Minister in the Protestant Reformed Churches
There is a very serious error which is widely believed and promoted in our day-the error of free-willism. By the term, free-willism, I am not referring to the fact that man has a will. That is certainly Biblical. In the act of creation, God gave to man the faculty of the will and that faculty was not lost in the fall. All men have wills. By those wills we make all kinds of decisions and choices every day. By free-willism I mean the false teaching that man has a free will. Most people believe that man not only has a will but that his will is free.
By free will they mean two things. First they mean that man's will in all of its desires, determinations, and choices is free from any outside cause. Man himself wills what he does because of his own pleasure. No one can ever make him will what he of himself does not purpose to will-not even God. In fact, they say that God has given this free will and He will not interfere with it whatsoever. Even though He may want a man to do something, if the man does not will to do it himself, God will do nothing to change his will. Secondly they mean that from an ethical, moral point of view man's will is free to choose either good or evil. Man has the ability to choose the way of sin or to choose the way of righteousness. His will is not inclined to go one way or the other. Man has equally the ability to do either good or evil. He is spiritually free.
Thus with his free will a man can either choose Christ or reject Him. He can either choose to be a Christian or refuse to be a Christian. The choice is strictly his. While people or things may influence him one way or another, ultimately no one and nothing can make him choose Christ or not. Even God will never sovereignly cause him to accept Christ by changing his will. God makes His own will subservient to the free will of man.
This free-willism is a serious error which is contrary to the Holy Scriptures. 1) The Bible teaches us that the will of man is not free but is bound to the eternal, unchangeable, sovereign will of God. 2) The Bible teaches us that the will of man is held in spiritual bondage to sin and can not will that which is ethically and morally good, apart from regeneration. 3) The Bible teaches that true, spiritual freedom is the precious gift which God gives only to His people through Jesus Christ.
That the will of man is not free is demonstrated first of all by the fact that man's will is bound to God's sovereign will. The will of God is the only will which is absolutely free. His will is not determined by anyone or anything outside of Himself. Although the world is filled with countless creatures and their actions, they do not influence the will of God in the least. Even the actions of man and his will do not determine the sovereign will of God. God is absolutely independent of all other beings and so is His will. He wills what He does only because of His own sovereign good-pleasure. Thus the apostle Paul could write, For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been his counselor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen. (Rom. 11:34-36). The prophet Isaiah teaches the same thing when he says, Who hath directed the spirit of the Lord, or being his counsellor hath taught him? With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of judgment, and taught him knowledge, and shewed to him the way of understanding? Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing....All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity. (Isa. 40:13-17).
The Scriptures make it very clear that no one can frustrate the eternal counsel and will of God. God always gets exactly what He wants. We read in Isa. 14:24,27, The Lord of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand... For the Lord of hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it? and his hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back? The very thoughts of the Lord surely come to pass. That which He has purposed stands and no one can turn back His hand when He does what He wills.
That means that God Himself actively brings about all things that take place according to that which He has purposed and determined to be done. For He is the God Who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will. (Eph. 1:11). God sovereignly works in all things in such a way that He makes all things do what He has willed in His eternal counsel. All things, not just some things, always do exactly what He has determined. They do exactly what He has determined just because God Himself works that in them. All of history and everything in history is exactly as God has willed it. The world is not out of control. Even the most minute details take place according to His eternal will and counsel. Jesus says, Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. (Matt. 10:29-30).
Since God's will is sovereignly free, there can be no other free wills in the world. If there were, they would limit and infringe upon God's will so that it would not be free and God would not be sovereign. That God's will is free means, therefore, that the will of the creature is not free. The will of every creature is subservient to the will of God. Because God's will is always done, the will of every creature must conform to the sovereign will of God. This is confirmed by the words of Isaiah in Isa. 46:9-11, ...I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.
Thus even man is bound to the sovereign will of God-both the righteous and the wicked, the regenerate and the unregenerate. Man can not and does not act independently of God. Even his will is under the rule of the eternal will of God. Indeed, God created man with a will so that he makes decisions and choices every day. That will, however, is not free. For the Scriptures teach us, There are many devices in a man's heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand. (Prov. 19:21). Even though man has many plans in his heart which he wills to do, he can do nothing outside of God's counsel. For the very will of man is moved, directed, and controlled by the will of God. Man's will is always in the service of the Lord whether consciously or unconsciously.
This is very clearly taught in the book of Proverbs. In chapter 16, verse 1 we read, The preparations (literally- disposings) of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the Lord. Here the heart is said to be directed by God, but this also includes the will. For man's will is directed by his heart. We read, Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. (Prov. 4:23). Also in Prov. 23:7 we read, For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he... Thus the will is directed by the heart. But that heart is prepared or disposed by the Lord. King Solomon testified, The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will. (Prov. 21:1). Solomon's will was not absolutely free. He himself says that his heart was in the hand of God and God turned it where He wanted. Just as surely as God by His almighty power turns the course of great rivers, so He directs the heart and will of man.
The will of man is referred to directly in Phil. 2:13. There the apostle says, For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Here the apostle does not teach that man's will is free from the interference of God. No, he teaches the very opposite. He teaches that the will of man is just as much the domain of God's sovereign working as anything else. Just as certainly as God moves the wind and the waves this way or that, He moves the will of man to purpose, plan, and will what He pleases. God works within the will. He energizes and empowers the will in such a way that He causes man to will His good pleasure. Thus God not only empowers the believer to do His good pleasure, but He also causes Him to will His good pleasure. In fact, without the mighty working of God's grace within the will of the believer, he could not will what is good. The believer's good works are completely dependent upon God's sovereign control of his will. The apostle says that all the believer's good works are ordained of God in His counsel. In Eph. 2:10 we read, For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. Surely that means that God brings about His will concerning good works by making the will of man will His good pleasure. If that were not true, God's will could be frustrated by the believer who did not do the good works God has ordained.
God also works in the heart of the wicked so that they will what He has purposed. We read in Ps. 105:25, He turned their (the Egyptians) heart to hate his people, to deal subtilely with his servants. God turned the heart and therefore the will of the wicked Egyptians so that they hated Israel and enslaved them. Even though the heart is wicked and totally contrary to the righteous standard of God, it is still directed and controlled by God. That is seen particularly in the case of wicked Pharaoh. God hardened his heart so that he would not let Israel go. God said to Moses, When thou goest to return into Egypt, see that thou do all those wonders before Pharaoh, which I have put in thine hand: but I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go. (Ex. 4:21).
Thus the first principle which we must understand about the will of man is this. The will of man is not sovereignly free but is always bound to the sovereign will of God. We can will and do nothing apart from God's willing. For all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou? (Dan. 4:35).
Even though the will of our father, Adam, was created subservient to the will of God, his will was spiritually free- that is, free from all sin. Adam was so free morally that all the inclinations of his being were toward the good. He had a positive righteousness not simply a neutrality. His will was good and wanted only the good. For Adam was created in the image of God. We read, So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. (Gen. 1:27). Adam looked like God, spiritually. The image of God is explained by the apostle when he says, And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. (Eph. 4:24). In Col. 3:10 he adds, And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him. The image of God consists of three elements-righteousness, holiness, and the knowledge of God. Thus in all of his being, including his will, Adam possessed righteousness, holiness, and the true knowledge of God. He did not want to sin. He willed to do what was good.
For true spiritual freedom is not the ability to choose either good or evil. That is the conception of many. They think that a free will is a will which can either choose to sin or not sin, choose Christ or not choose Christ. It is free to do either, without any inclinations one way or the other. But that is not true. The Bible always speaks of spiritual freedom as the ability to do good instead of evil. This is what we learn from Rom. 6:17-18. There we read, But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. Here spiritual freedom is defined not as the ability to choose good or evil, but the ability to choose what is good. It is freedom from sin. Someone who is spiritually free is not in bondage to sin but is instead a servant of righteousness.
The spiritual freedom of Adam, then, was his ability to choose and do that which is good. Daily he loved, worshipped, and served God in righteousness and holiness. He was filled with the knowledge of God so that he knew Who God is and had the intimate knowledge of fellowship with God. In the evenings He walked with God and talked with Him. The desire and will of his heart was to please God by doing that which is right and good. He did not long for sin and the pleasures of sin. His freedom was such that he knew nothing of sin. All of his being and all of his life was righteousness, holiness, and the knowledge of God. His will was totally consecrated to God. He was so free that he was able not to sin. Until he ate of the forbidden fruit, he did not sin at all.
But Adam's spiritual freedom was not the highest kind of freedom. For though he was able not to sin, he nevertheless did sin. He could loose his moral, ethical freedom. God had warned him of that when He told him, But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. (Gen. 2:17). Adam could will to eat of the tree. If he did, he would die spiritually. He would loose the image of God and his spiritual freedom to choose good. In the providence of God that is just what did happen. Even though all of the inclinations of his being, including his spiritually free will, pointed him to obedience to God; he did eat. He lost the image of God and died spiritually. His holiness, righteousness, and knowledge of God were changed into darkness and unrighteousness. His will became the slave of his wicked nature. He could no longer choose what is good and righteous.
When Adam sinned in the garden and lost his spiritual freedom, that act had far reaching consequences for all of mankind. The spiritual bondage of our father is passed on to all of his posterity. Adam's actions did not merely affect his own life, but the life of every person born into the world. The apostle Paul says, Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned. (Rom. 5:12). When sin entered the world through the sin of Adam, all mankind became spiritually enslaved to sin.
This bondage which came upon the race was first of all a legal bondage. Immediately after Adam sinned, the guilt of his sin was imputed to the whole race. The apostle Paul says, Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation... For as by one man's disobedience many were made (constituted or declared) sinners... (Rom. 5:18-19). The guilt of Adam's sin was declared to be the guilt of the race. God judged the whole human race to be guilty of Adam's sin. Therefore, He condemned the race. All men are worthy of eternal destruction in hell. All men are so held in bondage to the guilt of that sin, that unless that guilt is forgiven they must spend eternity paying the terrible price of the first sin of Adam.
The bondage which came upon the race was also an organic bondage by which man's nature is wicked. All men are born into the world with the same corrupt, wicked nature as their father, Adam. David confessed, Behold I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me. (Ps. 51:5). All men are born dead in trespasses and sins. (Eph. 2:1). All men, by nature, are not free to do good or evil, but are held in spiritual bondage to sin and the devil. Jesus refers to man's bondage to sin when He says, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. (John 8:34). The apostle Paul refers to man's bondage to the devil when he speaks of those who are held in the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will. (II Tim. 2:26).
As a result, apart from God's grace, man is not free to will or do any good. It is impossible for the natural man to do anything but sin. Indeed, man has a will by which he makes many choices every day of his life. But those choices are always evil. Man's moral, ethical bondage is of such a nature that he can only will and do the evil. The Scriptures teach us this in Rom. 3:10-12, As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. There is not a person on the face of the earth who, of himself, does good. No, not one! There is not even one who seeks God. By nature man's will is so wicked that it does not even want God. It is impossible for the will of man to reach out for God.
For all of man's willing is controlled by his basic nature. Jesus says, Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. (Matt. 7:17-18). All that a man wills must be in harmony with the basic nature of his being. The Bible teaches us that man's depravity involves his whole being, not just a part. Thus we read of the corrupt heart, The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jer. 17:9). At man's very center, he is desperately wicked. The same is true of man's mind and understanding. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (I Cor. 2:14). Because of man's spiritual bondage, he can not even understand the things of God. How then can he will what is good if he can not even understand what good is? Jesus says, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (John 3:3). If a man can not even see the kingdom of God, he certainly can not will good. All true good belongs to God's kingdom.
But we must go further, for the Bible teaches us that the will itself is shackled by sin. Man, by nature, can not choose God or any good because his very will is not free. It is held in spiritual bondage to sin and the devil. Thus Jesus says, Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will to do (literally). (John 8:44). All men are, by nature, the children of the devil. All men, by nature, will to do what the devil wants them to do. The will is spiritually enslaved to the devil. In II Tim. 2:26 we read that the unregenerate are taken captive by him into (literally) his will. The devil holds the wicked captive so that spiritually they are totally within his will. Their wills are engulfed by his will and therefore they do his will. The apostle Paul refers to the unregenerate as those who are fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind. (Eph. 2:3). The word desires refers to the will. The will of the natural man is enslaved to his sinful nature and wicked mind. In Eph. 4:22 the natural man is said to be corrupt according to the deceitful lusts. Man is corrupt in harmony with his deceitful will. For lust is another term for will. His will is wicked. Thus the natural man is not spiritually free. He has no free will. He and his will are slaves to sin and Satan, except he is regenerated by the grace of God.
That spiritual bondage of man is so severe that he can do nothing to change his condition. The will of man is so totally enslaved to sin that it is impossible for him to free himself from its shackles. The Spirit of God teaches us through the words of Job, Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one. (Job 14:4). Man, by nature is unclean in heart, mind, and will. How can he bring something clean out of that corruption? It is impossible. In Jeremiah 13:23 this truth is put a little differently. We read, Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil. How foolish to think that an Ethiopian can change the color of his skin or that a leopard can change its black spots. So too, man can not change the blackness of his wicked heart, mind, and will. Man, apart from God's grace, is totally corrupt and he can not change that. All that can ever come out of his enslaved will is the blackness of sin.
Even though the Bible teaches that the nature of man is so totally depraved that it can will and do no good whatsoever, many insist that unregenerate man is able to do some good. Man is able to perform works which are ethically and morally good. They tell us to look around us and see all the good things that unbelievers do. Look at the rich unbeliever who gives thousands of dollars to charity. Look at the ungodly physician who donates his time to help the poor with medical problems. Look at the many people who are not Christians but who do much to give relief to victims of famine, poverty, and war. Aren't they doing good works? Don't we see many unbelievers doing much good in the world today?
According to the Bible, the answer is, No. The unbeliever can do no ethical good. It is true, however, that the unregenerate man can do certain things well. He may be a good carpenter who can build a house that lasts. He may be a good physician who can diagnose and treat an illness well. There are people who are good in math, science, or English. But now we are talking about goodness in a different sense. This is not moral, ethical goodness. This is goodness in a non-moral sense. A carpenter may be good at building a house, but be very immoral. He is not good from a spiritual, ethical point of view.
It is true too that an unbeliever may do things that seem to be morally good. He may do something that, in itself, would be a good thing. He may, for instance, go to church and hear the preaching of God's Word. He may pray regularly and support his church financially. He may do many things for his friends and neighbors which in themselves are very good. But that does not mean that he does good. Think of the Pharisees. They did all of those things. But Jesus said to them, Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. (Matt. 23:27). They seemed to be good on the outside, but inside they were very wicked.
This was the case with Jehu. In II Kings 10:30 we read, And the Lord said unto Jehu, Because thou hast done well in executing that which is right in mine eyes, and hast done unto the house of Ahab according to all that was in mine heart, thy children of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel. Here we see that Jehu did well. He was a good soldier who did a very good job of destroying the house of Ahab just as God had commanded him. He obeyed God in an external way. That, however, does not mean that he did good from a moral, ethical point of view. We read in verse 31, But Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the Lord God of Israel with all his heart: for he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam, which made Israel to sin. Even though Jehu obeyed the Lord in an external way and destroyed the house of Ahab, he did not walk in the ways of God's law and therefore his deed was not morally good. He was not good on the inside. So it is with many people. They can do many things well. They even seem to obey God. But all who are unconverted can do no moral, ethical good, for they are wicked in their hearts. Even though it seems that they do good works, their deeds are only and always sin.
This can be seen from the fact that the Scriptures teach us that a thought, word, or deed is ethically good only when 1) it is in harmony with God's law, 2) it is done out of true faith, and 3) it is done for the glory of Almighty God.
If something is to be morally good, first of all, it must conform to the righteousness of God's law. The apostle John says, Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law. (I John 3:4). Since sin is the transgression of the law, obviously that which conforms to God's law is morally good. Any deed which is contrary to God's law is not morally good. If a person lies, even though he lies for a good cause, that act is not good. It is a transgression of the law and it can not be good.
A good work must also be done out of true faith. In Hebr. 11:6 we read, But without faith it is impossible to please him (God)... If a person does not have faith, he can not please God no matter what he does. An unbeliever, by definition, has no faith. He can not please God and therefore can not do good. The apostle Paul puts it this way, So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. (Rom. 8:8). If someone has no faith they are in the flesh. They can only sin. For whatsoever is not of faith is sin. (Rom. 14:23). Are the unbeliever's deeds of faith ? No! Then they are sin.
If a deed is to be morally good, it must also be done for the glory of God. It must not be done out of selfish motives or even for the benefit of mankind. It must be done for God. The apostle Paul writes, Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. (I Cor. 10:31). This is the calling of every man. We do not serve ourselves, we do not even serve our fellow man. We serve God. All that we do must be done for His glory. If a man sells all that he has and gives it to the poor, but does not do it for the glory of God, it is not morally good. If a man dedicates his life to helping the poor and afflicted, but does not do it for the glory of God, it is sin. All that is not done to glorify God is not morally good, but is sin.
Thus it ought to be clear that the unregenerate man who does not keep God's law, has no faith, and does not seek the glory of God, can not will or do any good. Although it seems that they do good at times, things are not always what they seem. We do not know the heart that is behind the deed. We must not allow our misunderstanding of man's actions to overthrow the testimony of God's Word. We must believe God Who says, And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Gen. 6:5). Though the external deeds of the unregenerate seem to be morally good, they are only evil continually.
Since the will of man is not spiritually free but is a slave to sin and the devil and since he can will and do no good whatsoever, man can not save himself by his will. Since the will of man can not desire what is good and right, how can it possibly choose Christ? To choose Christ is an act of utmost goodness. This, however, is precisely what most people believe. They tell us that salvation is totally of God and His grace. God has salvation all wrapped up as a beautiful gift that He would like to give to every man. But man must first receive Christ by exercising his own free will. God will do nothing until man chooses Christ. Thus the determining factor in salvation according to them is not God's will, not the atoning work of Christ, but man's choice. Salvation is made to depend ultimately upon the will of man. Man's will must be active first, then God will save.
The Holy Scriptures teaches us something entirely different. The unregenerate man can not choose Christ. That is very clearly taught in the gospel according to John. In John 6:44 we read, No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day. Jesus teaches us that man can not come to him unless God draws him. There is no free will in man that enables him to go to Christ. It takes a power outside of him, the power of God's grace. Without that, no one goes to Christ for salvation. Jesus says, Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit... (John 15:16). The natural man can not and does not choose Christ. The very opposite is true. Christ chooses him. Man is not saved because he chooses Christ. Man's will is so wicked that it is only the sovereign choice of Christ that saves him.
Thus we may not say that we are saved by our will and our choice. We may not say that we are saved because we made a decision for Christ or accepted Him. It is true that the Bible says, But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name. (John 1:12). But this does not mean that we receive Him by the power of our own wills. The very opposite is true as is indicated in the next verse. We read, Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. Notice the apostle says that we are born not of the will of man. The new birth, regeneration, does not come about because man chooses Christ with his enslaved will. No! That is impossible! Salvation is not of the will of man, but of God.
Salvation is of God because it is based upon God's will. James says, Of his (God's) own will begat he us with the word of truth... (James 1:18). The source of salvation, the determining factor in salvation, is God's will. No one is born again unless God so wills it. For God is the predestinating God who has determined the life and destiny of every person. By His sovereign will He has predestinated some to salvation and others to the eternal destruction of hell. The apostle says, Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory. (Rom. 9:21-23). God is the Potter and we are the clay. Just as a potter may make his clay into anything he pleases, so God makes His creatures into whatever He pleases-some into vessels of honor (election) and others into vessels of dishonor (reprobation). This is the sovereignty of God's will. All salvation, therefore, has its source in God's eternal election. In Eph. 1:4-5 we read, According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will. A person is a child of God, holy in Christ, only because God has chosen him to be such according to the good pleasure of His will. Notice too that God's election took place before the foundation of the world. Therefore, it can not be based upon anything in man. It is the free choice of God.
When a man trusts in Christ it is because God has first chosen him. We read in Acts 13:48, ...and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. God's eternal decree of election is the ultimate source of faith. A man believes because he has been ordained to eternal life. If someone does not believe, it is because God has not chosen him to eternal life. Thus Jesus said, But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. (John 10:26). In fact, faith is impossible apart from regeneration. Faith does not precede the new birth, but the new birth precedes faith. Faith is not man's work, but the gift of God which He gives in regeneration. Jesus is called the author and finisher of our faith (Hebr. 12:2) because no man has faith unless it is given to him by God through the working of the Spirit of Christ. The Scriptures teach us that God's people believe according to the working of his (God's) mighty power. (Eph. 1:19). The apostle Paul says, For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Eph. 2:8-9). Faith is not of us. It is not our work. It is God's gracious gift.
What man's will can not do in that it is enslaved to sin, God's will does do. Salvation is the mighty work of God's will and God's power. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. (Rom. 9:16).
There are many who attack the doctrine of the bondage of the will by asserting that it conflicts with the doctrine of man's responsibility. Most believe that man's responsibility is based upon his ability to do what God says. How can God exhort all to repent and believe if man does not have the ability to do so? That would be unfair of God. They tell us, therefore, that all the exhortations of the Bible are proof that man's will is not enslaved in any way, but is free to do what God requires. God could not hold man responsible if he did not have that ability. In fact, many people believe that man's responsibility is exactly that. It is his ability freely to choose good.
If this conception of man's responsibility were correct, the doctrine of the bondage of the will would indeed be in direct conflict with man's responsibility. However, the Scriptures teach us that man's responsibility does not consist in his ability to do what God requires. As we have already shown man does not have that ability. Jesus said, I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. (John 15:5). Without Jesus Christ no one can do anything to produce fruit. The Lord refers to spiritual fruit. He is talking about the spiritual ability to do good and to believe in Him. No one who is without Christ has that ability.
Moreover, God is not unfair in requiring man to do that which he can not do. God is perfectly just for He did not create man without that ability. God made man righteous and able to do all that He requires. It was man who refused to do as God commanded and therefore lost that ability. Thus we read in Ecclesiastes 7:29, Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions. No man may say that God is not fair for God has not changed. God's rules are the same as always. It is man who has changed by his own doing. We are the ones who, in our father Adam, by our own sin, lost the ability God gave to us. Thus God is perfectly righteous in all his demands. Man's responsibility has nothing to do with an ability to do good.
Nor does man's responsibility have anything to do with freedom from the rule and control of the sovereign will of God. Man's bondage to the sovereign rule of God is not inconsistent with man's responsibility. The apostle Paul deals with this question in Romans 9. First he shows us that God does indeed rule over all so that salvation is completely dependent upon Him. We read, So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy....Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. (Rom. 9:16, 18). If God hardens someone, as He did Pharaoh (vs. 17), that person can not and will not be saved. If He shows mercy to someone, as He did to Jacob, that person surely is saved. Salvation is completely in God's hands. He either hardens or shows mercy.
But many will say that it is not fair. How can man be responsible if salvation is ultimately God's work and not man's? The apostle refers to this objection when he writes, Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? (vs. 19). How can God hold man responsible if salvation depends upon God's will which hardens or shows mercy? The apostle replies in verses 20-21, Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? The answer is very simple. We have no right to question what God does. He is the Potter and we are the clay. As the Creator, He has the right to do as He pleases with all of His creatures. We have no rights. We may not reply against God. He holds all men responsible to trust and serve Him even though it all depends on Him. Man's responsibility is not based upon a freedom from the rule of God's sovereign will.
Man's responsibility means two things. It is obligation and accountability. Everyone is obligated to do what God requires. It is the duty of all to love God with the whole heart and the neighbor as himself (Mark 12:29-31). No one may be excused from that obligation. It is what God requires. Man's responsibility is also his accountability. God holds us accountable for fulfilling or not fulfilling our obligation. Some day we must all give an account of ourselves before the Judge of heaven and earth. Jesus says, For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. (Matt. 16:27). We must give an account of all of our deeds for we are responsible for them all.
Both obligation and accountability are based upon one fundamental fact-God is Creator and we are creatures. We are responsible to God for all of our actions not because we are able to do what he says or because we are free from His rule, but because He is our Creator. Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created. (Rev. 4:11). Man did not create himself. He is the creation of God. Moreover, he was created, not for himself, but for God. He serves, not his own pleasure, but the pleasure of God. Therefore, his place as creature is to honor, worship, and serve his Creator. Man owes that to God, just because God is Creator and he is creature.
All of this teaches us that there is no conflict between the doctrine of the bondage of the will and the Biblical doctrine of man's responsibility. Man is always in bondage to the sovereign will of God. As long as he is unregenerate, he is also a slave of sin and Satan. Yet he is both obligated to do what God requires of him and accountable for all His actions.
Although every man is born into this world a bond-servant of sin and the devil, there is spiritual freedom for all those who belong to Jesus Christ. Jesus said, If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed. (John 8:36). There is indeed freedom from spiritual bondage. There is freedom from sin and the wages of sin. There is freedom from the devil and all that belongs to his kingdom of darkness. That freedom is found only in Christ Jesus. By nature, no man is free or able to make himself free. His very bondage makes freedom by his power or will impossible. But Christ makes His people free. Christ is the great spiritual Liberator. Thus Christ could say through the prophet, The spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound... (Isa. 61:1).
The spiritual freedom which Christ gives to His people is based upon the death of Christ. It had to be bought with a price. Salvation is redemption. When Christ died for His people on the cross, He purchased their freedom with His own blood. We read, ...ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold... But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. (I Peter 1:18-19). Thus Christ bought His people out of the slave-market of sin and the devil. The apostle Paul says of Christ, Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. (Titus 2:14).
The freedom which Christ gives to His people is not a freedom from the sovereign will of God. Although Christ gives those whom He saves spiritual freedom, that does not mean that they are absolutely free. Man, whether regenerate or not, is always bound to the eternal will and counsel of God. He is bound all through this earthly life in all that he does. He is bound even after leaving this earthly life. In the glory of the new heavens and earth God's people will not be independent but under the control and rule of God's eternal will. God alone is sovereignly free.
The freedom which Christ gives to His people is a spiritual freedom. It is first of all a legal freedom from the guilt of sin. Because all men by nature are slaves to sin, they are all damn-worthy. But Christ frees His people from the guilt of sin. The apostle says, Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. (Rom. 6:6-7). When Christ died on the cross, He died as the legal representative of His people. Thus God's people have died to sin, in the death of Christ. That does not mean that they are no longer sinners, but that Christ freed them from the guilt of sin. They have the forgiveness of sin. We read, In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sin... (Eph. 1:7). They are freed from the curse of the law. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us... (Gal. 3:13).
Christ also frees His people from the power and dominion of sin and Satan. Spiritual freedom is not only a legal concept, but an organic concept. Freedom is something which the child of God experiences in his life. The apostle says, ...where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. (II Cor. 3:17). God's people, who are the temple of the Holy Spirit, live a life of spiritual freedom. They have the liberty of the Spirit of Christ. This organic freedom is the freedom of a new heart and a new nature.
By nature, man has a heart that is wicked and corrupt. Man is dead in trespasses and sin. But in regeneration the child of God is given a new heart which is completely free from the bondage of sin and the devil. God says, A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. (Ezek. 36:26-27). In regeneration God takes out the wicked heart (stony heart ) and replaces it with a heart that is soft and receptive to Him and His Truth. Thus the spiritually dead man is given spiritual life. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him... (Col. 2:13). The heart of man, the center of his being, is freed from sin. It is made holy and righteous. The apostle expresses that freedom this way, Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (II Cor. 5:17).
Because the regenerated child of God is given a new heart, he is also given a new nature. He still has the old sinful nature, the old man, but he also has a new man. The apostle says, And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. (Eph. 4:24). The unbeliever who is enslaved to sin has only a sinful nature and therefore he has no desire to serve God. The believer, on the other hand, seeks to walk in the ways of righteousness and holiness because he has new godly desires. His heart has been opened to the Truth so that he now knows and loves that Truth. He seeks to live by the Truth and in that Truth he finds freedom. Jesus says, And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:32). Although the believer is still a sinner, nevertheless, now he can and does do that which is pleasing in the sight of God. He is no longer a slave to the power and dominion of sin and the devil.
There are many who believe that freedom in Christ gives the believer the liberty to sin. They reason that since Christ has died for the sins of His people and thereby freed them from the guilt of sin, the believer can live in sin. Since salvation is all of grace, the believer does not have to be concerned about fleeing sin and seeking after righteousness. The apostle Paul refers to this kind of thinking when he says, What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? (Rom. 6:1). Jude also refers to this distortion of the truth when he says, For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness... ( Jude 4).
Such thinking is not the teaching of Holy Scripture. It is true that as long as the believer is in this world, he will always be a sinner. The child of God is not freed from the presence of sin until he is taken to glory. In fact, he may even fall into very great sin as did King David and the apostle Peter. A child of God is not immune to sin-not even the worst kinds of sin. Moreover, there is no such thing as sinless perfection in this life. Thus the apostle says, For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. (Rom. 7:14-15). The believer desires to do good, but because he still possesses the old sin nature along with the new nature, all his deeds, including his best good works, are defiled by sin.
But this does not mean that the believer is freed from sin in order that he might continue in sin. Freedom in Christ is not freedom to sin. The Biblical doctrine of spiritual freedom does not mean that we are free to do whatever we want, whether it is good or evil. Spiritual freedom is always freedom from sin. We read in Rom. 6:6-7, Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Since the old man with all of its sin has been judicially killed with Christ on the cross, the believer has been freed from the legal guilt of sin. He, therefore, should not serve sin. Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? (Rom. 6:1-2). The apostle says, Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin... (Rom. 6:12-13). The believer, who has been freed from the guilt of sin must, by God's grace, not allow sin to reign in him. The members of his body must not be instruments of unrighteousness.
Thus the attitude of the believer toward sin is entirely different from that of the unbeliever. The believer hates sin and seeks to flee sin. He does not get as close to sin as he can, but he seeks to stay as far away from it as possible. In the depths of His regenerated heart, he does not want to sin.
This change of attitude toward sin on the part of the believer
is due to the fact that he has become a spiritual slave of God.
As we have seen, in one sense all men are always the slaves of
God. For all serve the sovereign will of God. But in a spiritual,
ethical sense the unregenerate man is not the slave of God. He
does not submit to God's righteous law. He is a spiritual rebel.
When Christ frees a person from his spiritual bondage to sin,
He makes him a spiritual slave of God. Freedom in Christ,
is freedom to spiritually serve God. The believer's spiritual
freedom is a bondage to the righteousness of God. We read in
Rom. 6:18 & 22, Being then made free from sin, ye became the
servants of righteousness....But now being made free from sin,
and become servants to God... When the believer is freed from
sin, rather than bowing before sin and the devil as his masters, he bows before the God of righteousness. He seeks to obey God's precepts and keep God's commandments. His spiritual Master is now not the devil or sin but the Lord of heaven. He is Christ's servant (I Cor. 7:22).
The life of the believer, therefore, is characterized by a seeking after righteousness. He seeks to use his body and all that he has for the service of God and the cause of righteousness. Thus, the apostle could exhort us, ...but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. (Rom. 6:13). This is why the apostle could say, For the good that I would... (Rom. 7:19). He willed to do good. He said, For I delight in the law of God after the inward man. (Vs. 22).
Moreover, the believer does do good. His good works are by no means perfect. They are all defiled with his sin, but he does do good. We read of Christ, Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. (Titus 2:14). The true believer is zealous to do good works. His whole life is devoted to doing the works of God. Not merely external good works, but good works which come from the heart. Some bring forth a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty (Matt. 13:23), but all bring forth the fruit of good works. Not that the believer performs these good works in his own power. He performs them only in the power of the Spirit of God working in him. For the apostle says, And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work. (II Cor. 9:8).
The believer is freed from his spiritual bondage to sin and the devil by the precious blood of Christ. He is freed legally so that the guilt of his sins is forgiven. He is also freed from the power and dominion of sin in his life. But the believer does not experience freedom completely until he is taken to glory. Throughout this earthly life the child of God must struggle against sin. He still possesses the old sin nature which unceasingly encourages him to sin. Thus the apostle Paul says, I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. (Rom. 7:21). No Christian, therefore, may deny the presence of sin in his life. The apostle John says, If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (I John 1:8).
The time is coming, however, when all of that will be changed. The present condition of the believer can not possibly be his final end. As long as there is even the presence of sin in the life of the believer, he is not experiencing the fullness of spiritual freedom. For the freedom which Christ gives is the highest kind of freedom. It is not a partial or imperfect freedom. If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed. (John 8:36) In this life, God's people have only the beginning of that freedom in Christ. But when they are finally taken by God to their eternal home in glory, they shall enter into the fullness of freedom in Christ.
The freedom of the believer in glory is described by the apostle John in I John 3:2. He says, Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is. When Christ appears to take His people to be with Him in glory, they shall be like Him. The believer's freedom is being like Christ. It is bearing the image of Christ perfectly in body and soul. To this end they were chosen to be God's people. The apostle Paul says, For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son... (Rom. 8:29).
Throughout His earthy life Christ was free from all sin. Unlike us, He was born without a sinful nature (Luke 1:35). His human nature was perfectly righteous and good. Therefore, He did not commit any sin whatsoever. In fact, He could not sin. In Hebr. 4:15 we read that Christ was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Christ was so free from sin that He was the perfect servant of God Who always obeyed God perfectly. He said, For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. (John 6:38).
Like Christ, the believer in glory will also be free from the very presence of sin. The sinful nature with which he was born will be gone forever and the life of Christ will fill all of His being. His life will be Christ's life of perfect righteousness. Thus it will be impossible for God's people to sin in glory. They will be absolutely sinless. Jesus says, Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. (Matt. 13:43). When the believer stands in the presence of His heavenly Father, he in all the glory of his righteousness will shine as the sun. This complete freedom in Christ will be much greater than the freedom of Adam in the first paradise. Adam was able not to sin, but he did sin. The glorified child of God will not be able to sin.
Just as Christ perfectly obeyed God, the believer will do only that which is righteous. His whole life will be a life of perfect good works. The writer of Hebrews speaks of God's people in glory as the spirits of just men made perfect... (Heb. 12:23). All the thoughts, all the words, and all the deeds of the believer will be in perfect harmony with God's holy law. We read of this perfect service to God also in Rev. 22:3, And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him... That is true freedom.
Thus in glory the bondage of the child of God to the sovereign will and counsel of God and his freedom in Christ to spiritually serve the living God will come together perfectly. Throughout life God's people are always in bondage to God's sovereign will and eternal counsel. In fact, God is leading them by His will and counsel to glory. The Psalmist says, Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. (Ps. 73:24). However, they do not perfectly serve God and His righteousness from a moral, ethical point of view. But when finally God's counsel has led them to glory, because they will have obtained complete freedom in Christ, they will also be perfect servants of God's righteousness. For their bondage to the sovereign will and counsel of God results in perfect spiritual bondage to the righteousness of God. True freedom, freedom in the highest sense, is perfect bondage to God.
It ought to be clear from all that we have seen that the free-willism of our day is indeed a serious error. It is an error which denies the freedom and sovereignty of God's will. For it teaches that man's will is sovereign over God's will. The will of the creature is able to frustrate the will of the Creator. Man is the ruler and governor of God rather than God of man. It is an error which denies the total depravity of the unregenerate. For it teaches that the natural man can will and do good. He, of himself, has the ability to seek God and choose Christ. He is not enslaved to sin and he is not the servant of Satan. It is an error which denies the sovereignty of the grace of God. For God alone is able to make man spiritually free to serve the righteousness of God. It is only when Christ makes us spiritually free that we are indeed free to do what is good. Spiritual freedom is the blessed gift of God's sovereign grace.
Let us, therefore, have nothing to do with this error. Let us believe the Truth of Holy Scripture rather than the lie of the devil.
God's Sovereignty In Salvation - A Biblical defense of salvation by grace alone
Knowing The True God - A simple explanation of the gospel for the unconverted or new believer
The Christ of Arminianism - A comparison of the Christ of Arminianism and the Christ of the Bible
The King James Version of the Bible - A history and defense of the King James Version
The Battle For The Bible - A Biblical and Reformed explanation of the inspiration and interpretation of Scripture