Do We Have Free Will?

Some say that we do not have Free Will, and that it is under GOD's will in which we live. They say we have no control over our lives, as GOD has predestined us to spend eternity in heaven or in hell. This thought process is called 'Predestination' and was a teaching of John Calvin, (1509-1564).

What is the meaning of Free Will?

It is I will, or I won't power, the power to decide. We are free to choose to love GOD or not to love GOD. We were all given Free Will by the Creator. We can choose for ourselves to go to heaven or to go to hell. Unless we are really free, we cannot be held fully responsible for our actions.

The dictionary says: Free Will
'Done of one's own accord, voluntary'.
'The power attributed especially to human beings, of making free choices that are unconstrained by external circumstances or by an agency such as divine will'.

Few have defined what free will is, although it is mentioned often in the writings of many of the Church Fathers and of others throughout history. Origen defined Free Will as a faculty of the reason to distinguish between good and evil, and a faculty of the will to choose one or the other. Augustine taught that it is a faculty of the reason and the will to choose good with the assistance of grace, or evil when grace is absent.

In summation, whatever we decide to do from a list of options, we are exercising our Free Will. If the definition is so simple, then why do some sects deny we have it?

Let us see what Holy Scripture has to say...

Perhaps one of the best examples of the use of Free Will is in Gen 2:15 to Gen 3:1-7. GOD commanded Adam not to eat of the tree of good and evil. Then the serpent tempted Adam and Eve to eat of the fruit of that tree. They decided of their own free will to eat of the tree. They chose evil over good. It was NOT the will of GOD for them to do this (Gen 2:17).

"GOD made man from the beginning, and left him in the hand of his own counsel", Sir 15:14.

"For if we sin willfully after receiving the knowledge of truth, there remains no longer a sacrifice for sins", Heb 6:4-8,10:26.

"I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life then, that you and your descendants may live..." Deut 30:19.

"...And afterwards the continual holocaust, both on the new moons and on all the solemnities of the Lord that were consecrated, and on all in which a freewill offering was made to the Lord."
Ezra 3:5.

"...And all the silver and gold that you shall find in all the provinces of Babylon, and that the people is willing to offer of their own accord to the house of their GOD, which is in Jerusalem." Ezra 7:16.

"And the people blessed all the men that willingly offered themselves to dwell in Jerusalem."
Neh 11:2.

"Because I called and you refused; I stretched out my hand, and there was none that regarded." Prov 1:24.

"If you be willing, and will harken to me, you shall eat the good things of the land. But if you will not, and will provoke me to wrath, the sword shall devour you because the mouth of the Lord has spoken it." Isa 1:19-20.

"My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me; if any man’s will is to do his will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. He who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but he who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood. Did not Moses give you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law."
John 7:16-20

Then there is the story of the Prodigal Son. Did not he exercise his free will when he left his father and family in Luke 15:13, and yet again when he willingly decided to return in Luke 15:17-20?

"He who rejects me, and does not accept my words, has one to condemn him." John 12:48.

"If I do this willingly, I have a reward. But if unwillingly, it is a stewardship entrusted to me. What then is my reward?" 1Cor 9:17-18

"Tend the flock of GOD which is among you, governing not under constraint, but willingly, according to GOD." 1Pet 5:2.

GOD wishes all men to be saved. If that is true, then how could he ever predestine anyone to hell?
Here is the proof from Holy Scripture:

"For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God, who is not partial and takes no bribe."
Deut 10:17

"Now then, let the fear of the Lord be upon you; take heed what you do, for there is no perversion of justice with the Lord our God, or partiality, or taking bribes."
2Chron 19:7

" Will you condemn him who is righteous and mighty, who says to a king, ‘Worthless one,’ and to nobles, ‘Wicked man’; who shows no partiality to princes, nor regards the rich more than the poor, for they are all the work of his hands?"
Job 34:17-19

" For the lowliest man may be pardoned in mercy, but mighty men will be mightily tested. For the Lord of all will not stand in awe of any one, nor show deference to greatness; because he himself made both small and great, and he takes thought for all alike."
Wis 6:6-7

" Do not offer him a bribe, for he will not accept it; and do not trust to an unrighteous sacrifice; for the Lord is the judge, and with him is no partiality. He will not show partiality in the case of a poor man; and he will listen to the prayer of one who is wronged."
Sir 35:12-13

" And Peter opened his mouth and said: "Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him."
Acts 10:34-35

" For God shows no partiality."
Rom 2:11

"And from those who were reputed to be something (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who were of repute added nothing to me;..."
Gal 2:6

"Masters, do the same to them, and forbear threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him."
Eph 6:9

"For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality."
Col 3:25

"This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth."
1Tim 2:4

"And if you invoke as Father him who judges each one impartially according to his deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile."
1Pet 1:17

"The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance."
2Pet 3:9

Now is anyone predestined one way or the other?
Let us see what the Church Fathers had to say in support of our GOD given Free Will...
The 'J' references are for 'The Faith of the Early Fathers', by William A Jurgens.

*Justin Martyr, First Apology 43-44. J123...

'We have learned from the prophets and we hold it as true that punishments and chastisements and good rewards are distributed according to the merit of each man's actions. Were this not the case, and were all things to happen according to the decree of fate, there would be nothing at all in our power. If fate decrees that this man is to be good, and that one wicked, then neither is the former to be praised nor the latter to be blamed.
Furthermore, if the human race does not have the power of a freely deliberated choice in fleeing evil and in choosing good, then men are not accountable for their actions, whatever they may be. That they do, however, by a free choice, either walk upright or stumble, we shall now prove... GOD did not make man like the other beings, the trees, and the four-legged beasts, for example, which cannot do anything by free choice.
Neither would man deserve reward or praise if he did not of himself choose the good; nor, if he acted wickedly, would he deserve punishment, since he would not be evil by choice, and could not be other than that which he was born. The Holy Prophetic Spirit taught us this when He informed us through Moses that GOD spoke as follows to the created man: "Behold, before your face, the good and the evil. Choose the good."' Deut 30:15,19.

Theophilus of Antioch, To Autolycus 2:27. J184
Athanasius, Discourse Against Arians 3:6. J775
Gregory of Nyssa, Great Catechism 31. J1034
Chrysostom, On Hebrews 12:3:5. J1219
Ambrose, Commentary on Luke 10:60. J1309
Jerome, Against Jovinian 2:3+. J1380, J1404, J1405
Pelagius, Free Will, Grace of Christ 4:5. J1413
Julian of Eclanum, Eight Books to Florus 5:41. J1416
Augustine, Letter to Valentine 215:4. J1455, J1495, J1560
Augustine, Questions to Simplician 1:2:12. J1572-1573
Augustine, Spirit and the Letter 3:5+. J1729 J1735 J1742
Augustine, Homilies on John 26:2+. J1821, J1926, J1942
Augustine, Grace and Original Sin 1:25:26. J1854
Augustine, Admonition and Grace 11:32. J1955, J1972
Prosper of Aquitaine, Grace of GOD 18:3. J2038
Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John 13:18. J2113
Damascene, Source of Knowledge 3:3:20. J2367

Here is a very good anti-predestination argument formulated by a Catholic priest who is a former Calvinist himself, Fr. Paul Rothermel...

PROPOSITION: A true Calvinist teaches that everything that happens has been predestined before the foundation of the world. Thus, according to Calvinism, because I have free agency and no true power to choose contraries (i.e., free will), I do voluntarily what I could never do otherwise. Thus, "My sins last week happened; they were certain to happen; and they were predestined before the foundation of the world. I freely did evil, but I could not have done otherwise."
A true Calvinist admits this. Yet St. Paul teaches that, with every temptation, God has made a way to escape from committing the sinful deed (1 Cor 10:13). Therefore, the question for the true Calvinist is:
"Which way did God, in fact, provide for you to escape the temptations to do the sins you committed last week, if indeed you are so inclined? That is, if you have been predestined before the foundation of the world to do it?"
This is a clear hole in the Calvinist position, forcing one to conclude that Calvinism cannot be reconciled with St. Paul. Clearly, if Calvin is right and one is predestined to commit a particular sin before the foundation of the world, God could not have truly provided a way out of that sin for you to take. How could He if you were predestined not to take it? So, either Calvin is wrong or we are dealing with a God Who feigns offers of deliverance from temptation.
So, which is it? Is God a fraud or is Calvin?

Many thanks to Mark Bobocore for forwarding this section.

Compiled by Bob Stanley, October 7, 1999
Updated July 26. 2001

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