The Error of Libertarian Free Will

The Christian view of God is that he is transcendent, immutable, and autonomous. He is transcendent in that he exists apart from and prior to the universe. He is immutable in that he does not change. He is autonomous in that his existence and behavior are not dependent upon anything other than himself. God is non-contingent. He is completely self-contained and independent of anything.

God has communicable properties and non-communicable properties. Communicable properties are such things as knowing, loving, hating, etc. God has communicated these properties to us. Therefore, we can know, love, and hate as God does though not in the same capacity. The non-communicable properties would be such things as God's transcendence, immutability, and autonomy. These are properties that God alone possesses.

Idolatry occurs when someone gives the honor, worship, prayer, etc., that is due to God alone, to something other than the true and living God. But, idolatry can also occur when someone attributes to a created thing the properties that belong to God alone. In other words, it would be attributed to the creation that which belongs to God alone.

Libertarian Free Will

Libertarian free will is the position that the unbeliever’s free will is sufficiently self-contained, self-sufficient, and self-caused (without external coercion) so as to be able to accept or reject Christ as Savior, on his own, apart from God's enabling. It assumes that the sinful will is somehow capable, by virtue of being "free", to be able to choose to believe in God and follow him through Christ.

First of all, this violates scripture which says that man is deceitful (Jer. 17:9), full of evil (Mark 7:21-23), loves darkness rather than light (John 3:19), does not seek for God (Rom. 3:10-12), is ungodly (Rom. 5:6), dead in his sins (Eph. 2:1), by nature a child of wrath (Eph. 2:3), cannot understand spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:14), and is a slave of sin (Rom. 6:16-20). Therefore, how is it possible that an unbeliever who cannot understand spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:14), who does not seek for God (Rom. 3:10-12), and who is a slave of sin (Rom. 6:14-20), simply "chooses" God?

Second, libertarian free will promotes the non-Christian idea of independence from God and suggests that the unbeliever's final decision to receive Christ is dependent on nothing than his own self-contained, self-caused, autonomous free will choice. Furthermore, this position attributes to a created thing (human free will) that which belongs only to the uncreated God: autonomous, self-sustained, self-causation.


It would further mean that God's choice to regenerate a person would be based on the sinner's choice to accept Christ. In other words, God's choice of salvation is contingent on the sovereign, autonomous, free-will decision of any particular sinner. This means that God's choices are contingent on man's and this violates the doctrine of God's non-contingency.

Some would say that God looks into the future to see who would choose him. But this would mean that God was learning and t and this violates 1 John 3:20 that says a God knows all things.

Others say that since God knows all things, he knows what any particular choice will be of any sinner in any circumstance and works the circumstances to accomplish his will. But this defeats the libertarian position since it is God who is then predestining them for salvation based on the circumstances that he sovereignly decrees. It would also mean that God has chosen circumstances by which others would not be saved.

Still, others say that God gives prevenient grace (grace that comes before) to people to enable them to freely choose him. But this is problematic because God would know how much grace to give to any individual to bring him into salvation. Furthermore, it still does not answer the question of why one person chooses and another does not after being given this "prevenient grace". If they the response is that it is because of a person's free will, then we go back to the first problem of advocating self-contained, self-sufficient, and self-caused free will that is independent of God - and this is idolatrous.

Furthermore, if libertarian free will is true, then we would not have verses in the Bible that say that God grants us belief (Phil. 1:29), or "as many as God appointed to eternal life, believed," (Acts 13:48), or that our believing is the work of God (John 6:29), or that we cannot come to Jesus unless it has been granted to us from the Father (John 6:65).

Let's think...

  1. Autonomy - Libertarian Free will violates the autonomous character of God by making God's decisions regarding the salvation of people, conditioned upon sinful man's, sovereign, autonomous free will. God is then not autonomous in all his decisions but who he saves is dependent on peoples' free-will choices. Yet, the Bible says...
    1. John 1:12-13, "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."
    2. Rom. 9:16, "So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy."
    3. Eph. 1:11, "also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will." This demonstrates that God is self-willed and autonomous.
  2. Sovereignty - It means that God is not sovereign over his creation to do as he wishes - including the free will choices of sinners, yet...
    1. Isaiah 46:10, “Declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.’”
    2. Isaiah 55:8-9, "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts."
    3. Dan. 4:35, "All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’"
    4. Acts 4:27-28, "For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur."
    5. Acts 13:48, "When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed."
    6. Rom. 9:16, "So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy."
    7. Eph. 1:11, "also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will."

 In the Garden of Eden, the devil advocated independence from God when he suggested that Eve should make the decision to eat the forbidden fruit so that she would know good and evil. In this, Satan was moving her away from complete dependence on God's word, to independence from God's word. Libertarian free will is reminiscent of this error when it advocates a free will that is independent of God's sovereignty.

Libertarian Free Will is Ultimately Chance

Libertarian free is the position that the human free will is able of itself and complete in itself to be able to choose God or not and that it is conditioned on nothing more than what resides in the will of that particular individual. This means that it is up to independent whim of the person. But this contradicts scripture that says that all things work after the counsel of God's will (Eph. 1:11) and that he declares the end from the beginning and that all his good pleasure will be accomplished (Isa. 46:10). Since there can be no chance in God's realm, libertarian free will cannot be true.

Libertarian Free will and Salvation

Libertarian Free will, which asserts an autonomous, self-caused ability of the person to trust in Jesus, would lead to a denial of the legal substitutionary work of Jesus because salvation could only be offered as a possibility, not a guarantee, because salvation would become effective based upon man’s sovereign, autonomous choice. This would further mean that Christ’s sacrifice did not actually save anyone by actually removing their sin debt (per Col. 2:14; John 19:301; 1 Pet. 2:24), but only made it possible because the obtaining of salvation is dependent upon the autonomous, free will choice of the sinner.

Christ then, only provided man with the opportunity for salvation by removing the Law that is against us – not actually paying our sin debt because if our sin debt is paid (Col. 2:14), we cannot be held accountable for it. Because salvation can only be realized by man’s sovereign, autonomous choice, Christ's sacrifice on the cross, according to Libertarian free will, did not actually save anyone.

Such a position would further necessitate a denial of the legal, substitutionary atonement of Christ since by such a legal atonement, the satisfaction for the legal debt would be satisfied in Christ’s sacrifice and it would actually save people because the sins of God's people chosen for salvation (2 Thess. 2:13) are actually removed (Col. 2:14 and 1 Pet. 2:24), not potentially removed.

Therefore, Libertarian free will posits the unchristian position of a free-will that is autonomous from God and also leads to a denial of the legal, substitutionary work of God as taught in scripture. This is what happens when one begins with the free will of man instead of the sovereign will of God.


  1. Is anything independent of God as unbelievers assert? Of course not. Then it cannot be that man’s free will is independent of God. To assert that man's free will is self-sustained, self-caused and autonomous is to assert that a created thing, free will, is independent of God and this is paganism.
  2. Do Arminians pray for the salvation of the lost? If so, why if the person’s free will is autonomous from God?
    1. If you say that God can influence them, then that violates man’s autonomous free will.
    2. If you say God knows how to “urge” someone into the faith, then why doesn’t God do that for everyone if he knows how much "urging" it would take?
    3. If you say it is by God’s grace that they come to the faith, then doesn’t God know how much grace to bestow on a person to bring him into the faith?
    4. If the sinner's free will is not autonomous, then it is under the sovereignty of God and such prayers would then make sense – as Reformed theology says.



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Copyright by Matthew J. Slick, B.A., M. Div., 2022
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