Category Archives: Free will

John 6:37; John 6:44; and John 12:32: Jesus drawing all people

Does the Holy Spirit draw all people for salvation? Or is it only a few who are chosen?

(Seining for fish in a river, image courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

1. Challenges from John’s Gospel

There are 3 challenging (even confusing) verses in John’s Gospel. They are:

clip_image002‘All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away’ (John 6:37 NIV).

Some interesting questions emerge from this verse for me:

  • Does the Father give the elect to Jesus and that is the basis of their coming to Jesus Christ for salvation?
  • ‘Whoever’ comes to Jesus won’t be driven away, but are they only the ones the Father gives to Jesus?
  • Here, do we have God’s sovereignty of giving people to Jesus and of human beings choosing to come to Jesus?
  • If they will not be driven away from Jesus, does that mean they experience irresistible grace that they cannot refuse?

clip_image004‘‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day’ (John 6:44 NIV).

The questions rising are:

  • Since nobody can come to Jesus without the Father’s drawing, what is the meaning of drawing?
  • Is it like drawing people together by persuasive preaching?
  • Trawler fishermen search for prawns in the ocean with trawling nets and then they drag the nets in.

clip_image006(The image is released free of copyrights under Creative Commons CC0, public domain)

· Is the drawing of a person to Christ like a tug-of-war pulling or a gentle drawing of a cloth together for sewing purposes? We’ll need to examine the Greek verb for ‘pull’ to try to understand its meaning.

  •  I look forward to the ‘raising up’ of believers at Jesus’ Second Coming.

clip_image008(Easy tee shirt midi dress sewing tutorial – It’s Always Autumn, image courtesy Pinterest)

clip_image010John 12:32 uses the same verb for ‘pull’ in John 6:44: ‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself’ (Jn 12:32 NIV).

For me, questions include:

  •  Jesus’ being ‘lifted up’ most often refers to the crucifixion. How can all people everywhere be drawn to him since the crucifixion?
  •  Are they all saved? If so, this is the heretical doctrine of universalism.
  •  I can accept the need of the Father to draw people to Jesus, but how can John 12:32 avoid universal salvation?

2. Let’s check some major theological views on John 12:32

2.1 The Calvinistic view

The Calvinistic website, Monergism, includes an article, ‘Does the Spirit Draw All People That They May Have An Opportunity to Respond?

In it, the author John Hendryx states concerning John 12:32:

Remember that Jesus speaks of John 12 in a completely different context as John 6. Take the time to read that passage and you will quickly discover that it is an entirely different discussion. In John 6 Jesus is speaking to some unbelieving Jews and in John 12 to a group of Gentiles. The emphasis is that Jesus was doing something new…

Up to that time only the Jews were privy to God’s revelation…

Gentiles were largely excluded. Now Jesus was grafting the gentiles onto the vine … so in content of John 12… Jesus is not teaching that he is going to draw all men without exception, but all men without distinction – Jews and Gentiles alike.

Calvinistic commentator, D A Carson, takes a similar line of interpretation in John 12:32:

Here, ‘all men’ reminds the reader of what triggered these statements, viz. the arrival of the Greeks, and means ‘all people without distinction, Jews and Gentiles alike’, not all individuals without exception, since the surrounding context has just established judgment as a major theme (v. 31) [Carson 1991:444].

The late Leon Morris admitted:

“All men” is something of a problem. In fact not every man is drawn to Christ as this Gospel envisages the possibility that some will not be.[1] We must take the expression accordingly to mean that those who are to be drawn will be drawn. That is to say Christ is not affirming that the whole world will be saved. He is affirming that all who are to be saved will be saved in this way. And he is speaking of a universal rather than a narrowly nationalistic religion. The death of Christ would mean the end of particularism. By virtue of that death, “all men” and not the Jews alone should be drawn. And they would be drawn only by virtue of that death (Morris1971:598-599).

These are verses from John’s Gospel that confirm ‘all men’ does not mean everyone who has ever lived since the crucifixion – according to the above scholars.

2.2 ‘Draw’ means to ‘drag’

Ligonier Ministries (the teaching fellowship of R C Sproul) claims:

It is also clear that any position that says the Lord only “woos” us cannot be maintained. The same word translated “draw” in John 6:44 is found in Acts 16:19 and James 2:6 where the apostolic authors speak of someone being “dragged” somewhere. Though the elect may try at first to resist God’s drawing, He drags us, against our fallen wills, to Jesus. God overcomes our natural enmity toward Himself and guarantees that His elect people will choose to follow Christ.[2]

This is an extreme Calvinistic view, not supported by the Lexicons’ definition of helkuw (or helkw). Thayer agrees with Bauer, Arndt & Gingrich in defining elkuw: In Acts 16:19 and James 2:6 it means ‘a person forcibly and against his will (our drag, drag off)’. However, in Jn 6:44 and 12:32 it is used ‘metaphorically to draw by inward power, lead, impel…. I by my moral, my spiritual, influence will win over to myself the hearts of all’ (Thayer 1962:204-205).

2.3 Arminian views

John Wesley considered John 12:32, ‘I will draw all men — [to mean] Gentiles as well as Jews’.[3]

An Arminian Baptist wrote of this verse:

The Calvinist who takes “all” to mean “all kinds” has to resort to saying, “There was a common misconception among the people known to the Evangelist who really wanted only one kind of people to be saved, and the Evangelist emphasises “all kinds” to fix this misconception.” Maybe such people thought that God only wanted men saved whose last name began with ? (pi). But you don’t find such stuff in John’s Gospel. There simply is no emphasis on the diversity of the Elect in John’s Gospel, or in John’s letters, either.

What you do find in John’s Gospel is the incredible news that Jesus even loves you! For Jesus loves everyone! The Calvinist inverse of this statement, “Jesus doesn’t love everyone! He might not love you!” is so shocking and contrary to expectation, that if it were true, you’d expect John to make explicit exclusive statements to this effect, including long, protracted argumentation.[4]

2.4 A moderate Calvinistic view

The late Dr Norman Geisler considered himself a ‘moderate Calvinist’ (Geisler 1999:52). It seems to be his views could be those of a ‘moderate Arminian’ his following exposition explains.

2.4.1 John 6:44

Of John 6:44 he wrote that ‘no free human act can move toward God or do any spiritual good without the aid of His grace’ (Geisler 1999:35).

‘Draw’ is from the Greek, helkuw, and some extreme Calvinists (e.g. Ligonier Ministries)[5] want this to mean ‘drag’ as in Acts 16:19; 21:30 and James 2:6.

In other passages such as John 18:10; and 21:6, 11 it can mean ‘drag’. The LXX translates with helkuw in Deut 21:3-4.

Does that mean all translations of helkuw must mean ‘drag’? Certainly not! There is a range of meanings for many words and helkuw in the NT is no exception.

Bauer, Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek Lexicon gives the meaning of helkuw in John 6:44 as, ‘figuratively of the pull on man’s inner life’ – John 6:44:12:32 (1957:251).

2.4.2 John 12:32

Geisler admits sometimes the NT allows helkuw to mean to drag a person or object (e.g. John 18:10; 21:6, 11; Acts 19:10). However, at other times the Standard Greek Lexicons allow for the meaning ‘draw’ as well as ‘drag. The LXX used both senses of the word: Deut 21:3-4 uses it to mean ‘drag’ while Jer 38:3 provides the sense of ‘draw’ out of love.

As for John 12:32, it cannot mean drag – irresistible grace – because this verse would prove too much for the Calvinist. Jesus said: ‘”But I, when I am lifted up from the earth will draw all men to myself”. No true Calvinist believes that all men will be saved’.

In this verse it is important to note the word, ‘all’ as it cannot mean ‘some’. In John 2:24-25, Jesus said he knew all people sinned. In that situation it is clear he wasn’t speaking of some people – the elect. So, ‘all’ cannot mean ‘some’ – the elect.

Here in John 12:32, if Jesus meant some he could have used a separate Greek word, tis, which is a diverse word meaning: anyone, anything, someone, many a one or thing, or somebody (Bauer, Arndt & Gingrich 1957:827). Therefore, under the weight of Greek exegesis, irresistible grace crumbles.

Geisler shows that people ‘being drawn to God’ is ‘conditioned on their faith’. The context of their being “drawn” (6:37) was “he who believes” (6:35). Later in John 7:17, Jesus stated: “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out where my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (John 7:17)’ (Geisler 1999:93).

3. John 6:37

John 6:37 (NIV) reads, ‘All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away’.

This is the immediate context for this verse:

36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day’ (John 6:36-40 NIV).

Panoramic view of Tower Bridge(photo of draw-bridge, the Tower Bridge, London, courtesy Public Domain Photography)

 The ESV translation of John 6:37 is more accurate than the NIV, in reflecting the nuances of Greek grammar: ‘All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out’ (Jn 6:37 ESV).

  • ‘All that’ is pan (neuter singular), an abstract idiom and seems to include the whole mass of believers down through the ages.
  • Then John became personal: ‘Whoever comes to me’ – ton erchomenon pros me. Here, Jesus places the responsibility on each person to respond to God’s drawing to salvation.

There are 2 parts to this verse:[6]

clip_image012There is the sovereign ministry of God the Father: ‘All that the Father gives Me will come to Me’. Could we call this election or predestination. However, there is a second part to people’s coming to Christ:

clip_image014‘The one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out’. This is a figure of speech known as a litotes ‘in which something is affirmed by negating its contrary’.

Jesus affirms that whoever comes to him will never be driven away. So, the two parts are:

a. The sovereignty of God in giving believers to Jesus, AND

b. The human responsibility of ‘whoever comes to me’. In modern philosophy this is called ‘compatibilism’.

John does not see human responsibility as lessening God’s sovereignty. Both are necessary in God’s plan of salvation.

Norman Geisler regards this as another example where ‘both God’s sovereignty and our responsibility’ are in the same text’. However, ‘only those the Father preordains to do so will come to Christ (Jn 6:44). On the other hand, it is also true that “whoever” chooses to come will be saved (Rom. 10:13) (Geisler 1999:40).

Geisler pointed to an example of this in Acts 13:48 (NIV): ‘When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honoured the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed’. Then Acts 14:1 states: ‘At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed”

There’s the combination: (1) God’s sovereignty and appointing people to eternal life, and (2) Through effective preaching a ‘great number’ of Jews and Greeks became Christian believers.

Therefore, Geisler concludes ‘there is no contradiction between preordination and persuasion, since God preordained the means (persuasion) with the end (eternal life)’ (1999:41)

So John 6:37 affirms God’s sovereignty in drawing people to salvation and human response to the offer of salvation. However, I’m aware that even free-will decisions are contaminated by comprehensive depravity.

4. Another example of draw and not drag

I was alerted to this example in Richard Trench’s Synonyms of the New Testament (1880/1953:72-74).

There are two Greek words, of theological importance, that show the difference between draw and drag. They are surein and helkuein. Both of these are in the infinitive form. Surein is most often translated as ‘to drag’ and helkuein (to draw).

Surein includes the notion of violence (see Acts 8:3; 14:19; 17:6). However, helkuein does not have violence as its primary meaning, although it is seen in Acts 16:9; 21:30 and James 2:6.

Only by keeping in mind the difference which thus exists between these, can we vindicate from erroneous interpretation two doctrinally important passages in the Gospel of St. John (Trench 1880/1953:72).

He refers to John 12:32 and asks, ‘How does a crucified, and thus an exalted Saviour draw all men unto Him? Not by force, for the will is incapable of force, but by the divine attractions of his love’. In John 6:44, helkuein rejects being ‘dragged to God’ as a machine but it relates to ‘potent allurements’ or attractiveness of love by the Father for the son.

The Septuagint of Jeremiah 31:3 (NIV) uses the word, ‘The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness”’.

Helkuein is predominantly the sense of drawing to a certain point. In surein, merely of dragging after one … likening a man to a fish already hooked and dragged through the water. [See Isa 3:16], which is forcibly dragged along with no will of its own; a dead body (Trench 1880/1953:73).

Compare John 21:6, 8, and11 where helkuein is used for ‘a drawing of the net to a certain point; by the disciples to themselves in the ship, by Peter to himself upon the shore.

However, at verse 8, helkeuein is taken over by surein, ‘dragging the net full of fish’ (ESV).

5. Conclusion

These three verses from John 6 and John 12 confirm the need for people to be ‘drawn’ to Jesus for salvation. This is not based on irresistible grace where the Father drags people to Jesus.

I reject the Calvinistic understanding by which salvation is preordained, without the need for a human response.

However, Trench has masterfully demonstrated the difference between ‘to draw’ (helkuein) and ‘to drag’ (surein).

6. Works consulted

Bauer, W; Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature.[7] Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Carson, D A 1991. The gospel according to John. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press / Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Geisler, N 1999. Chosen but free. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers.

Morris, L 1971. The gospel according to John. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Thayer, J H 1962. Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament, being Grimm’s Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testamenti. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Trench, R C 1880/1953. Synonyms of the New Testament. London. Digitized by Ted Hildebrandt, Gordon College, Wenham, MA March 2006. Available at: https://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/new_testament_greek/text/trench-synonyms.pdf (Accessed 27 March 2020).

7.  Notes

[1] At this point Morris gave no references from John to support his statement.

[2] 2020.Man’s Radical Fallenness, Exposition of John 6:44. Available at: https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/mans-radical-fallenness/ (Accessed 27 March 2020).

[3] John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes, John 12. Available at: https://www.christianity.com/bible/commentary.php?com=wes&b=43&c=12 (Accessed 26 March 2020).

[4] The Universality of Jesus’ Drawing All to Him (John 12:32) 2010. Society of Evangelical Arminians (online), 9 February. Available at: http://evangelicalarminians.org/the-universality-of-jesus-drawing-all-to-him-john-12-32/ (Accessed 26 March 2020).

[5] See above @ 2.2.

[6] I posted the following as Fate… Free Will vs Determinism#464. Available at: https://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/fate-free-will-vs-predestination.81557/page-24 (Accessed 26 March 2020). Some of this exegesis came from Carson (1991:290-291).

[7] This is ‘a translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Wörtbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der übrigen urchristlichen Literatur’ (4th rev & augmented edn 1952) (Bauer, Arndt & Gingrich 1957:iii).

Copyright © 2020 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 30 March 2020.

Vector drawing of decorative floral pattern

Vector drawing of decorative floral pattern

Vector drawing of decorative floral pattern

Vector drawing of decorative floral pattern

Vector drawing of decorative floral pattern

Vector drawing of decorative floral pattern

Can people choose to reject salvation?

Do all people have free will?

Image result for clipart Free Will

(image courtesy Breaking the Free Will Illusion)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

This brief article was prompted by an email from Christian friends. They wrote:

With regard to the [church we attend], the doctrinal issue we are sad about is that they teach “free will” as entrance to salvation.  We strongly disagree as we believe that the unregenerate man/woman is incapable of choosing God, as our wills are enslaved to sin and death through the first fall.  We believe it is only by God’s Grace alone, through Faith, and believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and this Faith is only by revelation of the Holy Ghost. (Ephesians 2:8-9, emphasis added)

We believe there are two types of religion in this world  –  religion of human achievement, and the true religion of Grace alone and Faith alone by God the Father alone through His Son Jesus Christ alone, and His Spirit alone..[1]

1. People are incapable of choosing God

Is it a biblical teaching that an unregenerate person, dead in sin, is incapable of choosing to serve God?

As to the issue of free will in relation to salvation, how do you define free will?

I define it as the ability to decide between alternatives. Adam and Eve had this free will ability given by God at the beginning of the world. Adam is our representative, ‘Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned’ (Rom 5:12).

This definition is not original with me. Norman Geisler and Ron Brooks explained:

There are several points on which there is confusion about what is meant by free will. Some have said that it refers to the ability to desire. But a better definition is that it is the ability to decide between alternatives. Desire is a passion, an emotion; but will is a choice between two or more desires. Also, some think that to be free means that there can be no limitation of alternatives—one must be able to do whatever he wants. But the opposite of freedom is not fewer alternatives, it is being forced to choose one thing and not another. Freedom is not in unlimited options, but in unfettered choice between whatever options there are. As long as the choosing comes from the individual rather than an outside force, the decision is made freely. Free will means the ability to make an unforced decision between two or more alternatives (Geisler & Brooks 1990:63).

1.1   Adam and Eve had free will before and after sin entered the world.

God gave Adam and Eve the capability to choose between two alternatives:

‘In the middle of the garden he placed the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil….

The LORD God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. But the LORD God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—except the tree of he knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die”’ (Gen 2:9, 15-17 NLT).

So from the beginning of time, Adam was given the choice between alternatives (free will). What happened when Eve came along?

2 “Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied [to the serpent [Satan]. 3 “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’”

4 “You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. 5 “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”

6 The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. 7 At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness (Gen 3:2-7 NLT).

Both Adam and Eve had free will that God gave to them. Eve was deceived and was joined by Adam, the ‘sucker’.

2.    Free will after sin entered the world

What about free will after this sin entered the world? Do all human beings, dead in sin (Col 2:13), have the ability to choose among alternatives, including evil over good?

2.1   Meaning of ‘dead in sin’

Here are four translations of the phrase (Eph 2:1; Col 2:13) that should shed some insight on Col 2:13.

GNT: ‘spiritually dead because of your sins’;

NLT: ‘were dead because of your sins’;

ERV:[2] ‘you were spiritually dead because of your sins’;

NIRV:[3] ‘You were living in your sins and lawless ways. But in fact you were dead’.

Regarding Eph 2:1 and ‘dead in sin’:

The word for dead in Greek is nekros, which literally means a corpse or dead body. Since we know Paul is talking about a spiritual state (not a physical state), we must understand this deadness refers to our spiritual life. The Ephesians were alive physically but dead spiritually. Paul chose this comparison because it accurately describes not only the nature of an unbeliever but also the impossibility of an unbeliever recognizing and correcting his own condition. Just as a corpse cannot revive itself to life, neither can an unbeliever revive his own spirit into new life (Verse by Verse Ministry international 2018).

2.2   Biblical examples of free will from the Old Testament

clip_image002Exodus 19:3-8 (NLT):

3 Then Moses climbed the mountain to appear before God. The Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “Give these instructions to the family of Jacob; announce it to the descendants of Israel: 4 ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me. 6 And you will be my kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ This is the message you must give to the people of Israel.”

7 So Moses returned from the mountain and called together the elders of the people and told them everything the Lord had commanded him. 8 And all the people responded together, “We will do everything the Lord has commanded.” So Moses brought the people’s answer back to the Lord.

The Lord, through Moses, gave the ‘family of Jacob’ this choice: ‘obey me and keep my covenant‘ and you will receive ‘special treasure’. However, he reminded ‘the descendants of Israel of what God ‘did to the Egyptians’. They had the choice to be like the Egyptians or to obey God’s covenant. What was the free will choice: ‘We will do everything the Lord has commanded’.

That was an example of the group free will of the 12 tribes of Israel to make a choice.

clip_image002[1]   Deuteronomy 5

This is the chapter where the Ten Commandments are repeated. These 3 verses provide a solid foundation built on the free will they could choose to be idolaters or serve God:

8 ‘You must not make any idols. Don’t make any statues or pictures of anything up in the sky or of anything on the earth or of anything down in the water. 9 Don’t worship or serve idols of any kind, because I am the Lord your God. I hate for my people to worship other gods. People who sin against me become my enemies. And I will punish them, and their children, their grandchildren, and even their great-grandchildren. 10 But I will be very kind to people who love me and obey my commands. I will be kind to their families for thousands of generations! (Deut 5:8-10 ERV)

This chapter has many commands to obey God’s laws, but also has warnings about disobeying:

blue-corrosion-arrow-small In vv 8-9, the command was against idolatry ‘because I am the Lord your God’. That’s the positive command.

blue-corrosion-arrow-small However, if the Israelites chose to serve other gods (they are able to sin against God), they then become His enemies and He punishes them, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

blue-corrosion-arrow-small God will be very kind to the obedient people and their families for thousands of generations (v. 10).

If it was impossible for the Israelites to choose to disobey God, there would be no point in issuing this warning. The teaching here is that the Israelites had the power of alternative choices – idols or the one true God. This defines free will.

clip_image002[1] Deut 11:27-28 (NLT):

27 You will be blessed if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today. 28 But you will be cursed if you reject the commands of the clip_image004Lord your God and turn away from him and worship gods you have not known before.

The Israelites could choose between 2 alternatives: (1) obey the Lord’s commands and be blessed, or (2) Reject the Lord’s commands, worship other gods, and they will be cursed. This is free will in action in God’s old covenant.

clip_image005Joshua 24:11-15 (NLT):

11 “When you crossed the Jordan River and came to Jericho, the men of Jericho fought against you, as did the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. But I gave you victory over them. 12 And I sent terror[c] ahead of you to drive out the two kings of the Amorites. It was not your swords or bows that brought you victory. 13 I gave you land you had not worked on, and I gave you towns you did not build—the towns where you are now living. I gave you vineyards and olive groves for food, though you did not plant them.

14 “So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. 15 But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord”.

It is clear what Joshua laid before the Israelites who were sinners: Choose whom you will serve – the gods of your ancestors and the Amorites – OR serve the Lord. God’s chosen people had a free will choice between 2 alternatives.

For further exposition on Josh 24:15, see: Choose does not mean choice! Joshua 24:15.

3.    Free will and salvation

What do we find in the NT when the Gospel of salvation is offered to all people? Can they accept or reject it? Or are they unconditionally elected and are irresistibly drawn to Jesus because He died only for the elect?

I have taken these points from my article, What is the nature of human free will?

When we ask, ‘What is the nature of free will or free choice?’ we may be asking: How long is a piece of string in theological terms? If we are going to answer this question with biblical accuracy, we will need to ask further questions about:

Image result for clipart choose Christ(image courtesy ChristArt)

  1. Free will / free choice and the power of God (see Isa 45:11-13; 46:4; Jer 32:16-44; Acts 4:24-31);
  2. Free choice and the decrees of God (Rom 8:28; Eph 1:9, 11; 3:11);
  3. Free choice and the salvation of human beings (Tit 2:11; Prov 1:23; Isa 31:6; Ezek 14:6; Matt 18:3; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 16:31; 17:30; Phil 1:39; 1 Jn 3:23);
  4. Free choice as it is related to God’s providence (Jas 4:2);
  5. Free choice and God’s foreknowledge (Rom 8:29-30; 2 Cor 6:1-2; 1 Pt 1:1-2);
  6. Free choice and a human being’s moral nature (Jn 1:12-13; 7:17; Rom 3:26; Heb 3:7-8, 15; 4);
  7. Free choice and Adam’s original sin (the origin of the sin of the human race) [Gen 3:1-8; Rom 5:12-19; 1 Cor 15:21-22; 1 Tim 2:13-14];
  8. Free choice and human depravity (Deut 6:4-5; Matt 22:35-38; Rom 2:14; 7:18; 8:14; 2 Tim 3:4);
  9. Free choice and eternal security/perseverance of the saints (Jer 3:12, 14, 22; Hos 14:4; Mt 24:13; Mk 4:16-17; 7:21-23; Jn 6:66-67; 13:10-11; Heb 6:4-6; 10:26-31; 2 Pt 2:20-22; 1 Jn 2:19)[listed in  Thiessen 1949:524].

In relation to salvation, I consider that the Bible teaches …
clip_image002[2]All salvation is provided by God himself. It is a gift from God. As Eph 2:8-9 (NLT) puts it,

8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.

clip_image006God elects / predestines people to salvation:

According to Arminianism, election is that act of God whereby he foreordains to eternal life those whom he foresees will respond in faith to the gospel. According to Calvinism, election is that act of God whereby he foreordains to eternal life those who, because of sin, cannot and will not respond in faith to the gospel. Which of these two views is the one the Bible teaches? Or is there a third, mediating option? (Storms 2018).

This is supported by verses such as 1 Peter 1:1 (NIV),

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To God’s elect, exiles, scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

God in his foreknowledge, elected people to salvation. Was this an unconditional election (Calvinism), or was it conditional election (Arminianism) or based on some other factor. That other element is:

clip_image002[3]People choose (because of their free will) between alternatives: to respond in faith and repentance to the Gospel OR to reject the Gospel. An example is found with the Philippian jailer and Paul and Silas when released from prison:

Image result for clipart Philippian jailer(image of Philippian jailer courtesy Garden of Praise)

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, ‘Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!’

29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’

31 They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.’ 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house (Acts 16:25-31 NIV).

This jailer, dead in trespasses and sin, responded to the proclamation made by Paul and Silas in prison, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ Paul and Silas did not say, ‘Do nothing. God has done it all for you. You are unconditionally elected and are in the Kingdom’.
Instead, Paul & Silas commanded: ‘[You] believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household’.

There cannot be a Gospel response to receive salvation without human responsibility of the choice between Yes or No to the Gospel. Otherwise it is God’s authoritarian dictatorship that does away with certain biblical emphases.
How can this be? It’s because God’s grace has been extended to everyone and they respond in faith or reject the Gospel. We have this partially explained in Titus 2:11 (NIV), ‘For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people’.

Salvation is offered to all but not all respond in faith. That’s not because of irresistible grace because ‘the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people’.
For further explanations, see my articles:

There may be many questions that come from my response. In my understanding of free will, I’m a leaky, Reformed Arminian. To his dying day, Jacob Arminius was a Dutch Reformed minister who taught in the Reformed University of Leiden. I’m a ‘leaky’ one because I do not believe in Arminian infant baptism. Baptism is for believers in my biblical understanding. (Matt 28:18-20; Acts 8:36, 38).

See my article, Believer’s baptism or infant baptism?

4. Conclusion

From the beginning of time (with Adam and Eve) right through to salvation, God’s view is that human beings have free-will choice to accept or reject him. All people can choose to follow other gods or God Himself (Joshua 24:14-15).

They can choose to accept or reject evidence for the existence of God (Romans 1:18-22) or choose to believe in Jesus (Acts 16:31) or reject his offer of salvation (John 3:19-21).

In this article, I use ‘choose’ and ‘free will’ to mean the ability to decide between alternatives. Yes, people are drawn to salvation by God the Father (John 6:44) but Scripture assures us that all people are drawn since Jesus’ death and resurrection when he was ‘lifted up (John 12:32).

5. Works consulted

Geisler, N L & Brooks, R M 1990. When skeptics ask. Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books.

Storms, S 2018. The Arminian concept of election. Sam Storms: Enjoying God (online). Available at: http://www.samstorms.com/all-articles/post/the-arminian-concept-of-election (Accessed 16 August 2018).

Thiessen, H C 1949. Introductory lectures in systematic theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Verse by Verse Ministry international 2018. Could you explain the connection between our spiritual “deadness” and God’s grace, as presented in Ephesians 2:1-10? (online). Available at: https://www.versebyverseministry.org/bible-answers/could-you-explain-ephesians-21-10 (Accessed 16 August 2018).

6.   Notes


[1] I received this email on 1 May 2018.

[2] The ERV is the Easy-to-Read Version. This version also is for a lower literacy level.

[3] The NIRV is the New International Reader’s Version. This is for a lower literacy level than the NIV.

Copyright © 2019 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 06 March 2019

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