Many people believe the ability to choose A over B is free will, and to not have free will means one can not choose A over B. However, the ability to choose A over B is not evidence of free will. It is only evidence of will (a desire to choose one over the other). And the opposite of free will is not “no will” but rather, “not-free will”, or subjected will.
Even though you actively chose A over B, there is a reason you chose A over B, and if you trace that reason back to its point of origin, you will discover different sorts of forces acted upon you which you had no control of. To have true free will, you would have to be under no influence of anything whatsoever when making any decision. That condition is probably impossible.
Your will is subject to your desires, and your desires are subject to your nature. Even God has a nature which He can not violate.
Related reading: Subjected Will
The idea of free will is one often thought and debated about. But I think the concept of free will is often oversimplified. The argument is presented as though you either have 100% free will or you 100% don’t.
In reality your will is neither 100%-free nor 100%-not-free. Your will is subject to more powerful forces and, whether conscious of it or not, you will always make decisions, you will always do what you want to do, under the influence of these other forces. Your will is subject to your desires, and your desires are subject to your nature. You will always do what you want to do (your desires), and what you want to do is always driven by who you are at a fundamental level (your nature).
Some might argue: “I always do what I want? No. I do things I don’t want to do all the time. I don’t want to exercise in the morning, but I still do it.” But that argument assumes that one can only have one desire at a time. I assume you would never want to run into a burning building. No one wants to be burned alive and die from smoke inhalation. But what if your child was trapped in that building? Suddenly your desire to not die in the fire is outweighed by your desire to save your child. There are two desires, but one overpowers the other, and the overpowering desire determines your willful decision. Which desire is more powerful in your life? The desire to spend an extra hour in your comfy bed? Or the desire to be healthy?
One would have to be a pretty big scumbag to not want to save their child from a burning building in order to avoid getting burned themself. One’s nature would have to be seriously flawed to do that. And yet, there are parents who intentionally hurt their own children. Where does this flawed nature come from? Do we all have it?
Because of our fallen nature we are all subject to evil desires, which then lead us to do evil things. Only with a new nature is there any hope we can become good. Only when the old nature dies and a resurrection occurs can a new nature be born.
Some would argue: “I’m already good!” Okay, but compared to who? Compared to Hitler? Or compared to God? The standard matters. Your will is subject to your desires, your desires are subject to your nature. Who is your nature subject to?
Related reading: Predisposed to Rule; On Free Will
Who has the final authority to decide if you’re saved or not: You or God?
If it’s you, how exactly are you going to accomplish that? If it’s God, what are your responsibilities?
In the past I’ve always asked myself: “Do we have free will or not?”
It’s an either/or question which assumes that will is the only power in one’s life.
But later I thought: “Will is a power in one’s life, but it’s not the only power. There are other powers in one’s life which are stronger than will.”
But as I meditate on it more I realize that will is not a power at all. Terms like free will and will power don’t make any sense. Will is not a power, but rather a tool to be manipulated by the real powers in one’s life. Will is a steering wheel. The real powers turn the steering wheel. The real powers in one’s life are all the desires which push and pull us in different directions.
Our desires are built into us. If your desires are good, you will do good things. If they are evil, you will do evil. Either way, you will always do what you want to do.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
~Philippians 2:12-13 NKJV
“Sin is what bubbles up unbidden from the depths of the human heart, so that all one has to do is go with the flow. That has the appearance of freedom, but is in fact slavery, as Jesus himself declared. True freedom is the gift of the spirit, the result of grace; but… it isn’t simply a matter of being forced now to be good, against our wills and without our co-operation, but a matter of being released from slavery precisely into responsibility, into being at last to choose, to exercise moral muscle, knowing both that one is doing it oneself and that the spirit is at work within, that God is doing himself that which I too am doing. If we don’t believe that, we don’t believe in the spirit, and we don’t believe in Paul’s teaching.”
~ N.T. Wright, “Justification~God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision”, pg. 164