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What does the Bible say about predestination vs. free will?

predestination vs. free will
Question: "What does the Bible say about predestination vs. free will?"

In discussing predestination vs. free will, many people so strongly prefer one side that they virtually reject the possibility of the other’s having even a hint of truth. Those who strongly emphasize the sovereignty of God in predestining who will be saved sometimes take a position that resembles fatalism. Those who emphasize the free will of humanity come close to denying the sovereignty of God. However, if the terms are understood biblically, the discussion is predestination vs. free will, but rather predestination and not-entirely-free will.

Passages such as Romans 8:29–30 and Ephesians 1:5–11 explicitly teach that God predestines some to salvation. The word translated “predestine” means “determine the destiny before.” There is no escaping the fact that God predetermines who will be saved. On what basis God predestines who will be saved can be debated, but predestination itself is absolutely a biblical teaching. Numerous other New Testament passages also refer to believers’ being chosen or elected to salvation (Matthew 24:22, 31; Mark 13:20, 27; Romans 8:33; 9:11; 11:5–7, 28; Ephesians 1:11; Colossians 3:12; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; 1 Timothy 5:21; 2 Timothy 2:10; Titus 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1–2; 2:9; 2 Peter 1:10).

There is nothing in the Bible that teaches human beings have a free will, at least not in the sense of how many people understand the term free will. A common understanding of free will is that we can make our own decisions entirely free of any outside influence. This understanding of free will is not biblical, nor does it match reality. The Bible teaches that without Christ we are “dead in our trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). If we are spiritually dead, surely that impacts our decision-making. John 6:44 says that, unless God draws, no one can come to Christ for salvation. If the decision whether to trust in Christ is impossible without God’s “interference,” our will is not “free.”

Our ability to make decisions is impacted by numerous factors, e.g., our sin nature, our upbringing, our intellect, our training/education, our biology, our psychology, etc. So, no, human beings do not truly have a free will. We have a will. We can make decisions. Biblically speaking, we have the responsibility to respond to what God has revealed to us, including His call to believe the gospel (John 1:12; 3:16; Acts 16:31; Romans 10:9–10; Revelation 22:17). But, again, our will is not truly free.

Predestination is a biblical doctrine. Free will is not. If the question is predestination vs. free will, predestination wins decisively, biblically speaking. If the question is predestination vs. will or predestination vs. responsibility, that is more difficult. Somehow, God is sovereign over who is saved, and, concurrently, we are genuinely responsible for our decisions related to salvation. In the Bible, God repeatedly calls on us to exercise our will and trust in Christ for salvation. How these two truths work together may be incomprehensible to us, but in the mind of God they make perfect sense.

Recommended Resource: Chosen But Free, revised edition: A Balanced View of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will by Norm Geisler and The Potter’s Freedom by James White

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