Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (God the Father: The Decree of God)


Answering Objections

God’s decree is his eternal plan, whereby, according to his decretive will and for his glory, he foreordained everything that comes to pass.


The following list features the major characteristics of the decree of God:

       1.    Single: “the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11)

       2.    Comprehensive: “works all things” (Eph. 1:11), including the ordination of the good actions of people (Eph. 2:10) as well as sinful acts (Prov. 16:4; Acts 2:23; 4:27–28), events that are contingent from a human perspective (Gen. 45:8; 50:20; Prov. 16:33), the means and ends of acts (Ps. 119:89–91; Eph. 1:4; 2 Thess. 2:13), and the length (Job 14:5; Ps. 39:4) and place of a person’s life (Acts 17:26)

       3.    Unconditional and not based on outside influences: “according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11; see also Acts 2:23; Rom. 8:29–30; Eph. 2:8; 1 Pet. 1:2)

       4.    Eternal: “who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Tim. 1:9; see also Eph. 1:4)

       5.    Effectual: “declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose’ ” (Isa. 46:10; see also Ps. 33:11; Prov. 19:21)

       6.    Immutable: “he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back?” (Job 23:13–14; see also Ps. 33:11; Isa. 14:24; 46:10; Acts 2:23)

       7.    Ordaining sin and controlling its effects: “God gave them up …” (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28; see also Pss. 78:29; 106:15; Acts 14:16; 17:30; Rom. 3:25)

       8.    Purpose of the decree: to manifest and bring praise to God’s glory (Rom. 11:33–36; Eph. 1:6, 12, 14; Rev. 4:11)

Answering Objections


Response: Agents may properly be said to be free so long as their acts are uncoerced. People are free to act within the confines of their nature. Since all men are fallen in Adam, their nature is corrupted by sin, and they are therefore not free to choose righteousness. Nevertheless, they still freely make their moral choices according to their thinking and desires. Those choices arise from a fallen human nature, which is fundamentally opposed to obeying God. So people act freely in their sin and are not coerced by God to act against their nature. God’s decree extends to the uncoerced choices of agents free to act within the bounds of their nature (cf., e.g., Gen. 50:19–20; Acts 2:23; 4:27–28).


Response: The decree is not addressed to men “as a rule of action” and cannot be such a rule because the content of the decree is not known until after events have occurred. But God has ordained a rule of life and belief in the Bible, so that man has the guidance available to do righteous deeds. Again, man is free in the decree to do according to his thoughts and desires, and God does not coercively prevent him from doing good. Also, God’s decree includes free human choices that are determined by God to bring about his ordained ends:

Since the decree establishes an interrelation between means and ends, and ends are decreed only as the result of means, they encourage effort instead of discouraging it. Firm belief in the fact that, according to the divine decrees, success will be the reward of toil, is an inducement to courageous and persevering efforts.

In the Bible, there is “a theological distinction between certainty and compulsion” (see Acts 2:23). Just because God has decreed an event, thereby rendering it certain, does not mean that he coerces people to go against their thoughts and desires. As long as there is no coercion in conditions inclining a person to act in a certain way, a human action may be determined by God and be certain to occur, and yet the person may remain free to do as he or she pleases.67


Response: Fatalism is impersonal, is unintelligent, and has no intended ultimate end. In contrast, God’s sovereign determination of his decree is the personal act of the God who is perfect wisdom, omniscience, justice, love, and grace. Further, one of the ends of the decree is people being saved from sin and living forever in eternal blessedness. Fatalism allows for no free acts, casting humanity as impersonally coerced by cosmic forces. But the decree of God includes no moral coercion. Fatalism also has no distinction between right and wrong, no moral meaning in the universe. But the decree of God is based on his eternal, perfect righteousness and results in believers living in unsullied moral goodness forever.


Response: It must be admitted that sin is a part of God’s eternal plan, for he works all things according the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11). This includes the greatest sin in human history: the murder of the Son of God (cf. Acts 2:22–23; 4:27–28). God did not merely permit the crucifixion; he purposefully and wisely ordained it unto his honor and glory. Similarly, he did not merely allow Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery in Egypt but meant their sinful action for his most wise and holy ends (Gen. 45:5–8; 50:20).

Nevertheless, while God ordains the evil choices of free moral agents, he does not thereby incur blame or wickedness, because he does not directly or efficiently cause any evil. He brings about the evil actions of man through secondary causation according to their own wicked desires. God is absolutely sovereign, and man is entirely responsible for his actions.[1]

[1] MacArthur, J., & Mayhue, R., eds. (2017). Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (pp. 211–213). Crossway.