As 1 Timothy 2:4 clearly states, God desires all men to be saved. So why would He predestine so many to eternal death as some suggest? The answer is simple. He doesn’t. There are critical errors made by many disputers of free-will, and that is a failure to define it properly. There is not one answer that ends this debate because there are actually multiple questions that need to be asked. The single question of free-will needs to be divided into three separate questions with separate answers that define the extent of freedom within each. These areas are the works, the will and the belief. Do we have the freedom to do the works we want to do? Does our will(desire) or desire to do good work count? Do we have the freedom to believe? If we have freedom within any of these, what is the extent of that freedom? Within this existing debate that plagues much of Christianity, works, desire(will) and belief have subtly and mistakingly been lumped into one question, making a definite answer impossible. When the question is asked, do humans have free will? The response should be, “over what?”
Let’s begin with works. Works are the deeds we commit, and scripture plainly states that works do not merit salvation. Nothing we could ever do is good enough to earn eternal salvation, for it is a gift of grace from our Father. If it were attainable by works, the fight for the title of “most holy” would never cease, and the kingdom would turn into a competition in carnality. Ironically, this has largely been the issue anyway.
Ephesians 2:8-10 KJV
8For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9Not of works, lest any man should boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
Some may say that this scripture in Ephesians pre-ordains people to salvation, but upon closer examination, it is the works “which God hath ordained”, not the “people who” who are. So, those of us who receive salvation are, afterwards, appointed to walk in the glorifying works prearranged by God. The reason our works can’t earn salvation is because works are ultimately created and controlled by God. How can we take credit for something He has already determined shall be done?
Biblical language concerning predestination is always contingent upon Jesus, the only, inherently righteous seed, and the predetermined works required to accomplish to the Lord’s redemptive plan. Salvation is like our free ticket on the only train set to leave this sin-corrupted world, and our belief in Jesus is simply our acceptance of that ticket. Christ is the conductor, and the seats attached to His train are predestined to make the journey into the kingdom. Thus, predestination is Lord’s predetermination that those aboard His works will arrive at His destination. Jesus, alone, is the guarantee. We must choose to be His passengers—to believe In Him. Without Him, we’re predestined to nothing, except death.
Galatians 3:16 ESV
16Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.
3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7In him** we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9making knownc to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
2 Thessalonians 2:13
13But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth:
Herein lies an ever deeper wisdom. The reason God has determined that works cannot merit eternal salvation is so that works can’t contrarily determine eternal damnation. If the good works people commit could earn them salvation, then the evil works that they’ve already committed would have already earned them damnation. This is how pure justice works, equally both ways. The fact that good works can’t earn eternal life allows us to lawfully escape the spiritual death that our evil works would have already earned. Essentially, no one would have the opportunity to earn salvation, because their very first sin would have killed them before they had a chance to “work” their way out of it. So, be thankful that salvation is not according to works, for if that were true, we would already be eternally dead.
For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
So then, do we have freedom in the area of works? Partially, yes, but ultimately, no. God is indeed sovereign over all works in the earth, and this is arranged in order for His plan to come to pass. We are allowed some freedom to work but only within the preset limitations of His plan. It is only after we have believed and received the heart of the Father that we are released to do good works, because those works are no longer contrary to His plan. Take Adam for example. As long as Adam’s heart was pure, God watched Him name the animals in the garden and was satisfied with His handiwork. It pleases the Father to see His creation willingly obey Him, so He has allotted space within His determinate counsel to experience pleasure in those who love Him back.
18Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit fore him.” 19Now out of the ground the Lord God had formedf every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.
7That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 8This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men.
work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
Essentially, we don’t work to get salvation; we just work it after we get it. At any time, God reserves the right to take control over anyone’s works, whether it is to assist them to do great things or even to prohibit them from doing evil if their heart has deviated from His. If He did not reserve this right for himself, His plan for the earth could no longer be guaranteed, and prophecies might not come to pass. The Bible speaks of many things which shall be done, and you can count on them because the Lord has reserved the right to steer the works of the earth.
The Lord can even determine the actions of individuals before they are born, which is what He declared of Esau and the Edomites when He said, “the older will serve the younger” [Romans 9:12]. However, this has nothing to do with their eternal salvation, and this is also why God could raise Pharaoh to perform works of His judgement without being responsible for pharaoh’s eternal damnation [Romans 9:16].
You see, God is obedient, even to His own word. Works don’t determine eternity; the works wrought by God in man are neither a free pass into heaven or a divine death sentence. Works are the cause of the “first death”, but belief grants us a second life. We must be “born again”, to avoid “the second death” which is a result of unbelief, not works.
3Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. 4Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? 5Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.
14And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
THE KEY IS BELIEF, NOT WORKS
No matter what works God may cause some to commit, new life is still available because the only requirement for it is belief. This is exactly why Romans 9:22 declares that He extends them more patience.
22 What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction:
The area of works are under the ultimate control of God, so that He can govern the course of this world, both good and evil. Nothing is done without His permission, and nothing is executed without His approval. Regardless of what physically happens, patience is granted accordingly so that people still have the opportunity to believe, which is all that is required for eternal security. Consider faithful Abraham.
Romans 4:1-5 KJV
1What shall we say then that Abraham our father, as pertaining to the flesh, hath found? 2For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. 3For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. 4Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. 5But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
Of all the great things that Abraham did, it was only his belief that was counted unto him for righteousness. The initial deeds he committed were already ordained to be done, so stepping into the role which was destined to perform them earned him nothing. His belief in the One who created his role was accounted unto him as righteous, and he continued in good works afterward.
Consider also, Nebuchadnezzar. He initially believed that his rule of Babylon was a result of his own might and power, but Daniel’s interpretation of his dream revealed that God had given him his power. Nebuchadnezzar who rejected the idea at first, eventually surrendered to the sovereignty of God.
18O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honour: 19And for the majesty that he gave him, all people, nations, and languages, trembled and feared before him: whom he would he slew; and whom he would he kept alive; and whom he would he set up; and whom he would he put down. 20But when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him: 21And he was driven from the sons of men; and his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild asses: they fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven; till he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and that he appointeth over it whomsoever he will.
From Nebuchadnezzar’s perspective, we learn that God’s mercy towards the mighty is just as effective in provoking belief as his favor is upon the feeble.
His command over the mighty is as powerful as his grace upon the weak. Faith is the only way to obtain salvation, but faith can be realized through a wide range of divinely created scenarios. Look at these words from the mouth of Nebuchadnezzar, the very one who destroyed the great temple of Solomon and took the Jews captive.
Daniel 4:34, 37 KJV
34And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: ….37Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.
It is plausible that Nebuchadnezzar was saved by his belief. In fact, God actually calls him a servant on multiple occasions. This may be hard to imagine after viewing his works, but God is the one who empowered him to perform them. Since eternal life is not solidified by works, he could have been saved if he eventually believed.
10And say unto them, Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will send and take Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and will set his throne upon these stones that I have hid; and he shall spread his royal pavilion over them.
Simple belief is the determining factor of our eternity. Since our belief doesn’t “do” anything without accompanying works, it cannot negatively impact the Lord’s plan. It’s simply a condition of the heart, and God has given us the liberty to believe or not believe.
Galatians 3:22 ESV
22But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
12Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.
24I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.
Many works can be externally controlled, but belief is always an independent condition. It is an internal choice that God has willingly surrendered to our decision. It is true that some receive stronger coercion, but “much is required” of them and all have full liberty to walk in belief or unbelief. Actually, belief is the one realm where God concedes to us! This happened while Jesus was performing miracles.
And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief.
And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction.”
And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.
As noted, scripture actually records many works of God which are actually contingent on the faith of men, clearly showing that we have volition in the area of belief. This was a compromise made by the Most High, specifically designed so that we maintain our choice, and He maintains His sovereignty. It is not a concession forced upon Him by an outside influence, but one that He decided within Himself before He created men. He didn’t want robots who He would have to force Himself upon. He wanted people who could choose Him by their own decision, but it would come at a cost. He would have to abide by His own law, even to the self-destruction of much of His beloved creation. This is why He expresses regret just before the flood.
6And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.
The Lord was “grieved” because something was happening beyond His lawful control. People were choosing not to believe in Him. This is not a blasphemous idea, because it doesn’t claim that anyone exercised power over God. It only shows that He chose to give us a choice of His own accord, when He made us. His regret stemmed from from the hurt He felt seeing so many choose death through the very freedom He extended. It is not the desire of God for men to perish [2 Peter 3:9], neither is it pleasing to Him when men die [Ezekiel 18:32], but it is the tragic sacrifice that He is willing to endure in exchange for a number who lovingly choose to believe in Him. Going forward, we will see How God expresses this internal concession within the story of Israel. Of all scriptures, none seems to illustrate the power of belief better than this familiar verse in the book of John.
16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. 18He 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.
In returning to Romans 9, notice this truth. Throughout the chapter, it is never stated that God infringes upon a person’s freedom to believe. At times, He effects their works and puppeteers their deeds, but He understands the delicacy of human faith and leaves it to our volition. When we finally believe, He does nothing to destroy it.
Although faith is counted for righteousness, the power to draw remains in with Elohim. Thankfully, God has promised salvation to them that believe. The popular teaching, “name it and claim it” doesn’t work because the belief still requires God’s cooperative power. Misguided belief produces negative results or none at all. Proper, humble belief draws down the grace of the Most High. This is the meaning of John 6:44
John 6:41-44 ESV
41So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.**
So, just in case men think that the power to obtain salvation (or anything else for that matter) is in their belief alone, Jesus reminds us that we can only live with him if He draws us to where He is. In this way, effective belief is always accompanied by humility.
WHAT ABOUT THE WILL?
As for our will, it does not even warrant our salvation. A will and a belief are not the same. Two people can both desire (will) that salvation be theirs, but that does not mean they will get it. The one who receives it is the one who believes in the only way God provided. Take, for example, two people who both want a large sum of money. God may require them to take a cab, read a book and ask for a key from an elderly man down the street. If either person believes that the money can be obtained in any other way, they will not receive it, no matter how bad they desire (will) it. In II Kings 5, Naaman was told to wash in the dirty Jordan river 7 times. At first he refused and suggested the way he desired, but until he believed in Elisha’s exact instructions, he didn’t receive his healing. Belief is the key, but only if one is “willing” to believe in the way, which is Christ.
6Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.
13Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: 14Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
So, when it comes to free will, do we have freedom to commit works? Yes. However, God holds the ultimate control at His discretion, and it does not finalize our eternity. Can our desire earn salvation? Yes, but our desires are evil unless they are transformed through the power of God. Even after we believe, we may find that our desires stray away from His will, and this is a cause to have greater faith in Him. Do we have the freedom to believe? Yes, but only because God has allowed it and wisely designed it not to interfere with His sovereign control.
In the end a powerful Gospel emerges. It doesn’t matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done. It doesn’t matter where you were born or how favored you consider yourself to be. Neither your spiritual gifting nor your physical shortcomings decide where you spend your eternity. Your desire doesn’t get it and your works don’t earn it. The children of God are commanded to go into all the world and preach this most simplest of truths. Salvation can belong to anyone, if they only believe.
15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.
This was the downfall of Israel. This was the “stumbling block” of the Jews and “foolishness” to the Greeks [1 Corinthians 1:23]. It was one of Paul’s biggest concerns, that men would stray from the simplicity of belief, contaminating and confusing the gospel with the works of the traditions of men. [2 Corinthians 11:3]. The Jews complicated their grace through the pursuit of righteousness attained by works, so their will has been temporarily hardened until the fullness of the Gentiles comes in.
30What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; 31but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. 32Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33just as it is written, “BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.”
From the point that God prophesies to Abraham, the story of the Hebrews and Israelites begins. It is completely orchestrated by the Lord, serving to tell the spiritual story of God’s eternal children, written before the creation of Adam. God is so gracious that He has provided us with both a Book (the Bible) and an accompanying visual enactment (The Hebrews) to portray the story of the past, present and future of the Lord’s posterity. The lives of the Israelites, their journeys, their conflicts and even their enemies are all instruments employed by God to portray that story and the depths of His mercy and grace towards us. The following chapter takes an extended metaphor to illustrate How God invaded the works of His physical elect to demonstrate the calling of His spiritual elect, while leaving the door open for all men to be saved.