Vincent Cheung on Eph. 1:3-14
The biblical doctrine of predestination opposes the popular assumption that man has free
Now, in theological and philosophical literature, free will is rarely defined, and almost
never defined in a correct and relevant way.
Since freedom is a relative concept you are
free from something in defining free will, we must ask, "Free from what?"
If by "free will" we are referring to freedom from God in any sense, then we must reject it. In this sense, only God possesses free will, since he alone is free from all influences other than
or outside of himself.
But if we are referring to freedom from any other thing, then in our context it is irrelevant, because we are considering whether or not we have any freedom in our relationship with God, and not in our relationship with any other person or thing.
As Martin Luther writes: "But our question is this: whether he has 'free-will' God-ward, that
God should obey man and do what man wills, or whether God has not rather a free will
with respect to man, that man should will and do what God wills, and be able to do
nothing but what He wills and does."
With this proper definition of free will in mind, the Bible nowhere teaches that man has free will, but instead it repeatedly teaches that God has absolute sovereignty over man,including all his decisions and actions.
Nevertheless, the sinful desire for autonomy is so
ingrained in sinful man's thinking that he falsely assumes that he indeed has such
freedom, and at times even asserts that the Scripture also acknowledges it.
Some commentators cannot resist their sinful urge to defy what our passage teaches and
implies. For example, after briefly acknowledging that this passage teaches the doctrine
of predestination, Francis Foulkes adds, "This doctrine of election, or predestination
not set in opposition to the self-evident fact of human free will."
He offers neither biblical references nor his own arguments, but just says that free will is self-evident.
But it is not at all self-evident that man has free will; rather, what is self-evident is that if
absolute predestination is true, then human free will is false.
Foulkes continues, "It involves a paradox that the New Testament does not seek to
resolve, and that our finite minds cannot fathom."
There is a "paradox" now? How? Where? Why? It is "self-evident" to me that...his mind is indeed
"finite" very finite.
As Luther writes, "There is no conflict in the words of Scripture,and no need of an 'explanation' to 'cut the knot.' The protagonists of 'free-will' create
difficulties where none exist, and dream contradictions for themselves."
Foulkes, like many others, insists that there is such a thing as human free will when Scripture nowhere teaches it, and then when he comes against the doctrine of absolute predestination, which the Scripture does teach, he cries, "Paradox!" and "Mystery!"
...Let it be clear, then, that Scripture contradicts Foulkes, not itself.
If God is sovereign, then man cannot be free that is, not free from God, his power and
his control. However, this does not contradict the biblical teaching that man is morally
responsible for his thoughts and actions. The common confusion is that freedom and
responsibility are either the same thing so that they are sometimes even used
interchangeably in theological and philosophical literature or that one cannot be without
the other.The false assumption is that if man is not free, then he must not be responsible. In other words, the assumed premise, often unstated, is that "Responsibility presupposes freedom."
However, there is no reason to accept this premise, since by definition,
responsibility has nothing whatsoever to do with freedom; rather, responsibility has to do
with whether one will be held accountable. The first dictionary definition for "responsible" is "liable to be called on to answer."
Since God has given his moral laws to humanity, and since he has pronounced judgment upon those who would disobey, this means that man is responsible. The issue of freedom does not enter into the discussion.
...In The Bondage of the Will, Luther writes
as follows against Erasmus:
Wherefore, my good Erasmus, as often as you confront me with the words of the law, so often shall I confront you with the words of Paul: "By the law is knowledge of sin" not power of will!
Gather together from the big concordances all the imperative words into one chaotic heap
and I shall at once declare that they always show, not what men can do, or do do, but what they should
Even grammarians and schoolboys at street corners know that nothing more is signified by verbs in the imperative mood than what ought to be done, and that what is done or can be done should
be expressed by verbs in the indicative. How is it that you theologians are twice as stupid as schoolboys, in that as soon as you get hold of a single imperative verb you infer an indicative
meaning, as though the moment a thing is commanded it is done,or can be done? But there's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip! and things that you commanded and that were possible enough may yet not be done, so great a gulf is there between imperative and indicative statements in the simplest everyday matters!
Yet in this business of keeping the law, which is as far out of our reach as heaven is from
the earth and just as impossible of attainment, you make indicatives out of imperatives with such alacrity that the moment you hear the word of command: "do," "keep," "choose," you will
straightway have it that it has been kept, done, chosen, or fulfilled,or that these things can be done by our own strength!"
With Luther, we must affirm that on this subject Scripture contains no contradictions, no
antinomies, and no paradoxes, but that unfaithful and incompetent theologians "create
difficulties where none exist, and dream contradictions for themselves."
Scripture teaches both divine sovereignty and human responsibility, and these two do not
contradict each other; moreover, human responsibility does not presuppose human
freedom. Then, the question becomes one of justice. The objection is that if this is the case, that is,if God gives moral laws to people who cannot obey them, then would it not be unjust for God to judge them?
Again, the objection joins together two different things by pure assumption without argument. Since when and according to whom is justice necessarily
related to the freedom to obey? Just because you join them in your mind does not mean that they must be joined.
Paul anticipates such an illogical objection when he discusses divine election in his letter
to the Romans. He comes to the conclusion that God sovereignly determines and controls
all things, even the will of man:
"Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have
mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden" (Romans 9:18). But then he continues,"One of you will say to me: 'Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?'" (v. 19).
The objection is the same one that we are now considering. The claim is that since God
controls all things, this means that no one can decide against what God has decided. And
since God chooses to harden some people, this means that there is no free will to obey
But then, God has determined to judge disobedience. Since the objector falsely assumes that responsibility presupposes freedom, he asks, "Then why does God still hold me responsible, if I do not have the freedom to obey or disobey?" In response, Paul rebukes the objector, and writes:
But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?'" Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same
lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9:20-24)
God is the sole standard of justice, and we must submit to his standard instead of
imposing our own false standard on him. Accordingly, God has the "right" to prepare
some people for glory, and to prepare others for destruction. As for the charge that the doctrine of predestination encourages licentiousness,there must be something wrong with those who make this objection.
Before I heard this objection for the first time, it never crossed my mind that the grace of God could be a license to sin. It is only right that man submits to God and obeys his commands (Ecclesiastes 12:13).
Yet some of these objectors speak as if sin necessarily follows grace. Whose fault is it that
they think this? The objection poses no challenge to the doctrine of predestination, but it
does tell us something about how these people think. In any case, Paul writes that God
has predestined us "to be holy and blameless in his sight," so that predestination leads to
holiness, and not licentiousness.