Free will question

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Puritan Board Sophomore
Hi All,

I have a question for those who can state the doctrines of grace well. I love these doctrines but still struggle in a few ares especially free will.

The Westminster Confession, chap. 10 has a statement I'm not understanding. In the last phrase in the first paragraph it says: " yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace." This chapter is on the effectual call and I don't understand how a man came come freely as stated when he is made willing. Is it free will if God makes a man willing. Is this an area that is hard to state in words? Please help a brother to understnad and grow in Christ, Thanks.


Puritan Board Graduate
Man, even fallen man, is a free agent. God has given him ability to choose between options, opinions, competing explanations and a host of other things. After the fall of Adam man retained his free agency but he is now a totally depraved agent. His volition, his affections as well as his intellect are all perverted. In the day of God's regenerating power the elect of God are "made willing", i.e. their sinful prejudice against God is overcome and they do with delight and understanding choose to follow the Lord


Puritan Board Sophomore
I'm still missing something here, if a man is made willing by God, how is it that he is choosing? Didn't God make him? If only the elect are regenerated and made to choose, I don't see any free will in it. Am I missing some greater point? Can we just say as scripture tells ud that God's ways are not our ways and His ways are past our understanding?


Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
What's your definition of freedom? I think that makes all the difference.

"Freedom" has two component ideas, in my book. There is our subjective perception of our own liberty, and there's an objective description of what "limits" are fixed about the available options. Any honest discussion of the freedom or bondage of the will must touch on both these points, affirming and denying varying degrees of both. This does not exhaust the discussion, but it gets it farther and more completely than most dilettantish opining on the topic.

At some point in the discussion, so far as it is Christian theology, one needs to affirm that 1) God is totally sovereign, and has a fixed decree, 2) that includes the "free actions" of men. In other words,, preferably at the outset, we commit ourselves to two propositions that can seem too far apart, and too contradictory to both be true, namely that God is all-sovereign, and that men make free (uncoerced) and responsible choices. I might not be able to get my head all the way around that, but God is bigger and wiser than I.

If a human author of a book can create a world on paper in which his characters act freely (in some sense) and responsibly; and if a director of the stage or screen can take that a step further, and create a world in which actors follow a script, while nonetheless bringing to their parts a kind of undeniable freedom and uniqueness; how much more can God do with this world he made, where men are neither coerced, nor do they feel the least like a puppet (unless they so fixate on their supposed foreknowledge of God's unknowable decree)--and yet they fulfill his designs to the letter.

I don't have to recreate in miniature the macrocosm of God's mind in my microcosmic mind in order to accept this truth--I simply have to receive its revelation, and submit to it.

No unregenerate man wills to do good, in any ultimately meaningful sense, because he does not obey to the glory of God. Personal satisfaction, even for the doing of some earthly "good," is unsatisfactory. According to Prv.21:4, the plowing of the wicked is sin (NKJ). Being in bondage to sin, he isn't "free" to please God; all the while, he lives with no other sense of his limitation, other than his own frustrations at his inward lack of willpower or selfrestraint or abundance of cowardice or foolish impetuosity. Those internal constraints are of his own manufacture. It is as rational for him to blame God for his wrongdoing, as it is for him to praise God for getting 100% on his last test--that is to say, irrational. In his current state, his mind is hostile to God. And the H.S (via Paul) doesn't cut him any slack, Rom.9:19-20.

But the newly renovated man (in spirit) has new vistas of possibility opened to him. He's "freer" than he was before--he can actually please God (in Christ), although he also continues to displease God through his actions that are done according to the flesh (in Adam). But the fact that he can please God at all is a product of regeneration; its a possibility that was not available before.

The question of God's specific decree (such as whether you will wear solid socks tomorrow, or argyle) in any particular, is not where we live our lives. Only a person looking for a cop-out refuses to make the decision as to what pair of socks he's going to wear. And (of course) he's not evaded the decree then either, because no choice is still a choice (and a free choice) and yet not even that attempt at evasion fell outside the decree of God. Our freedom to choose the socks, and countless other decisions of greater (or lesser) import, is as real as we feel it to be, and often more real (as when we feel constraints that aren't actually present).

But there are many non-believers who are totally committed to the principle of naturalistic determinism. In that philosophy, no one is responsible for anything, because every so called "choice" is limited to ONE, by the totality of the accumulated influences of the past. The universe is nothing but a series of physical collisions, mapped out by the laws of physics and chemistry and mathematical necessity, set in motion by the original big-bang condition-set. Even chaos-theory (under this umbrella) is an illusion of happenstance. "Freedom" is an extremely local phenomenon (if it isn't pure wish-fulfillment).

Christians can't buy into that. Because we do not believe in Ultimate impersonalism. Rather, in Ultimate Personalism. God is the Ultimate free-agent. He is unconditioned, but he isn't random either, because his will is fundamental to his nature. He fixes his own qualities. He's reliable, ultimately, because his will has Absolute Value. We accept his Personal Providence, then, as the Original Condition; and his Word of creation in preference to the meaningless big-bang. Our choices are meaningful because they've been ordained by Ultimate Meaning. When a man chooses good over evil, he's acting out the imago dei in the best way a creature can so do (given the addition of the sin-condition).

Finally, I recommend studying ch.9 of the WCF (of Free Will), and acquainting yourself with both the Scripture proofs, and the technical terminology employed. But really, I don't think it's that hard a topic. We are under no necessity to feel "bound" by God's decree. It exists, we believe it does, and God is never "caught off guard," (didn't see THAT coming!) by some man's last-second change in plans. We know we exercise our wills; it is sophistry to say otherwise. But we do so within whatever limits our nature imposes. Men do "what they please," but what they please is not unlimited.


Puritan Board Freshman
Here is my understanding as concise as I can make it

Man has understanding and will

with understanding he surveys and evaluates the world

his will will either be inclined toward/pleased with something or disinclined from/displeased with something which is apprehended by the understanding

a choice is then surveying the world/potential options (with the understanding) and being drawn to one of them more than the others and thus determining a course of action (with the will)

to define free will as anything more than: "the ability to make a choice as is described above" is to remove a person from himself, because the will is the very character of someone

we are all born with a will which desires only evil, so no matter what we survey and understand of the world, every action we determine will be according to our evil nature

when God regenerates a man this will then becomes good and loving and cherishing holy things, therefore the will determines Godward decisions (not every decision, but as a general direction of life)

Some try to make free will mean "the ability to choose/determine absolutely anything or every potential course of action at any moment." However, this definition takes a person outside of themselves, and makes their decisions not according to their own character and will, but rather according to some completely arbitrary force.

In the end, if you define free will as simply "the ability to make a choice (understanding surveying the world/potential options and then the will being inclined to one more than all the other and thus determining a course of action)" that exists for both the unregenerate and the regenerate. The problem is that the unregenerate's will only desires evil things, so every decision is in bondage to that will, and thus will always desire/be inclined towards the bad (and not the good, e.g. choosing God). The regenerate man, on the other hand (as a general direction of life, although he will still sin) will desire holy things and will thus be inclined towards Christ (as a general direction of life, of course he will still sin 1 John 1).

Hope that helps,


Staff member
Think of Inclinations. We are all inclined in our affections and intellect toward things or away from them. We are born with an inclination that says no to the things of God.

(1Co 2:14) But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

In our dead natural state of being unregenerate our intellect and inclinations are against the one true God. There is no light or desire for it as John 1 says. In regeneration God brings life to us. He gives us an inclination we didn't have before. He straightens out our thinking and inclination (desire) for truth as where before we hated the truth. He awakens our soul from death unto life. Now we are alive and are inclined toward them by grace.

Short simple explanation.


Puritan Board Freshman
Is it free will if God makes a man willing. Is this an area that is hard to state in words? Please help a brother to understnad and grow in Christ, Thanks.

Yes, it is free will because because God does not force anyone like the Arminians believe; Arminians think that the only way available for God to move our wills is by force and by turning us into puppets, but that's not the case. The will is not an independent and sovereign faculty of the soul,and the determining cause of our actions and decisions the will is always determined by something, the will always act in response to something.


Puritan Board Senior
I'm still missing something here, if a man is made willing by God, how is it that he is choosing? Didn't God make him? If only the elect are regenerated and made to choose, I don't see any free will in it. Am I missing some greater point? Can we just say as scripture tells ud that God's ways are not our ways and His ways are past our understanding?

Does the enraptured woman who is given an engagement ring by the man who has pursued and wooed her and won over her heart respond, "What, you can't FORCE me to marry you!!!" Does she not freely and willingly, from the bottom of her heart say, "I DO!!!"


Puritan Board Junior
Shortest answer: compatibalism
but you won't get a short answer as to how it works.

It brings up a question though: If regeneration frees us from the captivity to sin so that we freely choose to follow the Lord, then isn't it theoretically possible to attain sinless perfection in this life?

Bill The Baptist

Puritan Board Graduate
I would recommend the works of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin for a deep, theological answer to your question. For a simpler explanation, I will give you an analogy. If you were to offer a five year old a choice between a plate of cookies or a plate of brussel sprouts, which do you think he would choose? Of course the child is completely free to choose the brussel sprouts, but he never would because his carnal heart is in bondage to the pleasure of the cookies. The only way that he would choose the brussel sprouts would be through the work of a sovereign power, which in this case would be his parents, or in the case of salvation would be God.


Puritan Board Doctor
God ordains the free acts of all men and women.

If you don't understand this, don't worry, nobody does.

Do we expect to be able to understand everything in the natural sciences, let alone theology?

God being omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent is able to do this.

At a different level there is a sense in which fallen Man's will is ethically bound and must be set free to do good by the regenerating power of Christ by His Spirit.


Puritan Board Doctor
Yes, Hallelujah.

You and I and all God's people are Perfected in Sanctification the moment we die and go to glory.

No more sin, no more grief for sin, no more confession of sin. "Goodbye forever, Sin!"

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!(Rom 7:24, 25a, ESV)


Puritan Board Professor
At a different level there is a sense in which fallen Man's will is ethically bound and must be set free to do good by the regenerating power of Christ by His Spirit.

Question: once it's free, is it possible for the will to attain ethical perfection?

Not possible this side of eternity. I believe to think of any type of perfection, even in one act as a believer is impossible because of the vestiges of residual sin. This makes the incarnation of Jesus and His perfect obedience all the more amazing In my most humble opinion. Plus scripture says if we say we have no sin we are deceived and it says that if we really do believe such the truth is not in us. Scary stuff for those that espouse such junk as sinless perfectionism.


Puritan Board Junior
so, in what sense is our will free, even after regeneration, when it seems we remain enslaved to sin and incapable of not-sinning? (i'm not trying to be contentious, but honestly seeking to understand without starting another thread altogether).
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