Free Will

Concepts of the nature of human choice fall within three categories: determinism, indeterminism, and self-determinism. A determinist looks to actions caused by another, an indeterminist to uncaused actions, and a self-determinist to self caused actions.

Since you have a serious flaw in your thinking of self-determination, allow me to bat aside some of the most precious objections against it.

Free-will rules out sovereignty. If human beings are free, are they outside God's sovereignty? Either God determines all, or else He is not sovereign. And if He determines all, then there are no self-determined acts.

It is sufficient to note that God sovereignty delegated free choice to some of His creatures. There was no necessity for him to do so; He exercised His free will. So human freedom is a sovereignly given power to make moral choices. Only absolute freedom would be contrary to God's absolute sovereignty. But human freedom is a limited freedom. Humans are not free to become God themselves. A contingent being cannot become a Necessary Being. For a Necessary Being cannot come to be. It must always be what it is.

Free-will is contrary to grace. It is objected that either free, good acts spring from God's grace, or else from our own initiative. But if the latter, they are not a result of God's grace (Eph. 2:8-9). However this does not necessarily follow. Free-will itself is a gracious gift. Further, special grace is not forced coercively onto the person. Rather, grace works persuasively. The hard determinist position confuses the nature of faith. The ability of a person to receive God's gracious gift of salvation is not the same as working for it. To think so is to give credit for the gift to the receiver, rather than to the Giver.

A self-caused act is logically impossible. It is objected that self-determinism means to cause oneself, which is impossible. Someone cannot be prior to oneself, which is what a self-caused act entails. This objection misunderstands determinism, which does not mean that one causes himself to exist, but rather causes something else to happen. A self-determined act is one determined by oneself, not another.

Self-determinism is contrary to causality. If all acts need a cause, then so do acts of the will, which are not caused by the self but by something else. If everything needs a cause, so do the persons performing the actions.

There is no violation of the actual principle of causality in the exercise of free actions. The principle does not claim that every thing (being) needs a cause. Finite things need a cause. God is uncaused. The person performing free actions is caused by God. The power of freedom is caused by God, but the exercise of freedom is caused by the person. The self is the first-cause of personal actions. The principle of causality is not violated because every finite thing and every action has a cause.

Self-determinism is contrary to predestination. Others object that self-determinism is contrary to God's predestination. But self-determinists respond that God can predestinate in several ways. He can determine (1) contrary to free choice (forcing the person to do what he or she does not choose to do); (2) based on free choices already made (waiting to see what the person will do); and (3) knowing omnisciently what the person will do "in accordance with His foreknowledge" (1 Peter 1:2). "Those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son" (Romans 8:29). Either positions 2 or 3 are consistent with self-determinism. Both insist that God can determine the future by free choice, since He omnisciently knows for sure how they will freely act. So, it is determined from a standpoint of God's infallible knowledge but free from the vantage point of human choice.

Connected with the argument from strong determinism is that, while Adam had free choice (Romans 5:12), fallen human beings are in bondage to sin and not free to respond to God. But this view is contrary to both God's consistent call on people to repent (Luke 13:3; Acts 2:38) and believe (e.g., John 3:16; 3:36; Acts 16:31), as well as to direct statements that even unbelievers have the ability to respond to God's grace (Matt. 23:37; John 7:17; Romans 7:18; 1 Cor. 9:17; Philem. 14; 1 Peter 5:2).

This argument continues that if humans have the ability to respond, then salvation is not of grace (Eph. 2:8-9) but by human effort. However, this is a confusion about the nature of faith. The ability of a person to receive God's gracious gift of salvation is not the same as working for it. To think so is to give credit for the gift to the receiver rather than to the Giver whom graciously gave it.

From the Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (ISBN 0-8010-2151-0)

See also:

Overcoming Objections for Hard Determinism (predestination).
The Skeletal Basis of Predestination and Freedom

Return to the Protestant Apologetics and Theology page