Are We Free to Choose God? (Tsouloufis)
[this is a guest post by my friend Dan Tsouloufis]
Biblically, it is correct to assert that man is free, albeit in a limited sense. Regarding man’s will, the Westminster Confession of Faith reminds us that “liberty does not imply ability”. This is because liberty is not identical with ability. Due to the fall and the entrance of sin, man lost the “ability” to do good, not liberty. This is an important distinction. What many people call liberty, they really mean ability. Thus, they speak of man as being “free” to do good or evil, but what they really mean is that man is “able” to do good or evil. But due to the fall, man’s ability to do good has been corrupted. Therefore, liberty cannot mean that we’re always able to do what we want (i.e. always choose good over evil). This is why, even as regenerate believers, we are not able to do God’s will perfectly. Sin is always present with us. We see this dilemma depicted in Romans 7:15-25 where Paul explores his own inner struggles to do good and avoid evil. All of us know the constant struggle of wrestling with (and giving into) the lures of temptation.
Regarding man’s salvation, without rebirth, man has no desire for Christ. Without a desire for Christ, man will not choose Christ. Man will not seek God as He is (Rom. 3:11) apart from God’s special grace and divine calling. Thus, the Holy Spirit must first awaken and illuminate the truth of Christ in man’s heart, in order for man’s desire to turn toward Christ. Once this work of regeneration takes place, man will, by his own faith and volition, chooses the gospel of Christ. Thus, logically speaking at least, there is no hard coercion, since man chooses Christ once his desire has changed. Does God influence man’s desires? Of course He does. Even if one holds to libertarian, Arminian free will, I assume they’d acknowledge that God can, and does, influence man’s desires. Once that’s been established, now we’re only debating the “degree” in which God influences man’s desires, not the fact that He does it. Thus, the common ground is closer than it first appeared.