Free will?

God has free will, as illustrated here:

HOS 14:4 I will heal their waywardness and love them freely.

1CO 2:12 We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.

EPH 1:6 … to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

But can people really choose?

I believe that unbelievers can’t choose their actions or words (see also below), they cannot even choose their sins (cf. 2 Pt. 2:10, 3:3):

John 8:34  Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.”

Galatians 4:8  Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods.

Ephesians 2:3  All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.

2 Timothy 2:26  … that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

And a slave to sin does what sin says, following desires means following them, and doing the devil’s will, and not acting in independence.

But there is evidence in Scripture that believers can really choose:

John 8:36  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

I believe there is room within God’s will, that there is not always just one choice that is God’s will:

1 Corinthians 7:38  So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does even better.

So the “better” choice is not the only choice! And similarly here:

1 Corinthians 9:1-5  Am I not free? … Don’t we have the right to food and drink? Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?

1 Corinthians 9:14-15  In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. But I have not used any of these rights.

Then there are Scriptures that indicate more and more freedom, as God’s people can handle more responsibility:

Matthew 25:21  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.

Revelation 3:21  To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.

God still stays in complete control, because all the real choices are made within his will, yet it seems that what is forbidden is small by comparison, or even finite, and what is not forbidden is infinite, like the garden with the fence around the one tree:

Genesis 2:16-17  “You may freely eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…”

And though God did give all authority in heaven and earth to Jesus:

MT 28:18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”

Still God the Father had power in heaven or on earth, for Jesus gives it back:

JN 5:30 By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.

And Jesus exercises his authority within the Father’s authority:

REV 3:21 I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.

Not “replaced the Father on his throne,” but “sat down with” him.

JN 10:30 “I and the Father are one.”

So we can’t speak of Jesus acting apart from the Father, yet the Father does give real authority to the Son, and Jesus gives real authority to believers:

REV 3:21 To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne…

And we will also delight to give it back…

REV 4:10 The twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne…

And similarly, we won’t act apart from Jesus, because sharing Jesus’ authority implies being one with him:

1CO 6:17 But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit.

There are lots of aspects here! God gives authority, and, as Jesus does, we will give it back, no one will be clutching power.

There will be oneness, so God the Father always acts when Jesus, or members of Jesus’ body act, and yet real choices can be made, by Jesus, and by believers.

Here is a verse that would seem to argue against this view, though:

Jeremiah 10:23 I know, O Lord, that a man’s life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps.

And certainly we should not be acting apart from dependence on God, we should not be “captain of our souls,” which quite possibly is what is being addressed in this verse. Here is another verse:

Proverbs 16:9 In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.

I would take the ESV here:

Proverbs 16:9 The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.

In the sense of these verses:

Psalm 37:23 The steps of a man are established by the Lord…

Psalm 40:2 And He set my feet upon a rock, making my footsteps firm.

So we need not say that God is actually making all decisions.

Believers being set free implies them being bound before this:

RO 6:18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

1CO 7:22 For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ’s slave.

JN 8:32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

Here are more verses on freedom:

RO 8:21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

1CO 9:1 Am I not free?

2CO 3:17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

GAL 2:4 This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.

GAL 5:1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

GAL 5:13 You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.

JAS 1:25 But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does.

1PE 2:16 Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.

And Jesus seems to have conceded to Mary here, in that her request was granted:

JN 2:4 “Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied.

JN 2:7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”…

Implying some real ability on the part of Mary to choose.

But can unbelievers choose?

Now good desires and intents come from God (1 Chr. 29:17-18, 1 Jn. 4:7, Mt. 12:34), so unbelievers cannot choose good, or even really good motives. But can there be choices in any way? It would seem that unbelievers do have involvement in their motives, that some choice may be made there:

Proverbs 16:1  To man belong the plans of the heart, but from the Lord comes the reply of the tongue.

And God does evaluate the intent, in any deed, and even focus on it, considering it primary (see also Ex. 21:13-14, Num. 15:28-31, Rom. 2:16):

Isaiah 10:12  “I will punish the king of Assyria for the willful pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eyes.”

Jeremiah 3:10  In spite of all this, her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense.

Hebrews 4:12  For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

1 Corinthians 4:5  Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.

God judging the intent may imply that some real choices are being made there.

And the wicked can have different kinds of intent (see also Gen. 6:5, Mt. 23:14):

Proverbs 21:27  The sacrifice of the wicked is detestable–how much more so when brought with evil intent!

So they are not absolutely fixed in this area. And though God can affect intentions (Ezra 7:27, Neh. 7:5, 2 Cor. 8:16, Rev. 17:17), it may still be that unbelievers choose here, and yet God controls all actions of unbelievers, for otherwise all would not work for good for those who love God (Rom. 8:28).

Also, “God chose the weak” to be saved (1 Cor. 1:27), so God has a real purpose for the weak to come, so “that no one would boast”), and God’s purpose will be accomplished, so not many strong people can come, they simply cannot, so then these strong people don’t all have a really free choice.

For if they did all have a free choice, then mostly strong people could come, and then people could boast in God’s presence.

JN 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you.

Now this cannot mean simply choosing for ministry, for then this would read “The choice for you to become ministers was mine, not yours,” yet ministry would not seem at all to be what the disciples had in mind in coming to Jesus (e.g. Mt. 19:27).

And the world hates them, not because they are ministering, but because “I chose you out of the world” (Jn. 15:19), so this choice was for them to belong to God, for them to be chosen out of the world, and this was Jesus’ choice, not theirs.

Here is another indication that Jesus’ choice of them included choosing them for salvation:

Romans 1:1,6 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle … and you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

“Called” in verse 1 thus includes a call to salvation here, and thus it also would be part of the call of all the apostles, and so Jesus saying “I chose you” includes salvation.

But here is one example of people doing their best to really choose:

JOS 24:15 “… choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…”

It should be mentioned that Joshua is not saying “choose the Lord or else choose idols”! The choice in this verse is “choose which idols you will serve,” though the possibility of serving the Lord is mentioned in prior verses.

JOS 24:18 “We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God.”

First of all, “he is our God” was not very correct, for they still had idols (verse 23). We may note that they did not repeat “He is our God” when they reiterated their commitment to Joshua the second time:

JOS 24:21 But the people said to Joshua, “No! We will serve the Lord.”

This may indicate that they were depending on their own resolution, to be able to do this. Then Joshua then points out:

JOS 24:19 Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord.”

JOS 24:24 And the people said to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God and obey him.”

Yet still, they don’t give the reason they will serve and obey God. Then we read what happened very quickly after Joshua and the elders passed from the scene. Although there was deliverance after deliverance, that was because there was sin after sin, and judgment after judgment, they really weren’t able to serve the Lord:

JDG 21:25 In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.

This would be the problem, God was not their king, nor anyone else, and everybody was relying on their own power to choose, they “did as they saw fit.” So they were unable to serve God, they couldn’t choose to serve him.

PS 106:43 Many times he delivered them, but they were bent on rebellion and they wasted away in their sin.

So the only permanent deliverance, and the only real freedom comes when God empowers the choice, as in Joshua’s decision, as in Caleb’s trust, for they were depending on God, and thus had his freedom.

JN 6:65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.”

But why would “no one” here be referring only to the disciples? Jesus did make a statement similar to this, which he may have been referring to:

JN 6:37 All that the Father gives me will come to me.

This is a similar thought, stated positively, speaking not to his disciples, but to those who thought he should be king and feed them bread every day.

And I think there are indications that Jesus is speaking universally, in the very next verse, even:

JN 6:45 It is written in the Prophets: “They will all be taught by God.”

Surely this doesn’t refer only to the disciples alive then.

JN 6:46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father.

And that is certainly a universal statement, which doesn’t mean just the disciples.

JN 6:47 I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life.

Here eternal life is even mentioned, I think these verses may all be taken together, “drawn,” “taught by God,” “has everlasting life.” And again, from this very verse, we have a statement that clearly applies to all believers:

JN 6:44 “… and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Not just the true disciples alive at that time will be raised up, all believers will indeed be raised up.

“I have a fundamental problem with all indeterministic notions of freedom, and Pinnock’s indeterminism does not resolve it. Pinnock claims that many factors and variables enter into decision making. However, it is clear the for Pinnock such factors do not decisively incline the will in one direction or another, for such an occurence, on Pinnock’s view, would eliminate freedom. He explicitly states that moral responsibility is ruled out if actions are determined internally or externally and that if the act is to be free, it cannot be rendered certain by any prior conditions. When all of this is taken together, I understand it to mean that while there are factors influencing a decision, none influences it to the point of determining it or rendering it certain. All of this is fairly standard Arminian/indeterminist fare, and it is surely a possible account of freedom. My problem is that I have never been able to understand how the will chooses anything if it is not decisively inclined in one direction or another. If one responds that we just choose without decisive reason, I want to know how. Do we do it randomly? Then what of this ‘precious’ freedom? Do we do it for some unknown reason? But then it is causally determined. I do not find in Pinnock an explanation of how an agent comes to choose without a decisive reason for choosing one alternative over another. I only find assertions that it must be so.” (John Feinberg)

“To get a handle on the puzzling relationship between predestination and free will, we must first define free will …

Probably the most common definition says free will is the ability to make choices without any prior prejudice, inclination, or disposition. For the will to be free it must act from a posture of neutrality, with absolutely no bias.

On the surface this is very appealing. There are no elements of coercion, either internal or external, to be found in it.

Below the surface, however, lurk two serious problems. On the one hand, if we make our choices strictly from a neutral posture, with no prior inclination, then we make choices for no reason. If we have no reason for our choices, if our choices are utterly spontaneous, then our choices have no moral significance.

If a choice just happens-it just pops out, with no rhyme or reason for it—then it cannot be judged good or bad. When God evaluates our choices, he is concerned about our motives …

The second problem this popular view faces is not so much moral as it is rational. If there is no prior inclination, desire, or bent, no prior motivation or reason for a choice, how can a choice even be made?

If the will is totally neutral, why would it choose the right or the left?”

(R.C. Sproul, Chosen by God, 1996)

“The philosopher who is convinced of the existence of a vast Power by whom all things exist and are controlled, is forced to inquire where the finite will can find expression under the reign of the Infinite. The true solution of this difficult question respecting the sovereignty of God and the freedom of man, is not to be found in the denial of either, but rather in such a reconciliation as gives full weight to each, yet which assigns a preeminence to the divine sovereignty corresponding to the infinite exaltation of the Creator above the sinful creature. The same God who has ordained all events has ordained human liberty in the midst of these events, and this liberty is as surely fixed as is anything else. Man is no mere automaton or machine. In the Divine plan, which is infinite in variety and complexity which reaches from everlasting to everlasting, and which includes millions of free agents who act and inter-act upon each other, God has ordained that human beings shall keep their liberty under His sovereignty. He has made no attempt to give us a formal explanation of these things, and our limited human knowledge is not able fully to solve the problem. Since the Scripture writers did not hesitate to affirm the absolute sway of God over the thoughts and intents of the heart, they felt no embarrassment in including the acts of free agents within His all-embracing plan.”

(Lorraine Boettner)

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