OUTSIDE OF CHRIST, IS THE WILL OF MAN FREE?
Nearly everyone involved in a discussion about the response of men to God has confronted statements like, “As we all know, God made man with a free will.” Or, “Man is a free moral agent.” Or, “God will not violate the free will of man.” Precisely what do statements like this mean? How do the Scriptures address this matter? Or do they address it at all?
In this article, I am going to challenge the notion that any aspect of the human personality is “free” outside of Jesus Christ. I will affirm that man is in total bondage to sin outside of Christ, and is so declared to be in God’s Word. Further, in the spiritual realm, there is no such thing as “freedom” apart from the Son, who alone can “make” men “free.”
This is not an attempt to establish what men have chosen to call “Calvinism” (a word which is thrown around today with great indiscretion); nor, indeed, it a reaction to “Arminianism,” which is also used to free men from the obligation to think within the framework of God’s Word and a saving relationship to His Son. Such stilted phrases are only miserable shortcuts to conclusions that cannot be supported by the raw and unfiltered Word of God. It is wrong to attempt a discussion of things pertaining to life and godliness, allowing the use of foundational terms that have been created by men and reflect mere human understanding.
WHAT GOD HAS SAID ABOUT “FREE WILL”
WHAT DO WE HAVE TO WORK WITH
In dealing with any theological expression, or pattern of thought, it is imperative that we first establish if God has spoken on the matter. If there is not a perceived addressing of the subject by the God of heaven, who is the person who would venture to attempt to associate it with Him. The Lord cannot be logically associated with something concerning which He has said no word or concerning which He has revealed no known implication. Man cannot speak for God unless, in some way, God has spoken to him. Thus it is said of the Lord, “With whom took He counsel, and who instructed Him, and taught Him in the path of judgment, and taught Him knowledge, and showed to Him the way of understanding?” (Isa 40:14).
If God has not encapsulated His thoughts in a term or expression, how is man able to do so? An example of terms into which God has poured His mind are “faith,” “sin,” “the flesh,” “salvation,” “reconciliation,” and “Savior.” Expressions that represent a certain pattern of Divine thought include “body of Christ,” “pillar and ground of the truth,” “Son of God,” “the world to come,” and “this present evil world.”
In the matter before us, the issue is whether or not God has addressed the subject of man’s “free will.” Or, has He made anything known about any aspect of the human “will?” Remember, I am addressing the matter of man’s will, or volitional capacity, outside of Christ.
Some Boring Facts
The following have no edifying quotient in them, and thus I view them as “boring.” Notwithstanding, they will provide a small ingredient that will permit some sound thinking on this subject. Good concepts are something like a recipe that involves the wise combination of several different components. The components must, of course, be in proper measure. If one attempted to bake a cake using a teaspoon of flour and three cups of salt, a tasty product could not possibly be produced. Pedantic statistics and word studies are like salt. They add something to the development of sound thinking, but nothing of significant substance.
The words “free will” are not found a single time in the King James Bible, 1611/1769 The New International Version, 1984 The New Revised Standard Version, 1989 or Tyndale’s New Testament. 1534 They are found four times in New King James Version 1982 (Lev 1:3; 19:5; 22:19,29), once in the New American Bible (Phile 1:14), twice in the Revised Standard Version 1952 (2 Cor 8:3; Phile 1:14), twice in the American Standard Version 1949 (Ezra 7:13; Phile 1:14), twice in the New Living Translation (1 Cor 9:17; 2 Cor 8:3), and twice in the English Standard Version 2001 (2 Cor 8:3; Phile 1:14).
The single word “freewill” is found seventeen times in the King James Bible (Lev 22:18,21,23; 23:38; Num 15:3; 29:39; Deut 12:6,17; 16:10; 23:23; 2 Chron 31:14; Ezra 1:4; 3:5; 7:13,16; 8:28; Psa 119:108), eighteen times in the New King James Version (Ex 35:29; 36:3; Lev 22:18,21,23; 23:38; Num 15:3; 29:39; Deut 12:6,17; 16:10; 2 Chron 31:14; Ezra 1:4; 3:5; 7:16; 8:28; Psa 119:108; Amos 4:5), twenty-three times in the New American Standard Bible (same as NKJV, plus 2 Chron 35:8; Ezra 1:6; Ezek 46:12), twenty-two times in the New International Version (same as NASB, excluding 2 Chron 35:8 and Psa 119:108, while adding Psa 54:6), and twenty-five times in the New Revised Standard Version (same as NIV, with the addition of 1 Chron 29:6,14 and Ezra 2:68).
Occurrences of the words “free will” in the New Covenant writings, from Matthew 1:1 through Revelation 22:21, are as follows. None (King James Version, New King James Version, New International Version), Once (New American Standard Bible, New American Bible, American Standard Version – Phile 1:14, ), Twice (Revised Standard Version and English Standard Version – 2 Cor 8:3; Phile 1:14; New Living Translation – 1 Cor 9:17; 2 Cor 8:3).
The single word “freewill” does not occur a single time in any major version of Matthew through Revelation.
The application of the word “freewill” is made to “offerings” ((Lev 22:18,21,23; 23:38; Num 15:3; 29:39; Deut 12:6,17; 16:10; 23:23; 2 Chron 31:14; Ezra 1:4; 3:5; 7:16; 8:28; Psa 119:108), and “going to Jerusalem” (only in the KJV – Ezra 7:13).
The uses of the words “free will” are as follows: a voluntary offering (Lev 1:3; 19:5; 22:19,29), contributing to a collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem (2 Cor 8:3), RSV Paul voluntarily preaching the Gospel (1 Cor 9:17), NLT and Philemon voluntarily receiving again his runaway slave Onesimus (Phil 1:14). NASB
The expression “the will of man” occurs twice in the King James Version, New King James Version, (John 1:13; 2 Pet 1:21), once in the New American Standard Bible (John 1:13), the New International Version (2 Pet 1:21), the New Revised Standard Version (John 1:13), and in the Revised Standard Version (John 1:13).
Doctrinally, “the will of man” is viewed as a liability, not an asset. Those who become the sons of God are said NOT to do so “by the will of man” (John 1:13). Additionally, the prophecies of old time, particularly regarding the salvation of God, were said to have come “not by the will of man” (2 Pet 1:21).
There is an obvious accent on the will OF GOD in Scripture, not on the will of man (Ezra 10:11; Psa 40:8; 143:10; Dan 4:3; 8:4; 11:3; Matt 6:10; 26:42;Mk 3:35; Lk 7:30; 11:2; 12:47; 22:42; John 7:17; 9:31; Acts 13:36; 22:14; Rom 1:10; 2:18; 8:27; 9:19; 12:2; 15:32; 1 Cor 1:1; 2 Cor 1:1; 8:5; Eph 1:1,1,5,9,11; 6:6; Col 1:1,9; 4:12; 1 Thess 4:3; 5:18; 2 Tim 1:1; 2:26; Heb 10:7,9,36; 13:21; 1 Pet 2:15; 3:17; 4:2,19; 1 John 2:17; 5:14; Rev 4:11).
God has spoken about the comeliness associated with being willing. When building the tabernacle, those who made contributions were to do so out of “a willing heart” (Ex 25:2; 35:5.21,22,29). When David gathered materials for the building of the Temple, those making contributions or performing required work were also to be “willing” (1 Chron 28:21; 29:5,6,9,14,17). During the time of the judges, there were occasions when the Lord “avenged Israel” because they “willingly offered themselves” (Judges 5:2,9). David admonished Solomon to serve God with a “willing mind” (1 Chron 28:9). The prophet Isaiah said to the people, “If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land” (Isa 1:19). One of the mighty men of Jehosaphat, Amasiah, is said to have “willingly offered himself unto the Lord” (2 Chron 17:16). In Ezra’s day, when the people rallied to go to Jerusalem and “build the house of the Lord,” contributions were made by those who “willingly offered” of their substance (Ezra 1:6; 7:16). In Nehemiah’s day, there were some who “willingly offered themselves to dwell at Jerusalem” (Neh 11:2). When collections were being gathered for the poor saints in Jerusalem, Paul told the people there must “first be a willing mind” (2 Cor 8:12).
All of the above occasions were the exception to the rule. As a rule, the Israelites were noted for being “a stiffnecked people” (Ex 32:9; Deut 9:6). That was their ordinary manner. However, this was not the intended outcome of God’s “eternal purpose” – to have a people who were stiffnecked, rebellious, and unwilling. Therefore, He spoke of a time when this condition would change, and willingness would be the unmistakable trait of His people.
One key expression concerning the matter of willingness is found in the 110th Psalm. This is a prophetic Psalm that deals with the coming Savior and the manner of His gracious rule. There it is written, “Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth” (Psa 110:3). Other versions represent the expression “willing in the day of Thy power” as “volunteer freely,” NASB “offer themselves willingly,” NIV “give themselves gladly,” BBE and “serve you willingly.” NLT This willingness would take place in a surrounding of beautiful holiness – “in the beauties of holiness.” It would also be accomplished in an environment of light and illumination – “the womb of the morning.” It would also be attended by youthful vigor and zeal – “the dew of thy youth.”
The real sons of God do not serve Him out of a sense of fear and dread, but “serve Him without fear” of their enemies (Lk 1:74). The “day of His power” has brought a new awareness to them, and supplied them with new resources. It has resulted in them being created anew, with new capacities, new desires, and new objectives. What hindered them has been removed, and what they required has been placed within them.
Now, they do not balk at the commandments of the Lord, but rather they love them and hide them in their heart. Now, instead of running from God they say, “Here am I, send me” (Isa 6:8). Instead of asking that God speak no more to them they inquire, “What wilt Thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6). Ah, willingness is such a blessed condition! It makes the yoke easy and the burden light. How willing are you? Your answer will tell you how much grace you have.
This is by no means an exhaustive listing of the various Scriptures having to do with the human will. However, the various manners in which the will of man is addressed are well represented. These are the Scriptural building blocks with which we can work if we are to build a proper concept of the human will.
If we were to take all of these above texts and cast them into a bag, then pour them out into a dish, is there any possibility that they would in any way promote the idea that man’s “will” was free? Could we gather all of the letters of statements and their implications and spell “t-h-e f-r-e-e w-i-l-l o-f m-a-n” with them? Is there any possible way that all of them could fall together in such a way as to lead us to the conclusion that, in the matter of salvation, the will of the unsaved is free?
If we cannot shake these texts together so as to make them come out saying the will of unregenerate man is free, is there some way we can deal with the texts discreetly – one by one – and carefully build such a concept? If so, precisely how would you go about doing it?
Allow me to get straight to the point. I am affirming it is not possible take what God has said about the human will and unavoidably conclude that men, by nature, have a free will. I will say that those who affirm such a thing have either imposed their own idea upon Scripture, or are doing nothing more that passing along the opinion of one of their peers. I will further affirm that if the “free will of man” is essential for a proper context of salvation God must have said something that clearly affirms this to be the case.
WHAT GOD HAS SAID ABOUT THE HUMAN CONSTITUTION
Since man fell, there is not the slightest hint in the Word of God that he has, in any sense, remained free. Nor, indeed, is there any clear statement that affirms freedom in any sense can possibly exist outside of Jesus Christ.
The Human Condition Apart from Christ
I have no interest at all in the controversy that rages within the professed Christian world on this matter. My sole quest is to know the mind of the Lord on this subject, reconcile myself to it, and seek only the associated resolution offered by Him. I further insist that God’s name cannot be affixed to any view that He Himself has not affirmed. Here are some of the inspired statements concerning man in his fallen state – which is the ONLY natural state that has existed since Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden.
2. The Divine assessment of humanity yields no favorable results. “The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Psa 14:2-3).
3. Men are born into an environment of iniquity. “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psa 51:5).
4. Another Divine assessment of humanity yields no favorable results. “God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God. Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Psa 53:2-3).
5. The vanity of human thought is affirmed. “The LORD knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity” (Psa 94:11).
6. The best of fallen humanity is not good enough. “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (Isa 64:6).
7. Man is fundamentally corrupt. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer 17:9).
8. Another Divine assessment of humanity yields no favorable results. “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Rom 3:10-12).
9. By nature, everyone is short of the Divine standard. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).
10. Contrary to being free, all who are outside of Christ are slaves. “I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness. For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness” (Rom 6:20).
11. Sin works freely and without hindrance in those who are not in Christ. “For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death” (Rom 7:5).
12. Apart from Christ, all are under the devil’s dominion. “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins: wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience” (Eph 2:1-2).
13. Everyone outside of Christ is said to be without hope and without God. “That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12).
14. All men have to be delivered from the power of darkness. “Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son” (Col 1:13).
15. Apart from Christ we were enemies in our mind. “And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled” (Col 1:21).
16. Prior to being saved, everyone is dead in our sins. “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses” (Col 2:13).
To say the least, we should be suspicious of any theological view or approach that unduly exalts unregenerate man, ascribing to him ultimate goodness, or unshackled abilities or power. If there is any part of man that does not absolutely require regeneration – including the body – then that part need to be identified. But that is not enough. It then needs to be established with Scripture precisely what it means for man to be “born again” (John 3:3,7; 1 Pet 1:23), “begotten again” (1 Pet 1:3), or becoming a “new creation” (2 Cor 5:17). If there is some part of the “old” that is carried over into the “new,” exactly what is it? If, in regeneration, something from Adam is retained, just what is it, and where is it clearly defined in the Scriptures? If, as some erroneously allege, the “new birth” is nothing more than a metaphor, then with what is it being compared, for a metaphor is, in fact a comparison. Is it being compared to a birth without a conception, or without the introduction of something totally new?
2. Nothing in all of Scripture suggests that God does not recognize something that is good and free. Yet, He has four times declared that He finds nothing good in man apart from Christ. The will cannot be excluded from that observation.
3. It is questionable, to say the least, that any aspect of our humanity can remain free although it is confined to a domain of iniquity.
4. If the thoughts of natural man are only vanity, what freedom can there possibly be in his will?
5. No part of man can possibly be free when his best is nothing more that filthy rags.
6. A free will cannot be possessed by one whose heart is deceitful and desperately wicked.
7. Those who come short of the glory of God cannot possibly have a liberated will.
8. Being slaves to unrighteous and dominated by the devil did not exclude our wills.
9. Our will was incapable of inhibiting the motions of sin from working within us. Therefore, it could not have been free.
10. The will cannot be free where there is no hope and we are without God.
11. The necessity of deliverance from the power of darkness confirms that our wills are not free prior to that deliverance.
12. Those who are enemies of God cannot have wills that are free, for that would contradict enmity.
13. The will of those who are “dead in trespasses and sins” cannot be free, for freedom is contrary to death.
REGARDING THE CAUSE OF SALVATION
When it comes to the matter of the cause of salvation, there is not a syllable of God’s word that exalts the will of man. It is not one of the building blocks in the declaration and exposition of our Lord’s “great salvation.” In Christ, a sanctified will is always an effect, not a cause.
In delineating the reception of Christ, and becoming the sons of God, the Spirit speaks precisely. “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). The new birth, then, is NOT the result of “human decision.” NIV
Etymologically, the “will” is: “what one wishes or determines to be done,” THAYER “will, design, purpose, what is willed,” FRIBERG and “will, wish, desire.” UBS The corruption of this part of man is seen in the contrast of life before and after being in Christ. “And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again” (2 Cor 5:15). Other versions read, “no longer live for themselves.” NKJV/NASB/NIV The new birth is a line of demarcation between these two objectives: living for self, and living for the Lord. Prior to “newness of life,” men – all men – lived “for themselves.” Their will was absorbed with themselves, and thus it is not remotely possible that it was free, for outside of Christ, all men are “servants of sin” (Rom 6:17,20). Satan, the “prince of the power of the air,” is the one who works in them (Eph 2:2), and they were “under the sway of the wicked one” NKJV (1 John 5:19).
It is no wonder, therefore, that being born again is not traced to “the will of man.” Of course, if the will of the natural man was really free, this would not be the case.
ONLY THE SON CAN MAKE MEN FREE
Jesus spoke of Himself within the context of human bondage – a bondage to sin and the devil. He nowhere suggests that the bondage was partial, or that He came to liberate only a part or aspect of men. “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on Him, If ye continue in My word, then are ye My disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. They answered Him, We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest Thou, Ye shall be made free? Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:31-36).
Notice that the Jesus recognized that being made free inferred that the one being freed had been in bondage. His hearers remonstrated, saying that this statement could not possibly refer to them, for, they affirmed, they had “never yet been enslaved to anyone.” NASB But that affirmation did not make it so! Jesus told them – and our generation as well – “everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.” NASB Could it be that He intended to insinuate that their wills were NOT enslaved to sin? If that is the case, then they would have sinned without wanting to do so, and where is such a foolish postulate found in the Word of God? Even Satan knew that Eve would not sin until she WANTED to do so. That is what his temptations are designed to do – make people want to sin. What is more, he has had 100% success among the race of men, with the single exception being the Son of God. Under such a circumstance, how would one go about establishing that the will was free? If he could not produce a solitary example of the triumph of the will for good apart from Christ, how could it be established that it was “free?” If men willed to do evil, chose to do wrong, and desired what was not right, precisely in what sense was their will free?
Jesus went on to say that the Son makes men free. To “make free” is to liberate someone who was in bondage. Such must be “set free.” NIV Is it possible that the human will is excluded from this freedom? Was man’s will inherently free, so that the work of Christ does not impact upon it? And, if it was truly free, then why did man consistently choose sin? Or, was he coerced to sin against his will? If that is the case, then how could such be described as “foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another” (Titus 3:3).
Why is it that the day of Christ is described as one in which the people would be “willing,” if that willingness was not a new thing (Psa 110:3)? Let no one doubt it! When the Son “makes” a person free, it has a great deal to do with their will. It then obtains capacities and inclinations that were not possessed prior to the freedom.
DOES THE ABILITY TO CHOOSE INFER THE FREEDOM OF THE WILL?
At one time, I had embraced the notion that the call to choose necessarily inferred an inherent ability to choose, or the unquestionable presence of “free will.” Thus, when I assess this particular idea, I do not do so as one who is unfamiliar with this kind of reasoning. I must further acknowledge that I did not embrace this view because I had thought it out with the Lord, asked for wisdom concerning its verity, or been led to that conclusion by the affirmations of Scripture. Although I would probably have denied it at the time, I embraced the view because of theological statements to which I had been subjected – statements that were of man, through man, and to man. I had often heard men say, “As we all know, everyone has a free will.” “God has given a free will to all of us.” “God will not contradict our will, or force us to do something against our will.” I had even heard it said, “In salvation God casts a vote for us, the devil casts a vote, and we cast the deciding vote.” By the grace of God, I did see that this was not a well thought-out statement. The postulate that God made man with the ability to choose, purpose, and will is correct, for man is made in the Divine image. However, how man was MADE and how he IS presently, are not identical conditions. Sin changed the human nature, and it did so to such an staggering extent, that men now “must be born again,” thereby obtaining a new nature.
Sin and the imposition of death has altered man’s moral and spiritual condition. That is, his capacity to choose has been impacted, as well as his fundamental nature. Now, before he can be pleasing in the sight of God, or even perceive what God is doing, he “must be born again” (John 3:7). I suppose that someone might be bold enough say being born again has nothing to do with the human will or the ability to choose, but no person of sound thought will believe such an utterly foolish statement.
Precisely what has God said about human choice – particularly as it regards an association with Himself? If I place a high value on the ordinary approach to this subject, I will expect to find a plethora of Divine utterances on this matter. Here, however, is what I have found.
The Divine Summons to Choose
1. Moses: “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live” (Duet 30:19).
2. Joshua: “And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Josh 24:15).
3. Isaiah: “For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant” (Isa 56:4).
Apart from these three admonitions, there is very little about any person being exhorted to make a choice regarding the Lord Himself, obeying Him, or obtaining His blessing. This by no means suggests that men are not obliged to make the proper choice. It does mean that this is not a Scriptural emphasis. This is not the way holy men have sought to constrain their listeners or readers to move toward the Lord. I say this with an understanding that the Gospel will, when believed, motivate the people to choose life. As well, the devil’s temptation, when entertained, will motivate people to choose death. However, to me, this is the whole point of the matter. God moves people with the “record He has given of His Son” (1 John 5:10-11). The overriding obligation imposed upon men is not to choose, but to BELIEVE. What is more, believing is not done with the will, but with the heart. As it is written, “with the heart man believeth unto righteousness” (Rom 10:10).
For purposes of clarity, this is not a denial of the human will itself, or of the necessity of its involvement in living toward the Lord. It is, however, a denial of the freedom of the will outside of Jesus Christ. Outside of Christ man has a mind, a conscience, and a soul, as well as a will. But none of them are truly “free” until the person is born again and “in Christ.”
Now, as I have already asked, does the requirement of choosing suggest that man is FREE to choose? If so, how is it that all men, with the solitary exception of Jesus, CHOSE to sin? Or, is it possible that there is a single soul in all of history that has sinned without choosing to do so, or being willing to do so? Who is it that is bold enough to step forward and defend such a postulate? How is it possible to look at a totally fallen race, believe that “all have sinned,” are “dead in trespasses and sins,” and are “servants of sin,” then affirm they have a “free will,” or the ability to “refuse the evil choose the good?” Is that not a trait that was said to characterize the Messiah Himself (Isa 7:15-16)? And, if a person cannot distinguish good from evil, how can his will possibly be free?
The fact that Jesus commanded a palsied man to pick up his bed and walk (Mark 2:11), did not suggest that the man really had the ability to walk, and only needed to choose to do so. If that word from Jesus was not accompanied with Divine power (“for His word was with power” – Lk 4:32), who does not know that palsied man never would have walked? Even so, it is the power that accompanies the Gospel (which is “the power of God unto salvation” – Rom 1:16) that enables a person to be willing and make the right choice.
The Pre-Conversion Experience of Paul
Rather than the commandment of God awakening an inherently free will, and enabling a proper choice, it actually awakens the sinful nature, moving a person even deeper into the zone of spiritual death. Thus Paul said of his life before Christ, “But sin, taking occasion BY the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me” (Rom 7:8-11).
As if this text was not strong enough in the King James Version, here is how it reads in the Amplified Bible. “But sin, finding opportunity in the commandment [to express itself], got a hold on me and aroused and stimulated all kinds of forbidden desires (lust, covetousness). For without the Law sin is dead [the sense of it is inactive and a lifeless thing]. Once I was alive, but quite apart from and unconscious of the Law. But when the commandment came, sin lived again and I died (was sentenced by the Law to death). [Ps. 73:22.] And the very legal ordinance which was designed and intended to bring life actually proved [to mean to me] death. Lev. 18:5.] For sin, seizing the opportunity and getting a hold on me [by taking its incentive] from the commandment, beguiled and entrapped and cheated me, and using it [as a weapon], killed me. The Law therefore is holy, and [each] commandment is holy and just and good.”
Keep in mind, this was not speaking of overt transgression, for Paul was not guilty of that. He was, in fact, “blameless” concerning “the righteousness which is in the law” (Phil 3:6) – that is, he was outwardly blameless. The enslavement of which Paul speaks was inward, where the will existed. We know this is the case, because Paul cites the particular transgression that bludgeoned him because of the commandment. “What shall we say then? is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, THOU SHALT NOT COVET But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead” (Rom 7:8). Covetousness and concupiscence are inward sins of the will. They have to do with desires and choices, which are expressions of the will. The fact that they broke forth in Paul, being provoked by a holy, spiritual, and good Law, confirmed the BONDAGE of his will, not the freedom of it. They (covetousness and concupiscence) are both sins one CHOOSES to do. They are both sins of the will.
To my knowledge, the choosing of wrong, or a willingness to sin, is NEVER associated with freedom – like being “free to sin,” or “free do choose evil.” Sin, in all of its multifarious forms, is associated with bondage and servitude, not freedom! (Prov 5:22; John 8:34; Acts 8:23; Rom 6:16,17,18,20,22). No person who sins is in any sense free. That is why the salvation of God is associated with setting captives free, making free, and setting at liberty (Lk 4:18; Rom 6:22; 8:2; 2 Cor 3:17; Gal 5:1). The ability to choose is involved in being made free by Jesus. Freedom of the will and of choice does not exist before we are born again. It belongs to the “newness of life” category.
It is true that man is under the obligation to “choose the good,” and to “choose life.” But that does not mean he is free to do so. Obligation does not suggest an innate ability to fulfill that obligation. This was thoroughly made known in the administration of the Law. Men were obligated to keep the Law, and the person who broke it was consigned to death. Yet, whether we are speaking of a single prohibition, like that given to Adam and Eve, Ten Commandments like those given to Israel, the various ceremonial laws given to Israel, or the law of the conscience that resided in the Gentiles, we cannot come up with a single individual in all of human history that was perfectly obedient. Does that circumstance suggest freedom or bondage? liberty or servitude?
The Law stood as a sentinel, informing “all the world” of its moral and spiritual impotence – including the will and the ability to choose. From this perspective, rather than the Law merely showing what men ought and ought not to do, it actually was given “that every mouth might be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God” (Rom 3:19).
From yet another perspective, it was given “that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful” (Rom 7:13). That is, that the human condition might APPEAR to the hearer of the Law to be what it actually was. In other words, without God the human condition was a hopeless one. It could not even be known, much less corrected by humanity. That condition could only be corrected by someone other than the sinner himself, and the Law convinced those who took it seriously of that fact. That is why the Law is described as a “schoolmaster to bring us to Christ” (Gal 3:24).
Man requires more than a directive to choose the good, or even be willing to do so. Divine light must invade the citadel of the soul before there is even the faintest desire to seek and please God. This is why David prayed so fervently for illumination and enlightenment (Psa 13:3; 16:11; 18:28; 25:4; 119:34,73,125,144,169). Although he was under the Law, he got the lesson of the Law, and thus realized he needed a new heart and a right spirit (Psa 51:10). Although David advanced far beyond his peers, he did not obtain what we have in Christ Jesus. He, together with other noble and believing souls, were “not made perfect” – even in the matter of will and choice. As it is written, “God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect” (Heb 11:40). This accounts for some of the things those before Christ did that were wholly incompatible with life in Christ Jesus. They simply did not have the resources that have been opened to men in Christ.
DOES GOD IMPOSE HIMSELF UPON MEN
Perhaps you have heard someone say, “God does not violate our free moral agency,” or “God will not impose His will upon men,” or “God always leaves men free to choose,” or come similar statement. If we are speaking of salvation, this is true. God does not force men to be saved against their will, or without their personal involvement. He does not drag men into heaven, kicking and screaming all of the way. That is why the day of salvation is characterized in this manner: “The people shall be willing in the day of Thy power” (Psa 110:3). For example, even though Paul was separated unto God from his “mother’s womb” (Gal 1:15), he zealously fought against Christ and those who believed on him during the first part of adulthood (Acts 8:1,3; 9:1-2). Even though he heard an unparalleled proclamation by Stephen, he consented to his death, unwilling to believe him, and choosing to consent unto his death. Yet, in due time, God “revealed His Son in” Paul (Gal 1:16), and he became “willing in the day of His power.” Then, with renewed will, Paul asked Jesus what He wanted him to do, obeying him to the finest detail (Acts 9:3-20). God did not impose himself upon Paul, but graciously illuminated and led him. This is His way in the matter of salvation.
However, God’s dealings with men are not always related to saving them. To confirm that man’s will is not free, and his ability to choose is not liberated by nature, God has imposed Himself upon men in matters of judgment. In these cases, what the people wanted or desired was set aside, and the will of the Lord prevailed.
ADAM AND EVE. When Adam and Eve stood guilty before their Creator, they did not volunteer to leave the Garden. Instead, God imposed HIS will upon them, and “drove out the man.” If fallen man willed and chose to go back into the Garden, God again imposed His will upon him by placing “Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life” (Gen 3:24).
THE FLOOD. Here is an epochal judgment that violated the free will of every person in the world, except for “eight souls” (1 Pet 3:20). The world was not free to choose life, but were summarily consigned to death BECAUSE of wills and their choice.
SODOM AND GOMORRAH. No one in Sodom and Gomorrah volunteered to come unto the curse of God. They had the testimony of Lot, who “vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds” (2 Pet 2:7), but they gave him no heed. Instead, they chided him saying, “This one fellow came in to sojourn, and he will needs be a judge” (Gen 19:9). God then imposed His will upon them, overthrowing “those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground” (Gen 19:25).
PHARAOH. This ruler of Egypt stands as an example of what God can do to a man. God declares that He “raised up” this man, to show in him His “great power; and that” His “name may be declared in all the earth” (Ex 9:16). Defying all laws of reason, this man “hardened his heart” against the God of heaven, acting more as a wild beast than as a man. Thrice it is stated that Pharaoh “hardened his heart” (Ex 8:15,32; 9:34). Yet, in explanation of this totally irrational decision, it is said that God Himself hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Three times God affirmed to Moses, “I will harden his [Pharaoh’s] heart” (Ex 4:21; 7:3; 14:4). He even said He would “harden the hearts of the Egyptians,” so they would pursue Israel after they had escaped from Egypt (Ex 14:17). Five times it is written, “the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (Ex 9:12; 10:20,27; 11:10; 14:8). Four times it is written, “Pharaoh’s heart was hardened” (Ex 7:22; 8:19; 9:7,35), indicating it was something imposed upon him. Thus we have fifteen references to Pharaoh’s heart being hardened. The first occurred when Moses first returned to Egypt, upon being commissioned by God at the burning bush (Ex 4:21). The last occurred when Pharaoh decided to pursue Israel, which pursuit consummated in the overthrow of “Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea” (Psa 136:15). Although it is written that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, he did so because God had judged him, just as He said He would.
SIHON. Here is a king in whom God so worked that He might deliver him into the hand of the journeying Israelites. As they moved toward Canaan, they had to pass through Heshbon, God determined to give Israel their land. He facilitated HIS will by doing the following. “But Sihon king of Heshbon would not let us pass by him: for the LORD thy God hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate, that He might deliver him into thy hand, as appeareth this day. And the LORD said unto me, Behold, I have begun to give Sihon and his land before thee: begin to possess, that thou mayest inherit his land” (Deut 2:30-31). Judge for yourself whether Sihon had a free will and the freedom of choice.
THE BABYLONIAN CAPTIVITY. Because of Israel’s refusal to honor the land-sabbath every seventh year, God imposed the seventy-year Babylonian captivity upon them. This is not something they chose, even though Jeremiah prophesied of it to them, and exhorted them not to fight the Chaldeans, but submit to them (Jer 25:28; 27:8; 38:17-18). False prophets arose among the people, telling them they would never be subject to the Babylonians, and had no cause to fear such a thing (Jer 37:19). Yet, the captivity came, and lasted the full seventy years that were prophesied – imposed upon the people, whether they wanted it or not (Jer 27:20).
NEBUCHADNEZZAR. Here was a world ruler, who worked his will in the earth, appearing to be invincible (Jer 49:30; Ezek 26:7-12). Yet, in a single hour, God imposed insanity and “a beast’s heart” upon this king, so that he spent seven full years in the fields, eating grass with oxen, with the dew of heaven laying upon him (Dan 4:16,25,32,3). Nebuchadnezzar could certainly testify to the utter impotence of the human will and the right to choose! The will and ability to choose are not to be taken for granted, as though nature supplied and preserved them.
HEROD. Here was who was at the peak of power and prestige. His will appeared to be superior to others, as he “stretched his hands to vex certain of the church.” It is written that “he killed James the brother of John with the sword,” then set out to do the same with Peter, apprehending him and putting him into prison (Acts 12:1-3). On an appointed day, Herod put on his royal apparel, and “sat upon his throne, and made an oration” unto the people. His speech was so impressive that the people “gave a shout saying, It is the voice of a god, and not a man.” With no delay, it is said of one of the unseen personalities there, “the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost” (Acts 12:21-23). The angel overrode Herod’s will and power of choice!
THE DAY OF JUDGMENT. The day of judgment will be the consummate demonstration of the imposition of the Divine will. As upon the earth, that imposition will not be for good. No person who fought against God, resisted the Spirit, or remained a friend of this world, will find himself wafted into heaven. All such souls will be consigned to a place to which they do not want to go. They will be banished to a place they did not consciously choose or prefer or want. The dreadful words will be heard before an assembled universe, “Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt 25:41). Those miserable stewards who have squandered their Master’s good’s will hear the dreadful pronouncement, “cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 25:30). Needless to say, the proponents of free will and freedom of choice will be standing with their hands upon their mouths, blushing for shame and shaking with fear.
At this point, several conclusions are in order. For me, these have been shaped by what the Lord has and has not said concerning the human will.
1. The Scriptures never affirm that the human will is “free,”
2. The fall of man impacted upon his entire being – spirit, soul, and body.
3. The will is an integral part of man, and therefore was affected by the fall.
4. Doctrinally, freedom is never associated with the natural state.
5. Men are “made” free, and thus are not free from the womb.
6. Apart from Christ, the will of man is one of the keys to his perpetual waywardness.
7. Those who are slaves to sin and Satan cannot in any way boast of freedom.
8. What man was in creation has been influenced by the entrance and domination of sin.
9. The will must be involved in the new birth. It is not a static part of man.
10. A race that cannot produce a single individual that has not chosen to sin, cannot boast of freedom of choice.
11. A generation of whom it is said, “the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth” ought not speak of the freedom of its will.
12. How can freedom be proposed if there is no none among the people who has taken advantage of it?
13. If every person has gone astray, has not the “will” and the ability to “choose” contributed to the condition?
14. If God does not say that man’s will is “free,” precisely what has induced men to say it?
15. How is it that Satan has deceived “the whole world” if the “will” is free?
16. God affirms what HE wills is the driving force, and not what man wills (Rom 9:16).
17. The will of man is never the subject of Scriptural exposition.
18. Man by nature is depicted as competing with God (“enmity against”), confirming that the will is not free.
19. The will of man is only as free as his vision is accurate – a quality that characterizes reconciled man, not the natural man.
Now, I leave you to ponder the matter, and see if the facts in the case do not justify refusing to think of men outside of Christ as having a will that is free.
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