True Christians know and understand, at least to some degree, that God is sovereign. In other words, He is in control. He has a plan, and His plan will not be thwarted. However, varying degrees of belief can be found throughout various denominations and Christian circles.
The issue of God’s sovereignty becomes confusing when the free will of man is mixed into the equation. Reformed Christians tend to hold to the view of Predestination, or Calvinism, and believe that free will does not come into the equation. Christians who hold to Arminianist views believe that man’s free will comes into play. A third group falls somewhere in between.
Predestination and Election vs. Free Will
People who hold to the view of Calvinism generally believe that God has foreordained that certain people will be redeemed and certain people will be lost. This belief comes from the writings of John Calvin, one of the theologians from the Reformation period.
While Ephesians 1:3-5, Romans 9, and a few other verses seem to indicate truth in this belief, further study and context shows that Calvin and others are mistaken. The verses in Ephesians 1 that are in question are saying that God wanted people to be saved and redeemed before the foundation of the world. He had foreknowledge of the fall of man in the Garden of Eden yet He created us giving us the choice of whether to accept or reject Him. Romans 9 discusses God’s choice of Israel and inclusion of the Gentiles in His plan.
Many portions of the Bible point at man’s choice. Man’s free will does not negate God’s sovereignty. His purposes will continue with or without our cooperation. Galatians 5:13, John 7:17, 2 Peter 3:9, Mark 8:34, and Joshua 3:15 are a few that confirm man’s free will along with God’s sovereignty. John 3:16 is clear proof along with 2 Peter 3:9 that God desires for all to be saved, yet, we know in His foreknowledge, He knows who will accept in Him and who will reject Him.
TULIP Acronym Vs. Arminian Beliefs
Calvinist use the TULIP acronym to explain their beliefs in what they call the doctrines of grace. T stands for total depravity. U stands for unconditional election. L stands for limited atonement. I stands for irresistible grace. P stands for perseverance of the saints.
The Arminian belief agrees with total depravity, but differs in other aspects. The other portions of the acronym would change as follows: conditional election, unlimited atonement, resistible grace, and falling from grace.
Some Christians hold to either Calvinist or Arminian beliefs. Others agree with some points of Calvinsim and some points of Arminianism. A chart is available that goes into more detail of the beliefs of each side.
What I Believe
I am not going into the details of all the teachings concerning Sovereignty and free will in this post, but I will be discussing this in a video which I will post at a later date. However, my belief leans more toward Arminianism although I agree with some points of Calvinism. I know and understand that God is sovereign, but I believe he gave us all free will to choose whom we will serve. Our free will in no way negates His sovereignty. He is God! He is capable of giving man free will and completing His ultimate purposes.
God has no desire for any to perish. To believe that God chooses some to be damned while saving others would negate the scriptures in which He says that whoever believes on Him would have everlasting life (John 3:16) and whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13 and Acts 2:21).
On the flip side, I love studying the history of the Reformation period. Martin Luther and many others revived the doctrine of Justification by Faith during a time when the Roman Catholic church dominated and taught works-based salvation. I also listen to many Calvinist ministers such as John Piper and others and have Calvinist friends. I simply do not agree with much of the Calvinist acronym.
The following quote is from A.W. Tozer’s book, The Knowledge of the Holy: “The attempt to answer these questions has divided the Christian church nearly into two camps which have borne the names of two distinguished theologians, Jacobus Arminius and John Calvin. Most Christians are content to get into one camp or the other and deny either sovereignty to God or free will to man. It appears possible, however, to reconcile these two positions without doing violence to either although the effort that follows may prove deficient to partisans of one camp or the other. Here is my view: God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not thereby countervail the sovereign will of God but fulfills it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice man should make but that he should be free to make it. Man’s will is free because God is sovereign. A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures. He would be afraid to do so.”