Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Freedom of the Will (Romans 8:1-17)

"Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be" (Rom. 8:7).

One of the primary objections often raised against the doctrine of divine election is that it violates man’s free will. To answer this we must look at man’s ability to choose and what is meant by free will. Once again we turn to the Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689: “Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation, so as a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able by his own strength to commit himself, or to prepare himself thereunto” (chap. 9:3). Earlier this century Gresham Machen wrote, “A man’s choices are free in the sense that they are not just determined by external compulsion. But they are not free if by freedom is meant freedom from determination by the man’s own character.”

All mankind is free in the sense that all people act according to their nature. We have the freedom to make choices according to our wills, which are fashioned by who we are. We do not have the freedom to be anything we are not. For example, we do not have the freedom to choose to be infinite. We do not have the freedom to be in more than one place at once. God also is bound by His own nature in this way. He freely acts in accord with His own nature. For example, God cannot choose to be finite. He cannot choose to stop being God. He cannot choose to sin. Likewise, fallen men, because they are totally depraved (not one is good, Scripture says), cannot choose to be righteous. For a fallen person to choose to have faith in Christ (which is totally contrary to his nature) would mean he has righteousness remaining in his nature. But the historic confessions uniformly affirm, and our experience universally confirms, that fallen man does not have this ability.

Therefore, election does not violate man’s free will. Fallen man freely chooses according to his nature. Because that nature is sinful, he only freely chooses to sin; no one compels him to sin. In order for a person to have faith, his nature must be changed. This is what God does in the regeneration of the soul. Once the nature is changed, that person freely chooses to love Christ and to put faith in Him alone.

Read Matthew 7:16–18. How does Jesus’ analogy of the tree apply to fallen man’s ability to choose the good? Read John 3:3–8. What does Jesus say must happen in order for a person to come to Christ? Is this something man can do on his own? Why is this necessary to salvation?