The “Free-Will” of Man

by Paul Franco on February 10, 2011

Apostle Paul establishes in Romans 3:9 that every human being both Jew and Gentile is under the reign of sin and prior to conversion he is enslaved to sin which results in death (Rom 3:9; Rom 6:6; Rom 6:16). The unbeliever presents himself “willingly” of his own “free will” as an obedient slave to his master King-Sin, “do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey” (Rom 6:16). Sin is personified as a reigning king who exerts his power and dominion over the unbeliever (Rom 5:21; Rom 6:14). Here is the glaring example of every man, woman, and child walking up to serve his master-sin and presenting himself as an obedient slave (Rom 3:10-18). The “natural man” obeys sin’s lusts in his mortal body and the tentacles of sin’s grip ensures that the sinner departs in his behavior from God’s standard of uprightness (Rom 6:12).

Sin’s dominance over the unbeliever controls the will to the point of servitude whereby the sinner is rendered powerless and he conducts himself in direct disobedience to God’s divine law. Sin is willing and able to rule over those who are living in unbelief or “living in the flesh” (Rom 7:5). Cain was “living in the flesh” and God said “sin is crouching at the door and its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” Cain did not rule over sin but sin ruled and reigned over Cain. The point is that there was an inability within Cain to rule over sin. The will of Cain was sold under sin and thereby controlled by his master. The passage does not state that Cain was able to do that which was pleasing to God but that he was “in the flesh” and was not able to please God (Rom 8:8). The “will of man” should never be thought of as “free” outside of Christ’s redemption, “for everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin,” “so if the Son (Jesus) sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34, 36). But you will say, “Man has a free-will to choose Christ.” I respond with a question, “What controls the will of man?” To this I answer, “It is the most powerful motivating force which compels it to act.” In Pauline theology “the will of man” is “under sin,” and sin is the influence and controller of it. For this reason Paul says the believer has “been set free from sin” “so that he would no longer be enslaved to sin” “but he has become a slave of God” (Rom 6:18, 6, 22). If man has a “free-will” then it would follow that there would be no need for Christ to set it free, for he would be able to please God without the Holy Spirit.

Paul’s experiential definition of being under the dominion and control of sin is found in Romans 7:14-25. His experience is defined as “I am of the flesh and sold under sin.” Universally speaking, every person born of Adam is sold unto a master-sin who now owns him and rules over him. V15 “I do not understand my own actions, for I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Here is the total inability of “man’s will” to do that which is pleasing to God. As a self righteous Jew Paul had a desire to keep the law of God, but “his mind is set on the flesh which is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom 8:7). This is the experience of every unregenerate human being as he says “I want to do this” but “my master-sin insists that I do that and forces me to do it.” Paul continues to drive the point just in case we still don’t understand by stating v16 “now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good (he admits he has a conscience). V17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. V18 “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ABILITY to carry it out.” Here is the inability of the “will of man,” as Paul so plainly states “I desires to do that which is pleasing to God,” but the outcome is that he “Does not have the ability in himself to carry it out.” Paul does not have the strength, the power, or the resolve to obey the law! He cannot find in himself the strength to carry out the good. V19 “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. V20 now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” Sin in me (Paul) is so powerful that it takes over my will and controls my life! V21 “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. Paul finds a law that he cannot remove himself from, for he finds then a law that evil is present in him, the one who wills to do good. V22 for I delight in the law of God (as a self righteous Jew that is) in my inner being, v23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” The “natural man” does not have the ability to release himself from the control and dominance of his master-sin. The “will of man” is under the law of sin and is held by force to obey its evil, “for the law of sin is making me a captive.” V24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

Since the unbeliever is in the flesh (unregenerate) and cannot please God, it also follows that he does not have the ability to carry out the desire to do what is right (Rom 8:8; 7:18). Many will say “but man has the free-will to believe in God.” We would all agree that “fearing the LORD” is right and pleasing to God (Pro 1:7), we would also agree that “loving the LORD God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” is right and pleasing to God (Deu 6:5), and we would also agree that “believing in the Lord Jesus Christ” is right and pleasing to God (Act 16:31), but the Scriptures also teach that “believing in Christ” is the “gift of God” (Eph 2:8-9). The gift of faith “has been granted” by the Father and applied by the Holy Spirit, as Philippians 1:29 says “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only BELIEVE in Him (Christ) but also suffer for his sake.” In John 6:37 Jesus says “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” and in John 6:44 He says “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” The giving of the Father results in the coming to Jesus Christ. Please notice that “no one can come” or “no one is able” (the total inability of man’s will), “unless the Father draws him to the Son” and God will raise the one who comes to the Son on the last day. There is only one person in the passage, the Father does not draw this person to the Son and fail to raise him up on the last day. God resurrects the spiritually dead person who is under the dominion and control of sin, by the drawing of the Holy Spirit, which is “the Son setting him free” (John 8:36).

Just try to stop sinning for 1 day and you will know your slavery to sin. The great news of the Gospel is that Jesus sets the sinner free from the dominion of sin by the breaking of the chains and releasing him from bondage. And when Christ redeems the sinner he comes to Christ and bows the knee to his new King. Jesus Christ is a perfect Savior who saves to the uttermost and He never fails to save those who He sets free. This is why the self righteous humbles himself before a Holy God, the drug addict stops doing drugs, the prostitute stops turning tricks, and the drunk throws away the bottle. The setting of the captive free results in a life of piety toward God and this is why the Christian is a new creation and his old life of slavery to sin is gone and the new life in Christ has begun (2 Cor 5:17).

In conclusion, “man has a will” but it is enslaved and controlled by his master-sin. The will of man is so enslaved and compelled by sin that he “cannot accept the things of the Spirit of God, for the spiritual things of God are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because he is spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14). It is to avert from Scripture to assume that man has a “free-will” to do that which is pleasing to God apart from the gifting of the Holy Spirit. Sound Biblical doctrine teaches that the natural man is totally depraved and unable to do that which is pleasing to God but instead does whatever his master-sin commands him to do. The “free-will” of man does the will of his father, the devil (John 8:44).

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