I want to discuss this morning the subject of "free will." This is a subject that everyone agrees on, right? No, not really. Let's begin this morning by talking about the human will apart from what the Bible tell us. If someone asked you if man has free will, how would you answer them? The will of man is his power to choose between alternatives, it is human decision or volition. No one denies that man has a will—that is, a faculty of choosing what he wishes to say, do, and think.
So, you are free to make choices, but are your choices free? Your power to decide between alternatives is not free from all influence. You make choices based on your understanding, your feelings, your likes and dislikes, and your appetites. In other words, your will is not free from yourself! Your choices are determined by your own basic character.
The will is the faculty of choice, it is the immediate cause of all action. You think about something and then you do it. But in every act of the will there is a preference, the desiring of one thing rather than another. To will is to choose, and to choose is to decide between two or more alternatives. But there is something which influences the choice. The will is not causative because something causes it to choose, therefore, that something must be the causative agent.
What is it that determines the will? If the will is not causative, then what is it that causes you to make a choice? Let's say that your boss comes to you and says, "You're going to California." He's not asking you, he's telling you. Do you have a choice? Sure, you can go to California or quite your job. Is that decision uninfluenced, is it free? No, you like to eat, so you have to work, so you choose to go to California. Your boss asks you, "Would you like to drive or fly?" He is giving you a choice. What determines which option you choose? What determines your choice is the strongest motive power, which is brought to bear upon it. With one, it may be the logic of reason—if I drive, it will take me four days and if I fly, it will only take me about five hours. I choose to fly; with another the impulse of emotion—I really don't like flying, so I'll drive. What you think, causes you to will. Which ever of these presents the strongest motive power and exerts the greatest influence upon us, is that which impels the will to act.
In other words, the action of the will is determined by the mind. The will is not free but is in bondage to the heart, how you think. Our choices are determined by our desires. When we have conflicting desires, which ever desire is greater at the time of decision is the desire I will choose. Let's say that I want to lose a few pounds, my desire is to lose some weight, so I will to go on a diet. But let's say that I'm out with friends and someone brings out a cherry pie, which is my favorite desert. Do I eat the pie or stick to my diet? Is my will free to choose? As I just said when we have conflicting desires, which ever desire is greater at the time of decision is the desire I will choose. I want to lose weight and have decided to diet, but my desire for the pie is now stronger than my desire to diet. So, going against my desire to lose weight, I eat the pie. Though we have the ability to make a decision, I'm going to diet, we don't always have the power to carry out our purpose. Will may devise a course of action, to lose weight, but will has no power to execute its intention.
What causes a teenager to take drugs? Your mind, your thinking will determine your choice. The Bible tells us that Daniel "purposed" in his heart not to defile himself with the Kings meat. If you desire to honor and obey God and your parents and if you believe that drugs are wrong, you will say, "No" to drugs. If you're really undecided if drugs are wrong and you want to please your friends, you'll say, "Yes." The condition of our hearts will determine our choices. J. Edwards defined the will as, "The mind choosing."
By saying that your will is free, you certainly do not mean that it determines the course of your life. How many of your decisions, your acts of the will are thwarted? You may choose to be a millionaire, but your ability is likely to prevent it. You may decide to be a scholar, but bad health, an unstable home, or lack of finances may frustrate your will. You choose to go on a vacation, but an automobile accident may send you to the hospital instead.
So, I hope you can see that man does not have a free will. A free will would be one that was uninfluenced in its choices. We have a will and we make choices, but they are NOT free. Something is always influencing our choices.
When we talk about "free will" it is usually in the context of man's freedom to make choices apart from God's influence. Does the lost person have a free will to choose God or reject Him? By and far the majority of the church today believes that the lost person has a free will. The church ,during the days of the reformation, held that man had no free will. In the eighteenth century, Campbell, a Scottish preacher was excommunicated from the church for teaching that man had a free will. The church today is man-centered, so they want man to be able to determine his own destiny. People today view "free will" as a sacred right that God dare not violate. It is almost a universal belief today that man has a "free will" that God will not, yeah cannot violate. I want to play a clip for you from the movie Bruce Almighty that shows how ingrained this idea of free will is. [movie clip]
It is almost a universal belief today that man has a free will that God cannot violate. But is this what the Bible teaches? Most of churcheanity thinks it is. But if you actually read the Bible you will see that God is sovereign over all things, even the will of man. Let's look at a few texts that demonstrate God's sovereignty of the will of man.
Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the LORD God, the God of Israel. Exodus 34:23 ESV
Three times during the year, all Jewish males were required by Yahweh to appear before Him at the Temple (Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles). These were known as Pilgrim Feasts, because of the required pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
Their traveling away from their homes was not like us leaving our homes for a couple of weeks. When all the males went up to Jerusalem to worship as Yahweh had commanded them their homes and family would be left exposed to their ungodly neighbors that they had just driven out of the land.
For I will cast out nations before you and enlarge your borders; no one shall covet your land, when you go up to appear before the LORD your God three times in the year. Exodus 34:24 ESV
"For I will cast out nations before you and enlarge your borders"—Yahweh promises them that after the expulsion of the Canaanites, He would enlarge the borders of Israel. Then He says this:
"No one shall covet your land, when you go up to appear before the LORD your God three times in the year"—how can Yahweh promise this? How does He know that no one will covet their land? He can promise this because He is sovereign over all things including the will and desire of man.
The word "covet" here is from the Hebrew word chamad, which means: "to delight in, to desire." This word is only used 23 times in the Tanakh. This is the same word used in the ten commandments, "You shall not covet." It is also used of Eve in:
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Genesis 3:6 ESV
I said earlier, "Our choices are determined by our desires." Eve desired the tree that she was commanded not to eat, so she chose to eat it. Yahweh told the Israelites that no one would desire their land while they were away worshiping Him. Micah uses the word chamad when talking about wicked men:
Woe to those who devise wickedness and work evil on their beds! When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in the power of their hand. They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them away; they oppress a man and his house, a man and his inheritance. Micah 2:1-2 ESV
John Gill commenting on, "No one shall covet your land," writes, "Though it is a desirable land; and their neighbors, and especially the old inhabitants of it, envied the happiness of the Israelites, and could not but wish it was in their possession; yet God, who has the hearts of all men in His hands, and can direct their thoughts, and turn the inclinations of their minds, and influence their affections, and engage them with other objects, promises that they should not think of an invasion of them, or have their minds, and the desires and affections of their hearts, in the least turned that way at these seasons, whatever they might have at other times."
Not only will their neighbors not invade their land while they are away, they won't even think of invading it. Because Yahweh will supernaturally control their thinking. Yahweh is often said to control man's thinking:
The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will. Proverbs 21:1 ESV
The heart to the Hebrew was the thought process, his thinking. So here we see that Yahweh controls the thoughts of the King. The truth of God's sovereignty over the hearts of all people is taught by the strongest illustration, His control over most absolute of all wills, the "king's heart."
In Solomon's time, the king was an absolute monarch. There was no legislature to pass laws he did not like; no Supreme Court to restrain his actions. The king's word was the last word. His authority over his realm was unconditional and unrestrained. Yet, this verse teaches that Yahweh controls the heart of the most powerful monarch on earth as easily as the farmer directs the flow of water in his irrigation canals.
So, if God controls the king's heart, surely, he controls everyone else's. Some may object that this makes man a puppet. Do you feel like a puppet, has anyone yanked your strings lately? Did you come here today because God dragged you here by your strings or did you come here today because you wanted to? I'm here because I wanted to be here today. How does God sovereignly control us if we do what we want to do? I don't know, but the Bible says He controls all things, man's actions included, and I believe it.
When a man's ways please the LORD, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him. Proverbs 16:7 ESV
How does Yahweh make your enemies to be at peace with you? By controlling their heart/thinking.
And as they journeyed, a terror from God fell upon the cities that were around them, so that they did not pursue the sons of Jacob. Genesis 35:5 ESV
So did the cities around them have the free will to pursue Israel? No, because God put a terror in their hearts.
And the fear of the LORD fell upon all the kingdoms of the lands that were around Judah, and they made no war against Jehoshaphat. 2 Chronicles 17:10 ESV
Yahweh protects His people by controlling men's hearts. Yahweh comforts Paul with these words:
for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people." Acts 18:10 ESV
How did Yahweh know that no one would attack Paul? He knew because He controls all men.
While Abraham sojourned in Gerar he told people that Sarah, his 90 year old hot wife, was his sister. So Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. Notice what Yahweh says to King Abimelech:
Then God said to him in the dream, "Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also kept you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her. Genesis 20:6 NASB
Did Abimelech have the free will to have sex with Sarah? No, he did not. He obviously wanted her because he took her. But Yahweh controlled his will and he did not touch her. To say that man has "free will" is to not understand Scripture.
And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire, for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled. Revelation 17:16-17 ESV
God put it in their heart to give their kingdom to the beast. God inclines men to fulfill that which He has ordained and perform that which He has foreordained.
Now someone is bound to ask, If God controls all things and has determined in advance everything that happens, doesn't that make God responsible for sin? NO!
The LORD is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. Psalms 145:17 ESV
God is the cause of everything, including sin, but God is not responsible for sin, because responsibility attaches to motives and intention of the one committing the act. If you were shocked when I said that God is the cause of sin, let me ask you a question. Was it a sin for men to crucify Christ? Yes, it was. Did God foreordain the crucifixion of Christ? Yes!
this Yeshua, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. Acts 2:23 ESV
I believe that the Bible teaches that God is the cause of sin, but He is not the author. God is the cause of this sermon, because He causes everything. But He is not the author —I am the author, I am responsible for this message. God is not responsible for sin, but He is its cause. Let's look at some Scripture and see if this is, in fact, what it teaches.
So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof. And Absalom went in to his father's concubines in the sight of all Israel. 2 Samuel 16:22 ESV
Absalom, defiled his father's bed by an incestuous union and committed a detestable sin. Yet God says this is His work. Notice carefully what God says to David:
Thus says the LORD, 'Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.'" 2 Samuel 12:11-12 ESV
Yahweh said that He would judge David for his sin by raising up evil from his own house. Yahweh was the cause of Absalom's sin, but he was not responsible because Absalom did it out of his own wicked heart.
Jeremiah declared that every cruelty that the Chaldeans exercised against Judah was God's work.
For behold, I am calling all the tribes of the kingdoms of the north, declares the LORD, and they shall come, and every one shall set his throne at the entrance of the gates of Jerusalem, against all its walls all around and against all the cities of Judah. Jeremiah 1:15 ESV
therefore I will do to the house that is called by my name, and in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your fathers, as I did to Shiloh. Jeremiah 7:14 ESV
The LORD has opened his armory and brought out the weapons of his wrath, for the Lord GOD of hosts has a work to do in the land of the Chaldeans. Jeremiah 50:25 ESV
The Chaldeans came in and pillaged and destroyed Judah and God said it was His work.
Nebuchadnezzar is called the "servant of God" in:
behold, I will send for all the tribes of the north, declares the LORD, and for Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these surrounding nations. I will devote them to destruction, and make them a horror, a hissing, and an everlasting desolation. Jeremiah 25:9 ESV
God calls Assyria the rod of His anger in:
Woe to Assyria, the rod of my anger; the staff in their hands is my fury! Isaiah 10:5 ESV
Assyria was one of the most wicked nations to ever exist, and God calls them His rod.
Now, I want you to think with me for a minute about the story of Job.
The LORD said to Satan, "From where have you come?" Satan answered the LORD and said, "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it." And the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?" Then Satan answered the LORD and said, "Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face." Job 1:7-11 ESV
Satan, in effect, says, "Job only serves you because of what you give him, take away what he has and he'll curse you to your face."
And the LORD said to Satan, "Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand." So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD. Job 1:12 ESV
You know the story, Job experienced great trials. The Sabeans took his livestock and killed his servants, fire fell from heaven and burned up his sheep and his servants, the Chaldeans took his camels and killed his servants, a great wind destroyed his children's home, killing them all.
What is Job's response to this? Does he curse the Sabeans and Chaldeans? Does he blame Satan for all his problems? No! He says:
Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD." Job 1:20-21 ESV
Who did Job say took his stuff away—Yahweh! Job recognizes Yahweh's work in all that happened. He understood God's sovereign control in everything that happens.
What was God's purpose in what happened to Job? God's purpose was to exercise the patience of His servant by calamity; Satan endeavors to drive him to desperation; the Chaldeans and Sabeans strive to acquire gain from another's property, contrary to law and what is right.
What the Chaldeans and Sabeans did to Job was sin, but God was in control of it all. God had decreed that they should perform the acts they did, but in the actual perpetration of these deeds, they were justly guilty, because their own purpose in the doing of them was evil only. God does not produce the sinful dispositions of any of His creatures, though He does restrain and direct them to the accomplishing of His own purpose. Hence, He is neither the Author nor the Approver of sin. This distinction was expressed by Augustine in the fifth century: "That men sin proceeds from themselves; that in sinning they perform this or that action, is from the power of God who divideth the darkness according to His pleasure."
What most people mean by "free will" is the idea that man is by nature neutral and therefore able to choose either good or evil. This simply is not true. The human will and the whole of human nature is bent to evil continually. Jeremiah asked,
Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil. Jeremiah 13:23 ESV
Men need a supernatural transformation of their natures, or their wills will always be enslaved to choosing evil. Many assert that the human will makes the ultimate choice of spiritual life or spiritual death. They say that the will is altogether free to choose eternal life offered in Yeshua or to reject it. It is said that God will give a new heart to all who choose, by the power of their own free will, to receive Christ.
There is no question that receiving Yeshua is an act of the human will. But what did we say causes the will to act? The action of the will is determined by the mind, our thinking, our heart. And what is wrong with the human heart?
The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. Genesis 6:5 ESV
Your will is the servant of your heart, and your heart is evil.
as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." Romans 3:10-12 ESV
No power forces man to sin contrary to his will, but the descendants of Adam are so evil that they always choose the evil. We can't choose God because we are dead to spiritual things.
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. 1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV
Notice carefully what this verse says, "Natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God…". That would definitely include His Word. Paul says, "He is not able to understand them." Who is the natural man? The word "natural" comes from the Greek word psuchikos. Jude uses this same Greek word:
It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. Jude 1:19 ESV
Jude says, "worldly people, minded, devoid of the Spirit." So, the natural man is the man without the Spirit of God. God's effectual calling—regeneration, is absolutely necessary, because apart from it, man has no ability to understand or desire the things of God.
Two things are true of the natural man. First of all, he does not "accept" the things of the Spirit of God. The word that is used here for "accept" is a word used for receiving guests. His attitude toward spiritual things is like your attitude toward an unwanted guest visiting your home. This man does not welcome the things of the Spirit, because he considers them foolish.
Secondly, the natural man is not able to "understand" the things of the Spirit. He can't know them, because they are spiritually discerned. The word "discerned" is a legal term that was used for a preliminary hearing, and it came to mean: "scrutinize, to examine, or make a judgement." The natural man has no capacity to spiritually evaluate these things, because he does not have the Spirit of God. The natural man is like a man trying to pick up a radio station without a radio receiver—he cannot do it. He does not have the equipment to receive spiritual things, because he does not have the Holy Spirit. The natural man is spiritually dead:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins… 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— Ephesians 2:5 ESV
In verse 1 Paul said, "You were dead." Now he says, "We were dead." Everybody was dead. The death referred to here is spiritual death, which is separation from God, who is life. Every human being born is born separated from God, dead in sin.
Dr. John Cereghin, in his commentary on Ephesians writes, "Dead, but not totally." One of the lines from the movie Princess Bride was, "Mostly dead is somewhat alive." But death is an absolute state, you either are or you're not. You can't be partially dead. Partially dead is alive.
Luther said, "It is not in your power to turn to God. If you think that it is in your power to turn to God, you have missed the whole point of The Reformation and don't understand total depravity. It is not in your power to turn to God. You are a sinner, you're dead, you're eaten up with corruption. Every choice of yours is evil and not good. So how can we turn to Him who is light, righteousness, holy, and good?"
It is not man's will, but God's grace that must be thanked for giving a sinner a new heart. Unless God changes the heart, creates a new spirit, man will not choose to believe in Yeshua and receive eternal life in Him. A new heart must be given before a man can believe, or else the human will is hopelessly enslaved to evil human nature.
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12-13 NASB
"Nor of the will of man"—the word that John uses here for man is andros, which speaks of a male, not the generic term for mankind. This word is often translated as "husband." The NIV interpreted it properly as "husband" here. This probably refers to the father's authority in deciding to have a child. Spiritual life does not come because of a human decision. As your will is not responsible for your coming into this world, it is not responsible for the new birth.
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. John 6:37 ESV
If you are an Arminian and believe that man comes to Yeshua by his own free will, I beg you to listen to this text, examine this text, pray over this text. John, chapter 6, decimates the Arminian View, it totally and undeniably destroys Arminianism.
When Yeshua says, "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me"—He is saying, "Though many may reject me, all that have been given me by my Father will believe in me." How can Yeshua be sure that those who the Father has given Him will come to Him? What if their will is not to come to the Son?
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. John 6:44 ESV
Notice the words "come to me". Back in verse 35 Yeshua had connected "coming to Him" to "believing in Him":
Yeshua said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. John 6:35 ESV
"Coming to Yeshua" and "believing in Yeshua" are synonymous concepts. These are parallel terms, coming to Christ is the same as believing in Christ and vise versa. This is very important in understanding this text. So, in verse 44 Yeshua is saying, "No one can believe in me unless…"
Some have tried to interpret the word "draw" here as "call or invite," but that is not what it means. It means to draw by irresistible superiority. Some people would go so far as to say God calls or invites everybody equally and at all times. They would say that the Father draws everybody, and everybody can choose to refuse, back to "free will." This view distorts the text. If this is all that Yeshua is trying to say, His words make no sense in the context of the discussion in which He spoke them. His words only make sense if the implication is that His objectors may not have been drawn.
There are three things I want to point out here. The first is the phrase "no one." This is a "universal negative." That is to say that the phrase "no one" includes both classes of people, Jews and Gentiles. Second, are the words "can come to Me"—this has to do with the ability of man. Yeshua was saying, "No one, neither Jew nor Gentile, has the ability to come to Me." Lastly, there is the word "unless." This word is a "necessary condition." Yeshua said that the necessary condition for someone coming to Him was God giving it to them. What does God give them? Ability. Simply put, God gives man the ability to come to Christ. Man, on his own, does not have that ability, man's will is not free.
This issue of "free will" was the main issue in the reformation. Martin Luther said that only Erasmus knew what the real issue in the Reformation was, and it was the issue of the bondage of the will. Erasmus was Europe's most famous philosopher, and he and Luther debated the question of whether or not the human creature has the freedom to accept or refuse divine grace.
This debate was not new, in the fifth century Augustine and Pelagius debated the same issue and Pelagius' view was condemned at the Counsel of Ephesus in 431. Luther taught that man, because of the fall, was so bound by sin; that he could not of himself do anything to avail himself to get out of the situation, but that God must do it. Salvation was of the Lord.
No wonder Martin Luther wrote a book entitled The Bondage of the Will, which he considered one of his most important treatises. The will is in bondage of an evil human nature. Those who extol the free will as a great force are clinging to a root of pride. Man, as fallen in sin, is utterly helpless and hopeless. The will of man offers no hope. It was the will choosing the forbidden fruit that brought us into misery. The powerful grace of God alone offers deliverance.
Why teach this? Why teach that man has no "free will"? Since this view is so despised by man, why teach it? Let me give you John Calvin's answer to the question. "The Scripture is the school of the Holy Spirit in which, as nothing is omitted that is both necessary and useful to know, so nothing is taught but what is expedient to know. Therefore we must guard against depriving believers of anything disclosed about predestination in Scripture, lest we seem either wickedly to defraud them of the blessing of their God or to accuse and scoff at the Holy Spirit for having published what it is in any way profitable to suppress."
Calvin goes on to say, "But for those who are so cautious or fearful that they desire to bury predestination in order not to disturb weak souls—with what color will they cloak their arrogance when they accuse God indirectly of stupid thoughtlessness, as if He had not foreseen the peril that they feel they have wisely met? Whoever, then, heaps odium upon the doctrine of predestination openly reproaches God, as if He had unadvisedly let slip something hurtful to the church."
Bereans, truth matters, and we are to teach the truth of the Bible no matter what that truth might be or who it offends.