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God's sovereignty, man's free will, or both?

Silhouette of a cross against the sky during sunset. | Getty images

No other theological truth raises more controversy in the Body of Christ worldwide than whether God works more by His sovereignty or through man’s free will. In my opinion, most believers, either through indoctrination or personal preference, choose one or the other.

However, a close study of Scripture reveals that in almost every account, God uses both to accomplish His purposes. So, whether we sit back and trust God to do it all or try to fix things ourselves, we eventually discover that both extremes are un-biblical.

In 2 Timothy 1:6, Paul charged Timothy, "Therefore, I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands" (NKJV).  In Revelation 2:4 Jesus told the church at Ephesus, "Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love." The verse goes on to call that church to repentance, lest their "lampstand" be removed! The truth of the matter is that all Christians tend to have seasons of their lives when they slide back from God for one reason or another and have to be called to "get their gift of God stirred up" or "repent” and turn back to the love that they first had when they came to the Lord initially.

There are two ways that a lukewarm Christian returns to their first love. Sadly, the most common one, one I have seen repeatedly during this COVID epidemic, is when someone faces the reality of their death. They often immediately become very serious about putting God first in their lives. This is in no way a bad thing. God said in his Word, "In their affliction, they will seek me early" (Hosea 5:15b). A high percentage of believers who are dying have amazing personal spiritual revivals.

There is a second way that people are revived, but in today’s world, it is not the one that most people realize exists. It is when men and women who have been called by God hear from Heaven and preach messages designed by God to stir hearts and expose spiritual complacency!

Read sermons of the late 1800s and you will get an idea of the prevalence of such messages during that time. You will be awed as you read messages designed to "wrestle" with the will of man, messages designed to move backslidden cold-hearted believers to repentance. You will be moved as you read messages that challenge believers to "take up their cross daily and follow Christ," messages that remind true New Testament believers that we are to both trust and rest in the sovereignty of God and we are to use our own will to fight against temptation and the devil. Paul said, "We wrestle not against flesh and blood but against Satan and the forces of darkness" (Ephesians 6:12).

The country of Scotland was at one time the most evangelistic country in the world, launching missionaries, Bibles, and Bible literature to more places than any other country in its day. Then a "new" doctrine was introduced that embraced an extremist view regarding the sovereignty of God, which seemed to indicate that believers could rest on God's sovereignty and sideline messages on dealing with the free will of man. Within just a few years, Scotland disintegrated into the country that launched the fewest missionaries, the fewest amount of Bibles, and the least amount of Gospel literature of any other country in the world. What caused this massive decline? It was the lack of "rightly dividing the Word of truth," as Paul charged Timothy (2 Timothy 2:15b).

Dear readers, you probably have chosen one position or the other in your Christian walk. However, when you realize the radical importance of both God’s sovereignty and your will, your spiritual walk will gradually grow into a personal revival experience that can spread to all the people around you.

Rev Nolan J Harkness is the President and CEO of Nolan Harkness Evangelistic Ministries Inc. since 1985. He spent most of his adult life working in youth ministry. He also felt the calling of Evangelist/Revivalist and traveled as the door was open holding evangelistic meetings in churches throughout the Northeast. His website is

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