Friday, June 10, 2011

Free Will Is Not So Free

For many it is just assumed that we have "free will." We can choose to do whatever we want, right? But what does the Bible say about our ability to choose?

You might find it surprising that Scripture actually refers to our will, not as free to choose anything, but as enslaved and limited:
God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:25-26, ESV
How can our will be free if the Bible describes it as a slave to the devil's will? Are we free slaves? Does free will mean we can do whatever we long as it's ok with our Satanic master and our corrupt flesh? What a let-down free will turned out to be!

God originally created man with the ability to choose right or wrong. Genesis 3 tells us that our first parents chose to sin and disobey God. As a result of this treachery and rebellion our whole race (which was represented in Adam) was counted as spiritually dead; plunged into depravity, sin, corruption and death (Romans 5:12-19). This means that now we are not free. Jesus said that whoever commits sin is a slave to sin (John 8:34), which brings us back to the verse above, describing mankind as trapped and enslaved by the devil so that we actually do his will instead of our own.

The Bible further reveals the limits of our will by boldly making this mind-shaking declaration: "No one seeks for God" (Romans 3:11). But I thought my "free will" empowered me with the ability to seek God! "No one seeks for God." But...I was told that all men are seeking for God, just in different ways. "No one seeks for God." Either we will believe God's word or our interpretation of our experience. As we will see later, if someone is seeking God, it means that God has done something in them and is drawing them to himself, for on our own, "No one seeks for God."

But Scripture is not finished on this subject. Paul cries out in Romans seven:
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. ...For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Romans 7:15, 18-19, ESV
Even when we wish we could do good, the Bible says we do not have "the ability to carry it out."
This "free will" thing doesn't seem so free!

We must remember that things are not right. The world is broken through sin. We carry sin like a disease that has corrupted every part of us (even our will). God promised Adam that disobedience would bring death, and when he sinned we all fell with him into spiritual death. Scripture labels us "dead in...trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1) and informs us that the natural man (man in his natural, unsaved state) "does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Corinthians 2:14). Are you hearing this? In our natural state the things of God seem like foolishness to us - AND - we do not have the ability (the freedom of will) to even understand them! What a predicament! The lost person is more lost than we realize!

How can an unbeliever freely choose to obey the gospel and come to Jesus, when the message of the cross is foolishness to him (1 Corinthians 1:18) and he is blinded by the devil (2 Corinthians 4:4) and dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1) and enslaved to his sin (John 8:34) and a hater of God at heart (Romans 1:30)? Is this free will?!! If so, then it doesn't seem appropriately named.

According to the Bible, man is not just sick and in need of medicine. Man is dead and needs new life. We are not just in need of hearing the facts about Jesus so we can make a well-informed decision. We need a Rescuer! We need God to come to us by his Spirit and raise us from spiritual death and open our blind eyes and remove the chains of the devil's enslavement and give us a new heart that loves God and an opened mind that understands the things of the Spirit! Free will cannot save us. If left to our "free" will we would all reject God and perish.

So I praise God that the Bible doesn't give us some facts and leave it to us to save ourselves through a good decision. Rather, the Bible declares to us a Savior who can save us! I praise God that he doesn't just throw us a life preserver and wait for us to make a decision to grab hold of it so he can pull us ashore; Rather, he finds us dead at the bottom of the sea, jumps into the water and comes to where we are; breathes life into us and hauls us into the boat! The glory is not for us and our free will. The glory is for God!
"Salvation belongs to the LORD!" (Jonah 2:9)

Let me quickly point out that even though our will is enslaved to sin and the devil, this doesn't let us off the hook. We are still responsible for our actions. God still commands us to repent, even though we need him to "grant repentance" (2 Timothy 2:25-26). God still commands us to believe on Christ, even though faith must come to us (Romans 10:17) from the Author of faith (Hebrews 12:2) as a gift of God, not of our own doing  (Ephesians 2:8). In fact, everything God commands us to do, we have no ability to do apart from him. God gave the Law to Israel but Jesus Christ is the only one who ever obeyed it! Yet we are still responsible before God. A bird with a broken wing is free to fly even though it cannot (Boettner).

But the good news - the gospel - is NOT that we have free will and need to pull ourselves up by our boot straps and turn our lives around. God's good news is not that we have the power to make a good decision. The gospel is that what God requires of us, he has done for us! All religions basically amount to our working to earn salvation or enlightenment, etc. But the Bible rocks all other religions and declares that the work is already done by another - a Substitute. God sent his Son to do what we could not do. Jesus lived a perfect life and died in our place for our sins. Before he died he cried out, "It is finished!" (John 19:30). The work is done. Christ has redeemed God's people with his blood and rose from the grave. And now through the preaching of this gospel message the Spirit of God sets people free and draws us to God! The good news is NOT that God does half the work and we do the rest. The good news is that God saves! Salvation, then, is not a decision we make with our "free will"; it is a miraculous work of God! And this is truly good news for those who, by God's grace, understand the true depth of our sin and our inability to do anything good.

We must repent of sin and believe on Christ. And God himself gives the power to do this through the gospel. Hallelujah! Is he drawing you to himself right now? Then turn from your sin and embrace Jesus as your Savior, trusting him alone to rescue you from your sin and self.

Our will, in its natural state, is not free. But Jesus has come to set the captives free!

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