A question about the scriptural basis for free will

Free will can be defined in a number of different ways, but lately the definition that I hear most often goes something like this:

Free will is the ability of a man (or woman) to choose what he will do or what he will believe, and while certain situations may limit the number of options he has at any given time (for instance, all men can not choose to be able to dunk a ball, or fly an airplane), there must always be at least two options (one of which may be the choice to do nothing at all).

It will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that I do not agree with this definition. To those who do hold to this definition I would like to ask the following question:

From where in Scripture is this line of thinking about free will derived?

I will freely acknowledge that Scripture talks about choice, but it doesn’t define choice in such a way that each person must always have two options. When God called Abraham there was no requirement that the possibility of Abraham saying no existed, and it is not obvious from the text that God chose Abraham because God knew Abraham would obey. If anything it makes more sense to say that Abraham obeyed God because God chose him.

Any takers?

22 thoughts on “A question about the scriptural basis for free will”

  1. Off the top of my head, without ever having pondered free will definitions…

    I think this is more a logical issue than a scriptural one. Whilst God’s omniscience means he knows all choices before they are made, it doesn’t automatically hold that no choice existed for him. And, would not Jonah be an example of one (initially) choosing to refuse God’s call?

  2. Off the top of my head, without ever having pondered free will definitions…

    I think this is more a logical issue than a scriptural one. Whilst God’s omniscience means he knows all choices before they are made, it doesn’t automatically hold that no choice existed for him. And, would not Jonah be an example of one (initially) choosing to refuse God’s call?

  3. I’ve asked this before (sorry :-), but what might “choice” mean if it did not involve at least two options? Can you provide an alternative definition?

    What’s your take on verses where God seems to plead with his people?

  4. I’ve asked this before (sorry :-), but what might “choice” mean if it did not involve at least two options? Can you provide an alternative definition?

    What’s your take on verses where God seems to plead with his people?

  5. The problem is we can never know if free will truly exists. In my opinion, man is given the ILLUSION of free-will, so that when we come by the judgment seat, we cannot say “WHY HAST THOU MADE ME THUS?” Romans 9:20

    Think about it honestly – because we exist INSIDE of time, when we are presented with a decision, we must ‘choose’ one. That decision can never be re-made. We never get to do it again. So you will never be able to PROVE that you have free-will, because it would require you to be in PRECISELY the same situation, at PRECISELY the same time, with PRECISELY the same percepts and in the SAME situation – and then make a DIFFERENT decision. Free-will makes just as much sense as time travel does.

    It comes down to: are you so concerned about your own will that you are going to neglect Gods will? If you concern yourself with God’s will, then you need not worry about relative determinism (every mans free will). The way I have to come to terms with it is that everything that happens is God’s will no matter what we do:
    – Genesis 50:20 “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today”
    So do we have an absolute free will? Not in my opinion. Do I care? No, because God is in control!

  6. The problem is we can never know if free will truly exists. In my opinion, man is given the ILLUSION of free-will, so that when we come by the judgment seat, we cannot say “WHY HAST THOU MADE ME THUS?” Romans 9:20

    Think about it honestly – because we exist INSIDE of time, when we are presented with a decision, we must ‘choose’ one. That decision can never be re-made. We never get to do it again. So you will never be able to PROVE that you have free-will, because it would require you to be in PRECISELY the same situation, at PRECISELY the same time, with PRECISELY the same percepts and in the SAME situation – and then make a DIFFERENT decision. Free-will makes just as much sense as time travel does.

    It comes down to: are you so concerned about your own will that you are going to neglect Gods will? If you concern yourself with God’s will, then you need not worry about relative determinism (every mans free will). The way I have to come to terms with it is that everything that happens is God’s will no matter what we do:
    – Genesis 50:20 “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today”
    So do we have an absolute free will? Not in my opinion. Do I care? No, because God is in control!

  7. Sam, Jamie, Randall, Quentin,
    I don’t think I stated the question very well. I’m not so much asking whether there aren’t two available options to a person, what I’m asking is why do we believe that a person can always choose either of those two options. In a follow-up post, I try the example of life vs death, There are days that given the choice, we could not choose death (most days for most people I would hope). I think Quintin stated it very well. The decision that we made at that precise time with that precise background, with that precise situation, and so on, is the decision we would always make with that same background, the same time, the same situation, etc. It is all of those things that make us who we are and give us the reason for what we do.

    I hope that makes more sense,
    Thanks for the dialogue!!

  8. Sam, Jamie, Randall, Quentin,
    I don’t think I stated the question very well. I’m not so much asking whether there aren’t two available options to a person, what I’m asking is why do we believe that a person can always choose either of those two options. In a follow-up post, I try the example of life vs death, There are days that given the choice, we could not choose death (most days for most people I would hope). I think Quintin stated it very well. The decision that we made at that precise time with that precise background, with that precise situation, and so on, is the decision we would always make with that same background, the same time, the same situation, etc. It is all of those things that make us who we are and give us the reason for what we do.

    I hope that makes more sense,
    Thanks for the dialogue!!

  9. While God knows how we will exercise our free will; he does not choose for us as such. For example, God knows that Bob refuses to accept Christ as his savior. God knew before Bob did that Bob would reject Christ. God would then likely be disappointed in Bob, but Bob has the will/choice to refuse Christ. I don’t know that there needs to be one, two, or even twenty options to choose from when making a choice. It only matters that God knows our choice before we do without choosing for us.

    Here is one for you. Read Romans 9:18-23. If God chooses to pre-determine what or who we are or what we become. Then might we just be toys for his amusement or perhaps examples by which we make choices to emulate, or not?

  10. While God knows how we will exercise our free will; he does not choose for us as such. For example, God knows that Bob refuses to accept Christ as his savior. God knew before Bob did that Bob would reject Christ. God would then likely be disappointed in Bob, but Bob has the will/choice to refuse Christ. I don’t know that there needs to be one, two, or even twenty options to choose from when making a choice. It only matters that God knows our choice before we do without choosing for us.

    Here is one for you. Read Romans 9:18-23. If God chooses to pre-determine what or who we are or what we become. Then might we just be toys for his amusement or perhaps examples by which we make choices to emulate, or not?

  11. Chuck,
    Can I ask you to read through that very same passage you mention and notice what Paul is saying. Actually, you should go back to verse 9.
    Paul is teaching us about the doctrine of election, or as we would say it, the doctrine of how salvation is chosen (and who does the choosing). As he does this, he is also walking through the objections that we would raise as we come to understand God’s purposes.

    Verses 9-13, he describes the choosing of Jacob over Esau. He makes is clear that God chose them before they were born so it would be clear that was not their works but the choosing of God that was supreme. He says that God loved Jacob and hated Esau.

    Then in verse 14, he raises the first objection/question that pops into most people’s minds as they read this:

    “But doesn’t that make God unrighteous? Isn’t god being unfair?”

    No. says Paul, and he takes you back to Exodus and to the giving of the law when God says, I will show mercy to who I want to show mercy to and compassion to who I want to show compassion. Then he talks about Pharaoh and how God raised Pharaoh up and hardened his heart so that he could punish to God’s own glory.

    Then in verse 19, Paul raises the next objection: “If God makes people the way that they are, how can he then find fault with them? For who can resist the will of God?”

    To which Paul says, “You have no place to question God. Can a clay vessel complain against the potter? Can clay question the one who shaped it? Doesn’t the potter have absolute power over the clay to make over vessel for honor and another for destruction?”

    But notice, God does not call us toys for His amusement. He calls us vessel of wrath and vessels of mercy. His language is specific. He is not a whimsical God who is doing all of this for his child-like pleasure. He is making a thing, and we are part of it. He is creating something for His perfect pleasure. If we cannot wrap our minds around how our choice can be real when He has made us thus, the we must have faith. It has been sufficient for all other things, let it be sufficient for this as well.

  12. Chuck,
    Can I ask you to read through that very same passage you mention and notice what Paul is saying. Actually, you should go back to verse 9.
    Paul is teaching us about the doctrine of election, or as we would say it, the doctrine of how salvation is chosen (and who does the choosing). As he does this, he is also walking through the objections that we would raise as we come to understand God’s purposes.

    Verses 9-13, he describes the choosing of Jacob over Esau. He makes is clear that God chose them before they were born so it would be clear that was not their works but the choosing of God that was supreme. He says that God loved Jacob and hated Esau.

    Then in verse 14, he raises the first objection/question that pops into most people’s minds as they read this:

    “But doesn’t that make God unrighteous? Isn’t god being unfair?”

    No. says Paul, and he takes you back to Exodus and to the giving of the law when God says, I will show mercy to who I want to show mercy to and compassion to who I want to show compassion. Then he talks about Pharaoh and how God raised Pharaoh up and hardened his heart so that he could punish to God’s own glory.

    Then in verse 19, Paul raises the next objection: “If God makes people the way that they are, how can he then find fault with them? For who can resist the will of God?”

    To which Paul says, “You have no place to question God. Can a clay vessel complain against the potter? Can clay question the one who shaped it? Doesn’t the potter have absolute power over the clay to make over vessel for honor and another for destruction?”

    But notice, God does not call us toys for His amusement. He calls us vessel of wrath and vessels of mercy. His language is specific. He is not a whimsical God who is doing all of this for his child-like pleasure. He is making a thing, and we are part of it. He is creating something for His perfect pleasure. If we cannot wrap our minds around how our choice can be real when He has made us thus, the we must have faith. It has been sufficient for all other things, let it be sufficient for this as well.

  13. Joshua 24: 14-15
    Matthew 7:13
    Deut 30:15-20

    Additionally, how we think of God becomes drastically different if we think of ourselves as simply ‘vessels’. If that was the case, that God was making a perfect pleasure, he would simply speak it into existence. There is, however, pleasure more perfect than such a situation. There is the free choice pleasure. For what is better, a gift from a friend because he is forced, or because he freely chooses too give it to you? I believe the later is far greater.

  14. Joshua 24: 14-15
    Matthew 7:13
    Deut 30:15-20

    Additionally, how we think of God becomes drastically different if we think of ourselves as simply ‘vessels’. If that was the case, that God was making a perfect pleasure, he would simply speak it into existence. There is, however, pleasure more perfect than such a situation. There is the free choice pleasure. For what is better, a gift from a friend because he is forced, or because he freely chooses too give it to you? I believe the later is far greater.

  15. Dan,
    The references to us as vessels are God’s words not mine. I do not question that man chooses. Scripture states over and over that man chooses, but it also states (very explicitly) that man chooses within the predetermined choices of God. This is what Paul is explaining to us in Romans 9. Man chooses, but God chose first. The problem that I have with “free will” is that people who believe in it say something to this effect: Man has free will, therefore any verse that seems to suggest otherwise is completely wrong. Whereas, when I read Scripture I say: God says man chooses. God also says that he chose before the foundations of the world. If there is any contradiction here, it must lie within my understand of it.For if I am willing to dismiss the clear meaning of Romans 9, why should someone else not dismiss the clear meaning of John 3:16?

  16. Dan,
    The references to us as vessels are God’s words not mine. I do not question that man chooses. Scripture states over and over that man chooses, but it also states (very explicitly) that man chooses within the predetermined choices of God. This is what Paul is explaining to us in Romans 9. Man chooses, but God chose first. The problem that I have with “free will” is that people who believe in it say something to this effect: Man has free will, therefore any verse that seems to suggest otherwise is completely wrong. Whereas, when I read Scripture I say: God says man chooses. God also says that he chose before the foundations of the world. If there is any contradiction here, it must lie within my understand of it.For if I am willing to dismiss the clear meaning of Romans 9, why should someone else not dismiss the clear meaning of John 3:16?

  17. I personally believe in a graced will that is allowed to choose at distinct points in time  through extended grace. Titus 2:11 states it appears to all men and teaches us to deny ourselves.

    If one believes in election and  irresistible grace they must also take the position of universal salvation  for  God worketh all things after the counsel of his own will … God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance…. who will have all men to be saved. If the grace is irresistible then why is God spoken of as longsuffering when all he has to do is to grace a person with regeneration. He is longsuffering to usward not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.  So it is neither forced will or free will but a graced will.

    1. Jim,
      I was born with a broken will. Broken in the sense that all I could choose was sin. Within that circle defined by me heart that was dead unto God, I was free to choose the sin that best served my purposes. But I did not have the capacity to will or to desire God. So my will was free, but it was limited. But there was a day that this changed and I was not the agent of that change. There was a day when I suddenly saw God and for the first time in my life could love him, and again, it was not anything in me that wrought that change. This is how I would speak of regeneration. I passed from death unto life and like the dry bones in valley, it was the spirit that made all the difference and nothing in me or the world around me. And once awakened, I needed no violence to my will for me to come running to the one who awakened me. 

      If that is what you men by a graced will, then yes, I agree with you. But if you mean that all men are brought to a point where we can weigh God and his salvation against damnation in some free or neutral sense then I don’t know what that means in the context of choice or the way that Scripture talks about salvation and election.  (I would also say that it is not clear to me from reading Titus chapter 2 how it is using the word all to refer to each and every man rather than the context of the passage which is talking about all men (the old, the young, men and women, masters and slaves, etc). 

  18. Abraham was still a sinner though. Genesis 12:13 Which shows…he as well exercised his free choice at times. He as well…is #SAVEDbyGRACE

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