What Does The Bible Really Teach About Free Will?

There are many views concerning the idea of free will. Some philosophers believe humans are determined by events outside of their control. There are theologians who think God is in complete control of man’s freedom of choice and that free will is illusory.

Other experts disagree and believe man has the freedom to truly choose what they want. In other words, humans make choices independent of social, natural, or divine restraints.

For instance, you are making the choice of reading this article. Or are you? Is it in your nature to have a genetic predisposition to read philosophical ideas on the freedom of choice? Did God implant a thought in your head to type into google what the Bible teaches about free will so you would come to understand Him more? Or maybe you just felt like learning about free will, regardless of some divine agent, societal pressure, or genetic propensity.

I can’t answer this question for you, but I can do my best to show you what the Bible teaches concerning free will. Let’s start from the very beginning!

“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die (Gen. 2:16-17).”

Here the Lord God gives Adam and Eve, our first parents, a choice to eat of every tree of the garden except the knowledge of good and evil. He sets specific guidelines to either obey or disobey. It seems obvious that God is allowing moral agents to decide their own wills and desires. Also, the context makes it clear that they understood God’s commandments and made a real choice, even though they were tempted by Satan to disobey.

Then again, if God is control, was this the plan from the beginning? Did God know that Adam and Eve would disobey? Surely He knew that Satan, the enemy of God, would try to tempt them in the garden. How come God allowed the serpent to enter the garden in the first place? Doesn’t it seem like a set up?

Either way, I think the fact remains: Adam and Eve were capable of making a rational decision for themselves, regardless of any outside factors. Even though they were tempted and God foreknew this would happen, the choice was still truly made, wasn’t it? Let’s look at other verses to get a better picture.

“See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known (Deut. 11:26-28).

God clearly gives the people of Israel a choice to obey or disobey His commands. They know God visited Moses and the people on Mount Sinai, and physically gave them the 10 commandments. Humans know there are consequences for their sin. If they obey, they will be blessed. If they disobey God, they will be cursed.

Moreover, God uses the word setting and the word turn aside. To set something in front of a person is to give them a choice. To turn aside is also a verb that expresses the notion of choice. You can turn aside from what God is telling you or you can obey and listen. I think this Scripture verse teaches that humans have free will. But now let’s look at some verses that seem to teach God is sovereign over man’s choices.

“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified (Rom. 8:29-30).”

This is a favorite verse for theologians who teach God’s utter sovereignty over freedom of the will. Here, the apostle Paul proclaims that God foreknew and predestined people to be conformed into the image of His son. Foreknowledge is a biblical concept and most theologians agree that God is omniscient (all-knowing). This means that before we make a choice, God knows what we will choose. However, this doesn’t mean God necessarily makes the choice for us.

The next word predestined is to determine a person’s fate by divine will. At first glance, it seems that God is causing the person to obey and that his grace is irresistible. This concept, often taught by Calvinists, teach that if God gives grace to you, there is nothing in the world you can do to resist it. You can’t reject God’s intention to take you to heaven. If you are predestined to become a child of God, you will be chosen no matter what.

There is another verse in the book of Romans that teaches this very concept. Let’s analyze it as well to get a better picture of this viewpoint.

“For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth (Rom. 9:17).”

This passage is referring back to the Exodus. God sent Moses to Egypt in order to set the Israelite’s from captivity. Pharaoh refused to let the people go. Consequently, God sent plagues to punish Pharaoh for his hardness of heart.

His heart became so hardened that God used Pharaoh as an example to the world of what disobedience will lead to. When you fight against the Lord and resist his authority, life will not turn out well. God evidently showed his power and to this day, the world is familiar with this Bible story.

But does this mean God prevented Pharaoh from having a choice? Did God harden his heart, or was Pharaoh the one making the choice to reject the Lord’s sovereignty and thus hardening his own heart?

I think it’s clear from Scripture that God gave Pharaoh a real choice. In fact, Yahweh was very patient with him. He sent 10 plagues that clearly demonstrated the Lord’s power over Pharaoh. But He was prideful, arrogant, and unwilling to listen. This led God to make an example for the world to see, but clearly real choices were being made.

I think the following two verses really help clear up both arguments. The next verse shows that God is sovereign, but man also has a human responsibility. There is a synergistic relationship going on here.

“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps (Prov. 16:9).”

Humanity plans their way. They make real choices. And while people make real choices, God establishes the steps. He is there to be with us through it all. He intervenes when it is necessary, but God gives us autonomy. He allows us to make good and bad choices. This is how we learn from our mistakes. Here is another verse that further solidifies this truth that we have free will.

“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap (Gal. 6:7).”

When we sow goodness, we will reap goodness. When we sow or plant evil desires, then we will reap a heap of destruction upon our lives. Ultimately, God has given each of us the choice to obey His righteous decrees or to reject His truth.

God is love. He can’t force us to worship Him. We are not robots. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be created in His image and likeness. As creatures made in his image, this is what makes us unique from the rest of creation. We are morally free agents who can decide how we want to live.

While there may be environmental, genetic, and divine intervention still at work in guiding our destiny, we still make true choices independent of them. I believe humans have free will. I also think it’s imperative that we believe this. Don’t you? I hope this was helpful. Blessings!

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