Do We Have a Choice About Salvation?
If we are endowed with free will, we have the ability to either accept or reject the grace of God.
The case can be logically expressed as follows:
If man possesses freedom of will (both the liberty and the ability) to choose his destiny, he can choose either: to be saved or lost.
But we do possess freedom of will, which we will subsequently prove.
Therefore, man has the ability to choose his destiny.
And to develop the logic further, we might express the thought in this way.
If mankind has the ability to leave the state of condemnation under the influence of the teaching of Christ, doesn’t he likewise have the corresponding freedom to abandon the state of salvation under the influence of Satan’s teaching?
As we will soon see, he does have the ability to abandon the state of condemnation under the influence of Christ’s gospel.
And, yes, he likewise has the freedom to renounce his salvation and to reenter state of condemnation.
John Calvin and Free Will
The doctrine that man is without freedom of will was most influentially set forth by John Calvin. Calvin, who was greatly swayed by the writings of Augustine, declared:
We are sinners by nature; therefore, we are held under the yoke of sin. Now, if the whole man be subject to the dominion of sin, the will, which is the prlnciple seat of it, must necessarily be bound with the firmest bends (Calvin, 271).
Contrary to the speculations of Augustine, Calvin and others, however, the Bible clearly teaches that man has the ability to determine his spiritual course of action.
What Does God’s Word Say About Our Freedome to Choose?
Man’s power of choice is forcefully illustrated by an example from the early days of Israel.
Joshua, the great leader of God, challenged:
Choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve Jehovah (Josh. 24:15).
The people responded by making a choice. They, too, would serve Jehovah, and so Joshua declared:
Ye are witnesses against yourselves that ye have chosen you Jehovah to serve him (Josh. 24:21, 22).
Later, unfortunately, the Israelites “chose new gods” (Judg. 5:8, cf. Prov. 1:29; Isa. 7:15, 16; 65:12; 66:3).
Choosing to Leave the State of Condemnation
Infants are born innocent. They “have no knowledge of good or evil” (Deut. 1:39), hence, they cannot be responsible to the law of God and thus sin (1 John 3:4).
Because of the purity of children, those who aspire to enter the kingdom of heaven must become child-like (Matt. 18:3; 19:14). Even Christians are admonished to be “babes” in malice (1 Cor. 14:20).
As we mature enough to choose either evil or good (cf. Isa. 7:15), because our weakness of the flesh (Rom. 7:25), we eventually choose to sin. Thus, from the days of his youth man becomes a sinner (Gen. 8:21; Jer. 3:25).
Our sins separate us from God (Isa. 59:1, 2), and we spiritually die “through trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). And accordingly, we become destined for eternal punishment.
Because of our rebellion, we deserve to be lost. This is why we so desperately need Jehovah’s grace.
Grace (unmerited favor) implies that we justly deserve condemnation. And so all responsible people enter a state of being lost (cf. 2 Chron. 6:36; Rom. 3:10, 23).
Now here is the all-important question. Can man choose to leave this state of justly deserved condemnation?
The Scriptures abundantly establish the truth that man does indeed have the ability to choose to leave his deserved fate of eternal punishment, based on the conditions set forth in the gospel.
The following examples will suffice to demonstrate the point.
“Come Unto Me”
When the Lord offered the great invitation, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” (Matt. 11:28), he implied that these people had the ability to accept that call.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem”
Of rebellious Jerusalem Christ said:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that killeth the prophets, and stoneth them that are sent unto her! how often would I have gathered her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! (Matt. 23:37).
The Lord would have gathered them if they would have come; but He couldn’t if they wouldn’t! It depends upon their willpower.
Any Man Willeth
Jesus plainly taught: “If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from myself” (Jn. 7:17).
The Prodigal Son
One of the Teacher’s great parables was that of the prodigal son. In that narrative, the father represents God, who is ever ready to receive the wayward.
The lost boy represents the transgressor who has strayed from the Creator into the “far country” of sin. When the young man came to be in want (and those away from God are truly in want), he realized the folly of such a course.
Elsewhere in the New Testament, we learn that such a conviction is reached through gospel teaching (cf. 1 Cor. 15:1, 2). And so, he determined: “I will arise and go to my father” (Lk. 15:18).
Oh, the meaning in those words, “I WILL.”
He That Will, Let Him Take ...
In the final invitation of Holy Scripture, the Almighty announces, almost as a concluding exclamation point emphasizing man’s freedom of will, “He that will, let him take of the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17).
Clearly, the responsible huma~ being can choose; he can wlil to lose his due punishment.
Our Free Will Continues
Now here is a fact that positively must be borne in mind.
On conversion, our decision-making capacity is not altered. Our power to decide is not broken. We do not become mechanically programmed robots deprived of the power of choice.
As the child of Satan may choose to serve the Lord, so, sadly, sometimes children of God return to the kingdom of darkness.
If the Christian does not have the power to either obey or to reject the truth, he cannot be held responsible for his conduct. And yet, the Bible teaches that it is possible to become perverted and thus selfcondemned (Titus 3:11).
Yes, quite clearly, the Bible warns that:
- a Christian can fall (Gal. 5:4);
- a church can fall (Eph. 2:8; Rev. 2:5);
- in fact, a whole fellowship of brethren can apostatize (2 Thes. 2:3), to a great extent (2 Pet. 2:2).
- Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Vol. I.