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Do we Have Free Will?

Every Christian church I know of teaches that we all have free will or free moral agency. I have heard, on numerous occasions, these words spoken from the pulpit. Time and again I am told we all have free will and free moral agency.These ideas were originated by philosophers and theologians. The reason is simple, if their ideas are correct, it gives reason for the belief that man can overrule the ultimate will of God in their lives. It means that man can refuse the salvation of God and thereby end up in hell or be annihilated by God. That takes any responsibility off of God and validates the end result of hell or annihilation by mans unwillingness to believe that God is sovereign and omnipotent.

There is no mention of free will or free moral agency in the scriptures. Many people believe what the theologians and preachers have told them and conclude that this concept is in the bible. It is not. Yes, free offering is there. Also mention of our will and God’s will is there. Mention of making choices is there too. But to place the word “free” in front of “will” or “choice” is reading into scripture what is not there.

We have a will but it is constrained by a number of factors. We do not have unlimited free will.

The difficulties that many experience on the subject arise from failure to see that man’s freedom lies in the sphere of preference and desire, and not in the sphere of action. His will is free; he is at liberty to choose and plan, but God oversees his acts. Man can purpose and determine and choose, and according to his choosing he is held accountable. Man cannot go against God’s will.

Prov. 16:9 (KJV) A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.
Prov. 20:24 (KJV) Man’s goings are of the LORD; how can a man then understand his own way?
Prov. 19:21 (KJV) There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of the LORD, that shall stand.

In other words, man determines all his wishes and desires, but only those which the Lord designs are carried out. Sometimes man is allowed to carry out his devices, and sometimes not; it all depends upon whether they coincide with God’s plan or not. What He can use for His praise, He allows; what He cannot thus use, He restrains.

Eph 1:11 (KJV) In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:

This tells us that God works all things after the counsel of His will. This could not be true if man had power to act contrary to the will of God and to resist it indefinitely. Furthermore, the apostle Paul stated that of him, and through him, and unto him are all things (Rom 11:36). So it is an utter impossibility for any creature to have its own way and to continue in it. Clearly, God absolutely controls man’s actions but does not destroy man’s freedom nor his responsibility. Difficult to accept? Yes, because this idea of unfettered free will has been engrained into our very being all our life.

What about Free Moral Agency?

A more sophisticated and scholarly phrase on this topic is “free moral agency”.

There is a difference between free will and free moral agency, although they are often thought to be the same. We have free will, although limited, but we do not have free moral agency. It is believed that if we do not have free moral agency, man is simply a machine, a play – thing in the hands of God, a being whose actions are involuntary or mechanical, moving only as he is directed. It is argued that, unless man is absolutely free, his responsibility as a rational, thinking person is entirely destroyed. It seems to be an insult to many if it is suggested that we do not have free moral agency. It seems an affront to human intelligence to think otherwise.

The phrase free moral agency implies : (1) an agent is one who has power to act, (2) a free agent is one who acts without constraint, (3) a free moral agent is one who acts as he pleases on all questions involving the qualities of right and wrong.

A few examples of this human reasoning about free will and free moral agency can be found at the web site below. Do not be surprised if the reasoning is circuitous and groundless.

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/freewill/

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/moral-responsibility/

Also, this is part of an article by a misinformed church pastor on this topic:

The cause of man’s plight is not ignorance of the right, but his own desire, which leads him to substitute his will for the will of God. This simple story illustrates why man’s relationship with God has run afoul. By deliberate choice, man separates himself from God, who created him and gives him freedom to choose.

How outrageous it is to say that a man can substitute his will for God’s will. This poor man has the opinion that mans will can overpower and be superior to that of God. Totally offensive!

The vast majority of preachers and bible scholars hold the position that man is a free moral agent. This teaching leads them to conclude that men can reject the saving power of Jesus Christ. They claim that is what the bible teaches. Here are some of the arguments they put forward.

God created man in His image and likeness, therefore since God has absolute free will, man also has this same attribute. Not true. If we were to follow this line of reasoning, then since God has all wisdom and power, so should man. It is acknowledged that some of God’s attributes are given to man, such as being creative and appreciating beauty in nature, but here is a boundary on man’s inherent powers.

It is said that God gave Adam and Eve free moral agency and thereby they could decide, independent of God, to take of the tree of life or the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Sadly almost everyone believes they made the wrong choice by eating of the tree of good and evil. It was not the wrong choice and God knew before hand what they would do. It is part of His plan.

Every human being has carnal human nature. Everyone has sinned. Everyone. Why? Because of what we read in I John 2:16 .

1 John 2:16 (KJV) For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.

Adam and Eve did not sin because they wanted to sin. No, they sinned because they were too spiritually weak to resist sin. True, they did volunteer to sin, but again, that was because they were too weak to resist the temptation to sin. Eve sinned in her heart even before she took of the forbidden tree.

Here is a related excerpt from my article on this web site under Plan of God – “Plan in Progress” (link coming):

Humans need to know both good and evil, just as God does. It is one of the most essential requisites in being formed in the image of God. To truly know both good and evil they had to partake of its source, which was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They had to sin to obtain this knowledge. They were carnal, just as we are. And so it was God, and none other than God, Who intended that man sin from the beginning under the influence of Satan.

We do not want to sin but we do. We sin because of the carnal nature in us. The message is clear – we are not sinners by choice. We are sinners by our nature!

We are not free moral agents

“The creature was made subject to vanity, not wiilingly, but by reason of Him who hath made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of Him who hath subjected the same in hope” (Rom. 8:20).

Rom 8:20 (Rotherham ) For, unto vanity, hath creation been made subject—not by choice, but by reason of him that made it subject, in hope

We were made by God subject to vanity. Vanity is pride, self-importance, conceit, arrogance and egotism.

If God’s will is ever thwarted because of our free will, then He is not almighty. If His will is thwarted, then His plans must be changed, and hence He is not all-wise and immutable. Since His will is never thwarted, then all things are in accordance with His will and He is the architect of all things as they exist. If He is all-wise and all-good, then all things, existing according to His will, is working toward a wise and wonderful end.

Many bible scholars insist that man has free will

You have probably heard it said throughout all of your life, that man is a free moral agent and can exercise unrestrained free will. So, is man is a free moral agent? Is he free to act according to his own judgment or pleasure? To what extent is God in control? We need to go to Scripture to see in what way man is free and responsible and to what extent.

Saul, who became the Apostle Paul, had his will fixed on destroying the church. He was a fierce adversary of the church. His will was to wipe out those who would leave the Jewish faith and follow the Saviour. His heart was full of threats and murder against the disciples of Jesus (Acts 9:1-2). His will was firmly set on this goal.

We know what happened on the road to Damascus . He had all that vanity knocked out of him, no longer full of self-esteem and self-will. God’s will prevailed over his will. This shows us that God had a purpose for Paul, just as He does for everyone of us.

A few other examples:

The instances related in John 7:25-80 and John 8:12-20 are very remarkable demonstrating an intense will to kill Christ. The chief priests and Pharisees sought to kill our Lord, and sent officers to take Him. They were fully determined to destroy Him. But God would not allow the rulers to carry out their wicked purpose. Why not? No man laid his hand on him, because his hour was not yet come. They were seeking to precipitate His death, but were restrained from accomplishing their will. Later on, when the appointed time arrived, the rulers were allowed to carry out their murderous intents, in order that Christ might give Himself up according to the will of God.

And we find that the case of our Lord is by no means an exceptional one. Forty Jews banded together by a terrible curse that they would neither eat nor drink , until they had killed Paul. That very night the Lord appeared to Paul, assuring him that he would bear witness in Rome . Later we learn how Paul is delivered and arrives at Rome. The wilful wrath of the forty Jews is restrained, because Paul’s mission was not finished. Again the will of the forty Jews who vowed to kill Paul was thwarted.

Someone upon reading Joshua 24:15 will ask, but doesn’t God command sinners to choose this day whom they will serve and to seek the Lord while He may be found? They were told to chose yes. Was this an exercise of free moral agency. NO! Read the entire verse to see the context.

Joshua 24:15 (KJV) And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.

These words were spoken to the children of Israel who were to inherit the promised land. They were told to choose between serving God or false gods. God knew full well whom they would follow because of their carnal nature. They may have had a desire to do right and serve the true God, but their actions proved otherwise. A similar event was played out at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:8) when they agreed to obey God, but did not.

And yes, the Scripture does say, Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near: let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon (Isa. 55:6-7). These words were addressed to the tribe of Judah who were exiled to Babylon. Again these words were addressed to ancient Judah . Seeking the Lord does not imply the exercise of free will.

The mainstream Churches unreasonably assert that an unbeliever must somehow “choose” Jesus Christ with their free will. But God’s testimony is just the opposite. The honest affirmation is that man does not do the choosing but it comes from God. In fact, according to Paul, that choice was made by God before the eons came into existence.

The mainstream Churches unreasonably assert that an unbeliever must somehow “choose” Jesus Christ with their free will. But God’s testimony is just the opposite. The honest affirmation is that man does not do the choosing but it comes from God. In fact, according to Paul, that choice was made by God before the eons came into existence.

Eph 1:4 (KJV)According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:

It is tantamount to irreverence for anyone to argue that man is capable, of his own free will, to make a decision for Christ.

The preacher from the pulpit or the television evangelist will declare whosoever comes to Jesus will in no wise be cast out, quoting John 6:37. But they neglect the first part of this verse:

John 6:37 (KJV) All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.

Who is it that will not be cast out? All who come to Him! But who will come to Jesus? He says, All whom the Father gives Me. The choice as to who will come to Christ is God’s, not man’s. God does not call all men at the same time. Some are called to salvation sooner than others. All will eventually receive salvation, but not necessarily in this age.

1 Cor.15:22-23(KJV) For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in His own order.

Some other aspects:

When man contends that he is a free moral agent and can accept or reject the Lord by his own volition, the Word of God contradicts him. These scriptures plainly states that we do not come to Christ by our free will:

John 6:44 (KJV) No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.

Very plain scripture – no one can come to Christ voluntarily. Impossible!. It is the Father who has the responsibility to draw (or the Greek also has drag) anyone to Christ. No altar call here! Also note this:

Rom 9:14 (KJV) What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. vs.15 For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.vs. 16 So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.vs. 17 For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. vs. 18 Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. vs. 19 Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? vs. 20 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? vs. 21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?

The popular idea, which is taught from the great majority of pulpits, is that man has a free will, and that salvation comes to the sinner through his will co-operating with the Holy Spirit. If you deny the ‘free will’ of man, i.e. his power to choose that which is good, his native ability to accept Christ, it will bring you into contempt immediately among most Christians. Yet we just read in verse 16 above, It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.

Man is not saved by some mythical act of his own free will. He is saved by grace, the divine enablement of God who first gives him faith in his heart as a free gift. Paul continues in Ephesians:

Eph 2:8 (KJV) For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
Eph 2:9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.

What do these Scriptures teach us? They teach that man is not a free actor. Man may choose, devise, imagine, and he will be judged accordingly; -filled with his own devices -but his way, his outward acts are always under God’s jurisdiction. That is what the Bible tells us about the doctrine of free will.

If you look up the word “will” in a dictionary, you find that there are many definitions depending on its specific usage. This one is one of the better ones:

Definition of will: the mental power used to control and direct your thoughts and actions, or a determination to do something, despite any difficulties or opposition:

I believe it is a tenuous and spiritual concept just like the word ‘mind’, whereas the word brain is more easily understood since it is something physical. I also believe that our mind (our ability to think), enables us to exercise our will and make a choice from a number of options. The choice we make is the result of our heritage, our education, our upbringing, our experiences and perhaps other factors. All of these are indescribably complex combinations which none of us can fully analyze, much less control. Thus all this leads us to make choices based upon what we will (desire) to do. Often a parent will know what a child will do in a certain instance because the parent knows the character of the child very well.

Accordng to Scripture God is carrying out His will, and that nothing man can do is able to defeat Him. The question then arises, What is the use of doing anything? Why pray when everything has been predetermined? One should not become fatalistic in their view of God. The answer is very simple. God has prepared good works that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:10, 2 Tim. 3:17). It is His will to exercise our hearts as to His ways and to engage our love through the veil of uncertainty and ignorance which lies upon us.

Man will ultimately choose the right, because he was made for the right, and to suppose that he will remain endlessly wrong, is to suppose that God’s creation will fail of realizing the end intended, a position which involves the failure of the Creator rather than of the creature. Man was created for fellowship with God, so constituted as to enter the bosom of His affections, and he will realize the purpose for which he was designed as surely as God’s word never fails. Man will be brought to choose the right, not by pressure of force, but because he will be led to see that it is the right, and that the right is the best for him.

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