What is Free Will?

For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Rom. 7:19).  

- Romans 7:19

Any time we broach this subject of divine election, the question inevitably arises: “What about my free will?” If God chooses those who will be saved, am I free to make my own decisions?

Certain assumptions about the nature of our freedom usually lurk behind this question. Most people in the West, including Christians, unconsciously accept what is usually called the “libertarian view” of free will. This understanding of human freedom says that we have the ability to make spontaneous choices contrary to our dispositions and inclinations. Nothing determines our choices. We are always able to choose good or evil. Our wills are wholly neutral.

Yet there are two problems with this definition of free will. First, if we make decisions spontaneously, there can be no reason or motivation for our choice. But since we know God takes our motivations into account (Num. 15:22–31), how can He judge us guilty or innocent if no motivation, good or evil, prompts our choice? Second, if our wills are neutral, why do we make decisions at all? For example, consider what would happen if I were presented with an apple and an orange and must decide which one to eat. If I am neutral I will have no preference for either fruit and no reason to choose one or the other. Nothing will move me to pick one, and I will starve to death.

In The Freedom of the Will, Jonathan Edwards defines biblical freedom. Man is free, he says, to choose according to his disposition. Human beings always choose according to their strongest desire, and so we make free choices. We do what we want to do. Some may object that people often choose the undesirable, such as handing a wallet over to a mugger. But even if I do this, my strongest inclination has prompted my choice. All things being equal, I do not desire to give my wallet away. But if my choice is my wallet or my life, and I hand over my wallet, I prove that I want to live more than I want money.

Apart from Christ, we are dead in sin (Eph. 2:1) and wholly disposed to hate God. We only want darkness, and so we freely choose to reject Him. We freely choose to love and to serve Jesus only if the Spirit changes our hearts (John 3:1–8). Otherwise we remain lost.

 

Coram Deo

Paul describes in today’s passage that even those regenerated by the Spirit face a conflict of desires. If we believe in God’s promises, we have a new disposition, but sometimes our old sinful nature raises its ugly head. Sometimes we do not rely on God’s grace but let evil desires become stronger than our desire to love Jesus; thus, we sin. Yet by the Spirit we may strengthen our desire for the Lord and so choose righteousness. Pray that you would long to serve Him above all else.

Passages for Further Study

Ex. 8
1 Chron. 29:19
John 8:12–59
Rom. 1:18–32

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