By: Annabelle C. Lee
We have been given the gift of free will by God, and until He takes this gift away from us, we have the ability to make every choice we come upon. There are several points in this statement that are arguable, and Christians like to hotly debate this topic, so let’s discuss why and how we have full and complete free will.
What is free will?
In order to understand why and how we have free will, we must first understand the concept of free will itself. Free will is the ability to make decisions for ourselves. It is the idea that God does not choose our actions for us, but rather, allows us to do so. This is described throughout scripture, so let’s analyze some of these verses and passages.
“But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15
I’m sure many of you have heard the line “as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord”. You’ve probably seen it on a very cute sign at Hobby Lobby or Target. This part of the verse is very important, but I want us to focus on the first part: “if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve”. What an interesting statement God is making here! He is giving His children complete permission to choose another god if they do not want to follow Him. He gives us free will to choose to worship false gods and idols with the hope that we will instead choose Him. This is the essence of free will. Let’s look at another verse.
“Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteousness of their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and He will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” Isaiah 55:7
In this verse, God is telling the wicked people (that’s you, me, and everyone on Earth) to forsake, or to walk away from their wicked ways and thoughts. Why does God not simply force us to be good? Why does He ask us to leave our wicked ways when He could snap His fingers and make us all do only good things?
The answer to this complicated question is He gave us free will. From the beginning of our existence (when He gave us the choice to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil), we were given free will. This includes the choice to do wicked things, and the wonderful choice to turn away from such wicked things and follow the Lord! It is up to each and every one of us which choice we want to make.
Why were we given free will?
Has your mom or dad or someone you know ever asked you to do something for them that suddenly became the last thing on earth you wanted to do? It could’ve been a chore, a favor, or an errand - really anything that you didn’t particularly want to do. They told you you had to do it, so when you did, it was against your will and your attitude was probably not the cheeriest. Now I want you to think back to a time where you voluntarily did something for someone. Maybe you washed the dishes when it was your sister’s turn, you spent a great deal of time helping a friend with homework, or even something like you paid for someone to go to college. You did these things because you wanted to, which made them infinitely more special than if you were forced to. When you made the decision to do something for that person, you showed them that you really loved them. This is similar to how it works with God!
When God gives us the choice to choose the things of this world or to choose him, He is allowing us to make the choice to love Him. When we follow His law, we are showing Him and others that we love God and we want to do these things for His glory. If He forced us all to do good things, we would not be doing them out of our love for him, we would be doing them out of necessity. This is the basis of why God gave all of humanity free will.
So what about the people who say God predestined some of us to go to Heaven and some of us to go to Hell? Are some of us fated to go to Hell even before we are born?
This is an extremely layered question, and is one I hear quite often in Christian and non-Christian conversation. We’ll dive deep into the meaning of this question, so just hold on tight - hopefully it will all make sense soon!
First of all, no one is predestined to never receive salvation before they are born. All people are given the chance to accept or deny God before they are placed in Heaven and Hell, so the idea that some people are destined to go to Hell and can not avoid this destiny is false. When God gave us the gift of free will he gave all of us the chance to choose Him. A well-known verse highlights this truth for us:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16.
This verse shows that anyone (whoever) believes in Jesus will have eternal life and live in Heaven with God. I’m sure many of you have heard this verse before, but I wonder if you’ve heard the next few verses. Let’s continue…
“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” John 3:17-18
You see here that we are given two distinct choices: believing in Jesus or not believing in Jesus. It is our own free will that determines our destiny after we die.
But if God is all-powerful, shouldn’t he be able to send people to Hell even if they didn’t choose that for themselves?
The answer to this question is absolutely yes. The thing is, God would not do this. When God gave us free will, He gave us the ability to make this decision on our own.
“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God” John 1:12
He gave us the right to become His children, and He will not take that right away. It is not in the character of God to break His promises, so we can rest assured in the steadfastness and grace of God, knowing that He will not take this freedom away from us. It is not in His character. It is not who He is.
What about people who never hear about God, and don’t know about the Gospel like babies or people who don’t have the ability to comprehend the Bible?
Babies do not have the cognitive ability to understand that Jesus is their Savior and make the decision to follow Him; neither do some people with cognitive disabilities or people who do not have scripture translated in their language and have never heard the Gospel. These people have not been given the ability to choose to follow or deny God yet, so if they were to die, they would not be sent to Hell. I know this is a very controversial topic in the church, but the scriptures I have read and verses I have pasted below should clear this up. Don’t stop after the first one - you must read through all three before making any decisions about this topic. Promise? Alright, go on ahead:
“Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” Psalm 51:5
Before I give you the answer to why babies do not go to Hell, I ought to give you the verse many people use to say that they do! It is absolutely true that we are all born into sin. Babies hit their mothers, toddlers scream ‘mine!’, preschoolers lie to their teachers and steal from their friends. We see anger, selfishness, lying and stealing in tiny children! This is because we are all born into sin. What this means, is our inherent nature is actually to sin, not to be perfect and do wonderful things! This makes sense psychologically and biblically. So shouldn’t people who haven’t had the choice to choose God be sent to Hell because they’ve already sinned? Prepare to be mind-blown.
“And the little ones that you said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet know good from bad—they will enter the land. I will give it to them and they will take possession of it.” Deuteronomy 1:39
Did you catch it? This verse explicitly says “your children who do not yet know good from bad”, showing that young children do not know the difference between good and bad things yet! This means that they are not yet cognitively developed enough to make the decision to follow or not to follow God yet, so if they die, they will certainly not suffer the consequences of someone who chose to go against God! Now I want to make an important distinction here before you get too excited. The ‘land’ the children will enter in this verse is not Heaven. The good news is, we know now that there is a time in a child’s life that they did not know right from wrong. Be encouraged! I’ve got another verse!
“He will be eating curds and honey when He knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.” Isaiah 7:15-16
Aha! “Before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right” clearly states that this boy does not have enough information to make the right choice. This applies not only to small children, but also to anyone who does not know “enough to reject the wrong and choose the right”. John 3:16 says “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”, but how can someone who has no idea who God is, what Jesus did, or even how to spell the name 'Jesus' believe in him? These people are can not make this decision for themselves before they know enough to make their choice.
Phew! That was a hard one!
Isn’t God letting someone die before they are saved technically Him damning them to Hell?
What an excellent question, Annabelle's doubts! The answer is no! If this person heard the Gospel, chose not to follow God, and died in this status, God did not send them to Hell… they did. Agh! This is such a nasty subject, I know. People really, really, really hate talking about Hell and anything having to do with it, but the reality is this is extremely important to what we believe. If a person is given the chance to choose God and they do not, they are, as the not as popular John 3:18 says, condemned. God gave us His son to pay for our sins so we could have a relationship with him. If we choose the things of this world instead of Him, after we die we can not go to Heaven. God can not be in the presence of sin, so an unsaved sinner, still dead in their sin, can not be in His presence. He is heartbroken to see one of His children die unsaved because it means He can not have that relationship with them any more. There are only two choices after death, Heaven and Hell, and He sits in Heaven, unable to be in the presence of sin, meaning an unsaved human can not come in. This is just an absolutely horrid thought - and God thinks so too. God despairs when He can no longer be in relationship with His children, but He is a righteous and fair God, and He must do what is right. To remind you how much God loves you and how much He desperately wants to see you in Heaven, read what He says here:
“This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to His voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and He will give you many years in the land He swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Deuteronomy 30:19-20
God has placed before us two choices: life and death. He pleads with us - choose life so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God. He desperately wants all of us to choose Him, and He gave us free will so we may do so. A young teenager may die in a car accident without giving their life to Christ. If they hear about Jesus and understand it even just one time, they are responsible for their choice - there are only two options. Because of this, if they had the choice and did not choose God and they die, they can not enter into His presence. This means we have a very heavy responsibility…
What is our responsibility, as Christians, to help others make the right choice to follow God with their free will?
It is an incredible gift to have the option to choose or not to choose God. However, it is a big responsibility. Our mission, as Christians, is to show others who Christ is and let God bring them to Him. We never can know when our days will be cut short and the decision we made on earth will yield eternal joys/consequences. Live in a way that shows everyone around you who Jesus is and what He is like. It is difficult for people to believe in something they can not see. Be the part of Jesus that they can see. Show them how Jesus has worked in your life and how you’ve been able to see Him! Tell them why you made the choice you did and talk to them about who God is. Tell them that they have been given the gift of free will and they can choose to be with God, a loving, all-powerful, all-knowing, merciful, perfect and holy Father forever. After seeing and talking to you, making the right choice should be a little bit easier.
What if I haven’t made the choice yet myself?
I would encourage you to think about your decision carefully - it’s a big one. The Bible tells us that a Christian’s life will be no cake-walk. You’ll run into hardships and difficult times like everyone else because this world is corrupt. Luckily, if you believe in Jesus, this world is the closest thing to Hell you’ll ever see. Through faith in God we can get through any trial or tribulation. He gives us peace that surpasses all understanding. He grants us joy unimaginable. In Him, we are given strength and wisdom freely so that we are equipped for every storm that comes our way. Read the Bible. It is all breathed by God, which means it is written by Him. He chose many different people throughout history to write down what He told them and share it with the rest of the world. If these words were written by regular people the chances are good we would not still be reading it today. The Bible is not only still being read today, it is the best selling book of all time. Furthermore, it is the best selling book of the year… every year. It lives up to the hype. Some good places to begin are Ephesians, Romans, Acts, and Matthew. Why is my best advice to you to read the Bible? Because God is a lot smarter than me, a lot wiser than me, and He knows you quite a lot better!
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this in-depth explanation of what free will is, what it means, how to defend the idea, and how it applies to us. If you have a friend that you think would be interested in reading this article, please pass this link along to them. Thank you for taking time to learn and explore more about Christianity and God’s Word! Love you :)
Verses (if you’d like to read more on the topics!)