Published November 15, 2016

Paul's Epistle
"Free Will"

Back before the election, I wrote a column called "Choices" to illustrate the bigger issues at stake in the election beyond the personalities of the two presidential candidates. And I called specific attention to the widely different platforms of the two political parties.

One issue I discussed was abortion. I quoted from the Republican platform: "Proud to be the party that protects human life ... and strongly opposes infanticide."

I had a lengthy email from a young lady who supported Hillary because she, Hillary, was an extremely vocal supporter of "abortion rights." The letter writer was critical of my column, saying, "You don't acknowledge abortion as ‘free will' which is God-given...."

Frankly, I was stunned. I had to re-read that several times before I could believe that someone so misunderstands God-given "free will." Then, sadly, I realized just how common this misunderstanding is. And I also realized where it comes from.

Yes, God does give us "free will." But the "free will" He gives us is to obey Him or not; to choose His ways or ours; to choose Him or not. And what this young lady obviously didn't comprehend is that there are penalties to pay if the wrong way is chosen. Choices do matter.

God obviously gave Adam and Eve "free will." They could choose to obey Him or not. And His rules were simple — don't eat from that tree! (Genesis 2:17.) But they freely chose to disobey God. Were there ramifications? You bet there were. Humanity ever since — and the world in general — has had to live under the curse of sin. For some of us, we'll have to live with it until we die or the Lord returns. For others — probably the much larger percentage of people — they'll have to exist with the results of that curse throughout all eternity.

Noah preached for roughly a hundred years to people around him, to whom God had given the free will to believe God (and get on the boat) or not. Except for Noah's family, the people didn't. And they paid the penalty with their lives (temporal and eternal). (See 2 Peter 2:5.)

"Free will" doesn't mean we can do anything we want without penalty. Well-known theologian R. C. Sproul wrote, "The New Testament clearly includes some do's and don'ts. Christianity is not a religion that sanctions the idea that everyone has the right to do what is right in his own eyes. On the contrary, Christianity never gives anyone the ‘right' to do wrong."1

If we think the "free will" that God gives us means that we can choose to do anything we want to do without any adverse effects, we are woefully mistaken. Even for a true Christian, just as there will be extra rewards in heaven for faithfulness, there will be a diminished number of rewards for those who have exercised their free will to do things that don't please God. And, to the case in point, no one can build a compelling case that God approves of the slaughter of pre-born children through willful abortion. God is willing to forgive it — because He says He will do that in return for honest repentance — but He doesn't approve of such willful disobedience in the first place.

So why did God give us "free will?"  Simply, God didn't want a race of robots that would mindlessly do what He commands. He wanted people who would choose to follow Him of their own accord – to worship and love Him because they want to, not because they had to. If you're a parent, wouldn't you much rather have your children love you because they really want to – not because they had no option to do otherwise? Wouldn't you rather have your children obey you because they want to — not because they are forced to do so? God is our Father. He gives you the option to love and obey Him ... or not.  He gives salvation to whosoever will receive it (Rev. 22:17).  But each of us will be impacted by the choices we make.

Jesus Himself mourned over the fact that, although He wanted to save all the people of Jerusalem, He couldn't – because they weren't "willing" to be saved (Luke 13:34). They had a choice – to follow Him, or not. And they chose not to.2  God allows (but doesn't necessarily condone) our choices, no matter how bad they might be.

The abortion debate is often labeled "pro-choice" vs. "pro-life." The meaning of "pro-life" is obvious. But, ironically, the "pro-choice" label is also correct in that it is, indeed, a choice. But what "pro-choicers" don't understand is that it's a choice with potentially dire consequences.

Joshua gave the tribes of Israel a choice as they settled in the land God had given them: "...choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve," either pagan gods or the Lord. But he declared, " for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." (Joshua 24:15.) The people had to choose to do the right thing — or not. But if not, they would have to live with the consequences. (See a warning in Proverbs 1:28-30.)

Today, how do we exercise our free will wisely?

The best of all situations is when we come to the place — by earnestly praying and desiring it to be so — that our will falls into alignment with God's will. As Vice President-elect Mike Pence recently said on national TV, "the safest place in the world to be is in the center of God's will."

- Paul

1. R. C. Sproul, "Essential Truths of the Christian Faith," 1992 Tyndale House, p. 264.
2. A few decades later, God allowed the Romans to destroy an unrepentant Jerusalem (70 A.D.) 

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