“And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭26:39

What is the will of a man? And does man’s will have a role in his walk with God?

  • 3
    That is a Pandora's box of troubles and controversies!! This debate has raged for over 500 years, over 1500 years (since Augustine at least) and will not be resolved here. Its most recent manifestation is Calvinism vs Arminianism. And there is a big variety of stuff in between.
    – Dottard
    May 28 '20 at 23:28

Q: "What is the will of a man? And does man’s will have a role in his walk with God?"

A. The will of man is a God-given attribute to make a moral choice in response to God's Words.

As the fall of man still speaks loudly, it is one factor that has the ultimate effects on the destiny of individuals and the course of human history. The Scripture says believers have a part of hearing His voice and of following Jesus (John 10:27). He does not drive us, but He wants His sheep to follow Him. Therefore, we Christians, "through it all" - the doubts, discouragement, disappointment, temptations, trials, persecution, etc., must strive to follow Him.

Despite the ongoing polemics about the role of "human free will," there is - from the Book of Genesis to Revelation - substantial textual support for our free will of how our conscious volition plays a vital role in the "walk with God" with significant eternal implications:

God created man and woman in His own image and likeness

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; a male and female he created them. (Gen. 1:27) And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth. (Gen 1:27-28)

God did not create Adam and Eve (and you and me) would be puppets or robots, but humans.

God commanded Adam

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 evils you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you u shall surely die. (Gen. 2:16-17)

It was NOT God's will for them to eat the fruit.

God said to Cain:

"it not true that if you do what is right, you will be fine? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. It desires to dominate you, but you must subdue it." (Gen. 4:7)

This is the first recorded incident even after the fall that God spoke about our responsibility to utilize God-given free will to do what is right and subdue the temptations.

Moses says:

'And now, Israel, what is Jehovah thy God asking from thee, except to fear Jehovah thy God, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve Jehovah thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul." (Deut. 10:12).

Peter speaks: "To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion.

"Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set you hopefully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you am holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written,

“You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, (1 Pet. 1:1, 13 -17 ESV).

Paul speaks:

"Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.(Rom. 13:13)

"So then, let us not sleep as the others do, but let us remain awake and sober.(1 Thes. 5:6)

" ...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and work for his good pleasure." (Philippians 2:12-13)

The writer of Hebrew speaks:

"Let us, therefore, "make every effort" to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following the same pattern of disobedience." (Heb. 4:11)

"For God is not unjust to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Heb. 6:10-12)

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, "let us throw off" every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles, and "let us run" with endurance the race set out for us." (Heb. 12:1)

Jesus says:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock." (Matt. 7:24)

"And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive" to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. (Luke 13"23-24)

"Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe (πιστεύητε) in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:28-29)

"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.(John 10:27-28)

Revelation 22:14, John says:

"Blessed are those who wash their robes so they can have access to the tree of life and can enter into the city by the gates."

The "wash" πλύνοντες is in the "present, participle, active" -meaning "those" -Believers - keep on washing on their own volition their rob "in the blood of Lamb" (Rev. 7:14). And their rob refers to the"fine and bright" linen- righteous acts of the saints (Rev. 19:8).

SUM: In Romans 12:20 says - "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."

B. Various implications with respecto to our will and Walk with God:


1). Christian's pilgrimage is a lifelong "walking with God." It begins with the Words, faith and living by them (John 6:6-8; Matt. 4:4; Habakkuk 2:4; Rom 1:17. As John Murray said: "Faith alone justifies but a justified person with faith alone would be a monstrosity which never exists in the kingdom of grace. Faith works itself out through love (Gal. 5:6). For, "the faith without works is dead**James 2:14-26.

The "walk with God" also is an interplay between our responsibility and Divine empowerment, a joint work of God's gracious will and our obedience of own volition - the "Holy Spirit + The Word" & our humble, yielding obedience.

It is like a fish swimming upstream against the current, alone yet not alone. The "Comforter" (παράκλητος) & "Word" (ῥῆμα), work mysteriously for and in us enabling us to win the battle against the ever acting up old-self and never quitting devil, the tempter, the liar. But, the fact remains still is that we are the player, the runner, and the soldier to go forward to finish the journey of from faith to faith - e.g. the "thief on the cross" - (from"cursing (Mt. 27:38)" turned to "penitent (Lk.23:42-43)." He did not have time to "walk" with God. But,the prodigal son(s) -Lk 15:11-32, it was NOT Father's will in the first place for him to leave. But he repented and returned home, and restored. And enduring to the end will be saved (Matt. 10:22; 24: 13; Lk. 21:19)

Our "walk with God" is a journey of spiritual formation, marred with "many failures + confessions = forgiven (1 John 1:9), and washed by the blood of Jesus", and this process must go on until we stand in His presence:

"but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.”(Heb. 10:38) The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Ps. 51:17)

2). All the ** anti-free will polemics ** are nothing but vanity and vanity!

Paul exhort us: "Do not be deceived: “Bad "company" (ὁμιλία) ruins good morals.” (1 Cor.15:33-34). English word- homily comes from ὁμιλία.God set Paul apart from the mother's womb, and it was not God's will for Paul to persecute Jesus Christ! But he was among the bad company, on his volition, was far ahead of his fellow Jews in zeal for the traditions implicating himself in persecuting the Lord (Gal.1:14-15).

  • Good answer but some unnecessary deviation from the free will. The faith alone justification but not alone slogan is self contradicting, and contradict with all those references from Jesus you quoted.
    – Michael16
    Aug 4 '21 at 3:38

There are two related questions:

1. What is the will of a man?

The word 'will' here means a person's freedom to make choices in life. To use the example of the text from the OP, when Jesus prays 'Not as I will but as you will', he is asking God to strengthen him for the choice he has to make - going to the cross. It's a recognition that his personal preference differs from God's plan for his life. But he wants to set aside his preference and follow God's plan. He wants to align his will with God's will; he wants his choice to align with God's plan.

2. Does man’s will have a role in his walk with God?

Yes. This very example is an illustration of the role that our will plays. Jesus was exercising his will at the point where he chose to be obedient to God. We are all called to obey God's good purposes for our lives. But the act of obedience is not a denial of the will. We can choose to obey, or not to obey. That is the freedom we have in life.

  • 1
    I disagree with you on, 'Jesus was exercising his will', in fact he said, 'Not my will, but Yours' so it isn't Jesus' will but God's that Jesus is submitting to. Jesus' will differed to the Father's so his will was not helping, He asked that his will be 'supressed', 'overridden' through the spirit of God in him enabling his obedience unto death.
    – steveowen
    Jun 13 '20 at 8:33
  • 1
    I don't think it's one or the other. Both are true. To use your wording, we agree that Jesus is submitting to the will of God. But my point is that this submission is itself a free will choice. In choosing to follow God's will, Jesus is also exercising his own will. Obeying God is what Jesus wants. He's not throwing away his will. He's directing it to conform to God's will for his life. Jun 15 '20 at 10:38
  • ok, I can see yr point, however the Q is not about J. Our will is naturally self-centred, even evil oriented, ie. away from God. Our will must be 'sacrificed' to allow God's will precedence. I don't think we are 'choosing' we are 'surrendering'. Before God draws us, we know of nothing except self. He alone makes new choices possible Phil 2:13 (so did we choose, or did He choose?)
    – steveowen
    Jun 15 '20 at 11:15
  • I assumed it was about Jesus because of the quote you started the question with. As far as human will generally is concerned, I still maintain the general view that it's both, rather than one or the other. For example, it's true that sinful nature makes it hard to obey God, and so we need God's strength. But when we get it right, it's still the same analogy as with Jesus. With God's strength, we are choosing to obey. (Words matter, and words influence our thinking. What if we talked about our will being 'healed' rather than 'sacrificed'?) Jun 17 '20 at 22:10

My main touch point for this is what I believe to be the theme of the fourth gospel (John). The theme is stated in John 1:12-13 right at the front.

John 1:12-13, But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh [self] or of the will of man [others], but of God.

There is literally nothing you can do to get right with God. No good deeds or evil deeds. You, the murderer, the Hitler, the Ghandi, or the slave, are all perfect and complete in Gods eyes. It is the knowledge of good and bad from the tree in Eden that is our delusion. That is the knowledge of individuals with free will. If someone doesn't have free will, then they are caused and not moral agents. That is what science says that we are and it is the bible's diagnosis.

It is exactly our condition to think that we can do it "by our own hand" (Hebrew word here is Hosea) but it is ONLY that Yahweh can do it (Hebrew word here is Joshua). And In numbers 13, Moses changes Hosea's name to Joshua who leads us into the promised land (read: Paradise/Eden).

You can't do it. You think you have free will, but you don't, and that's the delusion that keeps us out of the promised land. John 1:12-13 says that you are the son of God also when you realize there is no you in there capable of free agency.

John 5 repeats this solution. The man at bethesda is asked if he wants to be healed. He says "I can't do it and no one else can do it" echoing the thesis in John 1:13. When Jesus sees he has realized this he invites him to rise up and enter. He had been ill for 38 years. Jesus said "rise up and walk"

In Deuteronomy, the ones that knew good and bad (Deut 1:39) had to die (hope had to die), so they wandered the wilderness for 38 years (Deut 2:14). When all hope had died and they "did not want" (see Psalm 23), then paradise opened up. God said (Deut 2:13), "Rise up and enter paradise."

The word Shalom means peace and completeness and it's probably what Jesus said on the cross. Among other things, to be complete, to not want, is to be without hope. Hope is the feeling of wanting. They are synonymous.

You are an empty vessel that thinks it is full of ego, but that's a lie. That's why the "will of man" and the "will of self" can't get us there. They are our condition in the first place.

  • No. This answer doesn't even touch the core question May 30 '20 at 15:05
  • If we think we can do it, we are deceived. If we are deceived, we don't have free-will - just pretend free-will.
    – steveowen
    Jun 13 '20 at 7:21
  • Yes. We do not have free will. Sin is the delusion that we can have merit that we own. Free will means that there are good or bad agents that are moral ends in themselves. In Eden, God said don’t eat the fruit of the idea of good and bad. We got deluded that we have any merit at all. We thought we could reach out and eat on our own against God’s will. That is a lie we keep telling ourselves. The world is empty of agency. That is the terrifying good news of The Gospel.
    – Gus L.
    Jun 27 '20 at 1:38

The will of man is the volition of man as opposed to the volition of God. It is our God-given independent power to choose our decisions in our daily walk.

Its role is to glorify the volition of God by choosing His will in our walk with God. The end goal is to be one with the Father. That's the process. The question is this: Do we have enough faith to choose God's will be done in His kingdom and under His kingship?

Luke 22:42 "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done."

The role of man's volition is to choose do God's will.


What is the Will of a man? Good Q.

Let's not confuse intellect and apparent autonomy with free-will.

We can choose whatever we like, but we can only choose from within the confines of our present condition - except for Jesus (and Adam) who was born without sin, we do NOT have freewill in the ultimate sense of choosing our destiny - for good or bad.

Our 'present condition' is corrupted - to the very core. We don't see clearly enough to make a pure decision based on merits or otherwise as we might choose... we cannot grasp the limits of good or bad that would affect our decision or choice. Therefore, the choice we do make is limited by our carnal humanity.

1 Cor 2:14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

By example; a totally uncivilised native is offered a food choice - by sight alone between a fake plastic banana and a real one. They look very similar and he has never seen either before.

He can freely choose either. But without total understanding/knowledge, he has no idea what he is exercising his will/choice over.

Because of ever-present deception, we too have had our will power limited as we do not understand the implications of what our choice will do or accomplish for good or bad.

The will of man is a shadow of what Adam had for a 'few brief weeks' until the 'fall'. It is a crude form of making decisions based on very limited understanding and power.

That is not free-will! It is the illusion of free-will.

Phil 2:13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

Without God's explicit intervention, we have a will severely limited in power and wisdom - we are a slave to the world and its master until God frees us.

Jesus, without the sin of Adam, saw perfectly clearly. He was still without power as he often said, he could do nothing except for the Father giving what he needed. He had his own will, which at times differed from the Father's, but was ALWAYS brought into subjection. He wasn't exercising his will, he was allowing the Father to draw him into the Father's perfect will, just as he does to us - granting the gift of repentance.

Rom 2:4 or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?

And what is its role in our walk with God?

To experience sin and it's consequences. To know the joy of walking with God on the few occasions we do, and begin to know that our will is of little use except we give it to God as Jesus did.

It is the core of being a living sacrifice.

Rom 12:1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

So that His will might be done - not ours!

  • I have heard it called free agency rather than free will. Deuteronomy 30:19 "I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live" God sets the parameters wherein we have choice and that choice is limited by those parameters. Aug 8 '20 at 20:52

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