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Free Will


     Free will is often claimed as the reason one person accepts the Lord and another does not.  People often react negatively to the idea that God is completely sovereign over our free will and that he elects and predestines people based purely on his desires.  Instead, those who reject God's sovereignty in this sometimes state that God looks into the future to see who would pick Him and then He predestines those into salvation.  This is, of course, problematic because it would mean that God looked in the future to learn something (to see what a person's free will choice would be), thereby denying God's omniscience from all eternity.  This is an obvious unacceptable position to hold.
     Nevertheless, in order to discuss free will, we must first define it.  Free will is the ability to make choices.  Both the Calvinists and non-Calvinists believe we make choices and therefore, both believe in free will.  However, there are distinctions within the free will definition.  Libertarian free will states that an unbeliever is able to whatever he wants independent of his sinful nature.  Compatibilist free will states that an unbeliever is only able to do what his sinful nature permits him to do.
     The Bible says the unbeliever is a slave to sin, that he is dead in his sins, does not seek for God and does not understand spiritual things. Yet, many claim that he is just as free to choose God as someone who is regenerate. I completely disagree with this.
     Before a healthy discussion on what people can and cannot do with free will, it needs to be analyzed and, hopefully, we can gain some insight into what free will really means.
     What is free will? It is the ability for a person to determine some or all of his actions. Some consider free will to be its own cause. Some consider free will to be independent of any other causation, predestination, or predetermination by any other person, event, or stimulus.
     Of course, this does not make sense since a person is free to do as he wants but what he wants can only be consistent with his own nature.
     I propose that free will involves four aspects: Conception, Desire, Choice, and Accomplishment. Conception leads to desire which leads to choice which leads to accomplishing that choice.

  1. Conception
    1. We must be able to conceive of an idea, need, want, etc., before it can be desired, chosen, and accomplished.
    2. But, we cannot conceive of something beyond our ability or nature to conceive since this would be a contradiction.
      1. This would violate our nature. In this, we are limited by our nature to conceive.
      2. I cannot conceive of something I cannot conceive of.
      3. Therefore I cannot desire, choose, or accomplish that which I cannot conceive.
    3. I can conceive of the ability to raise my arm above my head.
    4. I can conceive of the ability to suddenly become larger than the sun.
      1. I cannot give you an example of something I cannot conceive since to tell it to you would mean I have conceived it.
    5. I can conceive of things communicated to me by another even though I may never have conceived of it on my own.
      1. In this, I am able to conceive of the concept, idea, thing told to me though it did not originate with me.
  2. Desire
    1. We can only desire what we can conceive.
    2. But, we cannot desire beyond our ability (nature) to desire since this would be a contradiction.
      1. This would violate our nature. In this, we are limited by our nature to desire.
      2. I can desire to raise my arm above my head.
      3. I can desire to suddenly become larger than the sun.
    3. I cannot desire what I am not aware of conceptually.
  3. Choice
    1. We can only choose what we can desire.
    2. But, we cannot choose beyond our ability (nature) to choose
      1. This would violate our nature. In this, we are limited by our nature to choose.
    3. I am free to choose to attempt to accomplish my desires.
  4. Accomplishment
    1. We can only accomplish what can be chosen to be accomplished
      1. This does not necessitate that I can accomplish all my choices
    2. We can conceive of and choose to accomplish things that are outside our abilities.
        1. I can conceive of the idea raising my arm above my head and I can accomplish it.
        2. I can conceive of the idea of suddenly becoming larger than the sun, but I can not accomplish it.
          1. I cannot accomplish this because I cannot violate my own nature.
  5. Limitations
    1. We are limited by our natures to what we can conceive of, desire, and choose.
    2. Therefore, what we can accomplish is strictly limited by what we are.
    3. We are not free to conceive of anything possible.
    4. We are not free to desire anything possible since not all things can be conceived of.
    5. We are not free to choose that which we cannot desire.
    6. We are not free to accomplish that which we cannot desire.
    7. Therefore, Free Will requires at least that a person be able to conceive, desire, and choose.  True free will is that which is in accordance with oneís nature. To choose to accomplish something beyond oneís nature is not an exercise of free will but a declaration of a personís lack of freedom ó in that area.
  6. Does God have a free will?
    1. God can choose to do what is in accordance with his nature.
    2. But He cannot violate His own nature, for example
      1. God cannot lie
      2. God cannot stop being God
      3. God cannot make a rock bigger than He can pick up.
    3. God can conceive of lying but He cannot accomplish it since it would violate His nature.
  7. Errors of belief concerning Free Will
    1. That free will is independent of all things
      1. By this is meant that a person is completely and totally free from all influences whether external or internal.  
        1. This is impossible.
    2. That free will will means that someone can act contrary to his own nature.
    3. That free will is something within man that is independent of God; that it is, completely manís and not under the sovereign knowledge and control of God.
  8. What does the Bible say about sinful Man's freedom?
  9. more to come.....

 

  1. Objection:  Someone who can't choose equally between two opposing options don't have free will.
         Answer:  God cannot freely choose to sin.  Does this mean he does not have free will because he can't choose equally between two opposing options?  Of course not.

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Copyright by Matthew J. Slick, B.A., M. Div., 1998-2006
I welcome your comments via E-mail at matt@carm.org