Is God in Control?
The answer, a person would think, should be obvious. Of course God is in control! Most Christians would be indignant at even questioning God’s sovereignty and power over his own creation. Yet, many sincere believers will boldly proclaim this truth, then turn around and state with equal conviction how man has free will to choose whatever he wishes. It is not a question to be taken lightly, by any means. The answer will color our perception of God’s very nature and character. Our understanding of his mercy and grace are at stake!
I don’t think any sane person (other than an atheist) would question God’s ability to control everything. It is quite apparent that someone who is powerful enough to speak creation into existence also has the ability to govern it by his own hand. I think the issue comes down to God’s willingness to direct or delegate the course of human history.
The flip side of this question is: Does man have free will?
If the answer to both questions is ‘yes’, then a third question must be addressed.
How can God be in control while at the same time allowing man to exercise his free will?
The quick and easy answer to the first question is: God has absolute control and not man. He is the creator and sustainer of everything. All are subject to Him and Himself subject to no one.
Someone might object: But man is in rebellion so God does not have control over him.
My answer: Has this rebellion overthrown God? Has the rebellion ended in a coup where God has been displaced by Satan or a mere man?
No! God is still reigning on his throne with Jesus at his right hand. Yes, man as a whole is living in open rebellion but he is yet subject to God, his laws and judgments, whether he realizes it or not.
Every man must answer to God on the day of judgment. He must account for all his actions and every idle word spoken. Entry into eternal life is only by God’s mercy. Entry into hell is according to God’s justice. Be not deceived, God rules and reigns righteously from His heavenly throne.
God’s power and justice is often displayed through hard-hearted man.
Romans 9:17 For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.
Either through submission or in rebellion, mankind accomplishes the will of God in the earth. God’s purposes will fully be accomplished for this age in the tribulation period which climaxes with the battle of Armageddon and Christ’s second coming. All that is written in Revelation, Daniel and other books shall come to pass just exactly as God foreordained, not just as he foresees.
Isaiah 46: 9-10 states:
Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:
So what does this speak for the free will of man that is so popular in most Christian circles? How free do people that hold this view really believe we are?
One of the ‘free will’ views would have us believe that God reacts to man’s sovereign acts of free will. He responds to man’s decisions in an attempt to bring him into alignment with His perfect will. In this view, who is enthroned and who is subject? Does man’s will determine the course of this world, while God stands on the defensive, developing countermeasures to steer him the right way? Is God some kind of cosmic cheerleader leading the Rah! Rah! rally for our redemption? Was the death and resurrection of Jesus simply God’s reaction to the way man would treat Jesus? Was the cross a sort of ‘Plan B’ option God executed because man had rejected his ‘plan A’?
Or was it a plan foreordained before the foundation of the world?
In Acts 2:23 Peter preaching the first gospel message on the day of Pentecost utters this truth concerning Jesus;
Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain:
Wicked men freely and unjustly put to death an innocent man. However, in doing so, they accomplished God’s decree that it should happen exactly as it did.
Is man truly the master of his fate?
Here are a couple of questions all free-will advocates should ask themselves.
- Do you believe the Holy Spirit plays any role in the salvation of men?
- Do you believe that apart from the ministry of the Holy Spirit that we can of ourselves develop the proper desires, affections and thoughts to get saved?
The answer by any true evangelical Christian should obviously be yes and no respectively. So again the question must be asked;
Is man’s will free to choose his own way? Is man a free moral agent, able to decide between good and evil without undue influence by either party? If man is above influence by forces outside himself, and able to choose freely between heaven and hell, why do the scriptures declare only a few will find the narrow path to eternal life? Why would anybody who has heard the gospel therefore willingly choose to go into hell? Remember, in the parable of the sower, only one of the four who hears the word is transformed by it.
Before we begin to answer these questions lets look at the definition of free will. The dictionary says:
· The ability or discretion to choose; free choice: · The power of making free choices that are unconstrained by external circumstances or by an agency such as fate or divine will
In light of this definition, what do the scriptures say about the freedom of our will?
John 8:44 Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do.
The spiritual father of all the unredeemed is the devil and we by nature do the things he lusts after. Does this indicate man is free to choose his activities or is he in bondage to an overpowering influence?
John 6:44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.
Does this verse support the definition of free will where it states we are unconstrained by the agency of divine will?
John 8:34 Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.
Is a servant free or is he bound to the will of his master?
Romans 7:14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.
We are sold into the slavery of sin by our carnal nature.
Romans 7:23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
We are unable to escape the law of sin because it is in our members and will always hold us in captivity. The only hope of freedom is by the redeeming power of a merciful and compassionate God.
It is apparent that man’s will is not free to do whatever it wishes concerning both good and evil. The scales are tipped in favor of evil and we have not the strength to move the weights over to the scales of goodness and righteousness. We are weighed down under the burden of our sins and it has broken our power.
Man is a completely ruined creature, unable to escape the power and consequence of sin due to his perpetual transgression. He is unwilling to turn from it because his corrupt nature inherited by Adam fills him with pride and self-righteousness.
In summary, Lets emphatically answer the burning questions asked at the beginning of this article.
Is God in Control?
Yes! Absolutely! God is sovereign over his creation. The doctrines of His sovereign grace confirm that even in salvation, God is in control, exercising his boundless mercy and love upon his creation.
Does man have free will?
No! …and yes. It is clear that man does not have absolute free will. He is bound by his sin nature and to the devil to fulfill the lusts of the flesh, to do the will of his spiritual father. Man has no spiritual life abiding in him. He is dead, not just sick. He is completely unable to revive himself and drink the medicine of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Giving medicine to a dead man is a hopeless endeavor because he cannot receive it. God must proclaim;
“Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” Ephesians 5:14
With that said, man does have a certain measure of free will. It lies within the boundaries of his own corrupt nature. We would never say that a prison inmate is free. However, within the strictly enforced parameters of prison rules and routines he does make free will decisions each and every day. Man has the freedom to sin and rebel against God in any manner he sees fit. He can even don a cloak of religiosity to soothe his own guilty conscience, but he is never free to break loose from the chains of his sinfulness.
Without the ministry of the Holy Spirit the cross of Christ would be of no interest to the people of this dark world.
This is simply because the gospel is veiled. Man is blind, deaf and spiritually discerned. Satan holds him in complete bondage and the will of man has no voice in the matter.
The Godhead, however, contracted together to effectually save man from his sin. God elected certain men to salvation before the foundation of the world. Christ secured their salvation at the cross, dying for sin. The Holy Spirit completes salvation by regenerating the hearts of God’s elect so that they may repent and believe the gospel.
If God elects and saves man by his own good pleasure and purpose, does it mean he has no choice but to submit to God whether he wants to or not?
No! Man comes to God of his own free will.
Wait a minute! How can that be?!
When the Holy Spirit gives man a new spirit and replaces his hard heart with a heart of flesh, he is born-again; Man has a new nature that desires God more than anything the world can tempt him with. Overcome with the enormity of his sinfulness, he is brought to his knees by the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit. This, coupled with the new heart, causes true repentance to be produced. Faith, which is also a gift from God, can now be exercised willingly by the regenerated man to come to Christ believing and confessing. The prison inmate has been released from his shackles, free to flee to the Savior in gratitude and thankfulness.
How is God in control while at the same time allowing man to exercise his (limited) free will?
God is absolutely sovereign over man by allowing him to exercise his will to do as he desires. The wicked, who have been reserved for wrath and judgment, will choose to do evil all of their days. This is according to God’s permissive will. In other words, God permits the wicked to continue in their sin until the time comes for them to reap what they have sown in judgment.
God’s elect are given new hearts and they respond to God’s call with repentance and faith in Jesus as their Savior. They spend their lives in service to their Lord, obeying Christ’s commandments by the grace given them by their Heavenly Father. This is according to God’s decretive will. In other word, God has decreed the salvation of a remnant of people before the foundation of the world and actively secured their redemption through Christ.
God is sovereign over all good and evil within His creation. The scriptures clearly proclaim the truth that God always…
worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: Ephes. 1:11