Human will

IS THERE CLARITY FOR THE FREE WILL DEBATE?

The issue of whether people have a ‘free will’ has been hotly debated for centuries. It is a debate that will likely continue until Jesus comes.

In my view, much of the distance between believers on this issue is that we have somewhat different definitions in mind about the terms we throw at one another. Once terms are better clarified, there still may be disagreement, but the difference is not as dramatic as we once imagined.

We may even grow to have new appreciation for each others perspective. This is true on virtually all debatable issues within historic Christianity.

I don’t think it is particularly clear or accurate to throw out absolute statements such as, “Yes, we all have a free will” or, “No one has a free will”.

I think Scripture gives us a clear, but more nuanced understanding.

We can certainly say; people choose to act as they do and are fully responsible for their actions. Romans 1:18-32 describes the responsibility people have in “suppressing the truth” and “exchanging” the glory of God for their own wisdom.

Yet, in this same epistle, Paul says the mind set on the flesh “cannot” submit to God (8:7). In 1 Corinthians 2:14, Paul says that the natural mind is “not able to understand” spiritual truth. Ephesians 2 describes all unbelievers as spiritually “dead”. This language is meant to convey our inability to choose to live godly.

So, do unbelievers have freedom of will?

The answer is yes, but only within their nature. A spiritually dead nature will not and cannot choose godliness until the Holy Spirit awakens their soul to want God.

My favorite illustration is that of the lion and the antelope.

Although the lion and the antelope share the same habitat, the lion eats meat and the antelope eats grass. Neither will ever change their eating habits, because it is not in their nature.

In fact, the lion will starve to death before it eats grass, even though the antelope happily munches on the vegetation surrounding them both.

Lions are free to eat what they want, but their choices are limited by their nature. So it is with the unregenerate person. They are free to act as they want, but they will only choose within their nature.

In the end, all Christians agree that we need the intervention of the Holy Spirit if we are to become a Christ-follower.

This is evident in the way all Christians pray regardless of their position on freedom of will. We ask God to convict and work in the hearts of those who need to receive Christ.

God doesn’t force anyone to believe, but when the Holy Spirit enlivens the soul to truly see and know the glorious Christ, we cannot get to him fast enough!

If you are interested in thinking through this issue a little further, John Piper has this helpful article on the desiringGod website.