What does the Bible say about God's sovereignty, election, predestination, and man's free will?

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What Is God’s Sovereignty?

Sovereignty is God's absolute and exclusive right to exercise authority in the universe (I Chron 29:11-12; I Sam 2:6-8; Psa 50:10-11). He holds this prerogative because of the perfections of His character and because of His position as creator and governor of the universe. As creator, His dominion is perfect and His decrees are final. Because of his authority as governor, He is to be obeyed.

[more about sovereignty]

What Are the Decrees of God?

The decrees of God are a name for His eternal purpose, based on His most wise and holy counsel. By these decrees, He freely and unchangeably ordained all that comes to pass. His decrees include both those things that are ordained efficaciously (that is, by God using His power to produce an intended effect) and those that are ordained permissively.

Were There Several Decrees?

To speak precisely, no. Some prefer to use the singular term “decree.” God has one plan, in which He used His ability to be fully aware of past, present and future simultaneously. He saw it all at once, and He ordained it all at once.

However, to study it and discuss it, we separate the parts that were included in it. God's plan included the decision to:

  1. Create all—including angels and all humans;

  2. Permit the fall - of both Satan and his angels, and Adam;

  3. Provide salvation - for all people (John 1:29);

  4. Elect some (those who believe), and leave in just condemnation those who do not believe (John 1:11-13);

  5. Apply salvation - to all who believe (John 5:24).

What Are the Two Outstanding Problems Under the Question of Decrees?

  1. The presence of sin in the world.

    If God is the efficient cause of all that is, then He is the author of sin; and if He is the author of sin, how can it be morally right for Him to condemn man to an endless hell for doing what He caused him to do?

  2. The freedom of the will.

    Does the decree to save some overrule the freedom of the human will? Does God simply choose me to be saved, or do I have the freedom to choose for or against Him?

How Do We Answer the Problem of the Presence of Sin in the World?

We need to distinguish between efficacious decrees, which actually make things happen through physical causes, and permissive decrees, which God does not actually promote. His permissive will permits Him to permit whatever He thinks fit to permit (or to not hinder). Whatever He permits, He also intends to regulate and use ultimately to bring about wise and great purposes of His own.

Did God Know What He Was Going to Do About Sin When He Permitted Its Existence?

He permitted sin in the light of what He knew would be the nature of sin, or what sin would do to the creature, and of what He would have to do if He was to save anyone.

[Why is the world the way it is? (filled with oppression, death and cruelty) If God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and loving, would He really create a world like this? Answer]

Is It Possible For God to Permit Sin and Yet Not Be the Author of Sin?

Sin was permitted, but God did not cause or necessitate it. This is demonstrated by:

  1. The threatenings of punishment for sin (Gen 2:17; Ex 34:7; Ecc 11:9; 2 Thess 1:7-8). Punishment for sin implies personal responsibility.

  2. The declarations of the psalmist (Psa 78:29-31; 106:15).

  3. The statements of Paul (Acts 14:16; 17:30-31).

  4. The holy character of God that separates Him from all sin (Lev 11:44; Heb 12:10).

What Possible Purposes Could Serve By Permitting Sin?

First, that men might recognize its evil, enslaving character (Rom 1:18-32). Second, that God might demonstrate His grace (Rom 5:20-6:2). And third, that the principle of evil might be brought into complete and final judgment (Acts 17:30-31).

Does the Decree to Save Overrule the Freedom of the Will?

The Bible says that the unregenerate are energized by Satan (Eph 2:2) and that God works in the regenerate (Phil 2:2). Yet the individual is not conscious of any necessity being imposed upon him. Therefore human choice of both good and evil originates within the person's own volition or will; it is free in the sense that he is conscious only of his own freedom of action. We are never as uninfluenced as we think.

Much perplexity remains as to the precise way that the individual's part and God's part in salvation relate. Yet it is clear that God's influence on the unsaved must be exercised if they are ever going to turn to Him in saving faith (John 6:44; Rom 3:23-26; Eph 2:8-9).

How Do We Know That God Frees Man's Will So He Can Turn to God?

  1. The exhortations to turn to God (Prov 1:23; Isa 31:6; Ezek 14:6; Matt 18:13; Acts 3:19).

  2. The exhortations to repent (I Kings 8:47; Matt 2:3; Mark 1:15; Luke 13:3,5; Acts 2:38).

  3. The exhortations to believe (II Chr 20:20; Isa 43:10; John 6:29; 14:1; Acts 16:31).

  4. The exhortations to obey (Acts 5:32; II Thess 1:8; Heb 5:9).

What Is “Gracious Election”?

Gracious election is the sovereign act of God by which from all eternity He graciously chose in Christ Jesus for Himself, and on account of no foreseen merit, certain sinful ones to be the recipients of His special saving grace (John 1:11-13; 15:16; Acts 13:48; Rom 9:20; Eph 1:4; II Thess 2:14).

Author: Paul E. Eymann, distinguished Professor of Bible.

 


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Further information on this subject

  • Is God biased? Is it fair to save only some? What about those who have never heard the gospel? Answer

  • Judgment and God's nature and justice (includes Is God unfair in that Hitler and a dear old lady (who never accepted Jesus) will both go to Hell? / "God is all loving. He would never send me to Hell." / "My god would never send anyone to Hell.")

  • Why is the world the way it is? (filled with oppression, death and cruelty) If God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and loving, would He really create a world like this? Answer

  • Aren't all religions basically the same? Why do Christians insist that one must believe in Christ alone to be saved? Answer

  • Am I good enough to get to Heaven? Answer

  • How good is good enough? Answer

  • Learn more about SALVATION - questions and answers

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