When we discuss divine sovereignty and human freedom, we must properly define both and not compromise on either. One of the favorite texts relating both sides of the issue is Acts 2: 23. It speaks of the crucifixion of Christ and gives the ultimate and final cause along with the proximate and immediate cause. “This Man delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” This Scripture speaks of both divine sovereignty and human freedom.
Once again, let’s be careful how we define human freedom. Most people think of freedom as autonomy. Literally, autonomy means I make all the rules. We know this is not true. We all live by many rules we have not made. Examples are the rules of nature, the rules in our homes, the rules operative at school, at work and in government. We all operate with certain confinements. I live within the framework of my seventy-nine-year-old male body. I cannot do otherwise. Freedom is not autonomy. There are things I cannot decide to do. I cannot turn back the clock. A paraplegic cannot decide to walk.
On the other hand, suppose a fellow put a gun to my head and said, “Renounce your faith in Jesus Christ or I will pull the trigger.” I have a choice. To save my skin, I can renounce Christ. However, I have the prospect that Christ will reject me on the other side of the grave. I can say, “Pull the trigger.” I am not forced to renounce Christ. The gunman cannot “make me” renounce Christ. I am free. I am not making the rules of this little game. I am not autonomous; I am free. Hopefully, you see the difference.
Beyond doubt, God is sovereign. Acts 2:23, along with many other verses in the Bible, teaches this. At the same time, the Bible and experience teach us about human freedom. I freely make hundreds and even thousands of decisions each day from the moment I get up in the morning to the time I lay my head on the pillow at night. God is sovereign; human beings are free.
We also know nothing can take place outside the sovereign plans and purposes of God. Every event, every action, every thought, every word spoken comes within the scope of God’s sovereign will. This includes evil. Take the example of the most heinous and evil act ever committed, the crucifixion of the innocent Son of God. With regard to this evil act we rightly say, along with Scripture, hateful human beings freely carried it out. They sinned, not God. Not only so, God had a very good purpose for this evil act. God caused ultimate good to come from this evil, salvation. I, therefore, affirm God has good reasons for the presence of evil in His universe. Nothing, including evil, is outside the purview of God’s sovereign will.
Finally, this means divine sovereignty encompasses and includes human freedom. We can therefore rightly define predestination as God’s decreeing the free acts of men. The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it this way. “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.” One of the proof texts is Acts 2:23.