Does biblical salvation include free will?

Satan’s goal is to prevent and pervert salvation

Just as Satan uses “works religions” vs. “faith” to prevent salvation outside the church, he also uses “free will faith” vs “biblical election” to pervert salvation inside the church.

Although many credits this to the Calvin vs. Arminius battle of the 1500s, it originally arose with Pelagius around 400 AD and was condemned by Augustine and the Council of Carthage in 418 AD as heresy. None the less, it continues today.

The reality is Satan is perverting Biblical truth even in the church.

Let’s face it, almost all the major Christian denominations today are already devoid of any real biblical truth. Most are no more than universalist – that is, everyone goes to heaven.

Baptists seem to be the only exception. Many of them, however, only believe in part of the truths of salvation.

Now, I don’t deny free will. Men use it all the time to deny Jesus. My position is simply because men are spiritually dead (Col 2:13 “…you were dead in your sins…God made you alive with Christ.”) they cannot just activate free will to be saved. Something external has to intervene. That outside force is the Holy Spirit and the gifts of repentance and faith through the word of God.

Why is this important?

Why continue to fight this fight over the biblical truths of salvation? What is so important about it?

Ask yourself this; if Satan continues to push works religions, and free will faith – from the beginning – doesn’t that in itself tell us that this is important and that we should resist and herald the truth?

What is more fundamentally important than salvation?

Are we not Christians?

In 1 Corinthians 1:12, Paul chides the Christians at Corinth because they were choosing affiliations. He states “…One of you says, I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”, still another “I follow Christ.

That affiliation goes on today, only it’s “I follow Calvin”; or, “I follow Arminius”; or “I follow the Baptists.”

It should be I follow Christ, and I follow His word in the Bible, for I am a Christian.

Here’s the point, I read an entire book which climatic conclusion was that “even Calvin didn’t believe in the five points of Calvinism.” Who cares? I don’t follow Calvin, I follow Christ and His word.

Another, Baptist are two-point Calvinists (man is depraved and once saved always saved.) Again, so? Baptists don’t hold authority over me. My authority and salvation are not based upon membership as a Baptist, it’s based on Christ and His Word.

So, what is the argument?

Stated a succinctly as possible, some believe that God, through His omniscience, or power to know all things, looks forward in time and ratifies the salvation of those who, through their free will, accept Christ as Lord and Savior. Let’s call this free will salvation.

Conversely, others believe that God the Father, before the creation of the world, chose specific people for salvation. The bible refers to this as election and predestination.

On its face, free will salvation sounds more appealing than election. Otherwise, aren’t we just robots? And, isn’t that a little mean of God to choose some and not others?

Remember, however, works salvation also sounds more appealing than faith salvation.

The concept of I do more right than wrong which should earn me a place in heaven is certainly more palatable than the thief on the cross, who clearly lived a life of crime and simply by believing (“Don’t you fear God…Jesus, remember me when you come in Your kingdom.” Luke 23:40-42) was rewarded with heaven (“Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:32.))

We must remember, however, we don’t think the way God thinks. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.” (Isaiah 55:8.)

What does the Bible teach about salvation?

Salvation is not man-centered, rather it is God-centered.

God saves sinners for “the praise of His glorious grace…” (Ephesians 1:6).

The Old Testament archetype of God’s salvation is the redemption of Israel from slavery in Egypt to which the Psalmist comments “Yet he saved them for His name’s sake, to make His mighty power known.” (Psalm 106:8).

God is pretty clear about retaining His glory and in Isaiah states “I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another…” (Isaiah 42:8).

Not only generally will God not yield His glory to another, but specifically, with respect to salvation, God states in both the Old and New Testament as follows: “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake…” (Isaiah 43:35) and “your sins have been forgiven on account of His name.” (1 John 2:12).

In fact, our salvation is a Trinitarian concept with our election by the Father (Ephesians 1:4-6), the redemption accomplished by the Son (Ephesians 1:7-12), and the sealing ministry of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14) having been carried out, again “for the praise of His glory.” (Ephesians 1:12).

“For He chose us in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will— to the praise of His glorious grace…” (Ephesians 1:4-6).

“In Him we have redemption through His blood…In Him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will…” (Ephesians 1:7, 11).

“When you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance…” (Ephesians 1:13-14).

So, we see the Father choose, the Son redeemed, and the Holy Spirit sealed, according to the Father’s will.

What we don’t see here is man’s free will, nor do we see the Father looking into the future and ratifying man’s choice.

How about another verse, “But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” (2 Thessalonians 2:13). Again, we have God choosing some as first fruits, which is unconditional, and the sanctifying work of the Spirit while how we are saved is through belief in the truth or faith.

Over and over again, God chooses. He chose Israel, Moses, Abram, the Apostles, Mary, Paul, Isaac over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau. Thus He not only chooses but specifically passes some by. Seemingly a hard concept but we must remember, we were already condemned and in His mercy, He saves some.

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” John 3:17 And, who is it who is saved “Whoever believes in him…”

Perhaps one of the most monumental verses on God’s salvation truths is in Romans:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (Romans 8:28-30).

Here we have the complete cycle of God’s plan of salvation, which proves that once saved, always saved and that all those called are glorified.

In other words, you don’t see that of those called, most are glorified, you see all are glorified. This is further cemented in John 6:37 which states “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.”

But it is here that some have a critical misunderstanding of the word “foreknew”.

Foreknew means establishing an intimate covenant love relationship not simply looking forward in time through God’s power of omniscience. “God does not form a decree because He knows the future, He knows the future because He has decreed the future.” Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology.

It’s meaning is also evident by other passages in the OT and NT. In 1 Peter 1:20, “For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you.” If “foreknown” meant that God the Father simply looked into the future and saw that Christ was to be sacrificed which the Father then ratified, then this meaning would contradict everything else taught about God the Father and Son’s plan for Christ’s redemptive work on the cross.

In Romans 11:2, Paul, speaking of Israel states that “God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew.” Certainly, God knew all people but is speaking of an intimate covenant love relationship between Him and Israel.

The OT counterpart of foreknew or foreknown is yada, which also carries an intimate personal knowledge. In Genesis 4:1 it states “Adam knew (yada) Eve…and she conceived.” Certainly, conception is a product of intimate personal love and not simple knowledge. Again, in Amos 3:2 God tells Israel “You only have I known (yada)…” Since God knows all people and nations, He is speaking here of His intimate love relationship with Israel, not that He knew Israel only and is unaware of other nations.

Biblically, you simply cannot equate foreknew with “simply looking into the future.” It contradicts the other uses of that word in the bible – it simply doesn’t work.

What is man’s natural state?

Initially, it should be understood that man is totally depraved and unable, on his own, to even understand the truths of salvation let alone save himself. Titus 1:15 states “…to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.” Ephesians 4:18 further claims “They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.”

Therefore, man’s spiritual state as an unbeliever, is not one of relative neutrality, or as most would state today, basically good, but he is an active hater of God (“The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God…” Romans 8:7) and cannot accept spiritual truth (“The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” 1 Cor 2:14).

As such, man cannot, free will or not, be saved on his own.

But what about our free will?

We’ve already seen Ephesians 1:11 state that we are chosen “with the purpose of (or according to) His will,”.

In Romans 12 note carefully, that election is “not by works but by Him who calls.” The apostle contrasts works and election, not works and faith. Why? “While faith is a condition of justification, it is not a condition of election. Election is unconditional.” John Piper, “The Justification of God.”

According to Romans 9:15, Paul states “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” He concludes with vs. 16 “It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.

Again, if salvation is according to God’s will and not according to our will or desire or effort, what part of man’s free will is efficacious in salvation?

Think about this. This is important. According to 1 Corinthians 1:28-29, “ God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him.”

What ultimately makes the difference between those who believe and those who do not? If God alone sovereignly chooses, salvation is all of God and God alone. If we believe we are saved because of God and something we do, like our free-will decision, then salvation is a combination of grace plus the human ability and 1 Corinthians 1:28-29 (as well as many other passages) make no sense.

Matthew 22:14 states “For many are called (invited) but few are chosen.” It does not read “many are called but few choose.”

But man’s free will does exist – it exists to “…deny that Jesus is the Christ.” (1 John 2:22).

Notice again, the story of the thieves on the cross in Luke 23:39 “One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at Him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us.'” Clearly out of his own free will, he was denying Jesus as the Christ and even mocking Him. The second thief, who had a life of crime and probably little to no knowledge of Jesus, rebuked the first thief and in 23:40 said “Don’t you fear God…we are punished justly…but this man has done nothing wrong…Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

How could this remarkable turn of events have occurred? Out of free will? No, I would submit that the second thief was chosen as stated in the bible and that the Holy Spirit gave him both the gifts of repentance and faith. Clearly, he expressed both in his very short statement to Christ – “we are punished justly” and “remember me.”

Are we then robots?

Since we are made in the image of God, we cannot be robots but we must understand that all of salvation is of God. So how are we saved?

Remember the Trinitarian concept of salvation? The Father conceived a plan and chose or elected us before the foundation of the world, the Son redeemed us with His death on the cross at Calvary, and the Holy Spirit carries everything out.

What is this ministry of the Holy Spirit with respect to salvation?

Let’s understand that salvation is the result of both a negative and a positive aspect. That is repentance and faith.

Neither repentance nor faith is from us, or from our free will, but both are gifts from God for our salvation.

Peter declares that God accomplished Christ’s death and resurrection in order “that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins.” Acts 5:31. Similarly in Acts 11:18, “When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.” Finally, 2 Timothy 2:25 states “Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth…”

Over and over again, repentance leading unto salvation is a gift from God, not of the will of man.

The faith component is the same – again, a gift from God. Ephesians 2:8-9 states “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Philippians 1:29 further confirms this when it states “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him but also to suffer for him,”.

So both repentance and faith are gifts of God to those who are elect and man does not initiate his own salvation but responds to the word of God “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” Romans 10:17 claims that both justification and sanctification come from the Holy Spirit – “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” 1 Corinthians 6:11.

Whom did God pick?

There is a peculiar verse in 1 Corinthians that only makes sense if God indeed chose and is 100% responsible for who would become believers (vs. the concept of God plus us through free will.) It’s 1 Cor 1:26-29 as backed up by James 2:5:

1 Cor – Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.

James – Has not God chosen those who are poor i the eyes of the world to be rich in faith…

Now, think about this.

How is it that not many chosen by God are wise, influential or noble. If by any random chance scenario, those with free will would be accepting salvation, the wise, influential and noble would follow a standard bell curve distribution.

How does God, “nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast” if He wasn’t totally responsible for the choice of believers?

If free will is in play, these verses make no sense.

Where then is mankind in salvation?

Those chosen, simply respond to the free gifts of grace, faith, and repentance. Not by their will but by His will. Again, salvation is all of God and none of man.

Some contrary opinions

It would not be fair if I didn’t at least address some contrary objections to election.

First of all, the looking forward and ratification concept should have been put to rest above.

Second, many are concerned with “hyper Calvinism.” That is, if you believe in election you can simply avoid evangelism since the elect will be saved regardless. In truth, the elect will be saved regardless. To avoid evangelism, however, would be in direct disobedience to Christ’s great commission. Even so, the commission of a sin, avoiding your duty to evangelism, would not negate the truths of election, it would simply highlight a sin of disobedience, which would need to be corrected.

A third argument is known as the “eternal now” concept. To explain, God’s concept of time is certainly different than ours as 2 Peter 3:8 explains “…With the Lord, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” Additionally, since God is omniscient, He can see everything and knows the future, thus, all time is now for God. It’s not too much of a stretch, with this concept to place the election of saints, before the creation of the world, in the same time period of their actual conversion and completely wash away election.

Granted God’s concept of time is different than ours. Time, however, does exist as the first thought and the last though of the Bible states: “In the beginning…” and “come quickly…” God can do anything but He cannot make Himself a sinner and stating that He chose some before the foundation of the world and at the same time deploying some trick of time by doing all this at one point, the here and now, is a bit disingenuous and not something that a righteous God would do. It is really a false sleight of hand which ignores completely the multiple truths in the bible which explain election, and certainly never give credence to the concept of the “eternal now.”

A fourth argument is that John 3:16, which states “whoever believes…” extends the reach of salvation to the elect and also to those God passed over. Whoever believes, which means a continuing and relying belief on the saving work of Christ vs. mere knowledge, to which even Satan possesses, is merely a description of every single elect saint. They will, in fact, all come to saving faith.

Some have cited Revelation 3:20 “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” Clearly, however, contextually, this is an invitation to a specific church as one of the seven churches, not as some would imply, an invitation to salvation for all.

Again, many are called or are invited to salvation, and those elect will, at some point in time before death, accept salvation through the free gifts of grace, faith, and repentance. Clearly, that is what the bible teaches. It does not teach universalism or some special non-elect category. By the same token, we are to share the gospel with everyone – never knowing who is elect or not.

Summary

Is not salvation with the addition of free will not just a minor deviation? I don’t believe so. This adds man to the work of salvation when God clearly states it is all of Him.

What do you do with all the verses that talk directly about election – Ephesians 1:4 and Romans 8:29? What do you do with all the references to believers as “called”? What about Acts 13:48 which states “…and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” You simply can’t get around all these, and other verses, with a misunderstanding of the meaning of “foreknown,”  human logic which believes election betrays a mean God and demand for your own free will. Oh, and just because others believe incorrectly also, shouldn’t give you any comfort. The bible is the truth and what was meant originally is still true today.

Not only does the bible take this seriously when Galatians 1:8 states “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!” but it leads down a slippery slope.

We easily get into picking and choosing which bible verse we’d like to believe and which ones we want to ignore. Additionally, I believe that Jame’s warning in 3:1 “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” should make everyone, myself included, tremble at the thought that we “not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15).

The clear truths of the Bible concerning salvation, are that God, in His sovereignty, and for His own glory, chose some before the creation of the world as a love gift to His Son, Jesus Christ, who would in obedience to His Father, offer His life as a substitute for the sins of all those that the Father had chosen. And, that the Spirit would effect this salvation to all those whom the Father had chosen by gifting them both repentance and faith by prompting them through the Word of God. As such, those passed over, but through their own volition, will not receive salvation but will be punished eternally for their sin of rejecting Christ. All whom God chose will be saved, and all those saved will never lose their salvation.

That’s the truth of salvation.