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Sovereignly Free?

By Pastor Chad

Of all the discussions and debates that have gripped the Christian mind for the last 2,000 years, none is like the discussion of God’s sovereignty and human freedom/responsibility. To what extent does the hand of God work within creation? How much freedom do humans have? In what regard are we morally responsible for our actions? How does the sovereignty of God line up with human freedom? 

My assumption is this debate will continue until the Second Coming. And even then it still might be a mystery. The crux of the debate happens at the intersection of God’s providence and human freedom. How is it that God can be in total control over all of creation and yet mankind is somehow free to make certain choices (or so it seems)? It seems to me that there are only three options:

Option 1: God isn’t completely sovereign over the universe.

Option 2: We do not have any human freedom; we just think we do.

Option 3: God is completely sovereign and mankind is free.

Let’s see what Scripture happens to say about the issue. 

Scripture declares that God is sovereign over all of creation (Psalm 103:19); sovereign over the affairs of mankind (Acts 17:26, Psalm 22:28, & 2 Kings 19:25); sovereign over one’s lot in life (Psalm 139:16); sovereign over seemingly random things (Matthew 10:30); sovereign over evil (Genesis 50:20); and sovereign over the actions of humanity (Philippians 2:12-13). With just this sample listing, Scripture seems clear: God is totally in control of everything that happens within His creation. 

So what does Scripture say about human freedom? Paul commands Christians to “work out their salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). The implication is that believers have the ability to cooperate with the grace of God to grow in the faith or refrain from cooperation. Granted, Paul does not explicitly declare, “You have the freedom to make the choice!” But the implication is there. The author of Hebrews tells us to “strive for…holiness” (Hebrew 12:14). This is a command. Again, it seems to follow if we are given a command, we can choose to disobey that command. In Joshua 24:15, Joshua exhorts the people of Israel to “choose this day whom you will follow (or serve).” This command was given well before Jesus’ death and resurrection, but I see no reason why the freedom assumed here doesn’t also apply today. In fact, anytime a command is given in Scripture, the clear indication is that one can refuse to obey. 

So we have prooftexts that explicitly assert the providence of God. And we have prooftexts that suggests human beings have (at least some) freedom. So how do we make sense out of this seeming contradiction? Well, who says we have to? Why can’t we just live in the tension? It seems acceptable to claim that God is completely sovereign and we also have human freedom. How exactly are these two compatible? I’m not sure, but they are not obviously contradictory either. God works, despite our freedom, to accomplish His will and pleasure in and all over creation. 

I may not fully understand how this works, but I don’t need to know. I don’t know how gravity works, but I know that it does. So we don’t need to know the underlying mechanics of a process to know that it works. We can simply trust that God is sovereign, and He is calling us to a life of obedience and faith. All who follow Him will be doing so by His grace and by His power, but also through human volition. I trust that God will work out the nuanced mechanics of this process. I just strive to live for Him.

To hear the full sermon, click here.


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