The Bible teaches that people have free will. What does that mean? It means we are free to choose what we want. We may have a hard time choosing what we want, we may wish at times we had different choices to choose from, but in the end we get to choose what we want or desire the most.
From the very beginning, God has communicated to us in such a way as He expects that we can make our own choices. When He spoke to Adam in Genesis 2:16-17 (NIV), “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die,” God presented Adam with a choice. God was not going to intervene or stop his choice, he was free to make it and it would be his. The buck stops with Adam’s choice.
This freedom to make our own decisions is part of what it is to be made the image of God. As God is free to make His own decisions, we are free to make ours.
Another example of Scripture’s assumption that we have free will is Genesis 4:6-7 (NIV). Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” God’s words don’t really make any sense unless Cain is free to make his own choice—to do what is right, or to not do what is right. The buck stops with Cain. Whether he chose to sin or not, the way God saw it, the buck stopped with him.
Scripture abounds with texts that have the presumption that we have free will:
Proverbs 3:31 (NIV) Do not envy the violent or choose any of their ways.
Proverbs 8:10 (NIV) Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold.
Proverbs 12:26 (NIV) The righteous choose their friends carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.
In each of those passages assume that people are free to make their own choices. You cannot read the Bible and make sense of any of it without coming to the conclusion that we are free to make our own choices—that in some sense, the buck stops with us.
The second truth that Scripture makes abundantly clear is that God holds us responsible for our choices. If our choices were really not our own to make, if we are not able to make our own choices, God could not justly hold us to account for them. We may be influenced by other people in our choices, but our choices are still our own, and therefore we are held responsible for them. Look at how God judges Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. Both Adam and Eve make the argument that they should not be held responsible for eating from the Tree of Good and Evil because their choices were heavily influenced by the serpent. But God still holds them responsible for their choices. Adam could not pass the buck to Eve, and Eve could not pass the buck to the Serpent.
Not only does outside influence not relieve us of responsibility for our choices, but inside influence does not excuse us either. Our free will, as I have said—and as I think it is commonly understood—is directed by our desires. It is (to use scriptural language) directed by our hearts. We never come face to face with choices from a standpoint of indifference. We are always biased one way or another. Our desires, our likes and dislikes, our desire to increase our happiness and minimize our pain, incline us one way or another. And as a direct result of Adam and Eve’s choice, the desires of our heart are bent towards sin. It is not that we are not able to understand God, His commands, His holiness, that we have a desire to sin, it is that we have no desire to obey. The “original” in original sin means that we are born fundamentally sinful. Sin is not something that is learned or added or picked up in life, it is original to us; it is part of the fallen human condition.
The Bible says five things very clearly about the sinful bent of the human heart:
- It is universal. The Bible insists that all of us have a predisposition toward evil. This is assumed by the authors of the Bible as being blatantly apparent to observation. “But no, all have turned away from God; all have become corrupt. No one does good, not even one!” (Psalm 14:3), “LORD, if you kept a record of our sins, who, O Lord, could ever survive?” (Psalm 130:3), “Who can say, ‘I have cleansed my heart; I am pure and free from sin?'” (Proverbs 20:9).
- It is even from birth that this is so. “Who can create purity in one born impure? No one!” (Job 14:4), “Can a mortal be pure? Can a human be just?” (Job 15:14), “These wicked people are born sinners; even from birth they have lied and gone their own way” (Psalm 58:3).
- It is described as our disposition. “An empty-headed person won’t become wise any more than a wild donkey can bear human offspring!” (Job 11:12), “You are sick from head to foot—covered with bruises, welts, and infected wounds—without any ointments or bandages.” (Isaiah 1:6), “She spouts evil like a fountain!” (Jeremiah 6:7), “Can an Ethiopian change the color of his skin? Can a leopard take away its spots? Neither can you start doing good, for you always do evil” (Jeremiah 13:23).
- It is continually darkening our heart as we age. “And you are even worse than your ancestors!” (Jeremiah 16:12), “They go about their evil deeds with both hands. How skilled they are at using them! Officials and judges alike demand bribes. The people with money and influence pay them off, and together they scheme to twist justice” (Micah 7:3), “Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness…” (Romans 6:19), “Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more” (Ephesians 4:19, NIV).
- The worst of this condition appears in the realization that God and man are diametrically opposed to each other. “…Compared to you, no one is perfect” (Psalm 143:2), “I discovered that God created people to be upright, but they have each turned to follow their own downward path” (Ecclesiastes 7:29). God says of Israel, “Yes, I will tell you of things that are entirely new, for I know so well what traitors you are. You have been rebels from your earliest childhood, rotten through and through” (Isaiah 48:8). “Their judgment is based on this fact: The light from heaven came into the world, but they loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil” (John 3:19).
It is not hard to convince people that we don’t love God with all our heart, soul and mind, and love our neighbor as ourselves. What people don’t want to hear is that God holds each of us responsible for all—each and every one—of those failings even though our fallen nature drives us to desire those choices.
The fact of the matter is since we have sinned against God to whom we have infinite obligations, the guilt we incur comes with an infinite punishment. Now, while it may be hard to understand infinite, the idea that guilt increases as our obligations to love, honor and obey a person increases is just common sense.
If you went up to your boss and punched him in the nose, you would be in trouble for sure. But if you punched a police officer in the nose, you would be in more trouble. And if you punched the President of the United States in the nose, you would probably not see the light of day again without seeing bars in front of it! But we’ve all gone and punched God in the nose! And not just once but over and over! As P.T. Forsythe says, we are not “stray sheep or wandering prodigals even, but rebels taken with weapons in our hands.” It’s bad enough to sin against the President of the United States of America but, as the author of Hebrews says, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!” There is no such thing to God as an over looked sin. Nothing you have done will escape God’s righteous judgment.
God sees us as being creatures who possess free will, and that free will is so central to who we are and how we were created, that He sees our choices as our own regardless of any outside or inside influences on our choices. God’s own righteousness necessitates that He punish all evil. We cannot pass the buck; it stops with us.
The perfect reasoning for taking responsibility for our own actions. Something that seems to be missing in society from the poorest to the richest and from the believers and unbelievers. We need a good punch in the nose!
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Thank you. =)