These are seven questions I asked myself after deeply wrestling with questions regarding human responsibility, free will, and God’s sovereignty. In the summer of 2014 I read Francis Chan’s “Erasing Hell” and took up his offer to read Romans 8-9. It blew my mind, to say the least. My appetite disappeared, my ability to sleep was taken from me. I failed to function due to an existential crisis of biblical proportions. After more than three hours of discussion with my pastor in Newport News, I answered each of my questions.
I’ve written a three part study on Romans 8:28-9:29. If you’d like to read that, click here for Part One.
Let me be clear: my last question and answer are completely speculative. You don’t have to agree with me. I don’t even know if I agree with me. But this is what I’ve got.
(1) Does God create people merely for destruction? (Romans 9:22)
God did create people for destruction, but not ‘merely’ for destruction. God created people who would live out their lives and interact with other people. They fulfilled the same purpose all man was created for; to glorify God. However, they show God’s glory, partially—perhaps most prominently—in their destruction. Their existence is not one that serves the sole purpose of being destroyed. If God were going to create people ‘merely’ to send them to hell, he would do so before they were even born and had a chance to do damage to this world he created and loved. Immediate destruction would make far more sense to a God who despises sin. Yet, even the lives of non-Christians are a blessing of mercy from God; those that are destines for hell have time on earth to experience the shadow of joy and love available to them for a time.
(2) What about free will?
Free will is not as you think. Man is free to act out their will. But where does man’s will come from? Pre-fall, man could sin. Man had both the ability and desire to do so. Post-fall, man couldn’t not sin. Man still had both the ability and desire to sin. Now, in light of Christ, those predestined for glory received a new will. Christians are in a state where they can not sin. They have the ability to sin, but not the desire to. Post judgement day, after Christians have been glorified, they can’t sin. They lack the ability and desire to do so. The Four states of Human Free Will as taught by St. Augustine of Hippo: 1) posse peccare, posse non peccare – able to sin, able not to sin. 2) non posse non peccare – not able not to sin. 3) posse non peccare – able not to sin. 4) non posse peccare – not able to sin. The first state corresponds to the state of man in innocence, before the Fall; the second the state of the natural man after the Fall; the third the state of the regenerate man; and the fourth the glorified man.
Now, anyone is free to act out of their will. So in that sense, yes, people still have free will. Free will is doing whatever you want, whenever you want. But to the Christian, what he wants is to follow the Lord’s commands. To the nonbeliever, his will is to follow himself, to glorify himself. The Lord gives his Elect the will to follow His commands.
(3) I understand that some are predestined for righteousness (i.e., the elect), but does that mean that God reversely created non-Christians for damnation? I know that Paul says that we can’t question the justice of it, and I’m not. We all deserve hell because we have all sinned. But haven’t we been given free will?
Yes, some people are created with damnation as their ultimate destination. Yes, man has free will on earth. However, those two things are not related. Our actions and choices on earth do not determine our salvation. As for free will, man is free to act out of the will he has received. In the case of non-Christians, the non posse non pecarre will allows man to do what he wants, but what he ultimately wants is to serve himself. In the Christian’s case, the posse non pecarre will and the Holy Spirit give us the desire and ability to serve God in our actions and decisions.
(4) As for Romans 9:19-21, aren’t there things we can know? “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business.” (John 15:15)
There are things we can know, but we are in no place to question God in an accusative manner. God is not on trial; He’s the judge. Who are we to put Him on the witness stand? The Lord has made His intentions known through the Bible, and He reveals specific callings as well. But we won’t know everything. We can’t know everything. God is still superior and sovereign.
(5) If God does lead people to sin or “harden their hearts”, has the Lord ever led me to sin?
No. When one sins, it is that person acting out of his/her own will.
(6) How do I know if I am elect (one of God’s chosen people) or not?
If you are a Christian, you are one of God’s chosen people. Of course, “Christian” in this sense is not merely someone who culturally identifies with the religion of Christianity. A Christian is one who has confessed with their mouth and believed in their heart that Jesus is Lord. A Christian is one who has put Christ at the center of their life. A Christian’s ultimate desire is to serve God, not himself. The evidence of this transformation is always visible. As Paul writes in Galatians 5:22, “the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Christians don’t have to force themselves to do these things. While it may take practice and teaching, a Christian is willing and able to have these characteristics. Most boldly, Christians have the ability to biblically love God, themselves, each other, and everyone. As 1 John 4:7-21 plainly state “love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” They shall know us by our love. Furthermore, there is to be no doubt in the heart of a Christian what the state of his salvation is. 1 John 4:16-18 removes fear from the hearts and minds of those whom have committed themselves to King Jesus.
(7) Are all of my actions predestined?
Maybe. Take for instance some arbitrary action; for instance, say the word ‘melon’ right as you read this. You could have chosen to say ‘melon’ or you could have chosen not to. Whether you said ‘melon’ or not seems of no great consequence; it is not obvious if that action was self-serving or God-serving. Personally, I think that is what many of man’s actions are: arbitrary. Do not let individual actions draw your attention away from what’s important or become a stumbling stone in your faith; do not worry about if every breath you breathe and step you take is glorifying God. The Lord isn’t after what we do but rather who we are. That should be more obvious in light of Romans 8:28-30 than ever. It is inevitable that as a human under the sinful nature, you will sin. All sin you have committed, will ever commit in the future, and are committing now have been paid for by the cross. Your evil is not held against you and your good is to God’s glory. Have confidence in your actions. Concentrate on sincerely loving what God loves and hating what God hates. Your desires will produce appropriate actions.
Now, it is always a possibility that even our smallest actions have eternal consequences. If one were to look to physics and philosophy, one might reference the butterfly effect. What if the smallest actions we took had unknowably immense consequences down the road? This might be the case, but if it was, we would never know. Only God has the omniscience and authority to know and orchestrate such an intricate plan from the beginning of time.