As someone who has wrestled with the soteriological issues between the free will and deterministic debate and as a student at the undergraduate level, I would like to humbly provide my own conclusions to this matter. I was always someone who leaned Calvinistic in theology but never truly gave in to the entirety of the system. But one thing I do recognize is this… philosophically if mankind truly does have libertarian free will, that does not make him the master of his own salvation. Repentance does not necessitate God’s forgiveness. So simply put… if a man is to repent this is not him saving himself. The Lord of our salvation is still God and He still has to determine to show His grace and mercy or not.
I personally have never met one person who would make such a claim, whether they hold to Arminianism, Calvinism, some kind of mix of the two and so on… What is clear throughout the text of the Bible is this, “Salvation belongs to the LORD” and it is re-stated several times through the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.
Psalm 37:39, Psalm 51 (In its entirety!), Psalm 62:7, Isaiah 43:11, Isaiah 45:21, Jonah 2:9, Revelation 7:10, Revelation 19:1
All of these verses barely scrape the surface of how clearly the Bible teaches that Salvation does not rely upon the hands of men but upon the hands of God; any person with a basic understanding of the gospel message must see that.
Freewill Means I Save Myself?
Firstly, what is the clearest definition of “free will”? According to the Oxford dictionary, “the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one’s own discretion.” In other words, it means that a person has the ability to make real, true, and genuine decisions in of themselves. So, if I go to an ice cream shop and look at all the flavors set before me, I can reason and decide by myself which flavor I want (I’m partial to vanilla personally).
Now, how does my ability to make a genuine decision take salvation out of God’s hands and place it on my own? For that to be true, it would mean that God must answer to whatever my demands for Him are, and that is fundamentally disproven with a clear reading of the Bible. Now I’ll continue my analogy to help show how I believe our free will and God’s sovereign will can operate side by side. So, as previously stated I enjoy vanilla ice cream most so I decided to ask the clerk for one scoop of vanilla. The clerk then is faced with his own free will decision, he can either give me the ice cream I ask for, give me a different flavor, or tell me to leave, and so on… there is so much that clerk could do if he simply decided to. So, how does this relate to our relationship with God?
God Must Forgive?
30 “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. 31 Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? 32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.”
This passage clearly lays out what God’s desire is when it comes to mankind and repentance. If He desires to forgive those who humble themselves, repent of their sins, and place their faith and trust in Him alone, isn’t He naturally going to do what He desires and chooses to do? A man’s action of repentance does not require God to forgive and bring salvation by any means! What it does mean, is that God will act how He sees fit. Let’s go back to the ice cream shop analogy… if the ice cream clerk wants to give me vanilla-flavored ice cream, then he will do just that. But if maybe he thinks I’m a jerk or something along those lines, then maybe he’ll throw me out. The choice is still up to him, according to his own free will!
While I acknowledge that this analogy is not perfect (what analogy really is when trying to explain God?), I believe that it does explain how just because I believe mankind has free will, it does not mean that I believe that my salvation relies on my own hands.
So if mankind does, in fact, have true free will to choose to come near to the things of God or reject them. If they choose to come near to Him that in no way requires a positive answer from God, but since He is of good character, He will always forgive and save those who repent. Therefore, all of salvation is still in God’s hands… not the hands of man.