Whose Will Is Free?
I find it ironic that the man who will say that it is right that manâ€™s will is free will say that it is wrong that Godâ€™s will is free. But before we delve into that, we should make clear what we mean by â€œfree.â€ By free, do we mean â€œunrestricted, unbounded, uncontrolled, unrestrained,â€ or do we mean â€œable to make choices?â€
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. Manâ€™s freedom has boundaries. Godâ€™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 â€œdoctrineâ€ 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 â€œfreeâ€ will. But now I wonder if manâ€™s will and the supposed freedom of his will is really such a good thing. What good did â€œthe freedom to chooseâ€ 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 â€œchoosing wiselyâ€, as with Indiana Jones in the Temple of Doom?
In this brief treatment of the question of free will, we will compare the potâ€™s freedom to that of the potter, and we hope to point out the man who is â€œfree indeed.â€
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 â€œchoseâ€ my wife as well. Yet, my choice of a wife was limited by a few key factors. First, it depended on a â€œmutual choosing.â€ Had she, like others before her, decided that I wasnâ€™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 manâ€™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 â€œchoose Christâ€, 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.
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 Abrahamâ€™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 â€œfree will,â€ unless of course we are referring to the free will of God.
The Potterâ€™s Freedom
As I said before, it is ironic that we would resent the freedom of God because it interferes with our own â€œabilityâ€ 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:Â 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.