Many Christians wonder if God has already determined the course of their lives before they were even born. This idea that God has “written” the story of our lives in advance is a complex theological concept that has been debated for centuries. In this post, we’ll dive into the Bible and see what it really says about God’s sovereignty and human free will.
The question of predestination versus free will has been discussed by theologians and philosophers for thousands of years. At the heart of the debate is whether God actively chooses our life path ahead of time or whether we have the freedom to make our own choices.
Those who believe God predetermines everything point to verses like:
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)
“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (Romans 8:29-30)
On the other hand, those who emphasize free will look to verses like:
“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)
“If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, when people rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us up alive, when their anger was kindled against us” (Psalm 124:2-3)
So what’s the truth? Has God already written the story of your life? Or do you have free will to make your own choices?
- The Bible contains both themes of God’s sovereignty and human free will. There is tension between these ideas.
- God is all-knowing and all-powerful, so He is capable of planning our lives in advance if He chooses.
- Yet the Bible is clear humans have a real choice whether or not to follow God. We are responsible for our actions.
- There are good arguments on both sides of this debate among Christians. The truth likely involves both divine sovereignty and human responsibility.
Let’s explore what the Bible says about predestination, God’s foreknowledge, and our ability to make choices. Get ready for a deep dive!
God’s Foreknowledge and Predestination
There are certainly passages in the Bible that indicate God predetermines events. For example:
“[God] determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.” (Psalm 147:4-5)
God’s understanding is infinite. He sees the past, present and future all at once. He knows every detail of our lives ahead of time.
The prophet Isaiah also spoke of God’s ability to declare the future in advance:
“I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’” (Isaiah 46:10)
Furthermore, the Bible says God chose us and predestined us to be adopted as His children:
“[God] chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” (Ephesians 1:4-5)
Based on these verses, some Christians believe that before God created the universe, He foreknew and predestined everything that would happen. God, in His sovereignty, chose precisely when and where we would be born and all the circumstances of our lives. There are no chance occurrences from God’s perspective.
The Bible also indicates that God formed us and set us apart while still in the womb:
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:13-16)
These verses teach that God personally created each of us and already knew us intimately before we were born. He fashioned all of our days before we saw the light of day. This implies God mapped out the course of our lives.
Furthermore, the New Testament states God predestined us and even predetermined the good works we would do:
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)
“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord…He has saved us and called us to a holy life…according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.” (2 Timothy 1:8-9)
Verses like these have led some Christians to conclude we have no free will concerning God’s plan for our lives. Instead, God predetermined every action, achievement and event in our lives before the universe began. This view is sometimes called “theological determinism.”
In summary, the Bible contains abundant evidence that God knows the future completely. He sees our lives like a movie already filmed. This means theoretically God could plan, predestine and schedule everything that will happen in our lives from beginning to end, though He has chosen not to do this and instead has given humans free will.
Human Choice and Free Will
Despite the verses above about God’s foreknowledge and predestination, the Bible is equally clear that humans have free will to make choices that impact our lives. For example:
“Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)
“If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. (Isaiah 1:19-20)
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.” (John 3:36)
These verses show God lays out options before us and allows us to freely choose between good and evil, obedience and rebellion, life and death. The outcomes depend on what we decide.
Furthermore, the Bible is filled with passages urging us to choose to follow God’s ways. For example:
“Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” (Isaiah 55:6-7)
If everything was predetermined by God, it would make no sense for God to plead with people to seek, call, forsake, turn and freely choose Him. God desires that we voluntarily choose relationship with Him.
In Deuteronomy, Moses sets before the Israelites a choice between life and prosperity or death and destruction. He urges them to love and obey God, but says it is their own responsibility to make the right choice:
“This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life.” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)
Joshua also challenged the Israelites to exercise their free will and choose to serve God alone:
“But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)
Furthermore, God held His chosen people accountable when they made bad decisions, meaning they had a genuine opportunity to make better choices:
“The Lord warned Israel and Judah through all his prophets and seers: ‘Turn from your evil ways. Observe my commands and decrees, in accordance with the entire Law that I commanded your ancestors to obey and that I delivered to you through my servants the prophets.’ But they would not listen.” (2 Kings 17:13-14)
Clearly God desires that we use our free will to choose righteousness. He doesn’t force anyone to follow Him against their will. We are responsible for the choices we make, whether good or bad.
In the New Testament, Jesus made it clear that we have a choice whether to follow Him or reject Him:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24)
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:20)
Jesus stands at the door of our hearts and patiently waits for us to open to Him. The decision is ours to make.
The apostle Paul also emphasized human responsibility and choice:
“What shall we say then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1-2)
“You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?” (Galatians 5:7)
If we have no free will, Paul’s admonishments to avoid sin make little sense. Why warn someone not to do what they cannot help but do? Instead, these verses affirm our power to choose obedience or disobedience.
In summary, the Bible contains abundant passages indicating humans can make real choices that impact our lives and our relationship with God. We are responsible for the decisions we make each day. Our destinies are not predetermined apart from the exercise of our wills. God invites us to freely choose Him and His ways.
Divine Sovereignty and Human Choice Working Together
Given the evidence above, both for God’s foreknowledge and sovereignty as well as human free will and responsibility, some Christians resolve the tension between these ideas by concluding that both are true in some way. God predestines some events but also gives us freedom to make decisions.
One way this plays out is that God may predetermine broad outlines but allows us to make specific daily choices within that framework. For example, God may have predestined someone to be born in a certain time and place and to come to know Christ, but the details of how they live for Him are up to them.
Another perspective is that God is so infinitely intelligent that He can incorporate human free will into His sovereign decrees. Just because God knows what choices we will make does not mean He causes those decisions. He foreknows but does not force our actions. From our limited human perspective, there appears to be a contradiction between God’s sovereignty and our free will. But God sees how they operate in harmony from His higher vantage point.
The Bible Project explains it this way: “God can look ahead and see the complex working out and interweaving of human decisions and actions without negating the reality that humans make these decisions freely. God can direct the overall storyline without determining every detail.“
In summary, Christians have good biblical reasons to believe in both God’s sovereignty and human free will, even if we can’t fully understand how they work together. God predestines some things, but we are still responsible to make wise choices each day within the bounds of His will.
Key Principles for Finding God’s Will for Your Life
For the practical purposes of finding God’s plan for your life, it’s helpful to keep these principles in mind regarding His sovereignty and our responsibility:
- Pray for guidance. Ask God to direct your paths and reveal His will to you each step of the way. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
- Study the Bible. God’s Word gives us wisdom for life’s decisions. “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” (Psalm 119:105)
- Seek wise counsel. Ask mature believers for advice when facing big decisions. “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” (Proverbs 15:22)
- Evaluate your options biblically. Consider whether a potential choice would honor God and align with scriptural principles. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)
- Listen to the Holy Spirit. Stay sensitive to the Spirit’s leading in your mind and heart. “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” (Romans 8:14)
- Make a choice and move forward. Don’t become paralyzed over the decision. Weigh the pros and cons and step out in faith. “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow… Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.'” (James 4:13-15)
The biblical perspective is that God directs our steps at a high level, but expects us to seek Him daily and make wise choices. He promises to guide those who acknowledge Him. But He also gives us a free will, which means we must take ownership for the decisions we make each day. As long as we submit our plans to God in reliance on His wisdom, we can be confident He will direct our paths – even if the specifics were not predetermined.
Conclusion: Walk in Faithful Obedience
In closing, wrestling with the theological debate over God’s sovereignty vs. human free will can be confusing. There are good arguments from the Bible for both perspectives. In practical terms, for living our daily lives and hearing from God, it likely involves a mysterious combination of both divine providence and our ability to make choices. We may not fully comprehend how, but we can trust that God works through both His sovereignty and our responsibility.
The healthiest approach is to have an ongoing conversation with God. Seek His guidance each day, study the principles in His Word, and listen for the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Lean on God’s direction and oversight of your life path, but also take ownership for your choices each day. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
As long as you stay in communication with God through prayer, the Bible and the Holy Spirit, you can walk in confidence that the Lord will direct your steps in line with His purposes. He has good plans for you, and as you faithfully obey Him each day, He will lead you into the life path He has prepared.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:11-13)