The Illusion of Free Will

by Wim Janse

It is an almost ineradicable fallacy that man is in possession of a truly free will.

There is not one suggestion in the entire Word of God that man really has such a free will. Choice and will, yes, that happens, but a free, unlimited, un-hindered will? It is nowhere to be found. But those who adhere to the teaching, keep claiming that we have one.

Let us take a look and see what we can find to oppose this false teaching.

a. The term 'free will' occurs nowhere in Scripture. That in itself should be a grave warning to us.

b. Man is not sovereign, meaning, he cannot live on his own and go about freely, without the support of God's provisions and the permission of someone else.


Man is not is his own man, he is owned by someone else: Sin(Rom.6:6; 6:17; 6:20). A slave may do a lot, but practicing a free will is not one of his liberties. It is his owner who decides what the slave does and where the limits of his freedoms lie. Should the slave decide declare himself a free man, the master would immediately declare the rights of his ownership, and would prevent this undertaking of the slave and mete out whatever punishment he decided was appropriate.

c. The believer in Christ also has no free will. We may apply here the same principle discussed in part b. of this article, albeit with another owner. We have been bought by Christ (1Cor. 6:20; 7:23). We were transferred from one owner to another(but what an improvement! We are given room to play on "Grace Square"!!). That we are slaves of Christ as well, can clearly be seen in Paul's position. Even as early as Romans 1:1, he wrote that he is a doulos(slave) of his Lord. The translation with "servant" is too light here. "Doulos" really means "slave", in the sense of being owned by someone else.

There are more places where Paul presents himself as slave: Gal.1:10, Phil. 1:1 etc. He also reproves other believers in 1Tim.2:24 and calls them, there, slaves of the Lord! We are no more than, and no different from, either he who wrote it or those who were being addressed.

d. The sovereignty of God. A being who executes his really free will, will by definition affect God's sovereignty. The being is then sovereign itself, isn't it?
There are sovereigns amongst people, kings and queens for instance, who do not have to give account for what they do. But that is always in relation to people. In relation to God and the execution of our will, that is different. He is THE Sovereign, THE One Who does not have to give account to anyone. He is above all and everything, and even kings and queens will have to give account to Him. Should there be even one being which, by having and exercising its own free will, proved to be not subordinate to His will, then that being would be equal to God. That is impossible.

e. The omnipotence of God. The existence of a being with a truly free will would contradict God's omnipotence. Omnipotence means, to be capable of doing anything, but also having power over all. All power in heaven and earth was given by the Father to His Son. He was the only one Who could do such a thing. Should any man have a free will, then, by the exercise of that will, he could escape or bypass that all-encompassing power. That would contradict God's omnipotence.

f. Prophecy. A being with a truly free will could block the outcome of prophecy. The Scriptures know two kinds of prophecies, conditional and unconditional. Of the first type, exemplifying the pattern of 'if you do this, then I will do that...' we can find many examples in Scripture (see for instance Ex.10:4). The second type, the ones that foretell the coming of the Messiah are well known and unconditional. The very first prophecy in Scripture is about Him (Gen.3:15).
Should any being have a truly free will, then that being, by exercising that will, could prevent the outcome of such prophecies. Should a being be unable to do such a thing, then his will must not be free. History shows that, no one's will was able to prevent the first coming of the Messiah.

g. Free will itself. What would happen when two beings, each having a free will, but opposing desires, met each other?
Suppose God and Adam had met each other in the garden of Eden.
Adam: "God, I want you to remove the tree of knowledge of good and evil. It is no good to me and I don't like having that commandment hanging over my head."
God: "I don't even want to consider that. It is there and for a good reason. It stays!"
Adam: "But it is my will that it goes!"
Adam calls an elephant to help remove the tree.
Who wins?

The reason for promoting this doctrine of free will, is the idea that God cannot bypass man in order to reach His goal, but must ask them for their permission to save them Doesn't tradition say that "You have to choose for Jesus, otherwise....?" According to this line of reasoning, that choice must be made of one's own free will, otherwise God would be 'forcing' salvation onto each individual.

But there is something troubling about that assertion.
In 2Tim. 1:9 it says:

"Who saves us and calls us with a holy calling, not in accord with our acts, but in accord with His own purpose and the grace which is given to us in Christ Jesus before times eonian, "

Question: in what tense is this verb, "saves", written? It is done in a very special tense, called the aorist, a Greek form that we do not have in our languages. It means that it was once started, but it is ongoing, and will continue.

When was this saving started? The verse answers that too: "before eonian times", before time began!! The saving was done, before you were even in sight, yes, even before Adam was created!!
Whose will was mentioned here? God's! It was done in accord with His own purpose!
Where do we read here of our free will and our consent and our purpose? Nowhere!

Another example.
Saul of Tarsus was the greatest human enemy of the church in Israel, shortly after Pentecost. He persecuted the church in a horrible way. One day he was on his way to Damascus, with the powers of the religious order of his day behind him, intent on teaching a lesson to the believers in Christ in that city.
Then suddenly he is startled by a burst of light, a voice and a question. Saul falls on his face and can only say "Who are you lord?" That was the turning point in the life of the man we know as Paul.

Question: where was that free will, Saul is supposed to have possessed? As the greatest opponent of Christ among mankind, he must have had the right to exercise his free will! (God is not allowed to use force, otherwise there would have been no exercise of free will on the part of the individual!). Or was that free will suddenly not as free as many think it is, nor as free as it had been ten minutes before? Is a free will not able to stay free in an environment where God's spirit is present in the full power of the glorified Christ? If not, is that free will then, truly free??
Where in this story do we hear God asking Saul to convert?
Where does it say that Saul asked for forgiveness?
Where does it say that Paul first prayed the "sinner's prayer?"
Where in this account, did God need the cooperation of man in order to achieve His goal?
Not a word can be found about it!

Scripture presents us with many more examples which prove that it is not man who, seriously, seeks for God (Rom.3.11), but that it is God Who seeks man!! God does not use force, but God convinces, and He does that with so much conviction, that no one can resist Him. No, God does not force, but He urges and will successfully persuade all, for God is LOVE!

© Wim Janse

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