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How does God's sovereignty work together with free will?

The co-existence of God's sovereignty and humankind's free will has been a hotly-debated topic among theologians across the centuries. Understanding how God can have complete control and yet also grant free will to people is a mind-boggling concept. Most argumentative folk will take one of two extreme viewpoints:

  • Viewpoint #1: Human beings are God's puppets; God is the puppet master who controls their every move and decision.
  • Viewpoint #2: Humans are free to do what they choose; God is powerless to stop them or change anything.

Neither of these extreme viewpoints has any biblical basis. God is NOT the controller of a bunch of little programmed robots, NOR does God take a "hands off" approach to humanity by helplessly allowing things to run their course—like train about to wreck—without being able to intervene in any way.

Here's what the Bible DOES say about free will and God's sovereignty:
  1. All people have the ability to choose their actions freely (Deuteronomy 30:19-20; James 1:13-16; Galatians 5:16-17).
  2. All people will be held accountable for their choices (Romans 3:19; 6:23; 10:9-10).
  3. God knows the future; therefore, He knows what choices we will make. (See Matthew 6:8; Psalm 139:1-4.)
  4. God has complete sovereignty over all things (Colossians 1:16-17; Daniel 4:35).
  5. Out of His great love for people, God chooses to give people freedom of choice—DESPITE having the ability to control anything and everything He so chooses (John 1:12-13; John 3:16; Mark 8:34; 1 Timothy 2:4).

How all these factors work together and how God could possibly love us so much that He would allow us to choose rejection of Him is honestly beyond human comprehension (Romans 11:33-36). It's hard for us to imagine withholding an innate power if we had the ability stop someone from hurting themselves or others or from hating us despite our love for them.

Yet God does not violate our free will by controlling our actions or thoughts. He may arrange circumstances to help you see the wisest decision, but the decision is still yours (Psalm 51:10; 1 Corinthians 10:13; John 6:44).

"The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." —2 Peter 3:9

God allows us to make mistakes to help us grow (Romans 5:3-5), blesses us when we choose wisely (Romans 8:28), and grants us the freedom to choose Him OR reject Him (John 3:18, 36; Luke 13:3; Mark 16:16). If we ask, God will forgive us (1 John 1:9), guide us (Psalm 119:104-105), and show us the way (Psalm 34:17-20), but the ultimate choice is still ours (Matthew 10:32-33; Revelation 20:15).

"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full." —John 15:9-11

“We love Him because He first loved us.” —1 John 4:19

What should I do with my free will?

Because God loves us and has sovereignty over all things, we can trust Him (Proverbs 3:5-6) and take comfort in the fact that God is aware and in control of the world around us (Proverbs 16:9). May we choose to make wise choices that follow God's Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17; James 1:5). May we choose to praise and worship Him as the wonderfully generous, infinite, powerful, merciful, grace-filled, and sovereign God He is.

TL;DR

Out of God's great love for us, He chooses to grant us freedom of choice—DESPITE having the ability to control anything and everything He so chooses. Exactly how God exercises His sovereignty in conjunction with our free will is beyond human comprehension. God may arrange circumstances to help you see the wisest decision, but the decision is still yours. God allows us to make mistakes to help us grow, blesses us when we choose wisely, and grants us the freedom to choose Him OR reject Him. May we choose to praise and worship Him as the generous, infinite, powerful, merciful, grace-filled, and sovereign God He is.

By: Catiana Nak Kheiyn

Cat is the web producer and editor of 412teens.org. She loves audiobooks, feeding the people she cares about, and using Christmas lights to illuminate a room. When Catiana is not writing, cooking, or drawing, she enjoys spending time with her two kids, five socially-awkward cats, and her amazing friend-amily.

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