Can God cause a person to believe in Him?

by Matt Slick
6/16/2017
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One of the premises of the Molinist position is that God cannot cause someone to do something such as believe in him, because that would mean that the person does not have free will.

"...some persons may freely choose to do something and God cannot freely make them do something, which would be a contradiction. God must therefore choose another possible/ feasible world to create from." (Andrews, Max. An Introduction to Molinism: Scripture, Reason, and All that God has Ordered, The Spread of Molinism, Book 1, Kindle Locations 146-147, Kindle Edition, emphasis added)

So, Max Andrews says that it would be a contradiction for God to make someone do something freely. I don't see how his statement makes any sense. God can arrange circumstances where a person will choose to do one thing over another. He could divert a river and cause someone to walk another direction. He can send the wind, an animal, a plague, or whatever else he chooses that will directly affect someone and cause a different outcome. The person will freely make a choice influenced by the circumstances around him. This is one way that God can get someone to freely do what he wants.

Can God cause someone to believe in Him?

As far as God causing someone to believe in him, the Scriptures tell us that God can do exactly that.  Here are five of many Scriptures that support this idea.

  • Prov. 21:1, "The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes."
  • John 1:12-13, "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, WHO WERE BORN NOT OF BLOOD, NOR OF THE WILL OF THE FLESH, NOR OF THE WILL OF MAN, BUT OF GOD." 
  • Acts 16:14, "A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul."
  • Phil. 1:29, "Philippians 1:29, "For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake."
  • 1 Pet. 1:3, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." 

Proverbs 21:1

We see from Proverbs 21:1, that God moves the heart of the king where he wishes it to go. If God can do this, then he can also move the heart of any individual to where he wants it to go, including believing in him. Yet, the Molinists teach us that God cannot cause anyone to believe in Christ. In other words, God cannot cause a person's heart to turn where he wishes it to go lest he violate a person's free will. Proverbs 21:1 contradicts the Molinist position.

John 1:13

In John 1:13 we see that people are born (the context is born again) not of their own wills, but of God. This is consistent with biblical theology that reveals the depravity of man and his inability to freely choose God within his unregenerate and sinful nature (John 6:65; Rom. 3:10-12; 1 Cor. 2:14, etc.)  If Scripture tells us that we are born (again) not of our own will, but of the will of God, then what is the Molinist to do? After all, Molinists affirm libertarian free will and also affirm that under the right circumstances, with prevenient grace, the person will be born again by his own free will choice. Yet, Scripture tells us we're born again by the will of God, not the will of man - including libertarian free will motivated out of prevenient grace.  John 1:13 contradicts the Molinist position.

Acts 16:14

In Acts 16:14 we see that God opened the heart of Lydia to respond to the things spoken of by Paul. Now, we know that she was already a worshiper of God, though not yet a Christian. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message of salvation since afterward, she was baptized (v. 15). If libertarian free will is true, then why did God have to open her heart? Why didn't she just freely believe under the right circumstances? Why didn't God just arrange things so that she was motivated out of her own conscience, and her own will, to decide to believe in Paul's teaching? If libertarian free will is true and human freedom is the final arbiter of belief in Christ, then why did God have to open her heart? It makes no sense. And, since we see that her opened heart was the result of God's work, and that she then believed, we can see God caused someone to believe. Acts 16:14 contradicts the Molinist position.

Philippians 1:29

Philippians 1:29 tells us that God is the one who grants that we believe. I am reminded of Romans 9:16 which says, "So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy." The Romans 9 context is about what God does among people, including his mercy upon them (v. 15) and his ordination of them for destruction or salvation (vv. 21-23). Nevertheless, Philippians tells us that it is God who grants that we believe. If it were true that the unregenerate, sinfully-enslaved person can freely believe given the right circumstances, then why does Philippians 1:29 say that God grants that we believe?   The granting cannot be an arrangement of circumstances.  It is granting the actual belief.

  • "charisthḗsomai, it means to be permitted or granted something (1 Cor. 2:12; Phil. 1:29; Phile. 1:22)." (Zodhiates, Spiros. The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament. Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000.)
  • "χαρίζομαιa: to give or grant graciously and generously, with the implication of good will on the part of the giver—‘to give, to grant, to bestow generously." (Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. New York: United Bible Societies, 1996.)
  • "it is given—Greek, “it has been granted as a favor,” or “gift of grace.” Faith is the gift of God (Eph 2:8), not wrought in the soul by the will of man, but by the Holy Ghost (Jn 1:12, 13)." (Jamieson, Robert, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown. Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.)

This granting is not arranging circumstances, as some libertarians have asserted. Nor is it the addition of prevenient grace that enables a person to freely choose. Philippians 1:29 speaks against these ideas. Philippians 1:29 contradicts the Molinist position.

1 Peter 1:3

In 1 Peter 1:3 we see that God caused people to be born again.  This means he caused them to be changed internally, to be given the new birth.  It was not the result of LFW, but of God's direct work.

  • "ἀναγεννάω: (a figurative extension of meaning of ἀναγεννάω ‘to be physically born again,’ not occurring in the NT) to cause to be changed as a form of spiritual rebirth—‘to cause to be born again, to be given new birth." (Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. New York: United Bible Societies, 1996.)
  • "to cause to be changed as a form of spiritual rebirth—‘to cause to be born again, to be given new birth.’" (Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida...)
  • "cause to be born again." (Zerwick, Max, and Mary Grosvenor. A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament. Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1974.)
  • has caused us to be born again” This is the same root (anagennaō, cf. 1:23) as in John 3:3 (gennaō). It is an AORIST ACTION PARTICIPLE, which speaks of a decisive act." (Utley, Robert James Dr. The Gospel according to Peter: Mark and I & II Peter. Vol. Volume 2. Study Guide Commentary Series. Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International, 2000)
  • "‘Begot’ is archaic, however, and he ‘has caused us to be born again’ (NASB) is probably best. In blessing God, Peter thinks first of the new spiritual life that God has given to his people.1 This being born anew is by his great mercy, a phrase with the same preposition (kata) as ‘according to the foreknowledge’ (v. 2). No foreknowledge of the fact that we would believe, no foreseeing of any desirableness or merit on our part, is mentioned here or anywhere else in Scripture when indicating God’s ultimate reason for our salvation. It is simply ‘according to his great mercy’ that he gave us new life." (Grudem, Wayne A. 1 Peter: An Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 17. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988.)

Hopefully, the testimony of scholars about what the Greek is saying in this verse should convince us that the cause of our being born again is not our will (i.e., John 1:13), but the will and work of God. Molinists presuppose that it is our will, our Libertarian free choice that is the cause of our regeneration. But, the Scriptures speak to the contrary.  1 Peter 1:3 contradicts the Molinist position.

Conclusion

The above list of Scriptures is not exhaustive. Other verses worth examining in this context include John 6:28-29; 6:65; Acts 13:48; 2 Tim. 2:9, 24-25, etc. God is the one in control. We can see that God causes people to believe. In spite of Molinists' possible objections that this is a violation of human free will, the Scriptures speak clearly and to the contrary of the Molinist assumptions. If it is true that libertarian free will is the case, then why are there verses that say that God moves the heart where he wishes it to go (Proverbs 21:1), that we are born again not of our own will but of God's will (John 1:13), that God opens the heart for people to believe (Acts 16:14), that God grants that we believe (Philippians 1:29), and that God causes us to be born again (1 Peter 1:3)?

These verses contradict Molinism and it should be obvious that God can cause people to believe.

 

 

 

 

 
 

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.