Free Will (Doesn’t Really Matter)

Throughout my walk with Christ, I have noticed that the subject of “free will” seems to be at the forefront of most conversations regarding God, Christianity, and the Bible. Whether the topic is evangelism, soteriology, culpability, sin, salvation, responsibility, response ability, (the list goes on and on), free will so often is the demarcation line of the discussion. It’s usually the dividing factor separating the parties who are in debate about such topics. There are also arguments as to what free will even is. For example, are we talking about libertarian free will or compatibilism, or some other brand of free will? Other debates rage between free will in general and it’s supposed nemesis… determinism.

For the sake of time, I am not going to unpack these things here. A simple search online will bring you the answers as to what these different subjects, positions, and nuances mean regarding the free will conversation. What I would like to do is show that free will debates might be a complete waste of time (biblically speaking). If I’m correct, maybe it will help you (Christian) when faced with free will challenges, regardless of which side of the fence you might stand.

Who is the Owner of Everything?

This is how the Bible opens…

Genesis 1:1 (ESV)
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Assuming that the above premise is true, who is the owner of everything?

The answer is quite simple… God.

Since God owns everything, God then has the right to do whatever He wants with what He owns, and such includes you and I. Regardless of what we might think about this, we are His and He is the one who is in authority. The writer of the book of Romans (Paul) touched upon this very notion…

Romans 9:13-23 (ESV)
As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 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.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory…

The Owner of everything has both mercy and compassion, but not necessarily for everyone in the same way. As hard as that might be to swallow, that’s the way it is, and our will has nothing to do with it. Again…

Romans 9:16 (ESV)
So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

This leads me to rhetorically ask…

If the human will is not part of the equation, then what are all of the free will debates even about?

The Beauty of Scripture

The beauty of scripture is how insightful it is. It actually anticipates the reaction of the person who does not like what is being said about what happened to Pharaoh’s “free will” (because of what it might imply about the reader personally). It’s worth taking a second look…

Romans 9:17-23 (ESV)
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.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory?

The Owner of Everything

The bottom line is, God owns you and I, and He can do whatever He wants with us. He has either made us as vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, or He has made us as vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory.

Why does He do this?

God does it in order to make known the riches of His glory for vessels of mercy. In other words, He does it for the benefit of the vessels of mercy, so that they will see and appreciate the contrast between mercy and destruction.

Which Vessel are You?

The question which we ought to ask is not whether or not we have free will. That’s irrelevant; it doesn’t matter. The question we must ask is…

“Which vessel am I?”

In the previous chapter of Romans, it describes something remarkable…

Romans 8:19-25 (ESV)
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

The creation, which was subjected to futility, not willingly… waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. The “sons of God” are believers, vessels of mercy. Again, we see that the will (outside of God’s) plays no part in the initial futility experienced by the creation. It was simply subjected to it, and it must live with it until God steps in. Therefore, in groaning the creation now waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God, which signals a future relief.

Compounding the futility experienced by the creation is the contribution made by the unbelievers, vessels of destruction. Vessels of destruction do not promote mercy. They do the opposite, making things ever worse. The vessels of mercy, however, do not contribute to the destruction. Instead, they endure the groaning period with patience because of their hope in what they do not see.

The Answer

So, how does one find out which vessel they are?

The answer to that question is found in the answer to another question…

How does the person in view respond to the Gospel?

Their response to who Christ is and what He did reveals which vessel they are. It is why a little later, through a series of rhetorical questions, Paul brings out how important the spreading of the Gospel is…

Romans 10:13-15 (ESV)
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

Yes, how beautiful are those feet!

Question…

Want to see the kingdom grow?

Then don’t get caught up in silly disputes about free will, but promote what is the power of God for salvation…

Romans 1:16a (ESV)
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…

Godspeed, to the brethren!

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One thought on “Free Will (Doesn’t Really Matter)”

  1. What’s fascinating to me is that so few bother to define “free will”. Luther wrote about the bondage of the will and Edwards wrote about the freedom of the will – and they both agreed that man is unable to choose good apart from being regenerated. Edwards had a better understanding of human physiology and recognized that man’s will is nothing more than the choosing function of his mind. Man’s will is free – his mind is enslaved to sin. None seek after God – not even one!

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