From the cradle to the grave, autonomy is the desire of man. From the child that snatches away when aided in tying their shoe, to the senior in the nursing home who screams at their caregivers when offered a walker, “I need no one!”, “I can do it on my own!”
The battle cry of the heart, our right, our reward. It’s a gift from God, or is it? Are we TRULY free? Created by God, in His image, to be as He is?
It is of first importance that free will be defined for clarity. When I say free will, specifically libertarian free will, I am speaking of the ability of a person, independent of influence or coercion, to make a choice, completely autonomous.
Based on this definition and foremost the testimony of scripture, I would have to say no.
Let’s start from the beginning and walk through the reasons why libertarian free will is a fallacy. Adam and Eve, in Genesis, were the first two people created by God. They were innocent, initially sinless, in a perfect environment, until Eve was deceived and Adam disobediently followed suit. It would seem logical to assume that they had free will from simple examination, however, I would suggest that they had volition, but not free will. Meaning that they had a will and the ability to choose but not the autonomy of free will. Their freedom of will was superseded by the sovereign decree of God who had set in place the plan for redemption for fallen man(mankind) before the creation of the world (1 Peter 1:18-20; Revelation 13:8).
The fall of man into sin was a pivotal turning point in the operation of man’s will, which from this point forward would be bound or enslaved to sin (Romans 6). Man is a volitional being having the ability to make a choice from a limited number of choices. The will of man has always functioned within perimeters set by God and sin restricted this function. Sins corruption bends the will to sin since it is governed by the greatest desire in the moment. Naturally a person can only chose sin because it is the dominant desire in the heart, influencing the decision.
It is not until after redemption through Christ that the will is freed from enslavement to sin and enslaved to righteousness. This act expands the perimeters of volition granting the person more options with a bent towards righteousness ever increasing proportionately with sanctification by the power of the Spirit. The ability to say “no” to sin is given by God.
This would undoubtedly lead to the assumption that people were no more than puppets, but this is not the case.
There is an unexplained relationship between the sovereignty of God and the will of man as apparent in Exodus with the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart by God, but then by Pharaoh. However, it should be noted that God, beforehand, informed Moses that this hardening would occur (Exodus 7:3). Therefore, God providentially orchestrates events in the lives of men to accomplish His divine will either miraculously changing their stony heart (Ezekiel 36:26) or allowing them to run headlong after the desires of that depraved heart (Psalms 81:12; Romans 1:24).
Although man’s desire is for autonomy, always planning and devising, the will of God stands supreme (Proverbs 16:9; 19:21; 20:24; 21:1). God, as the creator of all, has dominion and rule over all things. It is not the epitome of God’s sovereignty to allow man free will since, but because He is sovereign, He cannot. For in doing so He is withholding from Himself, what He by nature possesses that which makes Him God.
In Isaiah 10 God uses Assyria as an instrument of wrath against Israel and then judges them for arrogance and pride. God’s justification being…
Is the axe to boast itself over the one who chops with it? Is the saw to exalt itself over the one who wields it? That would be like a [a]club wielding those who lift it, Or like a rod lifting him who is not wood. (Isaiah 10:15 NASB)
Likewise for all mankind…
So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.
You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel [l]for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?
(Romans 9:18-22 NASB)
Well what about salvation? Surely salvation is by choice, there are many verses calling for man to choose life, to repent, to be holy. After all, God would not ask us to do something that we are unable to do. On the contrary, God requires a person to be holy, which is an utter impossibility. Fallen man drowning in sin is unable to separate himself from his sin. Man is dead in sin, unable to respond to God, but is responsible for rejecting Him.
It is difficult to reconcile the conflict between God’s sovereignty and mankind’s responsibility, however, I believe it is clear in scripture that salvation is God’s work (Ephesians 2:8-9; Philippians 1:29).
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)
This verse, as well as John 3, and Jeremiah 13:23 emphasize that the spiritual birth is from above, not from within. If it were true that someone could choose to believe in God, what is there to prevent them from unbelieving which nullifies John 10:27-28.
Scripture is clear that God chose those whom he would save from before the formation of the earth and before mankind was created (Ephesians 1:4) There was nothing that He saw in man that warranted salvation. It is erroneous to believe that someone could humble themselves, admit they need God, and then God sees that, choosing them because of it. This is in essence idolatry of the will, the creation of the will of man as god.
This line of reasoning starts with man and works up instead of starting with God and working down. The divine potter has molded clay into His image, given it choice, and to some eternal life, though none are deserving of it. In response to such grace the response should be gratitude, humility, love, and worship to the only true God.
I am the Lord, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, nor My praise to graven images.