Summary: Is the will truly free, as some suggest?
Title: The Question of Human Free Will
Text: Ephesians 2:1-3
Anytime the discussion of God’s sovereignty in election arises, one question is sure to be included in the conversation: How do we rectify the free will of man with the sovereign omnipotence of God?
This question is a natural response to two important truths:
(1) Man is not a robot, or a puppet. Man makes choices according to his own desires.
(2) God is sovereign, which means that He is ultimately, and absolutely in control of all things that take place in the world.
So, how do we rectify these two, seemingly contradictory premises? During the height of the protestant Reformation, Martin Luther debated Desidarius Erasmus on the subject of God’s sovereignty and human will. This debate later became a book by Luther called, “The Bondage of the Will.” Knowing this, it is easy to see that his is not a new question, nor is it a light issue that people of faith must confront.
When it comes to mans will and God’s sovereignty, there is an important truth that needs to be recognized: Though people are able to make choices, they are not completely autonomous.
Now, to make this claim, I first have to define autonomous. Autonomous means to be “self governing.” It means a being has the freedom to do what it wants, how it wants, when it wants, and in the way it wants. And, there is a sense in which man has a degree of autonomy. But it is not complete autonomy. The Bible makes a few things very clear:
Mankind is sinful by nature.
All people have have inherited a sinful nature from our sinful parents. This is known as the doctrine of original sin.
Psalm 51:5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Ephesians 2:1-3 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
This did not begin with our parents, but stems all the way back to our first parent: Adam. When Adam sinned, the curse of sin went through to all of His posterity.
Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned [all sinned in Adam]
Romans 5:18-19 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.
These verses tell us that we are sinners by nature, and by choice. We are slaves to sin. This is why we have to be “born again”, to be set free from our sinful slavery.
John 8:34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.
Our sinful nature is one way in which we are not completely autonomous. We are bound in sin, not free.
God, by His grace, restrains the sinful nature of men.
Sin in the world is rampant, but it is nothing compared to what it would be if God’s restraining grace was not actively at work. A few examples from Scripture can be cited:
Genesis 20:1-7 From there Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb and lived between Kadesh and Shur; and he sojourned in Gerar. 2 And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. 3 But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man's wife.” 4 Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he said, “Lord, will you kill an innocent people? 5 Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.” 6 Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her. 7 Now then, return the man's wife, for he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live. But if you do not return her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”