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Do We Have Free Will?

Do we have free will? Well, sorta, kinda, not really. Actually, it depends.

The question about free will is not a new one. Christians have discussed this for years. As opposed to me writing about free will, I’d like to point you to Wayne Grudem who, in his book, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, writes about free will with great clarity. You can find his answer below.

Do we have free will

Wayne Grudem on Free Will

If God exercises providential control over all events are we in any sense free? The answer depends on what is meant by the word free. In some senses of the word free, everyone agrees that we are free in our will and in our choices. Even prominent theologians in the Reformed or Calvinistic tradition concur. Both Louis Berkhof in his Systematic Theology (pp. 103, 173) and John Calvin in his Institutes of the Christian Religion are willing to speak in some sense of the “free” acts and choices of man. However, Calvin explains that the term is so subject to misunderstanding that he himself tries to avoid using it. This is because “free will is not sufficient to enable man to do good works, unless he be helped by grace.”

Therefore, Calvin concludes:

“Man will then be spoken of as having this sort of free decision, not because he has free choice equally of good and evil, but because he acts wickedly by will, not by compulsion. Well put, indeed, but what purpose is served by labeling with a proud name such a slight thing?”

Calvin continues by explaining how this term is easily misunderstood:

“But how few men are there, I ask, who when they hear free will attributed to man do not immediately conceive him to be a master of both his own mind and will, able of his own power to turn himself toward either good or evil . . . If anyone, then, can use this word without understanding it in a bad sense, I shall not trouble him on this account . . . I’d prefer not to use it myself, and I should like others, if they seek my advice, to avoid it.”

Thus, when we ask whether we have “free will,” it is important to be clear as to what is meant by the phrase. Scripture nowhere says that we are “free” in the sense of being outside of God’s control, or of being able to make decisions that are not caused by anything. . . Nor does it say we are “free” in the sense of being able to do right on our own apart from God’s power. But we are nonetheless free in the greatest sense that any creature of God could be free — we make willing choices, choices that have real effects. We are aware of no restraints on our will from God when we make decisions. We must insist that we have the power of willing choices; otherwise, we will fall into the error of fatalism or determinism and those conclude that our choices do not matter, or that we cannot really make willing choices.

On the other hand, the kind of freedom that is demanded by those who deny God’s providential control of all things, a freedom to be outside of God’s sustaining and controlling activity, would be impossible if Jesus Christ is indeed “continually carrying along things by his word of power” (Heb. 1:3, author’s translation). If this is true, then to be outside of that providential control would simply be to not exist! An absolute “freedom,” totally free of God’s control, is simply not possible in a world providentially sustained and directed by God himself.

You may also like: 

  1. 5 John Calvin Quotes for Weary Christians
  2. Why Pray if God is in Control?
  3. Why Every Christian Should Care About Theology

About David Qaoud

Thanks for reading! I'm David. And this is my personal blog. I'm a husband, writer, and MDiv student at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO. Most importantly, however, I am a follower of Jesus Christ. Learn more>