Human Responsibility and Free Will
In all of Scripture the most prominent and fully articulated doctrine is that of Salvation, the great sacrificial and atoning love offering on behalf of humanity wrought by our Savior and King Jesus Christ. It is then no surprise that the second-most prominent and fully articulated doctrine found in Scripture is that of free will, i.e. free human choice. Spanning both testaments, the doctrine of free will saturates the Holy Writ not only in articulation, but in exemplification. Whereas Salvation was prophesied and fulfilled (literally, metaphorically, historically, etc.), free will exists simply as an underlying FACT that serves as a foundational construct to human existence and occupies an intimate role within the Salvation doctrine itself.
…Through the acceptance of His Son Jesus Christ’s death as atonement for humanity’s sin, each individual has the opportunity to come to a personal relationship with our loving Creator. Yet, Scripture reveals that a large portion of humanity will find their destination to be hell and the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:11-15), despite the fact that such places of torment and separation were not created for humanity but for fallen angels (Matthew 25:41). This begs the inquiry: If Almighty God has offered up a perfect Sacrifice to redeem ALL of fallen humanity (for He does not will/want for any to perish), why is not ALL of fallen humanity redeemed at the end of all things? No human individual is of themselves worthy of redemption, nor can one earn such. Why then does a portion of humanity experience God’s saving grace and enter into the Kingdom of Heaven whilst the remainder suffers eternal separation from Him along with a sentence of eternal punishment? The answer consists of such profound simplicity that certain schools of thought and their adherents are given over to vehement rejection of its Truth, often accompanied by ultra-dogmatic venom and pitiful gnashing of teeth directed at those who hold to this Truth. The answer is thus: Each individual possesses the freedom to choose their eternal destination, be it eternal life by acceptance of Christ’s Sacrifice, or be it eternal damnation by outright rejection of the same or a failure to make the choice at all.
…This paradigm releases Almighty God of the responsibility for humanity’s actions and places the same upon humanity itself, and only the individual with a free conscience can bear responsibility. God has imparted a measure of faith to every soul (Romans 12:3), meaning that each individual born into this earthly plane inherits from the Creator the capacity to believe in something, and it is thus each individual’s moral responsibility to choose that in which they would believe (and even belief in nothing is still belief). Thus the opportunity to choose has been placed before us, and it is our responsibility to choose rightly. Certain theologies promote a fatalist doctrine implying that God not only punishes sin but also causes it, which is a blatant perversion of Christianity as a whole. If an individual is “bound to fate,” then Jesus’ counsel to ‘Go and sin no more’ is daft! In his book The Victory of Reason, Rodney Stark states: “Christianity was founded on the doctrine that humans have been given the capacity and, hence, the responsibility to determine their own actions” and that “Jesus taught that each individual must atone for moral lapses precisely because these are wrong choices.”
…So what is the import of free will and choice? True obedience cannot exist without the choice to disobey.
…From the tree of knowledge of good and evil to believing, accepting, confessing, and living Christ’s Sacrifice to those who reject or accept the mark of the beast during the (future) time of Jacob’s Trouble, it has been a grand series of choices that have been set before humanity. Few would deny that individuals have a responsibility to God and toward their neighbor, and responsibility presupposes freedom in that we are free to decide and act as we see fit toward whosoever we encounter in the relational aspect of our existence. And it is this relative premise of ethics that negates the arguments of determinism and indeterminism which hold that mental decisions are subject to the law of causality* rather than one’s own self-determinism (choices). Hence, allowing humanity to freely determine our own (individual) destiny is a product of God’s Love. And God’s Love is persuasive, not coercive. Truly sincere fellowship is only true and sincere when it is chosen, not forced. This fact makes our individual choice to love and live for God so much more relevant. Think of how it must please God to see those of His creation who suffer heavily from the sin-infested world, yet remain unshaken in faith and love toward Him due to their understanding and appreciation of what He has accomplished; such love is borne of choice, it is not forced or manufactured. [*The law of causality as applied to mental decisions would have God causing sin as a necessary evil toward a noble end, even if said cause were indirect, i.e. through human proxy; such an ideology is illogical and assaults the moral perfection of God’s nature.]
…True obedience also finds itself coupled with freedom and responsibility. Obedience by itself falls to slavery. Freedom by itself is an unkempt self-will. Micah 6:8 reveals that one must allow themselves to be taught what is right (by God) and to do what is right (obedience); freedom thus enables one to choose to act responsibly, or not. Through obedience one applies the Truth of Scripture to one’s life, through freedom one can devise new systematic and doctrinal understanding of this Truth. Likewise, the Lord God chooses to reveal deeper truths to those who pursue Him more fervently (Jeremiah 33:3).
…An individual’s creativity is further evidence for the divine gift of free will, regardless of whether that individual is a child of the Kingdom or remains in darkness. One can create or imagine things that are good, neutral, or evil; if free will were an illusion it would mean that God created and/or inspired evil things to be devised by those who were predestined to be damned (as held by some theologies). God would not and could not do this because of His perfection in love and goodness. But, through free will He allows His creation the ability to be creative according to their own choices. We are creative by nature because we have been created; and not only have we been created, we have been created in the image of our Creator.
…Since humanity has been given freedom/free will, we are responsible to the One Who gave it. Thus freedom implies involvement from God, for He blesses it; contrarily, however, if one abuses that freedom they set themselves against God, inviting His involvement without the blessing. In light of this, John 3:36 offers forceful insight into freedom and choice: “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” Ultimately, the final sacrificial Act of Jesus Christ provided the ideal alternative to living under the inherited stain of sin (per Adam’s transgression); moreover, His Victory also provided the freedom to remove oneself from beneath God’s abiding wrath. Therefore, until one freely chooses to believe in Christ and accept eternal life, one shall remain an obedient slave to sin and death.
…Some argue the case of selective salvation, or predestination- the idea that God preordains an individual’s destiny with the appearance of choice, rendering the individual “locked in” to one particular end. This is false. Knowing what men will do with their freedom is not the same as ordaining/coercing what they must do with it. God’s foreknowledge does not violate humanity’s free will, for He does not dictate, force, or cause our choices. If this were the case, free will and true freedom would be an illusion, a divine deception, and the entire scope of history would be a pointless drama. Even the Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection would be unnecessary if freedom of choice was in actuality non-existent.
…Others argue that if the individual has actual freedom to accept or reject the Gospel then God is thus made dependent upon humanity and Salvation becomes merely a “possibility,” but this is a perversion of perspective that may or may not be intentional so as to construct a point of contention with the doctrine of free will and thus edify the dissenter’s philosophy and denomination over and above that with which they disagree.
…Still others (predominantly Reformed/Calvinist thinkers) take the above argument further, suggesting that free will and the necessary responsibility required for its premise constitutes a level of autonomy that undermines God’s Sovereignty over humanity. This view assumes a totally illogical ideal and offers a harshly judgmental and broad accusation against any theology apart from Reformed/Calvinist. In opposition I clarify that God’s Sovereignty is not undermined by human free will in that free will is a sovereignly given gift from God, just as humanity’s dominion over the earth and its flora and fauna is a sovereignly given gift from God; both gifts reflect His Sovereign nature, they do not supplant or attack it. Moreover, our being created in the “image of God” assumes similar characteristics and privileges as compared to God, but within the absolute limitations per our earthly plane of existence, as illuminated in John 3:31- “He Who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of the earth.”
…Thus both our dominion and free will have finite boundaries; we do not have dominion over the solar system, galaxy, universe, or spirit realm… nor are we free to become God or enjoy creatio ex nihilo.