The Free Will Debate

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Do we have free will to choose God and believe Jesus and understand the gospel?

The answer could be Yes, No, or Both

The concept of “Biblical free will” has been debated for centuries. While it is not found in scriptures, free will is evident when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. It is taught among Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christianity but in conflict with strong Calvinists.

1. Yes: Man has “limited free will”

We have “free will,” but that freedom is constricted by fear of consequence. For example, we’re free to disobey God but careful to displease Him. Remove consequences, and man will choose things that please him—not what pleases God. [Sin disables]

  • To say that we do NOT have free will to believe God (unless God elects us) falls flat against Gospel apologetics.
  • Adam and Eve had a choice whether to eat the fruit or not, that’s free will even before the fall of man.
  • Satan turned against God and a third of angels chose to join him, that’s free will in heaven. (Isaiah 14:12; Hebrews 12:22)
  • After the fall, man can distinguish good and evil, but they chose the latter. And so, God flooded the earth. Noah was spared for he chose what is righteous. (Genesis 6:9)

John 7:17
Anyone who chooses to do the will of God….

Romans 10:10
It is with your heart that you believe and is justified…

2. No: A dead person cannot have a will to choose

  • We’re dead in our sins and objects of God’s wrath (Ephesians 2:3). We are destined for hell because God is just. He won’t let sin go unpunished. (Proverbs 11:21)
  • A reprobiate may know about God, but will not choose to follow Him. They will not understand the gospel unless God regenerates their heart. (Romans 1:21)
  • Believing and repentance goes together. You may believe but the willingness to repent comes from God. He granted (Give: δοῦναι; dounai) repentance to the chosen people and to gentiles (Acts 5:31; 11:18).
  • Out of God’s love, He regenerates our sinful and “dead hearts” to see the truth, believe, and obey Him. “Regeneration is something that is accomplished by God. A dead man cannot raise himself from the dead.” – R.C. Sproul

Colossians 2:13
When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions…

3. Yes and No: We are free to believe but our nature is to disobey

  • Choosing to believe is easy, but the will to obey is impossible because man is born selfish. An infant cries for attention and as we grow older, we want more.
  • The moral law and social constraints restrains us from choosing fully to satisfy our sinful nature. (Genesis 6:5)
  • There is no mention of “free will” in the Bible. Instead, God causes us to draw near Jesus and have faith. [Strong Calvinism]

Psalm 58:3
The wicked are estranged from the womb; These who speak lies go astray from birth.”

Romans 5:12
… death spread to all men because all sinned.”

1 John 1:8
If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

4. No: God chooses who He will save and cause them to believe Jesus

  • God can make the Gospel irresistible and change the heart of the hardest criminal. In short, God can override our free will in order to submit to the Lordship of Jesus. (John 6:44)
  • Our “will” to obey God is out of fear of hell or punishment. God created hell and He offers no apologies for it. Thus, God causes fear to help change our mindset that influences our will.

John 6:44
People cannot come to me unless the Father who sent me brings them to me. I will bring these people back to life on the last day.

5. Yes and No: God is the ultimate author of our will and faith

Anyone has free will to believe Jesus. We know that because demons also believe who Jesus is, but they will still go to hell (Mark 1:23-24). In contrast, God offers a free pass to heaven—Jesus paid.

We work out our salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in us to will and to work for his good pleasure (Philippians 2:12). In short, we do not contribute to salvation. It’s God’s work alone. Our part is to accept the gift.

  • When someone gives us a gift, we don’t pay it back. Hence, “accepting a gift” is not work, but a choice we’re free to make.
  • We can accept or reject God’s gift. We didn’t pay for it but Jesus alone did. (Ephesians 2:1-9)
  • Apart from Jesus, our faith will not be complete, and neither can we bear fruit. (John 15)
  • For us to believe, we must first hear. Faith comes by hearing God’s words. (2 Cor 5:17)

Hebrews 12:2
…fixing our eyes to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…

God can override our free will.

Bottom line, rejecting Jesus is man’s choice—just as Adam and Eve chose to disobey God

Jesus said, “It is finished.” It’s up to us to believe or reject God’s gift. If God elects and grants us free will—the gospel must still be preached. Be thankful you heard the Gospel and believed.

John 12:48
The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.

RELATED BLOG:
Is repentance a requirement to be saved?
Should we still evangelize if God has chosen?

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