Excellent question!! The subject of free will is both abused and misunderstood.
- It is abused by some in the guise of asserting "rights" to do something which none such exists.
- It is misunderstood by many, especially theologians; some of these theologians either teach that God's sovereignty is absolute and so human will does not really exist; or, in the other extreme, God cannot interfere with human will an idea known as the 'openness" of God.
All these positions lead to to ethical and logical dilemmas. In any case, Biblical Theology and the real world is not as simplistic as the above positions try to pretend it is. Freedom of choice, at least in the case of salvation is a Biblical teaching.
However, any doctrine of the freedom of human will must take account of two other matters:
- The Bible also teaches that because we are sinners, we are also slaves to sin, Rom 6:6, 16, 17, 20, 7:14, 25, John 8:34. And, that one of the functions of salvation offered freely by Jesus is true freedom from addictions and the slavery to sin as promised in John 8:34-36
Jesus replied, “Truly, truly, I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave
to sin. A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son
belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free
- God's sovereign will and purpose. The very existence of divine miracles means that God finds it occasionally necessary to intervene in the natural course of events and change things. On occasions, this might mean overriding some people's freedom of choice. However, I believe this is always done in such a way as to minimize the "interference". Indeed, every conversions, while done with the consent of the sinner, is still a miracle of God, because, without God, we "do nothing" (John 15:5). After all, it is still God who draws us to Himself, Phil 2:13, John 6:44, Rom 2:4, Acts 5:31, 11:18, 2 Tim 2:25.
Another case of this is shown the case of the prophet Balaam in Num 22-25 where we see a number of instances where God interfered in the otherwise natural course of events:
- The donkey spoke to Balaam
- Balaam, seven times, prophesied good for Israel despite his desire to curse
Interestingly, Balaam persisted and eventually worked out a way around God and organised a national seduction of Israel by Moabite women, but that is another matter.
APPENDIX - Freedom of Choice
Freedom of choice is another of the implicit teachings of Scripture. However, a few passages come close to being explicit. Let us examine a sample of the Bible data.
- Gen 2:16, 17 – the original choice given to Adam and Eve to choose service to God.
- 1 Cor 10:13 – God is gracious enough to only allow temptations that we can bear. This reveals that God recognizes the effect that sin has on our will; sin weakens our will but God helps by both strengthening our will and only allowing temptations that we can bear.
- 2 Peter 3:9 – God is patient wanting all people to decide for Him.
- Gal 5:13 – We are given freedom by God but the privilege should not be abused.
- John 7:17 – People can choose to do the will of God and such a choice bring further enlightenment.
- Josh 24:15 – The Israelites were encouraged to choose God.
- Mark 8:34 – Choosing to serve God involves personal sacrifice which is why it is such a serious decision.
- Rev 3:20 – God wants to be with us but we must choose to allow Him into our lives.
- Gal 5:16, 17, John 8:34-36 – Sin enslaves but the Christian life by the Spirit gives freedom.
- Isa 55:6, 7 – Isaiah encourages the people to choose service to God over all else.
- Deut 30:19, 20 – Moses encourages the people to choose between life and death.
- Exe 18 – an entire chapter about the consequences of choice which ends with the plea, “Repent and live!”
Thus, while Biblically implicit, the concept of the freedom to choose to serve God or otherwise is woven into the very fabric of scripture.
In addition to the above, there is a more fundamental reason why freedom of choice is essential to the plan of salvation. Observe the following:
- John 13:34, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
- John 15:12, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”
- 1 John 4:7, 8, 11, 16, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love … Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another … No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us … And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them … We love because he first loved us.”
It is immediately apparent that love is the very essence of God and our relationship with Him and each other. Now, here is the point; love cannot be forced else it is not love. A programmed machine can recite loving sentiments but does not love. Thus, love can only be love when there is a free choice to love.
Therefore, for love to exist there must be freedom of choice. Stated another way, if God were to force us to love and obey Him, we would not love God at all and God would be saving machines.