What does the Assemblies of God believe concerning the free will of mankind in everyday choices and its relation to God’s sovereignty and providential care? Can we through our choices or prayers alter what God has ordained? If God has a master plan that will be accomplished, is it not futile to think we can change what will happen?
There is some disagreement in the evangelical world concerning the interrelationship of God’s sovereignty, His providence, and mankind’s free will. To some theologians, the three seem to be contradictory. But the Assemblies of God, having diligently searched the Scriptures for the best correlation of the three indisputable principles, believes that all three can exist in full theological certitude without doing any injustice to the other two.
The term sovereignty of God is not found in the Bible, yet the truth of God’s sovereignty is evident throughout Scripture. God has absolute authority and power over His creation. God is omnipotent; He can do anything He desires to do. But this indisputable fact has caused considerable theological debate about the relationship of mankind to God’s sovereignty. If God is sovereign and all-powerful, is He responsible for all the evil in the world. Is our eternal destiny determined by God’s sovereignty, making meaningless our assumption that we have some choice in the matters that concern our existence?
Human reasoning and logic would say that if God is truly sovereign over all His creation, the human creatures He created have no opportunity to make individual choices. And if they have a free will that can make personal choices, then God cannot be sovereign, because anything He does not control negates His being sovereign. But Scripture emphasizes both the sovereignty of God and the free will of humankind. So instead of judging by human reason that both facts cannot coexist, we must honor the integrity of God’s Word, accept, and explain to the best of our limited human reasoning how both truths can be valid.
First we recognize the biblical statements of God’s sovereignty. Just to mention a few of many: “I know [Job speaking] that you [God] can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2, NIV). “The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths” (Psalms 135:6, NIV). “He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’ ” (Daniel 4:35, NIV). “Who [God] works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:11, NIV).
Over against these statements of God’s sovereignty, we have the Genesis account of God’s earliest interaction with human beings. When Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, God did not excuse them by saying it was His fault they had disobeyed. Instead, He laid the full penalty of the sin of disobedience on them, although at the same time He gave them a promise of salvation and escape from the penalty of their disobedience. In addition to this example of humankind’s responsibility, we also have a direct statement of Scripture: “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4,20, NKJV). Joshua’s challenge to the Israelites is a challenge for today: “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15, NIV). “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). God does not force individuals to sin. Yet He has ordained a penalty for voluntary sin that must be paid. Every call to repentance in Scripture is an indication that God has given to humankind a free will which can choose right or wrong.
How do we bring together these two seemingly exclusive truths: God’s sovereignty and mankind’s free will? In God’s great design for His creation, He desired freely given allegiance rather than robotic response to His will. Voluntary love and obedience are much better than automatic, predetermined responses. God created humankind with the option of loving and obeying Him, even though it meant that some would choose not to give allegiance to His rule. Freely given love is more valued than forced or parroted expressions. Since God has chosen to give humankind a free will, His sovereignty is not destroyed.
A related issue that raises a similar question is the providence of God. By definition, God’s providence is His faithful and loving provision for the needs of all His creation, for His own children as well as for those who reject His offer of salvation. To believers, the promise is given, “My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians. 4:19, NASB). But the Bible also affirms kindness even to those who deny His Lordship: “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). If God is good as His providential care for His creation suggests, one might wonder why people, especially God’s children, suffer and experience serious setbacks.
The same explanation serves to answer this question. Desiring voluntary love and obedience from His creation, God provides a free-will choice for all humans. Sin entered the world through the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Man is appointed to die because sin reigns in our fallen physical world. Becoming a Christian does not cancel the physical judgment that rests on all humankind. If it did, everyone would become a Christian just to avoid pain and suffering. But one can choose to acknowledge God’s authority even though pain and suffering are still part of our earthly existence. When we accept Christ our free will chooses allegiance to God, believing that He has ultimately overcome Satan, sin, suffering, and death, and believing that the heavenly reward that awaits us makes all the suffering and pain of this life worthwhile. Mature Christians understand that God’s providential care for His creation is not destroyed just because physical laws of sin and death are still part of our temporary earthly existence.
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