God’s Sovereignty and Free Will

by A W Tozer

But if God is sovereign, what about man’s free will? Maybe you would rather not have your mind troubled about this. Maybe you’d rather just rest. But to quote someone else, the business of a prophet of God is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. If you are comfortable, perhaps you need to be afflicted. And one of the best ways to afflict you is to get you thinking about divine things.

The matter of man’s free will versus God’s sovereignty can be explained in this way: God’s sovereignty means that He is in control of everything, that He planned everything from the beginning. Man’s free will means that he can, anytime he wants, make most any choice he pleases (within his human limitations, of course). Man’s free will can apparently defy the purposes of God and will against the will of God. Now how do we resolve this seeming contradiction?

Down through the years, two divisions of the church have attempted to resolve this dilemma in different ways. One division emphasizes the sovereignty of God, believing that God planned everything from the beginning, that God ordered that some would be saved and some lost, that Christ died for those who would be saved, but He didn’t die for the others who would not be saved. That is actually what followers of John Calvin believe.

On the other side, there are those who say that Christ died for all and that man is free to make his choice. But those who teach the sovereignty of God in this exclusive way say that if man is free to make a choice, then God isn’t sovereign. Because if a man can make a choice that God doesn’t like, then God does not have His way.

God’s sovereignty means absolute freedom, doesn’t it? God is absolutely free to do anything He wants or wills to do—anywhere, anytime, forever. And man’s free will means that man can make any choice he wants to make, even if he makes a choice against the will of God. There is where the theologians lock horns like two deer out in the woods and wallow around until they die. I refuse to get caught on either horn of that dilemma! Here is what I see: God Almighty is sovereign, free to do as He pleases. Among the things He is pleased to do is give me freedom to do what I please. And when I do what I please, I am fulfilling the will of God, not controverting it, for God in His sovereignty has sovereignly given me freedom to make a free choice.

Even if the choice I make is not the one God would have made for me, His sovereignty is fulfilled in my making the choice. And I can make the choice because the great sovereign God, who is completely free, said to me, “In my sovereign freedom I bestow a little bit of freedom on you. Now ‘choose you this day whom ye will serve’ (Joshua 24:15). Be good or be bad at your own pleasure. Follow Me or don’t follow Me, come on or go back. Go to heaven or go to hell.”

The sovereign God has put the decision in your lap and said, “This is yours; you must make that choice.” And when I make a choice, I’m fulfilling His sovereignty, in that He sovereignly wills that I should be free to make a choice. If I choose to go to hell, it’s not what His love would have chosen, but it does not controvert nor cancel out His sovereignty. Therefore I can take John Calvin in one hand and Jacob Arminius in the other and walk down the street. (Neither of them would walk with me, I’m sure, because Calvin would say I was too Arminian and Arminius would say I was too Calvinistic!)

But I’m happy in the middle. I believe in the sovereignty of God and in the freedom of man. I believe that God is free to do as He pleases and I believe that, in a limited sense, He has made man free to do as he pleases—within a certain framework, but not a very big one. After all, you’re not free to do very many things. You’re free to make moral choices. You’re free to decide the color of your necktie, what foods you’ll have and whom you’ll marry—if she agrees, of course. You’re free to do a few things, but not that many. But the things you are free to do are gifts from the God who is utterly free. Therefore, anytime I make a choice, I’m fulfilling the freedom God gave me and therefore I’m fulfilling God’s sovereignty and carrying it out.

A. W. Tozer and David E. Fessenden, The Attributes of God: Deeper into the Father’s Heart, vol. 2 (Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread, 2001–), 148–151.

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