Do I have free will?
The Rev. Lou Tiscione, Pastor, Weatherford Presbyterian Church (PCA)
If I was asked to make a list of the ten worst questions to ask in church this would be on that list. It might even be near the top! I really want you all to read my entire article, so I’ll refrain from giving the short answer to the question.
When seeking to answer a question, especially one that concerns the issue of man’s free will, you ought to be clear on the meaning and use of the words. The will of man is the faculty of the mind by which choices or decisions concerning a course of action are made. The word free means unencumbered, not enslaved, or controlled by obligation.
Substituting the meanings of the words, the question can be rephrased. “Do I have an unencumbered mental faculty by which I am able to make choices?” Every person answering this question will respond in accordance with his own personal opinion.
Therefore, since there are likely as many opinions as there are people asked, we ought to seek the one opinion that matters. In other words, what has God said, if anything, concerning the issue of man’s will?
You might try to find the instances of the words “free” and “will” in the concordance of your Bible. My starting place is the Garden of Eden. After God made Adam, He told him that he was free to eat of every tree of the Garden except of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Genesis 2:16-17.
We know what happened. Adam and the woman, later named Eve, ate the fruit of the forbidden tree. At the end of Chapter three of Genesis, we read that God “placed the cherubim (mighty angels) and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” God insured that no man would be able to eat of the tree of life and live forever, Genesis 3:22-24.
We next look at God’s destruction of the earth by the universal flood, He surveyed all mankind and declared “every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,” Genesis 6:5. Further, the prophet Jeremiah spoke for God and said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” The New Testament is consistent with the Old Testament. Men have not changed. The Apostle Paul wrote, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” Romans 3:10
God declared that man’s will is in bondage; it is not unencumbered! Yes , I do what I desire. One of the greatest, possibly the greatest American Theologian, Jonathan Edwards wrote a book entitled, “The Freedom of the Will.” The basic premise of his book is that men do whatever they want to do. The problem is that before God regenerates a man or woman, the only thing that they desire is sin!
The reality revealed by the word of God is, “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us … while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son…” Romans 5:8, 10. Man’s will is in bondage to sin! Jesus said that “If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32.
All this may strike you as just some philosophical rambling, but this truth is much more. Understanding our human nature is essential if we are ever to know the depth of God’s grace.
So what are we to make of the question? Do I or you have free will? Even in a purely physical sense, we are limited. No one can honestly claim that he can do whatever he wants. All of us have certain restrictions placed upon us. Next time, may God forbid, that you’re pulled over for driving above the speed limit, try telling the officer that you are free to do whatever you want, because the speed limit doesn’t apply to you.
Apply that same logic to life in Christ. Tell God that you’re free to choose Him or not. Tell Him that you did not inherit Adam’s sin. Tell him that your will is not in bondage to sin that you are able to take and eat of the tree of life and thereby you can choose to live forever!
How have you answered the question?