Some random thoughts on the phrase ‘free will’ and also predestination and whether the Bible does conflict in this (I don’t think it does).
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)
Jesus clearly has a will of His own, separate from the Fathers’, with which he could make choices, but he clearly submitted his will to the Father completely. This is further enforced by John 6:38.
The phrase ‘free will’
It is interesting first to observe that Jesus has a will of His own, and second that He submits it to the Fathers’ will, and he demonstrates this in action. I think, although the phrase ‘free will’ is not directly mentioned in the Bible except in the OT in some translations (in Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Psalms – though most of these seem to be in relation to keeping the laws), the understanding of what the phrase means today is helpful when used in conjunction with increasing understanding of the Bible and that sometimes the phrase ‘free will’ is a hinderance to people especially in relation to pre-destination and to someone understanding how our modern understanding of the phrase ‘free will’ ‘fits’ in relation to God.
We are to become Christ-like as Christians – if Christ submitted His will to the Father, then it follows that we should willingly submit too (this is different to not having a free will to submit). Most of us probably already know this, but from a quick search on the internet, it seems that there is more attempting to disprove or invalidate the Bible by directly associating the notion of free will and predestination and suggesting that no-one therefore has free will (even some Christians suggest this) as we understand the term to mean in language use.
Both free will and predestination can’t be ignored
I think passages indicating free will, though they are few, are the direct words of Jesus, and cannot be ignored. I think that though we cannot perhaps fully understand reconciling free will and predestination, both are presented to us in the Bible and therefore both are relevant.
Does free will exist? and ‘determinism’
There are many verses and Bible stories which would indicate the notion of man having free will (e.g Matthew 7:13-14, Genesis 3, 2 Samuel 11, Ephesians 4:17-19 – note that having free will doesn’t make every choice right in the sight of God!) as we understand the phrase. There may be many more verses about ‘determinism’ – or predestination than will, but unlike the argument of context (things understood at the time of writing the Bible – at the time being generally more deterministic) being used to strengthen the against case for free will, I think it actually helps the case for free will today as man’s knowledge has increased. Both predestination and free will were already there in the Bible.
Who are we anyway?
Another thought on the subject comes to mind – who are we that we should think we can understand Him better than he understands himself? – the irony being perhaps you as you’re reading this would say this right back at me – and I don’t mind. I suggest the two (that is, free will and predestination) do not ‘add’ up to us when we apply human logic to it – that doesn’t bother me, since I am not God, and I do not possess all knowledge – only He does.
Sitting on the theology fence
I sit on the fence in terms of theology at this time, perhaps, but if I had to choose, I would err towards Calvinism, not that it is entirely right in it’s extreme form. Both predestination and free will are concepts that have validity, and therefore one cannot be ignored completely in favour of the other. The Gospel is ultimately good news. Christianity is a personal, restored relationship with God through Jesus alone, but the irony is you will only know if you were already predestined to be in a restored relationship with God once you are a genuine Christian – choosing to follow Jesus and go on following of your own free will, rather than choosing another path.
We can’t judge all things, and certainly can’t judge perfectly in everything as God judges in our own strength
As man, we cannot always perfectly judge who is or isn’t a genuine Christian with a genuine heart and mind, only God can – but we will anyway judge others based what they say and the things they do (the Bible says this is a good thing if led by the Holy Spirit) – we won’t always be right, even with those who appear absolutely genuine to us – there are actually many things which can at any time hinder our judgement, including ourselves.
The equation of balance for predestination vs free will
The ‘natural’ man’s reaction is to claim ‘free will’ but there are many verses and passages in the bible which, on their own, and at literal face value, say that it is not us who choose God but God who chooses us, and what could be clearer that that? We need to choose to follow God, who has already chosen us. The ‘equation’ is not balanced until both parts are true together, even though each individual part is true of itself.
Love plays its part
Without free will, true love could not exist, since it has to be an act of true free will (as we understand free will to be, else it is not love at all because it is forced love) and one of the most fundamental themes which runs through the Bible is love – this in itself is proof enough of the importance of free will and its existence in our world – which we can understand and can relate to.
Where is one ‘at’ with God today?
Believing in the mind AND believing in the heart – this is what a Christian does, surely. Therefore, the following sentence holds,
‘Its better to concentrate on one’s own life today – to ask oneself, where is one ‘at’ with God today?’ rather than concern ourselves too much with the past or the future.
Already chosen, but still a choice
Though we are already chosen, there remains a need to exercise our free will in order to surrender that will to Jesus. If God has removed this choice from the equation, he doesn’t express true love, and that is not his nature, even though He has already predestined that we have been chosen in Jesus (Ephesians 1:4). Can you be already chosen, but still have a choice? It seems so.
Just a matter of understanding perspectives, perhaps?
So, with that in mind, if we consider that free-will can be considered a man-to-God perspective – i.e. we can choose our actions, choose to follow Jesus, and we can, consider predestination to be a God-to-man perspective, God having already predestined, or pre-elected. Both predestination and free-will can be in existence at the same time, even if each appears mutually exclusive in direct relation to each other, yet equally true (the paradox), especially given that a person can only really truely know if they were predestined to become a Christian once they have already chosen and then acted to become one (even though God might already have chosen and known it was going to happen before the person was even born!). Perhaps, and it is only a perhaps, to help better understand and define, we need to approach these subjects having first thought in which relationship man-to-God or God-to-man we are considering at the time, and when we are reading the Bible or studying these topics.