Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Free will. It's like butterfly wings: once touched, they never get off the ground.

A question that comes up often has to do with "free will." Do humans have a free will? What does that mean?

Cliff's Notes version: Yes ... and No.

Yes, if by a free will one means the capacity to make choices or to choose what one wants.

No, if by a free will one means the capacity to make choices free of propensity or influence.

Jonathan Edwards' Freedom of the Will says it best, but I also love Martin Luther's Bondage of the Will. Though the titles sounds diametrically opposed, they essentially say the same thing. I recommend both, but suggest Luther first, being the more accessible to the common man, like me.

To "sum up" Edwards (in all humility, an impossibility), a person is free to choose that which he or she wants. However, he or she must choose that which he or she wants. In other words, the person's choices are limited and the person must choose that which is the strongest inclination at the time of decision.
"A man never, in any instance, wills anything contrary to his desires, or desires contrary to his will."
-Edwards, Freedom of the Will

An illustration ...

If I'm on the Atkins diet again tomorrow I will be faced with a decision when I notice that 1/2 gallon of Bluebell Cookies & Cream in the freezer. Whether I go hungry or enjoy the best ice cream in the country is a choice I make. But it's a determined choice. It's determined by my strongest inclination at the moment of decision. If my desire to drop some weight is stronger, I close the door. If my affection for ice cream wins out, then I make a dent in the carton.

A depraved and unregenerate person's problem is not the will per se, which is just the decision-making faculty, but rather the heart is the problem. Because the heart is evil, it will only choose evil.

Because people love the darkness (John 3:19-20), they will only have the (moral) ability to choose the darkness and they won't come to Christ because He is not perceived as lovely, for they hate the light.

When we share Christ with someone, we give them an option, someone in whom to believe, but they will not really be free to embrace that option until they have been regenerated to have a new heart that loves God and hates sin.
Long my imprisoned spirit lay
fast bound in sin and nature's night
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray
I woke. The dungeon flamed with light.
My chains fell off.
My heart was free.
I rose, went forth,
and followed Thee.
-Charles Wesley, "And Can It Be?"
This is the nature of depravity and the reason God must give "eyes to see" and "ears to hear," for people in a natural state cannot (i.e., ability) understand the things of the Spirit. (1 Cor 2:14) Until that time, Christianity looks foolish and Christ is not perceived as worthy of faith & trust.

Again, an illustration ...

In my present state there is no desire to eat green beans. They appear repulsive and I can barely tolerate to have them in my presence. They are clearly made of Kryptonite. Now, on the one hand, I have the natural ability to eat green beans, but I will never do so because I don't want to. Since I don't want to, in that sense I cannot. It would take a tongue transplant and perhaps a brain transplant to really put green beans in the realm of realistic options for me. My taste buds and food processing faculties would need to be regenerated.

So, in one sense the will is free. God's not doing anything to the will of those who reject Christ. They reject Him ... willingly. At the same time, those who come to Christ do so not out of compulsion as though they were forced, but because they desire to do so after having their eyes opened to see the beauty & majesty of the Lord.

Until a new heart is given (Ezek 36:26-27), they will always willingly reject Christ (though they might be persuaded to do some outward act of acquiescence like walking an aisle or raising a hand, etc.).

In that sense, the will is not free because the creature will not choose Christ, hence he/she cannot choose Christ. Because they do not want Him, they will not choose Him.

There is a cause to each effect and there cannot be a causeless cause. Which means there's a reason (at least one) for every decision made and no decisions are made apart from influence.

Incidentally, this is why we can say that every choice is determined, but also that every choice is freely made. It's determined by the heart (which can be guided by God as He wills (Prov 21:1), but made by the creature as a result.
"The choice of the mind never departs from that which, at that time, and with respect to the direct and immediate objects of that decision of the mind, appears most agreeable and pleasing, all things considered."
-Jonathan Edwards, Freedom of the Will
Thus, the myth of free will is that humans can come to Christ on their own accord, by their own desire. They cannot (John 6:44). They cannot because they will not because they have no desire to do so.

Consequently, we labor in love for people to respond to Christ, but we humbly rely on the Spirit to enable them to see Christ as He is revealed to be altogether lovely in the Gospel, and worthy of faith, love, and obedient devotion.

When I Survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of Glory died.
My richest gain, I count but loss

and pour contempt on all my pride.

Were the whole realm of nature mine

that were a present far too small.

Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all!



At 22 August, 2007 11:35, Blogger Timothy said...

Excellent post. I was just discussing this topic with a neighbor this morning.

At 22 August, 2007 14:20, Blogger samurai said...

An excellent post on this topic... thank you for taking the time to share it...

At 22 August, 2007 20:46, Anonymous Shelley said...

This is very helpful, and I look forward to reading the two books you have recommended.

At 22 August, 2007 23:41, Blogger GUNNY said...

You know, another neat resource is R.C. Sproul's Willing to Believe.

In it he traces the doctrine of the will and its development through the teaching of prominent theologians.

From the back cover:
"Willing to Believe is a major work on the Protestant doctrines of man's total depravity and God's effectual grace. R. C. Sproul traces the free-will controversy from its formal beginning in the fifth century, when Augustine took up the pen against Pelagius, to the present.

By the time you finish this historical tour, you will understand the nuances separating the views of Protestants and Catholics, Calvinists and Arminians, the Reformed and Dispensationalists. You will also see how this debate colors our view of our humanity and shapes our understanding of God's character."

At 24 August, 2007 09:12, Anonymous jade said...

Didn't Atkins die of a heartattack? :b Might want to try the Southbeach diet. :)

At 28 August, 2007 22:32, Blogger DW said...

Great article. And I really love that Charles Wesley quote. Some of the most beautiful words I've read outside of scripture have come from the Wesley brothers.

At 28 August, 2007 22:37, Blogger DW said...

Sorry, think I just inadvertently posted about 9 comments in a row.

At 28 August, 2007 23:20, Blogger GUNNY said...

But, DW, they were good comments.

They were not quite on par with the eloquence of Charles Wesley, however, so I just posted my favorite.


At 29 August, 2007 21:13, Blogger DW said...

Appreciate your mercy Gunny!!!


Post a Comment

<< Home

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting