This question seems to be one of the main objections to Calvinism. Today I was trying to answer this very question for some scoffing skeptics. Their argument was essentially that if you cannot do anything except that which God predestined, then it is God and not you who is responsible for your actions. How that logic follows, I am not exactly sure. They argue that we do not really have a choice to do something that God has not predestined, which is true enough. I can only do that which God has chosen that I would do. For them, this is tantamount to not having a will whatsoever, and to being God’s puppet.
We Have Freedom Within His Plan
We are not puppets, in one sense at least. We are clay to be sure, being molded by God for His own purposes; some are destined to damnation, and others to salvation (Romans 9:14-24). We have no say in this, one way or the other. The difference, however, from being a mere puppet, is that we are living puppets if you will, living clay. Pinocchio. We are real. We do have wills. Not a free will, meaning, not free to do that which is outside of God’s sovereignty, His predestined plan. Yet our will is free to do that which we desire to do. Whatever I want to do, that I do. And what I want to do, is what God has predestined that I would do.
We Choose Sin, and God Doesn't Stop Us
What I want to emphasize, is that my desiring sin isn’t a desire that God gives me. He merely decrees that I will sin, that I will desire whatever I do desire, but He doesn’t actually plant that sinful desire in me. It is I, however, who create the sinful desire in my heart. It is a native desire that I create, not a foreign desire implanted into me from God. So yes, I am executing God’s predestined plan when I sin. And yes, I am freely choosing the sin when I do it. That is the key to understanding Calvinism. We do what God predestines, because we want to do it. Our wanting to do it, is due to our own heart desires. God did notcause us to desire the sin that we desire by putting evil into our hearts, He chooses to allow those evil desires to exist.We cause ourselves to desire the sin that we desire. That cannot be repeated enough.
That Holy Mystery of Free Will/Predestination
Yet, God still predestined that we would desire the sin that we commit. How does God do this? I do not know. I place this particular ability of His, His sovereign, predestining ability, in the same category as the trinity and His ability to create out of nothing by the power of divine fiat. Which is to say, we cannot know how God does this, but we can know why we cannot know. The reason we cannot know, is because the power of creation, the ability to exist in the form of a trinity, and the power to be sovereign and predetermine all things, including living things, is a power that belongs to God alone. It is part of what makes God, God. It is part of the otherness of God.
A man and wife come together, and a child is formed, but even that we do not really understand. The miracle of life cannot fully be explained. Even if we learn how to create babies in a lab, we are still using the means that God gave us; it is still the sperm and the egg doing what they were designed to do to create life. The fact remains, though, that even though we cannot understand this, or duplicate this, it still happens. The same is true with the sovereignty of God over all things, including human actions and the fall of man. The skeptics also tried to argue that if God is able to stop sin, then He should, otherwise He is evil. I turned that argument on them and said if that were true, then human beings should wipe out the human race- we should wipe ourselves out. We should kill each other, since we are evil and, after all, we have the power to stop the evil that we do. At the very least, we should kill our children under this logic, since we are in part responsible for their existence, and we know that they are bound to do something wrong.
God Has No Obligation to Regenerate Us
The truth is, God is not obligated to create only if what He creates doesn’t experience punishment, or doesn’t do what is evil. We want to limit God to only being allowed to create us if He creates us for what we want, and not what He wants. But God is clear, that the creation has no right to say to the Creator, “Why have you made me like this?” (Romans 9:20). This was the hardest truth, initially, for me to swallow when I became a Calvinist. I had a man-centered view of God, at least in this area. God could send me to hell, but he couldn’t create some, and potentially me, for hell, just to glorify Himself. I thought that was evil of God. Then I read Romans 9 and I couldn’t argue that this was what Scripture taught, and what God had done. Soon I realized that either I must accept this or reject God altogether.
I have come to see that there is no unrighteousness with God when He creates some for destruction, because God is free to create for whatever purposes He sees fit. He gets glory from punishing sinners. We are made to glorify Him, some to glorify His grace and mercy, some His righteous wrath and justice. Some will face eternal punishment, justly so, and some will receive salvation and forgiveness, not because they deserve it, but rather to demonstrate God’s grace and mercy. That’s just reality, and we cannot logically argue against that. There is no unrighteousness with God. We do what we want to do, and we store up the wrath of God by desiring and acting upon our sinful desires. But in the end, our unrighteousness will demonstrate the righteousness of God, either by giving us the hell we deserve or by offering a substitute to pay for our sins.
One Last, Brief, Personal Word
When I sin, I know it’s me who desired the sin, and not God causing me to desire it. I know I deserve the full wrath of God. And I also know that God has predestined every single thing that I do, including the sin I commit. I see mystery in this, but not contradiction. And I can live with the mystery, because I can rest in the fact that this mystery is something that man cannot understand, cannot fathom, at least this side of heaven. This is precisely what Paul says in Romans 11:33, is it not?
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!”