Free Will and the Glory of God
I read the other day a post a Calvinist put in my comment section about free will. The comment was something along the lines of “There is no such thing as free will because if we had free will then God would not get all the glory in our salvation.” I have heard such reasoning before. Some Calvinist theologians even like to say that in Calvinism God is the one who is glorified whereas in Arminianism Man is the one who is glorified. Is this really the case? Do we Arminians believe that because we hold to free will in God’s creatures that He made in His image that we believe that God is glorified in our salvation?
The issue of free will is difficult in Calvinism. Some seem to hold to free will but only in regard to sinning. When it comes to God, most Calvinists teach that mankind has no free will but only rebels against God, hates God, and will never submit to God. They point to passages such as Romans 8:9. Dr. Samuel Storms, for example, says that “free will is myth.” The problem becomes how do we reconcile sin and free will? Again, some Calvinists will say that God allows limited free will with regard to sin. John Piper teaches that even sin is controlled and caused by God. Piper points to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ as the greatest sin ever and yet it was predestined by God (Acts 2:22-23). When people do wicked things such as murders, the Lord allows these to take place but He does not cause them. The problem is that if one is to stay true to the Calvinistic doctrine of sovereignty then God must have rendered certain even sinful acts since He controls all things and is, as Jonathan Edwards puts it, the direct cause of all things. Whether it be the death of Jesus on the cross or the murderous killings of serial killers, all are rendered certain by God. Free will then is but an illusion.
Free will in Arminianism is not an illusion. We believe that the nature of a loving relationship with God and His creatures is one that involves risk and one that involves God allowing His creatures a limited amount of free will. I say “limited” because even Satan is limited in what he can and cannot do in the earth. Job 1-2 demonstrate that. God gave Satan a limited amount of freedom to act but God Himself set the limits of that freedom. This is also true among humans as well. God allows a Hitler or a Obama or anyone else a certain amount of freedom to act. Yet He is still able to take direct control if necessary and He sets the limits of our freedom. Proverbs 21:1 is often cited as a text that teaches that God controls the king’s heart. God can use whomever He desires for His own purposes and even the sinful acts of mankind can be used by God for His own purposes though those may be hidden to us human beings. We are very limited in our knowledge of God (Isaiah 55:8-9).
When it comes to the issue of God’s glory in our salvation, simply because we Arminians believe that free will is involved with salvation in that we believe in the Son of God for salvation, do we really believe that it is our free will that is glorified in our salvation? I have been an Arminian disciple of Jesus for over twenty years and I have not once met a person who praised God that they saved themselves or that they willed themselves to salvation. Just like Calvinists, Arminians can be found exalting Jesus for saving us. Why? Because Scriptures teaches this is so. Jesus and not us is the one who receives the glory for our salvation (Titus 3:5-7). He is the focus of our faith, the one that we adore, the one that we look to for salvation (John 3:14-17). And because of our belief in prevenient grace, we do not believe that we “will” ourselves to salvation but that because of the nature of our sinfulness, God Himself must open our eyes to His grace (John 1:12-13; 6:44). We do not believe that it is because of our “free will” that we found God or that we went after God but the opposite is true. We believe that God came after us in the person of His Son and that in His Son the Father demonstrated His great love for us (John 12:32; Romans 5:8-9; 1 John 4:7-10).
Arminius said this about free will,
This is my opinion concerning the free-will of man: In his primitive condition as he came out of the hands of his creator, man was endowed with such a portion of knowledge, holiness and power, as enabled him to understand, esteem, consider, will, and to perform the true good, according to the commandment delivered to him. Yet none of these acts could he do, except through the assistance of Divine Grace. But in his lapsed and sinful state, man is not capable, of and by himself, either to think, to will, or to do that which is really good; but it is necessary for him to be regenerated and renewed in his intellect, affections or will, and in all his powers, by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, that he may be qualified rightly to understand, esteem, consider, will, and perform whatever is truly good. When he is made a partaker of this regeneration or renovation, I consider that, since he is delivered from sin, he is capable of thinking, willing and doing that which is good, but yet not without the continued aids of Divine Grace.
Divine grace. That is how we become children of God. We do not “exercise our free will” and “choose Jesus” but rather God reaches out to us through His grace and His enabling grace enables us to be saved in His Son. God is the one who opens our hearts (Acts 16:14-15) yet He does not force His way in. He allows the person the freedom to reject His salvation though we are amazed at those who would. We believe that this grace is universal (John 1:9) and that this grace can be resisted (Acts 7:51; 2 Corinthians 6:1-2). Yet like the Calvinist, we completely agree that salvation belongs to the Lord (Jonah 2:9) and that salvation is all of grace (Acts 15:9; Ephesians 2:8-9).
In the end, like the saints in Revelation 5:9-10 we cry with them:
9 And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”