The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Universalism + Free Will = One Very Strange Bird

I have written a defense of the victorious gospel at
I have answered objections here
Here is a reprint of one of my answers for further feedback, … range-bird

The feedback I have received for my Optimism Out of Control thesis, even from objectors, has been extremely valuable. The hard questions of others have driven me to prayer for God’s leading and to God’s word for confirmation of the good news that truly, Jesus Christ is your savior, my savior, and the savior of all mankind.

THE MOST CURIOUS OBJECTION>> However, of all the objections received the most curious is from those who also claim that all mankind is finally saved, yet who hold to man’s free will, while objecting that God willed the salvation of all mankind by his gracious sovereign choice.

ME>> Wow! I just do not get that. The great confidence that we believers have that Christ will be finally victorious in the salvation of all mankind is ROOTED in the fact that the Godhead willed it to be, in spite of our rebellion! We can have great confidence that Jesus Christ is your savior, my savior, and the savior of all mankind because GOD HAS WILLED IT TO BE! GOD’S WILL IS THE GUARANTEE THAT IT WILL HAPPEN!

I am happy to receive this good news as well as happy to part ways with traditions that place the security of salvation in the hands of human decision. There is no security in taking anything from God and putting it in the hand of man. This is the difference between mere pew sitting religion and true relationship with Christ.

Unfortunately, however, brokenness has followed us even into the fellowship of those concluding that Christ does in fact love all. As already mentioned, parting ways with tradition will likely land you in a miscellaneous bucket with some very unBiblical ideas. For example, I’ve encountered some holding to reincarnation as an alternative to Hades. How is this different that Hinduism which also believes Jesus is God and all will be saved? Yet Hebrews 9:27 says otherwise. I’ve encountered others who place more weight on human presupposition and tradition than the exegesis of Scripture. How is this different than any man-made religion? Jesus spoke directly about this in Mark 7:13. However, the most curious combination of all is to claim that all mankind will be finally saved… because of the free will of man! Universalism plus the free will of man has got to be the strangest bird of all time.

Imagine a father with ten unruly children. Not one of the children wants to go to bed, yet the father has determined that it is bed time. So the father begins his work to round up the rowdy bunch. One is turned with a simple plea while another with persuasion. A third heads upstairs with a warning and yet another with a threat. Several more hold out and receive spankings and discipline of various sorts. One refuses to sleep even when forcibly placed in bed. The point is that without the father’s intervention, no one wanted to go to bed. However, with degrees of intervention each eventually found themselves in bed.

Alternatively, you could imagine a dad who sounded the bed time bell and all ten children neatly put themselves to bed while dad watched TV… in your dreams!

The cross shows us in no uncertain terms that the unregenerate heart of mankind has no love for God. We are unruly children with no desire to rest in bed or obey our Father. No one who is unchanged WILL love God because we CANNOT love God without a changed heart. A change is needed in our hearts that ONLY GOD can affect that enables us to begin to love the Lord. Furthermore, God has intended this by design so that he alone is praised as the savior of each individual and all mankind.

Perhaps Acts 4:27-28 (WEB) will help us, “27) For truly, in this city against your holy servant, Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together 28) to do whatever your hand and your council foreordained to happen.”

So yes we make decisions. You or I may decide to go left or to go right. However, just because we make decisions does not mean that our will is free! Instead our will is limited to decisions that result from our nature. A bear is a bear by nature and so behaves like a bear. Likewise an unregenerate sinner is a God hater by nature and so even though filled with worlds of religion still hates God. So in the case of Acts 4:27-28, all mankind, including ourselves by association, crucified the Lord Jesus Christ because we hate God by our nature. Our will was not free to Love God, but instead our unregenerate nature was exposed as hating God… to the death.

Furthermore, we also see that behind our will and decision to kill Christ was another more foundational will. God himself foreordained the crucifixion of Christ. God himself willed these terrible events! Why would the good God do so a thing? God purposed to expose our heart of sin for what it actually is, emnity toward God. He needed to do this so he could then conqueror our hatred of him and heal us with his overwhelming love and grace.

Rejoice that God has willed and accomplished our salvation!

Hi Jeff,

Well, I hold to that “most curious” view. If God sovereignly causes the salvation of all with no ability to choose on our part, then we are but a race of robots or a collection of marionettes that God manipulates by pulling the strings.

But if God does all that is possible to induce every person to willingly entrust himself to Him, then sooner or later every individual will do so. God never gives up on anyone until he becomes what God intended him to become. It seems improbable that everyone will do so, but given enough time and influence from God, everyone will.

It is also improbable that if you toss a hundred dice, everyone of them will turn up sixes. Improbable but not impossible. The probability is but one out of 6 exponent 100. But if the dice are tossed enough times the event of all turning up sixes is not only a possibility, but a certainty.

Or if that illustration does not compute consider God as quarterback throwing the football toward righteousness. However, Satan calls the next play, tempting Adam and Eve to intercept the football with the plan to run the ball toward the opposite goal… to be God themselves. Of course the whole game is all God’s sovereign plan so that He can send the Holy Spirit to tackle the rebel runners and recruit us to his own team. The point is that until the Holy Spirit tackles our deceived and unchanged hearts we continue to run fullspeed away from God in the effort to be our own God.

The point is that until the Holy Spirit tackles our deceived and unchanged hearts we continue to run fullspeed away from God in the effort to be our own God.

I think it’s clear God encourages to make good choices throughout the bible so if this is how free will is defined then we do have free will. But really our free will is vastly overestimated as all one has to do is look at Paul on the road to Damascus. It took how long to change his entire paradigm? About 30 seconds?

steve7150 maybe you highlight the reason for the confusion. Human beings are certainly not robots and freely make decisions and are accountable to God for our decisions. Martin Luther’s treatise, Bondage of the Will, however, highlights that our ‘free’ decisions are limited to our first born nature. The unregenerate sinner cannot respond with love toward God because it is not within the capabilities of our nature to do so. Rather our first born nature only knows about love for self. Without God we are 6’ ladder that cannot reach God nor do we have the desire to do so. Instead we use our 6’ ladders to build our own kingdoms. Jesus speaks about being ‘free indeed’ and he is talking about the soul that He has freed from their first born nature to have a new nature that can and does reciprocate love for God. However, all this is simply talking about our ability to reciprocate love for God.

The most amazing thing about God’s love for us is that our will was not even involved at all in predestinating or justifying grace. The guarantee of mankind’s salvation happened at the cross completely apart from our will. Obviously our will is involved in receiving God’s love, once we are freed to do so, however, the promise and guarantee of God’s love for us happened BEFORE we were even willing, actually before we were even born!

God truly is a perfect Heavenly Father in the expression of his love for us, because his love for us is unconditional.

The unregenerate sinner cannot respond with love toward God because it is not within the capabilities of our nature to do

Then why did John the Baptist encourage all those unregenerate sinners to repent before Jesus or the Holy Spirit arrived?

Excellent question. 2 Corinthians 5:11-21 has the answer to that, particularly verse 20, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” John the Baptist preached his heart out, but it was God working through him. Hopefully the same is true for us. The Holy Spirit was still present and changed hearts in the Old Covenant, though indwelling since the New Covenant.

These reason this understanding is important is that that we must submit to working with God rather than thinking that all these things are simply happening in the natural dimension. Laboring in the natural dimension will only produce natural results, but laboring with the supernatural will produce supernatural results. If I think I can persuade another without prayerfully appealing to God for the heart change that only he can provide, then pity my victim. I am likely to badger them with reason instead of praying that God would give grace. Love will be lost. Also by submitting to working with God I am his partner in the work, versus thinking that I am personally trying to save others from God’s wrath, a fool’s errand. Finally this understanding is essential so that worship goes to God alone for his grace given to all, rather than praising human will and decision.

Good points. I read a book on how to ‘witness’ for Christ - I was a lot younger, but still it dawned on me that the book was all about technique. “Sit the sinner down across from you” “Make sure the sinner knows you are serious” etc etc - and I am not making up the use of ‘the sinner’ - that is the term the book used almost exclusively to name and classify the real, flesh and blood person in front of you.

I almost quit reading the book, when a sentence caught my eye: “Most important of all is conviction”
I thought: Yes!! The convincing power of the Holy Spirit is the necessity.

BUT - to my chagrin, the book went on to say the it is the witness that must be convinced of the truth of what he is sharing - there was no mention of the HS convicting the ‘sinner’s’ heart and bearing witness to the truth.
The Illusion of Technique -

which is also the title of a good philosophy book :

Can the unregenerate sinner express love toward his fellow man? Many claim that he can’t, but yet we often see such people expressing love and concern for others. Some “regenerate” persons claim that the unregenerate are doing it from self-serving motives, such as gaining recognition and admiration from others, etc. But how can this be the case with an unregenerate person who has sacrificed his own life in order to save that of another? In what way could that possibly benefit him? Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lays down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

So if it is within the capabilities of the nature of an unregenerate person to exercise a great love toward one of his fellows, indeed such love that there is none greater, then why wouldn’t he be capable of responding with love toward God?

Yes another good question.

You say that a non-Christian can love their fellowman and that this is proof that he can also love God by his first born nature. You also point out that others have said that this appearance of love is still rooted in selfishness. Yet, consider the millions of non-Christians that have died in battle to protect their countryman as an example of dying for another! Yet how can we determine exactly what is going on behind and below the appearances? What is the motivation for this sacrifice?

As for my own heart I can confess my own experience was that God’s touch of grace was the beginning of transformation. However, the best measure of man’s motive is not even our testimony but the Scriptures themselves. So what do the Scriptures say about man’s heart?

Now you ask me, “why wouldn’t he be capable of responding with love toward God?”

I never said that sinners aren’t not capable of responding to God. I said unregenerate sinners cannot return love for God until God changes our hearts. Since we are the clay we do respond to every touch of the Savior. So Christ has proved his love at the cross for all. That love is already given completely apart from all of our willing. However, according to his own pleasure he touches each individual’s heart at the time of his choosing, leading us, making us willing to trust and obey out of gratitude as sons and daughters.

I believe man does have free will. John 5:26 “For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself.”

Jeff, At some point children grow up, and we must give them authority over their own lives. We may have taught them, “Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”, but when they spread their own wings and fly, they go to bed whenever they choose.

Yes, for sure my ‘going to bed’ metaphor is weak for the point we are making. I easily admit that.

The Scriptures however have no weakness. John 5:16-47 is a most important passage and quite offensive to the religious Jews. The Jews thought they possessed spiritual life, but Jesus confronted their unbelief. They were simply religious, but did not possess the real deal. John 5:26 actually proves my point because this verse says that life is in God the Father and in God the Son. A few verses earlier in verse 21 Jesus explains that he is the one who gives life to anyone he chooses. The point is that unless Christ has given us life we are spiritually dead and unresponsive to the things of God (though still loved, for God has chosen to love even his enemies, the spiritually dead).

A dead person’s will is not free to do anything.

If you claim to have life in Christ why not be thankful and praise God that he gave you spiritual life?

The early Christians believed that people have free will (“dead” or “not dead”).

100-165 AD : Justin Martyr
“We have learned from the prophets, and we hold it to be true, that punishments, chastisements, and rewards are rendered according to the merit of each man’s actions. Otherwise, if all things happen by fate, then nothing is in our own power. For if it be predestinated that one man be good and another man evil, then the first is not deserving of praise or the other to be blamed. Unless humans have the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions—whatever they may be.” (First Apology ch.43 )

**130-200 AD : Irenaeus **
“This expression, ‘How often would I have gathered thy children together, and thou wouldst not,’ set forth the ancient law of human liberty, because God made man a free (agent) from the beginning, possessing his own soul to obey the behests of God voluntarily, and not by compulsion of God…And in man as well as in angels, He has placed the power of choice…If then it were not in our power to do or not to do these things, what reason had the apostle, and much more the Lord Himself, to give us counsel to do some things and to abstain from others?” (Against Heresies XXXVII )
[About the year 180, Florinus had affirmed that God is the author of sin, which notion was immediately attacked by Irenaeus, who published a discourse entitled: “God, not the Author of Sin.” Florinus’ doctrine reappeared in another form later in Manichaeism, and was always considered to be a dangerous heresy by the early fathers of the church.]

150-190 AD : Athenagoras
“men…have freedom of choice as to both virtue and vice (for you would not either honor the good or punish the bad; unless vice and virtue were in their own power, and some are diligent in the matters entrusted to them, and others faithless)…”(Embassy for Christians XXIV )

150-200 AD : Clement of Alexandria
“Neither praise nor condemnation, neither rewards nor punishments, are right if the soul does not have the power of choice and avoidance, if evil is involuntary.” (Miscellanies, book 1, ch.17)

154-222 AD : Bardaisan of Syria
“How is it that God did not so make us that we should not sin and incur condemnation? —if man had been made so, he would not have belonged to himself but would have been the instrument of him that moved him…And how in that case, would man differ from a harp, on which another plays; or from a ship, which another guides: where the praise and the blame reside in the hand of the performer or the steersman…they being only instruments made for the use of him in whom is the skill? But God, in His benignity, chose not so to make man; but by freedom He exalted him above many of His creatures.” (Fragments )

**155-225 AD : Tertullian **
“I find, then, that man was by God constituted free, master of his own will and power; indicating the presence of God’s image and likeness in him by nothing so well as by this constitution of his nature.” (Against Marcion, Book II ch.5 )

185-254 AD : Origen
“This also is clearly defined in the teaching of the church that every rational soul is possessed of free-will and volition.” (De Principiis, Preface )

185-254 AD : Origen
“There are, indeed, innumerable passages in the Scriptures which establish with exceeding clearness the existence of freedom of will.” (De Principiis, Book 3, ch.1 )

**250-300 AD : Archelaus **
“There can be no doubt that every individual, in using his own proper power of will, may shape his course in whatever direction he chooses.” (Disputation with Manes, secs.32,33 )

260-315 AD : Methodius
“Those [pagans] who decide that man does not have free will, but say that he is governed by the unavoidable necessities of fate, are guilty of impiety toward God Himself, making Him out to be the cause and author of human evils.” (The Banquet of the Ten Virgins, discourse 8, chapter 16 )

312-386 AD : Cyril of Jerusalem
“The soul is self-governed: and though the Devil can suggest, he has not the power to compel against the will. He pictures to thee the thought of fornication: if thou wilt, thou rejectest. For if thou wert a fornicator by necessity then for what cause did God prepare hell? If thou wert a doer of righteousness by nature and not by will, wherefore did God prepare crowns of ineffable glory? The sheep is gentle, but never was it crowned for its gentleness; since its gentle quality belongs to it not from choice but by nature.” (Lecture IV 18 )

**347-407 AD : John Chrysostom **
“All is in God’s power, but so that our free-will is not lost…it depends therefore on us and on Him. We must first choose the good, and then He adds what belongs to Him. He does not precede our willing, that our free-will may not suffer. But when we have chosen, then He affords us much help…It is ours to choose beforehand and to will, but God’s to perfect and bring to the end.” (On Hebrews, Homily 12 )

120-180 AD: Tatian
“We were not created to die. Rather, we die by our own fault. Our free will has destroyed us. We who were free have become slaves. We have been sold through sin. Nothing evil has been created by God. We ourselves have manifested wickedness. But we, who have manifested it, are able again to reject it.” (Address to the Greeks, 11)

(died 180 AD):Melito
“There is, therefore, nothing to hinder you from changing your evil manner to life, because you are a free man.” (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 8, page 754)

**163-182 AD:Theophilus **
“If, on the other hand, he would turn to the things of death, disobeying God, he would himself be the cause of death to himself. For God made man free, and with power of himself.” (Theophilus to Autolycus, Book 2, Chapter 27)

130-200 AD:Irenaeus
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good deeds’…And ‘Why call me, Lord, Lord, and do not do the things that I say?’…All such passages demonstrate the independent will of man…For it is in man’s power to disobey God and to forfeit what is good.” (Against Heresies, Book 4, Chapter 37)

150-200 AD:Clement of Alexandria
“We…have believed and are saved by voluntary choice.” (The Instructor, Book 1, Chapter 6)

155-225: Tertullian
“I find, then, that man was constituted free by God. He was master of his own will and power…For a law would not be imposed upon one who did not have it in his power to render that obedience which is due to law. Nor again, would the penalty of death be threatened against sin, if a contempt of the law were impossible to man in the liberty of his will…Man is free, with a will either for obedience or resistance. (Against Marcion, Book 2, Chapter 5)

The question of free will is necessarily dependent on one’s view of total depravity - that is, the extent of the Fall. Your view of the Fall decides everything that follows in your theology, if you are a systematic theologian.

Is the will depraved? Or did it survive the Fall intact? How you answer those decides to a great extent what your soteriology looks like.

Just sayin’ - when we discuss free will, it is never in a vacuum, it is always part of a larger Story.

Is the will depraved? Or did it survive the Fall intact? How you answer those decides to a great extent what your soteriology looks like.

Just sayin’ - when we discuss free will, it is never in a vacuum, it is always part of a larger Story.

If there was even an actual fall at all or was it that Adam and Eve were just like us. Not perfect, not depraved but like us with good and evil already in us. Adam and Eve found out how to identify good and evil by doing what God knew they would do.

You may be right, Steve. Certainly in the Eden story there was a disobedience that led to bad consequences, but I’m not sure if that teaching was meant to control the entire rest of salvation history.

If God knew that they were going to eat from the tree, then they could not have refrained from eating from the tree, and THAT implies that they did not have free will.

I’m not sure that the fact of God knowing our hearts completely has any effect on our freedom to choose. He did know A/E hearts, how they thought, felt, reasoned about things - there was/is nothing hidden to God (I think that’s true)- so in a sense, A/E (like us) were subject to their own character; and understanding that character fully, God could know what choice they would make freely.
Opens a can of worms, again…

Quoting men for or against free will has some value, but of greater value is quoting the Scripture. John 5 was quoted above in the effort to defend man’s ability to freely choose God unassisted by grace, when actually John 5 teaches the opposite. I would gladly believe in the free will in man, in fact I would like to believe it, but could some one please even quote one simple Scripture? I have quoted other Scriptures that do teach the necessity of the Holy Spirit in conversion. But where is the Scripture that teaches that we even have a remote desire to turn to God without God first changing our heart? I have asked this question in this forum before but no Scripture has yet been quoted to defend the theory of man’s free will.

I believe we can make choices, and I agree, that if we can make no choices, then we are slaves/robots, and not God’s children.

I do realize that our choices are limited by circumstances, the knowledge we possess, and so on. There are many things in our life that we don’t choose, as well. And, I do believe we were made with a yearning for God, as He made us in His image and likeness, but we also have the ability to say no, as did Adam and Eve, and the yearning to take our life into our own hands and not include God in our plan, many times, as well.

And, I do believe that we can make the choice to turn from God on our own, but to chose God, the Holy Spirit needs to guide us.

Also, God is continually seeking out, calling each of us, just like the lost sheep, and loves us, with an unquenchable love.

I believe God knew the choices we would make, through eternity, and that the fact that He knew what we would do, did not effect our ability to choose.

Perhaps this is an answer to your question,

…19’Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. 20**'Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. 21’He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.…
** Revelation 3

What is that moment, when unbelief transforms into faith? What is the formula? I don’t know, and I don’t think it has been given to us to know. One day, we will understand that.

I always believed that God wanted all to be saved. I used to believe that we chose not to be saved, and not that God sent us to hell, but allowed us to choose hell. The difference as a Christian UR is that now I not only believe God wanted us to all go to heaven, but that we will all go to heaven. His love will find us, and we will each, in our own time, be saved.

Until then, I thank Jesus for being my Salvation. We are mightily blessed, for that gift, as well as the gift of faith and trust, and I am in awe of our Almighty God. :smiley: