Free Will / Human Responsibility: OT
July 4, 2022
Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel? Ezekiel 18:31
There is no theological debate in the OT between “predestination” and “free will.” No OT writer suggests that, since God is sovereign, he must choose an individual for salvation. No OT writer suggests that for a person to have “free will” his salvation must rest on his own completely free choice. But we do find a movement among God’s OT people to deny personal responsibility.
In the days of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, such people argued that God deals only in national terms, with the whole community of Israel. They said that God’s attitude toward them was based on what earlier generations bring judgment, and called for repentance, these people simply shrugged and complained that it was all their forefathers’ fault! It was unfair, but if they must suffer for what others have done, there was nothing they could do.
In this atmosphere the idea that any individual had personal responsibility, or that anything an individual could do made difference, was simply rejected.
The later prophets, and particularly Ezekiel, speak out against this form of determinism. National repentance could change the course of history and stay the hand of judgment (Jer. 18:7-10). By the time of Ezekiel, the nation as a whole was committed to the pursue of evil. So this prophet stresses another aspect of the message of personal responsibility. God does deal with individuals as well as the nation! If an individual in a corrupt society chooses righteousness, God will mark him out (9:3-6) and preserve his life. This preservation is based on the individual’s personal response to God, not what his father has done (Ezek. 18:5-20). Even a wicked person can turn to God, begin to live righteously, and will be forgiven. The message of the prophets, then stresses the fact that a person is responsible for his choices, and that if he chooses God, then God will exercise his power on the individual’s behalf.
Looking ahead to the end times, the prophet says of the nation, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you” (Ezek. 36:26). And in chapter 18 Ezekiel reports God’s exhortation: “Get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit” (18:31). The role God plays in the transformation of an individual is one of those hidden things we can safely leave to him. What is revealed in Scripture is that the philosophy of determinism, which suggests you and I are not responsible for our choices is wrong! We do choose. And our loving God invites us to choose him.