Free Will

Man has free will in that he is a free moral agent and makes real choices that will have very real consequences, but he is limited by his fallen nature. God desires from man a worship that comes not ultimately from compulsion, but from love and desire. Man’s will is never coerced by God James 1:13-15(HCSB)13 No one undergoing a trial should say, “I am being tempted by God.” For God is not tempted by evil, and He Himself doesn’t tempt anyone. 14 But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desires. 15 Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death. It always flows from his spiritual nature and the desires of his heart. But in his fallen state man cannot discern spiritual things, please God, or trust in Christ Romans 8:7(HCSB)7 For the mind-set of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit itself to God’s law, for it is unable to do so.,

1 Corinthians 2:14(HCSB)14 But the unbeliever does not welcome what comes from God’s Spirit, because it is foolishness to him; he is not able to understand it since it is evaluated spiritually. Man is free to will what he most desires, but, until born again, his heart is in bondage to sin. Furthermore, his will is ultimately subordinate to the providence and sovereignty of God. This may be regarded as a “compatibilist” view of free will which sees man’s free choices as compatible with God’s absolute sovereignty. As Augustine put it, “the human will does not obtain grace by freedom, but obtains freedom by grace,”

If “free will” means that God gives humans the opportunity to make choices that genuinely affect their destiny, then yes, human beings do have a free will. The world’s current sinful state is directly linked to choices made by Adam and Eve. God created mankind in His own image, and that included the ability to choose.

However, free will does not mean that mankind can do anything he pleases. Our choices are limited to what is in keeping with our nature. For example, a man may choose to walk across a bridge or not to walk across it; what he may not choose is to fly over the bridge—his nature prevents him from flying. In a similar way, a man cannot choose to make himself righteous—his (sin) nature prevents him from canceling his guilt Romans 3:23(HCSB)23 For all have sinned and fall short of the[a] glory of God. So, free will is limited by nature.

This limitation does not mitigate our accountability. The Bible is clear that we not only have the ability to choose, we also have the responsibility to choose wisely. In the Old Testament, God chose a nation (Israel), but individuals within that nation still bore an obligation to choose obedience to God. And individuals outside of Israel were able to choose to believe and follow God as well (e.g., Ruth and Rahab).

In the New Testament, sinners are commanded over and over to “repent” and “believe” Matthew 3:2(HCSB)2 and saying, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near!”;
Matthew 4:17(HCSB)17 From then on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near!”;

Acts 3:19(HCSB)19 Therefore repent and turn back, so that your sins may be wiped out, that seasons of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord

1 John 3:23(HCSB)23 Now this is His command: that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another as He commanded us.

Every call to repent is a call to choose. The command to believe assumes that the hearer can choose to obey the command.

Jesus identified the problem of some unbelievers when He told them,
John 5:40(HCSB)40 And you are not willing to come to Me so that you may have life.. Clearly, they could have come if they wanted to; their problem was they chose not to. Those who are outside of salvation are “without excuse” Romans 1:20-21(HCSB)20 For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse. 21 For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened.

But how can man, limited by a sin nature, ever choose what is good? It is only through the grace and power of God that free will truly becomes “free” in the sense of being able to choose salvation John 15:16(HCSB)16 You did not choose Me, but I chose you. I appointed you that you should go out and produce fruit and that your fruit should remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you. It is the Holy Spirit who works in and through a person’s will to regenerate that person (John 1:12-13) and give him/her a new nature “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” Ephesians 4:24(HCSB)24 you put on the new self, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth.. Salvation is God’s work. At the same time, our motives, desires, and actions are voluntary, and we are rightly held responsible for them.

Free will is the ability to make choices according to your desire. Free will is of two theological viewpoints: Compatibilist and Libertarian. Compatibilism is the position that a person is only as free as his nature permits him to be free and that his sinfulness prevents him from freely choosing God

1 Corinthians 2:14(HCSB)14 But the unbeliever does not welcome what comes from God’s Spirit, because it is foolishness to him; he is not able to understand it since it is evaluated spiritually.
Romans 3:10-12(HCSB)10 as it is written:There is no one righteous, not even one.11 There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away;all alike have become useless. There is no one who does what is good, not even one.,
Romans 6:14-20(HCSB)14 For sin will not rule over you, because you are not under law but under grace. 15 What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Absolutely not! 16 Don’t you know that if you offer yourselves to someone[a] as obedient slaves, you are slaves of that one you obey—either of sin leading to death or of obedience leading to righteousness? 17 But thank God that, although you used to be slaves of sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching you were transferred to, 18 and having been liberated from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness. 19 I am using a human analogy because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you offered the parts of yourselves as slaves to moral impurity, and to greater and greater lawlessness, so now offer them as slaves to righteousness, which results in sanctification. 20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free from allegiance to righteousness.

Here is where compatibilism makes the distinction between man having a free will and being a “free agent.” Man is “free” to choose that which is determined by his nature or by the laws of nature. To illustrate, the laws of nature prohibit man from being able to fly, but this does not mean that man is not free. The agent, man, is only free to do that which his nature or the laws of nature allow him to do. Romans 8:7-8(HCSB)For the mind-set of the flesh is hostile to God because it does not submit itself to God’s law, for it is unable to do so. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Theologically speaking, though the natural man is unable to submit himself to the law of God and unable to come to Christ unless the Father draws him to Him freely in respect to his nature, the natural man still acts. John 6:44(HCSB)44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day.,
Romans 1:18(HCSB)18 For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth, He freely and actively suppresses the truth in unrighteousness  because his nature renders him unable to do otherwise;

Psalm 14:1-3(HCSB)The fool says in his heart, “God does not exist.” They are corrupt; they do vile deeds. There is no one who does good. 2  The Lord looks down from heaven on the human race to see if there is one who is wise, one who seeks God. 3  All have turned away; all alike have become corrupt. There is no one who does good, not even one; Romans 3:10-11(HCSB)10 as it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one. 11 There is no one who understands;there is no one who seeks God.

Two good examples of Jesus’ confirmation of this concept can be found in Matthew 7:16-27 and Matthew 12:34-37.

With the distinction between free agency and free will defined, compatibilism then addresses the nature of the free agency of man in respect to the theological proposition known as determinism and/or the biblical truth of the omniscient nature of God. The foundational issue is how man can be held accountable for his actions if his actions were always going to occur (i.e., the future is not subject to change) and could not have been anything other than that which occurred. Although there are numerous passages of Scripture that address this issue we will look at one passage of Scripture that speaks of compatibilism is found in Acts 4:23-28(HCSB)23 After they were released, they went to their own people and reported everything the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they all raised their voices to God and said, “Master, You are the One who made the heaven, the earth, and the sea, and everything in them. 25 You said through the Holy Spirit, by the mouth of our father David Your servant: Why did the Gentiles rage and the peoples plot futile things? 26 The kings of the earth took their stand and the rulers assembled together against the Lord and against His Messiah. 27 “For, in fact, in this city both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, assembled together against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place.

As revealed in Christ’s death on the cross was carried out by the “predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God.” Acts 2:23-25(HCSB)23 Though He was delivered up according to God’s determined plan and foreknowledge, you used lawless people to nail Him to a cross and kill Him. 24 God raised Him up, ending the pains of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it. 25 For David says of Him: I saw the Lord ever before me; because He is at my right hand,I will not be shaken.

Acts 4:27-28(HCSB)27 “For, in fact, in this city both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, assembled together against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place. This passage further reveals that the actions of Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles, and the people of Israel had been determined and decreed by God Himself to occur as they “gathered together against” Jesus and did “what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.” Although God had determined that Christ should die, those responsible for His death were still held accountable for their actions. Christ was put to death by wicked men, “yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer” Isaiah 53:10(HCSB)Yet the Lord was pleased to crush Him severely. When You make Him a restitution offering, He will see His seed, He will prolong His days, and by His hand, the Lord’s pleasure will be accomplished. Once again, the answer to the question “who put Jesus to death?” is both God and the wicked people—two purposes carried out by two entities within a single action.

Another view of Free Will is called Libertarian Free Will.

Libertarian free will is the position that an unsaved sinner is still able to freely choose God in spite of his sinful nature.
John 3:16(HCSB)16 “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life,

John 3:36(HCSB)36 The one who believes in the Son has eternal life, but the one who refuses to believe in the Son will not see life; instead, the wrath of God remains on him.

Libertarian free will is basically the concept that, metaphysically and morally, man is an autonomous being, one who operates independently, not controlled by others or by outside forces. The word “autonomous” is key in understanding libertarian free will. The word basically means “self-government.” It is derived from two Greek words, autos and nomos, which mean “a law unto oneself.” This is libertarian free will in a nutshell. We, as free moral agents, can make our own decisions and are not subject to the will or determination of another.

The first thing to take into account regarding the biblical position of libertarian free will is what the Bible says about God. The Bible describes God as sovereign, and sovereignty designates control. But what exactly is the sphere of God’s sovereignty? Psalm 24:1(HCSB) makes it plain: The earth and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants, belong to the Lord. What is the sphere of God’s sovereignty? Everything. God spoke the universe, and everything in it, into existence. As Creator, He has sovereignty over His creation. This is the image used in the book of Romans  in Chapter 9 when Paul refers to the potter and his clay. Romans 9:14-24 (HCSB)14 What should we say then? Is there injustice with God? Absolutely not! 15 For He tells Moses: I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 16 So then it does not depend on human will or effort but on God who shows mercy. 17 For the Scripture tells Pharaoh: I raised you up for this reason so that I may display My power in you and that My name may be proclaimed in all the earth. 18 So then, He shows mercy to those He wants to, and He hardens those He wants to harden. 19 You will say to me, therefore, “Why then does He still find fault? For who can resist His will?” 20 But who are you, a mere man, to talk back to God? Will what is formed say to the one who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?” 21 Or has the potter no right over the clay, to make from the same lump one piece of pottery for honor and another for dishonor? 22 And what if God, desiring to display His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience objects of wrath ready for destruction? 23 And what if He did this to make known the riches of His glory on objects of mercy that He prepared beforehand for glory— 24 on us, the ones He also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?

So we need to ask ourselves how does libertarian free will fit in with God’s sovereignty? Can a human being, a creature, be autonomous if God is sovereign? The obvious conclusion is that libertarian free will is incompatible with the sovereignty of God. Consider this passage from the book of Proverbs: Proverbs 16:9(HCSB)A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps. This does not paint a picture of man as an autonomous being, but rather as man operating within the confines of a sovereign God.

Man is not a “law unto himself.” Man is a creature in the Creator’s universe, and as such is subject to the will of the Creator. To suggest otherwise is to elevate man beyond his station and to bring God down to the level of the creature. Those who advocate libertarian free will may not come out and say this, but logically speaking, this is the conclusion that must be drawn. Consider a popular evangelistic slogan found in Christian gospel tracts: “God casts his vote for you, Satan casts his vote against you, but you have the deciding vote.” Is this how it works in salvation? Is God just one side of a cosmic struggle with Satan for the souls of men, who must resort to ”campaign tactics” to sway voters to heaven? This view of God is an emasculated God who is desperately hoping mankind utilizes his free will to choose Him. Frankly, but this is a somewhat pathetic view of God. If God wills to save someone, that person will be saved because God accomplishes all His purposes.

There are two keys to understanding human will and how it relates to God’s sovereignty. The first is the fall. Prior to the fall, man could be said to have had a “free” will in that he was free to obey God or disobey God. After the fall, man’s will was corrupted by sin to the point where he fully lost the ability to willingly obey God. This doesn’t mean that man can’t outwardly obey God. Rather, man cannot perform any spiritual good that is acceptable to God or has any merit for salvtion. The Bible describes man’s will as “dead in transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1-5(HCSB) And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler who exercises authority over the lower heavens, the spirit now working in the disobedient. We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace!
We were also “slaves to sin”.
Romans 6:17-18(HCSB)17 But thank God that, although you used to be slaves of sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching you were transferred to, 18 and having been liberated from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness.. These phrases describe man as both unable and unwilling to submit to God’s sovereign authority; therefore, when man makes choices according to his desires, we must remember that man’s desires are depraved and corrupted and totally rebellious toward God.

The second key in harmonizing man’s “free” will with God’s sovereignty is how God accomplishes His desires. When God ordains all things that come to pass Psalm 33:11(HCSB)The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation.

Ephesians 1:11(HCSB)11 We have also received an inheritance in Him, predestined according to the purpose of the One who works out everything in agreement with the decision of His will, He not only ordains the ends, but the means as well. God ordains that certain things will happen and He also ordains how they will happen. Human choices are one of the means by which God accomplishes His will. For proof of this point, look no further than the exodus. God tells Moses that He will harden Pharaoh’s heart so that God’s glory in the deliverance of Israel would be manifest through him

Exodus 4:21(HCSB)21 The Lord instructed Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, make sure you do all the wonders before Pharaoh that I have put within your power. But I will harden his heart so that he won’t let the people go. However, as the narrative continues, we see that Pharaoh hardens his own heart  Exodus 8:15(HCSB)15 But when Pharaoh saw there was relief, he hardened his heart and would not listen to them, as the Lord had said. We see God’s will and man’s will come together.

Now, we must be careful not to swing to the (equally) unbiblical view that God is the divine Puppet Master and we are merely His puppets. This is the view of hard determinism in which man is reduced to an automaton making robotic responses to situations. The Bible presents a third option between hard determinism and libertarian free will, and that is the view called compatibilism, or soft determinism. In this view, man makes real choices and will be held responsible by God for those choices. The choices that man makes stem from his desires. God grants the creature a certain amount of freedom, but that freedom always operates within the boundaries of God’s sovereignty.

The Sovereignty of God is the biblical teaching that all things are under God’s rule and control, and that nothing happens without His direction or permission. God works not just some things but all things according to the counsel of His own will Ephesians 1:11(HCSB)11 We have also received an inheritance in Him, predestined according to the purpose of the One who works out everything in agreement with the decision of His will,. His purposes are all-inclusive and never thwarted nothing takes Him by surprise.
Isaiah 46:11(HCSB)I call a bird of prey from the east, a man for My purpose from a far country. Yes, I have spoken; so I will also bring it about. I have planned it; I will also do it.; The sovereignty of God is not merely that God has the power and right to govern all things, but that He does so, always and without exception. In other words, God is not merely sovereign de jure (in principle), but sovereign de facto (in practice).

God’s sovereignty in salvation means that He saves whom He will, and those whom He saves owe nothing to anything in or of themselves. They are saved because God graciously chose them in eternity and regenerated and called them in history. They cannot even take credit for their faith because it is the gift that He Himself sovereignly bestows.

God’s predestination does not mean that we cannot make free will choices. God predestines in and through our choices because God is all-knowing and all-powerful. He knows what we will do because He knows all things. He cannot not know all things. So, whatever you choose to do out of your own free volition is known. But His knowing doesn’t mean you don’t freely choose.

An illustration would be that I could arrange for my child to choose ice cream over something else and not violate his free will. For instance, I could put a bowl of chocolate ice cream and a bowl of poop in front of my child, and I know exactly which one the child will choose to eat. But my knowing does not violate my child’s free will. He has free will and freedom to act, but I will plan to give him ice cream because I know my son. I do not need to use coercion, I know he will make that choice because I know my son.

It seems to me to be saying that you have complete freedom to act, but God knows all ends. You have freely chosen to walk through the door; but it was always known that you would (because God is God).


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