Free will, responsibility and accountability

In our everyday life we hold people accountable for the consequences of the choices they make, assuming they made them out of free will. Generally we praise and punish them for respectively the good and the bad they do. When someone does anything not out of free will, but, for example, under pressure or by accident, we normally don’t hold that person accountable. I believe this is true of any culture in every country, even though the definition of good and bad differs widely.

Speaking about salvation, a lot of Christians believe we have a free will and are therefore responsible for accepting or rejecting Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Saviour (e.g. John 1:12, 3:18). Others believe we have no such thing as a free will, but we are still responsible for the choices we make and the sin we commit. They say our will is enslaved by sin and we are therefore only capable of sinning (e.g. Romans 8:8). Whether a person will be saved or not depends on God and God only, they believe. Both groups, more or less agree that God will hold every person accountable and shall judge us on the day of judgement.

Imagine someone bestowing responsibility on you regarding a very important matter, but you totally lack the power to influence the outcome of it. You would most probably consider it unjust when the person holds you accountable for the outcome of the case. But could this be true about our salvation? Could God be called just and still hold us accountable for something we have no say in? Or are we just incapable of understanding this, because He is infinitely wiser?

We naturally highly appreciate responsibility, accountability and free will

Before we open the Bible, we can say something about our natural appreciation of responsibility, accountability en the free will. If I think about the nice people I met in my life, they are commonly the ones with a strong sense of responsibility. They are the good educators, skilful workers and mannered children. You feel save to trust them and can rely on them. They try to do good and if they fail, bear the consequences without blaming someone else.

On the other hand irresponsible and indifferent people are not being memorised positively. You cannot trust them and leave an important case in their hands. You also cannot trust them to speak the truth. They will always try to blame someone or something else for their faults. Speaking of insanity defence in criminal prosecutions, I believe most victims will describe such a claim as unjust. We want the guilty to be found guilty, to feel guilty and to take accountability. If the guilty goes free, we have all kind of bad feelings towards such a person.

Nevertheless, as soon as we are convinced a crime is not committed out of free will, most of us start to feel compassion towards such a person. We will even plead for a murderer to go free, for example when we hear about how he or she was driven to insanity by the victim. Thus we see that free will plays a crucial role in our judgement of matters.

The Bible about responsibility, accountability and free will

When I read the Bible, it becomes clear to me that God also praises and rewards responsible people. Think of Juda who was willing to take the place of Benjamin as a slave in Egypt (Genesis 44:33). He felt responsible for him because he promised his father to bring him back to Canaan. Juda became the forefather of our Lord Jesus Christ (Genesis 49:10). Or think of David, who sinned, but took accountability for his deeds and humbly received the punishment (2 Samuel 12:13-14). God calls him a man after His own heart (1 Samuel 13:14).

Like us, God also disapproves irresponsibility and indifference. Think of Esau, who sold his birthright for some red stew (Genesis 25:30-32). God afterwards said He hated Esau (Malachi 1:3). Also think of Ananias and Saphira, who lied about the price of the land they sold (Acts 5:3-5). We all know what happened to them. And what about Jesus, isn’t He often confronting the Pharisees, because they know how they should live, but choose to do not for personal gain?

The Bible also warns us. Warns, for example, not to reject the One who speaks (Hebrews 12:25). Warns that when much is given to us, much will be required (Luke 12:48). Peter also warns us to pass the time of our sojourning (our time on this earth) in fear, because God will judge us according to our works, without respect of persons (1 Peter 1:17).

The numerous warnings and callings recorded in the Bible tells us clearly we are being held responsible and accountable, be it in different degrees, because when much is given, much will be required. But doesn’t all those warnings also imply that we are able to choose? Doesn’t mean ‘choose you this day’ that we are able to choose? Or ‘come unto me’ that we are able to come? Some say it doesn’t.

Doubting our responsibility, accountability and free will

Despite our natural appreciation of taking responsibility and the numerous Bible verses that reminds us to do good and not evil, many Christians say there is no such thing as a free will. They acknowledge our ability to choose whether we eat rice or potatoes, lie or speak the the truth and to marry or stay single, but at the same time they believe we have no say in the matter of our eternal fate. Some conclude that if we have no free will, we are therefore also not responsible.

Most Calvinist theologians say we indeed have no such thing as a free will, but still are responsible and accountable. I was also brought up to believe this way. In the church (Reformed Congregations) I was taught that I am responsible for my sins and should indeed feel guilty. But at the same time I wasn’t able to take responsibility or do anything to change my state as a sinner. I should just keep going to church and maybe might one day be saved. Being saved was another very vague term to me in that days. ‘It’ would only happen if God decided so before the foundation of the world.

On this day, thousands, if not millions are in the same battle as I was. They are like paralysed soldiers expected to fight a battle they know to loose beforehand. Do you feel that way too? Depressed? Unable? Paralysed? One way to survive is to push these questions and fears far away from you. ‘Just work hard and enjoy the days of your youth’, that’s the seemingly Biblical advise I got. It didn’t work. I saw too many people using medication (e.g. antidepressants) to suppress their fears, as their hard work and enjoyments couldn’t do the job anymore. Because I didn’t want to end that way, I chose to search for the answers, willing to accept also the hard.

Study the scriptures to see whether the things are so

I asked God what I could do to be saved. I asked Him whether He chose me or not. And if so, why not everyone else? But if not, why should I live a sorrowful life to end in hell anyway? I pleaded the promise from Hebrews 11:6, that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. And here I am today, urging you to do the same. It may be Christians or so-called Christians, theologians or church fathers, Augustine or Calvin, telling you it is so and so. But, remember they are all humans of flesh and blood. If still alive, the greatest of them all would have been Paul. When he came to visit the Bereans, they received the word He spoke, but also searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so (Acts 17:11). Therefore many of them believed.

Now, shouldn’t you start to search the scriptures to see whether the things are so? Shouldn’t you start praying and searching for God diligently? Please stop thinking those theologians are smarter than you, and therefore should be right. Many theologians and scientist are wrong many times. Did not Jesus thank His Father that He reveals things not to the wise and prudent, but to babes (Luke 10:21)? Go to Him like a child, not pretending to know how the things are, but empty. Empty, but full of questions. Diligently seeking for an honest answer.

Unavoidable objections

I know, if you dealt with this subject before, you already have all kind of objections right now. The main objection might be that a natural person, called a sinner, cannot and will not seek God, let alone seek Him diligently. Paul indeed says in Romans 8:8 that if you are in the flesh, you cannot please God. John Piper (an American Calvinist theologian) says this means that “you are not able not to sin” as long as you are not born again. This is what many Christians believe nowadays. Their response is that we just have no choice. We cannot stop sinning, because it is our nature. We do it involuntarily and should therefore not be kept accountable.

John Calvin would say to you at this point that God can only do good, but it is still His free will to do good. And that the devil can only do evil, but still does it voluntarily. And he goes on to say: “can it be said that man sins less voluntarily because he is under a necessity of sinning?” (Institutes, II.3.5).

John Calvin’s answers sounds very intelligent. But to be honest it confuses and paralyses me even more. John Piper concludes in one of his articles ( A Beginner’s Guide to ‘Free Will’) that “God is always decisive in such a way that man’s agency is real, and his responsibility remains”. He admits this is a mystery that causes many to stumble, but pleads that this inconceivable truth doesn’t keep you from what the Bible teaches.

Search the scriptures again

Now once more, I plead with you to search the Scriptures to see whether the things are so. Can you really translate Paul’s words ‘…cannot please God’ in ‘not able not to sin’? And are we really unable to seek God and His Kingdom, although the Bible says we have to (Matthew 7:8)? Does not being able to do good, also mean not being able to cry out? Is touching Jesus garment a good work, which we are not able to bring forth as sinners (Mark 5:27-28)? Or what about opening the door for Jesus to come in (Revelation 3:20)? Isn’t He knocking from the outside? And if He is on the outside, are you not still a sinner?

I’m just firing questions to wake you up. Don’t let yourself so easily be deceived. Yes, we have to stick to what the Bible teaches, but to all of it. We cannot leave out or twist some verses to stick to what a theologian or church father says. We have to search to know whether the things are so and like the Bereans therefore believe what the Scriptures tells us.

Go on a journey to receive answers from God

I hope you will go with me (or without me) on this journey of receiving answers from God and His word. I hope to write some articles and a small booklet on the topics of free will and predestination in the coming months (or years) and all publish it free of charge on this website ( But again, I’m just a man, so please search the scriptures to see whether my writings are Biblical.

On my journey I would like to share what God shows me or already showed me in the past. With ‘shows me’ I mean that God told me something trough His word (the Bible) and I came to the understanding of it. This happens sometimes after prayer, when I ask God to explain to me the meaning of a particular text. Sometimes it happens the same day, sometimes after a few years. Another way to discover the meaning of a text is by reading it in its context and comparing it with other Scripture. And of course we should combine these. Pray, study and be patient.