Human Free Will and the Problem of Evil

One of the garden variety objections usually thrown out by atheists and skeptics – especially after a tragic event – is: “Why can’t God just instantly fix all the injustices, wickedness and outrages in the world? If God is so good why is this world so messed up?”

Notice, these folks imagine God to be like a wishing well. Just toss a coin in and your dreams come true. This is not how God works and such a narrow concept of God evinces ignorance. God will still fix these evils at the end of the age – in His own time – not ours.

Many of the atrocities, disorder and outrages in the world stem from man’s free will and humans, to an extent, can “fix” some of these problems. The question is, why do we always blame God for what we entirely caused? This blame-shifting mentality is as old as Eden. Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent, but the serpent had no one to blame.

God cannot instantly “fix” the mess in the world because to do so will override human free will. Now what does free will means? It’s the ability of mankind to make willing choices that have real effects.

It is the ability to choose between different possible courses of action unimpeded; it’s the power to make decisions. I’ve had some dear Christians say rather brazenly, “There’s no such thing as ‘free will’ in the Bible.” They are either repeating someone’s line or their adherence to a theological system precludes them from seeing it.

The term “free-will” appears several times in the Bible. It occurs as “freewill offerings” (Ex. 36:3; Lev. 7:16; Amos 4:5), “freewill offering to the LORD” (Ezk. 46:12) and offerings from “everyone who is willing” and “each man whose hearts prompts him to give” (Ex. 35:5; 25:2). If the concept is an illusion, it wouldn’t have been alluded to.

The heart is the seat of the will and emotions. Free will is very essential to man’s relationship with God. He calls us to love, obey, serve, worship and to do so by choice. Without free will, it will be impossible for us to love or hate, choose or reject, submit or rebel. For example:

Loving God
Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:5)

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30)

Love can only come willingly; you can’t compel someone to love you. God in His love gave us the freedom to serve and love Him with the whole of our hearts. This command is meaningless if we don’t have the power of choice.

Be sure to fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you” (1 Sam. 12:24)

David admonished Solomon “acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts” (1 Chr. 28:9)

Joshua said “then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites…” (Jos. 24:15)

If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (Jn. 7:17)

But you are not willing to come to me to have life” (Jn. 5:40)

If people are not willing to come to God or Christ, then there must be a choice to be willing. In fact, God’s warnings and ultimate judgement are meaningless (if not mockeries) if humans lack a free will.

I have seen this time and again when people trapped in false religions willingly seal their hearts to the Christian Faith and this prevents them from learning anything. The Bible warns: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart” (Heb. 4:7)

If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good of the land.” (Is. 1:19)

If my people would but listen to me, if Israel would follow my ways, how quickly would I subdue their enemies and turn my heart against their foes!” (Ps. 81:13-14)

Coming to God
Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live” (Isa. 55:3)

Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28)

The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (Rev. 22:17).

Seeking God
I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me” (Prov. 8:17)

Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts” (Isa. 55:6-7)

Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (Jas. 4:8).

Praying for God’s will on earth

Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10)

This shows that not everything that happens on earth is God’s will, otherwise there would have been no use for this prayer. To assert that everything that happens is according to God’s will and man has no power to decide logically implies that the rapes, murders, wars and evil in the world today are God’s handiwork. That’s theologically abhorrent.

Rejecting His ways
“I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me” (Isa. 1:2)

I am bringing disaster on this people, the fruit of their schemes, because they have not listened to my words and have rejected my law” (Jer. 6:19)

But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves…” (Luke 7:30)

Ezra said “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him” (8:22)

Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water” (Jer. 17:13b)

They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor…” (2 Pet. 2:15).

A major objection raised to the reality of the free will is that God foreknows and wills all things, otherwise we can’t believe, trust and rely on His promises. This was an argument raised by Martin Luther in The Bondage of the Will. But this is faulty on 3 counts:

1. Scripture doesn’t imply that God knows all things beforehand because He has caused it, much less that He must cause it in order to know it. Granted, God knows everything that will happen before it happens. That’s why the Bible is full of prophecies. But foreknowledge is not the same as predestination.

To know something in advance is not the same as predetermining that it will happen. God doesn’t need to predestinate something in order to know it will happen. For example, in Job’s case, God knew he would be would stand the trials, but God wasn’t the author of his troubles.

2. We can believe, trust and rely on God’s promises because He is God and “it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18). He doesn’t have to will all things for Him to make or keep His promises. We can trust Him because He is faithful and sovereign, and He will fulfil His Word regardless of the will or actions of man or nature.

3. It’s unbiblical and fallacious to assert that God’s foreknowledge eliminates human free will. God being Sovereign can effect His eternal purposes unhindered and yet allows man freedom of choice. Both man’s free will and God’s Sovereignty are presented in Scripture (cf. Ps. 75:6-7; Jer 10:23; Rom. 8:28 etc). To deny either is to espouse a heresy.

Many Calvinists and Lutherans will perhaps find this indigestible, but we don’t accept something just because someone influential said it. We need to examine the Bible for ourselves in arriving at truth. Even Augustine of Hippo, whom Calvin and Luther fondly admired wrote:

“Therefore we are by no means compelled, either, retaining the prescience of God to take away the freedom of the will, or, retaining the freedom of the will, to deny that He is prescient of future things, which is impious. But we … faithfully and sincerely confess both” (The City of God, V. 10. 1977, 35).

Conclusively, the evils we see in the world today are results of people who have rejected God and His Word and chose to serve Satan and sin. Therefore, they have no moral anchor, no empathy, no reason, no hope, no direction, no shame, no conscience, no understanding of right and wrong and most of all, no willingness to even listen to any other view except their own.



Is Water Baptism necessary for Salvation?

There are differing views held about water baptism by different denominations. Some churches baptize by immersion, others by pouring and sprinkling. Some teach that only believers should be baptized while others say babies should be included. I am particularly interested in addressing two views: one, infant baptism and two, the teaching that water baptism is essential to salvation – that it actually washes away sin or contributes to regeneration (baptismal regeneration).

Christian baptism had its origin in the command of Christ to make disciples and baptize them (Matt. 28:19). In the origination of this ordinance there is a particular order established. The first act was to make disciples, then those disciples were to be baptized. This is the pattern that is carried out in the book of Acts:

“Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (Acts 2:41). Only those who heard the gospel, understood it, and responded to it through faith and repentance were baptized. This eliminates infants who can neither believe in Christ nor repent.

Those who responded to Philip’s message first believed, then were baptized (Acts 8:12), similarly with the Ethiopian (Acts 8:38), with Paul (Acts 9:18), the Caeserean Gentiles (Acts 10:48), Lydia (Acts 16:14-15), the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:32-33), and Crispus (Acts 18:8). All of these references indicate that baptism follows belief; repentance and faith precede the ordinance of baptism. [1] From these, it can be inferred that infant baptism is a heresy; one that prevents many from actually receiving Christ to be saved.

In Romans 3-5, Paul convincingly established the truth that salvation is by grace through faith. After indicating the depth of human sinfulness and emphasizing the failure of the law to bring salvation, he made it clear that the only way a holy God declares sinners righteous is through their faith in Christ, the perfect sacrifice for sin . To demonstrate that human works have nothing to do with salvation, Paul pointed out that Abraham was justified before he was circumcised (see 4:1-12).

He said in Romans 5:1 “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” He then drew an analogy between the first Adam, who brought condemnation and death by his one act of disobedience, and Jesus Christ, the last Adam, who provided justification and life for all through His one act of obedience.

Romans 6:2b “How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” When a person receives the Lord Jesus as his Saviour, he dies to the domination of sin. Yes, in Christ believers have died to sin, and this is the truth signified in baptism.

By going down into the waters of baptism, we who have placed our trust in Christ testify that through our union with Him we have been buried with Him in His death. Having died to sin, we are no longer under its condemnation or bondage. Then, our emergence from the waters of baptism signifies that through our union with the living Lord we have been raised from death with Him.

“Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4).

Water baptism therefore, symbolically speaks of our identification with Christ. It’s the new believer’s first step of obedience and public testimony of a new life of peace with God. Rom. 6:3 says “Do you not know that as many of us were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?”

When Paul made reference to believers being “baptized into Christ Jesus,” he used an expression that’s identical in construction to a statement in 1 Corinthians 10:2, where he said that the Israelites were “baptized into Moses.” The Israelites, having already chosen to follow Moses out of Egypt, were openly identified with him when they passed through the Red Sea. In like manner, we become followers of the Lord Jesus the moment we place our trust in Him. And in our baptism “into Christ Jesus,” we openly identify with Him as our leader and guide. [2]

Bible scholar F. F. Bruce has this to say about the statement “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” in Ephesians 4:5:
“Baptism in water continued to be the outward visible sign by which individuals who believed the gospel … were publicly incorporated into this spirit-baptized fellowship – “baptized into Christ” (Gal. 3:27). It must be remembered that in New Testament times repentance and faith, regeneration and conversion, baptism in water, reception of the Holy Spirit, … admission to church fellowship…were all part of a complex of events which took place within a short time … Logically they were distinguishable, but in practice they were all bound up with the transition from the old life to the new.” [3]

Baptismal Regeneration “Proof texts”?

a) Mark 16:16 “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned”

This verse does not say that baptism saves or is essential to salvation. It’s those that don’t believe that will be condemned, not those who aren’t baptized. Jesus never baptized anyone. If baptism contributes to salvation, then Jesus is not a Saviour, let alone of the world. The Bible is clear that salvation comes by believing the Gospel. “God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:21; see also, Jn. 3:16, 18, 36, Rom 1:16, 4:24).

Paul in fact, distinguished between baptism and the gospel: “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel-not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Cor. 1:17). He admits he baptized only very few Corinthians, yet he said “for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel” (1 Cor. 4:15). These refute the idea that baptism is essential to salvation.

b) Acts 2:38 “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

In this verse Peter was addressing a Jewish audience – the same people who not only cried out for the public execution of Christ but also declared, “His blood be on us and our children” (Mt. 27:25). Peter wasn’t suggesting that baptism is necessary for the forgiveness of sins, rather, he was calling for members of that generation which was guilty of having crucified Christ to separate themselves from a generation under the wrath of God. That separation was to be publicly signified through baptism – a figure of Old Testament ceremonial washing. It signified that the people had received forgiveness of sin.

Greek scholar, A. T. Robertson has pointed out that the Greek preposition eis, translated “for” in the phrase “for the remission of sins,” may also mean because of. An example of this can be found in Luke 11:32, where the text says that the people of Nineveh “repented at the preaching of Jonah.” The word at is a translation of the same Greek word eis found in Acts 2:38. The people in Jonah’s day didn’t repent for his preaching but because of it.

Some Greek scholars also state that the word eis translated “for” in Acts 2:38 may also mean, “with a view toward.” According to that possible meaning, the people to whom Peter was preaching to were to repent and be baptized with a view toward the forgiveness of their sins. Acts 2:38 does not teach that baptism brings remission of sins. It must also be pointed out that when Cornelius and his household became saved and were filled with the Holy Spirit before they were baptized in water (Acts 10:44-48). [4]

c) Acts 22:16 “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling upon the name of the Lord

The earlier explanation applies here. Ananias was speaking to the recently converted Saul of Tarsus. In trying to understand the meaning of what he said, we must follow this basic rule of Bible study: Interpret every verse in the light of the clear teaching set forth in Scripture.

Since the truth of justification by faith is declared plainly in the Bible, we know that Saul was forgiven and saved the very moment he met Christ on the Damascus road and believed on Him. The baptism couldn’t be to remit his sins any more than in the case of Christ (Mt. 3:16), the eunuch (Acts 8:37) or anyone else (1Cor. 1:13-24).

d) 1 Peter 3:20-21 “Who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved by water. There is also an antitype which now saves us – baptism (not the removal of filth of the flesh but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ

Peter wasn’t saying baptism has any saving power. The waters of the flood point to judgement (in that they resulted from the sins of the world) and salvation (in that they offered a means of deliverance through the ark). In much the same way, the water of baptism symbolises both the judgement resulting from sin, and the cleansing and forgiveness which result only from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. [4]

In other words, as Noah and his family in the ark were “saved” by the very same waters that judged the rest of the world, so also the waters of God’s judgement poured out on Christ at Calvary for the sins of the world became the means whereby all who are in the ark of safety, the Lord Jesus Christ, are saved.

Notice again that Peter specifically says baptism doesn’t remove the filth of the flesh but is the answer of a good conscience toward God. There is an inward spiritual cleansing that is experienced by only those who have received Christ’s forgiveness. Baptism itself doesn’t remove sin; it’s simply a symbolic testimony of an inner cleansing that has already occurred.

If salvation is by faith in Christ alone, then to add baptism as a condition for salvation is to reject the true gospel and thus to be eternally lost. To teach baptismal regeneration is to teach a false gospel that cannot save.


[1] Paul Enns, the Moody Handbook of Theology, Moody Press, Chicago, 2008, 374

[2] Richard De Haan, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, 1994, Radio Bible Class, 6-8.

[3] Epistle to the Ephesians, 1961, 70.

[4] Alister McGrath, NIV Bible Commentary, Hodder & Stroughton, London, 1996, 381.