Freely Offered Answers to Free Will Questions

A frequenter of this blog commented on my last post, Free Will: Making Distinctions and has asked several very good questions. Instead of replying in the meta I thought I would spotlight my answers in a post. I hope my friend doesn’t mind all the attention!

Note: I would advise reading my previous post in order to grasp the full context of this discussion.

Q: OK, if our free choice is irrevocably governed by our will, how “free” is that choice? I don’t want to play semantics here, but we really can’t have “spiritual” free choice if our choice is unbreakably bound by our will.

A: This is why a distinction must be made in the discussion of free will. We are completely free to choose according to our wants and desires. Neither God nor the Devil forces us to make decisions contrary to our own inclinations. No person is ever dragged to heaven and eternal life kicking and screaming against his will. Neither do we commit sin contrary to our own desire to do so. We are free to make our own choices apart from coercion by powers outside our own will. But the will itself is not free to decide between good and evil. We can only make decisions based upon the inclination of our heart.

The verse pulled from Romans 8:7 that I quoted in the previous post paints a vivid picture of the status of an unregenerated mind.

The mind set on the flesh is hostile to God

How does this hostility manifest itself?

for it (the mind) does not submit to God’s laws;

Why does the mind not submit to God?

Indeed, it cannot.

The word ‘can’ has everything to do with ability. ‘Cannot’ denotes inability. Man is completely incapable of submitting to God’s commands. This includes Christ’s commands to repent and believe the Gospel, to deny ourselves, to take up our cross and follow him. We cannot! Our will is not free to love God. In fact, by nature we hate Him!

Q: I certainly agree that the heart is deceitful…et al, and I know that sin enslaves (from experience as well as Scripture – though I’m not elevating my experience to the level of Scripture!). But…is it our nature that is fallen or is it our will? I’m guessing you would say “both”, but do we know that from Scripture (real question – not rhetorical)?

A: Our nature and our will cannot work independent of one another. They are not exactly the same things but one drives the other, much like interconnected cogs in a timepiece move one another in perfect synchronization. Our nature is the only well in which the will draws its water. What type of water dwells in man’s natural well? Only the contaminated kind. Stagnant, dirty, stinking, septic tank quality water is all we have available to draw from. In regeneration, God fills our well with an over-flowing river of living water in which we can draw eternal life up to our parched lips. Apart form this transformative work of God, we would remain unclean.

You asked for scriptural support that both our nature and will is fallen. Your wish is my command.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Eph 2:1-3)

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. (Joh 8:44A)

Follow me here. Prior to regeneration we were by nature children of wrath. We were under God’s wrath because we are all sinners who rebel against his authority. We lived according to our own lusts because we were ‘following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience’. This prince is the devil himself. We followed him because we were of our father the devil, and our will was to do our father’s desires. Do you see the correlation between our sinful nature and the resulting desire to do the devil’s will? To do the devil’s will is to sin against God. Our will is always subject to our nature. Regeneration is God’s power working in us to transform our nature from one that does the devil’s desires to one that works God’s good pleasure.

Q: You see, there’s just so many “whosoever will’s” in Scripture that I can’t for the life of me see how it isn’t incumbant upon us to choose Christ. In Dueteronomy, the Israelites were told to “choose life.” Why can’t we choose Christ?

A: Choosing life and coming to Christ are indeed open, honest invitations. But as Jesus told his fellow Jews,

You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life. And they are the ones witnessing of Me, and you will not come to Me that you might have life. (Joh 5:39-40)

Man in his corrupted state will not come to Christ. He will refuse to choose life. He stands condemned already because he has not believed upon the name of Jesus Christ. His unwillingness cripples his ability to come to him. The doctrine of man’s total depravity and bondage of his will leads to the inevitability of divine election. The ‘whosoever wills’ of the bible are the elect of God who are given new hearts in order that they may desire Christ and choose life.

Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power, in holy garments; from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours. (Psa 110:3)

In Christ, the day of the Father’s power has come!

The passage you referenced I believe is from Deuteronomy 30:19.

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, (Deu 30:19)

What does God mean when he says he has set before the Israelites life and death? He is speaking of his commandments, the law with all its ordinances and provisions. The Apostle Paul explains to us why God gave us the law.

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (Rom 3:19-20)

Eternal life cannot be found in the law. The law only reveals our obligations. It clearly shows our sinfulness and just how far short each one of us actually comes to the glory of God. All our self-righteous boasting is silenced forever beneath the stern gaze of this merciless taskmaster (I’m speaking of the law). The purpose of the law is to drive us to despair of ourselves and to rely on the finished work of Christ. He has taken our sin away and clothed us in his righteousness.

God himself in Deuteronomy had made provision for his elect to choose life. This is a promise that is ultimately fulfilled in the coming of Jesus Christ. His sacrifice allows God to be merciful to his chosen people by giving them a new heart with holy desires.

And the LORD thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers. And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live. (Deu 30:5-6)

Q: I know that it is God who draws. I know that it is He who initiates. I know that we have no reason to boast – even in our choosing – because Christ is the One who calls and that we cannot choose Him without His calling. I’m just saying that I cannot see where Scripture lets me off the hook to choose the One who draws me.
A: Yes, it is God who draws us to himself. Yes, it is God who initiates the relationship. We have absolutely no basis on which to boast because He chose us. We did not choose him. We love him because he first loved us. We choose him only because he first chose us.

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. (Joh 6:44)

Notice that everyone the Father draws will be resurrected to eternal life. This verse leaves no room for failure in God bringing us to himself. All that the Father draws will come to him. One whom God draws is in no way ‘let off the hook’ in coming to him. This saying may be cliche’, but God always equips those he calls. He gives us a new heart and a living faith to apprehend the precious salvation he has called us to.

6 thoughts on “Freely Offered Answers to Free Will Questions

  1. Well, sorry for the delay in reply. It’s been an extremely busy weekend – financial seminar, wife very sick, mission church’s anniversary, and then that Sunday thing I do.

    As to question 1, “if our free choice is irrevocably governed by our will, how ‘free’ is that choice?” that’s one big sticking point with Calvinism for me. I read you saying that we are free, but our freedom is bound by our heart that is inclined to do evil. You see, that’s what gets me. That’s not free choice! If you give me only two options among, say 20, you have not given me freedom. You have, so to speak, stacked the deck. So I think, at least intellectually speaking, Calvinists need to give up that idea of free choice – no matter how you define it. According to that system, there is actually none: I am irrevocably bound by my nasty heart. I’m just saying, be honest about it!

    As to the second question, “is it our nature that is fallen or is it our will?” for the sake of argument (and it being time for me to go home), I’ll acquiese.

    My third question, containing the phrase “You see, there’s just so many ‘whosoever will’s’ in Scripture that I can’t for the life of me see how it isn’t incumbant upon us to choose Christ” sees you set up a red herring. Your answer, “The ‘whosoever wills’ of the bible are the elect of God who are given new hearts in order that they may desire Christ and choose life” is reading your theology back into the text! You are coming from a presupposition – that we cannot choose Christ – and so the Scriptures have been interpreted, not on their merit, but on your theology. And please don’t think that I’m a believer that the law will bring life. I rest fully on the grace of God for my salvation. Nothing more in any way. But it does tick me off a bit that Calvinsts have co-opted the term “grace” to fit their theology, as though the rest of us don’t rely on grace to save.

    And my last statement, “I’m just saying that I cannot see where Scripture lets me off the hook to choose the One who draws me” you gave me an answer that has to let me off the hook: “All that the Father draws will come to him.” I can’t do anything about it. It’s settled. I have no option. I can’t refuse it or accept it. It is what it is. And, Brandon, that’s my point with that line of thinking.

    I thank you for thoughtful replies. Please don’t read anger into my response. There is none, despite what Reformed Gadly believes. I’m just passionate about leaving to God the things that are God’s and not abdicating my responsibility in anything He requires of me.

  2. I have one thing to point out from the first comment. The commenter quoted…

    “If you give me only two options among, say 20, you have not given me freedom.”

    Let’s look at Deuteronomy 30:19…

    “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live,” [from the Geneva Bible – 1599]

    It looks like God is giving us 2 choices and not 20. You can count them if you want. There’s only 2… Life and death (blessing and cursing). So, is there a restriction on our freedom?

  3. SMOK, that is an excellent point!

    Mr. Edwards,
    since you disdain Calvinists using ‘free’ when it comes to our decisions, would you then be content with the term ‘voluntary choice’? Voluntary is perhaps a more fitting antonym to coercion. It’s an Either Or situation. We either make our decisions on a voluntary basis – according to our will or we are coerced against our will to make decisions we have no natural inclination to make. If coercion is true I have a hard time believing God is just in condemning unbelievers to an eternity in hell. If we choose sin voluntarily we are indeed justly condemned.

    I have never said that salvation can neither be rejected nor accepted. We by nature reject it. We by grace accept it. Why is it so important to you that our choices be completely free of God’s decree? What can possibly be gained by attributing a work of God to a work of the flesh? Why would we want to rob God of all the glory that is due him? We naturally want the glory, even if it is only a sliver. “It wasn’t all God! It was me too!”
    We need to steer clear of this kind of thinking.

  4. SMOK,
    I agree – excellent point. Not sure what I meant by the “2” or “20” point I made, but today it seems rather silly. So…good call.

    But in the verse you quoted, we are given choice. As you said, it is truly freedom. But doesn’t that contradict the I of TULIP? If we can choose – really – not some contrived, “forced” choice that we are unaware of, how can grace be irresistible?

    I’m in total agreement that we choose to sin – we have no one to blame for our condition. God would be fullly within his rights as sovereign and holy to condemn us all to hell. That’s what we deserve – with nobody to blame. You and I are in total agreement here (at least I think!).

    Also, I want no glory for me for choosing Christ. I cannot see how my attitude toward my Savior robs him of what he is due. It was “all God” – he provided the means, the grace, the faith. I just humbly said “yes” to what he provided and promised. There’s not one iota of pride with me in that area (I’ve got enough areas of pride, sadly).

    But, being the old broken record again, if I can’t choose Christ, I don’t have free choice or voluntary choice or anything else. It’s perfectly fine for you to believe in the I of TULIP, but don’t promote that AND free choice. You can’t get both!

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