Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology

Is Man's Will Free?

by Thomas R. Thompson

This is the question that separates a grace religion from a works religion. Many in the church today will amen Erasmus's definition of free-will.

Moreover, I conceive of 'free-will' in this context as a power of the human will by which a man may apply himself to those things that lead to eternal salvation, or turn away from the same.[The Bondage of the Will, Martin Luther, translated by J.I. Packer & O.R. Johnston,Fleming H. Revell, pg 137]

To state Erasmus's false definition clearer, man is free to choose or reject the gospel on his own unaided by the Holy Spirit. Any Christian worth his salt knows that without the Holy Spirit illuminating the Gospel, no one would get saved. But how much illumination is necessary? Reformers taught total illumination was necessary.

For no man on earth, unless imbued with the Holy Ghost, ever in his heart knows of, or believes in, or longs for, eternal salvation, even if he harps upon it by tongue and pen.[Ibid pg 140]

I'm convinced anything short of the above is another gospel.

I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: [Galatians 1:6]

Saul's Free-will

And take the case of Paul, when he was Saul--what did he do with all the power of his 'free-will'? Certainly, if his state of mind be regarded, his heart was set on what was best and highest. But look at the endeavour whereby he found grace! Not only did he not seek grace, but he received it through his own mad fury against it! [Ibid pg 301]

I wish I had Free-will

If I had free-will, I would be free from my bent on sinning. For those that think they have a 'free-will', let them prove it by the evidence of never sinning again.

I can relate to

For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. [Romans 7:15]

I have thoughts from my past sinful life that keep popping up over and over in my mind. I have no control over these, yet I wage war on them with

...whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. [Phil 4:8]

Only death ceases sin!

Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind: for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin; [1 Peter 4:1]

Thus Christians will be plagued with sin until they die.

Understanding the correct nature of our problem liberates the soul from false bondage. If any teach it is technically possible for a Christian to live on this earth without sinning, they bring the hearer under unnecessary bondage, and they prove they know not of how man's nature was affected by the fall.

..his will lost its power always to choose that which is good, his judgment lost all ability to judge between right and wrong decidedly and infallibly, though something was retained in conscience; his memory became tainted, liable to hold evil things, and let righteous things glide away. [Free Will-- A Slave, The New Park Street Pulpit Vol 1., C. H. Spurgeon, Baker, pg 396]

Spurgeon makes an excellent point concerning man loosing all ability to judge between right and wrong. Just pick up a newspaper and you will have all the evidence you need. And a Christian need only reflect on his own life to find similar evidences.

Luther on Free-will

..'free-will' belongs to none but God only. [The Bondage of the Will, pg 137]


Thomas R. Thompson is a Reformed theologian and writer of Biblical essays. He is owner of the sovereign grace website called, "Strong Preaching."

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