What I have done in this series, The Buck Stops Here, is to show that the Bible teaches three things:
- We have free will: the freedom to choose to do whatever we want.
- God holds us responsible for our choices.
- God is sovereign.
Scripture makes it clear why each of these statements are true. The fact is we need all three of these things to be true. They are like three legs of a stool. Take any one away and life doesn’t make sense.
If we deny free will, then there is no basis to hold anyone to account for what they have done or for what they have neglected. Without the ability and right to make our own choices we are no better than robots, no better than puppets. We might as well be battery operated dolls that God has spread out on the earth to play with for His amusement. Such a thought runs against reason, experience, and Scripture. The world does not make sense without the presupposition that we have free will.
If God does not hold us responsible for our decisions, then there is no ultimate source of justice to which we can look to—no point of arguing right and wrong. If we are not held responsible for our decisions why should we care about obeying the law? Why should be bother to care for anyone other than ourselves? Such was the thought of the man in Jesus’ parable in Luke 12:16-19 (NIV)
“The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ‘
But common sense tells us differently. We believe that people should be held accountable for their decisions. That’s why we have police. That’s why we have courts. And Scripture affirms this is true in a more ultimate sense, that God holds us responsible for all our decisions as well. Jesus finishes that parable saying in Luke 12:20-21 (NIV)
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
Unless people are held responsible for their decisions, the world ceases to make sense.
If God is not sovereign, then we have no reason to trust His promises to save and rescue and redeem us or anyone else. All those promises, such as Hebrews 13:5 (NIV) “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you,” John 10:28 (NIV) “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand,” and Romans 10:13 (NIV) “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” are reduced from promises to merely intentions. It means He can’t know the future with certainty. It means we can’t be sure of Romans 8:28 (NASEC) “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
If God is not absolutely sovereign, we can’t trust Him absolutely.
All three—free will, human responsibility, and God’s sovereignty—are essential to a biblically centered Christian world view.
What I have not done, and have no intention of doing, is explaining how these three truths work together all the time. That is a mystery that I do not claim to understand, and I submit, is a mystery that God has chosen not to reveal to us, nor will He this side of heaven. But just because we don’t have all the answers, it does not follow that there are no answers.
We shouldn’t be afraid to trust in the sovereignty of God because we do not fully understand it and how it fits with free will and human responsibility. God declares in Isaiah 55:8-9,
“My thoughts are completely different from yours,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”
Most people do not know how their car works. We know there is an engine, but how many of us can take it apart and put it together again? I am in that group of people that has absolutely no idea how to do that. I know where the oil goes. I know where the windshield washer fluid goes. That’s about it. The rest of the engine is beyond me. I know that I need to change the oil, fill the gas tank, and replace the brakes and tires every once in a while. That’s all I know.
Yet, despite this obvious lack of understanding of the mechanics of my automobile, I am fully licensed to drive it and use it effectively every day. The truth is I do not need to fully understand everything about how the engine works in order to drive. I know someone understands it. I know it makes sense to my mechanic. But just because I don’t have the same knowledge of my car that my mechanic does, it doesn’t make my car engine any less logical or understandable.
The same is true about God’s sovereignty, free will and human responsibility. We don’t have all the answers we would like about how sovereignty harmonizes with our free will. But that does not mean that they aren’t in harmony with each other.
What I have been learning is that a big part of living for God through Christ means being willing to trust God when He offers no clear explanation to my questions. He has made it very clear that we have been made in such a way that we are free to make our own choices, that He will hold us responsible for our choices, and that He is sovereign even over our choices. He does not see these as incompatible. Paul tells us in Philippians 2:12-13 (NIV), continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling (that’s freewill), for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose (God is sovereign). It is not either or, it is both and.