To say that man has a free will is neither biblical nor logical. It’s not biblical because the Bible not only never states or implies that man has a free will, but in fact, teaches the opposite. And for man to have a free will is not logical because it makes God a puppet of man and not the sovereign God that He is (Ezek. 25:12; Rev. 6:10).
To say that man has a free will means that he has the innate ability/capacity to choose to please God or not; to think, say, or do right or not; or to do good with right/biblical motives or not; and that he has the ability to override the plans and purposes of God by the choices he makes. However, the Bible teaches otherwise.
Romans 8:5-8 teaches that the mind/thoughts set on (fixed on, absorbed with, dominated/controlled by) the flesh/sin nature is not capable of subjecting itself to the law of God. And those who are in the flesh (controlled by their sin nature) cannot please God (Wuest’s Word Studies in the Greek New Testament, Vol. 1, “Romans”, pp. 130, 131; Drs. Walvoord and Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament, p. 470). And this is the condition of every unbeliever/non-Christian, at least, as mankind is born with a sin nature or in sin (Psa. 51:5; 58:3) or made a sinner (Rom. 5:19) and is, therefore, a slave to sin (Rom. 6:17; 5:6; 7:5; Eph. 2:3). Genesis 8:21 states that the intent/inclination of man’s heart is evil from his youth (Heb. “neurim” expresses a state or condition – Dr. H. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis, Vol. 1, p. 324; innate in man – Drs. Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. 1, p. 151; spoken of an infant just born on up – Wilson’s Old Testament Word Studies, p. 494). And Genesis 6:5 states that every intent of the heart/thoughts of mankind was only evil continually.
So the unbeliever (who is born with and only has a sin nature) or those controlled by their sin nature after conversion cannot please God or obey God (subject themselves to His law). The natural man/nonbeliever can neither accept nor understand the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him (1 Cor. 2:14), and salvation is of the Spirit of God (Jn. 3:5-6; 2 Thes. 2:13). So the nonbeliever could and would never seek for God (Rom. 3:11) or accept Christ or salvation apart from God’s intervention (Jn. 6:44, 65). All that our sin nature/heart can produce is sinful thoughts, words, and actions (read Matt. 12:34-35; 15:18-19; Lk. 6:43, 45; Mk. 7:21-23; Gal. 5:19-21; Jer. 17:9). There is nothing good that dwells in our flesh/sin nature (Rom. 7:18), which we are born with, and that’s why even Christians who live from their sin natures/flesh cannot do any good/right (Rom. 7:14-20). And the nonbeliever, who only has a sin nature, is incapable of doing anything good as far as God is concerned (Rom. 3:12). What supposed good (from a human viewpoint) a nonbeliever does can only benefit its recipients, but it is considered as filthy rags by God (Isa. 64:6) because the motive is self-centered and, therefore, makes what he did filthy in the eyes of God (Prov. 16:2; 21:2; Jer. 17:9-10). Motives are very important to God (1 Cor. 4:5; Jas. 4:3; Matt. 6:1; Jn. 6:24-26; Phil. 2:3). And the only motive a nonbeliever can have is selfish because he only has one nature (a sinful one) to function from (Jn. 8:44; Psa. 51:5; 58:3; Eph. 2:3; Matt. 7:18 with Matt. 15:19).
Also, since goodness is a fruit/quality that only God the Spirit can produce (Gal. 5:22), and since nonbelievers don’t have the Spirit of God in them (Rom. 8:9); therefore, nonbelievers can’t do any good as far as God is concerned. So what choice do they have?
As far as salvation is concerned, only people predestined/chosen/elected by God from eternity past can and will accept Christ as Savior or be saved. And God did not pick them because He saw or knew in advance that they would accept Christ (since sin-natured man is incapable of doing so as has already been discussed), but God chose certain people for salvation according to His own good will/purpose and grace and totally apart from anything to do with the people or their choices/wills (read 2 Thes. 2:13; Eph. 1:4-5, 11; 2 Tim. 1:9; James 1:18; Jn. 1:12, 13 – Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. 3, p. 493).
If God didn’t appoint a person to salvation, he would not believe (Jn. 10:26; Acts 13:48), and if God didn’t open the heart of a person to respond to the gospel, then that person couldn’t believe (Acts 16:14). Only those of God can hear/understand and believe Christ (Jn. 8:43, 45, 47). Also, since faith is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8), and God does not give that gift to everyone but only to those He chooses (e.g., Rom. 11:5-8; Matt. 11:27); therefore, it’s impossible for those not given the gift of faith to believe in Christ as Savior (Jn. 12:37-40). On the other hand, those who are chosen by God for salvation “will” come to Christ and believe and can’t reject Him (Jn. 6:37, 44-45; 10:16, 27-28; Rom. 8:29-30). Does this sound like freedom to choose?
The word “foreknew” (Gk. “proginosko”) means to determine beforehand, to foreordain (e.g., 1 Pet. 1:20), to appoint as the subject of future privileges (e.g., Rom. 8:29; 11:2) previous determination (e.g., Acts 2:23) – Harold Moulton, The Analytical Greek Lexicon Revised, p. 342. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, page 538 says, “foreknowledge” means “prearrangement”. And F.W. Gingrich’s Shorter Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, page 183, defines “foreknowledge” as “to choose before-hand”. So, God’s predestining of people and events has nothing to do with God knowing in advance what people’s choices were going to be, but rather is based on God’s own will/purpose/plans and totally uninfluenced by man (see Rom. 9:10-23; Acts 2:23; 4:27-28).
When man is incapable of choosing to think, say, or do anything good because of a sinful nature that totally dominates all thinking and decisions from birth, then it’s impossible for man to choose Christ or salvation because both are good (1 Jn. 2:1; Jn. 10:11; Acts 8:12; 13:32, 38-39). Only if God is working in people, giving them both the will and the ability to do His good pleasure, can people then obey God or do good (Phil. 2:13).
Man’s having a free will is not only unbiblical, it’s also illogical as it would cancel out God’s sovereignty and therefore, with it His Deity. But God does as He pleases, and no one can change or stop His plans or future determinations (Dan. 4:35; Psa. 135:6; Rom. 11:29; Lam. 2:17; Job 42:2; Isa. 46:9-11). How egotistical it is of those who believe in free will to think that God’s plans revolve around man’s free will choices. No, rather God is in complete control, and we live and die to glorify Him (Rev. 14:6-7; 5:13; Psa. 86:9; 1 Cor. 10:31; Isa. 43:7) in whatever way He chooses to use us, whether for good or evil (Prov. 16:4; 1 Ki. 22:19-23; Rom. 9:17-18, 21-23).
Could the people in any of the following passages have chosen to do anything other than what they did or said?
Genesis 20:1-6; 45:5-8 with Gen. 50:20
Exodus 4:21 with Ex. 7:3-4, 13, 22; 9:12
Exodus 4:4, 8, 17, 23; 10:1, 20, 27; 4:14 with Ex. 4:27; 34:23-24
Numbers 22:38 with Num. 23:12, 16; 24:13
Deuteronomy 2:30; 29:4
Judges 9:22-24, 55-57
1 Samuel 2:25; 10:1, 5-6, 9-10; 19:20-24
2 Samuel 17:14
1 Kings 12:15
Psalms 33:10; 105:23-25
Proverbs 16:1, 9; 19:21; 21:1
Jeremiah 1:5, 7
John 7:30; 15:5, 24-25
2 Timothy 2:25-26
It’s also important to know that words like “world”, “any”, and “all” can and do have restricted meanings at times in the Bible. For example, the word “world” in the following passages has the following meanings:
John 12:19, a lot of people from around Jerusalem.
John 18:20, a lot of people around Israel.
John 14:17, non-believers.
John 16:20, many unbelievers.
John 17:14, many unbelievers.
Acts 17:6, a lot of people in different parts of the Roman Empire.
Acts 19:27; 24:5; Romans 1:8; 1 Corinthians 4:9; Colossians 1:6 (same as above).
Rom. 11:15, a lot of Gentiles from all different parts of world.
The word “all” (the Greek word “pas” when used without a preceding article means “every kind of, all kinds/sorts of, or all of a certain kind”). For example:
In Matthew 5:11, the KJV, NIV, and NASB translate “pan” as “all manner or kinds of”.
In Matthew 10:1, the KJV and NASB translate “pasan” as “all manner” or “every kind of”.
In Acts 10:12, the KJV, NIV, and NASB translate “panta” as “all manner or all kinds of”.
In Acts 13:10, the NIV translates “pentos” as “all kinds of” while KJV and NASB say “all”.
In Eph. 4:19, the NIV and NASB translate “pases” as “every kind of” while the KJV says “all”.
In 1 Timothy 6:10, the NIV and NASB translate “panton” as “all kinds/sorts of” while KJV says “all”.
In other passages “all” obviously has a restricted meaning. Examples are:
Matthew 10:22 (not every single person in the world, but all who are opposed to Christ).
Luke 1:6 (not all 400 plus commands and ordinances of the Law, but in general, as they weren’t sinless – Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Vol. 3, p. 332).
Luke 2:1 (not every person in the whole world, but in the Roman Empire).
Acts 2:17 (not every person in the world, but on all God’s servants – Acts 2:18).
Acts 19:27 (not everyone in the world, but a lot of people in different parts of the Roman Empire).
Acts 21:28 (not everyone in the world, but a lot of people in different parts of the Roman Empire).
Romans 5:18 (not everyone in the world is justified, just the elect/chosen, those in Christ, 1 Cor. 15:22).
1 Timothy 2:1-2 (for all kinds of people, like kings and those in authority).
Philippians 4:13 (he couldn’t sin through Christ, but could live in all kinds of circumstances, Phil. 4:12).
Colossians 1:6 (not everywhere in the whole world, but various parts of the Roman Empire).
1 Timothy 2:4 (as in 1 Tim. 2:1, it means all kinds of people).
1 Timothy 2:6 (not everyone in the whole world, but all His chosen – Jn. 10:11, 15, 26; Eph. 5:25).
1 Timothy 5:20 (not the world, but the local church).
1 Timothy 6:17 (we don’t have every material thing there is in the world, but all kinds of things).
1 Peter 4:7 (not everything inclusively, but this present life and world for the believer).
2 Peter 3:9 (meaning all the chosen, those of the faith – see 2 Pet. 1:1; 3:1, 8; 1 Pet. 1:1-2).
1 John 2:27 (not about math, zoology, etc., but about spiritual truth, like Jesus’ Deity, 1 Jn. 2:18-23).
John 12:32 (not everyone in the world inclusively, but His sheep, God’s children, Jn. 10:16; 6:44; 11:52).
1 Corinthians 9:19-22 (all kinds of things to all kinds of people).
So the word “all” can have various meanings depending upon the context. John 3:16 is true, “whoever believes in Him…will have eternal life”, but only God’s chosen can believe because a person’s sin nature would and could not believe. Only when God intervenes and gives His chosen ones the faith to believe can and will they believe. Nor can a non-Christian choose to do any other good as well (Rom. 3:12).
So, people’s wills are limited, not free!