Something a bit more serious today, I keep hearing how Calvinists (like me), deny freedom of the human will. This somehow leads to the conclusion that if humans do not have free will, then coerced salvation or sinning is God’s doing or God’s fault, and all men are robots. The choices men make are then meaningless, since it was not a free choice, but forced.
What exactly does free will mean? Let’s break up the terms, and see if we can determine what can be meant by it.
“Will” is that stubborn or gullible streak all humans have. It is that inside voice that tells us what actions to perform. Where does our will come from? Presumably, it was part of how we were created, with a will to decide things. Everyone can decide to do, or not do things. Simple enough, right?
“Free” means many things, among which personal liberty, or no restrictions.
In context of our discussion, do we then accept that free will, in the case of salvation, should be interpreted as the ability to act without interference from nature, fate or God? Is it self-empowerment to the extent of eternal life? Does freedom of the will mean the ability to do anything, if only one wanted to?
In my many discussions with non-believers, the first thing that I always bring up is the basis for making assertions. Those who know me well will attest to the fact that I do not concede that there is a “neutral” middle ground, between believers and non-believers. Such a middle ground is nonsensical, since you cannot halfway believe in God or not. Either you believe or you don’t. The form of deity you believe in may look different, but the essential presupposition is that of something bigger and mightier than the self.
In the case of human free will, I would like to to take a similar stand. There is no middle ground. Either man is self-empowering free, or he is not. Man is free to make moral choices, choose his own words and actions and free to choose what he desires. Does that freedom also empower one to act and save oneself?
Freedom of the will does not mean the ability to do whatever one wants, if only you so willed. It is absurd to think that man can do anything he wills. The will, and the ability are two seperate things. If I wanted to jump to the moon, I can jump until I am blue in my face, I will never get there because I do not have the ability. Is my act free or not? I am jumping, remember, out of my will, or desire, to go to the moon. What good is a will without effective action? How does that achieve anything? Even though we want to be saved, do we have the ability to act and be saved?
We read in Romans 6:16
“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?”
The last time I checked, a slave is not free. When we act, when we do anything, we are obeying something. That something, according to Paul, is either sin, or it is obedience. It is clear that sin or obedience is at a higher level than our will, and our subsequent actions. We can present ourselves as anything, and that can be the consequence of either sin or righteousness. There is no middle ground. There is no halfway sinful, halfway righteous position here. So when we decide to do something, it is subject to something bigger.
This is uncomfortable for many who want to say that we can freely choose to accept the free gift of salvation or not. I do not disagree with that, by the way, I do believe we are free to choose, and must make that choice.
I also believe that our choice is subject not just to our own ability, since we are influenced by many things, either in the way we were created, or our external environment. Those things develop our character, and the choices we make are subject to our character.
Your character, or nature, is like a fountain, with your life the streams, lakes and rivers that flow from that fountain. If the fountain is polluted, then the whole system is polluted. Your choices reveal your character. What hope do we have to change our own character?
While our choice is our own, our ability is hopelessly underpowered to ever change our character.
Joh 1:12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,
Joh 1:13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
God’s will and power changes our character. We become children of God by making a decision based on the will of God. It is much greater than our own character, which is inherently unable to perform the necessary act to save us.
Joh 6:65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
God grants, He foreordained, He wills that our character be changed, not through anything that we choose, but how God chooses. That gives us the ability to make a choice for Him.
There is much more to say on this, including the condition of the human character. For now, I want to encourage you to think why you make the choices you do. Is it sin or righteousness? It cannot be both. Our decision to accept God’s gift of faith through grace is subject to the same preconditions.