It is commonplace today to hear a Christian say “I chose the Jesus” when they talk about the day they became His child. But I find that most people, myself included until recently, have no real grasp on how it is that they came to make that so-called decision. You see, there is a prevailing idea in the world that has only come into dominance over the past couple hundred years or so, and that is the idea of free will. That idea, which is inherently false, gives way to another idea that one is free to accept or reject God.
First off, let’s deal with the idea of free will in the context of salvation. Merriam-Webster defines the term free will as this:
1: voluntary choice or decision <I do this of my own free will>
2: freedom of humans to make choices that are not determined by prior causes or by divine intervention (emphasis mine)
Now look at the second definition closely – the choice must be made without prior cause or divine intervention. As Christians we know this cannot be. There are two primary external forces influencing the mind – God and the devil. We know this through both our own personal experiences and through biblical scriptures. Who was it that tempted Judas to betray Jesus? Who tempted David to take a census? Who tempted Eve to take and eat the forbidden fruit? Add to that the prior cause,
which is sin resulting in a corrupt and depraved nature, and we now have a startling impossibility.
Every temptation Christians face is from the devil (see the book of Job) and these temptations oftentimes come into our minds in the form of a thought, which is why “…we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ…” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
Do you not remember the struggle you had with salvation? What was warring within you was your own flesh teamed up with the devil, against the power of the Holy Spirit who prevailed, thankfully, for none can resist Him! You fought hard against that conversion, didn’t you? I know I did, which means the choice also wasn’t voluntary, at least not by the flesh – strike three! Months and months went by with God patiently knocking, until one glorious day He invited Himself in and my response at that instant was immediate – to bow down before Him, confess my sins, and repent of my ways! The Spirit had won, amen, and He will always win “… because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. “ (1 John 4:4)
Not enough? Consider the conversion of Paul:
Acts [9:3] As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him;  and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”  And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting,  but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.”  The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one.  Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus.
Did Saul pray the sinner’s prayer? No. Did Saul ask Jesus to come into his heart? No. God came in against Saul’s will, which was quite set against God as evidenced by the saints he had killed, and God prevailed. Saul did not decide – God did. And He did it long before Saul or anyone else was ever born.
Now you say “my conversion was not like Saul’s, so it wasn’t the same with me.” Was it not? How did you come to the Lord? You say “I heard the gospel and responded” and you most certainly did. But what about all the other times you heard the gospel and did not respond? Was it not God who opened your ears to hear and opened your eyes to see? Were you not led to Him or did you get there all by yourself with no help from Him whatsoever? What made the time you responded different from all the others?
Isaiah 35:5 Then the eyes of the blind will be opened
And the ears of the deaf will be unstopped.
So, you see, we are all influenced by external forces. God chose you and the devil warred against Him to spoil the prize. But God’s will cannot be subverted, amen. Had our salvation been left up to us we would be hopelessly lost for we would never choose God; we much prefer the darkness and naturally despise His authority on the basest level because of our sinful nature.
Before we “chose” God were we not brought so low in our lives that we had no other choice than Him? I remember my desperation. I felt alone, though I wasn’t. I felt a great weight upon my shoulders for God had made Himself known to me, but my rebellion was fashioned hard against Him. The conviction of the Holy Spirit grew and grew and I could bear it no more! I had no other choice than God! What other choice is there? Sin? Depravation? Hell? Those are not choices; they are condemnations in which we already exist!
We currently treat the gift of salvation like we do the choice between desserts or food from a menu. We think it a choice in order to please ourselves and our ill-conceived notion of having authority over our circumstances and lives. But you do not choose a gift. Think about the Christmas present. Some you like, some you don’t, but they are all yours because they were given regardless of whether or not you asked for it.
God is in control, not us. We are bound to sin by chains that were not forged by human hands. They are the sentence of God for our transgressions. There is only one Chain Breaker, the Lord Jesus Christ, and He freely gives the gift of salvation! He paid for it by the shedding of His innocent blood to satisfy God’s wrath against us for our transgressions of His law. Jesus broke the chains of sin and bought us as the slaves we are in order to spare us the most painful agony of hell.
We cannot choose against Him, for how can a slave choose against the master that owns him? He raised me from the dead – to choose against Him is to choose death. Before I was a slave to sin, but now, praise God, I am a slave to Him! I was never free, even though I fancied it so. I am
free from the bondage and penalty of sin, but not of the servitude of my Master, for “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe.” I incorrectly refer to myself as a
slave - Jesus has something better:
“No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is
doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.
“You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. John 15:15-16
Sinner, be reconciled to God this day. Be done with the flesh – obey the Holy Spirit and bow down before Him, confess your sins to Him, repent, acknowledge that Jesus is Lord, and you, too, will be saved. Do not wait! There never was and never will be a saint who said “I’m glad I put it off as long as I did.” No, on the contrary their only regret is that they didn’t do it sooner!
***Note – I want to reiterate again that my arguments against free will and free choice in this context do not lead to hard determinism as some might say. In the overall argument there is just cause to think that some things are predetermined while others are not. However, in the area of salvation it is quite clear that our statuses as saints was predetermined long before we were ever born. Jesus’ death was ordained before the world was even formed. He knew each one of His children then just like He knows them now and there are no accidents or mistakes. God will accomplish what He set out to do from the beginning. Amen.
For quite some time, I have been perplexed by the concept of free will. It started early in my walk with Christ, but I’m happy to report it is starting to clear up. My first thought on the matter was, If God is omniscient, He already knows what choices I am going to make. Does that make my fate determined? If God already knows the end it seems as though we’re living out the manuscript. Well, that blew the old canoodle, and it took me a while to recover. For a while, I settled for the de facto free will stance—that I made the choice to trust Jesus of my own free will and secured my salvation. This is a widely accepted view, but I have come to understand that it is incorrect.
Today, we tend to flippantly use terms and phrases, and many times we have only a vague concept of what the word means as a result. But if we bothered to examine its definition, we would realize just how we’ve misused it…or that it isn’t even a word at all! The phrase that comes to mind is “I could care less.” People misuse this one all the time to express how much they don’t care, but the correct phrase is actually “I couldn’t care less.” The former means “I care and it is possible I could care less than I do” while the latter properly expresses what a person is trying to say—“I couldn’t possibly care any less than I do right now.” Still confused? Consult the handy infographic below!
I have come to realize that the term “free will” is one of those terms. Some folks refer to it as their “chooser.” First of all, let’s deal with the primary argument used to naysay the non-existence of free will. Typically, Calvinists and Arminians clash on this subject, but the term itself is misunderstood, probably due to decades of improper use. People who argue for the existence of free will often say of the opposition, “If man doesn’t have free will, then man has no control over his own actions and cannot be held responsible by God for them since he never had the free will to do anything but what was pre-ordained.” I completely agree with the objection, but the problem is the misunderstanding of what the will actually is. This leads to a mischaracterization of the stance against free will, resulting in a straw man argument, a logical fallacy.
I was watching a documentary called Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead the other day. When one of the men being featured in it spoke of dieting, he mentioned something that stuck in my mind. He said, “I don’t have the willpower.” Hmmm, let’s unpack that a bit. What is he actually saying here? Most of us have used that phrase, and I do believe it is at the core of our misunderstanding of free will. What we are expressing with this simple sentence is that we know in our minds that we need to diet but lack the desire to do so. Because our mind and desire are at odds with one another, we give in to the stronger of the two—in this case the desire to eat a yummy, clog-your-arteries cheeseburger draped in bacon and doused with barbeque sauce that’s paired with a huge helping of fries and a diet soda to wash it all down with. (The cola is pointless of course, but it makes us feel not so wretched about our dietary discretion…or lack thereof.)
Notice there are two other key players here: the desire and mind. (Granted, there are other underlying forces such as motive and nature, but for now let’s keep it simple.) Desire says one thing, the mind says another, and the result is a lack of willpower, or lack of will. When we say “will,” we actually mean “willpower” but leave off the “power” because it is understood. Think of it this way, when you see a child running around a playground screaming like a banshee, you tell your friend, “Wow, that kid is hyper.” You leave off the word “active” (hyperactive) because it is understood. The man in the dietary documentary could have just as easily said, “I don’t have the will to do it,” and his assertion would have meant the same thing.
The will is a power, or faculty, of the mind. What if we change the circumstances? Imagine something you really desired and made up your mind to obtain. What was the result? Oftentimes, you succeeded because your will (power) was strong. The desire and mind were in concert with one another resulting in a strong will (power). What if the desire is strong, but the mind is tougher? Then the mind wins, but the will (power) is vastly weakened by the conflict and becomes susceptible to temptation.
So the will is the power of the mind to control actions and thoughts, hence the term “willpower” But we’ve grown accustomed to dropping the second part of the term due to assumptive language, and as a result, our understanding of the term has been altered.
Well, does that mean we are not free? Certainly we are. But the mind is free, not the will. Freedom can belong to an agent, but not a faculty. To use the term “free will” is like saying your hands and feet are free when we all know they are completely controlled by the brain. We can freely think both in concrete and abstract terms. We can imagine, dream, problem solve, plot, and scheme, but that is not done by the will. These acts, as well as the act of decision making, are all functions of the mind, not the will. Once the mind is made up, the will follows; the mind wields the will in order to fully realize the decision it has made.
For further in-depth study of this topic, I highly recommend the works of great thinkers like Sir Francis Bacon and John Locke, especially the latter’s masterpiece, “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.”