What is the most important decision you have ever made? I knew a man who decided to go to college after high school. His grades were too low so the college expelled him. Having nowhere else to turn, he thought he would join the Air Force. While in the Air Force he was rapidly promoted. He got married but he and his wife had problems and they ended up getting a divorce. Soon he decided to remarry and had four children. He attended college while in the Air Force and graduated with a 4.0 GPA. He was selected for Officer’s Training School and had a successful career, eventually retiring from the military. His children grew up to be successful in their careers. The question is how much of what this man experiences was his own free will and how much of it was God-directed?
Did God cause this man to flunk out of school or marry the wrong person? Were those events part of God’s plan for this man? Did God direct his career and make him successful or was that his free will also? There is so much debate on the topic of free will, that I can’t cover all the varying arguments. I can offer my own thoughts that I’ve formulated over the years, look to see what both philosophy and scripture says on the topic, and address ideas of how they can be applied to daily living and salvation.
Philosophers have thought about the conflict between free will and God’s will for centuries. A few of their ideas are called determinism, deism, and process theology. Determinism is the idea that events, including choices, are the inevitable result of previous events. Every cause has an effect which results in another cause. Deism is the belief that God created everything and then distanced himself from his creation allowing events to occur naturally without divine influence. Process theology is a school of thought that emphasizes experience and free will while de-emphasizing God’s sovereignty. God cannot regulate events but influences change by offering possibilities to the agents of free will.
On the other hand, the Bible seems to argue against the philosophies mentioned. For example: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be,” (Ps 139:16) argues against determinism. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight,” (Prov 3:5-6, some translations say “he will direct your path),” counters the claim of the deists. Also the following verse argues against process theology “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord,” (Jer 29:11).
Philosophy seems to be emphasizing that humans have a right to free will, to self determination, to choose and control their own destiny. Scripture seems to say God has a predetermined plan for all believers. I searched from Genesis to Revelation and found no verse that said God controls people’s behavior. He guides, directs, and creates circumstances, but the ultimate choice is up to us.
Day to Day Decisions
Looking at the scriptures we might conclude that our day to day choices are also predetermined. We see that God has a plan, it is written in his book, and it was written before we ever believed. Does God have predetermined answers to questions of where to live, where to work, who to marry, where to go to school, or what ministry to pursue? If so, how do we find his will and how do we know our choice aligns with his will? God gives us three sources of information. We need to first seek scripture for advice, and then pray for specifics. Lastly, we need to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading of our heart.
How does a new believer know how to find God’s will? First, the best place to start when looking for God’s will is scripture. “Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light for my path,” (Ps 119:105). Scripture can tell us general principles about what type of behavior is acceptable to God but does it give answers to specific circumstances? Remember Proverbs 3:6 if we trust the Lord with all our hearts, and lean not on our own understanding, he will direct our paths. He will help us choose our spouse, our church, our vocation, our friends, and any other thing we need help with.
When we have a question we can call upon God. “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know,” (Jer 33:3). We are admonished to worry about nothing but to pray about everything. God will lead us when we ask him.
The Bible says God will give us the desires of our hearts. In other words, God puts the desire in our hearts. When our hearts are set on a course of action we can move forward in that direction. We can trust that God will not give us desires that are opposed to his plan and will for us. I believe he will cause events and circumstances to block our actions if we move against his will.
Rather than telling me audibly, God has given me ideas and desires, then led me through a process I call opening and closing of doors. When he did not want me to do something, the way was blocked. When he wanted me to do something, the way was open. When I began to pursue a bachelor’s degree I had to choose a major. God used the counselors at the school to open doors. When looking for employment I trusted that where I was hired was an open door. I even believe God led me through prayer and consultation with my wife, to purchase the house we live in and the cars we drive.
We can test our day to day choices by scripture, by prayer, and by the Holy Spirit leading our hearts. The decision is ours but God gives us sufficient information to make the decision. Remember he knew in advance what decision we would make and based his will for us on his foreknowledge and what we may need help with.
Ephesians 1:5, NLT says, “God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.” The word predestined comes from the Greek word proorizo and means “before determined.” Paraphrasing the verse we see that God had already made up his mind to choose us to become his children.
People were chosen to receive their adoption as children of God, due to the work of Jesus and the grace of God, before he ever created the world.
What criteria did God use in selecting who would become his adopted children? We need to look at Romans 8:29 for that answer. “For whom he did foreknow, he also predestined.” God is omniscient. He knows everything. God had foreknowledge of who would choose to follow Jesus. Those people who he knew would become followers are the people he predestinated. God’s plan is to choose people who choose his son and use them to carry out his will on earth.
Many volumes have been written to explain the concept of predestination. Two arguments prevail. First, some people say that the God of knowledge predetermines everything and nothing can be changed. God has chosen to pass by some people and chosen other people. Salvation is only because of his grace in selecting certain people. People who hold these beliefs usually call themselves ‘Calvinist.’
Second, other people say that God has foreknowledge of everyone who will become believers and he wills that those people should be saved. Salvation comes through faith and repentance. People are free to believe or not believe, even though God already knows what they choose. People who hold this belief usually call themselves “Arminian.”
Whichever opinion ultimately turns out to be correct they both agree on at least two points. One, believers are predestined for salvation because of God’s plan, Jesus’ blood, and the Holy Spirit’s sealing. Two, the Bible says believers will inherit a place in Heaven. (John 14:3).
What is the purpose of our predestination? We are chosen to do good works, to become like Jesus, to obtain eternal glory, and to be adopted as sons and daughters of God. Give God glory and praise. Again, we see that God has a plan for us, but the decision to follow that plan is ours.
Having the ability to choose can be stressful for us who want to follow God’s will. What if we make the wrong decision and miss his will? “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever,” (Isa 26: 3-4). God has a plan for us but he doesn’t leave us alone to blindly grope for it. We have his word, prayer, and the desires he places in our heart. When we trust him he will lead us into his will and perfect peace.