How football illustrates sovereignty and free will

16 Jan

Is God sovereignly in control? Does man have free will? Does God choose people for salvation? Do people choose God? This is the age old tension of theology, Calvinism versus Arminianism.

In his book on the life of Joseph, Detours: The Unpredictable Path to Your Destiny, pastor and author Dr. Tony Evans uses football to explain how both sovereignty and free will can be true and work together.

Since God is sovereign, nothing happens outside of His rule. But within His rule He has created freedom. Freedom means you get to choose. There is no freedom without choice. You are free to say “yes” or to say “no.” You are free to go or you are free to stay. God created freedom. But how can a sovereign God control everything while simultaneously creating freedom? Let me try to explain it through an illustration of football.

In football, there are sidelines and goal lines, which serve as sovereign boundaries. These do not move. You can’t negotiate them. You can’t make them wider or narrower. These are fixed standards with which the game of football is played. If you step over a sideline, you are out of bounds. Period. Because that is a boundary.

But within those boundaries teams are free to run their own plays. They can call a good play or a bad play. They can gain yardage or they can lose ground. They are free to play within the boundaries established by the game.

God is sovereign in the boundaries He has set for us. But He allows freedom within those boundaries that give us the choice to do good or to do bad. To be right or to be wrong. To intend evil or to intend well. While freedom doesn’t cause evil, it does allow for it. Yet He limits how free He lets us go within His providential connection of all things. Providence is God either causing or allowing things to happen for His purposes. That is not to say He endorses evil or sin, but rather He redeems it. He redeems the bad intention of someone who may have hurt you on purpose by intervening in you to twist that thing to work for your good. His merciful hand will use what was meant for harm—for good. He will even use evil to accomplish His purpose, as we have seen with Joseph. (In the book, he was referring to Genesis 50:20).

For a simple-minded person like myself, Tony’s illustration makes a lot of sense. It might not answer every question in the sovereignty—free will debate, but it helps.


Posted by on January 16, 2017 in Joseph, Quotes, Theology


3 responses to “How football illustrates sovereignty and free will

  1. SteveandHolly Johnson

    September 19, 2017 at 9:01 pm

    This is a good example. Thank you for sharing it.

  2. heather

    January 15, 2018 at 9:35 am

    Thanks for this. Our new pastor heavily hammers predestination, that God causes people to believe or not, to obey or sin. And this caused me to deeply explore this issue (I wrote several posts on it in Feb 2016 at I am happy to see that Tony Evans sees it the way I do, that God has boundaries but we get to make decisions within those boundaries. Our new pastor is so forceful about it (making those who believe in free will feel like they are unhumble Christians who are disagreeing with the Bible) that I need to know there are good, big name theologians who believe in free will, like Tony Evans. So thanks for sharing this example.

    • wheelsms

      January 15, 2018 at 11:02 am

      Heather, you are very welcome. As Tony Evans explained well, I find myself in a middle ground where I believe that Scripture teaches both sovereignty and free will. Election, predestination, sovereignty are all biblical terms. God does have a plan and a purpose. But he also gave us the ability to choose and he holds each person accountability for those choices. I’m willing to live with that tension and recognize I won’t understand completely how they fit together until I reach heaven. Thanks again for your comment. I’m glad you found Tony Evans explanation helpful.


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