IT IS INHERENT IN THE NATURE OF MAN that his will must be free. Made in the image of God who is completely free, man must enjoy a measure of freedom. This enables him to select his companions for this world and the next; it enables him to yield his soul to whom he will, to give allegiance to God or the devil, to remain a sinner or become a saint.
And God respects this freedom. God once saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good. To find fault with the smallest thing God has made is to find fault with its Maker. It is a false humility that would lament that God wrought but imperfectly when He made man in His own image. Sin excepted, there is nothing in human nature to apologize for. This was confirmed forever when the Eternal Son became permanently incarnated in human flesh.
So highly does God regard His handiwork that He will not for any reason violate it. For God to override man’s freedom and force him to act contrary to his own will would be to make a mockery of the image of God in man. This God will never do. Our Lord Jesus looked after the rich young ruler as he walked away, but He did not follow him or attempt to coerce him. The dignity of the young man’s humanityforbade that his choices should be made for him by another. To remain a man he must make his own moral choices; and Christ knew this and permitted him to go his own chosen way. If his human choice took him at last to hell, at least he went there a man; and it is better for the moral universe that he should do so than that he should be jockeyed to a heaven he did not choose, a soulless, willess automaton.
God will take nine steps toward us, but He will not take the tenth. He will incline us to repent, but He cannot do our repenting for us. It is of the essence of repentance that it can only be done by the one who committed the act to be repented of. God can wait on the sinning man; He can withhold judgment; He can exercise long-suffering to the point where He appears “lax” in His judicial administration; but He cannot force a man to repent. To do this would be to violate the man’s freedom and void the gift God originally bestowed upon him.
Where there is no freedom of choice there can be neither sin nor righteousness, because it is of the nature of both that they be voluntary. However good an act may be, it is not good if it is imposed from without. The act of imposition destroys the moral content of the act and renders it null and void. For an act to be sinful the quality of voluntariness must also be present. Sin is the voluntary commission of an act known to be contrary to the will of God. Where there is no moral knowledge or where there is no voluntary choice, the act is not sinful; it cannot be, for sin is the transgression of the law and transgression must be voluntary.
Lucifer became Satan when he made his fateful choice: “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.” Clearly here was a choice made against light. Both knowledge and will were present in the act. Conversely, Christ revealed His holiness when He cried in His agony, “Not my will, but thine, be done.” Here was a deliberate choice made with the full knowledge of the consequences. Here two wills were in temporary conflict, the lower will of the Man who was God and the higher will of the God who was Man, and the higher will prevailed.
Here also was seen in glaring contrast the enormous difference between Christ and Satan; and that difference divides saint from sinner and heaven from hell. But someone may ask, “When we pray ‘Not my will, but Thine be done,’ are we not voiding our will and refusing to exercise the very power of choice which is part of the image of God in us?” The answer to that question is a flat No, but the whole thing deserves further explanation.
No act that is done voluntarily is an abrogation of the freedom of will. If a man chooses the will of God he is not denying but exercising his right of choice. What he is doing is admitting that he is not good enough to desire the highest choice nor is he wise enough to make it, and he is for that reason asking Another who is both wise and good to make his choice for him. And for fallen man this is the ultimate use he should make of his freedom of will.
Tennyson saw this and wrote of Christ,
Thou seemest human and divine,
The highest, holiest manhood, Thou;
Our wills are ours, we know not how;
Our wills are ours, to make them Thine.
There is a lot of sound doctrine in these words—”Our wills are ours, to make them Thine.” The secret of saintliness is not the destruction of the will but the submergence of it in the will of God. The true saint is one who acknowledges that he possesses from God the gift of freedom. He knows that he will never be cudgled into obedience nor wheedled like a petulant child into doing the will of God; he knows that these methods are unworthy both of God and of his own soul. He knows he is free to make any choice he will, and with that knowledge he chooses forever the blessed will of God.
–A. W. Tozer
The Freedom of the Will
Chapter 7 of That Incredible Christian