A stained glass window depicting Jesus

Free Will and Salvation

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In this post I’m going to look at the heart of the gospel – the idea that we are sinners in need of salvation. Is this really true?

I don’t at all doubt that Jesus existed. I find the New Testament provides compelling evidence that Jesus was a real person, with a radical message – a message that would proceed to change the world and find billions of converts. But does the teaching of Jesus make sense in terms of a rational view of God? Let us briefly explore this question and see what we can decipher.

My conception of God is that He is omnipresent, and in control of His creation. I find it impossible to accept that God has boundaries and that He could somehow be separate from creation. I see God as the animating force that produces all activity in creation, from the growth of plants and trees, to the movement of celestial bodies, to the beating of our hearts.

God is not spatially limited. That notion is very bizarre, as it would require us to believe there is a specific point where God’s being ends and freedom from God begins. This scenario would only make sense if God is ‘embodied’ somehow – a physical being with a form and shape. But this is not the God I believe in. I believe God is everywhere, and is pure spirit, without boundaries. “Closer is He than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet”, as Alfred Tennyson once wrote.

We find scriptures that point to God’s literal omnipresence. In Colossians 1:17 the apostle Paul says “He is before all things and in Him all things hold together”. In Acts 17:28 Paul says “In Him we live and move and have our being”. John 4:24 says “God is spirit”. And to give an Old Testament example, Psalm 139:7-10 says “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”

So God is everywhere, He is holding together all things, and of course must therefore be animating all things.

Human anatomyIf God is the animator of creation, unfolding a plan for the universe by His sovereign will, then it makes no sense to argue that we are free to act independently of the will of God. God would have to be limited spatially in order for us to have free will.

Also, if we were genuinely free from God’s animating control, we would have to look for alternative explanations as to why our hearts beat, our blood circulates, our bodies digest food, why our hair and nails grow, etc. I suppose we would have to embrace the materialistic idea that our bodies are machines, powered by our brains or even our genes. But that doesn’t really sound like free will at all.

If we are not machines, and God is not controlling our bodies, how is it that all of our bodily processes are going on? Would you argue that you are controlling them? If so, how are you doing it? Please consider this deeply, and I believe you will see that it’s most logical to conclude that God is animating your body. We are not free, but are instead as ‘puppets’ in the hands of God.

If we embrace the understanding that God is sovereign over our lives, this will cause us to think differently about the Christian worldview. If God has been in control of our lives since our conception, then every action we have taken has been in accordance with the will of God. In this context, the Christian idea that we have all sinned against God seems very strange. Do I deserve punishment from God for actions that God unfolded in my life? There’s something deeply problematic about this idea.

Of course, we all experience feelings such as guilt and shame, and we do have the illusion of free will, in that we make decisions and experience emotions in relation to those decisions. But the crux of the matter is that God is in control of every decision we will ever make, and our reactions to those decisions. If anyone reading wants to deny this, let them offer an alternative explanation for our bodily processes and our growth from embryos to babies to adults, other than God. You are welcome to leave a comment with your theory.

All of this considered, it could still be the case that embracing the gospel and living a life of faithful devotion to Jesus is the only way to inherit eternal life. That could well be the way God has chosen to unfold His creation. But at least on some level, we must acknowledge that the decision is not in our hands. And if we are to be judged by God one day, He will, in a sense, be judging His own actions. This is a significant problem with the Christian worldview, the basis of which is freedom of the human will.


For a more in-depth argument concerning God’s sovereignty over all events, with a Christian response, I invite you to read my essay entitled ‘An Almighty Predicament’ which is available here. Thank you for reading!

39 comments

  1. I don’t have an answer that addresses all your questions, but I see the individual’s ability to accept or reject salvation as an instance of free will…especially considering that, even if one could force people to obey them, they can’t force people to love them (though I suppose some might argue against that?). Do you believe, in the same vein, that God chooses the saved and the damned, or is our salvation our choice? It could be some of both…if He calls to some people harder than others bc of His plan for them, but anyone who knocks will have the door opened for them? Free will vs. God’s plan is such a big topic!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Lily! It is a big topic. And they are all good questions that you are asking. But I believe the answer is relatively simple, which is that God is unfolding all events. Now of course that in itself is going to raise a lot of questions for Christians, and if you’d like my take on the matter, I’d humbly invite you to read the essay that is linked to at the bottom of the post. I spent a lot of time on the essay and I hope it provides lots of relevant insights.

      If you do choose to read the essay and would like to discuss any aspect of it, my email address is on the Contact page, and I’m always open to discussing anything to do with free will and God’s sovereignty, or Christianity in general.

      God bless you, and thanks so much for reading my post!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jane!

      Thanks so much for reading. If by saying you hope it’s a teaser you mean you’d like to read more on this topic, I have written many posts, essays, and a couple of books going into more depth. Just have a browse around my blog 😊

      If by teaser you mean you hope I am teasing, then I would respond by saying I’m very sincere in my writing and my beliefs 😊

      Peace and blessings,

      Steven

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    1. Oh good! I thought that was probably what you meant 🙂

      Interesting that you note God’s control over your salvation, and His involvement in your choice to read the Bible. I would say everyone who reads the Bible does so by God’s will. But I’d also extend that to say anyone who reads any book (or does anything) does so by the will of God 🙂 The very act of reading is an act of God bringing about understanding in our minds as we look at words (which without God’s activity in our minds are merely markings on a page). Food for thought!

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    1. Okay, well I’m glad you’re at peace! For the record, I don’t believe in predestination – I believe in a God who is actively unfolding events in the present moment, rather than a God who acted some time in the past to set the wheels of life in motion before stepping aside to watch things unfold. God bless you and thank you for the comments 🙂

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  2. Hi, Steven. Your point of view is interesting, however the Word shows us that when God created the world, He gave dominion in the earth to man. When man sinned, dominion was handed over to satan. God is not in control of everything, as people like to believe, which is why you find satan being referred to in the Word as the “god of this world.” God can only do what people allow, or invite Him, to do, through prayer. He is only in control of what people give Him control over. We very much have free will, & have the choice whether to walk in the ways of the world or God’s will. It is God’s will that all people accept Christ & salvation, & join His family. That is why we believers are commissioned to go into all the world & spread the Good News. However, He cannot force anyone to join His family. He certainly does not choose who will be saved & who won’t, He doesn’t send people to hell, people choose hell when they reject Christ.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Gerri!

      Thank you for reading my post and sharing your thoughts.

      God can only do what people allow, or invite Him, to do, through prayer.

      Wow, you really have a very low view of God! We certainly have very different views concerning the nature of God. But I respect your perspective.

      Peace and blessings 🙂

      Steven

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      1. Quite the contrary, I have an extremely high view of God & have experienced His amazing power. I also have a very strong understanding of the Word & what He is telling us in Hos Word. While the things you state here in your post are your own musings & opinions, my response is all based on what the scriptures tell us about God.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I actually think that most Christians I know would disagree with your view that God is only able to do what we ask Him to do. And the fact that there are many varying perspectives concerning different doctrines among Christians means interpreting Scripture isn’t as black and white as you imply. You might think you have a perfect understanding of Scripture, but I would urge a little more humility.

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          1. I never said I have a perfect understanding, but I do understand that scripture is very clear about most things. People often look at it as something to be “interpreted,” when it really means just what it says. Rather than looking at different theories & perceptions, I choose to look at the Word- what were the original Greek or Hebrew words used, & what do they mean? That gives greater clarity than any the musings of any person. Jesus clearly told the people “You have not, because you ask not.” Many other times throughout His ministry & the New Testament we see emphasis placed on our responsibility to ask God for what we are believing for.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. So how would you explain, for instance, the fact that both Calvinists and Arminians who are very well versed in Greek and Hebrew disagree profoundly on doctrines that are central to the Christian gospel? Just because the New Testament urges us to pray, doesn’t mean God isn’t in a position to do whatever He pleases. He is omnipotent.

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            2. The problem in today’s world, is rather than focus on what the Word is saying, people choose to follow religion & legalism. Jesus came to set us free from all that, & put the focus back on Him- He is the Word, was the Word, & forever will be the Word. He is Truth. People & religion have been polluting the Truth with their opinions & interpretations & legalism for centuries, but God is building up His people who will stand on & share the Truth fearlessly.

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            3. God’s omnipotence does not mean He is in full control, the Word very clearly tells us that satan is the god if this world. Your answer to the qurstion about Calvinists & Arminians- they’re both wrong. How can you tell when they’re wrong? When they’re caught up in legalism rather than simply the love of Christ & His good news.

              Liked by 1 person

            4. Wow. Okay. I don’t see how holding a position on what Scripture says about salvation is ‘legalism’ – aren’t these people just trying to understand Scripture like you are?

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            5. Maybe that particular position is not legalism, but when you look at all the “do’s & don’ts” of their religions- rules & laws about how to live & what to eat- legalism. Jesus came to set us free from legalism, & denominational religion often gets their positions wrong, their legalistic mindset hinders the ability to seen the Truth in the Spirit.

              Liked by 2 people

            6. I’ve never known any Calvinists or Arminians who have these rules and laws you speak of. Just be careful that in your fearlessness you’re not actually being somewhat hostile towards large numbers of well-meaning people. I know how easy it is for Christians to be so zealous that they are actually very judgmental. I may even have been guilty of that to some extent in the past. Often love is best expressed with gentleness and kindness, don’t you think?

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            7. Well if I come off as hostile or judgmental, that is certainly not my intent. When it comes to sharing the Truth, I can get a little carried away & should maybe restrain some. I think it bothers me to see so many thoughts & opinions being put out into the world labeled as “fact” with no actual basis in the Word. Unfortunately, when what I say is truly being shared out of a desire to correct in love, as Christians have a responsibility to do, the written words may not be read by recipients in the tone they are meant.

              Liked by 2 people

  3. So would you say that we are saved when we simply “agree with God” on the matter? Truth is truth. We either believe it or we don’t. I really like this post and it’s got me thinking in a little different way and it brings peace to my heart. It could have been twice as long and I would have loved it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi David! I think we have to acknowledge that there are different ‘dimensions’ (as I call them). As we’re going about our daily lives making decisions and taking actions, we often have the illusion of free will. But ultimately God is controlling our decisions and actions. While in the human dimension we may experience a sense of responsibility, ultimately this is just part of the plan God is unfolding for our lives.

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