12 Sept 2020

Has man got a ‘free will’ and how we understand God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility?

To understand this comprehensively, we need to look back at Genesis. When God made Adam and Eve, He intended them to be His ‘co-regents’, to rule and tend the world on behalf of God and together with Him. The covenant God made with them is a ‘covenant of works’, meaning that it is a covenant with a condition – ‘not to partake of the fruit of the specific tree’. Adam and Eve at that point of time were able to choose with ‘a free will’ to obey God or to disobey, to submit to Him or to rebel. God had given them everything and there was only one condition specified. Adam and Eve chose to listen to Satan in the form of the serpent; they were enticed by the ‘attraction’ of the forbidden fruit; they believed Satan who told them God lied to them and if they partake the fruit, they shall be like God; they were deceived by the devil who himself wanted to be ‘God’ and who sought to lure humans to join his rebellion against God. At the root of the problem is rebellion, doubting the supreme being of God, questioning His love and wisdom, seeking to be God and listening to the enemy of God.

When Adam sinned, sin ‘entered’ the world; as he is our representative and ancestor, we ‘sinned’ in him and all descendants of Adam are born with this ‘sinful nature’, this tendency to sin referred to as the ‘original sin’. We need not teach babies to be selfish and self-centred for instance; they already have this ‘sinful nature’ in them, this tendency to sin because they are in ‘Adam’. In ‘Adam’, we are a fallen humanity; but in Christ, those who believe, are ‘born again’ in union with Him to be members of a new godly humanity led by Christ who is the last Adam and the ‘second man’ – in Christ, we are a new creation, a ‘new self or a new man’; in Adam we belong to the ‘old self or old man’ as written in Ephesians. Of course, although we are ‘born again’ we are in the era of ‘already’ and ‘not yet’ – the consummation and glorification of our salvation would come about when Christ comes again to judge the world and to bring His people to Him when “Christ would be all in all in God”. In the meantime, we are pilgrims on earth, involved in a spiritual war with the enemy. and Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith, would bring us ‘home’ as we continue to walk by faith, in obedience and loyalty to God in Christ, together with all the people of God.

Before we are ‘born again’ in one sense, we have a ‘free will’ but because we are in ‘Adam’, our will is always to choose what is contrary to God’s will and to turn away from Him. That is why Jesus said that no man can come to God unless the Father draws him to Himself. The Holy Spirit, in His grace and mercy, draws men to God by granting them a desire which is contrary to their sinful tendency and ‘prepares’ them to receive the good news of the gospel. “By grace (undeserving merit), we are saved through faith. Faith is not ‘works’; it is like a ‘vessel’ which receives the love and mercy that God pours out to those who believe. There is no room to boast – it is a gift from God which means that faith is also a gift from God. Left by ourselves, without God’s grace drawing us to Him, we would not come to Him. In that light, even our salvation is due to God’s grace and sovereignty; God chose us in Christ even before the foundation of the world to be holy; in HIs love, He predestined us for adoption to be HIs children to share the inheritance and glory of His beloved Son, to be His ‘bride’, His body and temple! (Ephesians 1:3-10).

After being born again, God expects us to exercise our responsibility, in dependence on His Spirit, to ‘work out our salvation’ in trembling and fear. We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Eph.2:10). In this new life, God’s sovereignty and our responsibility are required; the Bible teaches both truths – how we reconcile them is a ‘mystery’ beyond our human understanding and appreciation. Note for instance, God hardened the heart of Pharaoh and Pharaoh hardened his heart took place simultaneously in the Old Testament; Joseph told his brothers that they intended evil but God brought about good from evil; they were still responsible for their sins against Joseph but it is also true that “God sent Joseph to Egypt’ for HIs divine purpose to save Israel from the famine.

Let us remember that God is God; we are not. Let us rejoice that God, the trinitarian God,in HIs love and mercy, decided, not as an afterthought, from the beginning to save a people for Himself so that ‘we may be His people and He can be our God’