by Dale Reeves
Last Sunday at Christ’s Church we continued our July teaching series called “Have you Ever Wondered?” I preached on the topic of free will. If you missed that teaching, you can check it out here. We are grateful that God has given us the freedom to make our own choices—for good or bad—as opposed to dictating that we must act a certain way, no matter our wishes, just as a robot might be programmed to always respond appropriately. A simple definition of free will is this:
“Human beings have the freedom to choose what to do and how to act according to their respective natures, without being controlled by God, Satan, or anyone else.”
At times we might wish that God would take some of that free will away from us, to protect us from ourselves. But, more often than not, we are thankful that he made our brains and emotions such that we have the ability to consider all our options and then make our own choices. The real question, perhaps, is “Why does God give certain people free will?”
—Why, for instance, does God allow a dad to line up his three boys and murder them firing-squad style on his front lawn?
—Why does God allow militant terrorists to ransack churches in the world, persecute and kill church leaders, and rape their family members?
—Why does God allow the amount of sex trafficking and child sex abuse to continue to escalate in our country?
—Why does God allow a person to become addicted to drugs, and trade it all in (job, family, and life) for a series of bad choices?
—Why does God allow a hurt and angry person to kill innocent children in a school shooting?
—Why does God allow a man or woman to pursue an extramarital affair after years of marriage, leading to divorce and damaging the children in that home forever?
The Problem of Evil
We know from the account of Adam and Eve in the utopia of the Garden of Eden (see Genesis 1-3), that God created man and woman in his own image, with the capacity to choose good but also with the capacity to choose evil. After their sin in eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve tried to hide from God. When God confronted Adam and Eve about their sin, Adam responded, “It was the woman YOU gave me who gave me the fruit, and I ate it.” And, then Eve followed that up with, “The serpent deceived me; that’s why I ate it!” And, just as the first couple tried to take the focus off themselves and shift blame for their wrongdoing, we continue the shift blaming for the bad choices we make today. We might blame our parents, our surroundings, our tough circumstances, or the devil, but the truth is that we all have the free will to make our own choices—and to accept the blessings or consequences that come with those choices.
The apostle Peter admonishes us: “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves” (1 Peter 2:16, NIV). All kinds of godless things are done in the name of freedom today. In our country and world today, evil is called good, and good is called evil.
In his masterful work, Mere Christianity, author C.S. Lewis said this:
“If a thing is free to be good, it’s also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. . . . Of course, God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way; apparently, He thought it worth the risk.”
Predestination vs. Foreknowledge
For centuries theologians have debated the topic of predestination vs. foreknowledge. If God knows beforehand everything we are going to do, and he knows the outcome, does he make us choose our actions? In other words, if God knows what will happen tomorrow, and that means it is an established fact, does he remove any free will choices one might make tomorrow?
In his article, “Does God’s Foreknowledge Negate Man’s Free Will,” late author and theologian Jack Cottrell says this:
“We must remember the qualitative distinction between the transcendent, infinite Creator, and us His finite creatures. We cannot limit God to the things that fall within the realm of human possibility. . . . It is the height of arrogance to reject such a glorious divine reality only because we cannot wrap our puny finite minds around it. . . . Once an event has occurred, it becomes a past event and thus becomes ‘fixed’ or ‘certain’ in the sense that it cannot be changed. But this does not mean that any free-will choices involved in that event are somehow robbed of their freeness, just because the event has taken on the characteristic of certainty.”
Cottrell continues, “Let’s say that I ask you to watch with me a video of a sermon that I have watched before. Then I say at one point in the video, ‘I know exactly what the preacher is going to say next. There is no question about it. He is going to say such and such.’ And then on the video the words are said just as I predicted. Did my ‘foreknowledge’ of these words in any way affect the freedom of the preacher to say them? Not one bit. My certainty as to what will happen on the video in no way affects the integrity of the sermon as originally preached. God’s foreknowledge works in a similar way, except He sees the reality of events before they happen instead of afterwards. But His foreknowledge no more affects the contingency of the events than does my after-the-fact knowledge of a past event.”
To see Cottrell’s complete answer to this question, click here.
Through God’s sovereignty, God chooses the conditions under which he will save people, but every individual has the free will to decide whether he or she will choose to meet these conditions. The elders of Christ’s Church have this to share on the topic of God’s desire to save us and the free will we have to choose to accept his free gift:
“In Ephesians 2:8, the Bible teaches that a person is saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ—it is the gift of God. Salvation is the free gift of God, available to all, and God desires that all be saved (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). Every individual has the choice to accept or reject God’s offer of forgiveness. God is sovereign and he knows the future. But the Scriptures also warn about the potential for a saved person to fall away (2 Timothy 2:12, 13; Hebrews 2:1; 3:8-12; 2 Peter 2:20-22; 3:17).”
“Jesus said in John 3:16, ‘Whoever believes in [God’s Son] shall not perish but have eternal life’ (NIV). The word ‘believes’ in the original Greek is in the present tense, denoting continual action. In other words, whoever ‘continues to believe’ will have eternal life. God is not going to force anyone into Heaven against his or her will. We desire Christ’s Church to be a place where all people can come search, find Christ, worship, and work out their faith. Our hope and desire is that they will be continually growing in their journey with Christ as a disciple.”
So, what will you do with your free will? Choose to love and serve yourself above all else, or use your freedom to serve God and others?
Pastor and author Francis Chan challenges us with these words,
“The world says love yourself, grab all you can, follow your heart. Jesus says deny yourself, grab your cross, and follow me.”