In secular philosophy we read of ‘determinism’, which the Collins dictionary describes as ‘the philosophical doctrine that all events including human actions and choices are fully determined by preceding events and states of affairs, and so that freedom of choice is illusory’. To a large extent this absolves us of responsibility and accountability for our actions.

In religious philosophy we read of ‘fatalism’, which the Oxford dictionary defines as the ‘belief that all events are pre-determined by arbitrary decree’. This also seriously minimizes our accountability and responsibility for our actions, and makes nonsense of God’s judgement on our sin.

We are accountable and responsible to God
As we have seen previously, the Bible affirms human accountability and responsibility. Nowhere does it allow us to excuse or justify our choices on the basis of determinism or fatalism.

The Bible assures us that God knows the varying circumstances of our parentage and environment, which inevitably contribute to our choices and have effect on our actions. But those choices and actions are not locked in. We are at all points confronted with an ‘either/or’. We can do what is right, or we can do what is wrong. God holds every one of us answerable for our thoughts, attitudes, words and actions.

In addition, the biblical themes of God’s justice and God’s judgement on human sin exclude the validity of either religious fatalism or secular determinism.

Freedom to choose
Down through the centuries the ‘free will’ versus ‘bondage of the will’ controversy has divided Christians. Contrary to both secular determinism and religious fatalism we are free to choose at multiple levels: I can choose to wear a blue dress or a pink dress; I can choose whether or not to drive inside or outside the speed limit; I can choose my career; I can choose my diet. I can choose to be honest or dishonest. I can choose to obey God’s commandments or I can choose to disobey his commandments. Although external factors may affect my decisions, what I choose is my decision.

There are law-abiding non-believers; and there are law-breaking believers. From the biblical perspective, whether we are believers or not, we have freedom in these areas. But none of these choices is the ultimate choice.

Left to ourselves we make the wrong ultimate choice
In the most important choice of all – the choice to return to God – the Bible teaches that unless God himself does something to us we will not return to God. At the bottom of this ‘will not’ is our fundamental rejection of God that began in Genesis 3. Because of this fundamental rejection of God, we are, as we have seen previously,

Deceived, confused and blind – unless God powerfully confronts us with the real truth about himself, and opens our eyes, we will choose to believe lies about him (either that he does not exist, or that he is what he is not).

Dead – unless God regenerates us we have no spiritual life, and therefore no ability to do anything of spiritual value or significance. We will always choose to reject him because true faith is simply impossible for those who are spiritually dead.

Left to ourselves we are also banned from God’s presence
As we have seen the Bible also teaches that we are condemned, and that condemnation includes being banned from the presence of God by our sin and guilt. We cannot return to God because his justice and his holiness exclude us.

We are thus bound - trapped in our ignorance of God, our spiritual death, and our condemnation
Because of this the Bible uses the concepts of slavery and bondage to describe our human condition and position, a slavery and bondage from which we need to be set free. Our will, our minds, our hearts, are bound when it comes to the question of repentance and faith.

Left to ourselves we are bound in our ignorance of God, held captive by the great deceiver [John 8:31-47]. We are under his control and his authority [Colossians 1:13]. We are slaves of sin [Romans 6:17] and of death [Romans 5:17; Hebrews 2:15]. Left to ourselves we will always choose to reject God.

It is not without reason that God is called the Redeemer – the one who sets people free. It is not without reason that the work of Christ is called ‘redemption’ – setting people free from their guilt and condemnation. It is not without reason that the saving action of the Holy Spirit is called ‘regeneration’ – setting the spiritually dead free to live again, reconnecting us with Jesus Christ, who is our life.

In the synergistic saving work of the triune God that which is bound is set free.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2013, 2016