One of the great questions of life is whether, or not, man has free will.
That this is a question worthy of debate might surprise some who take it for granted that they do; and yet there are a goodly amount of thinkers and teachers who will seek to convince others that free will is an illusion. Among secular thinkers, you have those who argue that all your choices are predetermined by chemical interactions, biological programming and random chance and that people never actually make any actual choices. Among theological philosophers you have those who follow the doctrine of John Calvin who advocated the idea that all men simply choose to do what God already wants them to do and that the omnipotence of God precludes individual decision making.
These are not new thoughts. The ancient Greeks, among others, believed in divine Fates who determined the lives of men, measuring out and allotting a certain portion to each life’s thread. There is, perhaps a certain comfort to be found in this idea of inevitability; for one thing, if you believe such doctrine, then nothing is ever your fault and you can’t be blamed for anything you have ever done. Someone or something else made you do it.
It is worth noting that the Word of God does not teach such a thing, but instead makes it clear that we are indeed responsible for our own behavior, and that we have been given a choice in our own self conduct.
Quite famously, and very obvious in his meaning, Joshua, student of Moses and leader of Israel, told the people of God, “choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.” (Joshua 24:15b) Why would God’s spokesman tell God’s people to make a choice if it was impossible to make such a choice?
A bit earlier in the history of man, Eve had a son named Cain who would go on to become famous for the murder of his brother, Abel. Before that fratricide however, God had a discussion with Cain over a sacrifice Cain had made to God which had displeased God. God told Cain the following: “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7; NKJV) God did not seem to believe that Cain had no say in the matter, rather God very much thought Cain should assert himself in making a choice to master his own temptations.
Speaking to Christians, many years later, the apostle Peter urged them to grow spiritually, saying, “But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, 6 to knowledge self-control…” (2 Peter 1:5-6a; NKJV) He would add, “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble.” (2 Peter 1:10; NKJV) Such admonitions make no sense absence the presence of choice.
God has given you a choice in life. In His power, He could very well simply force us to do what He wants us to do, but the Bible makes it clear that God is not choosing to exercise His power in this way; rather He has given us the opportunity to choose to do good, the opportunity to grow spiritually, and the opportunity to turn to Him.
The Scriptures say, “He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:26-27; NKJV)
God has given you a choice because He wants you to choose to seek Him, to choose to learn about Him, to choose to believe in Him in full faith. He wants our love, not the programmed affection of robots, but the conscious and knowing love of obedient children. Faith in God, by which is meant an awareness of the existence of God and a willingness to listen to and trust God (cf. Hebrews 11:6), is a choice.
You are more than a programmed mass of chemicals. You are more than a puppet on a string. The Bible says that you are a child of God, made in the image of God (cf. Genesis 1:26-27), and you have the opportunity to choose to serve God in that capacity. He has given you that choice. Choose wisely, choose faith.
If faith in Christ is the choice you want to make, the church of Christ invites you to study and worship with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise, if you have any questions, please share them with us through our website chapelhillchurchofchrist.org.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.