The Choice: Is It Real?
(This message is the first message in a four-part series. Scroll to the bottom for the next messages.)
Here’s a little question for you: If I give you only two options, is your life more like a train car, or more life a dune-buggy? Do our lives run on railroad tracks, with a course laid out, or do we hold a steering wheel in our hands?
You know, when I was a little kid, I thought the most frustrating toys were cars that had a fake steering wheel. You know, like those little kiddy carts of the front of a shopping cart, that look like toy cars with a steering wheel? But the poor kid can turn that steering wheel all day long and it doesn’t make a different where mom pushes the cart!
But if you had to describe your life—what do you think it would be like? A train car, or a dune buggy?
When we observe the physical world, we can’t help but realize that it is governed by fixed and seemingly unchangeable laws. Laws like the law of gravity, the laws of thermodynamics, and the laws of Newtonian physics.
Perhaps the most well-known of these universal laws is what we call the law of cause and effect: “for every effect there is a definite cause, likewise for every cause, there is a definite effect.” It would seem as though an invisible train-track determined the course of events—linking everything from cause to effect.
Whether we can verbalize it or not, we learn this law from our youngest childhood. In the physical world, if we see something moving, we naturally understand that something or someone started it moving. This way of thinking is ingrained in our minds—it’s inherent to our system of logic and our understanding of the world. That’s how we build machines, computers, and even spacecraft—by observing nature through the laws of cause and effect. It’s how scientists have managed to predict the weather—and have gotten reasonably good at it, at least for the short term forecast.
Hence it begs the question: does the entire universe follow the laws of cause and effect—to use technical jargon, is the universe deterministic? In other words, if we could measure the conditions of the universe precisely enough at a given point in time, could we run a simulation that would predict the outcome of the future, or trace our origins to the distant past? If we could just get a snapshot of the train-track, we could understand every place the train could go!
Does the universe follow the laws of determinism, or are there elements which transcend these fixed laws of cause and effect?
Scientists and philosophers have long debated this question, not only in terms of understanding the physical world, but also in reference to our understanding of ourselves—and precisely to our understanding of what we call “free will.”
Choice. What is it? Is there such as thing? Or is it an illusion? Do we have the ability to alter our reality by the choices we make, or is our destiny fixed—predetermined in the universe from time immemorial?
My background and training is in computer technology. I have spent a number of years working with and programming computers. I’m fascinated by the advances in computer technology—computers can talk, listen, and carry on conversations. They can recognize people by their face and voice, and can even drive cars by intelligently navigating around objects and people. But computers are a classic example of machines that do only what they’re made to do. The follow fixed rules—the train-tracks, so to speak—explicitly. The saying is “garbage in, garbage out.” If you give the computer the same input, you will always get the same output. They are inherently deterministic systems that are incapable of free will.
Scientists have now spent considerable research, peering into particles of the atom, and have found systems that appear to violate the principles of determinism. Is it possible that, in the human mind, God has created such a mechanism that allows us to choose in ways that are not per-determined by our creation? Scientists are still searching into this question.
What is it that makes me a conscious being? What is the secret to conscious thought—to that self-awareness that we have, when we recognize ourselves and those around us, and begin to make decisions apparently on our own free will?
Greek philosophers and many ancient religions teach that within our mind dwells a metaphysical being—a soul, if you will—that has an existence even apart from the body, and that your real consciousness and awareness come, not from your physical body, but from your soul.
The secularist, on the other hand, sees in the brain nothing more than a highly complex bio-chemical machine, much like a computer but perhaps more sophisticated.
We could probably debate all day on the findings of philosophy and science, but what does the Bible say about these questions? Who are we? If God has created me, and He knows my future, then can I really have freedom of choice?
The Bible describes God’s creation of man very simply in Genesis 2: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”
In this short verse, see that mankind is made of the elements of this earth—the dust of the ground. And yet, in addition to these physical elements, is something other-worldly—a breath and life that comes only from God. Not a metaphysical “soul” that inhabits a human body, but the life from God that is ours to live within the physical body. Is it possible that one key element of this life-force from God, is this ability to choose, of our own free will? Is it possible that God could have created something within us, that gives us the ability to alter our own existence—to determine our own future, even to the point of choosing whether or not we will serve and honor our own Creator?
In the very first words of God to mankind, found in Genesis 2:16-17, God sets Adam and Eve free in the garden. Notice this: “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
You may choose. Any tree you want. There are many trees—take whichever you like, except one. You aren’t physically prevented from eating it, but morally obligated. But the consequence of eating of the one forbidden tree is death.
Jesus says in John 7:17: If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority.
If we choose and desire to know God’s will, God will reveal himself to him. Yet even though God gives us the freedom to choose, He does not leave us to our own devices. Without violating our freedom, God works the circumstances of our lives to bring about good—even circumstances that would seem to be utterly impossible!
Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
Now the rest of this verse actually gets a little tricky for a lot of Christians when we’re studying this topic.
Romans 8:29-30 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
This is exactly where a number of good Christian people get confused when it comes to our free will. Because we know that God does know the future, does God choose some to be saved and others to be lost? Does God offer grace to some and not to others?
Of course not! John 3:16 “For God so loved the WORLD … That whosoever believeth.” In fact, although the Bible doesn’t use the words “choose” and “choice” very much, a major theme of the New Testament is centered around this word “believe.” And ultimately, belief is an expression of our choice. As I understand the Bible, belief, or choice, is the one and only human factor in our salvation.
So although God does know the future, His knowledge of the future doesn’t negate our freedom of choice. Yet God has seen in our future, even before we desired or followed Him, that one day we would choose to follow Him, and He has arranged the circumstances of our lives to give us every opportunity to be reconciled to Him. And although He knows that some will be lost, He in His great forbearance gives them all the same opportunities to know and serve Him.
We could look at any of a great number of stories in the Bible—because really this principle is all through the Bible. But today I’d like for us to look at one simple story, found in 1 Samuel—the story of the first King of Israel.
You know the background of this story. At this time in Israel’s history, they didn’t have a king. The nation was ruled directly by God, through the mediation of prophets. But the people demanded to have a king. God knew what would be the result of giving Israel a king—how the king would oppress the people, and enrich himself at their expense—and he told Samuel the prophet to solemnly warn the people what would happen if they had a king. But the people demanded a king, so God told Samuel to go and anoint a king for Israel.
“There was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish … 2 And he had a choice and handsome son whose name was Saul. There was not a more handsome person than he among the children of Israel. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people.”
God chose Saul. Though Saul was not always faithful to Him, God had plans to use him to lead Israel. And even through Saul’s unfaithfulness, God used his life to teach Israel the lessons He wanted to teach them. But what kind of man was Saul? Certainly he was good-looking. He came from an unassuming family, and although he was not perfect, God knew that Saul, if consecrated to God, would be someone whom He could use to lead his people.
In his early life, Saul displayed a remarkable humility. When Samuel told him that God had chosen him to lead Israel, he responded (v. 21):
“Am I not a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel, and my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin? Why then do you speak like this to me?”
As a sign that what he spoke was true, Samuel told Saul in perfect detail the events that would take place over the next few hours. He told Saul everyone he would meet, where he would meet them and what they would say. He also predicted Saul’s conversion, when he would be filled with the Holy Spirit.
1 Samuel 10:6 Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man.
v. 9-10 So it was, when he had turned his back to go from Samuel, that God gave him another heart; and all those signs came to pass that day. 10 When they came there to the hill, there was a group of prophets to meet him; then the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them.
Saul—the ancient king of Israel—was a truly converted man! But after he became king of Israel, this converted man changed, again. He failed to subdue the natural pride in his heart, and only a couple years into his reign, he made the foolish decision to offer sacrifice in Samuel’s absence.
Samuel said to Saul: “13 And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you. For now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. 14 But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” (1 Samuel 13:13-14)
Even then, all hope was not lost for Saul. God gave him many opportunities to redeem himself—to choose to return to God again. But it was no avail. Saul continued in his downward course, until he was overcome by the forces of evil, and made it his lifework to destroy David, whom God had appointed to succeed him because of Saul’s disobedience.
Eventually, Saul would come to the point where he had cut off all means of communion with God. He chose to consult a spirit medium, and the message he received was a message of utter hopelessness. A final message from Satan—the one who had taken away Saul’s freedom of choice—and the next day, injured and defeated, Saul took his own life.
But contrast this with the life of Saul’s son, Jonathan. A man who, though the son of a dishonorable king, chose to be faithful to God. A man who, with only his armor-bearer and a deep faith in God, chose to go to battle against the strong forces of the Philistines—and won! A man who chose not to fear his father’s wrath in his love and loyalty to David.
The Bible tells the stories of those who have served God, and then chosen to go against him. God respects our freedom of choice, as He says in Ezekiel 33:12 “The righteousness of the righteous man shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression.”
There are even more stories of hope—those who like Saul of Tarsus have lived lives of hopelessness—in bondage to Satan, only to finally choose faith and to be set free by the gospel of Christ. And yes, the Bible is filled with the accounts of men and women who chose to be loyal to God, at all costs.
My friends, I submit to you today, that yes, the choice is real. The course of our lives is not fixed. Today, right now, you hold your future in your hands. Consider carefully the choices you make, for only you can make them. The choices you make will impact you, and the people you love, both now and for eternity.
As I look around, I see so many people today who are coasting through life, as though they were only passengers on the train. They seem to view life as though every happening were the inevitable result of fate. I see far to many gliding along, like dune buggies without a driver.
I ask you today, my friend: what will you choose? Will you choose to take control of your life, in this moment? And my friend, the most important decision you can make is the decision to give Christ total control in your life. The choice to surrender—not just once, but each and every day. Will you choose to let Him guide your life? Because your choice today could very well determine your destiny.
Joshua 24:15 And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
This was the first message in a 4-part series. Be sure to see the next message: