A few thoughts about free will

When we think about will, it’s helpful to think about it in the context of desire. To will to do a certain thing, the person who wills it, must desire that thing. Granted, this desire can be because of a gun to the head, or because of the influence of drugs, etc. but regardless of the reason, the person who is willing, must desire to do the thing he does.

This is useful when we think about free will in the context of salvation. Before a man’s heart has been changed by the Spirit of God, I would hold that he has free will, in that he may try to achieve anything he desires. The point of difference between a man before his heart has been so changed and after, is what he is capable of desiring.
Before a man has been regenerated by God, he is unable to truly desire God and he is completely free to do the things he does desire, which is to sin. It is only when God begins to change his heart, that a man has the capability to seek after God.

And this is consistent with how the Scripture describes a man moving between an unregenerate and a regenerate state. Before we are saved we are dead to the things of God, and a dead man is of another world from the living. The dead man cannot desire or will to do those things that are of God, he is dead to them. But then the Spirit comes and puts flesh and blood upon the dead bones and breathes new life into them, he is made alive unto God.
The other way that scripture talks about salvation is being born again. Before birth, a child cannot desire anything in the living world. It is not something he can even conceive. But when he is born into the world of the Spirit, when He is brought kicking and screaming into the world of light, he can know and desire the things of that world.

Does this make sense?

28 thoughts on “A few thoughts about free will”

  1. Reading your post made me think ove a convo I had today with someone @ work. I told her I couldn’t make a decision between whether to watch a tv show tonight or exercise on the Wii. She said that it would depend on which I desired more. I told her that was the problem, I didn’t really desire one over the other, so I couldn’t decide.
    I agree with what you said about viewing the will as desire; I think this is how Scripture speaks of it.
    Ps. I chose the Wii… because I desire to do something my wife would enjoy over watching a TV show she doesn’t even like.

  2. Reading your post made me think ove a convo I had today with someone @ work. I told her I couldn’t make a decision between whether to watch a tv show tonight or exercise on the Wii. She said that it would depend on which I desired more. I told her that was the problem, I didn’t really desire one over the other, so I couldn’t decide.
    I agree with what you said about viewing the will as desire; I think this is how Scripture speaks of it.
    Ps. I chose the Wii… because I desire to do something my wife would enjoy over watching a TV show she doesn’t even like.

  3. "It is only when God begins to change his heart, that a man has the capability to seek after God. "

    So you think all these people out there who seem to be seeking after God will be saved? Or does God allow some to seek, but they are still not elected to be saved? I have met a number of seekers that's why I ask.

    The birth analogy makes good sense, yes.

    1. I should change that sentence to: "It is only when God begins to change his heart, that man has the capability to truly desire God."

      There are many men who say they are seeking after/desiring God who are not. To begin to truly seek God, to desire God for Himself and for no other reason is something that can only be done with a regenerate heart.
      This is not to say that the lost do not have a longing for God, they just deny (not necessarily with their lips, but in reality) that it is God that they are longing for. They "seek" Him in religion, they "seek" Him in good works, they "seek" Him in spiritual experience. And then there are those who come face to face with Him (as those who met Jesus on this earth or those who are truthfully told the gospel) and reject Him, because the unregenerate heart will always reject God. Sometimes they are attracted to some part of Christ: they like the philosophy of religion, they like fellowship, they like social justice, etc. but eventually they will come to a part of God they cannot and will not accept: the God of the Old Testament was evil, Jesus wouldn't send my mother to hell, God can't be sovereign over my will!! And when they see truth and walk away from it and reject it to serve a God made in their own mind, they reveal to themselves what it was they loved all along.

      As a side not: this doesn't mean, that everyone has to know everything in the Bible to be saved, or that people can't wrestle with doctrine or even be uncertain about it, but when they in their heart see Scripture, know what it clearly says and say, "I do not believe in that God!! That is not the God I serve!!" and walk away from what they knew to be truth", they are confessing to themselves that they do not love God. This is not something that can necessarily be determined externally – though we see it in our churches all the time with false professions of faith.
      ]
      Does that make sense?

  4. "It is only when God begins to change his heart, that a man has the capability to seek after God. "

    So you think all these people out there who seem to be seeking after God will be saved? Or does God allow some to seek, but they are still not elected to be saved? I have met a number of seekers that's why I ask.

    The birth analogy makes good sense, yes.

    1. I should change that sentence to: "It is only when God begins to change his heart, that man has the capability to truly desire God."

      There are many men who say they are seeking after/desiring God who are not. To begin to truly seek God, to desire God for Himself and for no other reason is something that can only be done with a regenerate heart.
      This is not to say that the lost do not have a longing for God, they just deny (not necessarily with their lips, but in reality) that it is God that they are longing for. They "seek" Him in religion, they "seek" Him in good works, they "seek" Him in spiritual experience. And then there are those who come face to face with Him (as those who met Jesus on this earth or those who are truthfully told the gospel) and reject Him, because the unregenerate heart will always reject God. Sometimes they are attracted to some part of Christ: they like the philosophy of religion, they like fellowship, they like social justice, etc. but eventually they will come to a part of God they cannot and will not accept: the God of the Old Testament was evil, Jesus wouldn't send my mother to hell, God can't be sovereign over my will!! And when they see truth and walk away from it and reject it to serve a God made in their own mind, they reveal to themselves what it was they loved all along.

      As a side not: this doesn't mean, that everyone has to know everything in the Bible to be saved, or that people can't wrestle with doctrine or even be uncertain about it, but when they in their heart see Scripture, know what it clearly says and say, "I do not believe in that God!! That is not the God I serve!!" and walk away from what they knew to be truth", they are confessing to themselves that they do not love God. This is not something that can necessarily be determined externally – though we see it in our churches all the time with false professions of faith.
      ]
      Does that make sense?

    1. The way I understand scripture, until God opens our eyes, we do not have the good within us to have saving faith. We are blind but then we see, and seeing we choose Christ. We are dead, but then we are made alive. So,.the way I understand Scripture is that even the act of faith on our part is due to Christ's opening our eyes, bringing us to life from the dead, the wind (Spirit) blowing where it wants to (John 3:8) and where it blows, belief manifests itself. The work of changing the heart in man is from the Lord and if he does not change me, there is nothing in me that would choose Him.

      Without this concept, we are left with the idea that the difference between choosing God and not choosing God is something in men themselves. It is either genetic or mental or environmental in nature, and if this is true then we can make sure that all men will be saved. We would just have to figure out what it is that finally makes a man believe on God, and that doesn't mesh with the way that Scripture talks about salvation at all.

      I hope that makes sense.

      1. I understand what you mean and it does make sense that GOD is the one who opens our eyes. What I have a hard problem with are the times God seems to lament the fact that people don't follow Him. How can they when they are blind? How can dead people follow God??

        It makes God seem crazy for not realizing the reason people don't follow Him is simply because He has not allowed them to. So if anyone is to be "blamed" for their lack of understanding and following…it's not the blind/dead person.

        Am I missing something?

        1. I don't know any other way to answer this, but with Scripture.
          The hermeneutic that I use for reading and interpreting scripture, is that just like other written works there are places that touch on a topic and then there are passages that are written about a topic. All throughout Scripture, God touches on aspects of election and his sovereignty (in Exodus where he says, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, in John 3 where Christ says that all those given Him by his Father will believe, In Acts, where it says that all those who were ordained to eternal life believed, in Isaiah 46 where God says, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, "My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure"; calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it.
          And there are many more. Here's a good site

          But the passage that speaks the most clearly and on the specific topic of election is Romans 9. I know a lot of people don't like it, and I've heard a lot of bad attempts at explaining it away. In the end, I got tired of trying to apologize for God. To the best that I can see from Scripture this is who He says He is. In this passage, Paul makes an orderly argument regarding the sovereignty of God in election. He starts out declaring that God loved Jacob and hated Esau and he did it apart from their works. And then he asks his first question, "Is there unrighteousness with God?", and by this he means, is God behaving in a way that is inconsistent with what He has promised and so in response he goes back in Scripture to the reference from Exodus about mercy and then he goes to Pharaoh where God tells him that He raised him up for no other reason than to destroy him and to make the name of God great. And he says, God has mercy on who he will have mercy and who he will, he hardens.
          And then he asks the question that you are asking. "How can God still find fault? For what man has done other than what God has made Him to be?" And the answer is similar to God's answer to Job, (who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Were you there when I laid the foundations of the earth?)
          In this case, the answer goes like this:

          Who are you to speak back against God? When a potter makes a thing from clay for his own pleasure, can the clay speak back? Does the potter owe the clay something? Can he go to a single bank of clay and from it take two lumps and from the one fashion a thing for honorable use and from the other a thing for dishonor?

          Now, there are some things I'd like to be clear about in this passage. This passage is NOT about man knowing who will be saved and who will not. It is first and foremost about the fact that God has made man for His glory. When we make man the center of the gospel, we rob something from God. The story of the bible is not God saving man, it is that before time, God the Father, Son, and Spirit conspired together to glorify themselves. That they chose to do so through glorifying and saving someone so undeserving of man is a benefit that we receive, but it is not the point of the whole thing, and when we make it the point of the whole thing we subvert the gospel itself.
          Romans 1-11 is a building up of the gospel taking in the picture of the Jews and the Gentiles and in many ways, is complete telling of the Gospel. It culminates in Romans 11, and this is how it does so:

          O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!
          For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?
          Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?
          For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.

            1. Susan thought I might not be answering the question you were really asking, and if I'm not, please don't hesitate to ask it again or in a different way.

              Have a good evening,
              Charles

              1. Well, Susan is right, but I liked your attempt and really the Romans 11 verses summed it up. Only God knows His own mind so my attempts at trying to make sense of things are a wasted effort.

                (PS…I subscribed to the comments, but haven't gotten ANY….good thing I keep checking back here. Thanks for all your replies. I really appreciate them.)

              2. There are two things that come to immediately to mind:
                One, When God talks to those who He knows will not believe in Him, at the very least, because it is recorded in Scripture, it is primarily written for those who do believe. God is showing those of us who do believe, His faithfulness and His nature. When I read God's words to those who will not believe, I respond to His words. They provoke a fear in me, and an awareness of His love.
                But the second thing, is that Scripture is specific. I would recommend looking specifically at passages where God is saying these kind of things. Very often I have found that when I go back and read the chapters leading up to the section I am puzzling over, I have been looking at it far too narrowly or out of context.

                As far as the subcription to comments, I'll try to check that out. I want it to work…

    1. The way I understand scripture, until God opens our eyes, we do not have the good within us to have saving faith. We are blind but then we see, and seeing we choose Christ. We are dead, but then we are made alive. So,.the way I understand Scripture is that even the act of faith on our part is due to Christ's opening our eyes, bringing us to life from the dead, the wind (Spirit) blowing where it wants to (John 3:8) and where it blows, belief manifests itself. The work of changing the heart in man is from the Lord and if he does not change me, there is nothing in me that would choose Him.

      Without this concept, we are left with the idea that the difference between choosing God and not choosing God is something in men themselves. It is either genetic or mental or environmental in nature, and if this is true then we can make sure that all men will be saved. We would just have to figure out what it is that finally makes a man believe on God, and that doesn't mesh with the way that Scripture talks about salvation at all.

      I hope that makes sense.

      1. I understand what you mean and it does make sense that GOD is the one who opens our eyes. What I have a hard problem with are the times God seems to lament the fact that people don't follow Him. How can they when they are blind? How can dead people follow God??

        It makes God seem crazy for not realizing the reason people don't follow Him is simply because He has not allowed them to. So if anyone is to be "blamed" for their lack of understanding and following…it's not the blind/dead person.

        Am I missing something?

        1. I don't know any other way to answer this, but with Scripture.
          The hermeneutic that I use for reading and interpreting scripture, is that just like other written works there are places that touch on a topic and then there are passages that are written about a topic. All throughout Scripture, God touches on aspects of election and his sovereignty (in Exodus where he says, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, in John 3 where Christ says that all those given Him by his Father will believe, In Acts, where it says that all those who were ordained to eternal life believed, in Isaiah 46 where God says, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, "My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure"; calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it.
          And there are many more. Here's a good site

          But the passage that speaks the most clearly and on the specific topic of election is Romans 9. I know a lot of people don't like it, and I've heard a lot of bad attempts at explaining it away. In the end, I got tired of trying to apologize for God. To the best that I can see from Scripture this is who He says He is. In this passage, Paul makes an orderly argument regarding the sovereignty of God in election. He starts out declaring that God loved Jacob and hated Esau and he did it apart from their works. And then he asks his first question, "Is there unrighteousness with God?", and by this he means, is God behaving in a way that is inconsistent with what He has promised and so in response he goes back in Scripture to the reference from Exodus about mercy and then he goes to Pharaoh where God tells him that He raised him up for no other reason than to destroy him and to make the name of God great. And he says, God has mercy on who he will have mercy and who he will, he hardens.
          And then he asks the question that you are asking. "How can God still find fault? For what man has done other than what God has made Him to be?" And the answer is similar to God's answer to Job, (who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Were you there when I laid the foundations of the earth?)
          In this case, the answer goes like this:

          Who are you to speak back against God? When a potter makes a thing from clay for his own pleasure, can the clay speak back? Does the potter owe the clay something? Can he go to a single bank of clay and from it take two lumps and from the one fashion a thing for honorable use and from the other a thing for dishonor?

          Now, there are some things I'd like to be clear about in this passage. This passage is NOT about man knowing who will be saved and who will not. It is first and foremost about the fact that God has made man for His glory. When we make man the center of the gospel, we rob something from God. The story of the bible is not God saving man, it is that before time, God the Father, Son, and Spirit conspired together to glorify themselves. That they chose to do so through glorifying and saving someone so undeserving of man is a benefit that we receive, but it is not the point of the whole thing, and when we make it the point of the whole thing we subvert the gospel itself.
          Romans 1-11 is a building up of the gospel taking in the picture of the Jews and the Gentiles and in many ways, is complete telling of the Gospel. It culminates in Romans 11, and this is how it does so:

          O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!
          For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?
          Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?
          For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.

            1. Susan thought I might not be answering the question you were really asking, and if I'm not, please don't hesitate to ask it again or in a different way.

              Have a good evening,
              Charles

              1. Well, Susan is right, but I liked your attempt and really the Romans 11 verses summed it up. Only God knows His own mind so my attempts at trying to make sense of things are a wasted effort.

                (PS…I subscribed to the comments, but haven't gotten ANY….good thing I keep checking back here. Thanks for all your replies. I really appreciate them.)

              2. There are two things that come to immediately to mind:
                One, When God talks to those who He knows will not believe in Him, at the very least, because it is recorded in Scripture, it is primarily written for those who do believe. God is showing those of us who do believe, His faithfulness and His nature. When I read God's words to those who will not believe, I respond to His words. They provoke a fear in me, and an awareness of His love.
                But the second thing, is that Scripture is specific. I would recommend looking specifically at passages where God is saying these kind of things. Very often I have found that when I go back and read the chapters leading up to the section I am puzzling over, I have been looking at it far too narrowly or out of context.

                As far as the subcription to comments, I'll try to check that out. I want it to work…

  5. I also think the birth analogy is good. The way I sometimes communicate is that prior to regeneration, we have no alternative to knee-jerk sinning. Literally no other option. After Christ enters our lives, we have what we never had before–the option to do good and enjoy it. Not that plenty of knee-jerk sinning doesn't continue for some time…

    I think I owe you a phone call.

    1. Hey Ariel,
      Thanks for stopping by. How goes the church plant?
      I think I called you right around Christmas to see if you wanted to come to DC with me on Christmas Eve to protest the health care bill.

      I hope things are going well,
      Charles

  6. I also think the birth analogy is good. The way I sometimes communicate is that prior to regeneration, we have no alternative to knee-jerk sinning. Literally no other option. After Christ enters our lives, we have what we never had before–the option to do good and enjoy it. Not that plenty of knee-jerk sinning doesn't continue for some time…

    I think I owe you a phone call.

    1. Hey Ariel,
      Thanks for stopping by. How goes the church plant?
      I think I called you right around Christmas to see if you wanted to come to DC with me on Christmas Eve to protest the health care bill.

      I hope things are going well,
      Charles

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