How Free is the Will?
by Mitch Cervinka

One of the chief complaints raised against the Calvinistic doctrine of election is that it violates man's free will.  We are told that, if man does not have a free will, then he is a mere robot and cannot be held accountable for his sin.  Criticisms such as these reveal a great deal of misunderstanding concerning the nature of the will, and what Calvinism teaches about the will of man.  In this article, we seek to sort out some of the issues surrounding the matter of man's will, especially as it relates to salvation.

The Will and Human Sinfulness.

The Bible makes it clear that all men are sinners—we all sin, and, until we are converted, we sin constantly.  But why do men sin?  The answer is obvious: because we choose to sin.  To put it another way: the human will has the stubborn habit to choose sin rather than righteousness, self rather than God, rebellion rather than faith. Our will is not neutral, but is enslaved to sin.  To say "All men are sinners" is just another way of saying "All men freely choose to sin," and this is a statement describing the will of man.  Even though our choices are freely made, they are always sinful choices.  Fallen man has neither the desire nor the willingness to submit his will to God's will.

If our choices are always sinful ones, then our will is biased against God.  We have a sinful will, not a neutral will.  Our will is in bondage to our sinful heart.  In our heart of hearts, we are sinners—sin does not reside merely in some peripheral part of us, but in the innermost "me".  The inner essence that distinguishes me from the next person is a sin-loving, God-hating creature who freely chooses to sin whenever an opportunity to obey is presented to it.  While we may do "good works" that are applauded by men, God sees the motives of our hearts, and He knows that even our best works are motivated by sinful pride, by a desire to receive the approval of others, or an attempt to numb ourselves to the guilt we rightly feel for the many sins we have committed in the past.

Sin is not merely some annoying habit that we do, nor some foreign object that is rattling around inside us.  Until we are prepared to acknowledge that sin is what we are—it is our character, our nature, the essence of our very being, the driving force behind the choices we make—then we will never see ourselves as God sees us, nor will we fully appreciate the depth of our sin and our desperate need for Christ.

The Will is not Autonomous—We Choose what we Value.

We are prone to think of the will as being entirely independent of all other things—that it is "free" in the sense of being the master of our being.  We often suppose that we have the freedom to make choices either (1) in concert with, or (2) contrary to, our reason, our emotions or our sense of moral goodness.  But the fact is that our choices are governed by either reason or emotion.  A choice that is not based on reason or emotion is nothing but a random event—and if it is truly random, then how could a person be held responsible for making such a choice?  In order for a choice to be morally significant, it must be deliberate.  And, in order to be deliberate, it must be based either upon some sort of rational thinking, or else upon blind passion, or some mixture of reason and desire.

When we choose, we choose according to some sense of value.  For example, if you order from a menu at a restaurant, you may choose a hamburger, a steak, chicken, fish or pasta.  Which you choose is usually based upon some consideration of your personal likes and dislikes, as well as financial and health considerations, and other such factors.  Your value system is a complex mixture of tastes and rational considerations.  Your concern for your health may cause you to opt for a salad.  Or, your desire for a juicy hamburger and french fries may overrule any health concerns you may have.  But the bottom line is that our choices are molded by our sense of values and priorities at any given time.  We do not choose randomly or blindly, but instead our choices are determined by some prioritization of rational thought, personal tastes and moral concerns.

An evil value system—one that sets personal desires above the glory of God or the good of others—will result in evil choices.  A godly value system—one that is based upon love for God and man—will result in godly choices.  The will is the reflection of the heart.  Choices are a behavior that displays the state of the heart.

When we make choices, we have the sense that our choices are freely made.  This kind of freedom is called "free agency", and simply means that we choose what we please.  All men have this kind of freedom (except, of course, when they are coerced into doing things they don't wish to do[1]).  But to say that we have free agency is simply to say that the will is a reflection of the heart—that our choices are in agreement with what we think and feel.  It is free agency that makes us responsible for the choices we make.

When theologians speak of "free will", they refer to the notion that man has the inherent ability to choose either good or evil.  Note carefully that "free will" is not the same thing as "free agency".  The thing that distinguishes free will from free agency is man's desires. Free agency says that man is able to choose whatever he desires, but it does not say whether he is able to desire what is good.  Free will, on the other hand, affirms that man is capable of choosing either good or evil, and this implies that he is capable of having both godly desires and evil desires.  To say that a man is capable of having godly desires is to affirm that there is at least a "spark" of good within him that would find some delight in godliness.  No free moral agent who has only evil desires would ever choose what is good.[2]

Thus, man's will is "free" from any outside influences that would hinder him from trusting in Christ or submitting himself to God.  However, his will is in bondage to his own internal sinful appetites and desires.  Sinful man hates a holy God.  Sinful man wants to be his own master, and bristles against the idea of a God who would tell him what he may or may not do.  Such a man could love God if he wanted to, but he has no desire to love God.  Every part of his being is biased against God and rebels against the very thought that God should have absolute authority over his life.  Because he could love and submit to God if he wanted to, he is morally responsible for his attitudes and actions.  However, because he unceasingly despises God's authority, he has no capacity to trust in Christ or submit himself to God.

The Bible affirms that man's heart is only evil continually, that the intent of his heart is evil from his youth, and that he drinks iniquity like water.

Genesis 6:5 - Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

Genesis 8:21 - The LORD smelled the soothing aroma; and the LORD said to Himself, "I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done.

Job 15:15-16 - Behold, He puts no trust in His holy ones, And the heavens are not pure in His sight; How much less one who is detestable and corrupt, Man, who drinks iniquity like water!

Psalm 53:2-3 - God has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men To see if there is anyone who understands, Who seeks after God. Every one of them has turned aside; together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, not even one.

For this reason, the Bible affirms that men are unable to do what is right, or to trust in Christ.
Jeremiah 13:23 - Can the Ethiopian change his skin Or the leopard his spots? Then you also can do good who are accustomed to doing evil.

John 6:44 - No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.

John 6:65 - And He was saying, "For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father."

John 8:43 - Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word.

So then, we affirm that man is "free" in the sense that his choices agree with his own value system and reflect the condition of his heart—that he is a free moral agent.  But, because he has only evil desires, he lacks the freedom to desire what is good.  And without a desire to will what is good, he will never choose what is good.  Man's inability is a moral inability, whereby he lacks any desire for what is truly holy and right.

If Man's Will is Free, Must it be Unpredictable?

It is argued by some that free choices must be unpredictable choices.  We are sometimes told that even God Himself cannot foresee the free choices of man, and that He too must learn and discover what will be as, in time, men make their free choices.

However, both Scripture and experience deny such foolish and blasphemous assertions.  For example, when a presidential election draws near, it is not difficult to anticipate how various people will freely vote.  Consider two men:  Ted and Ron.  Both men have very strong social and political convictions.  Ted accepts the feminist, pro-choice, "gay rights", big-government agendas.  Ron believes in Biblical ethics and limits on federal power.  When Ted and Ron go to the polls, each man freely votes for the candidate of his choice, yet it is not difficult to predict which candidate each man will choose.  The predictability of their choice in no way nullifies the freedom of the choice that they will make.

Again, this demonstrates that human choices are a behavior that manifests the condition of the heart.  Choices are merely an expression of the values and priorities held by an individual.

Perhaps some will argue that the case of Ted and Ron is an exceptional one.  What about voters who do not have strong convictions?  What about elections where the candidates are not clearly differentiated?  Might not such choices be unpredictable? People sometimes go to the polls without having a clear idea of which candidate they should vote for.  Perhaps the candidates are split on various issues that matter to the voter.  Or perhaps the voter hasn't taken the time to research the candidates, and he doesn't really know where they stand on the issues.

In such cases, the voter's decision process is more complicated and less obvious to us, but that does not mean that it would be unpredictable to God, who fully knows our hearts and motives.

If the voter was so perplexed by the choices that he didn't know what to do, he might flip a coin, or close his eyes when marking the ballot.  Does this mean that the voter's will was unpredictable?  Actually, what it means is that the voter relinquished his right to make an informed decision, and instead let the flip of a coin or the blind marking of the ballot determine the outcome.  This is hardly a case for "free will", since the voter allowed something else to decide the outcome for him.

Moreover, given the voter's lack of preparation, the stands taken by the candidates, the overall difficulty of the choice involved, and the voter's tendency to let the flip of a coin decide the difficult issues, we could perhaps have predicted that he would use the coin to decide his vote.  And if we had the full knowledge of how he held the coin, how much force he imparted to it when flipping it, and how he was going to catch the coin, we could, in principle, predict the outcome of the coin flip.  We humans do not possess such intimate knowledge and understanding, but God fully knows (and has even predetermined) the outcome of such seemingly "random" events as the flip of a coin or the toss of a die.

Proverbs 16:33 - The lot is cast into the lap, But its every decision is from the LORD.
One reason why people suppose that our choices are unpredictable to God is that our future choices are often unpredictable to ourselves.  We are beings who tend to react to circumstances, and we are seldom aware of the future decisions we will have to make until providence thrusts us into a situation where we must make a choice.  While such situations may seem totally random and unpredictable to us, we should never forget that God has, from all eternity, planned the course of our lives.  We do not know what situations tomorrow will bring, but God fully knows the future events we shall encounter, and He also fully knows how we will respond in any situation He has ordained for us.  We should never suppose that God's knowledge is subject to the same limitations that we finite creatures experience.

Our principal concern for the nature of the will centers in things of eternal consequence.  There is no room here for apathy, passivity or uninformed coin-flipping.  Genuine faith requires making an active, deliberate choice to trust in Christ.  Faith is not the default outcome of failing to make a choice. To abdicate making a choice is itself a choice not to believe.  If we can predict that the person will be apathetic, then we can predict the individual's unbelief, since apathy is a form of unbelief.

In the final analysis, we must acknowledge that we often bear the greatest responsibility for those choices that are most deliberately made.  The criminal who spends years designing the "perfect murder" is usually deemed more guilty than the man who kills someone in a spontaneous fit of rage.  To suggest that man's freely-made choices must be unpredictable is to claim that the predictably evil criminal is not responsible for his actions.

Must God give Everyone the Opportunity to Believe and be Saved?

Those who argue for human free will often tell us that it would be unfair for God to condemn people without giving them the opportunity to be saved.  There are several ways to respond to this claim.

Did Christ die out of obligation?
First, to say that God had to give everyone an opportunity to be saved would mean that Christ died out of obligation.  There is no possible way for any person to be saved except by the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ.  If God were required to give each of us the opportunity to be saved, then the sacrifice of Christ Jesus on the cross was not an act of loving grace on God's part, but an act of compulsory duty.  Yet, Scripture never ascribes the sacrifice of Christ to some sort of "moral duty" on God's part, but rather to God's sense of mercy, pity, compassion and love.  He saved us when His justice demanded that we be condemned to His fierce, unrelenting wrath for all eternity.

We do great violence to the grace of God to claim that God was constrained by some sense of obligation to us to send Jesus to the cross to die for our sins.

Romans 5:6-8 - For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Have all men heard the gospel?
Second, the Gospel has never gone to all men.  No one can be saved without hearing and believing the gospel.  If God were obligated to provide opportunity to every single person, then He is obligated to make sure that all men hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Scripture says that men must hear the gospel in order to believe in Christ and be saved.

Romans 10:14 - How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard?
If people could be saved without hearing the gospel, then what would be the purpose of evangelism and missions?  We might as well bring all the missionaries home if a person could be saved apart from hearing the gospel.

Who can deny that God is fully able to send out His angels to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person on the planet?  Yet, Scripture says that in the Old Testament God purposely confined His Word (with rare exceptions) to the people of Israel.

Romans 3:1-2 - Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God.
Clearly, the Gentiles, who did not have the Word of God given to them, did not have any opportunity to receive salvation except in those rare situations when they had occasion to hear the Word of God from the Jewish people.  Even today, there are many people throughout the earth who have never yet heard the gospel.

To claim that God would be unjust if He did not give everyone the opportunity to be saved is to say that He is unjust, for clearly, by not ensuring that all men hear the gospel , He has not given this opportunity to all.

Are we really guilty?
Third, to say that God is obligated to give us the opportunity to be saved is to say that we're not really guilty after all.  Would God be unjust to condemn us to hell if we never had an opportunity to hear and believe the gospel?  If so, then we must conclude that we do not really deserve His wrath.  And, if this is true, then we don't need a Savior, since God could not justly condemn us if we are not truly guilty.

It seems that some people have a misconception about the nature of faith in Christ.  They claim that the only sin that condemns us is to reject Christ when He is presented to us in the Gospel.  They base this idea on John 3:18, which says that those who do not believe have been judged already, because they have not believed in Christ.

John 3:18 - He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
While it is certainly true that rejection of Christ is a sufficient sin to condemn you to hell for eternity, it is just as true that any other sin you commit is also sufficient to condemn you to hell for all eternity.  God has recorded all the sins of the reprobate, and at the last judgment, they will be judged for their sins...
Revelation 20:12 - And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.
People are condemned because of all their sins—not just for their sin of rejecting Christ.  The thing that makes faith in Christ so pivotal is that He is able to justify us from every sin that condemns us.

He is like a medicine that can cure you of a deadly disease.  If you don't take the medicine, you will die.  However, the reason you will die is not because there is something deadly about the medicine itself, but rather because you are already dying, and the medicine is the one thing that can cure you of the disease.

John 3:17 - For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.
There is something very warped about a theology which says that men can be condemned only for rejecting Christ.  It makes Christ the cause of a man's condemnation rather than of his salvation.  It would imply that those who have never heard of Christ are on their way to heaven!  You cannot reject the gospel if you have never heard it—what an argument against missions and evangelism that would be!

But Scripture is clear that those who have not heard the gospel are guilty, hell-bound sinners who are in desperate need of salvation.  Without faithful missionaries and evangelists to bring the gospel to them, the unbelieving multitudes would perish in hell for their sins for all eternity.  God is not obligated to make salvation available to anyone—we are all genuinely guilty of our sins whether or not we ever hear of Jesus Christ!

Men do have free agency.
Finally, the true Calvinist agrees with the Arminian that fallen men have the freedom to believe the gospel if they want to.  The problem is that, apart from regeneration, no man will ever want to.  Unregenerate man's so-called "free will" is, in reality, a "free won't".  Men freely despise and reject the Savior presented to them in the gospel.

The difference between the Arminian and the Calvinist is that the Arminian imagines that the unregenerate man has within himself some ability to love righteousness, to hate his sin, and to trust Christ.  The Calvinist, on the other hand, agrees with the testimony of Scripture that fallen man has no love for righteousness, and no desire to come to Christ.  When unregenerate men are left to make their own decision regarding eternity, all without exception freely choose to disobey and disbelieve.

John 3:19-20 - This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.  For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.

John 5:39-40 - You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.

John 6:44-45 - No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.  It is written in the prophets, ‘AND THEY SHALL ALL BE TAUGHT OF GOD.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me.

John 6:65 - And He was saying, "For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father."


The complaint that God owes everyone an opportunity to be saved stems, in part, from a confusion between "free will" and "free agency".  There is a very real sense in which everyone who hears the gospel has the opportunity to believe in Christ.  The problem is that man's sinful heart despises God and His precious Son who died for sinners, and so the unregenerate sinner freely and willingly rejects Christ to His own ruin.  He first needs a changed heart in order to have any willingness to put his faith in Christ.

In Order for Man to be Responsible, must he be Able?

Another argument commonly raised in support of free will is that God cannot hold man responsible to do what is right if the man has no ability to do what is right.

This argument likewise confuses free will with free agency.  It is generally true that, in order to be responsible, a man must have the physical ability and mental capacity to do what is right.  Calvinism fully confesses that fallen men have the physical strength to keep God's commandments, and the mental capacity to understand what God's commands require of them.  In fact, this is the very reason why unregenerate men often react so violently against God's word—they do understand what it says, and they don't like it!

The problem with fallen man is not in his physical abilities, nor in his mental capacity to understand.  Rather, man's problem lies in the desires of his heart—he loves sin and hates righteousness—and this is what makes him guilty for his sins.  He could obey God's law if he desired to do so.  He could trust in Christ if he had any love for God.  Man is guilty for the simple reason that, in his sinful rebellion, he refuses to do that which he has the full mental and physical ability to do.   His problem is a moral and spiritual problem—he is a sinner at heart, who has no desire for God or godliness.

People often have a distorted understanding of Calvinism.  They suppose that there are sinners who genuinely want to be saved, but that God refuses to save them simply because they are not among His elect.  But Calvinism (and the Bible!) plainly teaches that no man wants to come to God unless God changes the man's heart.  Men are born into the world as wicked sinners who despise God and fully deserve God's eternal wrath.  God will never refuse anyone who genuinely comes to Christ by faith, but no man has any desire to come unless God sovereignly calls him and converts His soul, giving Him the desire to come.

John 6:44 - No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.
In the same way, Calvinism does not teach that God forces men, against their will, into His kingdom.  Rather, He profoundly changes their heart so that they want to come, and then they come willingly.

When we say that "man is a sinner", we do not mean merely that each person has committed some sin during his life, and that this makes him a sinner.  We are sinners by nature—it is in the depths of our being to love sin and hate God.  We sin because we are sinners.

Ephesians 2:3 - Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

Matthew 15:18-20 - But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.

Thus, we should never think of fallen man as a good person who merely "made a mistake" and committed a sin, but who now seeks forgiveness of his sin.  This ascribes to mankind an innocence that enables him to choose the good.  Instead, we need to think of man the way Scripture portrays him—as being "dead in trespasses and sins", who "drinks iniquity like water", who "hates the light and will not come to the light" and who "does not seek God".

What about God's Free Will?

Those who complain against election—seeking to protect man's free will—are claiming for man something they refuse to grant to God.  If God is truly God, then must He not have the complete freedom to do all His holy will?  Those who deny election are simply denying that God has the freedom to choose whomever He pleases.

Often, they will claim that the divine image which men bear (see Genesis 1:27; 9:6; 1 Cor 11:7) implies that they, like God, have a free will.  Yet, they insist that God must not exercise His free will in choosing whom He will save, but that this decision is reserved for men themselves.  In other words, they contradict themselves:  They claim free will for mankind on the ground that God has free will, and that man is like God in this respect.  But then, they turn right around and claim that God doesn't have this free will after all, for, if He did, it would violate man's free will.  Does God have free will or doesn't He?  If not, then where is the basis for man having it?  If He does, then why complain about election, as though God is not allowed to make free choices?

The apostle Paul anticipated that there would be objections raised against the freedom of God's will ...

Romans 9:19 - You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?"
And he responds by saying...
Romans 9:20-21 - On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?
Paul's response to the question "Why does He still find fault?" is to rebuke the person who answers back to God.  Moreover, he says that God is like a potter, and we are like clay in His hands.  He has the right to do with us as He pleases.  Man's will is not more important than God's will.  God is the divine Potter who has the perfect freedom and authority to do as He pleases with the clay.  Who are we to complain against the Potter's freedom?  Whose will is paramount?

When men complain that God must not interfere with man's "free will" decisions, I believe the underlying reason for their complaint is simply rebellion against God's authority.  They don't mind it if God is the God of rocks and trees, of stars and galaxies.  But if God dares to exercise His divine authority over the hearts and wills of men, then they complain that God has invaded their space, and that He has stepped beyond the bounds of where He properly belongs.

But God is the God of all creation, including (especially!) the human heart.  If God did not exercise His sovereignty over our decisions, no one would ever be saved.  It is only because God intervenes, turning us away from the path of destruction, giving us the godly will we lack, that anyone ever comes to faith in Christ and is saved.

The Bible is very clear that God takes control of the human heart whenever He chooses:

Proverbs 21:1 - The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.

Ezra 1:1 - Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying:

Ezra 1:5 - Then the heads of fathers’ households of Judah and Benjamin and the priests and the Levites arose, even everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up and rebuild the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem.

Acts 16:14 - A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.

2 Corinthians 4:6 - For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

Ephesians 2:4-5 - But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),

2 Timothy 2:25 - with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth,

God's sovereignty over the human heart is one of the recurrent themes of Scripture, and we reject the scripture itself when we claim that God cannot or will not interfere with the decisions of men.

Does God's Sovereignty Reduce Man to a 'Robot'?

One of the most common complaints against the doctrine of predestination is that it reduces man to a mere "robot" or "puppet". This sort of argument is based upon a very superficial understanding of what it means to say that God is in control of our decisions.

For one thing, neither a robot nor a puppet is capable of cognitive thought. Obviously, a puppet has no capacity of thought whatever. And, even if a robot (i.e. a computer) is capable of processing information, it does not do so with any sense of cognition of what it is doing, nor of what it is acting upon. A computer is nothing more than a collection of switches (technically "gates") which are capable of storing and combining electrical states (0's and 1's), of accepting electrical signals from various devices (keyboard, mouse, modem, disk drives, etc.) and sending electrical signals to various devices (monitors, printers, modems, disk drives, etc.) based upon the electrical states present at the inputs and outputs of these gates. It is all very mechanistic, albeit somewhat complex, but never is there any form of actual consciousness or cognition.

Neither do robots and computers (much less puppets!) have any sense of affections or feelings. A computer can be instructed to print "I'm sad," or to display a sad face on its monitor—but this is all a facade—a computer cannot feel or experience joy or sadness, comfort or pain, peace or fear. When a computer makes a decision, it is purely deterministic, without any sense of comprehension or opinion of the decision made.

With men, however, it is different. Man does possess cognition and affections... we don't merely process information, but we have a sense of recognizing and forming opinions of the information we process. Moreover, man has a will, which means that he makes choices based upon his affections. We choose one thing over another because we value one thing over another, and this sense of value is very intimately bound up in our sense of desires or affections... Those who have holy affections will make holy choices, and those who have unholy affections will make unholy choices. The problem with man is that he is a sinner by nature... a sinner from birth. Thus, man freely makes choices (i.e. "freely" in the sense that no one outside of himself forces him "against his will" to make the choices he makes), but he constantly makes sinful choices because, at heart, he has sinful desires and appetities which form the basis by which he makes his choices.

Unregenerate man loves his sin and hates God. He does not possess even the smallest love for a holy, sovereign God, and so he has absolutely no incentive to truly submit himself to God or to love or trust God. Even when he hears the Gospel of the Cross, it is mere foolishness to him, and he often mocks the very idea that God would require such a bloody sacrifice. Puppets and robots, on the other hand, do not love sin, and they don't hate God, either. They don't even have a concept of sin or God, nor any capacity to love or hate anything!

When God regenerates the sinner, he gives him a new heart which does possess holy affections. This new heart has a love for God, a fear of God, a love of holiness, a hatred of sin, and so on. These holy affections provide new motivations and incentives that were never present before, and now the man freely chooses those things in which he now delights... trust in God, obedience to His Word, a desire to live a holy life, etc. It is this dynamic, that the will is governed by the affections, that distinguishes men from machines like robots and puppets.

Thus, the objection that man would have to be a mere puppet or robot if God were sovereign is simply false. The Calvinist affirms that man is a sinner... indeed, such a great sinner that nothing short of the miraculous grace of God can turn him away from his sin. Robots and puppets cannot sin. Unregenerate men, on the other hand, can do nothing but sin!

"Whosoever Will".

Because Scripture sometimes commands men to obey, or invites men to come to Christ in faith, it is argued by some that unregenerate men must have the ability to choose to obey or to choose to believe in Christ.  "Why," they ask, "would God say '... whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely'" (Revelation 22:17), if man is unable to believe or obey?

This kind of argument again confuses free will with free agency.  Anyone could believe or obey if he wanted to.  Thus, it is perfectly appropriate for God to say to men "You may freely come, if you simply will."  The problem, as we have stated before, is that unregenerate men have no desire to obey God nor to trust in Christ, and so they very willingly rebel and reject Christ.

But, isn't it implied in the phrase "... whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely" that there are some who do choose to take this water?  No, it doesn't necessarily follow that anyone will choose to do this.  On the other hand, both Scripture and experience tell us that there are those who do come to Christbut does this imply that, in their unregenerate state, they have the ability to come?  Not at all!  Scripture plainly says that those who choose to come to Christ do so because God has first changed them, giving them the desire to come.

John 6:65 - "... no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father."

2 Timothy 2:25 - ... if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth,

Ezekiel 36:26 - "... I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh."

Philippians 2:13 - for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

John 1:12-13 - But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Ephesians 2:10 - For we are His workmanship ...

But why would the scripture use the word "whosoever"?  Doesn't this imply that anyone has the ability to choose Christ and be saved?

The word "whosoever" suggests that the identity of the people here is either unknown or ambiguousthat it could be anyone at all!  But we must ask one further question—to whom is their identity unknown?  to the sovereign, infinite, omniscient God of the universe?  or to finite men who do not know whom God has chosen to save?

You see, we do not know whether a particular person is one of God's elect until that person either trusts in Christ or else dies in unbelief.  We do not know which unbelievers God has chosen to save.  Nor can we see the future choices that men will make.  To us, there is uncertainty about any given person until that person either becomes a believer or dies an unbeliever.

But God is not subject to our creaturely limitations.  God "works all things after the counsel of His will" (Ephesians 1:11), and He "will accomplish all [His] good pleasure" (Isaiah 46:10).  "... God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation ..." (2 Thessalonians 2:13). Our willingness and faith is the initial fruit of the new heart that He imparts to us (Ezekiel 36:26) when He regenerates us.

God uses the term "whosoever" (1) to make the invitation open to alleven to those who have no desire to respond to the invitation, and (2) to remind us that He has chosen men from all tribes, tongues, nations, races, gender and status.  No one needs to feel that they are excluded due to their outward conditionas though God had chosen only Jews, only English-speaking persons, only males or only the rich.  Everyone who willingly takes of the water of life may freely do so—whosoever he or she may be.

The Four States of Man.

There are four distinct states of mankind, and the will has different capabilities, depending upon the state:
1.  Adam prior to the fall.  - Able to sin, and able not to sin.
2.  Unregenerate mankind after the fall.  - Unable not to sin.
3.  Regenerate mankind prior to glorification.  - Able not to sin, and able to sin.
4.  Regenerate mankind after glorification.  - Unable to sin.

People today are born with a sinful nature, and this sinful nature dictates the kinds of decisions they will make.  However, Adam was created morally pure and innocent.  Adam had a freedom of the will that we do not have.  Of all the men who ever lived, only Adam had a will that was truly "free" to choose either good or evil.


State #1. Adam, prior to the fall.
Posse peccare.
Posse non peccare.[3]
Able to sin?
Able not to sin?

Adam’s will was not influenced by sin.  He was created "very good" and lived in a world that was "very good".  He did not have a sin nature that inclined him to make evil decisions.  He lived in a world that was unstained by sin with almost no temptations.

Yet, sin was possible for Adam, because God gave him a single law that he was obligated to follow—do not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Moreover, Satan appeared to Adam and Eve as a serpent, tempting them to distrust God and to disobey His command.

The fact that Adam succumbed to Satan’s lying temptation demonstrates that Adam had the capacity to sin.  This was not due to any defect in Adam, nor to some sin that pre-existed within his heart.  God did not create Adam with some hidden sinful inclination, nor with some deficiency of heart or will that would cause him to yield to Satan’s temptation.  God held Adam responsible for his own sinful decision, and this teaches us that Adam personally and willfully chose to disobey God out of his own heart.

The case of Adam (and Satan) is undoubtedly the most difficult case to analyze, for here we have creatures who were created holy but fell into sin.  This raises the perplexing question of how it was that God could have known that Adam would sin if Adam was created innocent, sinless and holy.  How did Adam's sinful desires arise in his heart?

One answer, of course, is that the tempter came to deceive Eve into sinning, and then used her to persuade Adam to sin.  But this doesn't really answer the question—it merely switches the focus of the paradox from Adam to Satan.  How is it that Lucifer, who was originally created without sin, came to rebel against his Creator?  Scripture says that he became lifted up with pride, seeking to become like God, asserting his own will:

Isaiah 14:12-15 - How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, You who have weakened the nations! But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north. ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol, To the recesses of the pit.
But this does not answer the question of how an innocent, holy creature could have become lifted up in pride, and fall into such sin.  Ultimately, of course, we must say that both Lucifer and Adam had true free will before they sinned.  Even though neither of them was created with a desire to disobey, they nevertheless had the potential of sinning, for that is precisely what they did.  Clearly, God could have prevented them from sinning, had He chosen to do so.  But God's eternal purpose was to redeem sinful men through the sacrifice of His beloved Son, and so Adam's first sin, while evil in itself, served a good and necessary purpose in God's eternal plan to bring glory to Himself.

We can make the following observations regarding the fall of Adam and Satan:
  1. Of all beings, only God is inherently perfect and unable to sin.  Both Adam and Satan, while created holy, had the ability to sin—just as a person standing atop a high cliff has the ability to fall off the cliff.
  2. The fact that God created Adam with the capacity to sin does not mean that God created Adam with a defect or a flaw.  Once an automobile leaves the factory, it is capable of being involved in a collision, but this does not imply that there was any flaw in the automobile that was responsible for the collision.
  3. Our understanding of man’s will must never contradict what is plainly revealed in Scripture.  God tells us that Adam was created upright and holy.  It also says that Adam fell into sin.  And it says that it was man, not God, who was responsible for the fall of man.  No explanation is satisfactory if it denies any of these points.
 Ecclesiastes 7:29 - Behold, I have found only this, that God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices.
It is wrong to suggest that God could not foresee the sins of Adam or Lucifer.  God both foresaw and foreordained their sins, yet without being the cause or "author" of their sins.  It is far better to confess our own frailty and ignorance—that we simply cannot sound the depths of this mystery—than to arrogantly charge God with ignorance concerning the future choices of His creatures.

Did God not know what was going through Eve's head when Satan tempted her to eat the forbidden fruit?  Did He not know how persuasive Satan's lies would be to her?  Did He not know that, after taking a bite of the fruit, she would hand it to Adam?  Did He not know how persausive this would be to Adam?  If we are supposed to believe that God could not anticipate their sin, then we must ask at what point did God's knowledge fail?  When we consider the details surrounding their sin—the events that led up to it, the thoughts that were racing through the minds of our first parents, the erosion of their will to resist the serpent's temptation—we can begin to appreciate how our omniscient God could foresee all these things long before ever He created the universe.

We need to realize that the thoughts, feelings and emotions of Adam and Eve at the moment they decided to bite into the forbidden fruit were fully foreseen by God, and were in perfect harmony with His eternal plan to send His beloved Son to the Cross to redeem sinners.  So long as man's free choices are deliberate—being based upon our thoughts, feelings and convictions—then they are not random, unpredictable occurrences.  Hence our omniscient God—who at all times knows thoroughly the tiniest details of all that we think and feel—is fully able to infallibly anticipate the choices we will make.  God's holy, wise, eternal purposes encompass the free choices of men just as truly as they encompass the regular motions of the planets or the overtly miraculous works of God.

We must not sacrifice God's omniscience and sovereignty in an attempt to salvage His justice.  Holy scripture teaches that God is sovereign and omniscient as well as perfectly just, and we must confess both His justice and His sovereignty, recognizing that our finite minds cannot fully sound the depths of God's wisdom nor faithfully search out the subtle details of His justice.

    Romans 11:33-36 - Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

State #2.  Adam’s descendants after the fall.
Non posse non peccare.[3]
Able to sin?
Able not to sin?

The fall of Adam brought all his descendants under the curse of sin and death.  This is demonstrated daily, for many people die in infancy—long before they are able to knowingly and deliberately commit willful sins.

Moreover, Adam’s descendants all enter this world with a sinful nature.  We are sinners at conception—sinners at heart—and our lives are lived by the principle of self-willed sinful desires that are often manifested in deceitful lying, hurtful attacks upon others, rebellion against lawful authority, theft, impurity, false religion, etc.

The Bible declares that unregenerate man is so sinful that he cannot obey God, he cannot turn from his sin, and he cannot savingly believe in Christ.  We have already examined some of the passages that teach this.

Fallen man is thus in the worst situation imaginable.  He only wants to sin, and his sin brings upon him the eternal wrath of Almighty God.  He is so sinful that he will not repent of his sin and trust in Christ that he might be saved.  He is a sinner by nature and by choice, and he has no desire to take the remedy that God holds out to him in the Gospel of Christ.

Some may argue that, if totally sinless Adam was able to sin, then perhaps totally depraved humans are able to forsake sin or trust in Christ.  But this fails to recognize the tremendous asymmetry between righteousness and sin.  Water can flow downhill, but it cannot flow uphill.  A vase can fall off a table and shatter into a thousand tiny pieces, but the tiny fragments cannot pull themselves back together and leap back onto the table.  The entire universe evidences the principle that the transition from order to disorder is a one-way street.

Likewise, left to ourselves, we can only go from righteousness to unrighteousness.  The reverse transformation requires a divine miracle—an intervening God who, by the miracle of Calvary, is able to forgive sins and cleanse hearts.

State #3.  God’s people, after the Holy Spirit has changed their hearts.
Posse peccare.
Posse non peccare.[3]
Able to sin?
Able not to sin?

Two of the most blessed words in the Bible are found in Ephesians 2:4-5.

Ephesians 2:4-5 - But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
Fallen man is not able to change his own sinful heart, BUT GOD is able to do this, and God does do this for His elect people whom He dearly loves.  God changes our hearts while we are still "dead in our transgressions", following the lusts of the world and living our lives without any interest in God or eternity.

The great transformation that God works in our hearts gives us the holy desires that were totally absent in us from before our birth.  Because God renews our sinful, spiritually lifeless hearts, we acquire the ability to love God and righteousness, and to do what is right and pleasing in His sight.

However, at regeneration, God does not yet take away our sinful nature, but the new spirit He gives to us is able to overpower our sinful nature so that we now have the capacity to do what is right.  As a result, because we possess these two contrary natures, the Christian experiences an inner struggle between good and evil.  We want to do what is right and pleasing in God’s sight.  Yet, there still resides within us the desire for sinful pleasures, and an unwillingness to yield to God’s sovereign and holy will.

Galatians 5:16-18 - But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.  For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.

Romans 7:18-8:2
18  For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not.
19  For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.
20  But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.
21  I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good.
22  For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man,
23  but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.
24  Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?
25  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.
(Chapter 8:)
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
2  For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.

So, those who have experienced the grace of regeneration are still—just like the unregenerate—capable of sinning.  However, unlike the unsaved, God’s saints are also capable of not sinning.  The new nature God gives to us provides us with the godly desires that enable us to joyfully obey God.

When we obey God, we must remember that it is God, working in our hearts, who causes us to love and obey Him…

Philippians 2:13 - for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
Saved men and women have an ability of will that the unsaved do not have.  The new heart enables us to genuinely repent of sin, and to genuinely trust in Christ for salvation.

Notice that this situation is very similar to that of Adam before the fall.  Adam had the ability to sin and also not to sin.  However, as soon as he sinned, he acquired a sinful nature, and lost his ability not to sin.  Adam's righteousness was a mutable righteousness—one that he forfeited when he ate of the forbidden fruit.

However, with us it is different—the new heart that God gives us is empowered by the Holy Spirit, and God will not take away the new heart from us.  The righteousness that saves us is not our own conduct, but the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ!  When He died at Calvary, He paid the penalty for all our sins—past, present and future.  We stand justified by an immutable righteousness—the unblemished righteousness of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  We cannot forfeit this righteousness by sinning, for that would mean that Christ, who is our righteousness, would have become polluted with sin and rejected by His Father—and that will never happen!

Jesus affirms that every true believer is one of His sheep—that we presently demonstrate that we are His sheep by hearing His voice and following Him.  Jesus says of those who today are His sheep, that they will never perish.  He explains by saying that His sheep are held securely by His heavenly Father, and that no one is strong enough to take them out of the Father's hand.

John 10:27-29 -  My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.  My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.
This means that God has a secure hold on our heart and will to ensure that we will never fully and finally fall away from true faith.  Yes, He permits us to fall into sin, but He will never permit us to fall so far that we abandon the faith and forfeit our salvation.

This is different from the case with Adam, where Adam did have the ability to fall away from the faith he initially had.  Adam's faith was not preserved by God, but was under Adam's fallible control.

State #4.  God’s people after they have been glorified in heaven.
Non posse peccare.[3]
Able to sin?
Able not to sin?

A day is coming when God will judge the wicked, and will usher in everlasting righteousness.  There will be no sin in the world to come.  God’s people will be unable to sin.  Yet, this will be a state of utter perfection and glorious freedom!  One of the greatest ironies is that we will experience perfect freedom, yet we will be unable to sin!

Romans 8:21 (NIV) - that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
This must sound like a contradiction to those who think that, in order to be truly free, a man must be able to either obey or disobey.  But Biblical freedom is the freedom to be what God intended us to be, and to live in holiness before Him.  The freedom to sin is not a virtue, but a potential curse.  It is a blessing to do God’s will, but a curse to violate it.  There is no greater blessing imaginable than to be so captivated by God’s power and glory that He sovereignly keeps you from ever thinking a sinful thought or doing a sinful deed.

This is exactly the opposite condition to that which existed prior to our conversion.  Then, we were unable to do anything good.  In eternity, we will be unable to do anything evil.

Romans 6:19-22 - I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.  For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.  Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.
The apostle tells us that freedom from one thing is slavery to another.  We are either free from God and enslaved to sin, or else enslaved to God and free from sin.  There is no neutral ground.  Since we must have a master, may it be God rather than sin!

God's great goal for the Christian is conformity to Christ.

Romans 8:29 - For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;
In eternity, we will have a power of will similar to that which the Lord Jesus had when He was on earth.  He too, although tempted in all points as we are, was unable to sin.  Again, we affirm that He could have sinned IF He had wanted to, but that is a VERY BIG "IF"—it was utterly impossible that our perfect Savior, the second person of the Godhead, could ever have entertained a desire to commit sin!

There is an important difference between our Lord's inability to sin, and our future inability to sin.  The reason why our Lord Jesus could not sin was because He was God, manifested in the flesh—and God cannot sin.

Hebrews 6:18 - so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us.

James 1:13 - Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.

On the other hand, the reason why we will be unable to sin is that God will be upholding us and protecting us from entertaining any sinful thoughts or desires.  Christ Jesus was sinless by His essential nature.  We will become incapable of sinning by God's sanctifying grace, working in us and for usJust as the moon reflects the light of the sun, so we will reflect the glory of Christ.

We should never make the mistake of thinking that the inability to sin means that obedience is easy or painless.  Our Lord suffered horribly during His time on earth.  Obedience was the path of incomprehensible suffering for Him.  Yet, disobedience to His heavenly Father was never an option.  Jesus' temptations served as tests to prove to all that He really was the morally pure, omnipotent God of the universe who would never submit to sin, regardless of the consequences.

Thanks be to God that, in eternity, there will be no more suffering or death.  Our perfect conformity to God's will in eternity will not require us to endure painful trials.  It is during the present life alone that we are given the privilege of enduring the suffering that often accompanies obedience.  We are able to obediently endure painful trials to the extent that we maintain a vision of our heavenly Father's majestic sovereignty and holiness, and believe His promise of the great blessedness that will come to those who endure hardship for His sake.

Matthew 5:10-12 - Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Philippians 1:29 - For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,

Colossians 1:24 - Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.

Hebrews 12:3-4 - For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin;

James 1:2-3 - Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.

This final state, therefore, is different from the state of Adam prior to the Fall.  Adam was capable of falling into sin.  In eternity, we will not be able to sin.  What a wonderfully thorough and secure salvation, that God will remove from our hearts even the capacity to desire evil!
1 John 3:2-3 - Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.  And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

Revelation 21:3-4 - And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away."


First, to those who have never trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ:  God holds you responsible for your sin and unbelief.  Your inability to believe and obey does not excuse you from believing or obeying.  If your unbelief were due to some mental or physical defect, then you could plead that it is not your fault.  However, your unbelief stems from your self-serving attitude, and your disdain for the things of God.  This is a spiritual inability that only makes you more guilty, not less guilty—because you very willingly reject God and His perfect Son, Jesus Christ.

Some will respond to this teaching with ridicule or hostility, and will thereby manifest the truth that they are wicked sinners at heart who despise the truth and justice of God.  Your response vindicates the teaching of Scripture that we are all guilty sinners who deserve God's eternal wrath.

Others, however, may find that this teaching fills them with despair—the despair that they may never be able to receive the forgiveness that is offered to them in Christ, and that they will surely perish in hell.  To such as these, I offer a word of hope:  God brings men to despair before He converts their souls, giving them a willing, believing heart.

It is in the ground of despair that God plants saving faith.  It is true that, if you hope in your own "free will" to save you, you will surely be lost.  However, if you despair of ever doing anything to influence God to save you—if you are drained of any hope that a basis for salvation may be found in your heart—it is then that you may look away from self to Christ and find eternal salvation in the One who died to bear the wrath of God for sinners like you and me.

He can save you to the uttermost, if it is His will.  Who knows but that you may be one of God's elect, chosen in Christ from before the foundation of the world?  God has chosen many others, just as wicked as yourself, to receive His salvation.  He bids you to come to Christ.  If you find yourself able to come, it is only because He has given you a new heart that wants to come.  You would never come to Him by your old sinful will, but, if He wills it, He can make you willing—effectually drawing you by His own power, changing your heart and making you see the beauty and glory of His own divine Son, Jesus Christ.

Come to Christ.  He will not turn you away.  Hear His promise to all who come..

John 6:37 - All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.
If you do come to Christ, you will know the blessedness of receiving His forgiveness, of inheriting a hope that will never fade away, and of living eternally in the glorious presence of our loving heavenly Father, who is Almighty God!

Second, to those who have trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ:  You are no longer an unregenerate sinner.  Previously, you had no ability to believe in Christ or obey God's commands.  But that has all changed!  God has put His Spirit within your heart and has taken away your stony heart, giving you a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 36:26-27 - Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.
We should never try to excuse our sin by saying "I just couldn't help it—I'm a sinner at heart."  If God holds the unregenerate guilty for their sins, how can we, who have received a new heart, imagine that we have any excuse for sinning?

Of course, when we do sin, it does not cost us our salvation.  God deals mercifully with His beloved children, forgiving them again and again.

1 John 1:9 - If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
The Lord Jesus has borne all our sins on the cross.  Our ability to sin can never exceed Christ's ability to forgive.
Romans 5:20 - The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,
But we should never use God's mercy to us as an excuse for sinning.  If we are truly saved, we now love God and want to please Him.  The true believer is motivated by new principles, and will desire holiness, even though he is not yet perfect and will still sometimes (far too often!) fall into sin.
Romans 6:1-2 - What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?  May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?

Romans 8:14 - For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.

We must recognize that victorious Christian living is not a matter of "raw will power" to overcome sin and do what is right.  Such an approach is merely reliance upon the flesh.  As Christians, we need a daily supply of God's sanctifying grace lest we succumb to temptation and fall into our old pattern of sin.  Each day of our lives should be a day of renewed conviction of sin, renewed faith in Christ, and renewed repentance.  The victorious Christian life is lived in the same manner of faith, contrition and repentance as when we first came to Christ.
Galatians 3:2-3 - This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
We overcome sin in the Christian life through the daily transformation of our minds and hearts, by making use of the means which God has graciously provided for His children—the study and contemplation of His holy Word, diligence in heart-searching prayer, faithfulness in corporate and private worship, etc.
Romans 12:1-2 - Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
We overcome sin by setting our affections on things above, so that the pleasures of this life lose their glitter in the brilliance of God's glorious holiness and love.
Colossians 3:1-4 - Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.  For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.

Philippians 4:8 - Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

Each day for the Christian should be a day of renewed repentance, faith, confession of sin and rededication to our Lord.

As we struggle with sin during this present life, we look forward to the life to come, when God will, once and for all, take away our desire for sin.  On that glorious day, we will want only what God wants, and we will finally find perfect freedom in being in full submission to God's blessed and holy will.  What sublime irony!


[1] However, even when a person is coerced into doing something he does not wish to do, he still is choosing that which he desires or values the most.  Coercion occurs when someone seeks to make the desirable choice less desirable.  For example, when a soldier has been taken prisoner, and is asked to reveal the location of his unit, he has strong desires to conceal that information from his captors.  By torturing him, his captors seek to change the desirability of withholding this information.  In the end, he still chooses that which he most highly values—whether it is his desire to escape suffering by revealing the information, or else his desire to protect his comrades no matter what it will cost him.  Thus, even coercion does not change the fact that we are free moral agents who choose according to our values and desires.

In order to truly violate our moral agency, someone else would have to take control of our bodies, and cause us to do things contrary to our wishes.  In such a case we would not normally be held responsible for what they caused us to do.  However, if we did something to initially give them this control, such as to get drunk or to take mind-altering drugs, then we could be held responsible for the consequences.  This is why a drunk driver who causes a fatal crash can be charged with murder.

[2] The reader may wonder at this point why I have switched from speaking of the trio of "reason, desires and moral sense" to saying that the will is driven by man's desires alone.  This is because, ultimately, the only reason why a person would ever appeal to reason or morality is because he desires to be logical or moral.  Reason and morality provide a framework within which we exercise our desires, but ultimately, a person's choices are driven by his desires.

Even when a person says "I am driven by logical necessity to do this—it isn't what I would normally choose to do", he is demonstrating to us that his desire to submit to "logical necessity" outweighs his disdain for the conclusion to which it leads.  The problem with fallen man is that he has no love for the true, holy God, and he is totally unwilling to allow the true God to rule his life.  "Logical necessity" may force him to acknowledge that such a God exists, and that it would be the prudent thing to submit to His will, but his sinful heart cannot bring himself to love this one true God whom he knows to exist, nor to genuinely submit his will to God's will.  Such submission to God requires the miracle of conversion.

[3] The Latin word "posse" is the root of our English word "possible".  The Latin word "peccare" is the root of our English words "impeccable" and "peccadillo".  "posse" means "able, possible".  "peccare" means "to sin".  The Latin word "non" means "not".  The various combinations of these three words express the various abilities of the will in the four states of humanity.  This distinction has been attributed to Augustine, in his treatise on The City of God.


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