Saturday, June 12, 2010

Q&A: free will?

This is the second post designed to answer deeper theological questions. I've asked Facebook friends to post questions for discussion. I'll make a humble attempt to explore these questions from a biblical perspective.

Q. How free is the will? --Bo Frazier

A. Bo, this question is one of my favorites. I think this question represents an idea that we've all grown comfortable with--one that reflects our human experience and desire--but has no biblical support. I hear people say, "God helps those who help themselves" or "God will not give you any more than you can handle." These popular sayings are also unbiblical. The idea of "free will" seems to fit what we feel in life and, therefore, has uncritically made its way into our theological framework.

But, the Bible doesn't teach free will.

In fact, the Bible teaches quite the opposite. In Romans 6:17, Paul writes that we all "used to be slaves to sin." His point is that, apart from Christ, people are under the control of sin. They're not free. They are mastered by unrighteousness.

To be sure, we feel free. Many people, outside of Christ, feel as if they can do anything they please. Truth is, sin has so contaminated our humanity, that our will is subject to our sin nature and, until God breaks through, we will never be able to do what ultimately pleases God and leads to life.

My seminary professor used a very vivid illustration. He invited a student to stand on a chair, jump...and not fall. Of course, it was impossible because the student was bound by the laws of his physical nature [gravity]. In the same way, we are bound by spiritual laws. We are free to do everything that our nature permits us to do. If our nature is enslaved to sin, we are free to do whatever an enslaved nature can do [i.e., a convict in the prison yard is "free" to do whatever he wants...though his freedom is clearly limited. He is free to do push ups, but he cannot go to the beach.]. But, we are not free to do absolutely anything we want.

In this, there is no such thing as free will before coming to Christ.

However, once a person is set free by Christ [Galatians 5:1, Romans 6], we have a greater capacity to live a life pleasing to God. The sin nature has not been annihilated. But, it has been broken so that it no longer has mastery over the Christian. This is what it means to be free and only in Christ can our wills be liberated to be the people God designed us to be.


John Burt said...

Well said.

The Batman said...

Maybe it's on how one defines "free will," but I would say we do have it. God did not make us as robots who MUST obey and love him. We have a choice, and He wants us to choose to love and obey him. Where there is no ability to choose there is no free will. That's how I've always seen it, and I think Scripture supports it. "IF any man would be my disciple...," "Each man should give what he has decided in his own heart to give."

David Daniels said...

Batman, thanks for noting. However, Romans 6 tells me that BEFORE I came to Christ, I was dead in sin---a slave. Slaves have to freedom and dead men can't do anything. Our experience feels otherwise. But, the freedom we feel is like a prisoner telling a visitor that he's free to do antyhing he wants inside his jail cell. Of course he is...and isn't.

I think the fundamental argument against free will is that our sin nature really doesn't want to give up control. No one wants to concede that we're limited because pride fights to maintain autonomy and supremacy. Truth is, if we were REALLY free, we would not have needed Christ. Someone, somewhere, would have been able to get to God on their own.

One other note: The commands of Scripture, spoken to non-believers, in no way suggest a fully free will. Though we are in bondage to sin, we still must exercise human responsibility to the mandates of God. Our inability to do consistently so is what leaves us hopeless...and desperately in need of a Savior who can.

The Batman said...

Ah, gotcha. So freedom of choice is not the same as free will. The prisoner can choose to read or not, write a letter or not, eat dinner or not, but he isn't "free" to leave.

David Daniels said...

Batman, you're a theological genuis! I've never heard it put in those categories, but I think you're on to something. The prisoner has freedom to choose among all of his limited options. If you asked him, he might say that he has a "free will." But, when you stand on the outside of the prison, looking in, you know that he is only expressing his rather limited experience. The full range of his will is limited. And, therefore, he is not really "free."