Free Will and Predestination
by Ernest L. Martin, Ph.D., October 1995
Edited by David Sielaff, August 2006
|Audio CD – C112 (October 1995). This CD can be accessed on the ASK Website Home page under AUDIO. This written material is transcribed from the audio lecture. The written text in this transcript is designed to reflect the recording as closely as possible. Therefore, the grammatical constructions may not be exactly accurate in every case. Please take this into account when studying from this transcript.|
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There is no subject more confusing, and more debated amongst theologians than the question of free will and predestination. Some people even contrast the two terms and say “free will versus predestination.” But let us forget the word “predestination” for a moment, and center ourselves on the matter of free will itself. The essential question is this: does mankind — that means each of us personally — have free will? That is, do we have the capability of expressing ourselves with a will that is independent of all external influences, including the influences of God and His divine will?
Most Catholic and Protestant theologians simply take it for granted that man does indeed have free will (the very basis of their theological thinking) about our salvation which we have in Christ, that they consider, I mean Catholics and Protestants and most Christian people, consider that man essentially has free will. He has the ability, of himself, to either accept or reject salvation, or any phase of Christian teaching concerning the gospel of Christ. They believe that mankind has the power, of himself, to do as he pleases in matters such as these.
Now there are a minority of people, however, who are not so sure if man has a complete free will to do as he pleases in all matters of life. There are verses in the Scripture which seem to show that God has a definite hand in making each of us agree with His will, and that our own personal wills have nothing to do with salvation, or with any of the phases of salvation.
What is the truth of this matter, according to the Holy Scripture? That is what we want to arrive at. We want to come to an understanding of just what is “free will.” Do we or do we not have, being men and women on this earth, human beings, do we have a free will, or is it only God’s will that prevails in everything that is done — not only here, but in the entirety of the universe?
These are big questions to answer. They are questions that have perplexed scholars and theologians over the generations, and I suppose you would say “from the very beginning” when philosophical teaching on these subjects began. Here we are at the end of the age, and still some people are debating this question of free will versus fate, or that is, that someone else is in charge of our lives, notably God. What does the Scripture have to say on these matters?
First, let us see if we humans have free will in everything we do, according to the biblical revelation. There is where we really want to get our information. Do we have a will to reject or to accept salvation? Let us start with that basis alone, and then we can develop it from there. The first verse that I want to give you is a summing up by the apostle Paul of what salvation is all about, in one way of looking at it. That is, where salvation began and how we have been given it, who it was that gave it to us, and all of the factors connected with salvation. Believe it or not, this is summed up and found in one verse of the Scripture. It happens to be in the apostle Paul’s last letter that he ever wrote to mankind, which we have here in the Holy Scripture. This summing up of what salvation is all about is in 2 Timothy 1:9.
These words we find here, as few as they may be, are fundamental philosophical principles at large, and if we understand these verses (and we should be able to), to comprehend just what it is all about concerning salvation, and especially if our free will is involved in the issue.
Here we have the apostle Paul saying in verse 9, where he starts out with a pronoun, the pronoun is “who”, but this “who” is [referring to] God. Clearly the context makes that abundantly plain: “Who (that is, God) has saved us ...” I am quoting the King James Version here.
The “saved” actually is in the aorist tense, which is a Greek term meaning a continual thing and indefinite to time; and it should be understood to be in that fashion. But let us look at it. You know, way back there in the past — because he [Paul] is going to bring in a chronological time frame here for us to see, so you could in a sensual way of looking at it, place it back into a previous time — but even there, the term is in the aorist tense, which means it is something that is always available without time parameters.
“Who has saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began [in the Greek, “before eonian times”].”
2 Timothy 1:9
[This means] before the ages began in which mankind becomes involved here on this earth. Or, let me put it simply, before Adam and Eve were ever formed, before you and I ever came into an actual existence, we were saved in Christ. 1
Now some people could say, “why, this is the apostle Paul and his normal mysticism talking about things that are impossible for mankind to understand.” Paul is not talking mysticism here. He is giving plain and simple truths. He is saying that we — each of you, all of us put together — in God’s own mind, were saved before the foundation of the world. Not only were we saved before the foundation of the world (and that means saved “in Christ”) and remember, [that means] saved before we ever came into existence.
But it says He gave us a calling, and the calling is a “holy calling.” But it was not according to our works that we have done, whether those works be bad or whether they be good. After all, we were not even in existence at the time. Pray tell me, how could we have works of any kind whatsoever? Our salvation, you see, happens to be based not on works, that is, [not] on our works. Yes, they are based on works all right if you look at it carefully. But it is the works of Christ that does it, not our works, “Not according to our works,” the apostle Paul says. But, according to His — that is God’s — own purpose, and grace.
Now His purpose is His will, you see. Grace means His free gift to us, and after all, if it does not involve works, then it has to be by grace. And grace means something that is completely devoid of works, whether those works be good or whether those works be bad. The only “purpose” of God and grace was given us in Christ Jesus “before the world began,” before the eonian ages.
I want you to notice how it was given by God. It was given first to Christ Jesus. It says “in Christ Jesus.” But God the Father saw all of us “in Christ Jesus” at the time, and He said to Christ Jesus “you are saved way back there, and all that are in you are saved.” And then He gave us, individually, a holy calling in Christ Jesus.
“Not according to our works, [but] according to His [own] purpose and His grace, which was given us [personally], in Christ Jesus before the world began.”
2 Timothy 1:9
I ask you, from this verse alone here (which by the way is a summation of how salvation began, how salvation exists at the present time, and in the aorist tense, how salvation will continually be always with us in Christ Jesus), I ask you:
I am talking about a human being here.
No one’s free will has been involved in this, that is, of humanity’s sake. In fact, we are involved, but the free will that is being expressed is that of God, and He says that we are saved in Christ Jesus “but according to His own purpose and grace” before the foundation of the world. That means that your salvation then is not invested in your free will.
Our Catholic and Protestant friends are very prone to tell us that if you do not accept salvation, you will not be saved. I am afraid that the apostle Paul says in 2 Timothy 1:9 above (under inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit), that our salvation is not in agreement with how many works we do, either good or bad. It is something that God has effected for us before the foundation of the world, and the apostle Paul wanted every single person to understand this. This is not mystic teaching of the apostle Paul, it is plain and simple practical teaching that God is in charge. He is the one that is expressing His will regarding our salvation. And if His will is that we are to be saved, I guarantee you one thing, you are not only going to be saved, you are saved.
Now we will not see the results of our salvation until the resurrection from the dead. We all know that. But it is all assured. The rest of the Bible is nothing more than a ramification of what we find centered solidly in the teaching of that one verse [2 Timothy 1:9].
You cannot find your free will, or any of humanity’s free will, in this verse whatsoever. It is not there. So, the first thing we have to recognize is that in regard to our salvation, God the Father is the one who “in Christ Jesus” has expressed His will, and His will will predominate in everything. That is the teaching of the Scripture here, but it goes on with other Scriptures that the apostle Paul wrote.
In Ephesians chapter 1, Paul also carries on this theme, and it helps to give the title to this lecture that I am giving today concerning predestination. If you will look at Ephesians, chapter l, and beginning in verse 1, it says: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.” There you are. That is the reason why I wanted to start there. Paul was not a person who made up his own mind to become “the apostle Paul.” We will read a few moments later, in some Scriptures I am going to give you, that the apostle Paul was well aware that it was God’s will that he be an apostle. There was no other way out of it.
When the apostle Paul was born, and in fact, he even said on one occasion, “before my mother bore me, I was picked out by God to do the things that I am doing.” Now I am paraphrasing there [Galatians 1:15–16], but that is what he said. So, he says:
“Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace be to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”
There we have the salutation. Here, though, is the beginning of the message, the message of [the book of] Ephesians. 2 Look at verse 3 which is very reminiscent of 2 Timothy 1:9 that we mentioned at the beginning.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:”
That is the King James. It [“in heavenly places”] means “in the heavenlies” in Christ. That is, wherever Christ is in the heavens, “in the heavenlies,” we are there with Him. We are associated with Him. We are attached to Him. When God the Father sees Christ, He sees us. The rest of this whole epistle explains that. The Book of Colossians, which is a sister epistle to Ephesians, says the same thing. Yes, all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies, in Christ. But look at verse 4 [of Ephesians chapter 1]: “According as he has chosen us ...,” and that means you and me, all of us. Now he [Paul] was talking to people back there almost two thousand years ago. But these Scriptures have come down to us today and they include us as much as they did the readers of this letter that the apostle Paul was writing.
“According as he has chosen us in him before the foundation of the world ...” [verse 4]. There it is again. You have been in Christ that long. If you want to know who you happen to be, just go to a mirror, look in it, and say “you know something?” (and mention your name), and say, “I have been in Christ from ‘before the foundation of the world.’” That is an absolute fact. This is not mysticism. This is the truth. It is the simple unadulterated truth of Almighty God.
We have been chosen in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy, without blame, before Him in love. And I want to tell you something. There is a lot of blame that I can put on myself. There is a lot of blame that you can put on yourself There is a lot of blame I can put on others. And there is a lot of blame that others can put on us. We know that. But in Christ, it says here, we are destined even before the foundation of the world, to be holy, and without blame, before Him — that is, before God, in love.
“Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, …”
Notice it there? That [statement] is most important. The apostle Paul was leading up to this point here, to show God’s will in action. This concerns our salvation. How many of you were back there at that time when all of this was decided? Predestination means a time before you ever came into existence. It means a time back yonder when there was God the Father, and there was Christ, and there was the whole of the heavenly host, no doubt. They had made great plans on the creation of the heavens and the earth, particularly the Earth, and humanity to be placed upon the Earth.
And you were known, and you were a part of that, even back there, however many millenniums it was ago. And of a personal nature, you and I — all of us — we were known, and whose good pleasure is it to do all of these things in Christ? It is the Father, and the Father is expressing His will. So, when it comes to our salvation, that is something that you have no decision-[making] in one way or another. You were actually saved in Christ “before the foundation of the world.”
Now some of you are going to say, “Are not there things that we have to do?” Now wait a minute. Not without works even. You see? Remember the other verse I gave [2 Timothy 1:9]?
The whole of the Book of Romans speaks about the fact that salvation comes by grace. It does not come by works. Well, it does not come by our works. It comes by the works of the Father. It comes by the works of Christ Jesus. They are the ones who secured the works to get the job done. You have nothing to say in the matter. Your will, one way or the other, is completely redundant, and irrelevant.
Anyone who says anything opposite from this, reading the plain words of Scripture that we are rehearsing here, ought to have his head examined. Because plainly and simply, our salvation is based upon one factor, and one factor alone, that it is the purpose of God the Father to save us. 3
You know, it is not only His purpose in a sense of “I hope they will be saved” or “I desire they be saved,” He expresses His will that we be saved. And I guarantee you one thing, no not I, God the Father does [guarantee], that you are saved. You will be saved by the resurrection from the dead. And who is it that has accomplished all of this? God the Father and Christ Jesus.
Now are there things for us to do? Well, of course, there are. There are all types of things that God expects us to do, because we are saved, but not to get us saved.
There are even things that the apostle Paul said in Romans, chapter 10, that we have to express.
But when I say we have to do those things, the thing you ought to start off with is to say that God has predetermined before the foundation of the world according to His will what mankind will do, both in a general way, collectively, and also individually in your own life. Whatever you do is because Christ and God the Father [are] subjecting you to the things that make you do the things you do.
Now you say “well, now that is not free will.” Well, let me tell you this. So far we have not been discussing much free will concerning salvation, have we? No. We have been discussing what Christ and the Father have done for us in these few verses we have been giving here. [It is] just as an introduction, that is true, but the Scripture is absolutely profound on telling us these central truths. We find that the Bible shows us, in regard to salvation, that it is God the Father’s will, which He [the Father] has in Christ Jesus absolutely. He has been the one to determine our salvation. You and I have not had any thing to do with it. It goes on to say now, that verse 5 ends with: “… according to the good pleasure of his will” (Ephesians. 1:5).
I could go ahead and read the rest of it here... Let me go down to verse 10:
“That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he [the Father] might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven [the heavens, plural in Greek], and which are on earth; even in him.”
Every one of us is going to be in Christ. That is a foregone conclusion. It is a foregone law. It is a foregone promise from God. It is a foregone will of God, you know, that this be done. Now, going on in verse 11:
“In whom [Christ] also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him [God the Father] who works all things after the counsel of his own will.”
There you are. There is the Father coming into it. Everything here so far in these first twelve [eleven] verses of Ephesians, and also that verse I read you in 2 Timothy 1:9, center on one factor that is so easy to understand that a child can do so. That is, salvation is dependent upon the will of the Father, and of things done before you and I ever appeared here on earth. But [although] we were known of the Father, we were put “in Christ” way, way back there, before the eonian times, before the world ever began.
We find this also expressed in other areas. In fact, everywhere in the Scripture you will find essences of these teachings, but particularly in the apostle Paul’s letters. Now, why do we do that with the apostle Paul? Because he was given mature teaching in Christ. He was giving information that formerly had not been given to mankind. But now he sums up things that mankind could not have known before. And we are finding here in these teachings of the apostle Paul that it is God the Father’s will that all of us be saved in Christ. That has nothing to do with your free will, one way or the other.
Now at the beginning of Titus, here is the apostle Paul writing that epistle which appears in our Bible in three chapters. He is writing this one, to begin with, the salutation:
“Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect, and the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness; …”
Notice “to … God’s elect.” Who was it that did the “election?” Did you elect to become a Christian? Did you elect to be in Christ? Did you elect to be a son or a daughter, of the Father? No. The election we find here, and in other places, comes by the express purpose of God’s will. And it is not of man’s will.
So, he says: “In hope of ...” (Titus 1:2). 4 In the King James it says “eternal life.” It means eonian 5 life. It means life in the future which is with Christ, and it is indefinite to time. Now it does reach out as long as Christ is going to be here, or alive, you are going to be in Him, as long as the Father is. So, if you want to stretch that out to eternity, you can do that. The rest of eternity, I should say. That is not exactly what the word means, but it does give you the feeling and the knowledge that you will be experiencing the same thing that the Father and Christ do, in the type of existence that they have. And it says: “... which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world [chronos, Greek for time] began [again the adjective, eonion]” (Titus 1:2). 6
He promised this to you and to me before we ever came into existence. This means that anything dealing with salvation has to do with an election, an election that God had in heaven. And you know who was the one doing the election? He did, He was the only one. And He did it in Christ. We find in [the Gospel of] John, chapter 6, verses 44 and 65, when Christ Jesus, our Lord, was here on this earth and the people were asking Him questions about salvation. He came to the Jews, and He said this in verse 44, of John, chapter 6:
“No man can come to me, except the Father which has sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Now that is quite a statement there. It is a true one, uttered by our Lord Himself. And He says quite clearly, and plainly, that your will has nothing to do with the matter. Do you realize that none of you could believe in Christ — which you do at the present time? Thankfully, I would say most of you listening to this lecture, actually believe in Christ. Now there may be things that you are not sure of. Maybe you say, I need my faith strengthened a little and so forth and so on. That is true. All of us are that way from time to time. But what faith you have [with] in you, to believe in Christ, and to believe the gospel, I want to tell you has been placed there by a miracle from God the Father Himself. That is what it says here. You have not had anything to do with that.
“No man can come to me, except the Father which has sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.”
And He made it more of an emphasis in verse 65 by repeating it. And He said:
“And he said, ‘Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.’”
And this makes it absolutely clear. Now, when it comes down to the will of God in all of this, well, He is the one that called you. He is the one that brought you to the knowledge of the truth. And I will tell you, in my career, or history, of working with God’s gospel over the last 40 years, I have seen individuals whom I would I not have thought for a moment would ever accept the gospel of Christ. Some of these men, let us say who are “he-men,” just men-of-the-world and everything like that, and all of a sudden [they] just change instantly and become — they are still men, they are still the proper type of men now — but have repented of their sins, have accepted Christ and all of that. They have done exactly as the Scripture has said.
I will tell you, it was not because of their wills that they did it. They may have thought they expressed their wills, but it is God Himself actually causing them to do the things that they do. Now in Ephesians [actually Philippians], chapter 2, we find here some essential teaching. And we are going to have to stay in this just a little bit here to see what this matter of the will of God is, in relationship to our salvation. But it is most important that we understand it. In Philippians, chapter 2, in verse 5:
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God.”
Now He was equal with God. He did not think it was robbery to be there. You see, God is a family. I have written on this in the past, and you need to understand that. 7 All of us are a part of that family. And as He said in the 17th chapter of John, As I am in the Father, and the Father is in me, you and I will be in them, and we will all be together in one. 8 And we are already the children of God, both male and female. Now he,
“Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God. But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.”
He “was made in the likeness of men” to do a job and that job was to do it for you, believe it or not. We are going to see … that what He was doing was something that you and I could not do. We do not have the proper wills to be able to do what Christ did. But God the Father picked Him to do a job for us. … You are going to see what He did for us, and it was not according to our will. It was according to the will of God the Father.
[End of side A of the tape]
When we look at this matter of “free will versus predestination” as some people say, there seems to be a contradiction at the very beginning. Because most people, like I said [before], Catholics and Protestants, almost all of them together would assume that man has free will when it comes to matters of salvation. All of the Scriptures we have been reading, however, up to now, show us that it is God who has His hand in the salvation process, and in actual fact, that all of it [all of salvation] is in God’s hands.
Now we have come to the place of reading Philippians chapter 2, which was an introduction by the apostle Paul to Christ coming into this earth, where He [Christ] had had an existence previously with the Father. And that is where [and when] the plan was made that mankind should be saved; how Adam and Eve were to be placed on this earth; how they were to grow into a greater number of human beings; how that the history of the world was all planned out.
We find that James, who was the legal brother of our Lord, he said in Acts, chapter 15 that God knows everything from the beginning to the end. 9 That is true. He knows history; in fact He makes history. When you really look at things you are going to find that it is His will that always predominates, that always leads the way, no matter in what factor of life that you can consider, and especially in that relative to salvation.
So, here is the apostle Paul talking about the introduction of Jesus into the world. And he said “being in the form of God,” this is chapter 2 of Philippians, verse 6, He,
“… thought it not robbery to be equal with God. But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant ...”
He became a man, a human being, like you and I are, “... and was made in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7). Well, there it is. Just a plain statement to that fact.
“And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also has highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth.”
It makes no difference where, that is, the whole universe is going to bow and they are going to praise the name of Jesus. That is what it says here. And they are going to do that from their hearts. They are going to do it, not because they are forced to do it, but because they want to do it. Because it goes on to say:
“And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Not to the un-glory of God the Father, but to the glory of God the Father. And they are going to do it because they want to do it.
“Wherefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”
I want to tell you something. If you try to work it out yourself, you are going to have fear and trembling, because you are not going to be able to do it. We find in verse 13, however, the explanation of how you are to express your faith in everything that you do for Christianity, for the gospel, for God the Father, for Christ, and all of that. You are going to find that you are being motivated entirely by the will and purpose of God the Father. That is what it says.
And you may think in your own mind that it is you who had at least a part in it. You are going to find that the part you have is just to be there while God works in you. Look at this verse 13 here. Mark this down. This is one of the most important verses in the whole Bible — Philippians chapter 2 and verse 13 — to show you what it means concerning the will of God and [the] free will of mankind. It says this:
“For it is God which works in you both to will and to do of his good purpose.”
Not of your good purpose. Not what you want to do. What He [God] wants to do. And it says He “works in you, both to will and to do of His own good purpose.” He is the one who is willing in you, causing you to will, to do things.
Do you mean that He causes us to will to do evil? That is a good question, is it not? What about mankind, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” [Romans 3:23]? In this context that we are reading here [in Philippians], where it says that every knee shall bow to the name of Jesus, which is in heaven, which is in earth, which is under the earth, every tongue, that it will confess Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father, do you see this context here? It is a context not of doing evil, is it? It is in a context of doing right. That is what we need to understand. The context here where God expresses His will is when we are doing right.
Now God has the ability, however, to do bad if He wants. He can do anything in this world. I have given lectures before where He says I have raised up Nebuchadnezzar to do evil in this world, and God can do evil if He wishes. 10 Evil simply means bad. It does not mean a sinner. It means “bad.” And He has the power to do good and bad, does He not? Anytime He pleases. He can do it with you. He can do it with me. He can do it and does do it with human beings.
But the context in which we are reading this here in Philippians is one in which God is being glorified. The glorification [of God the Father, verse 2:11] means that out of the tongues of all individuals in the universe, be they human being, be they angels, be they the sons of God, or whatever; they are all in unison to praise the name of Jesus. And they are doing it not because they, of themselves, have decided they want to, though they will do it that way. It is because of the will of God. The context here is showing that it is something “to the glory of God.”
But let us not rule out the fact that God is in charge of all things on this earth. He is in charge of good. He is in charge of bad. He is the one who does everything. He can work in you both to do things ill and bad. Now the point is, when He wants that to happen, that is exactly what will occur.
Do you realize that the death of Jesus on the tree of crucifixion was something that was planned before the foundation of the world? It says in the Book of Revelation, chapter 13, that Jesus was slain before “the foundation of this world” [verse 8]. It was all in the plan of God.
So what the Sanhedrin did back there to condemn Him to death — and let us say the Jewish people, the crowd that was around Him at the time, and Pilate, and the rest of them altogether — they did a very evil thing by sentencing Jesus Christ to die on the tree of crucifixion. He did not deserve to die. But it was in the plan of God the Father, and of Christ Himself, that it should be done.
And do you know something? The Sanhedrin had no other way out. They had to render Him guilty! And that was an evil act, but God had them to do it, to be able to fulfill a plan which He had for you and for me. Believe it or not, yes, God does have to do with evil on occasions.
Now the point is, what we are told is to have nothing to do with evil. We are told to keep away from it. And we should keep away from it. But God can use us in any way that He pleases, in the context that I am referring to here, and in the other verses that I have given, going way back to 2 Timothy 1:9. This is all in the context of doing righteousness, and to bring us to a salvation which we will have in Christ. And we have nothing to do with it; our works bad or good have nothing to do with it. We are going to be saved whether we like it or not.
And you know something? One day we are going to like it! In fact, you ought to like it right now, but God is going to make it possible for you to enjoy things the way He does, and the way Christ does at the present time. You are being prepared to be His children, and He wants you to have experience in this life, both good and bad. And you know something? He is the one that has designed it all. That is right. His will has been involved in all of it.
Now what about each of us? Do we have a free will of our own? You know, it does seem like that when you read some of the Scriptures, they do seem to implicate that we have a free will that can be exercised. There are Scriptures? Yes, there are. For example, Romans 9:16. Let me refer to some of them without too much comment at first. And then I will get to explain what they mean in just a little while as we go along here. Here is what the apostle Paul said:
“So then it is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy.”
Now it implies here, when it says “it is not of him that wills,” that a human can will, but “it is not of him that wills,” it is of God that wills. Do you know that one verse right there explains really the whole answer in a nutshell? That it is possible, in one way of expressing it for man to show his will. But really, when you get down to it, it is a form of expression of God’s own will. That is true. It says in verse 17:
“For the scripture says unto Pharaoh, ‘Even for this same purpose have I raised you up [God says]...’”
You see? Now that was not for good, necessarily. It was for evil. However, the outcome was for good, because it allowed the Israelites finally to come out of the land of Egypt, bring them to Mount Sinai, after 40 years to bring them into the land of promise, and from there to raise up the nation of Israel which was to be a priestly nation for the rest of the world. Out of Israel would come forth the kingdom of God, and out of the kingdom of God would come the Messiah, who would be the King, and who would be the Savior of mankind. So, it all works out for a good and harmonious and proper thing. Raising up Pharaoh, in this regard, was almost evil in looking at it, but God was involved in that you see.
It is not to us that will of ourselves, though the implication is that we do have a will, but when you look at it very carefully, it will show that we are actually expressing a ramification of God’s own will, through us, ourselves.
Let us look at 1 Corinthians 7:36–37. It seems to show here that we have a personal will. But really, when you get down to it you will find that God is the one who is even in charge of all of these things. And even in matters of evil. Now this still needs to be debated at some time, because you could say some of the things that I have done, I cannot imagine that God would have inspired me to do [them]? Well, let us put it this way. He allows you to do it, did He not?
He puts you where you are. He allowed you to have all of the necessary faculties of mind to be able to cause you to do the things that you do. Now some people do things differently than I would. Women sometimes do [things] differently than men. We are biologically different, psychologically [different] slightly, that God has made. I think that is wonderful, and all of that. But you know some things people do I do not do [and you do not do].
But you know something? God made every single one of us. Now that is not an excuse to sin. Do not get me wrong. God tells us to keep away from sin. And we are to flee from Satan the devil, and evil, and all of that. 11 But at the same time, God has time and again used evil to be able to bring good out of it. Only He has the capability of doing that.
You and I are not in the same power of authority yet that God the Father and Christ have. We are going to be given the divine power later on, in the resurrection of the dead. We do not have it entirely yet, but we will. Everything that happens actually happens within a divine plan, and none of us ever step out of the parameters of that plan. I can guarantee you that. God has a plan for mankind on this earth. 1 Corinthians 7:36–37 seems to show, however, that man can express his will within certain limits. Let us look at it here:
“But if any man think that he behaves himself uncomely toward his virgin [that is, the woman that he is going with], if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sins not: let them marry.”
1 Corinthians 7:36
He says you can express your will, go ahead and do so. And it is perfectly all right to do it. Verse 37: “Nevertheless he that stands steadfast in his heart, having no necessity …” He was talking about a particular time back there that the Corinthians were going through a very stressful circumstance. The environment was one of persecution. The apostle Paul was not against marriage per se, but at this particular time, he was recommending that people not marry and raise up children because you are going to have many troubles in this world — at that time. Now that phase would pass, and of course, a little later on, maybe five years later, the circumstances would be different, and the apostle Paul would have said “well, its perfectly all right.” He is talking about the present distress here. That is a fact.
But he does seem to say, that a man has the will to do what he pleases on this matter:
“Nevertheless he that stands steadfast in his heart, having no necessity [that is, to be married at that time], but has power over his own will, and has so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, does well.”
1 Corinthians 7:37
That is what the apostle Paul said, but do you see in those verses that it seems to show that man does have a will? Yes. Certainly man has a will. But it is a ramification of God’s will when you really look at it philosophically.
Going on to 1 Corinthians 16:12. This is an interesting [and relevant verse]:
“As touching our brother Apollos [Paul says], I greatly desired him to come unto you with the brethren: but his will was not at all to come at this time; but he will come when he shall have convenient time.”
1 Corinthians 16:12
Now that is what Paul said concerning this man, who was his assistant, named Apollos. In actual fact, Paul was telling him “I want you to get over there, and go to the Corinthians.” And Apollos said “No, it’s not my will, and I don’t want to do it right now.” Paul agreed with him, and said “Okay, well some time in the future, go ahead and do so.” And he actually says here, “but his will was not at all to come at this time.” And Paul went along with it. Now he said it was his [Apollos’] will. When you analyze the whole circumstance, you will find that God was in that decision from the very beginning, but you have to understand it and the whole ramifications of these matters.
Even the devil, we are told, in 2 Timothy 2:26, has a will of his own. 12 He certainly expresses that will, I suppose, in a way which is rather devastating. Now when I said a “will of his own,” perhaps I should say the Bible says he has his will. But is it of his own? That is the point we should ask. God is the one who is over all in charge of all of these matters.
Some of the things we do not understand are how God Himself actually works. But God works with good and He works with evil. He does all of these things, but at the same time He tells you and me to stay away from it. You recall why I keep telling you that? It is because you would get the idea that if I want to go ahead and just, as a child of God, to do as I please, and sin up one side and down the other, that I have an excuse for doing so. I am afraid that the will of God says “you shall not.”
Now all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and God lets us to get into some pretty shady situations sometimes, does he not? And if any of you want to stack up your sins against mine, I do not know who is going to win. You can probably have them just as high as I do. Maybe have them higher than you do.
Listen, we are not talking about sins here. I have been cleansed of my sins through Jesus Christ, according to the will of God. I know that. And every one of the sins I have ever committed, I will take responsibility for every single one of them. But I will tell you this, God allowed the circumstances to happen to put me there. So in one way of reasoning it, we might not get God off on all of this, you know, on every single thing. The point is, we do have our wills being expressed as we find in the Scripture here. But they are ramifications of God’s own will when you get down to fully understand the whole thing. 13
Now what does this all mean? I have other examples where the Bible speaks about people having their own will. Let me just mention one more in Philemon verse 14. There is only one chapter there, of course, just a few verses. He actually says to Philemon that he had the ability to make up his own mind what to do with Onesimus. Onesimus was a person that the apostle Paul loved very much, and he wanted to use him, but Onesimus happened to be the servant of this Philemon. So, we find that the apostle Paul appeals to Philemon and says, “I would like it to be done this way, but may your will prevail.” 14
So he put it into the mind of Philemon to go ahead and make up his mind which way to go. Well, Philemon no doubt made up his mind which way to go. And you know what the apostle Paul said afterward? I know what he said. He said “well, God’s will be done.” That is what we always have to say in any of these situations that come up.
Now what does this all mean, though, in a principle? Let me give it to you here, and this is the way I look at it, and I believe that it happens to be the Scriptural way of doing it. This is a very difficult subject sometimes to understand. This is why it has been debated since the time of Adam and Eve, for all practical purposes, on how much is God’s will, and how much is man’s will. I have been telling you that it is all God’s will; you see the point, when you get down to it? That is true. But man does seem to have some ability to do certain things that in many cases we do not want to associate with God.
That is where the difficulty comes in. The only thing is, though — remember this — that God allowed this world to exist the way that it is right now, and He knows from the beginning what is going to happen. So, let me just say before I give you this illustration here, that what is occurring in Bosnia at the present time, 15 which we see on the news all the time at this juncture of history, and it is not a very pleasant thing to see, is it? God could put a stop to that just like that [he snaps his fingers] if He wanted to? He has not done it, has He? He has let it go right on. Now it may be resolved, coming up here; maybe a peace agreement will come a little later on amongst those warring groups there in the Balkans region. That may well happen for the time being.
But those people have great angers, great hostilities to one another that have been there for generations. Even if a limited peace comes up, there are still going to be hostilities, you can almost be certain. God could put a stop to it if He wanted to. But you know something? Look at everything in the world today, and even the bad things, does not God allow that to go on? Is it not His will that things go the way He wants, you see? The answer is “yes.” We always must understand that.
Here is an example which the apostle Paul gave us, and I think it is one that satisfies me. He said in Romans, chapter l, and verse 20. If we want to understand about God, and about God’s ways, he said we ought to look at the creation around us. He said in verse 20 of Romans 1:
“For the invisible things of him [God] from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made [the creation around us], even his eternal power [“constant power” in Greek] and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.”
He was speaking about the intelligent Romans living at this time, the secular Romans, how they had gone off into idolatry, and things of that nature. The apostle Paul was criticizing them. He said they had a right to be criticized. But if you want to know about God all you have to do is to look at the things around us. Look at creation that God has made. And particularly, look at the animal world.
Now here is one illustration that I give, and I like it because it satisfies me. I do not know if it will satisfy you or not (but it certainly does me), in answering these questions of free will on God’s part. Does God have free will? The answer is yes, He does. Nothing is impossible with God. He does not have to answer to anybody, to anybody else’s will, just His. You and I, by the way, are destined to become like Him, in the future. Do you know that? That is the most important thing for us to realize.
But here is the illustration from nature, which I will give you. There is a bird called the Arctic Tern, which is a small little bird, like a gull. Not quite like a gull, but it nests up in the Arctic regions in the summer time. Then all of a sudden, the sun begins to go down a little bit, and up there they have just been nesting, and they get the idea that they want to go south. And you know how far that Arctic tern goes, that whole community of them? They go down practically all the way to the Antarctic, 12 thousand miles almost, certainly 11 thousand. Now they stay down there for about two [three] months, and they get restless, and you know what they do? All of a sudden, they migrate all the way back up to their nesting grounds that they had, where they were before. Now it seems like, why don’t they just make up their minds and stay in one place all the time. Now God makes them go up, and God makes them go back.
We have heard the expression “free as a bird.” A prisoner may be in a prison, and he sees a bird fly over and light inside the prison. You know what the bird does? It just gets up and flies, flies away. There are even illustrations in the Scripture — would it not be nice to be able to be like a bird, where you have your own free will to do as you please.
Well, those Arctic Terns have free will, believe me, they do. They have free will to do exactly as they please, and you know what they do, of their own volition? They get ready just about September, and they all head south. And they will fly, and fly, and fly, through storms, through trouble, through difficulties, whatever. They will finally get down there. Then they will stay there just for about three months, and they will get restless again, and of their own free will, they just go all the way back, eleven thousand miles. That is a long way to go now. They are just doing it “free as a bird” are they not? Who put it in them to do that? God did. All of it is according to His will. You ask that bird — if that bird, or those terns could speak — whose will it is? He would say it is mine. I desired this.
Other terns do not do this. The seagulls do not do this. Other [birds] do not do it. But those Arctic Terns do, and they do it exactly as God tells them. Go to nature [Romans 1:20].
It is like a horse that is tethered, with a rope and to a post. You might say that the horse can do anything it pleases within the area of where it is tethered. But the horse can not go beyond it.
Now God can allow me to pick up this glass of water on the table here, and put it on the other side, which I have just done. Is that in the will of God that I should have done that, before the foundation of the world? I am willing to admit that it could be. But I am not so certain that it has to be. The point is this. I am in existence, though, at this present time in 1995 in October, and you are in existence where you are right now, listening to [or reading] this lecture, because God wants you there.
You believe in Jesus Christ not because you want to, but because He wants you to. He is in control of your will, and He is causing what faith you have, what repentance you have, what confession you have, what faith you have in God, because God Himself has given it to you according to His will, not your will.
So, we do not have any free will versus predestination. We have free will and predestination, but the free will is God’s will. Remember, it is always God’s will. It is not yours. It is not mine. It is God’s will that always counts. Your salvation is secure because it is God’s will that determines it.
Ernest L Martin, October 1995
Edited by David Sielaff, August 2006
1 A biblical explanation of the eonian times, the ages, is presented at several places in the ASK website. See my introductory January 2005 Newsletter at www.askelm.com/newsletter/l200501.htm, which gives some information on this topic from scholars. Dr. Martin’s article “The Doctrine of the Ages in the Bible” at http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d050101.htm, and chapter 16 “The Resurrections from the Dead,” pp. 244–246, of Dr. Martin’s Book The Essentials of New Testament Doctrine present the most important material on the subject. The eons are not eternal and do not refer to eternity in any sense nor in any usage in either the Greek Old Testament translation from Hebrew (translated some 200 years before Christ) which was used extensively by the New Testament writers, or in the New Testament itself. See Dr. Heleen M. Keizer’s book, Life, Time, Entirety: A Study of ΑΙΩΝ in Greek Literature and Philosophy and Philo (Universiteit van Amsterdam, 1999). In fact, as Dr. Keizer shows, the Greek noun aion and its adjectival form aionios never have a sense of eternality in all of ancient Greek literature. The imputation of an eternal sense to the Greek noun and adjective has been done by theologians to promote the false doctrine of hell as an instrument of control over the masses. DWS
2 For the complete message of the entire New Testament Book of Ephesians explained in context, see chapter 26, “God’s Manifesto of Human Rights and Privileges” at http://www.askelm.com/essentials/ess035.htm from Dr. Martin’s book The Essentials of New Testament Doctrine (Portland, OR: ASK Publications, 2001). DWS
3 “… according to his own purpose and grace” (2 Timothy 1:9). DWS
4 Here is Titus 1:2 complete: “In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began.” DWS
5 To reiterate and add to footnote #1 above, the root word eonian used in this verse is the adjective form of the Greek noun eon. Both the Greek adjective and the noun denote a limited time (having a beginning and an end) of indeterminate duration. They do not mean “eternal.” See Dr. Martin’s other writings on this subject on the ASK website: “The Time Periods of Salvation, Part 1” at www.askelm.com/doctrine/d041101.htm, “The Time Periods of Salvation, Part 2” at www.askelm.com/doctrine/d041201.htm, “The Biblical Teaching of Hell” at www.askelm.com/doctrine/d030601.htm, and particularly chapter 16, “Resurrections from the Dead” at www.askelm.com/essentials/ess022a.htm, in Dr. Martin’s book Essentials of New Testament Doctrine (Portland, OR: ASK Publications, 2004). DWS
6 The verse should read, as the Concordant Version correctly renders Titus 1:2: “in expectation of life eonian, which God, Who does not lie, promises before times eonian.” Note the comparison here of “life eonian” which deals with the future and “times eonian” which relates to the past. Your future “life eonian” was promised before “times eonian.” Before the eons even existed, you were saved according to God’s promise. DWS
8 “That they all may be one; as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21). DWS
9 “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18). DWS
10 See the articles by Dr. Martin, “Does God Commit Evil?” at http://www.askelm.com/secrets/sec012.htm, Chapter 7, “God’s Use of Evil and the Allotment” at http://www.askelm.com/abc/abc007.htm, from Dr. Martin’s book ABCs of the Gospel, and an article that I wrote “Forgiving God” at http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d031002.htm. DWS
11 Dr. Martin misspoke here. We are commanded to “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7). We are, however, commanded to flee fornication (sexual and religious fornication are often linked in Scripture, 1 Corinthians 6:18), to flee from idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:14; 1 John 5:21), to flee from temptation and lusts of money (1 Timothy 6:11), and to flee youthful lusts (2 Timothy 2:22). DWS
12 “And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will” (2 Timothy 2:26). They were taken captive at the devil’s will. DWS
13 Again, let me encourage you to read my article, “Forgiving God” regarding this matter of placing you in your circumstances of life. It is one of several featured on the ASK homepage. See footnote 10 above. DWS
14 “But without your mind would I do nothing; that your benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly” (Philemon 1:14). DWS
15 Presented in 1995. In August 2006 the present crisis is the occupation of Iraq by American and allied forces and recently the conflict of Israel with Gaza and Lebanon flaring up in the last week. DWS
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