A common objection to Reformed and Calvinist theology is that it is fatalist, doesn’t allow for man to have free will. If God predestines man “before the foundation of the world” to salvation or damnation (e.g. Ephesians 1:4), then how can man have free will?
A good question. Calvin’s answer is somewhat counter intuitive. Man is not free when they are in sin. They are slaves to sin (2 Peter 2:19, John 8:34). Or, as Luther would say, sinful man’s will is in bondage. Calvin says that “without the Spirit man’s will is not free, since it has been laid under by shackling and conquering desires.” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.2.8) Calvin likewise affirms that only the regenerate man is truly free. Regeneration by the Holy Spirit makes man free, as his will is no longer in bondage and slavery to sin.
The glorious truth of the gospel is, at least in part, that God predestines us to be truly free. We have tangled ourselves in unrighteousness, and we cannot begin to get ourselves out of it. God, in his great grace and love, frees us from this bondage. He has mercy upon us in our disgusting mess; our horrible rebellion, and our deliberate decision to be enslaved. He looks upon us with pity, and he “frees us from [our] natural bondage to sin, and by his grace alone he enables [us] to freely will and to do what is spiritually good.” (London Baptist Confession, 9.4)
Praise God for his abundant mercy, and the true freedom we find in Christ!
Picture credit: some rights reserved by Josef Grunig