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Are We Just Puppets and God the Puppeteer?

What is the point of life if a supreme being has already decided all our actions before we were even born?

This Biblical Christian question has consumed theologians down through time.  Is man free to make decisions that impact our life on earth and for eternity (Heaven or Hell) or are we merely stepping through a pattern of behavior that was supernaturally determined by God before we were even born? In very simple terms, these two extreme views are referred to as Free-Will vs. Predestination. When viewed alongside the logical consequences of these dogmas, they are typically contained within the theological positions of Arminianism vs. Calvinism.   

Below, is a potential reconciliation between these extremes. However, this post should be viewed as nothing more than an overview, intended to take the complexity of an issue that has consumed theologians and put it into a form that can be understood by seekers. We always welcome comments, but please understand my goal was to offer an overview and an opinion (which could easily be wrong), not an exhaustive work.

3 Secular Definitions that are Far From Secular in Application

Predestination – Dictionary.com defines the term as, “the action of God in foreordaining from eternity whatever comes to pass”. This short interpretation strengthens the view that predestination is not just foreknowledge (knowing what will happen), but also a controlling of the outcome (determining what will happen) of all human behavior (“foreordaining”). Webster’s definition calls predestination, “the doctrine that God, in consequence of his foreknowledge of all events, infallibly guides those who are destined for salvation”. 

There is a significant difference between these two reference sources. The first, Dictionary.com, suggests God determined all the behavior of man, from birth to death. The second, Webster makes the point that God infallibly knows what man will do and “guides” those whom He has foreordained (“destined”) to be saved. Webster, in my view, has it correct. God knows all that we will do (foreknowledge) in life but only salvation is “infallibly destined” by God (1 Cor. 3:7)..

Free-Will – Dictionary.com defines the term as, “made or done freely or of one’s own accord” and Webster similarly offers, “freedom of humans to make choices that are not determined by prior causes or by divine intervention”. Again, Webster, in line with my theology, acknowledges that there is a supernatural power (God) that could offer “divine intervention”, but, as part of the theological concept of “free-will” actively chooses not to intervene. 

Sovereignty – At the heart of this question of, ‘who is in charge of man’s behavior’ is the belief that God not only was the Creator of the world, but He remains continually active, in the world. This is God’s sovereign nature or His supreme power (omnipotence) to shape the world, and everything in it, as He chooses. 

So, is human behavior determined by God or by man? 

  • Predestination – If all human behavior is controlled by God, then we are nothing more than robots, walking through a life that was laid out in detail for us before we were even born. 
  • Free-Will – If we are in control of our destiny, then how can God interject His sovereign will?

What Does the Bible Say About Free-Will?

The reason this question of predestination vs. free-will has consumed Biblical Christian theologians is that the Bible presents competing verses on the subject. For those who believe that the Bible is without error, divinely inspired by God, this poses a challenge. 

Below is a sampling of verses that suggest man is setting his own course in life (i.e. free-will). 

  • 1 Corinthians 10:13 – No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
  • Galatians 5:13 – For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
  • John 7:17 – If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.
  • Mark 8:34 – And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
  • Romans 13:2 – Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.
  • Galatians 5:16-17 – But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.
  • 2 Peter 1:10 – Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.
  • John 1:12-13 – But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Is Free-Will Logical?

God wrote an instruction manual for life on earth, the Bible. Its contents are full of instructions for living a Spirit-filled life under the Lord’s authority and commands. What would be the logic of offering advice to humanity if we cannot make a free-will decision? 

What Does the Bible Say About Predestination 

The following selection of verses would suggest God is in control. 

  • Ephesians 1:11 – In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,
  • Ephesians 1:3-5 – Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,
  • 1 Peter 2:9 – But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
  • 2 Timothy 2:10 – Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.
  • John 15:16 – You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.
  • 1 Thessalonians 1:4 – For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you,
  • Jeremiah 1:5 – “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
  • Colossians 3:12 – Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,
  • Titus 1:1 – Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness,
  • Proverbs 16:4 – The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.
  • Galatians 1:15 – But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace,
  • Romans 8:33 – Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.
  • 2 Thessalonians 2:13 – But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.
  • John 6:44 – No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
  • 1 Peter 1:18-20, Eph. 1:11-12, 1 Peter 1:1-2

Blending Free-Will and Predestination

The Bible is full of passages that demonstrate God’s direct intervention in the behavior of man. This is the foundation of the Old Testament. However, as we know, man does not always take His advice. Somehow God’s plans, known by Him before the creation of the world, still come to pass. 

God knows what each of us will do (foreknowledge), but He does not always choose to control the outcome (foreordained). 

Perhaps there is a more balanced view that blends foreordained and foreknowledge. 

God is omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), omnipresent (everywhere at the same time), and sovereign (in active control of everything). He not only knows the number of hairs on our heads (Luke 12:7), but He knows every thought and action we will take from the moment we are conceived until the day we die, and beyond. However, knowing our future is “foreknowledge” and does not mean God has forced His will onto all our actions or thoughts, or “foreordained” them.

Somehow, in His omnipotence, He has blended our free-will into His perfect will. However, we are not God and so we live on a timeline that unfolds as we live out our lives, making hundreds of decisions every hour of every day. We can choose to draw closer to God and do His work or to retreat from God and go our own way. At the end of our time on earth, our lives will be judged accordingly. The exception to this freedom of free-will is salvation where I believe the Scriptures are clear that God has predestined (foreordained) who will come to Him and who will reject Him. This is not an easy theology to accept from a loving God. However…

Isaiah 55:9 – For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Summary Thoughts

God wrote the Bible as an instruction manual for mankind, intending that we use it to make free-will decisions on earth and prepare for eternal life beyond the grave. However, the preponderance of Scripture seems to suggest that salvation is a God-produced faith that infallibly draws the believer into a personal relationship with Christ (Predestination). It is important to note that as Biblical Christian evangelists, we do not know who will be saved and who will be lost. 

1 Corinthians 3:6-7 – I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

God calls us to witness to all who will listen (Mark 16:15), knowing that even a thief, already on the cross next to Jesus was told, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

However, beyond the salvation of the believer, God offers man numerous opportunities to exercise our free-will in deciding between right and wrong. The Lord may indeed interject in certain situations. However, we are judged for our actions while on this earth and so have no idea when God’s (or Satan’s) hands are on us, determining our actions. For Christians, Scripture is clear that the Holy Spirit resides in every believer for a purpose, to counsel us in how we should conduct our lives (John 14:26). Yet, our sin nature remains powerful (Rom. 7:24). The reality is that those whose sin has not been paid for at the cross of Calvary, will sadly experience the cost of their behavior after death. 

Finally, we have to recognize that we are not God as we try to understand His precepts. He is the Creator and we are the created. There remain mysteries and errors in our theology (especially mine) that will only be fully clarified on the other side of the grave (1 Cor. 2:16).

Salvation – Eternal Life in Less Than 150 Words

AuthorJeff Hilles | BCWorldview.org 

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