I Am Sorry, But We Don't Have A Free Will And Why We Shouldn't Want One Either!

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Our will is not free my friends.  When  I say that we don't have a free will though, I am not saying that our will is bound in the things of everyday life.  In other words, I am not saying that you have a bound will when it comes to what color of house you are going to buy, what kind of vocation you are going to engage in, what color of shirt you are going to wear or even what you are going to eat for lunch today.  I am not saying that our wills are bound in the horizontal realm of simple everyday life.  Rather I am saying that our wills are bound vertically and spiritually speaking.  I am saying that our wills are bound and that we don't have a free will when it comes to salvation and choosing good over evil with purely God fearing motives.  We cannot love the Lord God with all of our heart, soul and mind and our neighbor as ourselves. 

Now, typically this would be the portion of the blog post where I would quote a bunch of verses  like John 1:13 to support my stance and then I would probably post some PDF Teaching Sheets like this one here.  No, I would rather not go here with this post.  Instead I would like to offer up an experiential question for us to ponder.  Experiential?  "What on earth are you doing Pastor Matt, are you going subjective?" you may be saying.  Yes, I am.  

Free will exalts mankind's ability to "choose."  Free Will teaches us that mankind is not bound but can choose salvation, choose Christ, choose whom we will serve, choose to surrender, choose to be obedient, etc...  In a nutshell Free Will theology teaches that mankind can choose good over evil.  Now for the experiential question. If our wills are free, then why do we as Christians continue to sin?  It seems to me that if our wills are free, that it would be simple for us to say "no" to sin and "yes" to righteousness; problem solved.  However, as we look at history we have seen that this is not the case for millions of Christians over the last 2000 plus years.  Furthermore, if our wills are so free, what is stopping us from implementing all the principles and helpful tips in self-help books?  Why the lack of success?  Let me take this a step further, if our wills are free, why would we even need self-help books or books aiding and encouraging us how to become a better or more righteously driven person?  Doesn't the very presence of Christian improvement books showing us how to become better validate that we have issues?  Doesn't the ongoing plethora of improvement courses, improvement books and improvement seminars essentially show us that we are unable to actualize the freedom of our wills?

Sadly my friends, the idea that our wills are free is the age old myth that has blinded the church and Christians for many generations.  Desiderius Erasmus, a very popular Roman Catholic Humanist during the 16th Century, was one of the main adversaries of Martin Luther.  At the heart of the debate between Erasmus and Luther was obviously the understanding of the will. Is the will free or bound? That was the main question.  Erasmus believed that mankind's will was in a neutral state.  Gerhard Forde comments on Erasmus saying, “For Erasmus the will always seems to be that neutral gear in an automobile which can be shifted this way and that 'at will.'"  In other words, mankind was free to shift into reverse (i.e. do bad) or into forward (i.e. do good).  Thus for Erasmus, the only things that was needed was a nudge for mankind to go forward rather than backwards.  It is interesting to note that Erasmus' theology is identical to many teachings within popular American Evangelical Churches today, but that is a totally different subject and post.  

Luther though, insisted that Erasmus' view of the will was a, "logical fiction."  Luther contended that there was simply no stick to shift, that mankind was stuck in reverse with no possibility of neutral or forward.  He held that mankind needed to be delivered from his predicament from someone outside of himself, namely Christ.  

Erasmus’ idea of a neutral state of mankind was essentially due to his overinflated view of mankind and a diminishing or downplay of original sin. What this meant was that Erasmus’ understanding of man in a neutral state led to an over emphasis on moralism and opened the door for heresy.  

Ultimately the reason for the importance of this discussion over the will is that the very Gospel is at stake. Luther contended that the Gospel is made cheap when the tiniest bit of merit is interjected, for when the tiniest bit of merit is introduced it turns everything back on the receiver and the Gospel is no longer good news.  In other words, the higher a person views mankind's abilities (i.e. free will), the lower the person's view of Christ becomes.  Inadvertently free will diminishes one's need for Jesus as a divine savior for sinners.  Furthermore, the whole idea of a free will is essentially bad news.  Yes, it is bad news for us and it is something for us to avoid, not cherish and defend.  Martin Luther in his book, "The Bondage of the Will," states, 

"I frankly confess that, for myself, even if it could be, I should not want 'free-will' to be given to me, nor anything to be left in my own hands to enable me to endeavor after salvation; not merely because in face of so many dangers, and adversities, and assaults of devils, I could not stand my ground and hold fast my 'free-will'; because, even were there no dangers, adversities, or devils, I should still be forced to labor with no guarantee of success, and to beat my fists at the air.  If I lived and worked to all eternity, my conscience would never reach comfortable certainty as to how much it must do to satisfy God.  Whatever work I had done, there would still be a nagging doubt as to whether it pleased God, or whether He required something more.  The experience of all who seek righteousness by works proves that; and I learned it well enough myself over a period of many years, to my own great hurt.  But now that God has taken my salvation out of the control of my own will, and put it under the control of His, and promised to save me, not according to my working or running, but according to His own grace and mercy, I have the comfortable certainty that He is also great and powerful, so that no devils or opposition can break Him or pluck me from Him."
The idea of free will does not pass the test in the school of experience.  Furthermore, the idea of a free will is bad news for us.    

I am sorry friends, we simply do not have a free will and this is really, really good news for us

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Anonymous said…
A good word, always in season.
Thank you.

Anonymous said…
Thanks Pastor Matt. I might add that even some of our horizontal choices might not be entirely our free will; and none could happen without His providence and allowance. Jer 10:23 O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps. Prov 20:24 Man's goings are of the LORD; how can a man then understand his own way?
terriergal said…
Excellent again. This idea of free will is such a dearly held 'tradition' in even reformational churches, it's no wonder everyone tries to get on the treadmill and make it work.

The thing I don't understand however is why God is also not sovereign over our everyday choices? We appear to be free with regard to each other but are we really in the grand scheme of things?

God "works all things according to the counsel of his will" - does that not include what parking space I get (yes of course it does). This doesn't mean it's something I have to discover or that I would actually be able to park in a different space than was ordained from the beginning. If I changed my mind and parked in a different space, then that would only prove it was the other one that was ordained for me. So how do we say we have freedom in everyday choices? I'm not sure I follow.
Grizzbar said…
May I step in? Pastor Matt speaks the truth and does so admirably. The short answer is that where God has not revealed His will (i.e., by His Word), it remains beyond our logic (see Luther on the hidden will of God in The Bondage of the Will). We are content to declare a thing is according to the will of God only when God has Himself declared it. One thing to consider might be that our will even in "everyday life" is not free but limited. Here it is not bound, yet not absolutely free. Our choices for house color, sandwiches and parking spots are limited to those available. So for example, you can't choose to park on the roof of the grocery store if you can't get your car there. You can't choose a lobster roll for lunch if only bologna is in the fridge. Only He Who can call a thing into existence by saying so is truly free. So in everyday life, our will is limited and only within the limitations can be said to be "free." In His gracious providence, our Heavenly Father can be said to further limit some choices (leads us not into temptation) and opens up others (gives daily bread), and in His mercy, the Blood of Jesus, as often as we drink It, purifies us from bad choices (and more). All this is certainly in accordance with His Will and part of our everyday lives. Ultimately, wherever my will is not God's will, it is sin. The everyday life question might well be Where does God's will begin and my sin end? The answer is the Cross of Jesus Christ (on so many levels!). Being baptized into the death of Jesus (on the Cross), we are reborn with a new will that wars against the old will in us. Fix your eyes on Jesus Who willed to lay down His life for you to raise you life with Him. Then park where you want.
Anonymous said…
Sometimes I think even a seasoned word can confuse mature Christians never mind those who are maybe at the crossroads and deciding to go for God or not I think as long as the world knows Jesus died for the ungodly and those who accept him enter into a relationship with him an not just a set of rules therein lies the freedom of the Christian walk an that's the key to living for him not for buildings or people legalism kills our faith.