God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Moral Free Agency

Paul Wong

Man was not made like a robot, machine or computer that is controlled or animated by a force outside of him. He is created in God’s image and has the ability to think freely and make choices for himself. Throughout the Holy Bible there is a theme of God’s sovereignty and man’s moral free agency. At the very beginning of man’s history God did not force His will on Adam and Eve, but gave them the moral free agency or free will to choose from all the fruit of the garden except from one tree. Even after they had made the wrong choice God did not take away their freedom or right to choose: “Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. ” (Gen. 3:22) Having the knowledge of good and evil enables man to have the moral free agency and free will to make choices, and yet God is still in complete control of every situation.   Moral free agency is consistent with God’s sovereignty over the affairs of men.

A classic example of the continuation of Divine sovereignty and human freedom is found in the story of Joseph. Joseph was sold into Egypt where he rose in authority and rendered a great service to the country by storing and supplying food in the time of famine. It was, of course, a very sinful act for those sons of Jacob to sell their younger brother into slavery in a heathen country. They felt that they had acted correctly at that time, but only many years later did they admitted their full guilt (Gen. 42:21; 45:3). Yet Joseph could say to them: But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.” (Gen. 45:5) “So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt. (Gen. 45:8) But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” (Gen. 50:20) Joseph's brothers simply followed the inclinations of their natures; got their act on a link in the chain of events through which God fulfilled His purpose. Their guilt was not in the least diminished by the fact that their intended evil was overruled for good.

God desires to give His people freedom to worship Him. When they were in bondage God said: And the LORD said: "I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows.” (Ex. 3:7). Pharaoh acted very unjustly toward the Children of Israel; yet he simply fulfilled the purpose of God, for Paul wrote, "For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth." (Rom. 9:17; Ex. 9:16; 10:1-2)

After Israel was freed from the Egyptian bondage and when they were wandering in the wilderness God still gave them the choice of actions.

Here is what God said to Israel: I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live;” (Deut: 30:19)

God had ruled over Israel from the time of the Exodus (Ex.19:5-8; Psm. 47:8). During Samuel's time, Israel had collectively requested that a king ruled over them instead of Gd because they desìred to be like other nations "Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, "Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations." (1 Sam. 8:4-5) This decision was not a reflection on Samuel and his disobedient sons, but on Israel's democratic rejection of the leadership of God, who told Samuel, ". . . they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them" (verse 7).

After Samuel had listed the disadvantages of having a king rule over them we read, "Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, ‘No; but we will have a king over us; that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles" (verses 19-20). From this historic incident we can see that God would allow certain things to happen even though they are not in accordance with His will. We learned the people’s choice of Saul as their king turned out to be disastrous. God spoke through another prophet. “O Israel, you are destroyed, But your help is from Me. I will be your King; Where is any other, that he may save you in all your cities? And your judges to whom you said, ‘Give me a king and princes’? I gave you a king in My anger, and took him away in My wrath.” (Hos. 13:9-11)

There is a saying that is popular today: "Be careful what you pray for -- you might get it!" This verse shows that there is a serious warning hidden in that statement. Israel's request displeased God, so He punished them by giving them exactly what they asked for.

We do not have to be like the Israelites were, stumbling around blindly in prayer, giving God instructions, and asking for things that do not please Him. Instead, we can follow the advice given in Proverbs.

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths." (Pro. 3:5-6)

If we seek out God's counsel by means of His written Word and prayer, He promises that He will give us guidance. In that way, we can be sure that what we ask of Him will be pleasing to Him, and truly a blessing to us.

For any one who accepts the Bible as the word of God it is absolutely certain that the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ — the most significant event in all history — was foreordained: "For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.” (Acts 4:27-28)  It is true that every person who was involved in the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ had acted according to their moral free agency, but it was all because God had allowed everything to happen in accordance with His Great plan of salvation for mankind. God is the sovereign LORD of all events who rules history to fulfill His purpose. What His will determines, His power carries out. No army, government, or council can stand in God’s way.

Moral free agency can be a double-edged sword that cuts both ways. In America the U.S. Constitution First Amendment ensures and guarantees the free exercise of religion and ensures that the federal government will comply with the non-establishment principle. America has so much freedom of religion that this country has become a hotbed for all kinds of religious cults that include witchcraft practice and Satan worship. Atheists take advantage of the faulty interpretation of the First Amendment regarding separation of church and state that they were able to ban prayer in public schools and are attempting to remove the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance.

America is “home of the brave and land of the free” and Americans place a high value on freedom. They want freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom of choice and freedom of religion. In many cases the freedom that they clamor are not according to the will of God. The terminology “Pro-choice” is used for abortion because it proclaims the woman’s right to choose whether or not to abort an unborn baby. Take another example of the abuse of man’s moral free agency. The mayor and the City Council of San Francisco considered the marriage between two people of the same sex as their personal choice. They defied the California law and have issued more than 3,000 marriage licenses to homosexuals. In a New Mexico county 26 licenses were issued to same-sex couples, while in Chicago, Mayor Richard Daley advocated "gay" nuptials in the Windy City.

Many people have a misconception of freedom. Their version of freedom is actually enslavement in the eyes of God. Our Lord Jesus Christ said, "whoever commits sin is a slave of sin." (Jn. 8:34) So, if sin enslaves, then righteousness sets us free. How does mankind become righteous? The Bible teaches that it is impossible for man to be righteous apart from God, and we can only become righteousness through Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:22).  This is exactly what Jesus taught.  He said: "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.  And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (Jn. 8:31, 32)  Apart from truth, there is no real and true freedom.  Jesus also said that He is the Truth (Jn. 14:6; 1:17), so to be truly free, we must become disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ and abide in Him (Jn. 15:7). This means we are to follow and live by what He taught. He also said, "Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed." (Jn. 8:36) 

At the beginning of His ministry, the Lord Jesus Christ explained what He had come to do, saying: "The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me...He has sent me... to preach deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed." (Lk. 4:18)

From what does the Lord Jesus Christ free us?

  1. Jesus gives us freedom from the bondage of sin.  When Jesus defeated Satan by His atoning work on the Cross, we were set free from the power and guilt of sin.  We are given a new life that "the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin." (Rom. 6:6)

  2. Jesus gives us freedom from fear (Rom. 8:15) - fear of the unknown and fear of death (Hebrews 2:15), for because of Jesus, we have the assurance of eternal life with Him.

  3. Jesus gives us freedom from the burden, requirements and curse of Old Testament Law (Rom. 6:14; 7:6; Gal. 3:10; 5:18).

  4. Jesus gives us freedom from the realm of Satan and the power of darkness that we might "enter into the kingdom of the Son of His love" (Col. 1:13).

At His second coming, Jesus will bring freedom to all creation from the curse that is upon the earth because of sin (Rom. 8:21). The crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ is the solution for man to be set free. “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed." (Jn. 8:36)




This Article is based on the Sermon preached by Paul Wong

to a Congregation in Houston,Texas on April 24, 2004

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