster or click the little red x on top right of your screen and do not come back. Carefully consider how you wish to respond before you do.
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                • #9
                  We are totally depraved, to those who don't think so. Read John 3:17-20. Read Psalm 65:4 to find out how we are saved. God chooses whom He will and causes us to come unto Him. The rest perish in their already condemned state. The Bible is quite clear about this. If one does not believe these verses, they don't believe in the God of the Bible. No sense in arguing, as it is so clear that if one does not receive those words, they are reprobates, blinded by Satan.
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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Stratcat View Post
                    We are totally depraved, to those who don't think so. Read John 3:17-20. Read Psalm 65:4 to find out how we are saved. God chooses whom He will and causes us to come unto Him. The rest perish in their already condemned state. The Bible is quite clear about this. If one does not believe these verses, they don't believe in the God of the Bible. No sense in arguing, as it is so clear that if one does not receive those words, they are reprobates, blinded by Satan.
                    [Jhn 3:17-19 KJV] 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. 18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

                    This passage is speaking of our free choice to accept and believe in Christ or to be lovers of the world. So no Total depravity there.

                    [Psa 65:4 KJV] 4 Blessed [is the man whom] thou choosest, and causest to approach [unto thee, that] he may dwell in thy courts: we shall be satisfied with the goodness of thy house, [even] of thy holy temple.

                    Who does God choose? As in the opening post Joseph said his brothers chose to send him to Egypt, but he also said God sent him to Egypt. So God sent him to Egypt by allowing his brothers to send him to Egypt. So Ps. 65.4 does not agree with you.

                    Since you don't believe in these verses then you testify to yourself you "don't believe in God of the Bible" and you are "reprobate, blinded by Satan". Your own words convict you but alas, you are unwilling. "If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken [it]" (Is. 1.19,20).
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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by William View Post
                      your overly exaggerated sense of self importance.
                      Why are you allowed personal attacks? Sounds like a doublestandard. To me that is unethical. Have you thought about your own sense of self importance when you declare pridefully on a pedestal you have been irresistibly selected (surely, Jesus would never receive you with that attitude) rather than coming to the cross as a helpless sinner to receive the Lord Jesus as Savior to be regenerated. It really is a dumb question to ask why give your life to Christ if you are not Totally depraved? Jesus died on the cross that that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but receives forgiveness and eternal life. Should a person who is depraved, a sinner, not give his life to Christ to be saved from sin, self and evil supernatural of Calvinism? A Christian does not harbor your idolatry of the heretical teaching of Total depravity. The Holy Spirit has told us that you are not born-again for the reasons cited here according to the Scriptures. But I do pray for you that one day you give your life to Christ as there is still time to repent and believe in the non-false Christ.

                      How similar Hitler's faith is to yours for you both teach preterition, passing over others, that you pride yourself over, giving them no opportunity for salvation just like the Jews born for the gas chambers, and your irresistibly selected Aryan race similarly taught by that murderous protestant pope of Geneva John Calvin.
                      Last edited by Patrib; 03-10-2015, 08:15 AM.
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                      • #12
                        As to the opposing posts above, the Bible means what it says. Opposition to what it says proves a lack of belief. Such people are indoctrinated by man and/or Satan. John 15:16-19 KJV for example, is quite clear who choses whom, and it is not man who takes action. Some Arminians worship their free will rather than the God of the Bible who said, "Thy will be done in earth as it is in Heaven..." as Jesus was praying to the Father.
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