Is Free Will a Myth?

Posted on June 20, 2007 - Last Updated on January 13, 2008

Although there are many Calvinist teachers who deny that man has a free will, the very term "freewill" is used in Scriptures such as Leviticus 22:18, Numbers 15:3, Ezra 3:5 and Ezra 7:16, which mention "freewill offerings". If man does not have a free will, then it really would not make much sense for these to be called "freewill offerings".

Also, if man did not have a free will, then there would be no just basis for the condemnation of the wicked, because it would make God the author of sin rather than man (that is my greatest concern about the idea that we don't have a free will).

Everyone May Come

According to the Bible, God wants to save the wicked (See Isaiah 55:7). And the Bible also tells us that we all have a wicked nature, which is why we all need God in the first place (See Jeremiah 17:9-10). But those whom He cannot save are the ones who are not willing to be saved (See Matthew 23:37). On the other hand, God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (See 2 Peter 3:9).

So it is evident that all may come to Him, which is why Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Is it only the elect who labor and are heavy laden? I don't think so. Jesus was obviously saying this to "all". But those whom He cannot give rest to are the ones who have chosen, by their own free will, to reject Him: “you are not willing to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:40).

It would be a mockery for Jesus to condemn anyone for not coming to Him if they do not have the free will to do so. What would be the point in condemning those who are not even able to come to Him? As I said, without free will there would be no just basis for the condemnation of the wicked, and that should be evident by now. So this idea that we do not have a free will really makes God look like a monster, and that is my greatest concern about this.

Can Love Be Forced?

If man did not have a free will, then we simply would not be able to love God. To love another, it is not a matter of mere power, and human experience itself shows us that. For example, we cannot force someone to love us no matter how powerful we may be, because it must be a choice that comes from their heart. It is really the same way with God: He simply cannot force us to love Him no matter how powerful or sovereign He is (and I do believe that He is sovereign), because it is simply not a matter of mere power, but it must be a choice that comes from our heart - otherwise it is simply not love.

Does Free Will Give Us A Reason To Be Proud?

Many people imagine that free will gives us a reason to boast or to be proud, so I can understand why such people would be concerned about the doctrine of free will. However, please consider the following illustration....

Imagine if you were taking a swim one day, and suddenly you see a shark in the water coming after you. Suddenly, a man pulls up next to you in a motor boat, and he reaches out his hand to save you. You have the choice to either let the man save you or to stay in the water and be eaten. If you reached out to let the man save you, would that give you a reason to boast or to be proud? Of course not!

Since that is the case, we certainty do not have a reason to be proud about letting God save us from our wretched sinful nature either. Although we agree to let Him save us, it is still Him alone who does the saving. So free will does not give us a reason to be proud as many imagine. Our wills are ours so that we can make them God's. And although I believe that we have a free will, I also believe that our will has been regenerated once we have been born again, which means that we cannot lose our salvation. So I am neither a Calvinist nor an Arminian, but I believe that both of those theology systems are in error.

The Gift Of God

Although Calvinism teaches "irresistible grace", Acts 7:51 makes it clear that the Holy Spirit can be resisted. So is it possible to resist the Holy Spirit without resisting the grace that He gives? I don't think so.

In my article titled The Gift Of God, I explained that a gift, by it's very nature, is not worked for. But faith in God is not a work: Romans 4:5 very clearly makes a distinction between faith and works when it says, “to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness”.

In my article titled The Gift Of God, I also mentioned that a gift is received rather than worked for. It would not be a gift if we did not have the free will to receive it, and the Bible itself even says “as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).

It is very clear through that verse that regeneration does not come before faith. You receive Him first, and then you become a child of God. This is what is meant by “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31)! Through that verse, it is very clear that you believe on Him first, and then you are saved. And since faith is not a work, we have no reason to believe that this gives us a reason to be proud.

The Bondage Of The Will?

Many Calvinists claim that man's will is in bondage, and Martin Luther even wrote a book titled "The Bondage of The Will". While I commend Martin Luther for the reformation, and I am also grateful that God used him to write one of my favorite hymns (A Mighty Fortress is Our God), I have to respectfully disagree with his teaching that man's will is in bondage.

On the contrary, the apostle Paul wrote, “the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good (Romans 7:19-21).

Throughout that passage, it is very clear that Paul was willing to do good, and willing not to do evil. So his problem wasn't that He could not will to do good, but his problem was that he was in bondage. Although he willed to do good, it was he himself who was in bondage, not his will! He went on to say “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God - through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25)

So, although Paul could indeed will do good, his problem was that there was still sin dwelling in him (See Romans 7:20 again). But since he did will to do good, he trusted Jesus to deliver him from his body of death in spite of his current condition. Rather than stating that he could not will to do good, Paul wrote, to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find” (Romans 7:18). Through that verse, it is clear that his problem was not that he could not will to do good, but his problem was that he had not yet found how to perform what is good.

More Food For Thought

I believe that I have said enough on this subject for now, but I will now leave you with these final words by A.W. Tozer and the apostle Paul....

"God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not thereby countervail the sovereign will of God but fulfills it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it....Man's will is free because God is sovereign.... A God less than sovereign...would be afraid to...bestow moral freedom upon His creatures. God moves undisturbed and unhindered toward the fulfillment of those eternal purposes which He purposed in Christ Jesus before the world began... with infinite wisdom and perfect precision of action. No one can...turn Him aside from His plans. Since He is omniscient [and] sovereign...there can breakdown in authority; and as He is omnipotent, there can be no want of power to achieve His chosen ends . . . . Within the broad field of God's sovereign, permissive will the deadly conflict of good and evil continues with increasing fury. God will yet have His way [but] as responsible beings, we must make our choice in the present moral situation."

“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 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”. (Romans 5:18-19 - The English Standard Version)