Free will, freedom, and our union with Christ

If we don’t have free will to choose we cannot live in freedom, which is what Jesus came to give us (see Gal.5:1). Freedom requires two things. First, it requires having response-ability. By definition, you cannot be free if you have no ability to respond to choices. Second, freedom comes from our union with Christ, for true freedom does not come from without, but comes from within.

Let’s look at these two requirements for freedom a little more closely.

Freedom requires response-ability

I shared a post about God’s sovereignty last week (“How We See God’s Sovereignty Matters“) and how God’s essence is love, which requires free will. But another untenable problem with a deterministic worldview is it tends to minimize or even negate our responsibility toward the Lord and others.

Our choices have consequences which will determine the level of our freedom. Here’s what Paul told the Corinthians:

12 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. (1 Cor.6:12 NIV)

23 You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings. (1 Cor.7:23 NIV)

These admonitions would be absurd if we had no free will. Even under the Old Covenant we were held responsible for our choices; either to walk with God or go our own way.

19 I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live (Deut.30:19 NKJV*)

15 And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…. (Josh.24:15 NKJV*)

Jesus told us that IF we follow Him we will be made free. This implies that we have a part to play in our freedom.

31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32 NIV*)

While we cannot save ourselves, we CAN choose to receive or reject Christ’s invitation to freedom. As it’s been said, we cannot do God’s part (salvation, grace), but He won’t do our part (receive the free gift, follow Jesus).

And, as followers of Christ, our actual freedom is proportional to the choices we make that are in sync with His teachings. Furthermore, He gave us His Spirit to empower us to live a godly life and have the freedom to say “no” to that which would put us in bondage.

12 This same grace teaches us how to live each day as we turn our backs on ungodliness and indulgent lifestyles, and it equips us to live self-controlled, upright, godly lives in this present age. (Titus 2:12 TPT*)

Freedom comes from our union with Christ

We’re not just legally free, Jesus intends to make us experientially free. But like taking responsibility for our choices, we also become free to the degree that we remain in Jesus’ love (John 15:9-12), allowing His Spirit and Living Word to recalibrate our mindset (Heb.4:12). Again, here’s Paul talking to the Corinthians:

22 For truly, if you are called to a life-union with the Lord, you are already a free man! And those who were called to follow Jesus when they were free are now the Messiah’s slaves. 23 Since a great price was paid for your redemption, stop having the mind-set of a slave. (1 Cor.7:22-23 TPT*)

Paul makes it clear in this chapter that our outward status and circumstances have nothing to do with our freedom. Whether we’re slave or free, wealthy or poor, influential or marginalized, freedom is an inside job.

Paul tells us to stop having the mindset of a slave. But in order to change our mindset, we must have our minds renewed, which requires our willing cooperation with Holy Spirit to bring our thoughts into sync with the mind of Christ.

 Beloved friends, what should be our proper response to God’s marvelous mercies? I encourage you to surrender yourselves to God to be his sacred, living sacrifices. And live in holiness, experiencing all that delights his heart. For this becomes your genuine expression of worship.

Stop imitating the ideals and opinions of the culture around you, but be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit through a total reformation of how you think. This will empower you to discern God’s will as you live a beautiful life, satisfying and perfect in his eyes. (Rom.12:1-2 TPT*)

Again, this would be an absurd thing to say if we have no free will. Our part (responsibility) is to willingly put our minds on God’s potter’s wheel, to be re-shaped and re-formed. With our permission, Jesus reaches into the deepest parts of us, revealing lies that have held us in bondage, freeing us from these strongholds by replacing them with truth.

But here’s the thing. Taking those thoughts captive requires our free will.

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholdscasting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor.10:3-5 NKJV*)

Beloved, notice that we’re in a war. It’s not one of flesh and blood but of mindsets and affections. But we don’t fight for victory, we fight from victory. Jesus’ part is to empower us by His Spirit and reveal truth that breaks all bondage and strongholds; our part is to take those thoughts captive, opening our hearts to His truth that makes us free.

Freedom is one of our most cherished values. But if we don’t have free will we will live powerless lives, never finding the freedom that comes from taking responsibility for our choices. Choose well.

* All emphasis added.

About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 41 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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12 Responses to Free will, freedom, and our union with Christ

  1. Good stuff, Mel! He came to set the captives free! We can be slaves to so many things, half the time we don’t even realize we’re slaves! That’s really sad.

    I love the story of the Israelites taking a really circular route to the promised land.They’re hungry and scared and they even want to go back to pharaoh. Eventually they spend 40 years wandering around in the desert. Why did God lead them all over the place for so long? Because they were learning how not to be slaves! For generations that was how they had lived, it was their whole mindset and way of life. You can’t just plunk slaves down in the promised land and call it good, they need time to discover their freedom and adjust to it, to step into their full authority and actually become new creatures.

    • Mel Wild says:

      You’re right, IB. It took God moments to deliver Israel out of Egypt, it took a whole generation to get Egypt out of Israel’s mindset. The real slavery is always in our thinking, not in our circumstances. That’s why it’s a life-long process.

  2. ColorStorm says:

    Where did the idea Mel of even thinking man does not have free will? Geezo.

    Why bother with commands if people can’t choose to be rebellious?

    It seems the short sighted or theologically inept can’t see the difference tween Gods sovereignty and mans responsibility.

    To suggest we do not have free will makes us the lesser animal- with apologies to ravenous beasts worldwide.

    CHOOSE you this day who u will serve….. seems a no brainer.

    • Mel Wild says:

      I couldn’t agree more, Colorstorm. It really should be a no-brainer. The fact that we have free will to accept or reject God seems pretty evident in our experience. Jesus told the Pharisees that they always resist the will of God. As you said, the commandments would be irrelevant if we’re just following God’s will all the time.

      Of course, the deterministic view is well documented. It first came from Stoic and Gnostic philosophy, which the church fought against for the first three centuries. Then it got a foothold from Manichean interpretations of Scripture and through influential church leaders like Augustine (who returned to this philosophy late in his life).

      This is what happens when you take a select number a proof-texts and make a whole view of God’s sovereignty. You end up with incoherent interpretations of Scriptures like the ones mentioned that are obviously not in agreement. You have to twist them to mean something else in order to fit your conclusions.

  3. David Robertson says:

    A much needed post in a time where most of us are in some form of self-isolation! It’s easy to feel a bit trapped, but turning onwards and recognising our inner freedom may be all we really need.

  4. Rob Skye says:

    If we really have free will, then why do some reject God and others don’t? What is the mechanism that leads some to choose one way and other another way? Is it that some people are simply more virtuous or have more wisdom? Is the will truly free if there is a threat for making certain choices? Believing in “free will” leads to as many uncomfortable questions as God’s sovereignty.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks for your questions, Rob. No one is saying that this is an easy subject! 🙂 Let me briefly give you my take on your questions.

      “If we really have free will, then why do some reject God and others don’t? What is the mechanism that leads some to choose one way and other another way?”

      One answer I would give is the condition of our heart determines how we respond. The heart is the gatekeeper to receiving anything from God. Proverbs 4:23 tells us to guard our hearts for it determines the course of our life. If we had no choice, it wouldn’t make sense to tell us to guard the condition of our heart. Paul tells us that it’s with the heart that one believes (Rom.10:10).

      “Is the will truly free if there is a threat for making certain choices?”

      That would only be a factor if we believed that there was a threat. Many people don’t believe in the threat, and many make foolish choices to their own hurt in spite of any danger that a bad choice may bring.

      But I will be the first to admit that why we do what we do (or don’t do) is a deep mystery that I don’t think any of us fully understand.

      “Believing in “free will” leads to as many uncomfortable questions as God’s sovereignty.”

      But you’re creating a false dichotomy with your statement. I believe that God gives us free will in His sovereignty. Sovereignty does not mean micro-managing control. It simply means that God has ultimate power and authority, as I said in the post. So, having free will in no way takes away from God’s sovereignty because He has the power and authority to make the world any way He wants. And I believe He created it in such a way that we could choose to receive or reject His grace because free will is the essence of love, and God is love.

  5. Lily Pierce says:

    I like what you said here, Mel. What sometimes throws me off are statements and stories in the Old Testament which indicate that God is orchestrating some people’s actions and feelings. Do you have two cents you can give on how those instances fall in with the idea of free will?

    • Mel Wild says:

      You are bringing up a good point, Lily. It does appear that way in the Old Testament, and that’s for two main reasons.

      First, I don’t want you to mistake this view with deism, where God is not involved at all in human affairs. He’s very much is involved. God did and does intervene at critical points in history in order to make sure His redemptive plan is fulfilled. He also answers prayer to intervene. So, while He does maintain control of the outcome of His redemption plan, it doesn’t follow that He meticulously micro-manages every human being and action. Oftentimes, what looks like God arbitrarily hardening or rejecting someone was the result of their continued resistance to His will. He finally let them go to their own devices. Ironically, Israel in Romans 9 is an example of that. Simply read the “Potter’s house” prophecy in Jeremiah 18. The clay was only discarded after several attempts to be used, Esau was “let go” (which is what the word, “hate” means here) AFTER he despised his birthright. Pharaoh was hardened AFTER resisting God several times.

      The second consideration is the language barrier we have in understanding the text. Biblical scholars and anthropologists tell us that the biblical text was written in what is called High Context cultural language. In contrast, our modern cultural language is called Low Context (more literal, explaining every detail). In a High Context cultural language, ideas are often conflated (fathers are sometimes grandfathers, the “whole earth” means the known region, etc.) And many details are left unexplained because they were assumed by a mainly oral culture that already understood the concept. This is why those who don’t understand the cultural language will accuse the Bible of having contradictions.

      An example of this type of writing that speaks to your question here: in 2 Sam 24:1 it says that God moved David to take the census, but in 1 Chronicles 21, we see that it was actually Satan that moved David so. But the point is, David was the only one responsible for doing what he did, which is why God held him culpable for his actions.

      Hope this makes sense! It’s not an easy subject. Blessings.

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