I have an assignment to explain the Reformed Protestant view of the differences between the Permissive, Sovereign (Decretive) and Efficacious Wills of God. My initial exploration into this subject has left me confused, mainly because there are so many different terms applied to the Will of God in its various forms.

From what I've read, there is a view that the sovereign or decretive will of God can be divided into His efficacious will and His permissive will. Also, that in both the decretive and efficacious wills, God is directly responsible for causing His will to come to pass.

I have already seen this Christianity Stack article, but it does not help me: How are the Decretive, Preceptive, and Permissive wills of God defined?

One short article I found exposed some difficulties with the Permissive Will of God:

The distinction between the sovereign will of God and the permissive will of God is fraught with peril and tends to generate untold confusion.

In ordinary language, the term permission suggests some sort of positive sanction. To say that God “allows” or “permits” evil does not mean that He sanctions it in the sense that He approves of it. It is easy to discern that God never permits sin in the sense that He sanctions it in His creatures.

What is usually meant by divine permission is that God simply lets it happen. That is, He does not directly intervene to prevent its happening. Here is where grave dangers lurk. Some theologies view this drama as if God were impotent to do anything about human sin.

This view makes man sovereign, not God. God is reduced to the role of spectator or cheerleader, by which God’s exercise in providence is that of a helpless Father who, having done all He can do, must now sit back and simply hope for the best. He permits what He cannot help but permit because He has no sovereign power over it. This ghastly view is not merely a defective view of theism; it is unvarnished atheism. - Exposing the Permissive Will of God

The more I read the more confused I become. Frankly, I'm out of my depth. I would be grateful if someone could at least point me in the right direction to find a straightforward and readily understood Reformed Protestant perspective on the relationship between the various aspects of God's will.


I know that the answer I want to give is not the usual Protestant one but I have I think, a straightforward readily understood perspective and I am a reformed Protestant. As a divine/hard determinist the answer is simple:
A] God gives a command
B] If it is His will that it is obeyed He gives the grace/enabling so that it is obeyed and if it not His will that the command is obeyed He withholds the grace that would be necessary for it to be obeyed.

Thus in all things He retains His preeminence [Col 1v19 and John17v2].

For me the simple answer is good, but it rules out human ultimate responsibility which people cling to. To me when people insist on humans having ultimate responsibility [as oppose to instrumental responsibility] they also cling to the contradiction of God and man both being in charge. This contradiction never makes sense but produces ultimate fog/smoke screen.

  • Could you clarify B] for me? Are you saying that God may give a command that he does not will to be obeyed? If so, can you provide a biblical example of such an apparent contradiction, to help me understand. Thanks, in anticipation. – Anne Jun 1 at 5:06
  • @Anne 2 ways of looking at Adam's sin: 1. It was against God's will proving that Adam had free will. 2. Adam's will does not prove free will as it was part of God's plan which would culminate in the Father sending the Son, ultimate authority exercising itself. – C. Stroud Jun 1 at 12:44
  • Appreciate that. Could a third way of looking at Adam's sin be, 3. There was genuine free will on Adam's part (for he was not deceived) but the real issue was the choice of the deceiver impacting on God's creation, and God's sovereign will being eventually outworked in Christ? So, although Adam did something against God's will, that couldn't prevent God's will eventually being reached as per Ephesians 1:4-11, yet without depriving Adam of exercising genuine free will? – Anne Jun 3 at 11:33
  • @Anne To me-Adam was made "very good" which might mean "fit for purpose". God has a holy motive to make created Adam fail so that uncreated Jesus might succeed. God's purpose was that only Jesus might say that He had come to fulfil the Law. – C. Stroud Jun 3 at 13:37
  • Interesting, though the Law was not given until later. Appreciate your comments. – Anne Jun 5 at 16:00

Some ideas on "permissive will". Permissive will means, I think, allowing something which has originated in the creature. It assumes free will. Free will tries to protect God from the accusation of creating evil but ends up attacking God because it means something can originate in man and thus that God is not the only first cause [Alpha]. So now we are looking at "free will". Q. How could man's will be free of- God making it; how God made it; why God made it; of His all authority Mat 28v18; of how God sustains it; of the desires that it is subject to; of His control, all things are in His hand; and in John 1v13 we see man's will over ridden as people are born not of the will of man but of [the will] of God? A.V. I think "will" is implied here. I picture a child playing with red and blue soldiers, the fact that they fight each other does not imply either side has free will.

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