Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, saith the Lord GOD. Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin. –Ezekiel 18:30
**The above verse regarding human responsibility is inspired scripture and in its divine origins are deemed true. If this is a premise you reject then no meaningful conversation on this verse can take place.
You see, lately I’ve seen a great many verses that have been used to support a more liberal view of free will, primarily the view that our choices are autonomous ones. Under this definition certain beliefs flow naturally, logically even. So scripture is then applied according to this view in order to see this view supported, this is done, at times in ways that scripture was never intended to.These ‘misquotations’ usually suffer from improper framing of both immediate and general context (for example 1 Tim 2:4 or Matthew 22:14), however there are a few verses which suffer from something much less obvious than a simple need to read the verses before and after the one you quote and it will be verses like those that we discuss today.
Along with the verse at the top here is a selection of verses which are similar
Human Responsibility to Come to Christ
1. “choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Josh. 24:15)
2. “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Mt. 11:28)
3. “If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God.” (Jn. 7:17)
4. “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.” (Jn. 7:37)
5. “Repent, and let everyone of you be baptized” (Acts 2:38)
6. “Repent therefore and be converted” (Acts 3:19)
7. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31)
8. “but now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30)
9. “Whoever wills, let him take the water of life freely.” (Rev. 22:17)
These verses clearly state there is a responsibility in man’s choices, primarily regarding the choice of accepting Christ and therefor turning away from sin. What these verses absolutely DO NOT say is by what means man makes that choice.
Let’s focus this a bit and ask, “how should Christians understand free-will?” Here is an excerpt from John Gerstner on the matter, “Your choices as a rational person are always based on various considerations or motives that are before you at the time. Those motives have a certain weight with you, and the motives for and against reading a book, for example, are weighed in the balance of your mind; the motives that outweigh all others are what you, indeed, choose to follow. You, being a rational person, will always choose what seems to you to be the right thing, the wise thing, the most advisable thing to do. If you choose not to do the right thing, the advisable thing, the thing that you are inclined to do, you would, of coarse, be insane. You would be choosing something that you did not choose. You would find something preferable that you did not prefer. But you, being a rational and sane person choose something because it seems to you the right, proper, good, advantageous thing to do.”
I would contest that in light of the fall of man and the clear scriptural teachings that man is spiritually dead and slave to sin, it would seem our choices are dictated by our nature. A nature, which detests and cannot see the holy ways of God, would never choose those ways as its most pleasurable action (on our own). Jesus teaches us in John 3:3 that unless we are born again we can’t even see the kingdom let alone choose it. You see, the spiritually dead man not only hates the ways of God because they counter his love for sin, but is literally blind and unaware to them. This understanding helps us see why men can’t choose God without God first effectually drawing them. The bible says we are slaves to sin, a slave is ‘one bound in servitude’ so by its very definition a slave can’t disobey its master because if it does it is no longer bound in service which is the definition of a slave. So once again, can a man who is a slave to sin disobey sin? Not unless he is set free. (See the bottom of this note for scriptural support)
Further more the bible teaches us we are spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1),so, how do dead men choose? They don’t actually, they, like the slave are bound to their nature which in this case is death. Dead men can’t choose to be alive, nor can spiritually dead people choose to be born again. Birth and re-birth are creation processes and by its definition these processes do not allow the created to be involved in its creation. So if we combine this with our soft determinism understanding of free-will we see that men have choices but the way they decide is based on what they see as the best choice for them and in the case of fallen man the choice is clear, love sin.
Like all things we must take this understanding and apply it not just to the immediate context which clearly agrees but to the broader biblical context. In doing so we must see that Human Responsibility is clearly stated and present in the justice of God and any understanding of scripture that doesn’t mesh with that is being misunderstood. In order to determine if this view is in line with scripture lets break down the individual premises of the opposing view when they are using these verses as proof.
ACCORDING TO THE VIEW THAT SAYS THESE VERSES IMPLY A LIBERTARIAN FREE WILL
“choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Josh. 24:15)–
1) God is asking us to choose between two options (Human Responsibility)
::Therefore, We must be able to choose any of the options.
For any student of logic this conclusion suffers from an improper distribution because we know that the presence of a choice doesn’t require the ability to freely choose between the choices. An example would be if I am given the choice between taking home a pebble or a two ton boulder, it is clear that a choice is available because no one is limiting my option to take home the boulder. However, without the proper equipment or help it is clear that I could not take home the boulder even if I chose to. So why then is the negative so adamant in preserving this line of reasoning’? Because I believe that they too are logical beings, and actually have an implied premise that allows this argument to actually draw that conclusion.
Implied premise: God would not command what we can’t perform.
Here is where I disagree whole heartedly. We are well aware that without Christ we can do nothing, furthermore we know that the law not only condemns us but was still passed down to us so that we could see the need for Christ, and thereby bringing glory to God. The bible constantly tells us that those who lean on their own understanding fail and those who lean on His succeed. Without rebirth we are unable to choose life and this isn’t unjust its actually merciful! The fear of many is that God’s character is being tarnished in this view of soft determinism because he is seen as unjust for holding people accountable for things they can’t freely choose against. However, a simple reading of Romans 9 will have this view on its head very quickly. We must remember that God is perfectly just for holding us accountable for our sinful nature and if that nature precludes us from choosing rightly then wrath is what we get but, if God regenerates us first thereby allowing us to act with faith, then that is a true testament to His mercy.
Ultimately we return to the question on whether those verses listed at the top necessarily reject God’s sovereign election. The answer seems to hinge on our view of justice and mercy, and it would seem to me that if we align ourselves with the biblical view of these attributes of God and apply them to a fallen man we can come to only one biblical conclusion and that is that human responsibility is present but in no way impedes God’s sovereignty nor does it ensure autonomous free will. The less biblical approach would be the extreme; which would be to imply that human responsibility requires that we have full and autonomous decision making ability, but this view clearly diminishes God and elevates men. Equally unbiblical is the view that God would have us all be hard nihilists who are paralyzed by our deterministic beliefs, there is in fact a degree of responsibility in our actions (regardless of our capacity to perform independently from God) and its by those actions that we will be judged.
**Selected support for my assumption that we can’t choose Christ on our own is listed below for those who question it.
Human Inability to Come to Christ
1. “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? (No!) Thenmay you also do good who are accustomed to do evil. (Jer. 13:23)
2. “How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Mt. 12:34)
3. “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree bear good fruit.” (Mt. 7:18)
4. “‘Who then can be saved?’ But Jesus looked at them and said to them, ‘With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” (Mt. 19:25-26)
5. “unless one is born again, hecannot see the kingdom of God.” (Jn. 3:3)
6. “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (Jn. 6:44)
7. “no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.” (Jn. 6:65)
8. “Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word.” (Jn. 8:43)
9. “They could not believe, because Isaiah said again: “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, lest they should see with their eyes, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.” (Jn. 12:39-40)
10. “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Rom. 5:6)
11. “the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.” (Rom. 8:7)
12. “So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Rom. 8:8)
13. “the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor. 2:14)