“Is the Will Free by Nature or By Grace?” – John Hendryx (personal commentary below)
It’s very important to define the term Free Will. Many will discuss this and get into arguments with others over whether it does or doesn’t exist, when really there needs to be some more explaining to do on both ends. But because emotions run high, and because terms are not defined from the beginning, arguments get out of hand and both parties sin as a result in treating their brother in Christ wrongfully, or at the very least walk away completely misunderstood.
Free Will can essentially be defined as this: choosing what we desire most. That’s really all there is to it. I don’t think either a Calvinist or an Arminian can disagree with that. I have a choice presented to me to eat either pizza or tacos. At a given moment I may desire tacos more than pizza and therefore I choose tacos. We choose what we desire most. So I have the ability as a free agent to make choices based on what I want. So how does Free Will fit into this? What is it that I want apart from the grace of God stepping in to change me? Well, it’s very clear from Romans 8:7-8, Romans 3:9-18, and many other places, that our wills and our desires, including every other facet of our existence, is bound up in sin, slaves to sin. Sin is our master apart from the work of God to incline us to Himself. So apart from the intervening work of the Holy Spirit, what is it that we desire most? Sin, wickedness, trampling on the glory of God; anything but the living God. Even the benevolent things done to others that are done without giving glory to God, done without faith, is sin (Romans 14:23).
Therefore, as a result, though we are free to make choices and are responsible for those choices, our very choices are always bent toward sin and rejecting Christ and will never choose Christ, apart from being regenerated first by the Holy Spirit in order that we irresistibly desire Christ and as a result choose Him. God must first choose to regenerate us to even be able to want Christ (1 John 4:19). So yes in one sense, Free Will doesn’t exist because apart from an inward change by the work of the cross, we will always choose sin because that’s what we desire most, and so we are enslaved to sin. But in another sense we have the ability to choose one thing over another and are responsible for that choice. But our desires are corrupted by sin and we therefore choose sin and are unable to submit to the law of God and the Gospel. I write all this to point out that we must define our terms when debating with those in disagreement with our position, and more than anything be loving to them, just as Christ has loved us and gave Himself up for us.
So what is our hope, if we are bound in sin, unable to submit to the law of God and the Gospel? What can we do? By the power of the cross of Christ alone, believe in the name of Jesus and you will be saved. For there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). Not only does God provide the answer in Christ, but He also graciously provides the means to attain to that grace, namely the gift of faith and repentance. What God demands of us He freely gives us in Christ. “To suppose that whatever God requireth of us that we have power of ourselves to do, is to make the cross and grace of Jesus Christ of none effect.” – John Owen.
Our hope lies not with our abilities, our will, our strength, our moral resolution to attain to God’s good favor, but with God alone and His power, appropriated through the cross of Christ. He must first regenerate us and as a result He will give rise to our faith. Just as in creation, He creates light in the darkness, from the void brings forth life. It is the same in salvation. And this work by God was made possible by the cross of Christ and His resurrection from death. Not only has He bought the salvation of some for sure through His work, but He also bought everything necessary in order for us to believe, purchasing even the gifts of faith and repentance (Ephesians 2:8, 2 Timothy 2:25). Therefore, if you know Him, cry out in gratitude that He looked upon you in the condition of bondage to sin and fall at His feet in worship. And if you don’t know Him but see Him as good and yourself as dreadfully sinful and beyond your own repair, throw yourself at His feet and cry out to Him to have mercy on You in your sinfulness and wickedness, granting you the gifts of repentance and faith. Cry out as the man in Mark 9:24, “I believe; help my unbelief!” The Lord is ready and willing.
To read more on this, you definitely have to read J.I. Packer’s very short section on free will in his book Concise Theology. In addition, check out the entire section on Free Will at Monergism.com. (both below)