I’ve chewed on this one for quite some time. There is more to understand but I want to take a stab at one of the more “touchy” concepts out there.
You will hear in any teaching the concept that “God gave us free will.” We use that to make all kinds of excuses why stuff happens. I want to be very clear up front. Bad stuff happens to people because the devil is a jerk (rated PG for the readers). Good stuff happens because God is good, period. Every breath we take is because of the mercy of God. The devil would like to see us all dead or blaming God for all the bad stuff. Yay God for the breath of life. So here we go.
In some way the fall was part of the plan. To be like Jesus we needed to see and think like Him. We needed to have understanding of the “knowledge of good and evil.” This is what God said:
Gen 3: 22 And the Lord God said, Behold, the man has become like one of Us [the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit], to know [how to distinguish between] good and evil and blessing and calamity; and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever— (AMP)
Still we missed the mark. We turned to self. We needed an example. Jesus on the cross is what it looks like for a man to live outside fallen thinking. Jesus is the gateway to God’s perspective. God sees outside the law. He sees the utility of the law outside of the law. We are bound by law-thinking but he isn’t. When we step through the cross we die to ourselves and are joined to him. With Jesus and the mind of Christ and the union with the Holy Spirit we have the ability to see what he sees. Our surrender to having his desires and living in His eternal reality is where we become like Jesus.
We aren’t patterning behavior but becoming something new. We do the works he did. We give up our choosing from lists of good and evil and surrender our thinking to His. We give up deciding and instead give in to his desires. His desires aren’t just inputs into my decision matrix. His desires aren’t part of my spreadsheet. I want to desire what he does without even consciously processing them in a forbidden fruit fashion. My forbidden fruit processor is replaced by his processor. We become naive again and trust Him completely. We don’t care about what is good (easy, pleasing, yummy, beautiful) for us or bad (hard, difficult, nasty, disgusting) for us. We just want what God wants for us. We are 4 years old in the front seat on a journey and can’t see over the dashboard. That is more than just a better alternative, it is our greatest desire. We look at the driver and are mesmerized by His awesomeness!
Free will is an illusion. Somewhere along the way we started believing that “will” was an untouchable thing. We were told by religion that if you had more “will power” you would be a better person. The dictionary defines “will” in this context as “desire” or “wish” or “preference.” In Hebrew it is “delight.” In the New Testament it is almost always used to describe what God wants, what He delights in. Your will or desires are actually products of your inputs. In our fallen nature we have confused “free will” with the freedom to “choose.” In the garden, before the fruit cocktail, our “chooser” had a single eye and it was focused on God. Our desires were His desires.
When we ate from the wrong tree our chooser got overwhelmed with information that turned us inward instead of upward. We became consumed with self. We hid from God. Religion teaches that this forbidden fruit gave us a perfect chooser so we could tell God stuff from devil stuff. That isn’t true. If the tree contained the knowledge of all things from God and all things from the devil we would have run to God instead of away from God. He is the Source of all good stuff. What happened was our “chooser” got broken and became a super discerner. It became the flaw revealer. We looked at stuff differently and based all our decisions on what is good (pleasing) for me and what is bad (hard, yucky, gross, difficult, complicated…) for me. Every choice had me in the center.
Even with that poisoned chooser we still are made in the image of God. We are still his children, just really messed up in our thinking. For example the family unit is very much a God design. Even a selfish, self-centered human (made in God’s image) will choose the evil (hard, difficult, challenging, time-consuming, sacrifice) for a loved family member so that the loved one will have the good (easy, pleasing, rewarding, abundance…). That is our godlike nature. Jesus is the ultimate and perfect example of that. He used his chooser to pick the bad (evil, hard, humiliating, shameful, deadly…) for every person who ever breathed so we would have the good (God).
In the end, in the garden (where it all began) Jesus exercises His “free will” as it was intended.
Matt 26:39 And going a little farther, He threw Himself upon the ground on His face and prayed saying, My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will [not what I desire], but as You will and desire. (AMP)
He gives up his desire and chooses God’s desire. He doesn’t weigh his options, consult a scriptural commentary or any other religious exercise of discerning God’s will. No he just gives up his own will, he gives up his right to use His chooser and embrace God’s choice.
This is actually the freedom part of free will. Be honest with yourself and you can see that our desires (apart from knowing God) will be for self . It is impossible to step outside that reality of self centeredness without Jesus. We may contribute to society in a selfless way, but apart from Jesus we will choose our psyche life over anything. Jesus says we get his life. His life is way better than any contrived-through-deception-life we can possibly imagine. We get to be like him.
God made us all to be martyrs. That may repulse you and send you running. You may think I just stepped into crazy land. But challenge yourself. Seek God in your secret place and ask him. I bet you will find that the deepest desire of your born-again heart is to make a difference no matter what it takes. You would give up everything to see your loved ones provided for. His desires have become yours. He pours fuel on that God-given new nature to sacrifice your good (plenty, easy, luxury…) for another. When his desires become your desires everyone you meet is your family.
Phil 2:13 [Not in your own strength] for it is God Who is all the while effectually at work in you [energizing and creating in you the power and desire], both to will and to work for His good pleasure and satisfaction and delight (AMP)
This may be a long way around the mountain but are you beginning to see the master plan? Now, as a new creation, we exercise our chooser to choose Him. Before the fall we only had Him as our choice. After the fall we only had a broken chooser. Now we are different in Jesus. We aren’t using our chooser to choose from a list that is supplemented by God’s input. We are choosing Him as our list. That is exercising free will. I understand we need the forbidden-fruit-chooser to operate in a fallen world. We need to understand how our fallen nature motivates our decisions. We however, get to be free from the bondage of that broken and condemning chooser to see as He sees. We can see the utility of the law way of thinking but are free from its bondage.
The law says no. Jesus says Yes. We get to choose a reality that includes stuff we used to think impossible. We see alternatives and solutions that God sees. Then we get to agree with His plan. That is actually exercising your “free will.” Your desires have become His. You get to climb in the car and let Him drive. You get to see what amazing things He can do. Listen, stop resisting. You aren’t giving up anything. You are gaining everything. So go on and exercise your free will and get ready to let out one of those uncontrollable expressions of elation…eeeeeee! So I say let’s have more Free Will….eeeee!
P.S. Here is the definition of “will” or desire in Phil 2:13
Cognate: 2309 thélō (a primitive verb, NAS dictionary) – to desire (wish, will), wanting what is best (optimal) because someone is ready and willing to act.
2309 /thélō (“to desire, wish”) is commonly used of the Lord extending His “best-offer” to the believer – wanting (desiring) to birth His persuasion (faith) in them which also empowers, manifests His presence etc. See 2307 (thelēma).
[Note the close connection between faith (4102 /pístis, “God’s inbirthed persuasion”) and this root (thel-, 2307 /thélēma); cf. 2 Cor 8:5-7 and Heb 10:36-39).]