The Failure of Free Will in the Salvation of Man
God created Adam and Eve in a state of integrity. In that state, the will of man was inclined to God. The possibility of man choosing to sin was introduced by God’s warning of the consequence of death (Gen 2:17). Man willed to disobey God’s Word and death of the soul and death of the body followed (Gen 3).
As we consider the state of man and the will of man, let us remember the advantages Adam and Eve had in the state of innocence. They had never dealt with temptation, sin, and death. It was obviously a holy state possessing the caveat of sin as a potential liability.
God decreed all things that come to pass. This included the fall of man and creation. God’s purpose is always and ultimately to bring glory to Himself. He would do this in judging sinful men with a righteous judgment. He would display justice and also mercy, in the salvation of some from His eternal punishment and wrath against sinners.
The will of man fell under the deceptive influence of Satan. In the death of his soul, man was estranged from God. Man’s enmity with God came as man endured the toils and hardships of living in a fallen world, saturated with sin. Sin is lawlessness (1 Jn 3:4) and man is a lawless rebel against the holiness of God. Man hates God (Rom 1:30), but man loves the darkness of sin, and his evil deeds prove his affections are for the things of this world (Jn 3:19).
Despite his temporary stay upon the earth, the natural man lusts for more of the world and has pride in his achievements and accumulations. Human pride is sin, and men think more highly of themselves than they ought to (Rom 12:3). Deceived by these things, man does not believe the warnings he receives during his brief stay in this world of sin and death. He does not believe God’s assessment that he is not a good person (Rom 3:12) or that his “good” works mean absolutely nothing to God (Is 64:6). Man cannot conceive that the wrath of God is directed against him (Rom 1:18). He finds these ideas absurd.
With a desperately wicked heart (Jer 17:9), only ever inclined to the evil of sinning (Gen 6:5), the will of man in this state of depravity is not willing or able to incline itself to God (Rom 8:7; 1 Cor 2:14). Man is a slave of sin (Rom 6:6), living in the dominion of Satan (Acts 26:18), which is the domain of darkness (Col 1:13). Man’s mind and heart have no interest in the things of God (1 Cor 2:14). Apart from Christ, the natural man is spiritually dead in trespasses and sins and remains in that state (Jn 15:5; Eph 2:1).
There is nothing in the natural man that seeks after God (Rom 3:11). Everything the sinner does is sin because none of it is of faith (Rom 14:23), and without faith, it is impossible to please God (Heb 11:6). Natural man wants to sin, wills to sin, and then he sins (Rom 3:23). It is impossible for God to sin so the chasm between the holy God and wicked humanity is vast.
In this state of guilt before God, man has no desire to reconcile with God. Man is without God and therefore without hope of salvation from a further life of sin or an eternity in fiery hell (Mt 5:22; 25:46; Eph 2:12). Blinded from seeing the Gospel of God, by his father the devil, man cannot be good or do good (Jn 8:44; Rom 3:12; 2 Cor 4:4). He is unclean and with no will nor ability to get clean (Job 14:4). The fruit of his labor is sour grapes because his root is corrupt by nature (Mt 7:17; 12:33; Eph 2:3).
Deceived by the father of lies, man believes the delusion that he has free will. Satan markets the free will of man in many ways. It is your free choice to murder your baby in the womb. It is your free will to choose one or more of many genders. It is becoming of a god to exercise his or her free will (Gen 3:5). Children are trained by the world system to believe they are little gods who can do whatever they wish without consequences. They, of course, suffer under the delusion of free will. Yes, there are consequences for disobeying the Law of God.
The myth of free will enters the realm of spiritual things, too. Men boast that their free will was the catalyst to receive Jesus. The Bible is very clear that salvation is not by the will of man (Jn 1:12–13; Rom 9:16), for God will have no flesh glory in His presence (1 Cor 1:29), but God would have men glory in Christ. Therefore, true believers will not seek their own glory by speaking of themselves and the accomplishment of their own will (Jn 7:18). They boast in Jesus Christ (Gal 6:14), alone because salvation belongs to the Lord, who wills and does all things according to His good pleasure (Ps 3:8; Jon 2:9; Phil 2:13; Rev 19:1).
Salvation is called, “the gift of God (Eph 2:8–9)” and every good and perfect gift comes from God, the Father of lights (Jas 1:17). So, what does man have that he did not receive from God (1 Cor 4:7)? Man does not will who he is or what he is. Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? God’s Word tells man what he ought to be and what he ought to do, but God, for one, knows the utter impotency of sinners to do anything regarding salvation.
Simply stated in conclusion, man is what he is and does what he does because of sin that reigns in him (Rom 5:17, 21). He has no wisdom or power to change his state, nor does he want to change. This is who he was at conception and what he is at the death of his body (Ps 51:5; Jn 8:21, 24; Rom 5:12; 1 Cor 15:22; Eph 2:1). Outside of Christ, every choice is sin. Every decision is sin. The will of man is in total bondage to keep on sinning in the diverse manners of those who have gone before him.
Free will is a total failure in the salvation of a sinner…unless it is the free will of God. Salvation is the exclusive work of the free and sovereign grace of God. Is it man’s free will or God’s free grace that saves God’s chosen remnant of people?
His elect, redeemed, regenerate, beloved know and confess that salvation is all of grace because that impossible change has actually manifested in them, by the regenerating work of the indwelling Holy Spirit. God’s people are made willing in the day of His power (Ps 110:3). Thus, they are not ashamed to say, “It was not my free will, but God’s free grace that saved me.” All glory to God, alone, since You, O Lord, have also performed for us all our works (Is 26:12).
Spokane Valley, Washington
September 25, 2021