Type to search

Volition: Does man have free will?

Gary Googe May 13

To some people that may look like a stupid question.  I understand completely why some would think that.  But in certain circles, there are those who do not believe man is an independent agent having free will.  For instance, they claim that God causes some but not others to exercise their will to believe in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ in their behalf so they can be saved.  In other words, their belief is that some are doomed to hell with no hope at all of getting to heaven, if God doesn’t choose to cause them to believe the gospel message.  These people will not always come right out and admit this, but such is their belief.

Many years ago, when I was sitting in seminary classrooms, I was amazed that educated people, and supposedly Bible scholars, would claim that man does not really have free will.  This was particularly the case as this subject was related to the things pertaining to salvation.  Their belief was that God had chosen only some for salvation and doomed all others to hell and the lake of fire.  This is why these people believe that Christ did not die for the sins of all, but only for those God has chosen [or elected] for salvation.  In many circles, this teaching goes under the heading of limited atonement.  These people believe this despite the clear teaching of Scripture that tells us otherwise.

II Corinthians 5:15

15 And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again. [Emphasis added]

I Timothy 2:4-6

4 Who will [desires to] have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.

For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;

6 Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. [Emphasis added]

I John 2:2

2 And he is the propitiation [the One who satisfied the just demands of God] for our sins [believers]: and not for ours [believers] only, but also for the sins of the whole world [which obviously includes unbelievers]. [Emphasis added]

Christ did this work for all so that anyone and everyone could exercise their free will to believe what God requires and be saved.  At least there would be the possibility of the salvation of all people.  There are other well-known passages in the Bible that express this same idea.  Here’s the one that is probably the most well known.

John 3:16

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth [exercises their free will] in him should not perish but have everlasting life. [Emphasis added]

The follow-up verses show the contrast of what happens to those who exercise their will to believe in God’s provision, versus those who choose not to believe in His provision.

John 3:17-18

17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. [Emphasis added]

This passage even goes on to express the heart of the problem in the matter.  It is always in terms of how man chooses to exercise his volition, his free will.  Either he turns to God for salvation, or he goes his own way.

John 3:19-20

19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

20 For every one that doeth evil hateth [representing their thoughts and attitude] the light, neither cometh [representing their actions] to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. [Emphasis added]

It needs to be understood that most people do not accept the provision God has made for their salvation.  But the possibility for their salvation has been provided for them.  Therefore, there is the possibility of salvation for all the unbelieving people right up to the day they die.  This is because Christ’s work on the cross and subsequent resurrection was done for all mankind of every generation so that anyone could be saved.

Romans 5:8

8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. [Emphasis added]

Again, John 3:16

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. [Emphasis added]

How much plainer does it need to be! Here are some wonderful passages of Scripture these people misunderstand and misuse in their attempt to justify their thinking.

Daniel 4:34-35

34 And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation:

35 And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou? [Emphasis added]

Yes, God can do anything and everything He pleases, but it was His decision to give man free will, to make him a free agent.  That began in the Garden of Eden with the test God provided with the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Certainly, He did not have to do that, but He did! There are people all over the world who choose of their own free will to resist God’s will every day.  The Bible clearly speaks of God’s desire that all be saved, even though so many resist God’s provision for their salvation.

II Peter 3:9

9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing [In the original language the word here means desire…It is not God’s desire.] that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. [Emphasis added]

The moment a person exercises his will to accept God’s provision for his salvation certain wonderful things happen in that believer’s life.  They are not things he feels sensually, but they do happen, they are real.  Some of these things are discussed in this next passage.  However, there are things in this passage that some use to deny man’s free will.  Let’s take a look at this passage.

Ephesians 1:4-5

4 According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:

Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, [Emphasis added]

Despite all the confusion and controversy, the true meaning of this passage is quite simple.  The key to it is found in those two little words, in him [v.4]It is Christ who was “chosen” of God for His blessing.  But those who identify themselves with Him by faith are said to be placed in Him, in Christ.  And all those who are in Him end up in the place of eternal blessing along with HimIn our case, that means entrance into our final residence in heaven.  In regenerate Israel’s case, that means entrance into and residence in Christ’s coming earthly kingdom.  This next passage is also relevant to this subject.

Isaiah 42:1

1 Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles. [Emphasis added]

You can liken this to airline schedules and destinations.  Those who board a certain flight are going to a predetermined destination.  In this case, those who choose Christ as their Savior are predestined to heaven.  Those who choose not to “board” Christ are going to spend eternity in hell and ultimately the Lake of Fire.  It has been predetermined that all these unbelievers are ultimately going to spend eternity in this terrible place because they chose not to accept God and His provision for their salvation.  In our time, those who “board” Christ and identify themselves with Him by faith in His death, burial and resurrection are going to the destination of Heaven.  So, if you choose God’s way, receiving by faith God’s “ticket” to heaven, you have become one of those “chosen” or “elected” to go to heaven because you have identified yourself with the chosen One, Jesus Christ.  

A fairly popular theory on all this is called Calvinism.  In some cases, it is called hyper-Calvinism.  Calvinism and especially hyper-Calvinism is the belief that God saves the elect through His sovereign will with little or no use for the methods of bringing about salvation, such as evangelism, preaching, and prayer for the lost. To an unbiblical fault, the hyper-Calvinist over-emphasizes God’s sovereignty and under-emphasizes man’s will and his responsibility in the work of salvation.

An obvious ramification of hyper-Calvinism is that it suppresses desire to evangelize the lost. Most churches or denominations that hold to hyper-Calvinistic theology are marked by fatalism, coldness, and a lack of assurance of faith. There is little emphasis upon God’s love for the lost and His own people but rather an unbiblical preoccupation with God’s sovereignty, His election of the saved, and His wrath directed at the lost. The gospel of the hyper-Calvinist is a declaration of God’s salvation of the elect and His damnation of the lost.

The Bible clearly teaches that God is sovereign over the entire universe.  We noted this earlier, but I will cite this passage again.

Daniel 4:34-35

34 And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation:

35 And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou? [Emphasis added]

God’s sovereignty is even expressed in salvation, but not the way it is sometimes presented.  We noted a part of this passage earlier.

Ephesians 1:3-12

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:

According as he hath chosen us in him [Referring to all those who would choose to submit to God’s provision for their salvation] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:

5 Having predestinated us [Again, referring to all those who would choose to submit to God’s provision for their salvation] unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,

6 To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.

7 In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;

Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence;

9 Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself:

10 That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:

11 In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:

12 That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. [Emphasis added]

The Bible teaches us that God’s motivation for providing His blessing was love.  We saw that in John 3:16, but there are other passages that express this same thing.

I John 4:9-10

In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.

10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. [Emphasis added]

God’s chosen means for saving people has always been given through the proclamation of His Word.

Romans 10:14-15

14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?

15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! [Emphasis added]

All this speaks of the urgency of getting God’s Word out to the world, for without it, people cannot be saved.  Therefore, we are to be passionate about getting the Word out that people need to know so they will have the opportunity to exercise their free will to receive that message and be saved.  In the presentation of this “good news” message, we are to do even as the great Apostle Paul did.  In some instances, we are to literally beg people to choose to accept the gospel message and be saved.

II Corinthians 5:19-21

19 To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself [thus making it possible for all to be saved], not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word [or message] of reconciliation.

20 Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you [we beg you] in Christ’s stead [as His mouthpiece], be ye reconciled to God.

21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we [that means anyone] might [having the potential to] be made the righteousness of God in him. [Emphasis added]

As I’ve already noted, Calvinism and especially hyper-Calvinism have taken a biblical doctrine, God’s sovereignty, and taken it to an unbiblical extreme.  In doing so, they have downplayed the love of God and the necessity for evangelism.

But what does the Bible teach about all this? It is important for all to understand that the Bible is the authority, ultimately authored by God, that should be our final word on this and all other matters.  We are clearly warned that we are not to place man’s natural opinions over the authority of God’s Word as expressed in the Bible.

In the writings of Joshua, we have another important passage that relates to all this.  Note his plea for people to choose to serve the Lord.  In every generation God exhorts people to exercise their will to believe in Him and to comply with His commands and teachings.

Joshua 24:15

15 And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you [by your own free will] this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will [exercise our free will to] serve the Lord. [Emphasis added]

What people sometimes fail to realize is that there is a sense in which the sovereignty of God and man’s free will are two sides of the same coin.  Without the aid of a mirror, it is impossible to see both sides of a coin at the same time.  But both sides exist! In this case, we are talking about the sovereignty of God on one side of the issue and the free will of man on the other side.  Yet both are one.

In the beginning of human history, God created man and placed man in a beautiful place called the Garden of Eden.

Genesis 1:29

29 And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.

God made this man a free moral agent…a volitional creature.  The test for his volition came in the form of a tree with fruit.

Genesis 2:16-17

16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:

17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. [Emphasis added]

Man has always been very much a product of his own decisions, even though the decisions of others often play into this.  As we know, the man and the woman freely chose to ignore God’s command and freely chose to eat of the forbidden fruit.  Even though they did not have a sinful nature to tempt them as we do today, they had the temptation of Satan and the allurement of the fruit itself.  Just as it is today, it wasn’t having the freedom to choose that got man in trouble with God, it was in how he chose to use that free will God had given him.

Ever since man’s fall into sin, the fact remains that if man does not have free will, how can God rightfully accuse him of anything as wrongdoing.  If God controls his will, there is a sense in which it is God Who is at fault for man’s bad, even sinful decisions.  However, it is not God, but man who freely makes the decisions and, again, he does it of his own free will.

From the very beginning of history, the biggest of all issues has been to do with how man will choose in his relationship with God.  Will he go it God’s way or his own? As with electricity, he was given a positive and a negative pole.

Because man is a sinner, it is quite natural for him to want to avoid taking responsibility for his actions.  Right after man committed his first sin in the Garden, he wanted to throw the blame onto the woman.

Genesis 3:11-12

11 And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?

12 And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat. [Emphasis added]

Then the woman wanted to blame the serpent that tempted her.

Genesis 3:13

13 And the Lord God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat. [Emphasis added]

In all instances, man wants to shift the blame for his wrongdoing, even to God Himself.

Genesis 3:12

12 And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat. [Emphasis added]

This pattern of blame comes to expression in man in every generation.  Nevertheless, God holds him responsible for his sin.  However, He at the same time has graciously initiated and provided a solution.  He sent His Son to pay the penalty for man’s sin so he could have a way of deliverance from his state of condemnation.  This takes us right back to a well-known passage we have already looked at twice in this study, along with a few additional verses in that same passage.

John 3:16-20

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.

Therefore, if a person ends up spending eternity in the Lake of Fire, it is of their own doing.  God has offered His love and a solution to a problem man created for himself through the exercise of his own free will.  Man’s two options are clearly set forth for us in God’s Word.  Note particularly verses fifteen and nineteen in this passage.

Deuteronomy 30:10-20

10 If thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God [Through the exercise of your free will], to keep his commandments and his statutes which are written in this book of the law, and if thou turn unto the Lord thy God [Again, through the exercise of your free will] with all thine heart, and with all thy soul.

11 For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off.

12 It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?

13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?

14 But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.

15 See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil;

16 In that I command thee this day [To exercise your free will] to love the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his judgments, that thou mayest live and multiply: and the Lord thy God shall bless thee in the land whither thou goest to possess it.

17 But if thine heart turn away, so that thou wilt not hear, but shalt be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them;

18 I denounce unto you this day, that ye shall surely perish, and that ye shall not prolong your days upon the land, whither thou passest over Jordan to go to possess it.

19 I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:

20 That thou mayest love the Lord thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days: that thou mayest dwell in the land which the Lord sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them. [Emphasis added]

Doesn’t this passage clearly emphasize the role of man’s own free will in determining his future? Surely it does!

What does free will mean? Merriam-Webster Dictionary tells us this—

  1. Voluntary choice or decision—I do this of my own free will.
  2. Freedom of humans to make choices that are not determined by prior causes or by divine intervention.

Man can certainly be influenced in his decisions, but it is he who makes the final choices.  God’s sovereignty does not interfere with our free will.

Man’s free will and God’s sovereign will are not at all the same.  God alone is Sovereign.  Man does not have free will in the sense that he can do anything he wants.  Only God has that kind of sovereign “will.”  But even there, He never chooses to do anything that violates principles of righteousness and of love.

Probably the most well-known passage that is used to deny free will is John 15:16. On the surface it appears that salvation is totally dependent upon who God selects, and not upon man’s choice in the matter.  Let’s take a look at this passage.

John 15:16

16 Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. [Emphasis added]

As always, we need to first look at the context to determine the meaning.  As a part of this, to whom is this passage addressed? In this case our Lord is speaking to the apostles.  Are these men believers? Yes! Therefore, salvation is really not what is under discussion in this passage.  What our Lord is speaking of is not their salvation, but their ministry as apostles.  Yes, Christ personally chose them individually to serve in that capacity, and not others.

Luke 6:13

13 And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles; [Emphasis added]

Here we see that of a pool of other believers, Christ CHOSE twelve to be His apostles. Furthermore, we also know that it was God’s sovereign choice to choose Israel for the ministry He gave them, beginning with His choice of Abraham [formerly known as Abram], even as He has now done something similar, but with the Gentiles, beginning with Paul [formerly known as Saul of Tarsus].

We find related passages to all this in the writings of the Apostle John.

John 6:44

44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.

The “draw” of God the Father is not an act of forcing or compelling in an irresistible way.

A few chapters later we read this.

John 12:32

32 And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.

If the drawing of ALL means to compel, then that would mean ALL will come to salvation.  But we know that is certainly not the case.  ALL never do get saved.  In fact, it is usually only a few who are.  Instead, the drawing here means to enable or to grant.  The passage is saying that no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me enables him, and I will raise up those who come on the last day.  This is why we have the following words of Christ on this.

John 6:65

65 And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him [Meaning, unless he is enabled] of my Father.

This is sort of like saying, “No one can come to the wedding party unless they have been invited, and those who come will have a wonderful time.”  An invitation is required to attend but not everyone who is invited will necessarily choose to come and have a good time at the party.  This interpretation establishes two key points.

  1. God desires all to come.  He doesn’t desire for anyone to miss out on His blessing.

II Peter 3:9

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing [not wishing or desiring] that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. [Emphasis added]

  1. The blameworthiness of unbelievers is based on their unwillingness to come to Him for salvation.

John 3:18

18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. [Emphasis added]

This is the very thing Jesus told the Pharisees, as well as others, throughout His earthly ministry.

John 5:39-40

39 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.

40 And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.

The best news that has ever come to this earth is that God has made the provision necessary for the salvation of all people in every generation.  If they don’t gain it, it is only because of their own unwillingness to accept it.  The Scriptures are full of passages that express His intense desire that salvation be received by all.  In Luke 19:41-43, we find Jesus Christ weeping over the people of Jerusalem because of their hardness of heart.  In Matthew 23:37, we see Christ’s expressed longing for their salvation.  Then in Romans 10:21, we see God extending His hand to them all day.  In every generation, when someone misses out on the salvation God offers, it is only because of their own rebelliousness and rejection of His offer of salvation.  The Apostle Paul sums all this up in his writing to the Thessalonians.

II Thessalonians 2:10

10 And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. [Emphasis added]

We could go on and on with this subject concerning man’s free will, but the main thing you need to know is that God lovingly and freely offers salvation to all people of every generation.  Furthermore, the fundamental reason so many people don’t gain it is that they refuse of their own free will to accept God’s means of gaining it.

When God created Adam and Eve, He gave them free will in their innermost being.  Ever since then we have all had the potential for making rational, intelligent decisions on our own.  God could have created programmed robots, but instead has given us minds with the freedom to exercise our will. We can choose to constantly avoid God, or we can choose to be submissive to Him.  We can take God at His Word by placing our faith in everything Christ did for us in His death at Calvary, burial and resurrection, or we can reject it and suffer the consequences.  The choice is ours.  What will you choose? Either you will have eternal condemnation and suffering in hell, or you can choose eternal life in heaven.

When the lost, unbelieving world stands before God in eternity, they will be there because of their unbelief in God’s Word.  God presented them with truth, but they scorned it. The Bible tells us Christ tasted death for every man (Hebrews 2:9). That means every single person reading this has the opportunity to be saved.  I present the only two choices: (1) You can believe and trust entirely in the Grace Gospel of 1 Corinthians 15:1-4:  Christ died for our sins, His blood was shed, He was buried, and He rose again, or (2) You can do things your own way.  You can be defiant towards God, like the majority of the world, and be sent to eternal doom. What will you decide to do about this of your own free will?

Share this article:
0
    0
    Your Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop

    Contact 4Us/2Us

    Your First Name
    Field is required!
    Field is required!
    Your Last Name
    Field is required!
    Field is required!
    Your E-mail Address
    Field is required!
    Field is required!
    Ask us any questions...
    Field is required!
    Field is required!

    Support Our Ministry

     

    Your gifts will be a part of the means by which this ministry is supported and sustained.

    Our objective is to give people the truth they need by which to gain salvation and to grow spiritually.

    We very much appreciate your part in this great work.

    Donation amount
    Donation frequency

    Don't worry - your information is safe with us!