I am not a proponent of any discussion concerning the subject, “free-will.” The term itself is vague and ambiguous in and of itself. The whole idea that men are “free” to will what they choose, is in and of itself a losing argument even outside the field of theology. A man cannot of his own accord, choose to fly. He cannot step off a 20 story rooftop and “will” to land safely on the ground. He will land.
The truth is, when God created man, He gave him the choice to choose. Man did not have a choice in that matter. Life itself is the result of the decisions we make that are themselves a response to everything that takes place round us. Those who argue against “free-will” in the theological arena are correct when they say, “man is a slave to his nature and is not ‘free’ to choose outside that nature.” That is an accurate statement, where our physical nature is concerned. It is not necessarily accurate where our spiritual nature is concerned. We have physical limitations and we have mental imitations. We are not omniscient so our choices are limited to our experience and our ability to assimilate information that is both available to us and understood by us. We can have accurate information available to us but we have to be able to understand how that information can help us to accurately make the best choice.
One has to recognize that even the task of “making the best choice” is relative. In this sense, the whole concept of “free-will” is both possible and impossible. We are not free to choose what we “will” or want to choose. We are only free to choose within the limits of the options we have at the time. For example, we cannot walk into a bank and freely will to take out any amount of money we want. We are free to choose to take out any amount of money that we have access to. We can withdraw money we have in an account at the bank or we may borrow more money and we may even choose to take what is not ours by robbing the bank. All of those choices may be valid choices and each of those choices carries with them certain consequences.
This illustration should accurately settle the whole notion of “free-will” where salvation or conversion is concerned. An individual walks into a bank to leave with some money. That is a “free-will” decision or better yet, a choice one makes. That choice in and of itself is really a response to some outside influence or more accurately, a number of outside influences. First of all, there is the influence of economics that makes money a necessity and then there is the social influence that necessitates the need to get money. If money was not a medium of exchange there would be no need for banks to exist and there would be no need to acquire money.
For example, cigarettes are not as valuable as money. Now, many choose to purchase cigarettes and then decide to smoke them. If one were to ask the question, “Which would you choose, a pack of cigarettes or $100” most would choose the $100. Here is the fallacy of “free-will.” Our choices are limited to our sphere of influence. We are only free to choose from among the choices we have to choose from and our ability to accurately assimilate information related to those choices. Let me explain what I mean. Is there ever a circumstance where choosing a pack of cigarettes is the better choice over choosing $100? Most would answer, “no.” In almost every circumstance, that would be the correct choice. However, if that $100 was in confederate money, the choice to accept the pack of cigarettes could be the better option. The problem with “free-will” is men are limited in their choices. Men not only have the ability to choose but he also has the responsibility to choose and then there is the need to make the best choice given the options he has as he understands them.
Here is another consideration. Our choices are responsive and relative. Is it ever bad to accept a $1000 gift? Some would conclude, “no.” While it is true that a $1000 gift would be universally accepted as being a good thing, that choice would be bad if it disqualified that person from receiving a $100,000 gift. This is where temptation comes into play. It is not that temptation necessarily offers us bad options, temptation always robs us of what God has in store for us and so the choice to choose to submit and succumb to temptation is always the wrong choice. When that which is good robs us of that which is the best, a good choice can be a bad choice. There are consequences to our choices. The consequences of our choices yesterday can have a lot to do with the choices we are forced to make today. For example, if we went into the bank yesterday and withdrew all our money and spent it at a casino, it is obvious that the choices we have to make today are heavily dependent on what happened yesterday! If we took out a loan and took that money to a casino, the consequences of those choices are probably going to be life changing! It is one thing to spend all the money one has in the bank, it is another to throw away all the money one gets from a loan that has future long term obligations tied to it. If one robs that bank, he may or may not even have the option of getting to a casino and the consequences of that choice is most certainly going to be life changing.
So, while we are indeed free to choose, we are not free from the consequences of those choices. So in that sense, we do not exercise “free-will” but we do have “free-will”” when it comes to the choices we are confronted with, given the options we are free” to choose from.
If it is true that men were created to respond, it would be difficult to argue that he is not response-able. To attempt to argue that man is not response able in a world that is response driven is like trying to argue that one can defy gravity if he chooses to do so. If one defines life itself as the result of the responses one makes in every single decision he makes, then it would be accurate to say that he is response able and responsible for every single decision he makes and every decision has the potentiality to impact some or even every future decision.
Here is an example of what I mean. An individual makes the decision to get into an automobile and drive to the bank to make a withdrawal to go to the casino. His cell phone rings and he reaches for that phone and in the split second he takes his eyes off the road, a car pulls out of a side street and there is an accident that leaves the driver paralyzed for life. One decision that would have been fine in 9,999 cases out of 10,000 changes one’s options to choose for life. The same thing could be said of a decision to stop at a convenience store and in the check-out process, you tell the cashier to take the $2 in change and give you a power-ball ticket that could be worth millions and that ticket is a winner! In most cases purchasing a power ball ticket is absolutely a waste of money. It is in almost every case an irresponsible decision. The odds of being struck by lightning a dozen times is probably better than winning the powerball but someone does win and the consequences of that choice are life changing just like the choice to pick up a cell phone can dramatically change one’s life.
It is also interesting to note the choices one makes and the consequences of those choices are varied as well. The person who wins the powerball would seem to be on top of the world. However, statistics show that winning huge sums of money has proven to cost entire families dearly. On the other end of the spectrum, there are testimonies of individuals who have made poor choices that landed them in jail or prison, that ended up helping them come to Christ because they attended a bible study because that was better than sitting in a jail cell all alone. Now, most of us would certainly choose to win the lottery than go to prison. However, we do not have the benefit of hindsight. If we knew that winning the lottery would cost us the life of our children to drug abuse, we might choose not to purchase that lottery ticket and if going to prison brought us to a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus and impacted our eternal destination, we might look at that differently as well.
Life is nothing more than a series of choices we all make one right after the other. Decisions and choices are as essential to life as our heartbeat and the necessity of oxygen molecules to be taken into our lungs and delivered to our cells. One is no more important than the other nor is either any less important.
To attempt to argue that this is not true of conversion on any level is an interesting endeavor in and of itself. Logically, it makes no sense whatsoever that God would create man and give him life that is in its essence the sum total of the decisions he makes and then attempt to argue that the single most important decision in his life, is not his to make but God’s. It can be argued that the whole purpose of a man’s life is to get his soul to heaven. Since man is both response-able and responsible for every single decision he is confronted with in his life and his life itself becomes the sum of the decisions he makes, it would seem strange to attempt to argue that God would take that most important decision from him.
If God is a God of love as the Bible contends, there has to be the possibility of rejection where mankind is concerned; it is humanly impossible for love to exist without the option of rejecting love offered. That is true in our relationships one to another and it is true in our response to God’s initiatives of love toward us. God loves us unconditionally; our love to Him is everything but unconditional and that is certainly true of our love one to one another. To argue a Calvinist position of love, one would have the ability to walk into a room and simply walk over to a person and say, “you are going to marry me today and we will live happily ever after.”
Life does not work that way here and it does not work that way where our eternity is concerned. God has taken the initiative in redemption by sending His Son to die on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin and through the initiative of revelation He has made the way of salvation plain and simple enough for anyone to understand it and through His initiative in reconciliation the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin and convinces us of His love for us so that we will in turn respond to those initiatives in repentance and find forgiveness or rejection resulting in our damnation. The choice to repent is ours, not God’s. The initiatives are his and the results are His but the choice is ours.