Ownership and Liability
I want to shift this whole issue of free will to what I believe is the real issue. The question of free will is a side issue. The real issue is not free will, but ownership. It is not about the right of man to exercise free will; it is about God’s right as Creator to exercise His free will. We will go through the Scriptures and the law to show you this. Gen. 1:1 says,
1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
This is always a good place to start – the beginning. Do we all believe that God was the Creator? Or, do some people believe that the devil created the earth? The ancient Greeks believed that the devil was the one responsible for the creation of matter (material things) because they believed that matter was inherently evil. They could not see how a good God would create evil matter. Their basic premise was incorrect. Physical matter was created and pronounced “good” at every stage of creation (Gen. 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31).
Thus, the most important and basic premise of understanding the truth is that God is the Creator, and that He pronounced it good.
As Christians, we believe that the God of the Bible is the One who created. He is a good God, not a bad God, and that this God of the Old Testament is not different from the God of the New Testament.
God created all things, including man. In Chapter 2, verse 7, we read the following:
7 And the LORD God [Yahweh Elohim] formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
Note here that man was formed of the dust of the ground. This ground, or this earth from which man was formed, was something that God had created in Genesis 1:1. So, the devil did not create; God created the earth and then formed and shaped man out of this material that He had created (Gen. 2:7). That is why it is “dust to dust, ashes to ashes.” When we die, our bodies return to dust. They return to the elements of the ground from which our bodies were originally created. Turn to Leviticus 25:23-24,
23 The land shall not be sold for ever: for the land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me. 24 And in all the land of your possession ye shall grant a redemption for the land.
These are God’s land laws. The land must always be redeemed. This is God’s law. On what basis does God have land laws? Remember when Israel went into the land of Canaan, Joshua divided up all the land among the citizens of Israel – first among the tribes and then to each family. They all had a land inheritance. Yet even though they inherited the land, they were not given absolute sovereignty over their land. They were tenants on God’s land. There were conditions to which they were subjected. Man had authority over the land, but God retained sovereignty.
Today, we call it “eminent domain.” The government claims eminent domain over your land so that if it wants to build a highway, it can come in and “condemn” your land. Basically, they come in and buy it. You are subject to them, and you do not have a whole lot of choice in the matter. Ultimately the government claims eminent domain over your land.
In the same way God claims eminent domain over your land as well. You were made of the dust of the ground—material that God created. Your body is your land inheritance. But because you did not create yourself, you do not own yourself. God owns you by right of creation. His Sovereignty, then, is based upon His rights of ownership over Creation. Though man has been given a level of authority over his land inheritance, he does not actually own it. God owns it.
So when God gave Israel the land of Canaan as their inheritance, they were not given sovereignty as creators. They were given only limited authority over that land. The Greek New Testament uses two different words to describe sovereign power and authority. Dunamis is power (Acts 1:16). Exousia is authority (Matt. 8:9). These terms are relative. A man under authority looks up to a higher “power.” But that same man may have people under him who look to him as a higher “power.” Thus, a man may have “power” over men, but at the same time is under “authority” given by a higher power.
We often speak of a king being a “sovereign” or having sovereignty over the citizens of the nation he rules. Yet at the same time that same king is subject to the King of Kings. Thus, the earthly king has authority under God to execute the will of God. Kings are not supposed to act according to their own “free will.” If they rule by their own will, God will hold them accountable.
It is the great deception of kings that God gave them absolute power, even to overrule the will of God and His laws by their own free will.
God retained sovereignty; man was given authority that was subordinate to His sovereignty. Everyone needs to know that distinction. Authority is always limited by the will of the one who is sovereign.
Not a Question of Free Will but of Ownership
God created man out of the dust of the ground. If God owns all the land by right of creation, and we are made of the dust of the ground, God owns you and God owns me. It is not a question of whether or not you have a free will; it is a question of whether or not God has a free will. Who owns you? Can anyone deny that God owns the dust of the ground from which man was created? Does anyone deny that God created all things? If God created all things, then He owns all things, and there is where we find the crux of the whole matter.
We can argue all day long, back and forth, about whether or not man has free will. That debate makes for good mental gymnastics, but the whole issue is really beside the point. The point is, who owns all things?
Why do we say that?
Turn to Exodus 21.When you begin to look at the laws of liability, then ownership becomes very, very important. Keep in mind that the reason men debate the question of free will is really to establish liability for evil and sin in the earth. The underlying purpose for believing in free will is to make man responsible for evil and to absolve God of any liability. Man’s free will seems to do that.
The main problem with the idea of free will is that the cumulative effect of billions of free wills on earth, combined with the free will of the devil and his angels tends to limit God’s ability to resolve the evil that we see running rampant in the earth. God tends to become a helpless giant with hands tied by the free will of man. He stands at the sidelines pleading helplessly, while the devil overrides the free of man by making them do bad things.
Thus, when men attempt to relieve God of liability by attributing free will to all men, they do so only at the expense of His sovereignty. I believe that there is a better and more accurate solution to this dilemma that is revealed in the biblical laws of liability.
God's Liability Laws
God’s liability laws are based upon ownership, not upon free will. To prove this, let us look at some of God’s laws of liability and ownership. Exodus 21:33-34 says,
33 And if a man shall open a pit, or if a man shall dig a pit, and not cover it, and an ox or an ass fall therein; 34 the owner of the pit shall make it good, and give money unto the owner of them; and the dead beast shall be his.
The liability here is based upon ownership. If a man digs a pit and does not take the necessary steps to cover it and an ox comes along and falls in by his own “free will” or by his own stupidity, who is liable according to God’s law? It is the creator/owner of the pit who is liable, and he must then buy the dead ox for himself. The owner has to pay for it as though it were a live ox, and the dead ox is his.
Back in the Garden of Eden, God in effect dug a “pit” by planting the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The devil did not plant this tree. God did it, and God owned the tree. This tree provided the occasion by which Adam and Eve could “fall” into sin. It was a “pit” insofar as the law was concerned.
Further, God did not cover up this pit. That is, God did not put a fence around the tree to make it impossible for man to eat of it. His warning to them in Gen. 2:17 was like putting up a sign next to a pit saying, “Keep Out.” Yet because Adam and Eve were perhaps too naïve and inexperienced, they disobeyed and “fell” into that great bottomless pit, the abyss.
God did not cover the pit to prevent Adam’s fall. Man fell because God did not take the proper precautions that would have been necessary to prevent man from sinning. Because Adam had been given authority (“dominion”) in the earth in Gen. 1:26, he was most certainly liable to the extent of his authority. However, this does not absolve God of His liability as well—by His own law, which is a reflection of His righteous character.
Could God have prevented man from sinning? Of course He could have. He did not have to plant the tree in the first place, or if He did, He did not have to omit the fence. Even then, He did not have to create a tempter and allow him entrance into the garden. Did the tempter come in without God’s knowledge? Did God turn off the security alarms and somehow the devil entered the garden without God’s knowledge? Did God say “oops!”? Is God really so ignorant?
The fact is that God knew the end from the beginning. He was not taken by surprise. He dug that pit and left it uncovered because He had a plan, and the plan called for man to fall. And so he did. By God’s own liability laws, then, He is responsible. So what did God do about it? He sent His only begotten Son who was lifted up on the cross in order to drag all men to Himself. He paid for the sin of the whole world because all of creation became subject to death through Adam’s fall. He bought the dead ox. The ox is now His.
Do you realize what this means? He bought all who fell, and they are now His. Has anyone escaped falling? At the present time it may not look like all mankind is His, but the fact is that God created them and therefore, by His own liability laws, He purchased the world. In doing so, He fulfilled the law perfectly. This is why Paul wrote in Rom. 5:18, 19,
18 So then as through one transgression [Adam’s sin] there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of [Christ’s] righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. 19 For as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.
Liability for Adam’s Sin
Adam was the given authority (under God) over all of creation. Thus, when he sinned, he incurred a debt that he could not pay, and his family and property was “sold” in payment on the debt (Matt. 18:25). Not only Adam, but his children and the entire estate now groans in travail, waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God (Rom. 8:23). They are waiting to be redeemed from the bondage into which Adam’s debt has placed them.
The good news is that a near kinsman was born in the earth, who had the resources to pay this great debt. He did not take upon Himself the nature of angels, but of human flesh (Heb. 2:14-16), in order that He might be a near kinsman with the right of redemption. A near kinsman cannot be denied his lawful right to redeem, as long as he is willing to pay the full price of redemption. And so Jesus came in human flesh and paid the full price of redemption for all that was lost by Adam’s sin.
Paul could thus say confidently that “there resulted justification of life to ALL MEN.” This is also why Paul said in 1 Cor. 15:22, 23,
22 For as in Adam ALL die, so also in Christ ALL shall be made alive. 23 But each in his own order. . .
This is the Good News of the New Testament. His blood was sufficient and worth enough to pay for the sin of the whole world. 1 John 2:2 says,
2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
This is how seriously God took His responsibility for Adam’s fall. He opened the pit, knowing fully that Adam would fall, and that it would affect the whole world by the law of headship. His plan was to use that same law of headship through Jesus Christ, the Last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45). Christ’s righteous act upon the cross would affect all men to the same extent that the sin of Adam affected all men.
Because Christ was given authority over the whole earth as well as heaven, He was in a position to be the savior of all men (1 Tim. 4:10). Though He will always respect the will of man and not force Himself upon them, even so, He will exercise His free will and His lawful right of redemption in order to save all men in the end of time.
John saw in vision the end of the matter in Rev. 4-5, where the four living creatures, representing all of creation, give glory to God. The twenty-four elders cast their crowns before Him, saying in 4:11,
11 “Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they existed, and were created.”
In other words, the twenty-four elders knew that their authority was subordinate to the sovereignty of God and to His will. Why? Because He was the Creator, and they owed their very existence to His will, not to their own will or power. They did not create themselves. They came into existence through the will of God.
John then records in Rev. 5:13, 14 the implications of this:
13 And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion for the ages of the ages.” 14 And the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped.
In The Expositor’s Bible, Vol. 6, p. 854, published by Eerdman’s Publishing Co., Rev. William Milligan, D.D. explains this as follows:
“What a sublime conception have we here before us! The whole universe, from its remotest star to the things around us, and beneath our feet, is one—one in feeling, in emotion, in expression; one in heart and voice. Nothing is said of evil. Nor is it thought of. It is in the hands of God, who will work out His sovereign purposes in His own good time and way. We have only to listen to the universal harmony, and to see that it moves us to corresponding praise (v. 14).
“The redeemed creation is once more singled out for special mention. At chap. iv. 8, 10, they began the song; now we return to them that they may close it. All creation, man included, cries, Amen. The glorified Church has her heart too full to speak. She can only fall down and worship.”
The only way to absolve God of His sovereign liability in the matter of Adam’s sin, the only way to clear His name, is for God to reverse the effects of Adam’s sin completely. Paul makes it clear that He will do so—and has already begun that process through the cross of Christ. It is only a matter of time before the vision that John saw becomes a full reality in the earth. He saw the success of the cross, for the cross was the means to this end. Without paying the redemption price, the redemption of all creation could not have occurred. The power of the cross is fully established by John’s vision, where all creation and all men come into full agreement and harmony with God’s free and sovereign will.
Judgment for Man’s Authority
True free will requires not only sovereignty, which his omnipotence, but also omniscience (knowing all). Jesus tells us in Luke 12:47, 48 that liability is measured in part by knowledge:
47 And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, shall receive many lashes. 48 but the one who did not know it and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. . .
The rest of verse 48 establishes the fact that liability is also measured in part by one’s level of authority:
48 . . . And from everyone who has been given much shall much be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.
Because God has both omnipotence and omniscience, He requires the most of Himself. Is He capable of rising to the occasion? We believe that He is well able. Man’s will cannot stop God’s plan.
One cannot separate man’s will from his authority. Man has authority; therefore, he has a will by which that authority is executed. Man is also judged according to the decisions of his will. This accountability to the will of God means that God is coercing man’s will, putting pressure on him, as it were, to conform to the divine will. The question is, whose will is stronger? Whose will shall prevail in the end? Will God get His way, or will man get his own way?
I believe that God’s plan will be fulfilled to the letter. What John saw will become the actual fact in the end of time and history. I accept this by faith in His word, because at present it looks as though man’s will is more powerful than God’s will. The world can be very evil at different times and places. But God will judge all things, because, as Creator, the responsibility ultimately falls upon His shoulders to right all wrongs and to bring good out of evil. If this were man’s responsibility, most of creation would be lost. But we can be thankful that man does not have total free will to destroy God’s creation or at least make the outcome uncertain.
Man will be judged according to his level of authority, but because authority is always subordinate to God’s sovereignty, Jesus will work to save all mankind until the job is completed in the ages to come. One of the primary purposes of resurrection is to bring men into judgment and accountability to His “fiery law” (Deut. 33:2), that they might “learn righteousness” (Isaiah 26:9). In other words, the purpose of divine judgment in the “lake of fire” is to correct them, not to destroy them. It is to teach them the character of God, who is like “a consuming fire” (Deut. 4:24; Heb. 12:29). It consumes “the flesh.”
So here are the contrasting views:
1. God cannot be liable in any way for Adam’s sin or any subsequent sin or evil in the world. Therefore, man must have a free will in order to make man totally liable for all the evil in the world. God then gives man the opportunity to be saved but cannot do anything to infringe upon his free will in making such a decision. If he does not accept Christ, then he is fully liable for his sins and must be judged—some say by annihilation, others say by eternal torment.
2. God is liable on His level of sovereignty for allowing Adam to sin when He could have prevented it. As His justice dictates, He holds men liable only according to the level of their authority. Likewise, He planned from the beginning to take upon Himself (in the person of Jesus Christ) the liability for the sin of the whole world. His purpose, as planned from the beginning, was to allow all men to fall, and then save all men through Christ—but each in his own order. The term “eternal” in the Bible is aionian, which means “pertaining to an eon, or an age.” Judgment is age-abiding, not “eternal” as such, and this is verified by checking Young’s Literal Translation of the Bible, by Dr. Robert Young, the author of Young’s Concordance.
For a more complete study of this subject, see my book, Creation’s Jubilee or the shorter book, The Judgments of the Divine Law.
More on God’s Liability Laws
Let us first take a closer look at the law regarding the ox in the pit. It is obvious that under normal circumstances, an ox may fall into a pit simply by not seeing the pit or by getting too close to it and then slipping into it. At any rate, one might say that the ox fell into the pit by his own free will or by his own blindness or stupidity. Surely one cannot blame the owner of the pit in such cases. Yet the law clearly says that the one who dug the pit (its “owner”) is liable.
But suppose I had pushed the neighbor's ox into this pit. Would that make any legal difference? Well, it does not say anything about that, because that point is legally irrelevant. If a man were to push the ox into the pit deliberately, he would owe the owner five oxen (Ex. 22:1). But if the ox fell by accident, the owner of the pit would be liable to pay for only one ox.
The owner of the pit is liable just because he owns the pit. The issue is not whether the ox (that is, Adam) fell by his own free will. This law does not address the responsibility of the ox to stay out of the pit. This law asks only: Who owns the pit? Who was responsible to cover it to prevent the ox from falling into it?
Let us look at another liability law that came from the mind of God. Deut. 22:8 says,
8 When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet [railing] for your roof, that you may not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone falls from it.
In those days the people built houses with flat roofs, because they liked to fellowship in the cool of the evenings on the top of the house. Because of this, God required them to put a railing around the roof, so that people would not accidentally fall. If there were no railing, and if someone were to fall off the roof, who is liable?
If a man pushed his neighbor off the roof, of course, he would be held liable for murder. But our issue is not whether he fell by accident or if someone pushed him deliberately. There is liability either way, and the only difference is the degree of liability. Our issue is whether or not the man could have prevented the death of his neighbor by building a railing around the roof of the house. The fact is that if you own the house, you are responsible for putting those safety precautions into place. If you do not do so, “it was an accident” does not remove all liability from your door.
God’s house is the whole heavens and the earth. His abode is in the heavens now, but He is making His home in the earth, and that is why He came and is coming again – it is to make His home here. The problem is that when He built this house, man fell off the “roof.” Who is liable? We agree that God did not PUSH Adam off the “roof.” One cannot blame God for murder. Yet we cannot simply blame the devil for tempting man. We cannot merely claim that man was careless and fell off by his own free will. To say it was totally man’s fault is not a lawful answer. Ownership of the house makes God liable by His own liability laws.
There is another liability law that should help us understand this issue. Ex. 22:5 says,
5 If a man shall cause a field or vineyard to be eaten, and shall put in his beast, and shall feed in another man's field; of the best of his own field, and of the best of his own vineyard, shall he make restitution.
What happens if an ox tears down a fence by his own free will, plods into another field, and eats his neighbor’s grass? Who is liable to pay for the grass? The owner of the ox, of course. The law is clear. The owner may perhaps whip the ox or imprison it, but this does not change the fact that the owner must pay for the neighbor’s grass.
Suppose the owner of the ox opens the fence, pushes the ox into the neighbor’s field, and pushes the ox’s nose to the ground, saying, “Eat this grass, or I will beat you to death.” The ox is forced to eat the grass and has no free will in the matter. Who is liable? The owner of the ox. The only difference in penalty is that if the offense is deliberate, the owner would have to pay at least double restitution for theft of the grass (Ex. 22:4).
If the ox committed the offense by his own “free will,” the owner has reduced liability. But he is still liable either way. To insist upon putting the entire blame upon the ox does not solve the problem of ownership. Whether that ox got in there by his own free will or whether the ox was pushed to go in against his free will, does not free the owner of liability itself. Ownership itself brings liability.
The theologian’s insistence upon man having a free will may reduce the problem of God’s liability, but it can never eliminate it altogether. This reminds us of the theory of evolution. The evolutionists insist that life came into existence by random particles coming together in the ocean at the same time. Yet they can never answer the question of how matter came to exist in the first place.
Likewise, the ancient Greeks attempted to reduce God’s liability for creating “evil” physical things by postulating a lesser evil god who created evil matter. They called him the Demiurge (sort of a “devil” figure). But this did not solve their problem either, for they could never figure out how a good God could create the evil Demiurge! By making the Demiurge to be the creator of evil matter, they only succeeded in reducing God’s liability and hoping no one would notice that God was still liable for creating the Demiurge.
Ownership is the only relevant, legal issue. Can you see that? This is why the question of free will is not the primary issue, because putting free will upon man or the devil does not fully absolve God of liability according to His own law. Look at Exodus 22:6,
6 If fire break out, and catch in thorns, so that the stacks of corn, or the standing corn, or the field, be consumed therewith; he that kindled the fire shall surely make restitution.
What if I light a fire and deliberately do so in order to burn another man’s field of grain? What would be the penalty? Obviously, I may have to pay double restitution for the field, because I stole his grain and burned it. But what if I accidentally burned the neighbor's crop? Does this absolve me of liability? Absolutely not. If I lit the fire, I own the fire. It all boils down once again to a question of ownership. The liability laws show that man’s intent (i.e., “free will”) has to do with the extent of liability, not the fact of liability itself.
That is why I say that free will is a side issue for philosophers to debate. From a legal standpoint dealing with liability, declaring man’s “free will” does not do what they say it is supposed to do. The idea of free will was developed primarily to absolve God of liability for man and his actions. It is inadequate to the task. The most relevant issues are these: Did God create man? Does God own man? Could He have created man in such a way that would prevent him from falling into sin? The answer is “yes” on all counts. This makes God liable by His own concept of liability, as stated in His own law.
So free will is not the central issue, ownership is. All through the law, and the New Testament as well, God claims ownership of all that He has created. On that basis God takes responsibility for all that He owns. He wrote the laws on liability, so that we would have the revelation to understand that He legally obligated Himself to purchase the whole world. That is why He paid for the sins of the whole world and not just for the sins of two percent of humanity. The Bible never, never says that He only paid for the sins of a few. He paid for the sin of the whole world, and when He did so, He absolved and justified Himself as Creator and Owner of the Universe.
It All Works Together for Good
God has created this whole situation, and for whatever reason, it was His will to create vessels of honor and vessels of dishonor. We may not understand this, and if we do not understand, then, as Paul says in Romans 9:20, we are not to question God. Shall the clay say to the potter, why have you made me thus? That is enough of an explanation for those who cannot understand these in-depth things. But ultimately, as we come to know the mind of God, we ought to begin to understand why He created man the way He did – and why evil was allowed to invade the earth.
We do know that all things are going to work out for good – and that the sufferings of this present age are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to come (Rom. 8:18). That we know. I do not have an explanation for each piece of evil in the earth. I do not understand it all, but I do know one thing. My faith is in God. I know that He created. I know that He is sovereign. And I know that He will work it out for good. It may not be much of a solution today as people are going through problems and going through the horrendous things in their lives. But I know that on the last day we will look back on all that has happened and we all will be able to say that God is justified in all that He has done. That much I know, and that is a matter of faith.
I have faith that God knows what He is doing, and I have faith that God is a good God. Every injustice that is in the world, He will rectify. He will make it good. He will turn it into a good thing. How He will accomplish this, I do not know, but that is where my faith lies. I believe in a sovereign God who knows what He is doing. He has not relinquished any control over the creation, even though He has indeed given man authority. We have authority over our land, but we do not have sovereignty. Our authority is limited. As we have shown before in the land laws, there is always to be a redemption allowed for the land. But even if redemption does not take place in the time of redemption, all will be set free in the year of Jubilee (Lev. 25:54). That is a law that God has established, and no man can thwart that ultimately.