How Free is Your Free Will?
October 18, 2010
When you pray for someone to come to Christ, are you not praying for God to change their heart and incline it toward "choosing" Christ? Since that person is not already choosing Christ, and will not do so of his own free will because of his inability to seek the things of God, are you not asking God to override the unbeliever's free will? Are you not asking God to intervene in that person's life and make a change that will somehow make that person a believer? If you answered, "no", what are you praying for? Are you praying for a person to change his own heart?
If you believe that when you pray for a person's salvation by Christ you are praying for that person to decide for himself to choose Christ, you are ignoring Holy Scripture which tells us time and time again that man is not capable of choosing God in and of himself. Paul's epistles, among many other places in Holy Scripture, contain example after example of his saying that man is too sinful to choose God, that man does everything he isn't supposed to do, that man is not capable, on his own, of seeking God.
So, if man is not capable of lifting himself out of his sinful state to be saved, he must need divine help, is this not so? And so we pray for this divine help when we pray for others to be saved. Is this divine help not an overriding of man's refusal to choose Christ? You are praying for God to exercise His influence over a person's free will so that that person will come to Christ; that is as it should be. But you are admitting by such prayers that man's own will cannot do the job of salvation, that man won't choose God unless you pray for him, and then, through your prayers, you are asking God to override the unbeliever's unbelief. If God sees fit to answer your prayer, is this not a proactive action by God against an unbeliever's free will?
Yes, it is. And that is what the doctrine of predestination or election is partly about. God certainly has the power to override man's will and often does exactly that, when He regenerates a human being. He doesn't directly change the person's mind, causing him to suddenly believe, but He does change that person's inclinations toward God, making the person more amenable to "choosing" God. In that way, God overrides his ungodly inclinations. This is election. In part, God does override the free will of certain people and instead, inserts His own will. God's will is that the person should now become a believer instead of the unbeliever he was minutes before. Or months or years before.
The point is that God is doing a work we have asked Him to do – He is converting unbelief to belief, because we have prayed for exactly that. In the process, He is trumping man's free will and sets in its place His own will. Or, perhaps God has changed the person for His own reasons rather than as a result of our prayers. Either way, the method God uses is the same: God changes the will of man by direct intervention and by directly overriding the sinful inclinations so that a person goes from unsaved to saved. It is God's work from beginning to end and is direct intervention into our own "free" will.
So the term, "free will" is only partially accurate. Our wills are "free" only in the sense that we can still choose one thing over another on this earthly level; we can still choose between anger and patience. We can still choose not to clean the house or clean it. We can still choose chocolate over vanilla. And we can still choose to read the Bible or not read it. But we cannot choose to have salvific, or saving faith; that is beyond our power. Only God can confer saving faith on any given individual.
Scripture tells us that faith is a gift from God, "not of ourselves, so that no one should boast." Our wills are free on a horizontal plane, human being to human being or self to self. But it is not free when it comes to salvation; we cannot choose salvation. God chooses salvation for us, but in order that He may do so, He must first remove resistance from the fallen human will which will choose against God because of The Fall.
You may argue from the foreknowledge view of predestination; that God foreknows that you will choose Him so He chooses you based upon your choice of Him. But think of this: if your will is truly and absolutely free, how is it possible for God to know which choice you will make? How can God have certain knowledge in an uncertain future as yet unsettled? In other words, since you still have free will to choose Him or not choose Him up until the moment you do choose, how can God's foreknowledge know which choice you will make? I submit that the foreknowledge view is not internally coherent nor biblical if you are claiming that man's will is absolutely free. Man's will is always subject to God's will. Were it not, you would be sovereign and God would not.
God foreknows about your eternal fate not because He knows you will choose Him, but because He chose you "from before the foundation of the world."
Your free will, while it sounds good and fair on a human level, is not absolutely free. If God wants your mind and heart in a different place from where it is right now, He can, He will, and He does change them. So you can see that you don't have absolute free will. You have only a partial free will, effective only regarding the things of the world. But of the things of God, your will is not free in an absolute sense.
Here are some of hundreds of biblical verses that will show it is God who does the choosing:
Ephesians 1:3-6; 2:8-10
Romans 8:29-30; 9:10-18
2 Thessalonians 2:13
"Some have doubted whether predestination is consistent with the free agency of man. We believe that man does as he pleases, yet notwithstanding he always does as God decrees."
--- Charles Haddon Spurgeon, 1834-1892