“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” -John 15:16
Most people in the modern Church assume that man’s free will is taught in scripture. It is often used as the foundation to build doctrines and entire theologies. It seems logical. If God made us robots, then love isn’t love, it’s just programming, right?
The Will of Man
God made the first man, Adam, neutral as far as sin goes. Adam was perfectly capable of obedience, and also able to disobey by eating of the single tree he was commanded not to. Adam, for all intents and purposes, had free will. He could choose to do good in God’s eyes, or to do evil. And he chose, in a very real way, to disobey God and eat of the forbidden fruit. In that moment all of creation fell under the curse of sin.
Adam was our representative in the Garden. In a spiritual sense we were in him. When he fell, we fell with him (Romans 5:12). We all now share in his fallen, sinful, carnal nature. what does that carnal nature look like?
“The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” -Romans 8:7
“The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” -Genesis 6:5
The fallen nature of man can not obey God’s law. The fallen heart of man is completely and only evil. Fallen man has lost all ability to do good in God’s eyes. We can do good as it compares to others, but nothing we do is actually obedient to God. Obedience to God would require perfect love toward Him in everything we do, and we are sinful at heart. No matter how hard a man tries, he can only, in the end, do evil. We are dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). Isaiah says even the good things we do are like filthy rags that we offer to God.
“We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment…” -Isaiah 64:6
So we have wills… evil wills. And we are free to do as little or as much evil as we want. If this is what is meant by “free will”, then the Bible is on board. But the bottom line is, since the fall, we can not do good.
The Greatest Good
God’s commandment to sinful man throughout scripture is to turn back to Him and believe in Him. The entire Bible is an account of the unfaithfulness of man to do that, and God’s loving patience with the disobedient human race. The New Testament sets up the greatest good a man can accomplish: trusting in Christ for his salvation. We also see a universal call to repentance and an invitation to come.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” -Matthew 11:28
The Bible is clear that anyone who wants God can come to Him and be restored. But if we are only capable of evil, and all our desires are emnity against God… who wants to come to Him?
“No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”" -Romans 3:9-12
How many people seek for God? Not one. How many people do good? Not one. So how many people will take advantage of God’s offer of salvation, the greatest good we could do? Man’s hatred toward God and complete lack of desire to come to Him, renders us completely incapable. So even though a universal call is made, no one can come… don’t believe me? Jesus says:
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” -John 6:44
“And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”" -John 6:65
Do we have a free will in salvation? sure. The offer is made, and every single person on the planet makes their choice: it is a unanimous NO.
The Creator is Free
Man has spoken, and based on their choice, every person who ever lived is running as fast as they can straight to Hell. What hope do we have? According to the average American pastor, this kind of situation is hopeless, as God must respect our wills. Thankfully God disagrees. The Creator of wills, can change our hearts as he sees fit.
The salvation of a man begins, at least from our perspective, with God sovereignly changing that man’s heart. The process of regeneration, or being born again, is when God changes the sinful nature of man. The greatest good, the impossible feat, is then possible as we are made into new creatures.
“Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” -John 3:3
The Holy Spirit takes up residence in us, and without the Spirit, it is impossible to believe.
“Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.” -1 Cor 12:3
You see, until God initiates salvation in a man, we can not come to him, because we will not come to him. God sovereignly moves upon the men and women of His choice. If God were to leave it up to us, as He does in some, we would continue to sin, and end up receiving the wrath owed to us. But Christ’s sacrificial death is applied to people who never asked for it.
“I have been found by those who did not seek me;
I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.” -Romans 10:20
“So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.” -Romans 9:18
“All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”" -Luke 10:22
Does our will play any part?
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” -John 1:12-13
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.” -John 6:63
“For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” -Romans 9:15-16
Prior to regeneration man is incapable of, and unwilling to believe. We are altogether depraved. But God, in His mercy, saves His chosen people. He changes their hearts, justifies them, sanctifies them, and raises them to glory, all against their natural will. Are they dragged kicking and screaming? Not at all, because he replaces our unwilling hearts with willing ones.
Salvation is of the Lord, my friends. Is there free will in salvation? Yes, and it is entirely God’s.