Any discussion about free will has to include the origin of sin in mankind. As we know, Eve was deceived by the serpent and basically talked in to eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Eve then convinced Adam to eat the same fruit. Shame and conviction and separateness from God were the immediate results of this disobedience. You see, God told Adam and Eve they may enjoy everything in the Garden of Eden, eat to their hearts content. But God established one commandment. God said do not eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. God was not tempting man or teasing him into disobedience. He was giving man “free will” to choose.
When the question of free will arises, it is important that we define the term very carefully. If we mean that we have the power to choose to do good or evil, to obey God or not obey God, or at least to believe or not believe His Gospel, as many people intend to suggest by the term “free will,” then we are in direct contradiction to the Scriptures. Truly, we are free to do what we want to do, but we are bound in what we want by our sin nature and our desires. We may do as we please. We cannot, however, use our will to shape our nature. Rather, our nature determines how we will use our will. This nature was decided when Eve partook of the forbidden fruit.
The Bible says in many places in Scripture that we are bound by sin. In our flesh, we cannot please God. Let’s turn to Romans 8:5-8. It says, “For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh, but they that are after the Spirit [do mind] the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” This is a serious conflict for us as human beings. Even as Christians.
We cannot understand the things of God. Turn to 1 Corinthians 2:14. This scripture tells us, “But the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” Now let’s turn to John 14:16-17. It says, “And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever: Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it sees Him not, neither knows Him: but ye know Him; for He dwells with you and shall be in you.” While in our sinful nature, we cannot even seek God. Turn to Romans 3:9-12. It says, “What then? Are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understands, there is none that seeks after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that does good, no, not one.”
We cannot do any good at all of ourselves. We are utterly captive to our sin nature. In fact, in John 8:31-34, it says, “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on Him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. They answered Him, We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how say thou, Ye shall be made free? Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever commits sin is the servant of sin.” We are prisoners of the devil and constrained to do his desires. Jesus says in John 8:43-45, “Why do ye not understand my speech? Even because ye cannot hear my word. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not.”
A question which is often heard is, “How can I be sure of what God’s will is?” Not many experiences in life are more baffling to the Christian than to be faced with a troubling problem and to be unable to find clear assurance as to what God’s will is concerning the problem. Life is sometimes complicated, and sometimes help is greatly needed. Disturbed days and sleepless nights are often had in the process of trying to discover God’s will. Our own faith is greatly strengthened by hearing of the personal experiences of other Christians who have learned to interpret God’s will in the middle of troubling problems. We don’t want vague theories about the matter of God’s guidance.
God’s guidance is not limited to times of emergency or crisis. Divine guidance is a daily need. It is as important as food. This is true because of our sin nature and our tendency to live by the flesh. Our instincts and our emotions tend to run riot sometimes, leading us down paths we should not be going. This is exactly how we end up in trouble. We follow our own will, disregarding God’s will for us. The question about God’s leading in your life brings up one of the most difficult questions in the Christian walk. Let’s look at a few principles taken from the Scriptures, from some things I’ve read, and from my experiences.
The first step is to seek to get our own heart right in every respect with the Lord, and make sure that we do not want our own way, but are really ready to do God’s will. If we ask the Lord in prayer to show us anything that may be standing in the way of His will, I believe He will do it by the Holy Spirit. Then we need to lay our problem frankly before the Lord, talking to Him as we would to a Christian friend, reverently of course, but telling God our problem. He knows all the factors involved, our limitations, our needs, our abilities, and what the future may hold, not only for us but for our families. We may need to keep praying for several days or weeks in very important matters, waiting patiently on God’s answer.
We have to be on the lookout for guidance that may come through the Word of God, through an inner conviction of the Holy Spirit, through the advice of Christian friends, or perhaps through the advice of our spiritual counselor or pastor. The advice of worldly or unsaved people is not usually of much value in spiritual matters. Here’s the thing: Those of us who are impulsive by nature need to guard against impulsive actions or decisions. It is hard for such people to wait on the Lord. Impulsive people are often self-centered, and tend to lean on their own understanding. They believe they have all the answers.
God tells us plainly in His Word that He is willing and able to guide us. Here are a few Scriptures that I have found helpful. Turn to Psalm 62:5. It says, “My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from Him.” James 1:5 says, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that gives to all men liberally, and upbraids not; and it shall be given him.” We sometimes fail to receive blessings intended for us because we forget to trust God. We forget that He is interested in us at all times, and in all things great and small.
How do we make good decisions? What does God really want from us? Does God care about every little choice we make? Of course, the big question behind all of this is “What is God’s will for my life?” Do our decisions really matter to God? God cares about what is going on in our lives. In any decision we have the opportunity to choose who we will worship. Will we worship God or will we worship ourselves? God wishes to be the highest priority in every part of our lives. In some areas of our lives it is clear that there are right decisions and wrong decisions – like the choice of whether or not to cheat on an exam. In other areas, we need to make choices between two good things – like choosing which college to attend. Other times, the choice may have to do with a gray area – something that’s not necessarily right or wrong. These are times where we have to apply wisdom. For example, spending a lot of times talking on the phone or texting friends may be a good thing. But if there never is a time when we’re just quiet and still, it can be harder for us to be aware of God’s presence, or to hear Him express His will for us. Being wise might involve us turning off the phone from time to time to quiet our hearts so we can be more attentive to the presence of God in everyday life.
How do we discover God’s will? First, we must be sure that we’re seeking to obey what God has already revealed in Scriptures. This includes things like obeying our parents, or not stealing, or not worshiping any other gods or things instead of the Lord. The Scriptures are clear instructions from God. It doesn’t really work to ignore God’s revealed will, but yet expect God to answer specific questions like whom should I marry, or what should I do for a living.
As we study God’s word and spend time in prayer, our relationship with God will grow and we will begin to understand God’s character. We will then need to be in the right place to hear God’s instructions for other areas of our lives. In addition to Bible study and prayer, we have to be willing to seek godly direction from a mentor, pastor or other spiritual adviser. If we’re serious about following God’s will, we have to recognize that it’s not about getting what we want, but doing what God asks. We must trust that He is faithful and good, and that His will is what’s best for us.
Will God ask us to do things we don’t want to do? God may ask us to do things that don’t feel natural to us at first. But as we listen and respond to the call of God, we get connected to our deeper desires. After all, the things God calls us to do are things that He created us to do. There is no set formula for knowing God’s will. Instead, think of discovering the will of God in your life like viewing a constellation. When we look into the sky, we need to see clusters of stars in a pattern in order to observe a constellation. Only by looking at the overall view of stars will we see Orion or the Big Dipper. Focusing on one star does not give us the big picture.
In the same way, learning God’s will involves looking at the big picture. When everything comes in to view, we begin to understand the big picture we call the will of God for us. We can count on Biblical guidance to show us the way. God will never ask us to do something contrary to his written Word, but he demands obedience in the clearly revealed things, and obedience to the commission to make disciples. We can also look for God’s will through the opinion and counsel of others. Especially older, wiser church leaders who know us well. Also, God has entrusted us with certain unique personal resources. How will we use them?
As the big picture starts to get clearer, whatever the picture, we are all called to obey. But how do we get started? First, start small. Our small efforts matter. We belong to the God of the mustard seed, who takes the smallest of actions and makes them significant. Have you heard it said that if only you had faith as small as a grain of mustard seed?
I can just hear you saying, “These are great ideas. I’ll have to try them out someday.” We will never find out what God’s will is for us if we put off asking Him. If we are to grow in our vision of God, His world, and our part in it, we need to make it a priority. We need to start today.
The first action we can take is to submit ourselves DAILY to the Lordship of Christ. If we realize that we belong to Him, that we are bought with a price, then we will desire to grow in our ability to see the world as God sees it. Our desire to understand and care for our world and those around us will arise out of our personal relationship with Jesus Christ. If we do not start now to open ourselves to God as His living sacrifices, we may never hear Him call us into an exciting opportunity to serve Him in a big way.
Romans 12:1 says, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” This verse means that whereas in times past man brought animals unto the Lord for sacrifice upon an alter, men are now supposed to bring themselves to God. They are now to be wholly the Lord’s as were the sacrifices of old. Romans 12:2 goes on to say, “And be not conformed to this world: But be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.” Be not conformed literally means do not follow the example of others. We are to be transformed in our minds. This is a supernatural metamorphosis. This change is accomplished by a renewing of the mind and spirit.
We are instead to live in the acceptable and perfect will of God. What does that mean? Well, we are to present our bodies a living sacrifice to God. We are to make our bodies holy. We are to make ourselves acceptable to God. We are to render our reasonable service unto the Lord. We are to not conform ourselves to the world and its example. Rather, we are to be transformed from the world.
It is important to realize that the devil attacks us in the mind. He wants to stop or slow the renewing of our minds. He knows as long as we are walking in the flesh, we are not renewing our mind. We are not acting in the will of God. We are instead acting in our own will. Our instincts and our sin nature will then dictate our behavior. We will in no way be thinking about what God’s will or His plan might be for us. As we lose our minds and our spirits to Satan, we walk farther and farther away from God. We can’t hear the gentle voice of the Lord instructing us in how we should act. Where we should go. We’re like a ship on a violent sea, tossed to and fro. We are vulnerable to vain philosophies and incorrect doctrine. We make decisions that are totally self-centered. It’s our own will running riot.
If you want to hear the voice of God, you have to be willing to sit and listen. If we want to know God’s plan or will for us, we have to examine his written Word. We need to pray and listen faithfully for a response. We have to come out from among the world and take up our heavenly citizenship. We are a chosen generation. A peculiar people. We remember that our fight is not with others, as in the flesh; rather, we fight against powers and principalities. The battle takes place in our minds. If Satan creates enough confusion and chaos in our lives, we will be distracted from getting to know God’s will. We will remain a slave to our sin nature. What free will? There is none when we’re driven by our sin nature. But if we turn to Jesus, He will surely set us free. Then we can clear our heads and come to the Word and learn God’s will for our lives.