This is the second part of our series on Calvinism, where we are beginning with addressing some of the misconceptions that accompany the system of theology. In the first part of our series we dealt with the misconception that Calvinism hinders biblical evangelism. Today we are going to address the misconception that “Calvinism denies that we as humans have free will and are nothing more than robots.”
Many will make the charge by stating with all of the verses in the scriptures that speak about free will how in the world can you believe Calvinism is true? Let me begin by saying, It’s obvious in the scriptures that we do have a choice. Here’s just a few examples:
Joshua 24:15, “…choose you this day whom you will serve”
Isaiah 65:12, “…you did what was evil in my eyes and chose what I did not delight in.”
These are just a couple of examples of people found within the scriptures making choices. They are not robots. But if you define free will by saying that man is given absolute libertarian free will this is where a Calvinist disagrees. A Calvinist holds to free will, however we must clarify the word “free.” You might say, well there is no need to clarify the word free, but it’s clear that the scriptures demand that we clarify it.
The scriptures show that man is free to make their own choices, however they are only free to do whatever they choose. So then it becomes a matter of overall biblical theology to see what does man freely choose? For example if you go to your local home department store and you begin to shop for paint for you daughters bedroom. You are going to make a choice that is “free” however, your choice is influenced by culture and a preconceived notion that a girls room better not be blue or some other color that you deem to be boyish. Your choice is illustrating the fact that you are captive to your own wants and desires. You in fact are “free” to choose what you want or desire. We need to answer the question, what does man desire?
Without the work of the Holy Spirit of God intervening in the life of the natural, unregenerate (or unsaved) man, he is always going to choose that which is evil in God’s sight. Ephesians 2:1-3, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” Every man, woman and child is born into a state of spiritual death because of the curse of sin and because of this they only choose what is against God. They follow the course of this world, not just because they are extra bad, no they are “like the rest of mankind.” Paul adds in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” This is the natural desire of a spiritually dead, unregenerate sinner. They will choose what their heart desires most. If man had absolute freedom, absolute libertarian free will there would be absolutely no need for effectual grace.
Here’s the most important question you need to answer on the issue of free will, “Can an unregenerate man freely choose Christ without the Holy Spirit changing the heart of the unregenerate man first?” The biblical answer is a resounding NO! This is in fact the imagery of the Old Testament promise. That God would take out their heart of stone that only seeks and chooses evil and replace it with a new heart. A heart that is set free from the captivity of their own heart’s sinful desires to now be free in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit’s regeneration to freely choose Christ, choose his redemption, choose his righteousness. This is the beautiful message of the gospel. All arrogance and our self-sufficiency is left behind at the cross. Jesus states, “…I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:34-36).
Free will connotes freedom. Slavery to sin is the antithesis of freedom. We are in absolute bondage to our own will and desires and it is not until God steps in and frees us from ourselves that we can with faith freely choose Him.