Bible study on free will ~ March 12 ~ I will be using this in Bible Study as we examine the letter to the church in Laodicea in the Book of Revelation.

(Does man possess a free will or is his will bound in regard to faith in Christ?)

The question is not about man’s free will in regard to choices in matters not pertaining to faith in Christ. God has indeed given man a “free will” in many areas. He may choose the color of his car. He may even choose between right and wrong in an outward manner. However, the “free will” contested by God’s word in the following verses is that ability to come to faith by one’s own power or volition. Man cannot prepare himself for the grace of God, accept it and give his assent to it apart from the miracle of conversion wrought by the Holy Spirit in Word and Sacrament.

The use of the term “natural man” refers to the inborn and inherited sin and inborn fault and also lack of knowledge of the True God and Jesus Christ. The comments following the passages are not a direct quote but a summary of the content.

John 8: 34: By nature man is a slave to sin.

Ephesians 2: 2 and 5: Natural man is spiritually dead in his sins. That is, prior to his conversion, man is a spiritual corpse unable to do anything.

II Timothy 2: 25-26: God must change the heart. Only when God intervenes can one be saved from the snare of the devil.

Romans 1: 19-21 and 28-32: Natural man does indeed have a “knowledge” of God’s power by virtue of creation, but this is not a saving knowledge. Indeed, their hearts are darkened. However, man is held responsible and at fault for their unbelief.

I Corinthians 2: 9-16: God’s “wisdom” (faith) is hidden and revealed only through the Holy Spirit in Word (verse 13) and Sacrament. Man’s natural powers (free will) cannot contribute anything, assist, or help in his conversion. The Spirit alone accomplishes this work.

Ephesians 4: 17-18: The “natural” state of man is a “closed mind” to the things of God.

Matthew 13: 11-13: The Gospel is a “secret” which God gives as a privilege.

Romans 3: 11-18: All men are under the power of sin and as a result cannot understand the things of salvation.

Ephesians 5: 8: Natural man is under the control of Satan and in his unholy kingdom.

Acts 26: 17-18: God must rescue people from Satan’s control. God must turn natural man from darkness to light.

John 1: 5: Darkness, that is, the natural power of man to come to faith does not comprehend the things of God.

Romans 8: 7: Natural man actually hates God, is hostile to Him and cannot even submit to God’s Law in a manner that pleases God no matter what he does.

John 15: 5 As with the disciples, apart from Christ, we can do nothing in a spiritual sense. One must be “grafted” into Christ through the miracle of conversion.

Philippians 2: 13: It is God alone who can work in natural man the continued will to be doing what pleases Him. We cannot “will” to be pleasing to God on our own. And the “thing” that pleases God is faith in Jesus. It is God who “gives” repentance. Natural man cannot claim repentance as his own doing.

Psalm 119: 33-40: King David pleads with God to revive him.

Psalm 52: In this Psalm David again pleads with God to “Create” a clean heart and a new spirit. He recognizes his helplessness to set himself aright with God.

Ephesians 1: 17-18 It is God who must enlighten the mind.

Colossians 1: 9-11 It is God who gives, of His own will, the necessary spiritual wisdom (faith) and understanding.

Genesis 8: 21: Man’s heart by nature , rather than having the will to serve God is evil and opposed to God from youth.

Jeremiah 17: 9 Natural man is not merely neutral toward God’s will, but desperately opposed to it.

Mark 7: 18-23: Jesus describes the heart of man. It is not a heart willing to believe, but rather one that is inclined to every evil and unbelief.

Galatians 5: 17: Natural man (the flesh) is opposed to the Spirit and thus opposed to Christ. There is no neutrality. This is because by nature man is a slave of Satan and chained in His kingdom.

Romans 7: 14 , 18, 22-23. Even as believers, we battle against the Old Adam who wants us to sin.

Luke 24:45: Jesus had to open the minds of the Emmaus Disciples in order for them to believe. They could not do this on their own.

Acts 16: 14: The Lord had to open Lydia’s heart; she could not do this on her own.

Acts 5: 31: God must give repentance and forgiveness. Our repentance is a gift of God, not a act of our will. See again: II Timothy 2: 25:

Philippians 1: 29: It is God’s gift to believe in Jesus. It is not a “willful” choice we make.

Ephesians 2:8: Faith is a gift of God. Faith is the subject of which Paul speaks in this passage, that is, “(Faith) is a gift of God, not of works…”

John 6:29 Faith is a work of God and thus also a gift of God.

29:4 and Matthew 13: 15 It is God who gives the ability to perceive with the heart the things of God.

Titus 3: 5-6 (John 3: 5 and Galatians 3: 27) The Holy Spirit works regeneration[1] and renewal of the heart through baptism.

Ezekiel 11: 19 and 36: 25-27 The LORD must give one a “new heart,” taking out the stony heart and replacing it with a “heart of flesh.” Notice the allusion to baptism in the second passage, “I will sprinkle clean water on you.” Also notice the use of the first person pronoun “I.” It is used five times. God is the “actor” and the sinner is merely the recipient of God’s grace and mercy.

30: 6. This passage speaks of circumcision. God does the circumcising which sealed the “covenant” between the Children of Israel and God. In the New Testament, St. Paul notes the circumcision has been replaced by baptism which Paul now calls “The circumcision of Christ.”[2]

Ephesians 2: 10 In this passage (look carefully at the context beginning with verse 1) Paul notes that we are not the “workers” but rather the “workmanship of God” because God made us what we are, believers, and created us anew to do His will. God even prepared these “good works” in advance which means we cannot even boast about our good works. Least of all can we boast that faith is something we “prepare” by an act of the will, but rather something God prepared “in advance.”

II Corinthians 5: 17 Chapter 5 of II Corinthians speaks of what we call “Objective reconciliation,” that is, that in Christ all men (The World) are acquitted before God. But verse 17 speaks of those brought to faith as a “new creation.” Man cannot create. Only God can create. The word “create” in God’s Word, carries the connotation of ex nihlo, that is, creating something out of nothing. God takes the sinner, in whom there is nothing good, and makes of the sinner a new creation who now can serve his Savior.

Galatians 6: 15 Paul again reiterates that being a “new creation” is everything, not what man does. This spiritual creation, John 3: 5, is God’s sovereign work.

John 6: 44 If someone finally does come to Christ, it is only because Christ draws him.

Matthew 11: 27 Jesus tells us that He does the choosing, not sinful man.

I Corinthians 12: 3 The Holy Spirit must change the heart of the individual so that the sinner can confess his sins and believe that Jesus is the LORD.

II Corinthians 3: 4-6 Paul makes the unmistakable point that we can produce nothing on our own. We cannot produce our “confidence” before God by an act of our will, but God produces this confidence through the Gospel.

I Corinthians 4: 7 The problem with the idea of free will is its boasting of something it did not do. We have “received” faith. We did not decide to make the first step. Faith itself is the free gift of a gracious God and LORD.

I Corinthians 1: 21 Paul notes that it is the preaching of the message that “saves,” not man’s choice. The wisdom and “free will” of man does not know the true God.

Romans 10: 17 Man comes to faith, not by an act of his free will, but by hearing the message which turns the heart of stone into a heart of flesh (faith). All who are saved are saved not by a choice they make, but by the Word and Sacraments which are the instruments God the Holy Spirit uses to regenerate, and cause conversion.

Matthew 23: 37 The one thing unconverted man can do, indeed, the only thing he can do without the gracious act of God, is to reject Christ. But just because man can only reject, does not infer that he has the ability to “accept” of his own free will.

Ephesians 1: 3-10 We do not choose to become a child of God. God chose us from eternity, not on account of anything that He would see in us, but only on the basis of His love and the kindness of His will.

II Timothy 1: 9-10 and II Thessalonians 2: 13-14. Again, God chose us, not because of one thing we have done or do. It was rather God’s plan to give us His grace even before we were created, even before we came to faith, even before we did one thing that would please God.

One is “lost” because of his own “fault.”

Romans 9: 22 The ones who do not come to faith have actually “prepared themselves for destruction.” Notice the context of “fault” in verse 19. God does find “fault” with people because of their stubbornness which is a result of inborn sin.
Psalm 81: 11-12 When people do not “heed” the word of God, it is their own stubborn heart that destroys them.
Hosea 13: 9 Man is his own “destroyer.”
Romans 5: 13-21 As a result of one man’s failure, all are at fault. This failure brought condemnation to all men, so all men are “at fault” because of original sin. One remains “at fault” until God enlightens him by the Holy Spirit through the Gospel.
Ephesians 1:4 Paul speaks of being “blameless” before God by His choosing us from the foundation of the world. If one is to “blame” he must also be “at fault.”
Romans 3: 19 If “guilt” implies fault, than the Law of God blames everyone for transgressing it and places them all “at fault.”
James 2:10 One who breaks the Law of God in one point is guilty (at fault) for breaking all of it.
Proverbs 1: 32: “Because of their turning away, the gullible kill themselves and because of their indifference, fools destroy themselves.”

Use of the word “choose” in the Bible (KJV).

The term “choose” is the Hebrew verb rjb (bachar). Its basic meaning is “To prove.” Rjb is then often translated, “To approve, to choose, to select.” “Choose” is used only 58 times in the Old Testament and most often with God as the subject as in Deuteronomy 7:7 where God chose Israel as His people. The passages below are the only ones that speak of man “choosing” in regard to good versus the false or that which might damage faith.

Deuteronomy 30: 19. God sets before His chosen people the issue of life and death. The context is not one of belief or unbelief, but one of wrestling with the false gods of the heathen nations and determining to leave them behind to serve God. If God’s people were to go back to the “gods of their fathers” in Egypt, they would lose their inheritance for they would then be hearing false doctrine and involved in a worship that would destroy their faith. God is seeking to preserve them from this fate. This is the same thing St. Paul does in the New Testament every time he warns against false teachers and false doctrine. We can “choose” who we listen to and as believers we can “choose” where we worship and listen. But if we place ourselves at the feet of false teachers by that choice, either knowingly or unknowingly, and many people do today by remaining in a church body that clearly teaches false doctrine, we may lose our faith. That is the point of Deuteronomy. Look also at II Corinthians 6: 14-18. Paul sets before the Corinthians Christians the same “choice” God set before the Children of Israel at the time of Joshua.
Joshua 24: 15. Again through Joshua, God is speaking to the chosen children of Israel. God chose them to be His people. Now, the challenge that lay before them was the challenge that stands before every Christian every day of his life: To serve God or serve his flesh. The unbeliever can only do the latter.
Psalm 25: 12 David admits that God is the one who chooses the life-giving words to the believer. Even the believer does not have the option to “pick and choose” what is truth and what is not truth. Thus, God keeps one in faith through the truth.
Psalm 47: 4 The sons of Korah note that God chooses the “inheritance” for us. We do not make that decision.
Proverbs 1: 29 If one ignores the context of the Bible and Solomon’s audience, he may come to the conclusion that man might have a “free will” to “fear the Lord.” There are several things that prevent us from coming to that conclusion.

The hermeneutical rule that says God does not contradict Himself. In other words, we cannot make God speak against Himself. We must take the entire context of Scripture into account when rendering an interpretation to a passage. If we ignore the rules of hermeneutics, we can make God say anything we so desire.
Solomon’s audience is “my son.” That is, he is speaking to the Children of Israel specifically although the unbeliever can still read the book and glean some insight. The “sinners” of whom Solomon speaks must be a part of Israel who are still considered God’s people by virtue of the Word still being heard in Israel. These “sinners,” although God’s chosen people, are now choosing to allow their flesh to dictate what they do. Notice in the context of verse 28, “They will call to me at that time,” indicates that these are people who know the true God but have “chosen” to “fear the flesh,” rather than “fear the Lord.”

The “challenge” of the Old Testament in the New Testament.

I Peter 5: 8-9. Peter places the same challenge of the Old Testament before his listeners warning them of the wiles of Satan. “Be strong in your faith,” is not subjective but objective, that is “Stay with the (objective) truth and do not “choose” to listen to Satan and his lies.
St. Paul is setting the precise challenge before the congregations in Galatia (the central plains of Asia Minor (Turkey) as Joshua did for the Children of Israel. These people St. Paul calls “Fellow Christians,” or “brothers.” They finally must “choose” who they are going to listen to. Are they going to listen to the false teachers of Judaism or remain with the truth of the Gospel as Paul taught them? Read the entire book of Galatians. Paul even notes that those who “choose” to follow the Judaizers. The implication of chapter 5 verse 4 is that they are or were believers who have and had known the truth. But because they listened now to false teachers, some of they were “Cut off from Christ and have fallen from grace.” Others were endangering their faith by listening to and sitting at the feet of false teachers.
Galatians 5: 16 ff. Paul once again brings the challenge of Joshua into the practical everyday spiritual life of the Galatian Christians. We are engaged in a war (Ephesians 6). “Let the Spirit direct your life, and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh.” In other words, “Choose this day Whom you will serve.” The Christian, and only the Christian, baptized as he is in Christ and His life, can make that “choice.” The unbeliever, completely darkened by Satan and shackled in his dungeon, can only choose to do that which is contrary to God’s will. As moral a life as he may “choose” outwardly, he remains an unbeliever who can do nothing to change his status before God until God steps in to save Him through the Means of Grace (Word and Sacrament).

“Choose” in the New Testament.

“Choose” in the New Testament (and as it appears in the KJV 17 times) comes from the Greek word eklegw (eklego) which is the combination of ek (out of) and legw which is the common verb “to speak,” or “To say.” Put together, the Greek understood this word to mean “to pick out,” “To select,” and finally “to choose.” It is the word often translated “elect” and is the word used to speak of our eternal “election.” In most cases where “elect” (choose) is used, God is the actor or the subject of the action. And in these cases, the “choosing” is one of eternal choosing by God.

Mark 13: 20
John 6: 70
John 13: 18
John 15: 19
Acts 1:2
Acts 13: 17
I Corinthians 1: 27-28
Ephesians 1:4
James 2:5

There are two places in the New Testament where “choose” (eklegw) is used in reference to man’s choosing.

Luke 10: 42. As a believer, Mary, the sister of Martha, sits at the feet of Jesus and “chooses” to listen to Him rather than busy herself with meal preparation.
Acts 6: 5. Stephen is “chosen” to help the apostles.

The necessity of the Means of Grace (Word and Sacrament).

If man has the ability to “choose” in which kingdom he wishes to be (and Scripture speaks only of the kingdom of darkness or the Kingdom of Light [Christ]), then Word and Sacrament are unnecessary for man can simply exercise his “free will” and will himself from one kingdom to the other. This means he can “regenerate” himself and cause his own “new birth.” The impossibility of this is explained by our Savior and reiterated by the apostles:

John 3: 5. “If anyone is not born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.” Many churches that teach that man has a “free will” speak of the need to be “Born again” but omit the phrase “Of water and the Spirit (baptism).” In doing so, they pervert the words of Jesus and place the act of being born again on the shoulders of the individual by making the coming to faith an act of man. Jesus clearly makes baptism the means by which one is regenerated (this is what the Greek term “Born again” means) and taken from the dungeon of Satan and ushered into the glorious Kingdom of Christ, that is, brought to faith. The Greek words ou mh, a combination of the two negatives in the Greek, are translated “Except.” These words rule out any other way of entering the Kingdom of God apart from an act of the Holy Spirit.
Titus 3:5. Paul notes that the “Washing of the water with the word,” is the regenerating means, not the “free will” of man or anything in man (“Because of His mercy.”) Notice the word “Saved” in this context. We are saved BY (dia which means “through”) the “Washing in which the Holy Spirit gives us a new birth and a new life.” The Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit alone is the active force in one’s conversion and new birth. If man can will himself into the Kingdom of God by an act of his own will, baptism is not necessary, nor is any act of God. The message of the cross is simply “information” that man must act on by his own ability. Sadly, this is the precise position and “theology” (or lack thereof) held by many who adhere to the teaching that man possesses a “free will” to act on salvation. Those who hold this view do not regard baptism as necessary for salvation, but instead see it as an outward sign of an inward change. This stands as a direct contradiction of the words of our Savior and may endanger and even destroy faith. As a result, those who do not see baptism as necessary also then do not baptize infants, although they may dedicate them to God. Interestingly, nowhere in New Testament are we commanded or advised to “dedicate” our children to God. However, we are commanded as the Church to Baptize “all nations (Matthew 28:19) and bring our little babies to Jesus so that He might touch them (Mark 10). Where else does Jesus “touch them” but in Word and Sacrament? As Pater says, “For the promise (embedded in Baptism which is the context of Peter’s “ sermon and the promise of salvation) is unto you and to your children (Acts 2: 39).
I Peter 1: 10. Peter encourages his listeners, “To make sure your calling and choosing are secure.” “Election” here is from the same Greek root word as “choose.” Notice that to make sure of one’s choosing or election Peter points them to God’s Word (II Peter 1: 16-21). So, while one can “choose” to hear God’s Word, God does the choosing for salvation.
I John 2: 29; 3: 9; 4: 7; 5: 1, 4, 18. In each of these verses, John speaks of the “new birth.” He must have listened carefully to Jesus and His discourse with Nicodemus in John 3. John is the only writer to have recorded this conversation. In each case where John speaks of this “new birth,” he uses the word gegenhtas (from “Genesis” or beginning). It is important and critical to understand that this form of the Greek verb is a perfect, PASSIVE verb. That means that whoever has been born again is born again in a “passive” sense. The individual was not the actor, but merely the recipient of the action (God’s regeneration in the Holy Spirit). Thus, the proper translation is, “Has been given birth by God.” In chapter 3 verse 8, John notes that because of the “new Birth,” God’s “New life” is in him. Is this “new birth” baptism? John knew of only one way to be “born again.” That was through “Water and the Spirit.”

[1] Regeneration = paliggenesias. The Greek word here is most interesting. It comes from the combination of palin (again) and genesis (genesis or birth). Thus, the word means a “birth again,” or “new birth.” This is reminiscent of the Words of Jesus, “You must be ‘born again’ of water and of the Spirit.” The qualifier Ou mh (except or unless) makes it clear that man is not the “actor” but God. God causes the new birth, and in the case of these two passages Titus and John 3, in the water of Holy Baptism. The words used by Jesus in John 3 are very similar to those in Titus 3: gennhqh anwqen which can be translated either “Born again,” or “Born from above.” Once again gennhqh comes from the same Greek word as that in Titus, genesis.
[2] Colossians 2: 9-12 “In Him (Jesus) you also were circumcised , not by human hands but by putting away the sinful body by the circumcision of Christ, since you were buried with Him in Baptism and raised with Him through faith produced by God.”