gospel Reformation Theses Uncategorized

Have you ever wondered why some Christians want to defend free will?…

Many christians want to defend the idea of free will because somehow without it we must turn into some form of Robo Cop style robot rather than a human being. It’s funny, I wonder what the argument would have been before robots were invented? Yet many christian folk are willing to die on the hill of ‘free-will’ in order to prevent God from becoming some form of monster who just does what he wants to humans. But hang on, God does do what he wants. We have a word for that – sovereign! Yes God can be sovereign and not be a big mean monster because He decides who He wants His children to be. Abraham is point and case. Was Abraham a robot because God broke into his world – against his will – and called him out of his own country into another and further called him to be the father of many nations? You see the idea that we must have free will – in order to choose God and thus be saved – is a furphy.

Adam and Eve could be said to have had true[er] free will. But their rejection of God and the fall of mankind has actually affected – though not removed – the will. How? Well, because of sin all we want to do now is choose sin. It’s not that we want to choose good – not at all. Our will post-fall delights in doing evil. If this is the case, how does one choose God? He doesn’t. That is why free will is not a requirement in our coming to Christ. In fact, in regeneration we are rescued from that pre-Christ free will (that we like to defend) when Christ forgives us and we start our journey of sanctification. But here is the important point. Our freedom to choose good (albeit still struggling with sinful desires) is only reawakened as a regenerated believer – and only then! So our salvation does not depend upon us using our free will to choose God!

Funny this. Those who wish to defend free will pre-salvation need to know they are in good company: hmm, who could they be? the Devil, Pelagius and semi-pelagians…yes the Arminians are right to start shaking right now with an awkward clearing of the throat and a ‘nothing to see hear folks!’ Those with some theological training under their belt will notice that the defence of a true free will before regeneration is a view held by heretics…(and yes RC Church that includes you!) Augustine famously had a shoot out with Pelagius who thought we were born sinless and therefore could choose God and choose activities that would make us righteous. In one of his writings against a pelagian, Augustine gets to the heart of why people want to defend free will:

‘You want a man to glory, not in the Lord, but in his own free will, for you want him to be ‘aroused by the stirrings of a noble heart to what is praiseworthy,’ so that he would first give, that recompense should be made him, and in this way grace would no longer be grace, because it is not gratuitous.’ – Against Julian 4.3.15

So do you see folks? There is more at stake here than just a term. It is the grace of God. This is why Luther also focused on the bondage of the will in his defence of the gospel because for grace to be grace, we could not choose ourselves into heaven. The Roman Catholic Church was in cahoots with Pelagius. In thesis 13 of the Heidelberg Disputation Luther argued this:

‘Free will, after the fall, is a thing in name only and while it ‘does what is in it’ it commits mortal sin.’

Luther later went on to have a shoot out with Erasmus on this very matter. There is a theme here isn’t there? When we want to seem righteous in our own eyes we resort to the self praise of free will and ‘I should get some kudos for choosing God.’ But God chose us. We are saved by His free will – not ours.

After all, these two men were just following Paul:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

Ephesians 1:3-6 (ESV)


*Written from a hotel quarantine room where I do not have the choice to leave. But praise God for His grace!!

By Nathan L Runham

A Presbyterian minister, husband, father, and perpetual student of the Bible and its theology.

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