The Freedom & Bondage of the Will

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The dichotomy of the freedom and the bondage of the will is both a theological and a practical verity. We know from Scripture that the will of individuals is free to choose from two or more options (cf. Lev. 22:18; 2 Cor. 9:7), and also that it is a slave to sin (Rom. 6:17). To say that a person can only choose to do wrong or evil is a man-constructed theory ~ an effort to persuade others to embrace his or her theology; it is not Scriptural teaching (Luke 11:13; Acts 10:1-2, 34-35). Yet, no one can choose to believe in Christ Jesus whensoever he or she wants: without the working of God’s Holy Spirit, no one could ever be saved. Thus the bondage and freedom of the wil.

But also notice something which Paul said: “But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness” (Rom. 6:17-18 TNIV, emphases mine). I cannot help but notice, and believe that it should be pointed out, that a sinner actually must do something in order to be saved. A sinner must obey Christ Jesus, by his or her faith in Him, thus subsequently becoming a slave to righteousness. This faith is not a work (Rom. 4:4-5). So, the sinner does not work for salvation, but believes unto salvation. Note the difference.

In the Calvinistic system, however, a sinner must do nothing (not even believe) in order to be saved, for that would rob God of his glory (faith in Christ being strictly a gift). Moreover, he or she can do nothing, absolutely nothing, being “dead” in sins and without any mode of free will, unless God first regenerates the elect individual ~ the sinner is entirely regenerated and justified without first believing in Christ as a true condition (since Calvinism understands even faith to be due to an unconditional divine decree).

Yet, what do the Scriptures say? Paul testified that a person is only justified by faith. The Bible is littered with that teaching, such that I should not have to be obligated to provide fifty or so references to prove it. Sinners lack the righteousness of God. Paul noted that this “righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Rom. 3:22). Should it not, then, be right to conclude that it is faith in Christ Jesus which justifies an individual and not regeneration? And should we not conclude that faith precedes regeneration? Of course so. Paul even agrees with us, or rather, we agree with Paul, when he wrote to the Colossians that God regenerated us, “made us alive,” (lit.) having already forgiven us (Col. 2:13). We are only forgiven and justified by faith in Jesus Christ. Thus faith precedes regeneration.

What part did free will play in this act of believing unto salvation? James White, in his book The Potter’s Freedom, wrote, “The doctrine of irresistible grace is easily understood. Once we understand the condition of man in sin, that he is dead, enslaved to a corrupt nature, incapable of doing what is pleasing to God, we can fully understand the simple assertion that God must raise the dead sinner to life.”1 James White is right about one thing. If a person can accept his presuppositions, and his definition of what dead means, then Irresistible Grace is not only plausible but it is imperative. But note this, friends. If he is wrong on his presuppositions and his meaning of dead (and we believe that he is), then his entire system is false.

He goes on to write, “Man is incapable of doing what is pleasing in God’s sight. It is this inability that renders the myth of ‘free will’ an empty phrase: who cares if the will is ‘free’ when the nature that provides it with the desires upon which it acts is corrupt and evil?”2 (emphases author’s original). How far is his proposal than what the early Church taught and believed. Has he completely ignored the fact that Arminians hold that NO ONE can believe in Christ apart from the aid of the Holy Spirit, setting an individual free from his or her bondage to sin? But note the following reference:

From his Of Free Will and Grace (De Libero Arbit. et Gratia), Bernardus remarked, “What then, you ask,does Free Will do? I reply with brevity, It saves. Take away Free Will, and nothing will be left to be saved: Take away Grace, and nothing will be left as the source of salvation. This work [of salvation] cannot be effected without two parties ~ One, from whom it may come: The Other, to whom or in whom it may be [wrought]. God is the Author of salvation: Free Will is only capable of being saved. No one, except God, is able to bestow salvation; and nothing, except Free Will, is capable of receiving it.”3

The Church has not always been under the influence of St. Augustine or John Calvin. As a matter of fact, we will discover shortly that the Church was faring well and fine for more than 300 years without an Augustinian (Calvinistic or Reformed) view of predestination (or unconditional election). Augustine’s view was certainly a Johnny-come-lately in soteriology.

If you will, indulge me for a bit while I unpack what Bernardus may have been hinting at when he noted, “Take away Free Will, and nothing will be left to be saved.” I think he means to say exactly what the Arminian means to say, and that is, human beings are not the robots of God or machines ~ they can think and reason, love and hate, make choices, etc. These things make a person human. Free Will, even if bound to a sinful nature and controlled by wants or desires, is still a Will. It is that part of us which makes us unique creatures, unique individuals. Even if God, by His Spirit, aids our will to choose the good, we must choose the good; God will not choose the good for us. And even if, when aided to choose the good, a person refuses to choose the good, that individual must have rejected the good; God does not reject the good for them.

If we take the Calvinists’ side of things, then there is no real choice to make; God makes our choices for us (and that, from eternity past, see this post). The so-called choice between heaven and hell was never chosen, then, according to Calvinism, by an individual, but by a God who arbitrarily made those choices for us. (I say arbitrarily because Calvinism holds that there is no reason related to any person as to why God chose one person and not another.)

Furthermore, He not only made those choices for us, but He even decreed to make us fall into sin. Our fall was not merely passively foreseen, but was meticulously decreed by God. And even foreknowing / foreordaining our fall, and that most of His created beings would thus be consigned to eternal torment in hell, He decided that that was a good plan; and He would bring Himself glory in the ordination of most of humankind spending eternity separated from Him in hell. I am happy to tell you that this is just not so.

1 James R. White, The Potter’s Freedom (Amityville, NY: Calvary Press Publishing, 2000), 283.

2 Ibid., 284.

3 Bernardus, “De Libero Arbit. et Gratia,” in James Arminius, The Works of Arminius, Vol. II, trans. James Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986), 196.