Free Will



What is free will?

  • Free will is the ability to choose between different possible courses of action unimpeded.
  • Free will is closely linked to the concepts of responsibility, praise, guilt, sin, and other judgements which apply only to actions that are freely chosen.

What does it mean to be “free”?

  • To be “free” is to be “not confined” or “not under the control of another”

What is the “will”?

  • The will is that part of a person that enables him/her to make decisions that have moral consequences.
  • The will is that capacity that allows a person to choose between this thing and that thing.
What does it mean to “have free will”?
  • To have free will is to be “able, or allowed, to take a specified action”.
  • It means “able to act, or to have done, as one wishes”.
Do humans have free will?
  • The answer is YES and NO.
  • If by “free will” you mean “ability to make choices, free from compulsion or coercion”, then the answer is “YES”.
    • For example, a man can choose to go to a match or stay home and watch the match of TV, to eat beef or to eat fish, etc.
  • If by “free will” you mean “ability to do whatever one wants or act without limitation”, then the answer is “NO”.
    • For example, the man who decided to stay home and watch the match CAN choose to eat beef or fish … but he CANNOT make the beef or make the fish.
Why is Man’s “free” will limited?
  • It is because Man is only “free” to act according to his nature.  People can only make choices that are within the natural capacity of human beings.
  • People are not free to act contrary to their nature.
    • If I want to get from Portmore to Half Way Tree, I am free to walk … or jog … or ask for a drive … or take a bus … but I cannot choose to fly.
    • If I want to go to New York, I could choose to travel by airplane … but I cannot choose to bcome a bird … or sprout wings and fly.
  • My “free” will is LIMITED by my nature … it is bound by the limits of my nature.
  • In that regard, therefore, Man’s will is NOT entirely free … It is bound by the limits of his nature.  He does not have the freedom to do something he was not designed to do … He is NOT free to act contrary to his nature.

Can Man choose to be righteous?

  • NO.
  • Note what the Bible says about “natural” Man (Man without God or the Holy Spirit) …
  • is not able to come to God unless God draws (drags) him
  • ways that seem right to to him … only lead to death
  • has a heart that’s “deceitful” and “desperately wicked”
  • is not seeking God … is not righteous
  • Natural Man cannot choose to be righteous … because it is NOT within his nature to be righteous … and, as we noted above, he is NOT free to act contrary to his nature.

Why can’t Man be righteous?

  • Matthew 5:48 … He’d have to be able to keep the law of God … perfectly … BUT he cannot.
  • Romans 3:20 … No one will ever be justified (declared righteous) in God’s sight … by keeping the law … because no one is able to keep the law perfectly.
  • James wrote that if a person violates just one point in the law, he has broken all of the law (James 2:10-11)
    • BTW … It is said there are 613 commandments, between Genesis and Malachi.
    • If that is so, how long do you think you could live for without breaking one of those 613 commands?

Why can’t Man keep the law of God perfectly?

  • He is not subject to the law of God … nor can be (is not able to be) subject to the law of God

Why is natural Man NOT able to

  • Natural Man is spiritually dead



How can Man, limited by a sin nature, ever choose to receive salvation?

  • It is only through the grace of God that Man’s will becomes truly “free”, thereby enabling him to choose salvation (John 15:16).
  • It is the Holy Spirit who regenerates a person (John 1:12-13) and gives him/her the “will” to put faith in Christ.
  • That faith, from God, enables Man to become “like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).
  • Salvation is God’s work.
  • At the same time, our motives, desires, and actions are voluntary, and we are rightly held responsible for them.

How did the Fall (Adam’s sin) affect Adam, and Man, generally?

  • Man was created, in God’s image, to possess a mind, a heart and a will. The mind, or intellect, allowed him to think rationally, reason and plan, not just act by sheer instinct, like animals … the heart enabled him to have feelings and emotions, unlike robots or machines … and the will, or volition, enabled him to make choices and decisions. 
  • Prior to the Fall, Man was “very good” … and so were his mind, heart and will.
  • The Fall, however, affected every part of Man’s being:
    • his mind, which produces his thoughts) became darkened, making him unable to understand the things of the Spirit of God (Ephesians 4:18; 1 Corinthians 2:14)
    • his heart, as the seat of his emotions, became deceptive and untrustworthy (Jeremiah 17:9)
    • his will — his ability to choose good over evil and right over wrong — became bound (Romans 8:7)



  • Does Man Have a Free Will?
    by Michael Gowens

  • “The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” Romans 8:7
  • Man,

o, is man free?

  • Man, in other words, is not free to act outside the boundaries of his human nature. He cannot live the life of a fish in the ocean or fly like a bird in the air without external resources enabling him to duplicate his natural environment. Just as that is true on a natural level, it is also true on a spiritual level. In his fallen state, man cannot choose to be righteous. The Ethiopian cannot by his own sheer willpower, change the color of his skin, nor the leopard his spots. Neither can those whose nature is depraved voluntarily do good (Jeremiah 13:23). Man’s will is enslaved to his sinful nature. Left to himself, his only capacity is fleshly.  A bad tree cannot give good fruit.
  • Unregenerate people are not free to choose righteousness or wickedness; they are, on the contrary, “free from righteousness” (Romans 6:20). By nature, man’s will is a “will not” (Psalm 10:4; Psalm 58:3; John 5:40, Isaiah 26:10). His only inclination is toward carnality. The natural man will never choose anything but sin, because he cannot operate outside the parameters of his sinful nature (Romans 8:7). The nature of man’s will is not free.
  • Not until his nature is changed does he have the desire or the capacity to choose righteousness. Prior to God’s work of regeneration in the soul, therefore, man’s will is bound by the old nature. In regeneration, the fallen sinner is made “willing in the day of God’s power” (Psalm 110:3). He is given a new nature, a righteous nature, capable of responding to God. Because the old nature is not eradicated, however, a warfare between the Spirit and the flesh ensues (Romans 7) – requiring deliberate and decisive efforts of the will for righteousness (Romans 6:11-23). In other words, the believer must choose, every day, between the options of serving sin or righteousness (Joshua 24:15; Romans 6:13). With such a conflict facing us, we should be glad that the Holy Spirit will continue to work within us “both to will and to do His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
  • Because man’s will, apart from the new nature given in the new birth, is bound, it is incapable of choosing eternal life. Man’s only hope of eternal life, then, is rooted in God’s initiative and choice. Salvation, in other words, depends on God’s choice, not mine, and upon His sovereign will, not man’s fallen will (John 1:13; Romans 9:16; Ephesians 1:5,11; Hebrews 10:10). That, my friend, is a firm foundation!



  • Question: “Do human beings truly have a free will?”
  • Answer: If “free will” means that God gives humans the opportunity to make choices that genuinely affect their destiny, then yes, human beings do have a free will. The world’s current sinful state is directly linked to choices made by Adam and Eve. God created mankind in His own image, and that included the ability to choose.
  • However, free will does not mean that mankind can do anything he pleases. Our choices are limited to what is in keeping with our nature. For example, a man may choose to walk across a bridge or not to walk across it; what he may not choose is to fly over the bridge—his nature prevents him from flying. In a similar way, a man cannot choose to make himself righteous—his (sin) nature prevents him from canceling his guilt (Romans 3:23). So, free will is limited by nature.
  • This limitation does not mitigate our accountability. The Bible is clear that we not only have the ability to choose, we also have the responsibility to choose wisely. In the Old Testament, God chose a nation (Israel), but individuals within that nation still bore an obligation to choose obedience to God. And individuals outside of Israel were able to choose to believe and follow God as well (e.g., Ruth and Rahab).
  • In the New Testament, sinners are commanded over and over to “repent” and “believe” (Matthew 3:2; 4:17; Acts 3:19; 1 John 3:23). Every call to repent is a call to choose. The command to believe assumes that the hearer can choose to obey the command.
  • Jesus identified the problem of some unbelievers when He told them, “You refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:40). Clearly, they could have come if they wanted to; their problem was they chose not to. “A man reaps what he sows” (Galatians 6:7), and those who are outside of salvation are “without excuse” (Romans 1:20-21).



  • Do Human Beings Have a Free Will?
    by John Hendryx
  • [from a visitor]: I have a question that is confusing me. My question is Does man have free will nor not?
  • When Christians say that man has no free will it simply means that apart from the exertion of the grace of God no one willingly comes to faith in Christ. Left in our natural fallen state we would all choose to rebel, due to our corrupt natures. (Rom 8:7, Rom 3:11,12, John 3:20). We use this phrase only in a redemptive sense. Man’s bondage to sin after his fall (2 Tim 2:25) rendered him morally incapacitated and without the Spirit (1 Cor 2:14), impotent and hostile to the things of God. Jesus explains that were it not for God’s help, the natural man would be without hope:
  • “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” – John 6:44

  • However, whether I choose to brush my teeth or not, or which cereal I eat, is an exercize of my free will. God has endowed each of us the power of choice. We select our own thoughts, words and deeds. Yes, it is true that God ordains all things and without His will nothing would come to pass (Eph 1:11). But the Scriptures also clearly show us as morally responsible agents. The Westminster Confession states that “God has endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that is neither forced, nor, by any absolute necessity of nature, determined good, or evil.” How both God’s sovereignty and human freedom can be true is indeed a mystery, but it makes us recognize the greatness and wonder of God.
  • My point is that the natural man makes choices according to his heart’s desire … So when Christians speak of man not having a free will it needs to be made clear that this is specifically referring to the fact that no one would come to Christ without God exerting His grace. Our will is bent against it. Left to our free will we would choose to suppress the truth (Rom 1:18-20) since we naturally hate the light and “will not come into the light” (John 3:19, 20). What Martin Luther considered his greatest work, the Bondage of the Will, was to promote a concept he intended to refer only to our salvation (that we will not and cannot even lift a finger toward our own redemption) not to whether we have a free will to makes choices like whether or not to brush our teeth. The free will debate was central to the Reformation and what differentiates Protestants from Catholics. Martin Luther himself considered this the main issue. When referring to our will’s bondage to sin he was pointing out our fallen desires and natural unwillingness to embrace Christ, not our ability to choose everyday things. Natural man’s many “good works”, even though in accord with God’s commands, are not well pleasing to God when weighed against His ultimate criteria and standard of perfection. The love of God and His law is not the unbelievers’ deepest animating motive and principle, so it does not earn him the right to redemptive blessings from a holy God.
  • The application to this truth, I believe, is that we depend entirely on God’s grace for salvation. No contribution we make helps atone for our sin as long as we remain in our unregenerate state. Jesus paid that in full. Therefore, by God’s grace, we must repent of trusting in our good works and recognize that were it not for grace alone that we would all justly deserve God’s wrath. We need to preach this gospel to ourselves every day.
  • To elaborate, it is important to note that this means man is not seen as either a machine or a puppet of God, according to the Scriptures. But man’s will is based on his inner character so he will always chose in accordance with who he is by nature. The character is that whole complex of personal inclination, motives, desires and principles which go to make up what the scripture calls the heart. (Prov 4:23, Matt 12:34-35, Mark 7:21) In other words, after the fall, man still has the ability to make any choice he likes, as long as it is within the boundaries of his nature.
  • When Jesus says a good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit He is speaking of the nature of the tree itself as the determining factor of what will come out of it.
  • The part of our will which chooses to get up in the morning (which theologians call voluntas) was not lost in the fall. However there is an aspect of the will which was lost in the fall (arbitrium). The Scripture describes fallen man as “being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart.” (Eph 4:18)
  • Thus, the ultimate choice to do the will of God and be pleasing to the Father from the innermost heart and soul is no longer a desire of man’s fallen nature. By nature he rages against any such idea and will not submit to God. The Scriptures are abundant in their clarity in pointing this out. (Matt 12:34-35, Mark 7:21; Matt 7:17-18; Luke 6:43-45; Romans 6:16-20, 7:1; Rom 8:7-8)
  • So when we speak of man’s inability and loss of free will it only describes man’s natural condition apart from any grace exerted by God to restrain or transform man. Man cannot reform himself in such a way as to perfectly obey God or believe His gospel apart from God mercifully applying the new birth. So, in effect, man has lost his free will to believe the gospel without divine assistance. So Pagans can make beautiful things like art, music, poetry, build cities, and do many excellent and commendable things through common grace. He does this through his free will. But the ultimate good or ability to obey God, to love Him and to believe on Him was lost as a result of the fall. The blame for this rest squarely on our shoulders, not God’s.
  • Look at how C.H. Spurgeon describes this concept:
  • Where there is not this coming to Christ, it is certain that there is as yet no quickening; where there is no quickening, the soul is dead in trespasses and sins, and being dead it cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven. We have before us now an announcement very startling, some say very obnoxious. Coming to Christ, though described by some people as being the very easiest thing in all the world, is in our text declared to be a thing utterly and entirely impossible to any man, unless the Father shall draw him to Christ. (Charles Spurgeon, Human Inability)
  • He also comments on others when they:
  • “Oh!… men may be saved if they will.” We reply, “My dear sir, we all believe that; but it is just the” if they will” that is the difficulty. We assert that no man will come to Christ unless he be drawn; nay, we do not assert it, but Christ himself declares it–“Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life;’ and as long as that “ye will not come’ stands on record in Holy Scripture, we shall not be brought to believe in any doctrine of the freedom of the human will.” It is strange how people, when talking about free-will, talk of things which they do not at all understand. “Now,” says one, “I believe men can be saved if they will.” My dear sir, that is not the question at all. The question is, are men ever found naturally willing to submit to the humbling terms of the gospel of Christ? We declare, upon Scriptural authority, that the human will is so desperately set on mischief, so depraved, and so inclined to everything that is evil, and so disinclined to everything that is good, that without the powerful. supernatural, irresistible influence of the Holy Spirit, no human will ever be constrained towards Christ. (emphasis mine).
  • Perhaps the following little example will help — If we borrowed a huge sum of money then squandered it in a week of gambling and wasteful living, we still must repay the debt. Our inability to repay the debt does not alievaite the obligation to repay it. Our sin against God resulting in the fall bringing us into a position of inability does not thereby make God lower His standard for us. The standard remains the same and we cannot fulfil it, so He sends Jesus Christ to fulfil the covenant for us, doing what we were unable to do ourselves. On our own we would never believe or obey God. So He pays our debt and helps us out of spiritual death by giving us the new birth which immediately results in faith. Even our faith was a gift of God (Eph 2:8, John 1:13, 2 Tim 2:25, Phil 1:29, Hebrews 12:2, 1 John 5:1, Rom 3:24, Ezekiel 11:19-20; Ezekiel 36:26-27) Make sense?
  • So humans have a free will to do whatever they want. But by nature they would never want God as He has revealed Himself. (Rom 1:18, Rom 3:11). Free will, without grace, would always chose to disobey our Lord. The new birth changes the disposition of man’s heart so that he might willingly turn from trusting in his good works and place his faith in Christ alone for salvation.
  • Let’s look at this with a chart based on Augustine’s helpful view of man’s will in his different states:
Pre-Fall Man Post-Fall Man Reborn Man Glorified Man
able to sin able to sin able to sin able to not sin
able to not sin *unable to not sin able to not sin unable to sin
  • * sin in this context merely means that man is unable to do any good works that would do him any redemptive good, apart from the grace of God, not that he is as evil as he can be at every moment.

    Response from W:
    In other words we have 2 choices. We can accept Christ or reject Him. It is still a matter of the will. The way that I see the Calvinist position is that once the Spirit draws you, you are “destined” to accept Christ whether you want to or not.
  • Answer:
  • Not exactly… The Scriptures declare that anyone who wants to come to Christ may do so. The problem is that no one wants God while left to their own nature. It is a universal phenomena – there is no man who seeks God, except by His grace. We all suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom 1:18). Men may seek a god they like or form in their own image but will never seek the God who has revealed himself in the scriptures – for prior to the new birth we hate him and we never choose something we hate.
  • there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. Rom 3:11For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God. John 3:20
  • In the above passage you see that the only ones who come into the light are those whose deeds are wrought by God. So when you say “whether we want to or not”, you may misunderstand what I am trying to say. As a result of the fall the scripture says no one wants God (he is unspiritual) unless the Father first changes the disposition of our heart through the new birth that we embrace Christ willingly. In other words, the new birth immediately precedes saving faith.
  • “Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:13“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” John 6:37“It does not [salvation], therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” Romans 9:16
  • We preach the gospel and go on missions because this is how God proclaims His message on earth. He works concurrantly through the church to draw His sheep unto Himself. the word cast forth is applied by the Holy Spirit to convict the hearts of those the Father has given the Son. When we proclaim the gospel we preach to the walking dead, so to speak. The unregenerate are people without the Spirit, natural and have no inclination whatsoever toward spiritual things. The Holy Spirit must quicken the hearts of the dead in sin by applying the word preached by His people. Those He quickens are the same as He has set His affection on from eternity.
  • Look at John 17 where Jesus prays to the Father. He prays only for some people in the world, not all:
  • “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. 8For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. John 17:9
  • From eternity the Father, Son and Holy Spirit determined in their eternal counsel to save those the Father determined to give the Son. This is a passage well worth praying over as to what is meant here. we don’t know who they are so we give the outward call of the gospel to every creature. Just as we do not participate in our natural birth except passively, so we do not spiritually either: Jesus said:
  • Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” John 3:9

  • So the point of all this is that we are all under the wrath of God because of our sin because we have rebelled against a holy God. God owes salvation to no one and would be perfectly just to wipe out the human race just as he did in the time of Noah. But instead he was merciful to many people. He is under no obligation to save all, they (and we) justly deserve God’s wrath. But he came and died for those who would believe on him.
  • John 10:15,26 “I lay down my life for the sheep…but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.”
  • So some do not believe because they are not of God’s flock. You see the opposite view which says that he must be equally fair to all not biblical nor realistic. He is always just but I think we don’t want justice, lest we perish … rather, we need His mercy. If He forgives some people’s debt and not others, it is perfectly just of Him to do so.
  • Thanks be to God for His love to us through His Son Jesus Christ who lives and is glorified before all time, now and forever.
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