Monday, March 19, 2007

Does Man Really Have "Free-Will"?

I have been reading as of late a book by Martin Luther called "The Bondage of The Will." As the title implies it addresses the issue of "free will" versus the "enslaved will." And thus is my question of the day to you, my readers. Is mans will really as free as most would like to think? I dare to say no, it is not.

Just a couple of posts ago on this blog we took up the issue of God's sovereignty in salvation and the first part of that series was on the Total Depravity of man. In that post I gave Scripture that conclusively taught that mankind is totally depraved, and in bondage to sin. Not only are we as people enslaved to sin, but we are incapable of doing anything about it ourselves.

I see the discussion of "free will" finding its answers in the doctrines of grace and a proper understanding of the sovereignty of God. In my series on the sovereignty of God in part 4 which you may see here:, we looked at how God is the mastermind behind all things. Everything that takes place, does so by the will of God.

From the above linked article:

"Here is an illustration that I find helpful. God observes His creation not as we do as temporal beings, but as the sovereign Lord over all creation. He is the painter, we are a part of the painting. God is not merely in the process of painting the picture, the picture is already complete. God views the past, present and future, complete and simultaneously. He asserts prophecy not because He is merely confident He can make it happen, but He asserts prophecy because it is already done.

Consider the following verses from Hebrews 2:6-96.

It has been testified somewhere, "what is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for Him? 7You made Him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned Him with glory and honor, 8putting everything in subjection under His feet." Now in putting everything in subjection to Him, He left nothing outside of His control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to Him. 9But we see Him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. (Emphasis mine)

Look at what Scripture tells us. It says that everything has (past tense) been put into subjection under the feet of Christ. It’s done, finished, complete. But Scripture also tells us that as of now we do "not yet see everything in subjection to Him.

We look at the world and say "there is evil all over the place" we don’t see that Jesus has all of this under His subjection, but He does. Why? Because God sees the future judgement of Satan, evil and sin as already completed. It is finished. We don’t see it now as temporal beings, but God has already won the battle in the future. He exist outside of time and the story is already over. This is part of why God knows all things, because it is already finished and done according to His will. Not that God would be incapable of seeing the future, but it’s a moot point, because God wrote the future."

For more about God's sovereignty I recommend that you read the whole article and 6 part series. But nevertheless, Scripture clearly teaches that the ultimate reason things happen the way they do is because God ordains them to happen as they do. God is in control.

That said, let me here ask, do we have truly "free" will? Since we ultimately do what God has ordained us to, the answer is no. However, here is where we will enter into the discussion of whether what we do is by compulsion, or by necessity.

Compulsion would refer to an outside source forcing its will upon us, making us do something that we did not really want to do. Does God make us do things we don't want to do? No, He doesn't force us to do anything against our "will."

What do I mean by that? Someone might say here "You just said that we don't have free will and then you say that God won't make us do something against our will. What are you smoking?" You can be sure, I meant just what I said. Let me quote Luther when discussing "necessity" versus "compulsion."

"I could wish, indeed, that a better term was available for our discussion than the accepted one, necessity, which cannot accurately be used of either man's will or God's. Its meaning is too harsh, and foreign to the subject; for it suggests some sort of compulsion, and something that is against ones will, which is no part of the view under debate. The will, whether it be God's or man's, does what it does, good or bad, under no compulsion, but just as it wants or pleases, as if totally free." (Luther, 81)

Let's talk this out for a bit shall we? Remember in the discussion of "total depravity" that we discussed how mankind loves its sin. We sin because we want to, and we have no desire on our own to stop sinning. God has ordained all that we do, but he has not forced us against our will, because we love what we are doing and we long for more of it. So man freely does what man wants to do, however they do so, not by compulsion but by necessity, for that was what God had predestined for them to do.

In the same way God does not force someone to love Him, but instead he takes out their heart of stone and gives them a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 36:26,

"And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh."

God gives the sinner His Spirit making them a new creation who no longer wants sin, they want God. They have not been compulsed to do anything, they freely do just what they want, but they do it out of necessity because God ordained them to do so.

Ultimately it comes down to this, the will of man is enslaved either to Satan and sin or to God and righteousness, but regardless of which one it is enslaved to the will of man does its bidding not under compulsion but freely and gladly, and they do so because God has ordained it to be so.

Let's look at how Luther explains this in an analogy.

"So man's will is like a beast standing between two riders. If God rides, it wills and goes where God wills: as the Psalm says, 'I am become as a beast before thee, and I am ever with thee' (Ps. 73:22-23). If Satan rides, it wills and goes where Satan wills. Nor may it choose to which rider it will run, or which it will seek; but the riders themselves fight to decide who shall have and hold it." (Luther, 103-104)

I would note, as would Luther if anyone should question his meaning, that God always wins the fight when it is His desire to ride a particular beast.

I think this example wonderfully illustrates the position of mankind. Although I would add, again, that the beast is not being driven by compulsion with whips and spurs, but by a carrot or sugar cube in front of them, the beast pursues willingly the direction it is led.

So does man have free will? Ultimately the answer is no. But we carry on day to day, feeling as though our will is totally free, because we do only that which we desire most to do. And it depends upon whether our will is enslaved to Satan and sin or to God and righteousness as to what desires we have in our hearts.


Luther, Martin. The Bondage of the Will. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2005.

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