Every so often over the years, this question of free will arises, usually under the context of salvation. “Are we free to choose and do we have the capability to choose Christ within our own desires, or does the Father predestine us in Christ before the foundation of the world and choose us?” After a while, an argument ensues, with each camp picking their choice verses to lob at one another—which can be divisive in the church, and less-than-impressive when the world watches on.
Or we could even say that ‘free will’ is that in which a will operates outside of God’s compulsion or wooing. This idea is embraced greatly by Americans who hold to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,’ written in the context of being free from the monarchy and control of the British throne. The aim of the founding of the United States of America was independence. The people could exercise their will in voting for their leaders, voting on legislation, and having a significant say in the direction our country goes.
Before one lunges into this line of thinking, let’s get a bit more ground level. Two items converged in my thinking to make me so bold as to say, no, our will is not nor has ever been free in the most important sense. In what sense? Are humans free beings in one sense, in that we are not programmed robots? In that sense, yes, we are free to think and choose on the natural level within the realm of time, space, and the limitations of our flesh. Beyond this? Well, let me share with you my two items.
First, Scripture. I grieve over how Christians pick their verses that support their thinking rather than looking at the whole counsel of Scripture to rightly discern God’s Word (2 Timothy 2:15). God is not divided, He is not inconsistent, and neither is His Word.
In Paul’s epistle to the Romans, he (under the Spirit’s inspiration) writes a critical word to the church:
16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.
We are all slaves to something! Even the atheist has at some point submitted to a course of thinking and living and has, willingly, become a slave to that thinking. But Paul rightly tells us that we are either in two camps: slaves of sin (as inaugurated by Father Adam) or slaves of righteousness (as made possible by Christ).
To be a slave is to be ‘not free.’ To say that our will, our thinking, the core of our being, is free is to miss what Scripture teaches. We all are led by whatever has taken our will captive.
Secondly, I came across a quote by my pastor, Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) from a website I frequent:
”Free will I have often heard of, but I have never seen it. I have always met with will, and plenty of it, but it has either been led captive by sin or held in the blessed bonds of grace.”
Clearly, Spurgeon had at least Romans 6:16-19 in mind.
Someone then asks, “Why would God give commands in the first place? Does this not imply free will?” It does. We are free to look at those commands, process them, then try to do them. But keep in mind the greatest commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; the second is like it, to love your neighbor as yourself. On these hang all of the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40). We look at these, process them, then try to do them.
But can we? The command is all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Can we do this? No, we cannot. So what’s the point of giving the command in the first place? It’s to show that we can’t and are need of rescue by Someone who can and did fulfill these (Matthew 5:17-20). Our ‘free will’ could also take us to a place where we see that it’s impossible, and who is this God who imposes such commands on us? So they freely take their will to a place where they begin to set up their own standard, becoming a slave to that standard. But even then, whatever standard we try to set up even for ourselves, we will fail at this as well (Romans 2:14-15). We need a change—we need to be rescued, even from our own supposed ‘freedom.’
So before we begin to get into the deep theological and philosophical arguments in regards to ‘free will,’ take Paul’s truth in mind. We are all slaves to something on this level. And, yes, Christ does set us free (John 8:31-36), but free from what? He ultimately sets us free from our slavery to sin. Once he redeems us and rescues us from that sin, “We are not our own, we were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19). Christians are now free from their sin under the bonds of righteousness.
Genesis 2:18 says, “It was not good for man to be alone.” Outside of Christ, our own selfish aims and desires drive us, and our free will will always take us away from Christ. But when Christ comes to rescue us, He draws us to Himself (John 6:37-44) and by the Spirit that indwells begins to lead us into all truth (read John 14-16 on the beautiful gift of the Holy Spirit). Being free in Christ is the equivalent of being a slave to righteousness.
If I’m going to be a slave to something, I’m thankful it’s in service to my Lord Jesus Christ!
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus—than to trust and obey!