The illusion of free will

The topic of ‘free will’ is widely debated. The question of what one means by ‘free will’ is itself a contention. Does it mean that a person is free to do whatever they desire? Does it mean that the individual is an active agent in a choice made? Does it mean that one cannot be forced to make a choice from an outside influence? Does it mean that the person is responsible for their choices? And lastly, does the person have the ability to choose contrary to their nature? However, if we turn to the scriptures and allow the Spirit of God to minister to us, the answers to these questions are clearly relayed.

I recently heard a message where a preacher shared that for God to intervene on your behalf, He needs your agreement. I’m sure we’ve heard some variations of the same preaching. For me, growing up in the Word of Faith church, there was great emphasis placed on one’s faith. Only faith moved God. And so if one was not exercising their faith in whatever circumstance they were in, God’s hands were tied. Now, the Word is clear about the importance of faith. We also see countless examples in Jesus’ earthly ministry. However, the problem with overemphasizing faith, mingled with a lack of revelation on the topic, is that it can produce many misguided beliefs and actions. Fundamentally, faith does not work outside the will of God. So in effect, faith is simply agreement and action in line with His will.

However, we are seeing in the church system faith being hijacked by self. In all the universe, there is not a more possessive, blinding, or deceiving devil than the devil of self. When self dominates, faith simply becomes a currency to obtain that which one desires, often times material things and earthly attainments. Faith is then perceived as a license for man to exercise his will. The adulteration of God’s Word we see in the religious church system are in part founded on this misunderstanding and the prevalence of humanism. In line with this, there have been many teachings that have magnified the will of man. They declare in a nutshell that: “man is a free moral agent who has free will and a God given capacity to choose and exercise his will by his faith.” And many who hold to this idea knowingly or unknowingly demote the will of God below man’s will.

Man’s Choice in God’s Plan

Paul in his letter to the Romans addresses the question of ‘free will’ head on. In Romans 9:9-24, Paul uses Esau and Jacob to illustrate a point: “for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls, it was said to her, ‘The older shall serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated” (Rom. 9:11-13). God had already predetermined that Esau would serve Jacob before they were born or had done any work. Esau would be the progenitor of the Edomites while Jacob would be a patriarch of Israel through whom the promised Seed would come. For this reason, Jacob would be loved by God. The choice of these men to dictate the course of their life is absent.

It is clear that no one chooses where they are born, to whom they are born and the various other economic and social conditions and emotional and cognitive attributes they endow. But in the life of Pharaoh and Cyrus, we see that God also dictates the course of one’s life. We see God making example of Pharaoh and Cyrus. Both were used to bring Israel into captivity to carry out God’s purpose. For God says of Pharaoh: “for this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth” (Rom. 9:17). Of Cyrus, God calls him “His shepherd” and declares: “he shall perform all my pleasure” (Isa. 44:28). Pharaoh and Cyrus, both carnal men, had no agreement or choice in the matter; they were mere utensils in the hand of God. Even in our day and throughout the course of history, every king, ruler and kingdom has been established and brought down by God, “for there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God” (Rom. 13:1). “All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’ “ (Dan. 4:35).

Christians who fail to recognize the sovereignty of God and His hand through the course of the world’s history attribute the various disasters and disorders we see to the will of fallen man. But God declares: “I am the Lord, and there is no other; I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the Lord, do all these things” (Isa. 45:6-7). This may not fit most of the church’s doctrines but the Word is clear that “the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it” (Rom. 8:20).

Many who hold to the notion that man is an active agent in the choices he makes turn to Deuteronomy 30:19 – “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live.” However, this passage of scripture is merely a command by God for Israel to walk in blessings and life. A similar verse in Deuteronomy 30:15 makes this evident: “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess.”

Choice & Nature

So the question of whether a person has the capacity to choose contrary to their nature (who they are) is an important one. You see, although God commanded Israel to choose life and obey the law, they could not, for their nature did not allow them to walk in God’s ways and to keep His statutes. The purpose of the law was to show Israel the holy character of God and to demonstrate to them that they were incapable of fulfilling the law or living up to God’s holy character. Therefore, Deuteronomy 30:15, 19 is God’s way of demonstrating to Israel that they could not in fact “choose” life or blessing by keeping His commandments. To say here that Israel could choose life and blessing is also to say that Israel could obey God’s commandments and keep the law.

Paul states that “he would not have known sin except through the law” (Rom. 7:7). What the law did was simply expose the nature that was in him. This was the carnal nature from which every man operated, not according to any choice of his/her will but purely by the dictates that came from the fallen nature that was in man. Paul makes this point in saying that: “sin taking the opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire” (Rom. 7:7,8). Paul goes on to relay to us in Romans 7 how the nature of the flesh was in operation, controlling his very decisions and actions. “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find” (Rom. 7:18). “Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me” (Rom. 7:20).

“What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator” (Gal. 3:19). The law was added to bring us to Christ. It was a tutor to teach us that only in putting off the old sinful nature and putting on the nature of Christ by the Spirit could we have the holy character of God. Only in this new nature would we be joined to the Lord and be one Spirit with Him and therefore be one in purpose and will. In this state, it becomes God Himself “who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil, 2:13). And so Christianity is not about choosing right over wrong, but about ‘being’ right. It’s about putting on the nature of righteousness that is established by union with the indwelling Christ. For it is the very nature of Christ that produces in us the holy character of God and allows us always and continually to walk in His ways.

Choosing God

It should be clear to all that the nature of the carnal mind does not allow one to choose righteousness. For the natural or carnal mind can neither receive nor know the things of the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:14). There are those who think they have made the decision to choose God. Let me ask, can a dead man choose? For while we were dead in sins and trespasses, how could we have the capacity to choose God? We have established that a person has no ability to choose contrary to their nature. So how can you in your sinful nature choose God? Jesus said: “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit” (John 15:16). This should settle the matter. Dear reader, if you are a believer, the only reason you are so is because He chose you according to His election, just as He choose Jacob over Esau. In that rejoice. For Jesus said: “no one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44). To those God has drawn in this hour, He has foreknow and predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29).

Of Responsibility

An obvious question follows, if man does not have the will to choose how can he be held responsible for who he is or what he does? Paul poses this same question: “why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” (Rom. 9:19). Paul’s reply to this is wonderful, he states: “But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?” (Rom. 9:20-21). Simply put, Paul is saying that God’s dealing and workings are a profound mystery. For we read in in Romans 8:20 that “the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope.” God elected to subject creation to futility. It is for this reason that God Himself intervened by sending His Son to die on the cross. Glory to God!

There was no other option but for Adam and Eve to fall, God had subjected them to futility. Adam and Eve were set-up for the fall but God did this in hope. This hope is a glorious and magnificent plan that God is accelerating in this hour which will culminate in Him being “all in all” (1 Corinth. 15:28). Rest assured that God’s eternal plan works for His good. And man’s will or rebellious heart will not overturn it. Paul was an enemy of the cross but in his life we see how God can take hold of a rebellious heart and turn it toward Him without man’s intervention. Paul’s agreement was immaterial, God had chosen Him before the foundation of the world for a divine purpose.

So, for the billions of Esau’s who have not been drawn by God now or in times past, is there not an hour for them? How can God condemn those whom He has not elected, who have not had the tugging in their hearts by Him, who have not experienced the conviction of the Holy Spirit and who have not received the revelation of the Savior and the measure of faith to step into a relationship with their Father? Thank God, contrary to the misconceptions of religion, God has a plan for all of mankind, each in their appointed time. “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. But each one in his own order” (1 Cornth. 15:22-23). “For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.” (Rom. 11:32). Rest assured that God is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (Peter 2:9). Can anything be God’s will were it not to be accomplished? The Pharisaic mindsets of religious men who believe they have chosen to follow God and therefore deserve the bliss of heaven while those who have refused to choose God deserve the torment of hell for eternity have bought into the hypocrisy of the highest order.

Let us establish in our hearts that God is Almighty. That He is an omnipotent God who accomplishes all things according to His will. He is restrained or controlled by no one, including the will of man. He works out all things according to the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11). “Whatever the Lord pleases He does, in heaven or in earth, in the seas and in all deep places” (Psalm 135:6). “He is unique, and who can make Him change? And whatever His soul desires, that He does” (Job 23:13). Countless are the wonderful scriptures that declare God’s omnipotence. May it never cross your mind dear saint that your life is in your hand, that your will overrides His. For the clay has no power over the potter. “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Prov. 19:21). Amen!

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