"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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« Advent Readings 2005 | Main | Awaiting our Lord's Coming: A Very Short thought on the 2nd Advent of Christ By Marco Gonzalez »

Understanding Free Will by Pastor John Samson

Why are you reading this? Yes, this particular sentence. There are billions of sentences out there just waiting to be read, in many different languages, but right now, you are reading this one. Why?

Well, it could be that some reformed and crazed individual has put a gun to your head and told you that if you did not read this article he would shoot you. He would definitely be what I, and others refer to as a cage-stage Calvinist. When after coming to understand the doctrines of grace, for a period of a couple of years or so, some people need to be locked up in a cage. That would be the best thing for everyone! Zeal for reformational truth needs to be augmented with sanity in human relations! A cage-stage Calvinist sends books, tapes, CD's, DVD's, and e-mails to all unsuspecting victims, regardless of whether or not they have ever shown an interest in these things. Christmas is the favorite time of the year for someone in this condition for they've been eagerly waiting for this excuse/opportunity to send R. C. Sproul's book "Chosen by God" to everyone they know. They are on a mission alright, but the best thing would be for them to cool down for a couple of years in a cage!

However, even with the "crazed reformed nut with a gun" scenario, you are still making the choice to read this article rather than face the contents of the gun. You prefer to read this rather than to feel the impact of the bullet. You are reading this because you want to - right now you do, anyway. In fact, because this is your strongest inclination, it is impossible that you would be reading something other than this right now. This will continue to be the case until you have a stronger desire to do or to read something else.

So what exactly is free will? Do people have it? Does God have it? How free is God's will? Can He do what He wants? Can we do what we want?

These kind of questions are not new of course, but have been the source of countless conversations and debates amongst ordinary folk and the chief theologians of the Church throughout history. Martin Luther, in looking back over his ministry, considered his book on "The Bondage of the will" to be his most important work. In Luther's mind, to misunderstand the will is to misunderstand the Reformation doctrine of sola gratia. He said, "If anyone ascribes salvation to the will, even in the least, he knows nothing of grace and has not understood Jesus Christ aright."

I don't believe the issue is particularly complicated, which is why I am attempting to write a brief article on it here. This is not an entire treatise on the will. Blog articles are a lot shorter and simply open the way for further discussion. However, I think enough can be said in a short time to get all of us thinking.

Coming to an understanding of the human will, though not complicated, is often times hampered by our firmly held traditions and man centered tendencies. We are all born Pelagians at heart, thinking we can be anything we want to be, do anything we want to do, whether or not God has a will in the matter. Human beings have wills. God has a will. But what exactly does it mean?

Can man do everything he chooses? Can man fly to the moon unaided by machine? Can man go to the North Pole and survive with just a T-shirt, shorts and shoes on? Can man take a deep breath and live under water for a day without oxygen? No, man's free will is limited by his nature. It is not within man's nature and ability to fly to the moon unaided, to survive extreme cold without being sufficiently wrapped up, or to survive in water without oxygen. The problem is not the will - it is the nature of man. Because it is not man's nature to do a thing, he is not free to do the thing.

Have you noticed, though the term "free will" is banded about every day, you don't actually find the phrase in scripture? That's because man's will has suffered a radical corruption in the Fall. Because our nature as unregenerate human beings has no interest in seeking after God (Romans 3:11), our will chooses, 100% of the time, to turn from God rather than towards him.

This is not due to some physical handicap, you understand, but rather a moral one - and one we are all responsible for. Adam's sin brought the Fall, which had radical consequences for his progeny. As our federal head and perfect representative, Adam sinned on our behalf. But before we say it is not just for God to declare the entire human race guilty in Adam, we need to understand the other side of the coin. That is the wonderful truth that all who are in Christ are declared not guilty, and reckoned righteous with Christ's perfect righteousness. We can't believe in one of these imputations and not the other and still be biblical in our thinking.

We were all perfectly represented by Adam. He was a literal human personality, not a legend or myth. All of humanity are represented by Adam and are reckoned guilty because of Adam's sin (Romans 5:12, 19); all those in Christ (the Last Adam) are reckoned just because of Christ's righteousness (Rom 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21). As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Cor. 15:22)

Pastor Steve Weaver writes, "A good definition of free will is the ability of the mind to make choices in accordance with our natures. This definition of “free will” also applies to God's free will. He too is bound by His nature. Therefore, He cannot sin! Why? Because it is not His nature! But God does have a free will and, unlike human beings, He has an accompanying good and holy nature."

Jonathan Edwards said that the will is the mind choosing: though there is a distinction between mind and will, the two are inseparable in action. We do not make a choice without our mind’s approving that choice. We always act according to the strongest inclination at the moment of choice. We choose according to our strongest desire at a given moment.

Why did you put on the particular clothes you are wearing today (I am assuming you are not naked as you read this)? It was because the things you put on had more of an appeal to you than anything else in your closet. Now, it may have been that there was nothing else available to you. Even so, your desire to wear something was greater than your desire to wear nothing, hence your choice. Again, we choose according to our strongest inclination at the moment of the choice.

When we commit a sin, at that moment our desire to sin is greater than our desire to obey Christ. I think that is the most haunting thing about the sins I commit. That at that particular moment when I sinned, the sin was more appealing to me than obeying my Lord. This is the godly sorrow I believe, that works repentance.

The Bible teaches that I’m not free to choose God because it is contrary to my nature. That’s why we need new natures that are given to us by the Holy Spirit at regeneration. Unless a man is first born again he cannot enter or even see the kingdom of God (John 3).

Though man is commanded to seek the Lord while He may be found, and to come to Christ, we watch in vain for man to do so. Romans 3:11 literally reads, "There is no God seeker."

John 6:44 says, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him and I will raise him up on the last day." Literally, the verse reads, "no one is able..." Just as man is not able to fly to the moon unaided, the clear words of Christ here show that man is not able to come to Christ without Divine intervention. Here are some insights from Dr. R. C. Sproul concerning John 6:44:

"First, we notice that Jesus said "no one." This is a universal negative statement. It does not mean that some cannot come unless the Father draws them. It means absolutely no one can come unless God does something first. Mankind is so depraved in fallen-ness that, apart from the irresistible grace of God, no one would ever turn to Christ.

Second, we notice that Jesus said "can." Remember the difference between the words can and may. Can means "is able," while may means "has permission." Jesus is not saying that no one has permission to come to him. Rather, he says that no one is able to come to him. This is the biblical doctrine of man’s total inability.

Third, we notice the word "unless." This introduces an exception. Apart from this exception, no one would ever turn to Christ.

Finally we come to the word "draw." Some have said that draw only means "woo" or "entice." That is not the case, however. In James 2:6 we read, "Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?" In Acts 16:19 we find, "They dragged them into the marketplace." The same Greek word is used in all three verses. Obviously, enticement is not in view here in John 6:44. Gerhard Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says that the word translated draw in John 6:44 means "to compel by irresistible authority." It was used in classical Greek for drawing water from a well. We do not entice or persuade water to leave the well; we force it against gravity to come up by drawing it. So it is with us. We are so depraved that God must drag us to himself." (Chosen by God)

The beauty of the gospel, however, is that, at the same time, the Spirit’s work is to make His elect willing to come. He changes the disposition of rebel human hearts, taking out a heart of stone, and putting in a heart of flesh so that we willingly come. In John 6:44, Jesus states that the one drawn is also raised up on the last day, signifying that he is raised to eternal life with Christ in heaven. All who are drawn in this way will inherit eternal life.

John 3:3 Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."
John 6:36-37 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.
John 8:33-34 They answered him, "We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, 'You will become free'?" Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.
John 8:47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.
John 10:26-27 but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.

Recommended Reading:
Martin Luther: The Bondage of the will
Jonathan Edwards: The Freedom of the will
R. C. Sproul: Willing to Believe; Chosen by God

Although the two titles above of "the Bondage of the will" and "the Freedom of the will" sound like Luther and Edwards come to very different conclusions on the subject, such is not the case. Both of them believed the human will is enslaved to sin until God works the miracle of regeneration. Edwards' work, although very much a classic, is not a very easy read. I would still recommend it highly, but if you are new to the subject, I would recommend Sproul's material above as the first place to go for an introductory overview. - Pastor John Samson

Posted by John Samson on December 6, 2005 05:35 PM


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Reformation Theology just posted a very good, succint explanation of why man's apparently free will may not be as free as we'd like to think it is. Some pastoral articles on a the doctrines of grace can be found at DesiringGod. [Read More]


Great article! I believe that "free will" is one of the most important terms needing to be defined accurately in our day. You hit the nail on the head!

Good article.

Martin Luther: The Bondage of the will
Jonathan Edwards: The Freedom of the will
R. C. Sproul: Willing to Believe; Chosen by God

Agree entirely! That is quality literature on the subject.

I'd be interested to see an article about the New Calvinist who ought to be caged. I can remember when I wish someone would have caged me and I have tried explaining to other people that having book-burning parties of Arminius and Wesley is probably not the best way to go about things.

In Christ alone,

Great article! When I speak on this subject, I begin with something like this:

"Free will:" This is the single most repeated term Christians use and the least defined and understood.

I do understand the term free will. If we don't have the nature of doing something, we just can't do it. I have come across people who blatantly shout at me when I say we don't possess free will. The usual question they ask me is "Are we robots if we don't have free will". My usual answer is "no, but the choices we make are a result of God in us. For Ex. if we choose to eat at Taco Bell today, is it not free will would be your question? My answer is "you started going to burger king and there was a traffic jam and then you looked at Chipotle, thought that its a big burrito and you wouldn't be able to eat it all and then the best substitute would be Taco Bell and so you decided Taco Bell. At this time, God would have predestined things like the traffic jam and the big burrito. So, we have will that we think is free but is bound by a lot of boundaries which are set by God".

What I said above is my explanation of free will that I tell people? Am I being right? Please tell me if I am wrong, because I don't wannna be preaching wrongs things to people. As James 3:1 says "Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment."

I have tried to explain free will with determinism and also compatibilism. I just want to know how people actually explain free will to a person who totally believes in free will.

John, do you believe that Edwards’ argument is a Red Herring? While he states that the will is indeed free, he must concede, “ the human will is enslaved to sin until God works the miracle of regeneration."

Jonathan Edwards like Martin Luther did not believe that man's will is free. The title of Edwards' book "The Freedom of the will" can be a little confusing, but he without a doubt concluded that outside of regeneration, man's will is not free but in bondage to sin.

There is something about this age old controversy that many Christians have overlooked for too long....

Christians who erroneously claim that man has a free will are actually being inconsistent with their own confession because all Christians, including Arminains, will admit the necessity of the Holy Spirit to come to faith in Christ. Simply ask any Christian, Arminian or otherwise, whether they can come to Christ apart from any help of the Holy Spirit and they will confess that they cannot. In other words the natural man, left to himself, without the Spirit, has no free will to believe the gospel... EVEN ARMINANS must admit this. His corrupt affections cannot see the excellency of Christ while, by nature, he still has enmity in his heart toward God. The Scripture thus testifies that no one can say 'Jesus is Lord' apart from the Holy Spirit. (also see 1 Thess 1:4,5)

Edwards likewise said: "We are dependent on God, not only for redemption itself but for our faith in the Redeemer; not only for the gift of His Son but for the Holy Ghost for our conversion."

This itself should put all end to any argument for free will for all time. This issue is, therefore, not whether the will is free, for we have already shown beyond question, that man does not have free will, but is in bondage to the corruption of nature. The issue, rather, is the nature of God's grace; effectual to salvation or resistable. Arminains believe that the nature is corrupted and needs prevenient grace where man can choose to believe or reject Christ, but this doctrine is speculative and has no biblical support.

The truth about the effecual nature of grace is clearly revealed throughout Scripture as the Following Texts testify:

in John 6:65 Jesus tells us that no one can believe on Him UNLESS God grants it. Only the Spirit gives life (6:63). But in John 6:37 (the same dialogue) Jesus says all that the Father gives to Him WILL believe. No one will believe unless God grants it but all to whom God grants it will believe.

John Hendryx, you said "Edwards likewise said: "We are dependent on God, not only for redemption itself but for our faith in the Redeemer; not only for the gift of His Son but for the Holy Ghost for our conversion."

This itself should put all end to any argument for free will for all time. This issue is, therefore, not whether the will is free, for we have already shown beyond question, that man does not have free will, but is in bondage to the corruption of nature."

But, what you are trying to prove here is total depravity and not free will. An armenian might agree that free will is something that he is free to do like go at 100 mph on the highway. How would you prove that free will does not exist given the circumstances?

A useful little book recently appeared on this matter:

Forde, Gerhard O. The Captivation of the Will: Luther vs. Erasmus on Freedom and Bondage. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2005.

This is a nice discussion of Luther's De servo arbitrio. Forde worked in this territory for a long time, and knows the lay of the land.

John, great article. I wholeheartedly agree with everything you said but I do need clarification on one point.

You said, "Have you noticed, though the term "free will" is banded about every day, you don't actually find the phrase in scripture?"

What about the "freewill offering" we read about in the Law (cf. Exodus 35:29 NASB for example)?

This seems like a continuation of the post from last week, which is a good thing!

It sounds to me like everyone here is clear as to the matter of the "free will" being limited by the nature of the creature. I cannot fly to the moon without a machine...I cannot come to faith in Christ without the working of the Holy Spirit. I cannot do these things unaided because they are contrary to my nature.

As to the matter of "Should I eat a hamburger or a taco," I think the question becomes, "Is my will free, in any sense, when it operates within my nature?" It is not in my nature to come to Christ while still enslaved to is in my nature to choose between two lunch choices. Even my cat will sniff at two brands of food, and pick the one he wants. Obviously we're choosing according to our strongest desires at the time, which are themselves influenced by many factors.

If every tiny detail, including my lunch today, has been predestined by God, it becomes increasingly difficult to explain how I am not a "robot" in a sense (this goes back to Abs' question).

Is this where the idea of the "preceptive" vs. "preferential" will of God comes in?

Great topic!

Concerning the question about "free will offerings" here's something on this from Vincent Cheung:

Against a statement like, “Nowhere does the Bible say that man has free will,” there are people who answer by saying that the Bible mentions “freewill offerings” in a number of places, and from this observation they assert that the Bible therefore teaches free will or that man has free will. (In the NIV, see: Exodus 35:29, 36:3; Leviticus 7:16, 22:18, 21, 23, 23:38; Numbers 15:3, 29:39; Deuteronomy 12:6, 17, 16:10; 2 Chronicles 31:14; Ezra 1:4, 6, 2:68, 3:5, 7:16, 8:28; Psalms 54:6; Ezekiel 46:12; Amos 4:5.)

This is one of the strangest objections against the denial of free will, and although I have known about it for years, I have never given a written response to it. This is because it is so silly that I feel embarrassed to even mention it, and to take it seriously enough to write about it. Nevertheless, I am occasionally asked about this by Christians who do not know how best to answer the objection, and I have responded in private to them...

The objection seizes upon the common English term, but here ends the similarity between the topic (of divine sovereignty and human freedom) and the verses usually cited. The term is not always rendered “freewill offerings,” but in places where the NIV and NASB offer such a translation, the KJV sometimes says “free offerings,” “voluntary offerings,” and “willing offerings.”

Freedom is relative — you are free from something. We say that man has no free will because in discussing divine sovereignty and human freedom, we are discussing the metaphysical relationship between God and man. To be specific, the question is the manner and extent that God exercises control over man’s thoughts and actions. Thus in such a context, when we ask whether man has free will, we are asking whether man is free from God or from God’s control in any sense. Since the biblical teaching is that God exercises constant and comprehensive control over all of man’s thoughts and actions, the necessary conclusion is that man has no free will. He has zero freedom relative to God.

The “freewill offering” is “free” because the Law does not require it as it does the other regular and occasion offerings, so the freedom is relative to the Law, and the freedom related to this offering exists only in this sense. The people are “free” to give or not give the offering from a legal or ceremonial perspective. These verses do not address the metaphysical perspective, so that they can neither establish nor refute metaphysical human freedom. But when referring to “free will” in the context of divine sovereignty and human freedom, we are talking about whether we are free from God — and this is about metaphysics. We are talking about whether God has complete control over man’s thoughts, actions, and circumstances — he does, and therefore man has no free will, no freedom relative to God. In one instance, we are talking about man’s relationship (of moral obligation) with the Law, in the other, about man’s relationship (of cause and effect) with God. Only the English term happens to be the same, and not even all the time in the English versions, but they are in fact two different subjects of discussion.

There are passages that teach the same relative freedom but do not use the term. Here is one example: “Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God” (Acts 5:4, KJV). When Peter says that the property was “thine own,” and that the money was “in thine own power,” he is referring to property ownership relative to Peter himself and the other Christians — that is, Ananias did not have to sell the property or give the money to them. But this relative ownership or freedom has nothing to do with divine determinism — they are two different subjects. Peter is not saying that Ananias had ownership of the property or money relative to God, but only that he had the right, or the freedom if you must, to withhold the property or the money from other people, and that from a legal or moral perspective, not a metaphysical one. Peter is certainly not saying that Ananias could have kept the property or money from God in a metaphysical sense! But metaphysics is what we are talking about when we discuss divine determinism.

Another verse sometimes cited is Philemon 1:14. In the NASB, it reads, “…but without your consent I did not want to do anything, that your goodness should not be as it were by compulsion, but of your own free will.” Aha! Paul says that Philemon has free will! But this verse is even more obviously irrelevant than the others, since those involved are explicitly mentioned. Paul says that “I” (Paul) did not want to do anything without “your” (Philemon’s) consent. He did not want Philemon to act out of “compulsion,” but this compulsion is relative to Paul, and thus also the so-called “free will.” The freedom is relative to Paul. The verse refers to the social relationship between two creatures, Paul and Philemon, but it says nothing about the metaphysical relationship between God and Philemon.


You said: >>>But, what you are trying to prove here is total depravity and not free will.

I would argue that the condition of the natural man in total depravity is actually no different from the discussion of his lack of free will. It is exactly the same topic. In fact, it is the essence of it.

The Arminians and Semi-pelagians actually define total depravity differently than we do because they both believe that faith is produced by our unregenerated human nature, hence synergism.

I am really only concerned here with what the Bible is concerned about in this matter and that is whether or not unregenerate man has the free will to believe the gospel of Christ. This is what the whole free will debate is about and has been about and has been about with Pelagians and Arminains since the beginining. It is what Augustine, Calvin and Luther saw as the essence of understanding grace.

The natural man, apart from the Holy Spirit, can hear the gospel preached to him for years, but CANNOT MORALLY EXERCISE HIS WILL to believe the gospel UNLESS the Spirit changes the natural corrupt disposition of his heart which only wills to sin and cannot do itself any redemptive good. BY nature, his will/affections are in bondage to the corruption of nature. That is why Luther wrote "Bondage of the Will" and Calvin, "Bondage and Liberation of the Will". Both available here:

These books that launched the Reformation were not books about speculative philosophy and meticulous providence, but about the bound will as revealed in Holy Writ. If the will is bound then it is not free, and remains in bondage to corruption until Christ sets it free.

When Jesus is speaking to the Jews in the Gospel of John and says that people can be free, the context of his discourse is with regard to being slaves of sin and only the Son can set them free from that. Romans 6 likewise speaks of being slaves to sin which is the very bondage (lack of freedom) the Bible speaks of. Freedom, in the Bible is defined as holiness, not the ability to do otherwise. Even God does not have that kind of will for he cannot lie or sin or revoke his promise. 2 Tim 2:25, 26 states that the unregenerte have been taken captive to do Satan's will, UNLESS GOD GRANTS THEM REPENTANCE. That God must GRANT repentance means that the will and affections are incapable morally to do so prior to that time. If grace is necessary to make us love God, then it follows that we had no moral ability to love him before the arrival of grace. i.e the will is in bondage. It also means that grace is not given because we chose to love God. We chose to love God because grace is given. Grace, not a virtue in man, takes the initiative.

At the time it wasn't a discussion mostly about which flavor of ice cream we want but what our will is regarding redemption. It is about what our will can do for itself towards redemption. Total depavity/inability is exactly about this.

The question really is not, does man have a free will, because this is solved, but rather whether the Holy Spirit, in giving grace to believe, ... does this grace merely place us above our depravity so we can choose to believe or not (as Arminians suppose), or whether the grace of God in Christ, applied by the Spirit is invincible, actually accomplishing its purpose to save those God has set His affection on.

John Calvin said: "...we allow that man has choice and that it is self-determined, so that if he does anything evil, it should be imputed to him and to his own voluntary choosing. We do away with coercion and force, because this contradicts the nature of the will and cannot coexist with it. We deny that choice is free, because through man’s innate wickedness it is of necessity driven to what is evil and cannot seek anything but evil. And from this it is possible to deduce what a great difference there is between necessity and coercion. For we do not say that man is dragged unwillingly into sinning, but that because his will is corrupt he is held captive under the yoke of sin and therefore of necessity will in an evil way. For where there is bondage, there is necessity. But it makes a great difference whether the bondage is voluntary or coerced. We locate the necessity to sin precisely in corruption of the will, from which follows that it is self-determined." (John Calvin, BLW pp 69, 70)

Total Depravity does not just mean that we commit sin, but means that although fallen persons are capable of good acts (acts that are good for society), they cannot do themselves any redempitve good, i.e., what is pleasing to God (Rom. 8:8). God, however, looks on the heart. And from his ultimate standpoint, fallen man has no goodness, in thought, word, or deed. He is therefore incapable and UNWILLING to contribute anything to his salvation because his affections are set on darkness and will not come into the light (John 3:19, 20).

See the post, Bible Logic Falacies of Synergists

Excellent post. I'm curious about your take of Augustine's view of the will. While Augustine would say that we are in bondage to sin, he would at no point deny that we truly do have a free will. In his earlier writings, it would even appear that his definition of free will has nothing to do with acting according to our desires, but rather with the ability to do otherwise than what was actually chosen. By the time of his Anti-Pelagian writings it certainly appears that his view is more in line with the "acting according to your desires" approach, but he still would affirm that man's will is free, at least in some sense.

Thanks for the great posts, I enjoy them a lot. I'd love to see a post regarding your views on Reformed theology and the place for a Charismatic understanding of the Spirit.

John H.,

Thanks for clarifying the centrality of man's inability to believe the gospel. Whenever "free will" is dicussed it inevitably seems to lead into speculation about ice cream flavors, and I'm obviously guilty of this myself :)

One question on terminology: I've noticed you've used the phrase "meticulous providence" twice recently. Is this a theological topic unto itself? I'd be interested in studying this in more depth.


It is evident that Augustine really embraced the same understanding as we do, he merely defined the the will in bondage to sin as free in the sense that it could choose sin willingly. He is speaking of our voluntary choice ...for certainly when we sin, we are not doing so against our will. If you look at my John Calvin quote above, it says essentially this very thing. And interestingly Calvin's book, Bondage and Liberation of the Will, is mostly a biblical defence of our lack of free will, with VERY LIBERAL QUOTES from Augustine. He was debating Roman Catholics who tried to get Augustine one their side on this issue, unsuccessfully I might add. What interests me is that Arminains/Synergists are essentially taking the Roman Catholic view of grace and free will, pretty much abandoning the most central doctrinal advancement that was accomplished during the Reformation. Luther himself asserted that Bondage of the Will is his most important work and he could lose all the rest of what he wrote, but not this. He saw it as the crux of the matter. Frighteningly, It appears a large number modern evangelicals have gone full circle and have very little difference now from Rome on soteriology (the doctrine of salvation/grace).

Sproul speaking of Augustine said: "Augustine did not deny that fallen man still has a will and that the will is capable of making choices. He argued that fallen man still has a free will (liberium arbitrium) but has lost his moral liberty (libertas). The state of original sin leaves us in the wretched condition of being unable to refrain from sinning. We still are able to choose what we desire, but our desires remain chained by our evil impulses. He argued that the freedom that remains in the will always leads to sin. Thus in the flesh we are free only to sin, a hollow freedom indeed. It is freedom without liberty, a real moral bondage. True liberty can only come from without, from the work of God on the soul. Therefore we are not only partly dependent upon grace for our conversion but totally dependent upon grace."


Yes meticulous providence is covered under Eph 1:11.
John Piper put together a list of this nature in the Scripture: Quoting from all over the Bible he said, "...God governs all events in the universe without sinning, ... that is what the Bible teaches. God "works all things after the counsel of his will" (Ephesians 1:11). This "all things" [in Eph 1:11] includes the fall of sparrows (Matthew 10:29), the rolling of dice (Proverbs 16:33), the slaughter of his people (Psalm 44:11), the decisions of kings (Proverbs 21:1), the failing of sight (Exodus 4:11), the sickness of children (2 Samuel 12:15), the loss and gain of money (1 Samuel 2:7), the suffering of saints (1 Peter 4:19), the completion of travel plans (James 4:15), the persecution of Christians (Hebrews 12:4-7), the repentance of souls (2 Timothy 2:25), the gift of faith (Philippians 1:29), the pursuit of holiness (Philippians 3:12-13), the growth of believers (Hebrews 6:3), the giving of life and the taking in death (1 Samuel 2:6), and the crucifixion of his Son (Acts 4:27-28).

Well, I see we continue to thrash around with something that doesn't exist: man's will free in relation to God. To change the phrase a bit, "Man's freewill is what sleeping rocks dream of." Man's will is not, in any sense, at any time, free from God's control. If I'm wrong show me from Scripture, without begging the question.


"...from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood." - - Revelation 1:5 (emphasis mine)

This text, among many others, does speak of man's freedom, not freedom from God in any sense, but freedom from his bondage to sin.

I believe it is very important that we define up front what we are speaking about when we speak of the will being "free" or in bondage: I will confess right here that no contributor to this blog believes man's will is free in relation to God ... and I don't know what post you are responding to in particular where such an erroneous thought was even vaguely implied I hope that is clear that no one here believes the will is free from God ...or free in ANY kind of libertarian sense. We deny both without reservations

But it is also important to recognize that this discussion is about two entirely different subjects that we often seem to mix together:

(1) Sovereignty. The Bible never spends much time speaking of man's freedom (or lack therof) in relation to God's sovereignty, it simply affirms that God is sovereign even over the very last detail (including directing man's will), and yet likewise affirms man's choices are uncoerced, voluntary (not against his will and indeed what he wants) and thus he is accountable to God for them (Rom 3:19, 20) as his choices are imputed to him. He is never, however, free to choose otherwise. So since the Bible does not use the word "freedom" or lack thereof here in relation to God's sovereignty, I wonder why we do in these discussions? I would suggest that we are bringing in our own ideas from the outside and imposing them on Scripture when we do so. This is ok, I think, as long as we acknowledge this is the case.

(2) Sin and Holiness. However, the Bible does frequently speak of "freedom" or lack thereof in relation to our sin and holiness. Sin is where we are in bondage and slavery to the corruption of nature (see Rom 6:7,18, 8:2, John 8:34) and holiness is defined as our freedom (John 8:32, 36; Acts 13:39). The saints in heaven are sealed in righteousness and cannot sin, so they have no ability to choose otherwise. But God defines this as free ... even though there is no freedom in the libertarian sense to sin. God likewise, because He is holy, by nature, cannot choose to be unholy. He therefore has no libertarian freedom to do otherwise. Speaking with reverence, He is bound, so to speak, by His nature to holiness & righteousness. The natural man likewise cannot choose to do redemptive good for himself, his will is in bondage to sin UNTIL Christ sets him free. What is this freedom? Again it is freedom from the bondage of the corruption of nature to sin ... not a freedom from God. A regenerate man now has the desire and ability to believe the gospel. He cannot do otherwise because God's grace is infallible but this is how God defines freedom, not the ability to do otherwise. Either we are slaves to sin or righteousness.

The kind of freedom that the Bible speaks of, therefore, is unrelated to the philosophical concept of whether or not he is free in relation to God. Freedom or lack thereof in relation to God's sovereignty, rather, is a philosophical construct (called libertarianism) not much related to Biblical exegesis since the Bible never uses the word "freedom" or lack thereof in that context.

So my point is, when we have discussion about "free will", it is good, I believe, to make clear up front whether we are speaking of freedom (or lack thereof) in relation to how the Bible defines it, or are we having a philosophical discussion of freedom like the Arminians who speak of our libertarian freedom to do otherwise?, which every person on this blog would deny as being hopelessly unbiblical because man is indeed determined to choose according to his nature and never free from God's absolute control/decree. And since the Bible does speak of man being "free" in certain contexts (Jesus sets people free from sin) then I would suggest that when we discuss freedom we speak of it as the Holy Scripture does.


John Hendryx

John, you make my very point. Quoting you: “The Bible never spends much time speaking of man's freedom (or lack therof) in relation to God's sovereignty, it simply affirms that God is sovereign even over the very last detail (including directing man's will), and yet likewise affirms man's choices are uncoerced, voluntary (not against his will and indeed what he wants) and thus he is accountable to God for them (Rom 3:19, 20) as his choices are imputed to him.” I would change the first sentence to “The Bible never speaks of man's will free …” While “…man’s choices are uncoerced, voluntary (not against his will and indeed what he wants)…” nevertheless, each and every thought of man’s mind is within God’s eternal decree. Therefore, man doesn’t have a free will as related to God and to speak of it any other context is essentially meaningless.

Now one reason I labor this point is as it relates to monergistic regeneration vs. Arminianism and Pelagenism. (And I’m speaking here of theological discussions and not the proclamation of the Gospel.) The Arminian and the Pelganian start with the intuitive “knowledge” that they make most (all?) their choices free of God’s control (Actually, many Christians think the same.) so why not the choice of accepting or rejecting the gospel. And what is our (we monergists) immediate reaction? “Total depravity”; “the flesh”; “dead in trespasses and sins”; and so forth. All true, all biblical, all important, but nevertheless, in the mind of the synergist and that of the homoenergist is the intuitive “knowledge” of the ability to make free choices. So, I assert that what must first be destroyed is the notion that man has even any thoughts that are not of God’s decree. This can readily be proven from Scripture and obviously the contrary, man’s free will, cannot.

To demonstrate my point about intuitive “knowledge,” I quote Samson: “Why did you put on the particular clothes you are wearing today (I am assuming you are not naked as you read this)? It was because the things you put on had more of an appeal to you than anything else in your closet. Now, it may have been that there was nothing else available to you. Even so, your desire to wear something was greater than your desire to wear nothing, hence your choice. Again, we choose according to our strongest inclination at the moment of the choice.” Now your Arminian and Pelganian read this and intuitively “know” that “appeal to you,” “your desire,” “your desire,” “your choice,” “we choose,” are all free will choices; white shirt, blue shirt, God doesn’t care. To them it has nothing to do with God’s sovereignty. As they move up the decision ladder, as it were, all choices depend on man’s free will. So, for them, when the top is reached, it still depends on man’s free will. They have a truncated view of God’s sovereignty. To me the answer is to cut out the bottom rungs of the ladder with a fully orbed apologetic of God’s sovereignty and eternal decree.

Quoting Samson again, “When we commit a sin, at that moment our desire to sin is greater than our desire to obey Christ.” Where did the “desire to sin” come from if not from God’s decree? Whatever God has decreed in our lives, whether righteousness or sin, it is good that he decreed it, because God only does good. Since man’s life is purposeful, what is the purpose of sin and righteousness in the life of the believer? I think the answer is in Romans 8:29.

Finally, I disagree with you on the discussion of “free will.” While free will may be a philosophical discussion for its proponents, for its opponents it is destroyed by Biblical exegesis. It should be discussed scripturally in the context of God’s sovereignty. Now, if you want to discuss “freedom,” fine let’s do that scripturally. But please, let’s not convolute the two. They are not the same.


you said >>>> Now your Arminian and Pelganian read this and intuitively “know” that “appeal to you,” “your desire,” “your desire,” “your choice,” “we choose,” are all free will choices; white shirt, blue shirt, God doesn’t care. To them it has nothing to do with God’s sovereignty.

On the contrary brother Gordon. All Arminians understand that the above statements are deterministic and emphatically deny that we can ONLY CHOOSE what we want most. They believe, rather, that we have the freedom to choose otherwise. The libertarian freewill theist denies all forms of determinism (hard determinism and Compatibilism) just as emphatically. On this topic I have debated with many Armianians and Open Theists and they ALL VEHEMENTLY DENY that we CAN ONLY CHOOSE ACCORDING TO OUR GREATEST DESIRE. That is what the debate is all about with them.

If we must choose according to our greatest desire then our choices are DETERMINED and CANNOT BE OTHERWISE. Libertarians assert we have the freedom to choose otherwise..., that is, other than our greatest desire and contrary to nature. And what Samson wrote actually about has everything to do with God's sovereignty because only God can place before us what He knows we desire most at the moment and THUS God is both sovereign AND we choose according to our greatest desire. John Samson's statements about choosing according to our greatest desire are EVERY BIT as deterministic as hard determinism. In both cases, a person cannot choose otherwise but the outcome is certain. One is not more deterministic than the other. It is a frequent mistake of hard determinists to make this claim. But to do so is to badly misrepresent our belief...

You said >>>>So, I assert that what must first be destroyed is the notion that man has even any thoughts that are not of God’s decree.

While your assertion is indeed true, but why do you believe that this is the first thing we must get accross? The discussions about this in the Scipture do not speak of it as the first thing. When Jesus spoke of this topic, and He often did, He spoke of of our lack of freedom as bondage to sin, not whether or not we are free from God or not. In fact, it never comes up in his discussions about this. I am not against having this in the discusion but when we speak of not having a free will, the biblical discussion always centers around our bondage to sin, not bondage to God. The only time it speaks of our bondage to God is in Romans 6 where it states that we were set free from our slavery to sin and made slaves to righteousness ... but in this instance, the bondage to God is freedom, by the Spirit's definition. So the Biblical text speaks of bondage and freedom in the context of sin and holiness, not meticulous providence. So when persons start speaking of not having a free will "in relation to God", I believe they are moving away from what the Scriptural witness and its definition of the word. When you do this, I believe, you are changing the definition.

So when I say man does not have a free will, I believe I am speaking of it in the terms of Scriputral witness and thus Arminians will be more open to it. When we speak of lack of free will in a way the Bible does not speak of it, then we are more likely to lose them, because we are changing the meaning of the word to something the Scripture never intended.

Your comment: >>>> John, you make my very point. Quoting you: “The Bible never spends much time speaking of man's freedom (or lack therof) in relation to God's sovereignty, it simply affirms that God is sovereign even over the very last detail (including directing man's will)...

Yes Gordon, but the Scripture does not use this in relation to whether the will is free or not. In doing so we confuse the issue because we use the term "freedom" differently than the Scripture...

It is my personal conviction that the Scripure is our highest presupposition and thus our terminology should attempt to align with the way it defines and uses terms.

Solus Christus

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