Is God sovereign and in control, or do we have free will?
“Yes” seems like the best answer. Theologians tend to dance around this issue or take strong stances that ultimately don’t make sense and sometimes seem inconsistent with the character of God. I’ve heard things like, “God is sovereign, but He didn’t create robots.” Or, “In His sovereignty He allows us to choose.” I’m sure you’ve heard many more platitudes that attempt to explain such a highly debated topic.
I believe that God is sovereign and can control anything He wants to. I also believe we were created with free will. In our free will we freely choose sin. We continue to become the biggest thing in our own world, selfishly seeking our own desires and thinking much of us. We obsess about opportunities, relationships, possessions, and temporary pleasures. In our sinful state, even our good deeds are often motivated by selfish ambition, such as “I want to feel good about doing good things.”
If we have free will but are naturally selfish and sinful, how does anyone ever choose God over self, and good over sin? One word: revelation. God in His sovereignty reveals Himself to us. God reveals a greater knowledge that affects the choices we can make with our free will. Let me explain: If a child wants to touch a hot stove, they might have the free will to do so. After touching it once, however, they may not have the will to do so again, even if they were sternly commanded to do so. “No! It will burn me! I can’t!” Likewise, a child could be given a choice between a lemon or a piece of chocolate. While the bright glow of the lemon might attract them, their free will would be hindered if they have experienced the goodness of chocolate. The more good the object, the more irresistible it becomes. So, our ability to choose is impacted by knowledge of the object’s goodness and/or knowledge of the negative result from choosing anything else. I call this knowledge “revelation.”
God reveals to us both His goodness (better than chocolate) and the awful things in store for those that refuse His goodness (worse than a hot stove). When God chooses to awaken our heart to His goodness, we are free to choose that which we know brings life to us. With the help of the Holy Spirit we begin to avoid that which has been revealed as damaging, when before it was appealing. Our ability to touch the hot stove (or sin) becomes limited based on knowledge of gross consequences and a greater good.
Our free will is shaped by His Word, His Spirit, and His people. Sometimes these influences are at war with our own desires. We can freely choose what is right when we:
Continually renew our minds (Romans 12:1-2) with the Word of God so we know the desires of God and know what will give life to us.
Surrender daily to God’s work in our lives. Pray and listen to His Spirit.
Live in community who will continually encourage us and point us in the right direction.
God is in control. Do you choose to let Him be?
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