Thursday, January 26, 2012

God's Sovereignty over Free Will

Hi guys. Dan asked me a while ago to post up some verses which support the notion that God works CONTINUOUSLY on human wills. I've been busy and forgot, and then remembered but was still busy so forgot again. Finally its here - a rough copy for discussion ;) Let me know your thoughts, or if you have any more verses (I know there are others, just haven't remembered them for this list). Or if you have questions, etc...

Psalms 51:10

This passage shows that David is relying on the Holy Spirit to create cleanness and rightness in his heart following sin. The whole tone of the Psalm is about experience - i.e. its not just a 'spiritual' cleansing, but a real experiential cleansing of the heart to desire and will the way it should. God makes it, and it is a continual process even in Saints (as we know).

Proverbs 21:1

This is fairly blatant. The wording describes a continuous state of heart and a continuous action on God's part. I don't think this is an exception just because a king is someone significant. Some of the dearest passages of Scripture were written by King David - I cherish being able to relate to them. If his will and desires were unusually manipulated by God, how can I read his psalms with any connection?

Romans 8:3-8

These verses set up a clear dichotomy - in every moment, every person either walks and sets their mind in one way or the other. There is no in-between. Of course, this referring to deep, roubust, genuine, enduring states of being, not some temporary (or even prolonged, and henious) fall which runs against our fundamental desires. Most people think that 'being in the Spirit' is a result of faith, but these verses teach that we need to 'be in the Spirit' in order to please God (which means, in order to have faith). Being in the Spirit is a continual thing, not an instantaneous thing - and it is needed to create and sustain the ability to please God (i.e. faith). Any faith I have is thanks to the continuous activity of the Holy Spirit on my will and desires.

Romans 12:2-3

God gives more faith and more transformation to some than to others - and this passage was directed present tense to existing Christians, and so applies to faith and transformation throughout a Christian's walk. We ought to be sober because GOD is the author of our faith, not us. And we ought to judge ourselves, because this is one of God's ways of actively spurring those to whom He has given great faith toward the faith-filled activity He has planned for them, and of spurring those to whom He has given small faith toward the faith-filled activity He has planned for them. He will not let either sit still in self-confidence or introspective faith, or anxiety and apathy. The day-to-day faith I have is a direct gift from God - he works day-to-day on my heart and mind.

1 Corinthians 15:10

Paul's working (this Greek word means some kind of fatiguing activity, not necessarily active or effectual, but certainly requiring a lot of willpower) was actually GOD'S working within Him by grace. In other words, God worked for a significant period of time with such force on Paul's will, that Paul described it as fatiguing labour, but did not think he could even describe it as his own!

Ephesians 1:11-12

The word for 'works' here is 'observable, effectual activity', i.e. direct active work of God Himself. Every beat of every butterfly's wing, every human thought, every electron's orbit is actively 'worked' by God. This point is emphasized specifically for three things: our hope in Christ, our obtaining an inheritance, and God getting praise. None of these are not one time events - they are states of being, which God continually works.

Ephesians 2:8-10

The wording in Greek here denotes a definite plan of Gods, not some vague desire. He designed specific 'works' for us, and created us anew so that we should walk in them. The word for 'works' actually means a continuous occupation and effort, rather than any specific act. And the word for 'created' is also continuous. So God is continually 'creating' us SO THAT (i.e. without the first part, the second part wouldn't happen) we continuously apply effort in the specific occupation He designed for us. There is a huge emphasis here in the whole chapter about how everything is God's doing by grace, and not even the slightest bit is our own.

Philippians 1:6

The 'good work' which God is doing (continuous sense) and will complete, is described by Paul a few verses later - that their love might abound more and more, with knowledge and discernment, that they might approve what is excellent, and be pure and blameless, and be filled with the fruit of righteousness, etc. God is continously working right at the core of human wills - creating love, knowledge, discernment, purity, blamelessness, etc. We are talking about strong motivational stuff as well as detailed head knowledge.

Philippians 2:12-13

This is quite clear - God is the one who works in us, in our wills, so powerfully that it alters our behavior in a consistent and enduring way (i.e. we 'work' for his good pleasure - we 'always obey'). Thus our 'work', indeed our very desire and will to 'work', is actually a result of His 'work' within us (again meaning active involvement). We fear and tremble, the verse says, because it is GOD HIMSELF who works within us, nothing to do with having to strive in your own strength. Read the preceding parts of the chapter and see if you are not inspired to awe and humility and fear and trembling before God. Clearly this is what Paul intended - since our God is like this, THEREFORE work our your salvation in fear and trembling, FOR it is GOD who works in you.

Colossians 1:29

This verse is blatant in describing that it is NOT the fruit of his labour, nor his ability to go on without feeling fatigue (the words describe fatiguing labour), that He is attributing to God. Rather it must be his WILL that he is attributing to God.

1 Thessalonians 3:12-13

The growth in love and holiness in Christians and in the Church are straightforward gifts from God. He causes it. These are continuous processes that stretch right to the core of our mind, will, and emotions.

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24

'Keeping' here means to guard carefully over a long period of time. God is doing something to prevent your spirit, should, and body from losing its blamelessness (i.e. rejecting Christ's covering blood). Apart from God's continuous faithful activity of guarding, you might lose your blamelessness. But we have confidence because He continuously acts on our spirit, soul, and body to guard their blamelessness in Christ.

2 Thessalonians 1:3

Paul gives thanks to GOD for THEIR faith and love, and that it is GROWING. Paul acknowledges that God is ultimately the worker behind their constant development in faith and love. Both faith and love are intimately linked to the will (and even deeper than the will), so this is an obvious but indirect way of saying that God is responsible for their wills, and for their gradual change in their will (for the better).

Hebrews 3:12-14

This passage shows that we were only ever truly shared in Christ (perfect tense) IF we persevere to the end (continuous tense). These tenses only make sense if the persevering happens as a result of sharing in Christ. Our perseverance is not based upon our moment-by-moment decisions, but on the presence (or absence) or a past fact - whether we have shared in Christ (perfect tense). If God uses foresight to prevent some people from sharing in Christ (despite having everything required i.e. true saving faith), it violates Scripture. If He PREVENTS them from having saving faith because he foresees they will not persevere, it is still a continuous act on their will (preventing faith). Or God could act continously not to prevent faith, but to sustain with certainty.

Hebrews 3:5-6

This passage is very similar to the last one. They balance out the other 'warning passages' in Hebrews by showing that those for whom the warning takes effect, were never truly saved - they merely 'tasted' heavenly things (much like the seed that falls on rocky ground in Jesus' parable).

Hebrews 13:20-21

There is a link between God 'working in us' and his 'equipping us' with what we need to 'do his will'. Part of God equipping us to do his will, is a work He does within us - in our souls - which precedes the 'doing'. In other words, it must ultimately affect our will (if it is to cause our doing). Paul believed this was something good which God did and was happy to ask for it rather than avoid it. Our ability to control our own wills was something he wanted over-ridden, not protected.


  1. Thanks for putting together this list Josh, it is always good to see the scriptural support to what people believe.

    I hope you don't mind I thought I would run through some thoughts on these passages. To make it clear, at this stage I do believe God works in our lives overriding or directing our will; however in the same breath I do not believe He works in our lives overriding or directing our will continuously.I believe this both on Biblical grounds and moral (I realize the latter is my opinion and is not the best authority).

    Psalm 51:

    I read through this Psalm and didn't really come away with the idea of God having continuously manipulated David's will. It seems to read in a very past, present, future kind of way where David sinned:
    "For I acknowledge my transgressions,
    And my sin is always before me.
    4 Against You, You only, have I sinned,
    And done this evil in Your sight—
    That You may be found just when You speak,[a]
    And blameless when You judge."

    and then asked for help from God to input into his life and change him. Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts,

    This verse is the closest I found to continuous affect on his life, thought not sure what it means exactly: "
    Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts,
    And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom."

    Proverbs 21:1

    I don't see anything that states He always is directing kings hearts, it is saying He is able to direct their hearts. While on the subject of king David, scripture tells us in James 1:
    "13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. 15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death."

    I don't think God was always directing David's heart. David directed his own heart, his own desires, to sin like the rest of us.

    Romans 8:3-8

    I need to ask whether you are stating that God is working here continuously human wills or just christian human wills 24/7?

    Romans 12:2-3

    I understand that no man can come to the Father unless He calls us and grants us faith, but is the granting of faith in response to our positive response to His call?

    I am wondering as I read through these verses whether you have understood my question? I meant to "work" human wills not to work "on" human wills if that helps. I actually said in the past comments "Yes, I do think God does "make" things happen in our lives but not to the extent that He chooses "everything" for us (or in us)."

    1 Corinthians 15:10

    But once again this does not necessarily mean God was working his will 24/7, but it means quite possibly God was working on his will at least some of the time.

    I might head off to bed as I still have a few more to go... :) I do think we may have misunderstood each other.


  2. Thanks Dan.

    Hmmm... Maybe first I'll answer philosophically what I'm trying to support here :)

    I believe humans have self-powered wills. Of course this is only because God has created and actively sustained our lives and the electrons that form our thoughts and emotions in our brain, and the link between our soul and body, etc. But we do actually have a will. So I'm not saying God choses everything for us - we definitely choose it. I AM saying that God works ON our wills so that we will definitely and without a shadow of a doubt choose (yes, WE will choose with our OWN self-powered will) what He wants us to choose in that moment.

    Our wills ARE continuously impacted by thousands of things, to a much greater extent than any of us like to admit - even if you exclude God from the picture. And it doesn't preclude responsibility. Take the most hardened criminal, one whom even you might be willing to say CANNOT really choose good, because it runs against every fundamental desire within him. And even these fundamental desires were ingrained from birth due to his upbringing, etc. Imagine he has to choose evil, and that his desires are very ingrained (and he is unlikely to be able to change them without God). This DOES NOT make us think he is not actually willing his choices himself, and it DOES NOT make us think he isn't responsible for his choices. Its just there are other responsibilities involved as well e.g. parents, society, random experiences in his childhood, etc. So God being in the mix doesn't make anything new regarding the 'freedom' of the will, and doesn't necessarily make a moral problem.

    And regarding Biblical support, I'm merely trying to show that Scripture strongly suggests 24/7 direction. You may always be able to explain how it doesn't have to mean that, but I think it makes the easiest sense out of these Scriptures taken as a whole.

    Hope that clears up a little what I'm trying to support! I might get onto your verse comments a little later... Cheers!

  3. Psalm 51- the point here was that it is good to rely on the Holy Spirit to create an experience of rightness in our soul. Since we are always wanting a greater experience of rightness in our soul, God expects us to seek this and rely on Him for this continually. And since it is an experience we're after, it must include a direction of our day-to-day mind, will, and emotions.

    Proverbs 21:1- the words here are describing a state of being and a present-continuous action.

    James 1 - I agree that we are tempted when we are drawn by our OWN desires. And I agree that God doesn't actively tempt us toward evil. Rather He allows it, knowing the outcome, all as a part of His perfect plan.
    BUT He did create each soul with its unique strengths and weaknesses, genetic predispositions, social climate and culture in which it is raised, and individual moulding experiences - creating an individual with the desires He planned for them. AND He actively prevents or allows the presentation of individual temptation to each individual, knowing exactly what the end result will be. AND, although He provides a way of escape for every temptation (satisfaction in Christ is always the way out of all temptation for every human), He only SOMETIMES provides the spiritual sight to attain it. Otherwise we would not need to pray things like 'Keep us from temptation' and 'enlighten the eyes of our hearts' and 'satisfy us in the morning with your love'.
    Job teaches us that even Satan's works (but NOT his motives) can ultimately be attributed to God - several times he talked of what GOD had done to him, and several times God talked of what HE had done to Job. Yet we all know Satan was the active agent. So while God doesn't actively tempt us, and we are tempted by our own desires, it doesn't nullify that God is completely sovereign over it all 24/7 (which desires we have, which temptations are allowed to reach us, and how strongly we sense our mode of escape).

    Romans 8:3-8- you're right, this verse is dealing with Christians only. But if its true for Christians, it takes away a lot of the arguments against 24/7 working of ALL people's wills.

    Romans 12:2-3- faith is a deep and fundamental thing involving our wills, and even our deeper fundamental desires. This verse demonstrates that God works these 24/7 in Christians.
    I'm not sure what a 'positive response to his call' would be if it happens before faith - what COULD happen even before our desires and wills are changed?
    Also (as the previous verse suggests), there IS no positive response prior to being 'in the Spirit' - you're either opposed, or 'in the Spirit'. God's call seems to be what creates faith and 'being in the Spirit' in the first place.

    1 Corinthians 15:10- you're right, this only suggests it happened for a significant period of time.

    Cheers :)

  4. I found another verse :)

    Psalm 121:1-3 - the words used for stumbling in verse 3 are only used 4 other times in Scripture. Three times they refer figuratively to divine judgement for sin (Deut 32:35, Ps 66:9, Ps 94:18), and the fourth time they refer to the sin itself (Ps 38:16). The Hebrew concept of judgement included a giving over to sin along with accompanying punishments. Psalm 121 suggests that God continually acts to prevent His elect from stumbling in this way - from entering into divine 'judgement', from being given over to sin and its subsequent punishment. In other words, without God's continual work to dampen our fleshly wills and desires, Christians would be given over to increasing sin and thus punishment. But He prevents it from happening.

    Romans 1 - this expands on Psalm 121 by saying that ALL people everywhere would be utterly depraved if it weren't for God's restraint on their wills and desires. He is in control of who is given over to sin and who is restrained. This seems to be a progressive thing He does repeatedly throughout history to demonstrate the natural wickedness of man - as He allows more wickedness and sin, He (justly) judges it by allowing more sin and more punishment. All civilizations have followed this path. Not very uplifting, but thank God that He DOES direct humanity's wills, and even caused some to delight in Him by His Spirit!

  5. I'm not sure what a 'positive response to his call' would be if it happens before faith

    Possibly a positive entertainment or desire of the idea that the truth about Christ could be the correct way? That wouldn't be faith but it would be a positive response :)

    I don't really have time to go through each point, but I agree with much of what you say Josh. I think we are playing with terms again. I think because God allows us to undergo temptation of our own wills, but does not cause our wills to be tempted is evidence that he does not actively continuously 24/7 in every way control our lives. He interjects miracles or special acts to guide our wills but at the same time not always forcing our wills. Sometimes forcing our wills like Pharoah but not always.
    If I do not want to do something or go a certain way that He desires me to go in relation to a bigger plan, I don't think He will ALWAYS make me go that way. Yet He will always fulfill His bigger plan. I don't think He needs the compliant will of everyone's lives for every second to fulfill his plans as a whole.


  6. Yeah I see what you're saying.

    God varies the type and depth of active influence directly on our wills, and also the type and depth of active influence on things surrounding it (which then indirectly influences our will). So there are times when our wills are MORE 'free' from actively influence by God, and there are times they are less free.

    I say 'free' because (as I said before) they are never truly free from outside influence. Our background and upbringing especially has a huge impact on our desires and wills, which we have little control over and little ability to break through. When we do, it is because we are being influenced by something else stronger (e.g. the help of a counsellor, the love for someone else or a greater idealism, etc)

    I say we are 'free' from active influence by God, because when you think about it, our wills are still absolutely and safely in His hands, even when He is not actively influencing them. He controls which OTHER things are influencing us, which options are presented to us to pick between with our wills, and how much of Christ we see by the Holy Spirit - and He knows and plans exactly what the outcome will be. So even when left more to our own devices, everything happens exactly as He intends. This is what I meant by 24/7 control - not 24/7 active direct influence on our wills, but rather always being in His hands.

    I believe the Holy Spirit is a gentleman and rarely forces us against our fundamental desires and wills, UNLIKE Satan (who often does). Instead, God works WITH our wills. The willing is our own, but God directs the growth according to His own timing in different areas, so that it fits perfectly with the rest of His plan to maximize His glory and our happiness in Him.

  7. Regarding 'positive responses' ;)

    I'm not sure what I think about this myself, so these really are just musings...

    I think the Scripture is clear that God didn't foresee anything 'good' within us, to make Him pick certain people to give faith. If we try to think of things He could have foreseen, they can't be anything which can be deemed 'good', or meriting anything. God talks of wills and even foundational desires and tendencies as being 'good' or 'bad', so I tend to dislike the notion of a 'positive entertainment' or 'desire' toward Christ, no matter how small.

    But the Scripture is also clear that God is not random. So there IS something which He bases His choice of people on. Obviously it includes a whole heap of things that are unrelated to our unique personhood (i.e. where we are born, who we will come in contact with, how much glory He will get from our conversion, etc). But that seems a little trivial when He is in control of everything anyway - it doesn't solve the random problem. There must also be something autonomous within each human, which He has decided to exert little control over, which is neither good nor bad in its own right.

    It must be deeper then, than wills and desires. Maybe something like how malleable our souls are to different sorts of influence by God. Who knows? Obviously God is still in complete control of who He choses for salvation, who He brings to faith, who He preserves, and how it all happens. Because this 'characteristic' is so foundational, and the desires and wills He builds on top are His choice.

    Just a few thoughts, but I really don't know. I just try to believe everything the Bible teaches at once, and let the logic work itself out later! The answer will work and make sense, it just might take us eternity to get it...

  8. I do definitely think that there is and can be merit in man from his angle of viewpoint. Like when countless times God rewards a good and faithful servant and praises the choices of certain people and is displeased with choices of others. And God did say that if people seek Him they will find Him. I don't know whether that person has faith from God during his seeking but hasn't found Him yet or seeks Him with a positive response until He finds Him... but then again God did say in Hebrews that it is impossible to have please God without faith. Lots of angles scripture takes and yes i agree it will take a eternity to comprehend... I'm still thinking scripture's truth is more along the lines of arminianism though. Actually, I'll have to find that link to the points of calvinism and arminiansm and we will have to do a run down of agreements and disagreements to see where we think alike. cheers and God Bless!

  9. Yeah man, definitely humans can have merit! We will ultimately be rewarded in heaven (or hell) according to our merit, including 'good works' and 'faith'. I think its a bigger thing than most Protestants like to admit (because its so easy to misunderstand it and revert to pride, legalism, or despair).
    I think part of the reason God says He doesn't choose people for salvation based upon 'merit', is that He wants us to realize its actually ultimately HIS work within us. He chooses how He is going to work this 'merit' within each person, before that 'merit' arises. That way we have no basis for pride and He gets the glory (and our love) for our salvation.

  10. Yet of course when I say "merit" I mean a heart that seeks God or open to seeking Him... or similar. I don't believe we can generate enough merit to obtain salvation, but I do believe there is a part for us to play, to be the clay and to be malleable.
    At the moment I kind of think that the process of us becoming followers of Christ are in these steps...

    1. God calls us. (like the invitation to the feast, the Holy Spirit convicting of sin, etc etc)
    2. We respond (positive response) or don't.
    3. Should we respond, God choses us as part of His people and works His salvation in our lives.

    Well, I will always have to do ongoing study. Not entirely sure about this 1,2,3 step thing but it is what think at the moment.

  11. Just read this again after putting up popular posts... I actually have quite different views these days, as you well know Josh :)