What does it mean to have free will? Commonly, persons who hold to the Doctrines of Grace (also known as Calvinism/Calvinists for theological shorthand) are accused of believing that people are robots doing only what they have been programmed to do. Calvinist are accused of saying that human beings do not have “free will”.
So again I ask, what is free will? By this, is it meant that humans have autonomous decision making ability? That is to say, a will totally free from outside influences? This is logically untenable and experientially an impossible position for which to advocate. We are so incredibly fickle as creatures that we make decisions based off of what we ate for breakfast, and how it made us feel physically or emotionally.
The counter to that is to say, “Yes, but what I ate for breakfast doesn’t determine what I do, it just influences it.” Ok, maybe I can grant that, as long as there is the understanding that autonomous decision making does not exist because, by definition, autonomous free will means making decisions without external influence, determinant or not.
So, let me now make the argument that we never do anything that we do not desire to do. “Sure I do,” you may say “I get up and go to work all the time and I hate it, but I do it anyway.” This does not disprove my statement. “When I am dieting, I choose not to eat ice cream even though I desire it.” Again, this does not disprove my point. You are choosing to do the things you desire the most. You desire they paycheck and means to live in the first example, and you desire the benefits of the diet more than the ice-cream in the second example. Take any decision that you make and you will realize you will ALWAYS chose the course of action that you desire the most.
However, to risk sounding contradictory, a persons holding to reformed theology, or at the very least Calvinism, will affirm that human beings are free beings, but limited in our freedom due to our natures. We can only choose the things we desire and simply put, our sin nature does not allow us to chose God, who is the only autonomously free being. He must take out our hearts of stone and give us a heart of flesh that desires Him.
This truth is commonly mischaracterized by making this merciful action by God analogous to God dragging people into heaven kicking and screaming like He is violating their free will. Ok. If you want to be technical, God is changing your heart “forcefully” but let us be clear, this is an act of LOVE, not violation.
If your friend is unaware that they are headed toward a cliff, it is not a violating act to grab them and change their direction. This saving act would be met with life-owing gratitude. Our response should be the same to God as the friend’s, who was just saved from the cliff, would be…humbled, heartfelt gratitude and thankfulness.
It is also common to accuse those who believe in election of having an arrogant theology. “You think you are so special because God has chosen you. How arrogant!” (in fact, see this article from the satire site Babylon Bee…which I find humorous). While I grant that there are arrogant people who believe in the doctrine of election, it is most certainly not exclusive to reformed theology. If you start reading comment sections on the inter-web you will see the arrogance radiating brightly from both camps…welcome to human sin nature.
If someone is calming to be something other than a wretched sinner in need of God’s saving grace, then they have completed missed the point of God’s electing mercy. We are so worthless and dead in sin that we NEEDED a savior because we could not chose God on our own. This is what is meant when a Calvinist says that human beings do not have a free will: Our will is enslaved to sin.
And where is this doctrine derived? For if it is not in the Bible I want no part. Here are some good references:
“As it is written, ‘None is righteous, no, not one.'” Romans 3:10
“All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” Romans 3:12
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23
“For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Romand 8:7-8
“No one comes to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up in the last day.” John 6:44
“ I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5
“Even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” Eph 2:5
“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses…” Col 2:13
For other fantastic resource on this topic, (for by-no-means simply take my word on the matter) see Johnathan Edwards essay “The Freedom of the Will”, Martin Luther’s “The Bondage of the Will”, and this sermon by John Piper.
Christian, rejoice in the fact that you are loved and chosen for adoption by God. Understand that faith comes by hearing the Word of God; so go and fulfill the great commission. We are the instruments to whom He has graciously gifted the privilege of spreading His kingdom for the hope of the lost, and the spreading of His glory.