Rev. Anthony Owens
Human Will or Free Will
Humans will be our capacity for choice and action, which we can exercise for good or evil.
My thoughts will be in red on the concept of human will or our free will. There is no doubt that we have a human will, given the actions we see in our world and our own lives. There is no doubt about this assertion in our lives. Some people would deny the existence of God, but some believe that the Christian concept of humans originated in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve sinned in the garden when they ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Some of us will acknowledge and act upon God’s will for our lives according to the scriptures, but because of human will or free will, some will disregard God’s word because our will allows us to do so. There is no doubt of this ability.
The will is the human capacity to choose and act responsibly. As such, it enables humans to respond to God’s word in obedience or disobedience. For the Christian faith, the will of man is a necessary presupposition for the doctrine of sin and of man’s responsibility for sin. It is only because humans have a choice. They are the author of their actions, and they can be held responsible and can, in fact, sin.
While the human will be exercised in all sorts of mundane choices, it comes to the fore in Scripture as the capacity to act for or against God. In Scripture, while God is sovereign over history, the source of sin is not God but man. The man was created upright, but an act of man brought about the fall (Gen 3; Eccl 7:29). Thus, humans cannot blame fate or God for their temptation and their sin.
In Ecclesiastes 7:29, God made man upright, but they (Adam and Eve) have sought out many schemes. Finally, they took it upon themselves to act outside God’s will for their lives by being disobedient – eating from the Tree of Good and Evil mentioned in this blog. So, we cannot blame God for the condition we find ourselves in, in the world and even our lives, given our choices.
Christians who differ on the question of free will and its relationship to God’s sovereignty nevertheless agree that humans are without excuse for sin but are fundamentally responsible. Some have argued that human freedom of choice excludes the possibility of divine control or predetermination of human decisions; such predetermination would undermine human responsibility. Others have argued that God’s power over events extends even to human decisions without damaging human responsibility. Despite these differences, both agree that humans are responsible for obeying God and accountable for their sins.
Even though God is all-knowing and knows what will happen before it happens, that does not suppose that God acts according to our human will or free will because that will operate independently of God. I would even argue that God’s word tells us how best to work in the world and even our own lives – thus making the world a far better place to live in. But we are witnessing the opposite in the world and even in some of our lives. We are the total of our decisions, good or bad, because of our original parents in the Garden of Eden.
This fundamental responsibility for action and sin continues even after the fall. Man is not reduced to a mere animal, driven by instinct, no matter how much he becomes enslaved to sin and to his desires. After the fall, man’s responsibility to obey God exists alongside his slavery to sin. Humans will be weak and controlled by desires, nature, habits, and all that constitutes the original. Human activity is not simply the outcome of entirely free and separable choices but a pattern of wrongdoing and the heart’s desires.
For this reason, after the fall, humans are not able to sin. Their hearts are so affected by the fall that they will perpetually fall short of the mark set by God’s character and will. Therefore, no human can be free from the stain of sin.
The question of acknowledging God’s word and, most importantly, genuinely acting upon it is the big question we must all ask ourselves – because some will put other things before God, believing that God has no requirements for human life other than being outward in the atmosphere somewhere but has nothing to do with us, other than what we read or may know if we even believe at all. But I will state right here that if evil exists, which we cannot deny, then absolute good must exist, and I would go as far as to say that good is found in God’s word, the Bible, for our lives.
Sin means to miss the mark; no matter how good we think we are, we have fallen short regarding God. And all of us have the propensity to sin, even after confessing Jesus as our Lord and Savior – because the Christian walk is progressive, and we die to ourselves every day God wakes us up.
Accordingly, the renewal of the will is an essential part of salvation. Even an initial response to the message of salvation requires the softening of the human heart and God’s enabling of the human will by his Holy Spirit. Regeneration includes a renewal of desires and redirecting the will. Whereas humans previously willed themselves, they are now enabled to will the good of others and the glory of God. The renewed choice continues to fight against the remnants of sin, but it is unmistakably different from man’s old will, as the “new man” is distinct from the “old man.”
We know salvation to mean the deliverance from the power and effects of sin. Not that we won’t sin, but its power is lessened every day as we delve into the word of God and let God’s word inform our thinking and acting in the world and our lives.
The Holy Spirit, we know, transforms, and empowers God’s people. I would even argue that you cannot discern the word of God without the Holy Spirit operating in a believer’s life because even though the word of God was written by men who lived during a specific time in history, and they are sharing their encounter with the God of the Bible in their context and worldview. The Holy Spirit will convict us of sin, prayerfully helping us to live the Christian life – thus ridding us of that human will or free will that still exists in all of us.
We know that regeneration will transform a person’s spiritual condition from death to life through the work of the Holy Spirit. But the concept of regeneration appears in both the Old and New Testaments; the word stems from the Pythagoreans, who used to indicate that the human soul does not perish with the body but is born again in new incarnations.
 Carini, Joel B. 2018. “Human Will.” In Lexham Survey of Theology, edited by Mark Ward, Jessica Parks, Brannon Ellis, and Todd Hains. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.