Receiving the Gift
In my last blog post, I went through Ephesians 1:1-14 and the concept of freely choosing to join the predetermined group. In a discussion of free will, my Calvinist brothers and sisters may bring up this verse, also from Ephesians:
For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift — not from works so that no one can boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10 CSB)
Three objections to freewill come from this passage:
- Grace comes not from the individual, but God.
- Freely choosing Jesus would be an action that would fall under “works.”
- “God prepared us ahead of time,” so our salvation is predetermined.
I will take these in order.
Grace comes not from the individual, but God. This statement is entirely acceptable for those who believe that it is the free will choice of the individual to accept salvation. Humanity cannot choose any other way, but the way God has made for a reunion with Him. This singular way to God does not presume predetermination. It does not assume that God deigns that some individuals will, and some individuals will not come to faith. Salvation is a gift that is given to us. We need to choose to accept it or not. There is nothing that the individual can do to earn their salvation.
Freely choosing Jesus would be an action that would fall under “works.” This statement is a misunderstanding of the whole concept of gifts. Gifts are given and not earned. Gifts are purchased with a price from one entity and then is given by that entity to another entity. The only action the second entity can do is to reject the gift. Otherwise, the gift is theirs.
For example, many years ago, I bought my wife, a red cashmere sweater for Christmas. I made this purchase several weeks before Christmas, but as soon as I purchased that sweater, it was hers. She did not earn it. She did not buy it herself. She did not even know that she had this sweater. However, it was hers, nonetheless. It wasn’t mine, and it wasn’t the store’s either. When Christmas came, she opened her present, and there was the sweater. Opening the box did not earn her the sweater. It was hers before she opened the box. Her reaction to her sweater is also essential. She could have rejected the sweater. She could have said, “I don’t look good in Red” or something similar. Then the gift would be rejected. But at no point does she earn the sweater.
Those who believe in free will find that salvation is a gift offered to every human who has lived, is living, or ever will live. That offer of salvation is not earned by anyone. Now, you might say to yourself, “But isn’t that universalism – that everyone gets saved?” No, it is not. Remember, from point one; there is only one way to God. Some will accept that way, and others will reject it. Everyone gets what they ask for, one way or another. But nobody gets to choose any other way but through Jesus.
“God prepared us ahead of time,” so our salvation is predetermined.
Going back to the last article, we can see that the predetermined portion of God’s plan was, well, God’s plan. What he left to us, as free creatures, was to go along with it or not. Our salvation is foreknown, no doubt. God knew His plan of salvation and had predetermined how it would all go down in rescuing His creation and His believed humanity. Our acceptance of that salvation is another story.
Two more quick points
Calvinists sometimes equate omniscience with predetermination. If God knows who will decide to accept this gift of salvation and who does not, doesn’t that mean that the whole thing is predetermined? Here is where the work of theologian Louis De Molina is useful. Molinism (the work of De Molina) helps us understand God’s middle knowledge. God’s omniscience is so great that He not only knows the decisions we make, but He knows all the possible choices. Thus, he is not determining our decisions but knows all the out-comes from our possible choices. This look is a very brief introduction to Molinism. For a complete treatment, see Dr. Timothy Stratton’s work on the subject HERE.
Second, it is widely accepted by orthodox Christians that the supreme ethic of Jesus is love. Love is what should drive the Christian’s every motive and move. If something is done in the name of God, no matter how good action it is, if it is not done in love, it is worthless. But for love to make sense, there must be the essence of choice. If one does not choose to love but is predetermined to love, then it is quite meaningless. Images of marionettes on puppet strings come to mind. For love to have meaning and value, the object of love must be chosen. One must decide intentionally to love. Otherwise, love is rendered a meaningless word and concept.