Mans Will, Is it Really Free?
by Lynn Sheldon
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One of the more interesting subjects has to do with free will. What part does our will play in salvation and in our walk with God?
Did Jesus have the same free will as us? Could he have chosen to sin if he wanted to do this?
These are some very poignant questions. Most have decided not to address these because they will tell you these are theological questions. Questions which scholars greater than I have debated for centuries.
However, these two questions intrigue me for a couple reasons. One, most people do not want to touch them because they do cause great debate. Two, they are, in fact, at the heart of who we are in Christ.
Having a proper understanding of the Savior and an understanding of our relationship to the Lord, which plays to the will is important. Thus, these subjects should not be shoved under the rug, unless one enters Theological Seminary. They ought to be part of our everyday discussion.
A wild horse has a free will. Untamed, it will not allow anyone to ride it. Those who know how to break a horse do so by breaking its free will. The purpose is to make sure the horse understands its will must line up with the will and desire of its rider.
A soldier must follow the will of his superiors. During basic training, the idea is to break a soldier’s free will. When a drill sergeant says drop for fifty the recruit carries out the sergeant’s will. A good soldier follows his superior’s wishes. It is a soldier’s duty to do his superior’s will and not his or her own.
On the other hand, we, who believe in Christ, give free will our highest esteem. What good is it? When we were without Christ, our free will only served to carry out the deeds of the flesh or the desires of our old sin nature. No matter how good we thought we were, all we were doing was living out various degrees of sin, doing Satan's bidding, even though we did not know it. Our Lord reminds us in John, the sixth chapter, “Nothing good comes from the flesh.” Yes, even our free will.
When it comes to our spiritual lives, including our salvation, we give free will the credit it does not deserve. Nowhere in the Word does it say God saves us by our free will. In fact, it says our wil cannot save us. Thus, free will is not the driving force behind salvation.
The Word is Spiritual
The Word is spiritual. Man, without Christ is not. Thus, the natural man, without Christ, cannot understand the things of the Spirit. Thus, for man to choose Christ by his own free will would be virtually impossible.
To receive Christ, something has to take place in our own hearts and minds so we might understand God’s Word and receive truth by faith. To illustrate this we need to go to John 6:65. Jesus says, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.”
Do you see what our Lord said? No one can hear the Word and process it, without the Lord enabling the person to believe. The Word “enable” means “to grant.” In other words, no one can come to the Lord unless the Lord grants him the opportunity to do so.
Our free will could not have made the choice for Christ. The Holy Spirit would have had to enable us first. Otherwise, we would not have known the truth about salvation and the need for Christ.
Thus, grace and not our will makes salvation possible. Without grace and the quickening or enabling of God’s Spirit we could never believe.
Jesus Knew Some Followers Were Not His
In the same passage, we read in John 6:64, “’Yet there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him.”
That day, several disciples chose to leave Jesus. Jesus already knew this would happen. He did not wring his hands over this. He did not beg them to understand him. He did not weep over their rejection. He knew they would leave and he accepted it. Why? Because the Holy Spirit had not enabled them to understand the words He spoke.
The men who chose to leave were not the Lords. Yet, by their free wills they chose to be with Jesus. While others viewed them as His disciples, our Lord knew differently. From the beginning, He knew they would betray Him. Thus, when it happened, he did not go after them. He let them go. This was the Father’s will and He had to carry it out.
I am sure these men told others they chose Jesus. They may have testified of their love for Him. Obviously, they saw many great works. It amazed them to see how the demons trembled at the name of Christ. Yes, these men chose Jesus, but their free wills could not give them eternity. For the Holy Spirit had not enabled them. Thus, their free will to choose was for naught.
Recently, a friend and I had a discussion about free will. He told me about two men, he and a female employee would like to see saved. One man was a professed agnostic, the other a professed Buddhist.
My friend and his employee shared the Gospel and prayed for the two men on more than one occasion. Yet, the two men chose to leave the program, rather than receive Christ.
Their reactions to the men leaving the program were quite different. My friend, who believes as I do, understood salvation was from God. So, while it bothered Him, he knew the Holy Spirit had not enabled them to know the Lord. The other person could not understand why they could not choose Christ. She grieved over them and wondered if there was something else she could have said. One of them knew salvation was the Lord’s work, while the other believed all she had to do was get them to make the right choice.
Our Will Must Be Broken
Just as a trainer must break the horse’s will, the Lord takes us through many trials and tribulations to bring us to the end of ourselves. When Paul said, “Not I, but Christ” he declared the end of his will. He wanted only to carry out the Lord’s will. Paul writes in Romans 7:19, “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do--this I keep on doing.”
Paul understood his free will had no power to overcome sin. God can never give glory to man’s will or flesh. Because of the law, Paul knew what was right and just before the Lord. He tried to follow the law and do what was good, by willing it done.
Likewise when we attempt to defeat sin by our free will, we lose. Thus, just as victory eluded Paul, it eludes us. And like Paul, we do what he hate to do and do not do what we know to be right. Our wills fail us. For God will not share His glory. This is why He must break our wills, so we set aside our will for His.
Yes, only when we come to the end of ourselves and cry out to the Lord will we gain victory. Only when we cry out, “I give up Lord, I have no answers. I cannot get free. Help me Lord,” will He set us free.
God Gives Us Our Desires
God gives us our desires. He places them in our hearts, even before time (Eph. 2:10). It is God who gives us the will to carry out His desire (Phil 2:13). It is God who gives us the grace that enables us to have all this in the first place. And it is God who brings our will in agreement to His will, by opening our spiritual eyes and making our hearts willing to follow Him.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “I labored more abundantly than they wall: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”
Paul knew he was unable to willfully carry out God’s plans (2 Cor. 9:8). However, God’s grace made it possible for him to stay the course, take the beatings and declare Jesus as Lord to the lost. Grace enabled Paul to withstand shipwreck, the rods, stonings and lashings. Yes, grace kept the vision alive in Paul. I believe Paul came to the place where he was so in tune with the Lord’s Spirit, it was for him, as natural as breathing.
Bond Servants for Christ
We are bondservants of the Lord. Bondservants are those who willingly give themselves over to serve another. We became our Lord’s bondservants when the Holy Spirit drew us to the Lord. Yes, God enabled us or granted us the ability to hear the Gospel and believe. In doing so, He gave us enough faith so we might choose to serve Him.
Remember, Jesus is not only Savior, but also Lord. As servants we are to obey. Jesus places such a premium on obedience, He said, only those who obey Him, He calls friends.
Oh, we cry out, “What a friend we have in Jesus?” Is He a friend if we fail to obey? And how can we obey, if we rely on our wills to do so? True obedience comes to us through grace. Thus, God’s mercy, His grace and the work of the Spirit in our hearts give us the ability to hear, receive and obey.
Did Jesus Have to Make Choices?
Some will argue it is still our choice. After all Jesus was the ultimate example. He came to earth fully man and fully God. Therefore, He had to make choices. Satan tempted Him and because of this, Jesus had to choose good over evil, just as we do.
Oh, this sounds nice. However, the whole premise has no basis. First, the Lord and our Heavenly Father devised their plan to save man from his sin, even before time.
Next, God and our Lord made a covenant with Abraham. This covenant was everlasting, given to Abraham as a free gift. Abraham did nothing to earn it, but believe God, by faith.
Finally, the Lord could not sin. Being fully God, He was without sin. He did not have a sin nature. Therefore, He could not have sinned. To do anything, but carry out the Father’s will, would have been sin.
Philippians 1:5-7 says, “Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” Our Lord would have had to engage His own free will to do this. However, He never did. Why? He stated on more than one occasion He did not come to carry out His will, but His Father’s will.
Likewise, we are to do the same thing. Our wills should be so in tune with the Lord’s will, we would carry out His will without reservation or any thought about our own ability to do so.
In the end, we should know the will has no power for righteousness outside the grace of God. God’s grace enables us to do what God calls us to do. And it is by His grace we have the will to receive Him and follow Him throughout our walk. Without Him, our wills are inept when it comes to finding the Lord and following Him. Only when following God’s will becomes as natural as breathing will we be able to say, “Not I, but Christ.”
Copyright 2008, Lynn E. Sheldon
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