Free will: “Whether free will exists, what it is and the implications of whether it exists or not are some of the longest-running debates of philosophy and religion.” This is well-stated from Wikipedia. A search on “free will” brings all kinds of philosophical debates, opinions and definitions.

For our purposes, we simply want to examine what Scripture says about our free will to decide for ourselves about anything, but in particular, about deciding on our own to obey God. Can we freely believe that Jesus was the Son of God? Can we exercise free will in choosing to turn from sin and follow Him?

How Scripture answers "Does man have free will?"

Man does have free will to choose a path of good/righteousness1,2,3,5,9,10,15,16,17,18,21. God has put the option to “know him” in front of all mankind2,3,9,11,18. At a certain age everyone is accountable15, and He wishes that everyone respond5,6,9 to the call – like a father does with his children10,14,19. Unfortunately, not all will7,8,16,17,19, and some may even choose it and then fall back12,13,20,21.

It’s actually tough to limit the passages that speak to mankind’s free will. For example, the many passages that teach we will be judged by our works all assume that man has free will to choose. There’s nothing clearer than in God’s direct words1,2,9. To say we don’t have free will makes God a liar1,2,9,15,16,17…it makes Jesus disingenuous3,6,13,19 and any instruction on prayer meaningless11…and it makes the apostles and their message ridiculous4,5,10,14,20,21. Statements like the one in Jeremiah7 are pulled out of context to argue we don’t have free will, but the entire message of the Bible assumes its reader is a free moral agent from beginning1,2, to end6, and all the pages in between3,4,5,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20,21.

Yes
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No

1

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 evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.
God commanded Adam, telling him that he may eat of all the trees of the garden except one.  If he ate of the tree providing knowledge of good and of evil he would die.

This command by God for Adam to obey, was later disobeyed with the deception of Eve by Satan (3:1-6). Their disobedience led to both a physical death (3:19) but also a spiritual death and separation from God (3:23-24).  Further were the specific curses to both the woman (3:16) and man (3:17-18).

How does it apply here?

God establishes a rule in the Garden of Eden that Adam (and later Eve) could choose to obey or disregard.

2

The Lord said to Cain, Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.
God asked Cain why he was angry and confused and explained that if he did well he would be accepted [by God].  However, if he did not strive to do good sin would be ready to take advantage since its seeking control; he must rule over it.
The creation account and introduction of Adam and Eve’s offspring after their disobedience and the curse of sin.
How does it apply here?

God told Cain he could choose to “do well” and that he “must rule over” sin’s opposing desire.

3

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Go out and make followers of all the people, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teach them to abide by all that I [Jesus] have commanded.  Behold, I will remain with you to the end of this age.
The very close of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life on earth.  This address was made to the eleven apostles (vs 16) and similar accounts are given at the end Mark (
Mk 16:15-16
) and Luke (
Lk 24:45-47
).
How does it apply here?

The “Great Commission” from Jesus is premised on the idea that “all nations” (e.g. everyone) has free will to “observe” (or not to observe).

4

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, Brothers, what shall we do? And Peter said to them, Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.

When they heard these words, they were pierced in the heart and asked Peter and the other apostles what they should do [to be saved].  Peter told them that they each should repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of their sins, and they would then receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This “gift” was the promise made for all that the Lord calls to himself, even those far off.

Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost where he recalled several prophetic statements from Joel and David (vss 16-36). By divine inspiration, Peter interpreted these statements to apply their fulfillment to Jesus and the ushering in of the “last days.”

On believing his message (that Jesus was the Christ), they asked what they needed to do to be saved. More were continuing to be saved and they began meeting together as the Lord’s church (

vss 41-47
).

How does it apply here?

Peter instructs the crownd to repent (turn) and be baptized for forgiveness of their sins. He gives them a choice to make of their own free will.

5

This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

This is good and pleasing to God our Savior, who wishes that all people be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.

Paul’s letter to a young preacher, Timothy.  This chapter begins with specific instructions on various matters beginning with praying for all.
How does it apply here?

If God’s sovereignty is absolute, then God would not need to “desire” that everybody be saved.

6

The Spirit and the Bride say, Come. And let the one who hears say, Come. And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.
The Spirit and Bride [Jesus] invite all to come.  Anyone that hears is invited to come.  Anyone that is thirsty and desiring can take the water of life freely.

The closing verses of John’s apocalyptic vision providing several warnings and promises.  Jesus speaks several times throughout (vss 7, 12, 16, 20).

How does it apply here?

The invitation is open to anyone that “desires” to “take the water of life”.

7

Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.
The Ethiopian can’t change the color of his skin nor can the leopard change his spots.  Likewise, you can’t do good when you are accustomed to doing evil.

God is instructing the prophet Jeremiah what to preach to the people of Judah.  His message was largely ignored by the people of Judah, as God had foretold it would be.

How does it apply here?

It doesn’t, since the point here is that the people had fallen so far into sin and were so “accustomed to do evil” that it would be nearly impossible to repent and turn away (e.g. “change his skin”).

!! scripture-block context extra important here !!

God warned them during Isaiah’s day17, and now about 100 years later told Jeremiah that the people of Judah had grown even more sinful than “Faithless Israel” (Jer 3:11) and they were not going to listen to him (Jer 7:27) — but God still sent him to preach repentance to them, and God finally has had enough declaring, “behold, every one of you follows his stubborn, evil will, refusing to listen to me.” (Jer 16:10-12)

8

Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
As a result, God sends a strong delusion in order that they will believe what is false and so be condemned from not believing truth but instead determined to sin.

Paul’s second letter to the church in Thessalonica where he is warning them about coming destructive forces to the faithful. He encourages them to not listen to the false teaching that Christ has already come (vss 1-3). Rather, they must endure through lawlessness that is “already at work” (vs 7) and the “lawless one” that Satan empowers (vs 9) and Jesus “will kill by the breath of His mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming” (vs 8).

How does it apply here?

God, Himself, may allow/permit/provoke someone that is already intent on taking “pleasure in unrighteousness”.

9

See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess.

See that I [God] have set before you life and doing good, or death and doing evil. If you obey My commandments by loving the Lord your God and walking in My ways and keeping My laws then you shall live and flourish, and I will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.  But if your heart turns away and you don’t listen, but are pulled away to worship other gods, you will surely die and will not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.

Moses is re-telling the law of God to the people before entering the Promised Land. Here, he is giving this instruction of public reading to occur every seven years when they are together for the Feast of Booths.

How does it apply here?

God set before the people to choose good or evil, and proceeds to instruct how they might accomplish either path. Joshua later repeats this thought and declares his choice before the people18.

10

For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

You know that just as a father would with his children, we urged, motivated, even commanded you to live according to God’s desire, who continues to invite and beckon you into His kingdom and glory.

In Paul’s extended introduction to the “church of the Thessalonians” (1:1), he is recalling the events around their first hearing Paul bring them the gospel (Acts 17 during his second missionary journey).

How does it apply here?

Our relationship to God is a like children to a Father. A father can be an example, train, enocourage and charge but not force their childrens’ will.

11

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

Ask and you’ll receive, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened for you.  Everyone that asks receives, and he that seeks finds, and to the one that knocks it will be opened.

Jesus sermon on the mount after giving instructions about how to pray to God in heaven (6:1-14) and trusting in God to provide in this life (6:19-34).

How does it apply here?

If man did not have free will, why would Jesus instruct His disciples to “ask”, “seek” and “knock” to a God already aware of their needs? More specifically, and in the broader context of Jesus’ sermon, why would anyone need to pray?

12

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

It’s impossible to restore to repentance those that have fallen away after coming to understand and experience salvation – having shared in the Holy Spirit and the goodness of God’s word and the power to come – since they crucify all over the Son of God, putting him to public shame to their own harm.

The Hebrews writer is arguing the “better” things in Christ, contrasting with things from the Old Law these Hebrew Christians had turned from, but apparently were at risk to turn back.  He is chastising them for having become “dull of hearing” (5:11) and requiring someone to still need to teach them these “basic principles” (5:12).
How does it apply here?

A situation is described where those that have been saved can choose to “crucify once again the Son of God” by their actions.

13

For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.

False messiahs and prophets will come with intentions to deceive the elect, and they will do so with seemingly God-given powers.

This chapter documents a discussion between Jesus and his disciples.  Upon leaving the temple, Jesus comments on its destruction (vs 2).  Subsequently, they wanted to know about three things from Jesus: 1) the timing of the temple’s destruction, 2) the sign of His coming, and 3) the end of the age (vs 3).

Jesus begins His answer, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, I am the Christ, and they will lead many astray.” (vs 4-5) He continues foretelling terrible natural events (e.g. wars, famine, etc.) but also a spiritual “tribulation” (persecution) where many saints will “fall away” (vs 10).  Despite this, He warns again that “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (vs 13) and the “gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world” after which “the end will come” (vs 14).

The preceding seems to be an overview before beginning to speak about a specific “great tribulation” (vs 21) that they would experience.  He refers to this as “the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel” (vs 15) and prays that their “flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath” (vs 20).

As is typical with prophecy, which this chapter is, sequencing is difficult as events and their timing (near-term/long-term) are very fluid. Remember, the disciples had asked about both the timing of the destruction of the temple and His return.  Jesus shares events (vss 15-28) that will take place in their generation (vs 34) regarding the destruction of the temple (in fact, taking place about forty years later in 70AD).  He then speaks about what will happen “immediately after the tribulation of those days” (vs 29), namely His return (vss 29-44), but it too is a mixed timeline.

Summary of sequence:

  • vss 4-14 – A broad review of events during the ‘end times’ (both near-term and long-term) when “lawlessness is increased”.
  • vss 15-28 – A near-term description of events that they would experience relating to the destruction of Jerusalem.  Something that in fact, would happen about forty years later (70AD).
  • vss 29-31 – A long-term description of the events of the second coming, the final judgment.
  • vss 32-34 – The near-term timing that He relates and explains with a parable about the fig tree for how they would identify the occurrence of “these things” (vs 33) and says, “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place” (vs 34).
  • vss 35-44 The long-term timing, transitioned by contrasting things that will and won’t pass away (vs 34-35) and with “But…” (vs 36). This timing “no one knows” – not even Himself (vs 36).
How does it apply here?

Jesus says that “even the elect” could be led astray by false teachers/false prophets (“false christs” or antichrists).

14

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Therefore brethren, as you have been even now – obey!  Not only because I was with you, but even more now that I’m away.  Each of you, work out your salvation with careful reference, for it is God who works in you for His glory and honor.

Paul is transitioning into a long closing in an otherwise short letter to the church in Philippi.  He has expressed his deep fondness for them (1:6-7) and encourages them throughout to have the “mind of Christ.”  His encouragement here is to remain strong in their “partnership in the gospel” (1:5) so they continue to “shine as light in the world” (vs 15).

How does it apply here?

Paul instructs Christian’s to essentially do their part in their salvation, while reminding them that God works in them. Unless Paul is contractdicting himself mid-sentence, he obviously means that God works in them as a support to their own free will (not over-ruling it).

15

He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.

A boy will eat curds and honey until some point he can refuse evil and choose good.

God (through Isaiah) is telling King Ahaz the fate of his son.

How does it apply here?

God acknowledges a time at which a young person can choose between good and evil.

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