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Free Will and Self-Control

The sixteenth century theologian John Calvin taught that man has no free will, and his followers uphold this doctrine to this day.  Calvin's concept of God's sovereignty requires that every event in the world is according to God's will.  Even sin is God's will according to Calvin's doctrine.  This is a plain contradiction of the Scriptures, for sin is a transgression of God's will by definition.  Calvin's error is quickly refuted by simply noticing the Lord's instruction to pray, "Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" (Matt. 6:10).  If everything on earth is God's will already, then why would the Lord direct us to pray these words?  Obviously, the Calvinists are wrong.

In truth, man has free will, and it is the exercise of that free will that is the struggle of man's life in this world.  Opposing forces are working to influence our wills and pull us in different directions. From the beginning, man has had the choice to believe God and follow His directions or to believe Satan and follow him. The fall of man happened when Adam and Eve chose by their own free will to reject God and accept Satan (Gen. 3:1-6). They yielded to Satan's influence, and the world has suffered ever since.

Today, this struggle continues.  Each soul is "tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust," and "when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death" (Jas. 1:14-15).  Satan is the tempter (Matt. 4:3) who entices through lust, and the sinner willfully yields to him.  Sinners choose to walk "according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience" (Eph. 2:2).  However, when sinners turn to God in faith and obey the gracious gospel of Christ, they enter into a battle of resistance against Satan.  Notice Ephesians 6:10-12:

10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.  11Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.  12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

It is the free will choice to serve God that pleases Him.  This is the very reason He gives us free will.  He does not want to control us like puppets in a scripted play, but rather He wants us to control ourselves and willfully serve Him. This is the essence of faith, for "without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him" (Heb. 11:6). A faithful man believes the unseen things of God and freely constrains his own will to do the will of God.

For this reason, God has given His word to us so that we may know His will and willingly conform to it.  Consider God's words in Psalm 32:8-9:

8I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go;

I will counsel you with My eye upon you.

9Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding,

Whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check,

Otherwise they will not come near to you.

Rather than controlling us with force like stupid animals, God has given us the ability to understand His will, and He has told us what He wants us to do. His word gives us the directions that lead to salvation and eternal life, if we choose to follow them.  His word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps. 119:105), but we must choose to walk in the light of His word.

Therefore, we need self-control.  Every man controls himself in the exercise of his free will, but the concept of self-control implies a suppression of selfish lusts and a willful submission to discipline. Sinners lack self-control when they indulge their lusts even though they are still in control of themselves.  The proper exercise of self-control is to deny the impulse of lusts and to do the will of God.  Self-control is part of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) and the pattern of growth (2Pet. 1:5-7) that should be present in every Christian.

Let us then exercise our free will with the restraint of self-control. Controlling ourselves according to God's will is the greatest exercise of free will, for nothing is more liberating than the truth of God's word.  Self-control by submission to God's word frees us even from our own lusts and the inevitable sin and death that come with them.  Jesus said, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (John 8:31-32).  Choosing to be bound by Christ's word and disciplined by His will gives us the greatest freedom of all.

Stacey E. Durham



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