- The thoughts of a 21st century Remonstrant

Thursday, 21 May 2009

1 Cor 10:13 - Free because God is Sovereign

1 Cor 10:13 (ESV) says: "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it."

While not all Calvinists adhere to exhaustive determinism, I think it is worth while to see if exhaustive determinism is biblical. I believe this verse shows us that we are free (in the non-Calvinist sense of the word) to choose not to sin.

Determinists often like to claim that humans will always "choose" whatever we most desire, and that desire is a result of our nature and our environment at that point in time. So then what does it mean to be tempted? Temptation is the influence that causes us to desire sin. Now logically, according to the determinist, when we sin, it is because our desire to sin is greater than our desire not to sin. In other words, we sin when the temptation becomes too great for out nature to deal with.

But what does the above verse say with regards to temptation? "God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability..."
God will never let us be tempted beyond our ability. In other words, it's always possible to resist the temptation. So the times we have sinned - it was possible for us to choose not to sin. But according to the determinist, it is only possible to "choose" what we have been determined to choose. And there lies the determinist's inconsistency.

And there lies one of the strengths of the Arminian position. If God doesn't determine us to sin, and we have the freedom not to sin, then the blame for sin can only lie with us. We are responsible for our own sins, and God is not the author of sin. God didn't decree for us to sin, just as it is evident he didn't decree the sins in Jer 19:5.

But why is it that we have this freedom not to sin? Is it because God is powerless and must let us have this freedom? Of course not! It is in His Sovereignty that God grants us this freedom. "...but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it." It is by God's graciousness that we are able to not sin. But at the same time we know we still choose to sin. God doesn't force us to not sin, - as we know we still sin, - this is His permissive will. As in God's grace He has granted us the ability to not sin, I also believe He has done so in regards to our ability to repent and believe, - but that is a post for another day.

Daniel Nebauer


  1. Hey Dan, a point of clarification. Does this apply to both believers and unbelievers, that is do people who aren't Christians have the same sort of freedom.


    Alex Zunica

  2. It seems that this specific verse is referring to believers, but that isn't to say that God hasn't granted the same grace to unbelievers (just not derived from this verse).

    In my opinion, I think God has granted this to unbelievers, because I don't believe God to be the author of sin (though he does use the sin of men for good purposes.)

    Regardless, the argument against exhaustive determinism still stands if this only applies to believers (as believers still sin when we could choose otherwise).


    Dan N

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Hey Dan,

    If you are to say that God has granted unbelievers the power not to sin, you'd have to explain passages like Romans 6:1-14:

    Romans 6:6-14 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 ¶ Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

    Paul's exhortation to believers not to sin is based in the fact that they are no longers 'slaves' to sin, as they were before they were In Christ. Thus the implication is that unbelievers are still very much under the power of sin (ie controlled by the sinful nature) because they do not have the Spirit.

    Also, I am not sure of how much value it is knocking down the arguments of exhaustive determinism - is this almost like knocking down a straw man? The reason I say this is because I don't think that Calvin and most evangelicals in the reformed tradition hold to exhaustive determinism....in other words, who are you arguing against?


  5. Alex,

    I think that Calvinists take the metaphor of "slaves to sin" too far. Note that the very next section talks about slaves to righteousness, yet we know that even those of us who are slaves to righteousness still sin.
    Regardless to our views, the point of the post was not to promote the idea that unbelievers can resist temptation (always or sometimes), even if it is what I believe. And like I said earlier, my point still stands if it only applies to believers.

    I am not knocking down a straw man by any measure. Firstly, the post was an argument against exhaustive determinism (not Calvinism in general), and secondly, I think you may be surprised to know the extent of Calvinists who affirm exhaustive determinism. I know very few Calvinists who don't affirm exhaustive determinism (which includes hard determinism, and compatibilistic (or soft) determinism.)

    Calvinistic confessions generally affirm the doctrine.

    London Baptist Confession of Faith
    "God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established; in which appears his wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing his decree."

    Or perhaps the Westminster Confession of faith
    "I. God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass;[1] yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin,[2] nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.[3]"

    (Notice the obvious contradictions in both confessions regarding the author of sin)

    And Calvin himself:
    "But those who have learned from the mouth of Christ that all the hairs of his head are numbered (Matthew 10:30), will look farther for the cause, and hold that all events whatsoever are governed by the secret counsel of God."

    God bless,

  6. Daniel,

    "I think that Calvinists take the metaphor of "slaves to sin" too far. Note that the very next section talks about slaves to righteousness, yet we know that even those of us who are slaves to righteousness still sin."

    I take your point in regard to the point of your post :) I think in discussing sin though, we must think of sin as more than just an act, but also as a 'state of being'. Unbelievers are in a state of sin meaning that they are still in Adam (Rom 5:12-21) and thus in a broken relationship with God, and so in that sense, are unable to please God.

    I think the issue is over the use of the term 'exhaustive determinism'...is this a technical term or a descriptive term? If technical, whose term is it? If descriptive, I would not categorise compatabilism as exhaustive determinism, hence the 'straw man' suggestion. The confessions of faith you quote seem to be on this compatabilist line. That is, they affirm both sovereignty of God and the free agency of the individual.

    The way they operate together is another thing I guess. You say the confessions are obvious contradictions. But I think they are all trying to affirm the witness of scripture. It may be that there is a logical contradiction humanly speaking, but that is not the point really. The point is whether they are biblically faithful, because scripture is the authority, not some, possibly alien, philosophical system. I don't think that you would dispute this of course, but I think the position should be evaluated on scriptural grounds, rather than on human conceptions of contradiction.

    Happy blogging,

  7. Alex,

    I was never implying that an unbeliever could please God. I was implying that an unbeliever could resists to temptation to shoplift etc (and in the case that he does shoplift, It wasn't ordained by God for him to do so.)

    The term "exhaustive determinism" is a generally accepted term. The "exhaustive" is referring to the scope, not the means, (i.e. under exhaustive determinism, everything is determined, down to the speed and direction of every molecule in the universe).

    While compatibilistic determinism may pay lip service to free will, it really just redefines it to mean something different than is commonly understood. Combatiblism is a form of exhaustive determinism, where we are free to do "as our nature permits" (noting that our nature is determined). Under compatibilism, God has still set up the "dominoes" of the universe, and once they have started to fall there is only one possible outcome. It is an attempt to remove responsibilty from God, but it doesn't really cut the mustard. Compatibilism just isn't compatible. While it may pay lip service to human freedom, it is really just a matter of perspective, and human freedom is just an illusion.

    You will notice that my blog post is quite relevant in refuting compatibilistic determinism. My post shows from 1 cor 10:13 that there is actually more than one possible outcome regarding temptation and sin. Compatibilism - a form of exhaustive determinism can not affirm this. If they were determined (by nature and surroundings) to sin, then they really were tempted beyond their ability.

    With regards to holding two seemingly contradictory ideas that are both biblical I will say this. It is because of scripture that I am driven to my position. I don't believe that there is "tension" in the bible, in fact I think "tension" is just a watered down way of saying "blatant contradiction". I also affirm the sovereignty of God, but I think one must wear Calvinistic goggles to read that as "ordaining every event that has and will ever happen". Also my argument is scriptural and not philosophical.

    By the way the only Calvinists this post is not relavant to is the few Calvinists who aren't determinists. This is not unlike the Arminian view of libertarian free will ("libertarian" to distinguish it from the determined free will of the compatibilist), where we are like a goldfish in a bowel. God can move the bowel and add or drain it's water, but we a free to move in the bounds of the bowel. Where we differ, is what choices are in the bowel.

    Feel free to drop by any time.

    In Christ,

  8. Hey Dan,

    Thanks for the invite!

    I am sure you are much more widely read on this particular topic than myself, so I will bow to your expertise :) but I still think that exhaustive determinism is a poor label for compatibilism - I would think that the exact nature of the interaction between our decisions and God's providence is a mystery.

    I think I disagree with your characterisation of free will as illusion under the Calvinist scheme. I think that 'free in regerds to nature/environment' is as free as it gets. A simple example - a dog is not free to speak or even free to want to speak because of its nature. Some modern psychology recognises that we are not truly free agents: we are constrained wrt both genetics, and even, psychological development. And in some circumstances, people's choices are often very limited. No one is truly 'free' to make whatever choice they want. They are constrained by nature and even circumstance. An agent can only ever be free withe respect to nature and circumstance...hence the question is...what is the nature of the human being? Outside of Christ, they are in bondage to sin.

    I guess given this, that I don't that 'free will' in the 'do whatever I want' sense of the word is really a biblical concept.

    Btw I did not mean to suggest that your argument was philosophical, rather, I was suggesting that to use the criteria of 'the laws of non-contradiction' when evaluating an argument is philosophical.

    However, I do think that perhaps the Arminain vs Calvanist debate is philosophical. The grids in which the debate is conducted are not biblical grids. They are systematic categories designed to combat the others position. The tension inherent in the various positions comes because the biblical data in put into these categories, and we see the inconsistencies with other parts of scripture. The bible itself does not see this tension, its only when we extract the data into non-biblical categories does the tension arise.


  9. Alex,

    I haven't had any complaints about the term "exhaustive determinism" with other compatibilists I have debated. I am simply stating that compatibilistic determinism is a form of exhaustive determinism. I.e, that all events are pre-determined. It fits the definition.

    You said: "I think that 'free in regerds to nature/environment' is as free as it gets."

    I understand this is most Calvinists position, however I believe this position leaves God as the author of sin and evil. No evil can come from God. I believe sin comes from "freedom".
    Also this position does not avoid the biblical argument that my post centered on. If someone sins, then they were apparently tempted beyond what their nature could handle, i.e. tempted beyond their ability.

    BTW, to clarify, Libertarian Free Will is not meant to imply absolute freedom, nor does it negate influence or pursuasion (hence the goldfish analogy). (Not to mentoin the obvious physical limitations - Ever try jumping to the moon lately?) ;-)
    And yes, sometimes our freedom is severely limited.

    You must understand my skeptisism when appealing to mystery. Basically any doctrine can be justified this way. Sure some things are a mystery (deu 29:29), but I believe that God has revealed this to us through his word (1 cor 10:13 being an example of this.)


  10. wow .. madd discussion :)

  11. Hello Daniel,

    You wrote: "Determinists often like to claim that humans will always 'choose' whatever we most desire, and that desire is a **result of** our nature and our environment at that point in time."

    According to Determinism, desire is actually the result of the divine will. Hence, Dave Hunt asks: “Is the will in bondage because God is sovereign and He has already determined all that will occur?” (What Love is This?, p.220)

  12. Hi Richard,

    I agree. Under Hard Determinism, our desire is a direct result of the divine will. Also, from my understanding of compatibilistic determinism, they would affirm that desire is a result of divine will because our nature is a result of divine will, and our desire is a result of our nature.


  13. Alex,

    on the issue of what is compatibilism, here is a quote from http://www.monergism.com/directory/link_category/Free-Will/Compatibilism/

    "Compatibilism (also known as soft determinism), is the belief that God's predetermination and meticulous providence is "compatible" with voluntary choice. In light of Scripture, human choices are believed to be exercised voluntarily but the desires and circumstances that bring about these choices about occur through divine determinism (see Acts 2:23 & 4:27-28). It should be noted that this position is no less deterministic than hard determinism - be clear that neither soft nor hard determinism believes man has a free will. Our choices are only our choices because they are voluntary, not coerced. We do not make choices contrary to our desires or natures. Compatibilism is directly contrary to libertarian free will. Therefore voluntary choice is not the freedom to choose otherwise, that is, without any influence, prior prejudice, inclination, or disposition. Voluntary does mean, however, the ability to choose what we want or desire most. The former view is known as contrary choice, the latter free agency. (Note: compatibilism denies that the will is free to choose otherwise, that is, free from the bondage of the corruption nature,for the unregenerate, and denies that the will is free from God's eternal decreee.)"


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