God Dethroned by Free Will - John 5:40; Acts 18:27; I Peter 1:18-25

W. E. Best

The heresy of free will dethrones God and enthrones man. Supporters of free will insist that God would be unjust and tyrannical to control the will of man. They see nothing egoistic or Satanic in attempting to fetter and direct the will of God. These natural-minded men suppose their own foolish wills cannot be gratified unless the all-wise God consents to relinquish His will. The doctrine of the free will of man tears the reins of government from the hands of the sovereign God. God’s character is maligned by every person who believes in free will. Depraved natures make men unwilling to submit themselves to God’s will. Their inability prevents their coming to Jesus Christ: “And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life” (John 5:40).

The Arminian theory is polytheistic in its concept of the first cause. It yields to the same temptation of Satan that Eve did in the garden of Eden: “...ye shall be as gods...” (Gen. 3:5). Free will is attractive to natural men because it appeals to their pride. It impresses upon them the fact that they have supernatural power which gives them self-determination toward God, righteousness, and holiness. It is blasphemous to think that a man has the ability within himself to control the will of God!

The Arminian concept leads men to believe they must first ascend to God before God descends to them. Ministers and others who follow this notion appeal to men to come to Christ, telling them that if they will come to Christ, Christ will come to them. This contradicts Scripture. The Lord sees the affliction of His people and descends to deliver them. The Israelites did not first ascend to God—the sovereign God descended to help His helpless, chosen people (Ex. 3:7, 8). The Lord Jesus Christ left heaven and all its glory to come into the world to save those the Father gave Him in the covenant of redemption: “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).

The Holy Spirit alone has the prerogative to command people to come to Jesus Christ. He gives them power to come by regeneration. A minister who commands his hearers to leave their seats and come forward, giving the impression that they may come to Jesus Christ by their faith, assumes the prerogative of the Holy Spirit. No person can usurp the official work of the Holy Spirit to effectually call people to salvation. Ministers can only proclaim the Word of God, pointing men to the Lamb of God (John 1:29). Man has no ability to call others from darkness to light.

The Arminian approach is erroneous. The sinner cannot first ascend to God before the Lord descends to help him. The two Old Testament truths of the order of the vessels of the tabernacle (Ex. 25-40) and the order of the offerings (Lev. 1-5) reveal to us that God takes the initiative. The ark of the covenant with its mercy seat represents the place where God is. God’s description of the vessels began with Himself and descended with each of the vessels—the golden censor, candlestick, table of shewbread, laver, and finally, the altar of brass where He met the sinner. The burnt offering, which represents what Jesus Christ is to God, was the first in order. The meal offering, showing what He is in His impeccable human nature, followed; then the peace offering, the sin offering, and the trespass offering, where God meets the sinner. This divine order is reversed by every person who believes in free will.

Arminians believe that man’s will precedes God’s will. However, God’s will not only planned and provided salvation but applies it as well. God’s application of salvation is opposed by the free will of Arminians—self-will is the essence of anti-Christian religions. Their supposition that God is tyrannical to save a person against his will is a misunderstanding of salvation. God works in a person to make him willing when He imparts regeneration: “Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power...” (Ps. 110:3).

Arminians assert that free will belongs as much to man as it does to God. However, God’s will alone is absolutely free. Once a person grants that the Creator is subordinated to the creature, he has joined forces with all the vain philosophies of the world. Man’s religion places man on the throne and subordinates God. God does not live for mankind—before God created man or any creature, He lived for Himself; and He continues to do so. God is immutable, and He will live for Himself forever: “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever...” (Rom. 11:36).

The Arminian theory is contrary to Scripture because it denies depravity, indicating that the will of the sinner can, apart from grace, make a spiritual choice and has within itself power to turn from evil. Arminians insist that if an unsaved person was against Christ, he could not come to Christ, and since he can come to Christ, he is not against Christ. But Scripture says that the depraved will is against the Lord Jesus Christ: “He that is not with me is against me...” (Matt. 12:30). Notice that Christ did not say, “He that is not with me ‘is not’ against me,” but, “He that is not with me ‘is’ against me.”

Either Satan or the Lord Jesus Christ dominates every individual under heaven. Every unsaved person is dominated by Satan. He walks according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air. He is by nature a child of wrath (Eph. 2:1-3). The children of God, on the other hand, are dominated by the Lord Jesus Christ. They have been delivered from bondage to Satan and are made bondslaves of Jesus Christ (I Cor. 7:22, 23).

Arminianism is opposed to the doctrine of divine election. Its followers think their doctrine of free will destroys that Biblical truth. But let the so-called free will do all it can—it cannot avoid sin and secure pardon if God withholds the Spirit of regeneration. If free will is the same in all men, why does it attain to salvation in some and not in all? Arminians cannot answer that question. The answer is found in free grace. “...As many as were ordained to eternal life believed” (Acts 13:48). The grace of God is what makes believers react differently from nonbelievers.

The Arminian theory rejects the Biblical doctrine of reprobation. However, Scripture teaches that God negatively and positively reprobates men for their own sinful condition.

There are at least seven truths that Arminians either do not know or willfully reject in the face of Biblical data:

FIRST: Arminians reject the fact that the unrenewed will is set against the truth of God. The unrenewed will of man cannot understand spiritual things (I Cor. 2:14). He hates divine truth (John 3:19-21). He does not seek the Lord (Rom. 3:11). Conclusively, man’s understanding, affection, and will are depraved. Since his understanding does not comprehend spiritual things, he has no affection for the things of God; and his will cannot be determined for the things of God.

Since desire for truth must be given by the Lord, truth is always offensive to the unregenerate. Natural men love darkness rather than light because their souls with all their faculties are depraved (John 3:19, 20). They hate everything pertaining to righteousness, truth, and God because their deeds are evil. Persuasion by any means cannot draw a person to Christ. An individual cannot conjure within himself a desire to remedy his condition. He is unable to be willing. He must be drawn by a power outside of himself.

SECOND: Arminians reject the fact that the unrenewed will must be wrought upon by divine power. If the will of an unregenerate man were never wrought upon other than by moral persuasion, it would never be subject to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Natural man does have the light with which he was born: “That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9). He is capable of weighing certain issues. He has a conscience that either accuses or excuses him: “...do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another” (Rom. 2:14, 15).

Conscience must be purified by the blood of Jesus Christ to be void of offense (Heb. 9:12-14). Every person has within himself enough intuitive knowledge to render him inexcusable before God. He has the capacity to recognize the evidences that testify of the Creator’s existence (Rom. 1:19, 20). But natural man can have no spiritual light until the sovereign God in His good pleasure gives it. The Light of life (John 8:12) is possessed only by those who have been regenerated by the Spirit of God (Rom. 8:1-4).

THIRD: Arminians reject the fact that the natural impotence of the will cannot be cured by moral suasion. That is the general attitude among professing Christendom; therefore, Arminians adopt different tactics and gimmicks to attract people to their places of worship. Most of them will tolerate some doctrine, as long as they can have a part somewhere in the operation of the church program. They consider doctrine secondary because they feel they are reaching people with their programs. However, regeneration by the Spirit of God alone persuades men for Christ (I Peter 1:20, 21).

FOURTH: Arminians reject the fact that the unrenewed will of man does not spurn truth simply because he does not understand it. Some argue that the sinner will receive the gospel if it is made plain to him. That is the reason men have compiled so many versions of the Bible recently. But if explanation alone could convince men for Christ, they would love truth and reject error—and this is not the case.

Anyone who has been born again by the Spirit of God can understand the Bible, but apart from the new birth, he cannot understand God’s Word regardless of its interpretation by man. A Christian has the mind of God, and has been enlightened by the Holy Spirit. His affections are moved by what he hears with his enlightened mind. His will is inclined and self-determined to embrace that which his understanding has received and his affection loves and desires.

The apostle Paul knew that unless the Spirit of God enlightened the minds of those who listened, they could not understand, regardless of the manner in which the Word was proclaimed. That is why the apostle never requested prayer that the gospel be simply stated or explained in a manner that could be understood by unsaved people. He only asked prayer that he might have freedom of the Spirit to proclaim the Word (II Thess. 3:1).

Arminian philosophy concerning simplification of the Word for man’s benefit is a denial of the truth that man is depraved. Man’s unrenewed will is set against the truth of God. The more clearly truth is set before him and pressed upon him, the more his hatred swells and rises. That reaction among men was demonstrated in response to the words of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself (John 6:41, 52, 60, 66). They “strove among themselves” (v. 52), and said the Lord’s words were “an hard saying” (v. 60), and “walked no more with him” (v. 66). The Lord’s words were filled with compassion, Spirit, and truth. A preacher has never been greater than He. Nevertheless, those hearers were unpersuaded. Conversely, all who have been regenerated by the Spirit of God respond to the word of God in the same way that Peter, the spokesman for the twelve, did when questioned by the Lord: “...Will ye also go away? Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:67-69). That is the answer given by every person who believes the doctrines of grace.

FIFTH: Arminians reject the fact that man’s inability to fulfill the law does not arise from the nature of the law but from the corruption of man’s will. Unregenerated man, however, cannot possibly fulfill the law of God. He cannot love the Lord with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength and his neighbor as himself (Luke 10:27). He can never love the Lord until he has first been loved by the Lord. Love is reciprocal: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (I John 4:10). Nevertheless, God can command man to do that which by his own sinful condition he is incapable of doing (Acts 17:30).

SIXTH: Arminians reject the fact that man’s unrenewed will is enslaved to sin and self. But Scripture teaches that man’s will is enslaved to self and therefore it is enslaved to sin. A wealthy farmer demonstrated this truth in Luke 12:18-19. He did not have enough room to store his fruits and demonstrated his selfish will by saying, “...This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul....” Four times he referred to his own will. God’s will did not enter his thoughts.

The majority among professing Christians will not tolerate the teaching that man’s will is depraved because they do not want to believe that their own wills are depraved. They prefer hypocritical happiness and nondisturbance. But it is nonetheless true that unregenerated man’s will is spiritually dead. It is only made active by the work of God in regeneration.

John 1:12 is often used to support the theory of free will. However, its context proves the contrary. The words “as many...” imply an antithesis. One cannot prove the doctrine of free will from these verses in the first chapter of John. The power, privilege, or right to become the sons of God is not potential but actual. The privilege does not indicate any sort of halfway faculty—the privilege is full and complete. The power is given to those who have already believed.

Arminians confuse the undefined potential with the present result. Men become children of God by regeneration, and they become sons of God by adoption. Those who believe have already been regenerated. Faith flows from its source—regeneration—and not conversely. When the Lord breathes faith into an individual, He regenerates him in a hidden and secret way unknown to that person.

SEVENTH: Arminians reject the fact that man’s willing and running are the fruits of grace and grace is not the fruit of willing and running. But the ideas of free grace and free will are diametrically opposed. All who are strict advocates for free will are strangers to the grace of the sovereign God. Willing and running are fruits of grace: “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” (Rom. 9:16). Men do not work and strive to get a ticket to heaven. That was furnished for the elect in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. As a recipient of Christ’s redemptive work, one lives and works for Christ. A believer is willing to die to self daily (I Cor. 15:31).

Contrary to Arminian teaching that man has the will to believe, Scripture affirms that he believes through grace: “...the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him [Apollos]: who, when he was come, helped them much which had believed through grace” (Acts 18:27). Some affirm that the word “grace” in that verse applies to the gospel, and others think it refers to Apollos’ eloquence. Neither of those interpretations will stand the test of Scripture. The God of nature is also the God of grace. His influence in the one dimension strikingly corresponds with His agency in the other. God not only brings creatures into the world of nature, but also provides for their support.

Genuine salvation consists of more than mental assent of the mind to certain truths: “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. 10:10). A person first believes with his heart; then he confesses that salvation with his mouth. The state of his heart corresponds with his mind.

A peril of deception arises from the near resemblance between counterfeit and genuine faith. In time a person proves whether he has given mere mental assent to historical truths or has been regenerated by free grace. The individual in whose heart the Lord has worked a work of grace desires the Word of God that he might grow thereby (I Peter 2:2). Good works follow purification of the heart by faith (Acts 15:9; James 2:17-26). Faith works by love (Gal. 5:6).

Ungodly people give credit to the Scriptures in general but hinder the truth of God in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). Men have a tendency to be satisfied with a mere assent of the mind, which is void without obedience from the heart and change from glory to glory (Rom. 6:17; II Cor. 3:18).

Saving faith is through grace (Eph. 2:8-10). From the source of grace, the Object of faith comes as a revelation. The Lord Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word, is the Object of faith. The Written Word which reveals the Incarnate Word is also an object of faith.

Saving faith is brought into existence by divine production. Christ Himself ascribed its origin to God the Father: “...flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 16:17). The exercise of faith comes from that divine source. It is then exerted in every condition of one’s existence. It is manifested during prosperity, adversity, health, and illness, and in devotion and service. Since that God-given faith is maintained by Christ’s intercession, it cannot be lost. The Lord Jesus Christ prayed for Peter that his faith fail not (Luke 22:32). The intercessory work of Jesus Christ guarantees the maintenance of one’s faith.

No person can believe on the Lord Jesus Christ without the aid of God’s grace (I Peter 1:18-21). He must first be regenerated by the Spirit of God. Believers are not passive recipients of God’s grace. Their God-given faith has a purifying effect on their lives.

The believer in Jesus Christ needs constant assistance during his earthly pilgrimage. A person may question the reality of his faith, but Christians never deny the efficacy of divine, supernatural faith. Since faith comes from the grace of God, men are mistaken to think man has virtue, ability, or power to exercise his own free will and choice. Christians are what they are by the grace of God (I Cor. 15:10).

The grace of God leads its recipients to feel their deficiencies in knowledge, sanctification, and competence. They know nothing as they ought (I Cor. 8:2), but God has supplied assistance for every one of His children. He ordained the church with her divinely appointed elders to instruct and guide them that they might not be tossed to and fro (Eph. 4:11-16).

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