Skip to content

Insight #354 – Calvinism Examined #5 – Are We Robots?

Remember the old excuse: “The devil made me do it”? How about an even older excuse: “God made me do it”? That’s as old as Adam: “The woman whom you gave to be with me…” (Gen. 3:12). 

God Is Sovereign

“Sovereignty” is not used in our everyday talk. In fact, the word is seldom found in most Bibles. However, it sounds very important, and so we may give it more weight than it deserves. After all, it is just a fancy term for a king in the olden days – not to be confused with the many ceremonial “kings” today. A sovereign has supreme authority or power over a territory. A sovereign is the chief ruler, chief authority, the one with the last word. “Lord” often carries the same meaning.  

In what sense is God sovereign? In the sense that He is Lord and King of the universe. He is subject to no one. He can do what He wants. Nobody can overrule Him. Psalm 115:3 says it clearly: “Our God is in the heavens. He does whatever he pleases.” God is chief authority in the universe. God is supreme.

Whether speaking of earthly kings or the God of heaven, the term “sovereignty” has nothing to do with total control of everything that happens. The final authority, yes. The last word, yes. The one who causes and controls every detail? Certainly not!

God’s will is not always done. According to 2 Peter 3:9, God “is patient with us, not wishing that anyone should perish.” However, Jesus said that “the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter in by it” (Matt. 7:13). That’s because so many people, having been given free will by the sovereign God, reject His will.

God Gives Humans Choice

Let’s visit Eden. God said, “You shall not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; for in the day that you eat of it, you will surely die” (Gen. 2:17). By giving Adam and Eve a command rather than forcing their will, God was giving them the power to choose. In other words, God gave them freedom of will to either obey or disobey Him. But God had the last word, He controlled the consequences!

Then there was their angry son Cain to whom God said, “If you do well, won’t it be lifted up? If you don’t do well, sin crouches at the door. Its desire is for you, but you are to rule over it” (Gen. 4:7). Cain, just like his parents, was given free will to decide. Cain was not born totally depraved, unable to make a choice to obey God. Neither were the ancient Israelites: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Therefore choose life, that you may live” (Dt. 30:19). God gave them a choice, just like He gives us: “He who is thirsty, let him come. He who desires, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17).

God being sovereign does not mean everything that happens is His will. In His sovereignty He has clearly opened a window of time when he gives mankind the choice to act contrary to His will. That’s the definition of sin!

Choice Involves Responsibility

The well-known Calvinist John MacArthur was asked, “How do you reconcile the duality of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility? Like for example, if someone asks you ‘Well, if God literally brings about everything, how can He blame me for sinning?'” MacArthur’s response: “Well, I don’t know the answer to that, and I’ve never met anybody that knows the answer to that.”(1) What MacArthur should have said is, “I’ve never met a Calvinist that knows the answer to that.”

MacArthur’s difficulty in harmonizing God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility is clearly the result of looking at the Bible through Calvinistic eyeglasses. The entire TULIP acronym is a denial of human responsibility. For example, consider the first point, “total depravity.” To quote a Calvinist website, total depravity means that “Man is spiritually dead… unable of himself to choose spiritual good.”(2) On the contrary, as we have already seen, God, in His sovereign will, has given us the freedom of choice!

MacArthur’s admission of human responsibility makes no sense with Calvinism – but it makes total sense with Scripture. If God caused us to be born so depraved and dead that we are unable to choose to follow Him, then God would be responsible for our choices, not us. What an awful view of God!

We Are Not Robots

The sovereign God, of His own free will, gave Adam and Eve the ability to choose. They chose to sin, and that in no way means that Adam’s offspring lost the ability to choose. On the contrary, God invited Cain to rule over sin, to choose life. From Genesis to Revelation, humans are held responsible precisely because we are not robots. Of our own free will we choose to serve God or to serve self. Whether in the Bible or out of the Bible, the word “sovereignty” does not mean – and never did mean – absolute control of everything that happens. God was not in control of Adam’s and Cain’s decisions. He was in control of the consequences in both cases.  

God wants us to serve Him, but He does not force us. He gives us the choice. His desire and offer that all men would yield to Him is lovingly displayed in Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem just days before they crucified Him: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem… How often I would have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you would not!” (Matt. 23:37). Jesus longed to hold them close in love, but they “would not.” He did not coerce them; they were not robots. Nor are we. We must reject every doctrine that – like Adam’s excuse – blames God for our choices!

(1) YouTube: “Pastor John MacArthur on God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility”
NOTE: The purpose of this series is to biblically examine various aspects of the Calvinistic acrostic, TULIP: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints.