Home > Mallinak, Questions > Whose Will Is Free?

Whose Will Is Free?

January 27, 2007

I find it ironic that the man who will say that it is right that man’s will is free will say that it is wrong that God’s will is free. But before we delve into that, we should make clear what we mean by “free.” By free, do we mean “unrestricted, unbounded, uncontrolled, unrestrained,” or do we mean “able to make choices?”

There is a limited sense in which man is free, and there is an unlimited sense in which God is free. Man is free finitely. God is free infinitely. Man’s freedom has boundaries. God’s freedom does not. God is only limited by himself. Man is limited by God. God does whatever he pleases. Man sometimes thinks he does.

I cannot say for how long, but for much of my life there has been a great overemphasis of the “doctrine” of the free will of man. Until confronted with Mormonism, I really had no reason to question the great emphasis and value placed on this “free” will. But now I wonder if man’s will and the supposed freedom of his will is really such a good thing. What good did “the freedom to choose” do for Adam? What good has it done for mankind as a whole? What man has ever made all the right choices? And is salvation simply a matter of making the right choice, or of “choosing wisely”, as with Indiana Jones in the Temple of Doom?

In this brief treatment of the question of free will, we will compare the pot’s freedom to that of the potter, and we hope to point out the man who is “free indeed.”
The Freedom of the Pot
That in some sense man is free cannot really be questioned. This morning I chose for myself a blue shirt and yellow tie. I picked out a pair of blue trousers and black shoes. Yesterday, I chose a bleu bacon cheeseburger with french fries, and I chose a Coke since the restaurant shamefully stopped carrying Mountain Dew. I was, in a somewhat limited fashion, free to choose.

However, my freedom, even in these choices, was limited by availability. As a man, I can make choices, yet I find that my choices are only free to a certain extent. I “chose” my wife as well. Yet, my choice of a wife was limited by a few key factors. First, it depended on a “mutual choosing.” Had she, like others before her, decided that I wasn’t worth it, things would have been different. My choice depended on the choice of herself, her father, and ultimately on the choice of the Lord God.

So, in this I see that even in choosing, I am not entirely free. And we find that the Bible would teach this as well. For I can say that today or tomorrow I will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain. But my choice is not authoritative. I have power to make a choice. I have no power to “guarantee” it. I can predict, and I can prophesy, but my power to guess a thing should not be confused with the power to make it happen.

Therefore, we ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. And with good reason to. Because ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.

My choices are seen and known and subject to the will of God.

Proverbs 16:9 A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.

So, even as man is free, man is not free. In a limited sense, man makes choices. But we must remember that these choices are made in a fleshly context. The Bible has something specific to say about man’s ability to choose on a spiritual level.

First, in a spiritual sense, men are slaves. No man, in the history of the world, has ever chosen not to sin on any more than a temporary level. In fact, when natural men choose not to sin, they really are not choosing not to sin. They choose to delay sinning, or they choose something other than that particular sin. They choose beer or wine, they choose fornication or theft, they choose to lie or they choose to curse. But they all choose to sin. And their will has no power to choose anything else.

they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies.

Thus, God says that even the plowing of the wicked is sin. Natural men are slaves to sin.

John 8:34 Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.

If we are to “choose Christ”, we must first be delivered from captivity. Natural men, with hearts of stone, do not know Christ. They do not understand the things of the Spirit of God. They have no liberty, nor are they free.
Freed Men
In preaching the gospel to the Jews, Jesus said, And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free (John 8:32). In response, the Jews protested that they were Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man (John 8:33). In that context, Christ reminded them that they were in bondage to sin (v. 34).

No man is free until Christ sets him free. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed (v. 36). Thus, we must be freed by Christ. Christ must lead captivity captive. Christ must bind the strong man so that his house can be plundered. Until then, we remain slaves.

Romans 8:21 Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

2 Corinthians 3:17 Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.

Romans 6:6-7 Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin.

God frees us so that we can obey His Word and so that we can cease from sin. No man is free to please God in any sense until God frees him (Philippians 2:13; Proverbs 16:1). Apart from this freedom, we really have no warrant to speak of “free will,” unless of course we are referring to the free will of God.
The Potter’s Freedom
As I said before, it is ironic that we would resent the freedom of God because it interferes with our own “ability” to make choices. Why would it be right that we have free will, but not that God have free will?

I cannot help but believe that the true believer delights in the sight of God on His throne more than he delights in any other vision. Otherwise, we find that God becomes nothing more than a means to an end for us.

We know that God is free in the truest sense of the word. God and God alone decrees all that will be, and causes it to be. Whatever God intends will be done.

Ephesians 1:11 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:

Isaiah 55:11 So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

Isaiah 46:9-11 Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.

Categories: Mallinak, Questions
  1. January 28, 2007 at 3:28 pm

    This is a controversial issue, but I didn’t see anything I thought was unscriptural.

  2. January 29, 2007 at 4:02 am

    Good post. I like how you defined free to start of the post. The word “free,” I have often seen misused in realtion to theology.

    Verse that came to mind with your post were Romans 6:16-18.

    ” Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? (17) But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. (18) Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.”

    The fact is we do have a free will (to choose) but that does mean we are not servants.

    Also you said, “Yesterday, I chose a bleu bacon cheeseburger with french fries, and I chose a Coke since the restaurant shamefully stopped carrying Mountain Dew.”

    Oh how I look forward to using my free will choose a bacon cheesburger and french fries! 🙂

  3. January 29, 2007 at 8:56 am

    Sorry, Terry. Obviously my comments were insensitive to your, shall we say, limited freedom. However, I will gladly make restitution for my calloused and inconsiderate speech by taking you to get a bacon cheeseburger and french fries when you are with us next year!


    P.S. I would point out that the Romans 6 passage would indicate that we are slaves until such time as we are freed by God. We are not free until we are freed by the truth. We cannot know the truth unless we fear the Lord. So, there must be a beginning point for any sort of freedom from man.

  4. January 29, 2007 at 3:52 pm

    I look forward to the meal!

    Romans six is a great chapter. It is filled with great truth. All are slaves to sin without Christ. Yet many of those who are slaves to sin think they are “free.” Although they are free in choice, and can choose Christ to make them truly “free,” they are slaves to their own sin and do not even realize it.

    We have been made free by Christ, are now free to longer be the servants of sin, but the servants of righteousness; the servants of God!

  5. February 22, 2010 at 7:38 pm

    This seems like a good place to ask this. An example/preached on used a lot about

    teenagers listening to the wrong cousel by many IFB( at least where i’ve been) is

    the account of Rehoboam. Rehoboam rejects the old men’s counsil and accepts the

    young men’s council. Because he accepts the young men’s council Isreal spilts into

    the Northern and Southern Kingdoms. Is there a problem with preaching that

    Rehoboam lost the kingdom because he listened to the young men? Did’nt Rehoboam

    lose the kingdom because of his father Solomon’s idolotry and causing Isreal to

    fall into idolotry. God told Solomon that he would split his kingdom so rehoboam

    really did not have much of a choice on whether or not the kingdom would spilt.

    Did God moveRehoboam to reject the coucli of the old men and give that speech in

    front of Isreal(The kings heart is in the hand of the LORD, as rivers of water he

    turneth it whither soever he will)( A divine sentence is in the lips of the king)?

    If God was not directing Rehoboam to give that answer would God have used

    something else to spilt the kingdom? How can the chapter be used in application to

    listen to the right council if it was God’s plan to spilt the kingdom any way?

    Should’nt it be used in applacation to parents(Solomon) decisions affecting their c

    children(Rehoboam). As a side question : Saul and David as the Kings of Isreal had

    the Holy Spirit on them during their kingships. Solomom probably had it two since

    he had so much wisdom and wrote some of the scriptures of the OT. What about

    after the Kingdom of Isreal split did either of the kings of the Northern or

    Souther Kingdoms have the Spirit? (oops i may have answered half my westuion with

    what I said about Rehoboam)Was the Holy Spirit on only Davids line up to acertain

    point since many kings were wicked or was he only on the righteous ones that did

    right in the sight of the LORD?

  6. February 22, 2010 at 11:33 pm

    Phil, I do think you have a point about application of Old Testament narratives. In many cases, we look at those narratives in relationship to other places which teach the same thing. I can’t really speak for the IFB men you have heard or read, as to how they have applied the passage to which you refer, but I believe that there is a legitimate application as to listening to the young men as a contributing factor in the split of the kingdom. I believe other reasons should be included, but that does not nullify the Rehoboam example that you give.

  7. February 23, 2010 at 9:24 am


    Let’s say that Rehoboam lost the kingdom because of listening to younger counsel. Then the young prophet who confronted Jeroboam lost his life for listening to older counsel.

    Can’t listen to anyone, I guess.

  8. February 23, 2010 at 11:51 am

    Good point Art. And I’ve preached through Job, and the youngest guy had the best counsel for Job too. With that being said, the young guys had bad counsel for Rehoboam. Was it because they were young? Probably, but I base that on some other passages, like Proverbs and 1 Timothy. So you’ve got to go to other passages to establish that youth was related to the bad counsel, at the same time saying that age is not the determining factor.

  9. February 23, 2010 at 6:07 pm

    Bro. Brandenburg and Pastor Dunham
    I had had that passage I kings 12 and Chronicles 10 probably twice as a youth group sermon and 1-2 times in christian school chapel by a special speaker. The point of the messages was the folly of getting council from people your own age(teeagers) and the harm it can cause. When I read through both these passages myself I realized that Rehoboam was 41(not that that negates the application). Also in both I Kings 12 and 2 Chronicles 10 where he answers the people roughly and gives the answer the young men he grew up with told him to give and would not listen in verse 15 of both chapters it says that “the cause was from the LORD/God that he might perform his saying/word which the LORD/he spake by/by the hand of Ahijah the Shilonite unto/to Jeroboam the son ofNebat.”IKings12:15/IIChronicles11:15. That why I asked my question on whether you could say it was Rehoboam’s fault(free will or God’s will?) for listening to the wrong council. When I read both chapters it seemed to me like God was moving him in that direction to accomplish what he told Solomaon(I Kings 11:11) Jeroboam(I Kings 11:28-39), which is why I referenced the king’s heart being in the hand of the LORD and God and turning it withersoever he will. Overall did my comment make it seem like I was trying to negate good council/getting council ? That was not my intention. Did God not rebuke Elihu because he was pleased with him? I have always wondered why when Elihu was done talking God shows up and we don’t hear about him again.Did the Spirit of the LORD remain on the any of kings of Judah?

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