FREE WILL - Fact or Fantasy??

 Dan R. Smedra

The sixty-six books of the Bible are God's sole, inerrant communication to mankind.  While in dependence upon the sovereign illuminating power of the Holy Spirit, the believer discovers in Scripture many facts regarding: God, angels, mankind, and important historical events. It is imperative that your understanding of this important subject be anchored in Scripture as well. Take heart, your Father will faithfully clarify the subject of His sovereignty and the myth of "free will" as you study the Word and grow in your Christian life.

As you know, the Bible reveals that the origin of evil and corruption in our universe is tied to the rebellion of the most powerful spirit being ever created by God -- the angel Lucifer.

I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God... I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.  Isaish 14:13,14

Subsequently, the Scriptures use several names to describe this corrupted angelic being. These are:

  • Serpent - which implies guile
  • Devil - which implies accuser or slanderer
  • Apollyon - which means destroyer
  • Dragon - which implies power
  • Satan - which means resister

Christian author Miles J. Stanford comments are shown in purple:

The very first exercise of free will by a created being brought sin into the universe. Lucifer, the chief of the angels of God, set his will against that of his Creator by saying, "I will be like the most High" (Isaiah 14:14).

The very first exercise of free will by unfallen man brought sin into the human race, and into the world. Adam responded to fallen Satan's suggestion to "be as God" (Genesis. 3:5).

Both Lucifer and Adam were created perfect to live in perfect freedom within the perfect will of God. It was simply a matter of the creature resting, abiding, and obeying the will of their blessed Creator. But when they prostituted their freedom by willing against "that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God," they sinned (Romans 12:2).

Miles Stanford uses of the term "free will" to mean disobedience, not volition. (For additional discussion, see FREE WILL vs. VOLITION) Hence Satan and all the angels who rebelled with him; as well as rebel Adam and the entire human race which sprang from his loins, fell into a state of disobedience. As creatures, they retained their volition or power of choice, but the direction of these choices are always contrary to "that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." By nature, inherited from our first birth, our will is inclined to rebellion; we have become "slaves to sin" (John 8:34; Romans 8:7).

For Satan, who originated free will, there is no hope. "The Lord said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed" (Genesis. 3:14). For Adam, victimized by Satan in his innocence, the Seed, the Redeemer was promised (Genesis 3:15).

But Adamic man, enslaved to sin by will and nature, neither would nor could freely exercise his will to choose the Redeemer. "The god of this age hath blinded the minds of them who believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them" (2 Corinthians 4:4).

Nevertheless, fallen man is responsible for his own blindness and rebellion, and he cannot simply place the blame upon Satan. If you owe a sum of money, and cannot repay it, it is no use blaming Satan or anyone else--you are responsible for your own self-incurred debts.

However, the Cross of Calvary dealt forensically with the issue of responsibility. Throughout history, Adamic mankind has been shown to be inherently predisposed to rebellion (e.g., Luke 14:18-20; Romans 3:11). Consequently, the "responsible" man, Adam, and his heirs were judged and condemned. Many believe that responsibility to believe means ability to believe; but Scripture shows this to be totally false. God saves sinners who acknowledge their spiritual and moral bankruptcy.

F.W. Grant puts it clearly. "It is not simply that Satan obscures the light to the lost, but that it is their own unbelief which brings them under the power of Satan, and so hinders the radiance of the gospel shining forth to them. God never permits Satan to have this power apart from man's consent that it should be so. If man turns away from God, he turns to Satan. The very light of God only darkens, as one may say, the shadow he himself casts upon his path."

Fallen man has neither the freedom of will, nor the inclination to turn to God. "There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God" (Romans 3:11). The Lord Jesus carried out all that was required for fallen man to return to God, and He ever pleads in love, "Come, for all things are ready. And they all with one consent began to make excuse" (Luke 14:17,18).

Those who object to not having free will will often cite John 3:16.  "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." They are unconscious of the fact that their interpretation of the verse is likely built on the erroneous assumption that men have free will. (Television themes constantly drive the Satanic-inspired message.) They view the "whoever believes" to mean all have the ability to believe. However, this is simply presumption and contradicts numerous portions of both the Old and New Testaments which deal with the doctrine of election. If I were to say, "Whoever boards the space shuttle will be taken into orbit," would this same group of objectors immediately leave for Florida believing they are guaranteed a seat on the next mission? Of course not. They would acknowledge that the "whoever" pertained to those chosen beforehand for the mission. There is no getting around the truth of Ephesians 1:4: "For he [the Father] chose us in him [Christ] before the creation of the world..."

Dispensational author L. S. Chafer wrote: "The Arminian is deprived of the exalted blessing which is the portion of those who believe the sublime facts of predestination, election, and the sovereignty of God, because he hesitates to embrace them in their full-orbed reality. Having incorporated into his scheme the finite human element, all certainty about the future is for the Arminian overclouded with doubts. Having made the purpose of God contingent [upon free will], the execution of that purpose must be contingent. By so much the glorious, divine arrangement by which the ungodly may go to heaven, is replaced by the mere moral program in which only good people may have a hope." Systematic Theology, 3:282

The Lord Jesus says, "Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life" (John 5:40). Then He says, "No man can come to me, except the Father draw him" (John 6:44).

Man, in his unbelief and disobedience, enslaves himself to Satan. "In times past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience... by nature the children of wrath" (Ephesians 2:2, 3).

And yet, when a lost sinner does turn to the Lord Jesus and receives Him as his personal Saviour, as far as he is concerned he does so by means of his own "free will" [sic], without coercion or restraint. And that is as it should be.

But that is not as it actually is. Apart from his fallen consciousness and realization, God the Holy Spirit has prepared and enabled him to believe and exercise his will [volition] toward God. In reality, he is reflecting God's will through his own (Romans 9:16).

By the mercy and grace of God, he was responding to his election. "Elect, according to the foreknowledge of God, the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience" (I Peter 1:2). He was "predestined according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the council of his own will" (Ephesians 1:11). God's free will, not man's.

All whom the sovereign God elects respond to His free will, and are saved. "Whom he did predestinate, them he also called; and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified" (Romans 8:30). "Who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13).

While the Fall brought in death to the creation and rendered Adam as well as ourselves (Genesis 5:3) slaves to sin, it did not obliterate mankind's intellect, emotions, or volition—i.e. psychological power of choice. The intellect is limited and often malfunctions, our emotions can be stunted or twisted, and the will bent in opposition to God and His ways.

As C.A. Coates wrote, "People may quarrel with the sovereignty of God, but I love it; because I know enough of my natural bent and will to be sure that if left to myself I should have gone straight to perdition. Some believers tell about man's free will when they are on their feet, but all are firm believers in God's sovereignty when they get on their knees."

Once he is born again, it isn't long before the Christian acknowledges that it was by the grace of God that he was enabled to will to believe. "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2:8,9).

The new birth places us in union with the life of Christ, a Life which is immutably inclined toward righteousness and holiness. Further, contrary to time-worn, humanistic theory, the Christian does not receive or regain free will at the new birth.

And a little later on he comes to realize the awful truth of Romans Seven -- that even as a believer he does not have free will. Even when he does will good, evil is present with him. "The good that I would, I do not; but the evil which I would not, that I do ... I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members" (Romans 7:19,23).

In his captivity to the law of the indwelling sin nature, the growing believer learns the truths of his identification with the Lord Jesus in His death unto sin and in His ascension in Glory. As he reckons himself to be dead unto sin, and alive unto God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6: 11), he begins to experience something of deliverance from the power of sin.

He comes to realize that there is yet another law within him, "for the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death" (Romans 8:2). He begins to learn to "stand fast, therefore, in the liberty with which Christ hath made us free" (Galatians 5:1).

In Christ, the believer lives in the freedom of His Father's will, not his own. Consider the Source of his new life, the Lord Jesus, who came to live in the freedom of His Father's will. "Lo, I come to do thy will, O God" (Hebrews 10: 9). "I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things" (John 8:28). "I have not spoken of Myself; but the Father, who sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak" (John 12:49).

What unutterable tragedy it would be for God to allow fallen man free will! "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). One might think that "heart" had the freedom of will to crucify the Lord of Glory; but no--it thought it was free, but it was not.

As Paul wrote, "We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the ages unto our glory; which none of the princes (leaders) of this age knew; for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory" (1 Corinthians 2: 7, 8).

What comfort it is for the growing Christian, as he learns more of that wicked old-nature heart within, to know and count upon the fact that he is a new creation in the Lord Jesus, and that he now has His nature. "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus... not my will, but thine be done" (Philippians 2: 5; Luke 22: 42).

How strengthening it is for the believer to know and count upon the fact that "it is God who worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13). My freedom is in my Father working His blessed will through my willit is the perfect law of liberty (James 1:25). Could I be in better hands as He carries out His good pleasure on my behalf, and for His glory?

"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God" (Romans 12:1,2).


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