The Lord’s Prayer as it should be read in most churches:
Our Father, who art in heaven
Hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done (except when it comes to salvation)
On earth as it is in heaven
It is quite popular to speak of “free will” as if that is some wonderful gift of God. My daughters have a book by Eric Metaxas, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About God (but were afraid to ask) that I skimmed through this weekend and the book is just full of glowing references to free will (and is generally a horrific book that paints a picture of an impotent God). I wish I had a dollar for every person who told me that free will is God’s great gift to us, not forcing us to be saved but leaving the choice up to us as if that is somehow loving.
I say no thanks. I don’t want a free will because left to my own devices I always get in trouble. I prefer God’s will to my own will. Many people speak of free will as if it is this wonderful thing that God has given us, leaving the ultimate choice of salvation in our hands. I say there is no one I trust less for my own salvation than myself. Thank God that He didn’t leave salvation up to me, not one iota, not one step. Let me be clear. I am not talking about free will in choosing what you wear today (although I wish people had a little less free will there). I am talking about Free Will when it comes to coming to faith in Christ. I am talking “making a decision for Christ”, “inviting Him into your heart”, etc.
If man truly had a free will in the sense taught and preached in most of the church, Abraham would still be Abram and would have died in Haran. Peter and Andrew would have kept on casting their nets in the sea. Paul would still be Saul. I would still be caught up in mormonism. There would be no churches to be critical of because there would be no Christians.
What it really comes down to is one question: did Christ die to make salvation possible for all men without exception, leaving the ultimate initiator of salvation up to men or did Christ die specifically and purposefully to save a remnant of lost and sinful mankind?
The Bible itself gives us the answer. For example, John 3:16 is one verse that people love to throw out as if it somehow is a refutation of Calvinism. Nothing could be further from the truth because John 3:16 is part of a greater discourse. If we read just John 3:16, we read:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Sure, you can argue that John 3:16 supports “free will”. The Bible is not a series of unrelated verses pasted together and we can't read it that way. John 3:16 is part of a greater discourse which includes things like:
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:18)
The world and everyone in it is already condemned and only through faith in Christ can one be saved. But doesn’t that still mean that man has free will to choose Christ? Not when you look at the way this discourse to Nicodemus starts:
Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3: 3-8)
Unless you are born again by the Spirit, you cannot see the Kingdom of God. Not that you don't choose to see, you cannot see. The unregenerate heart cannot come to Christ because it has no idea that it needs Christ. In other words, you are not born again because you choose Christ, you are born again because Christ chose you. You didn’t change your heart, God changed your heart in spite of your free will. You don’t come to Christ unless Christ first comes to you (John 6:44). The order this happens in is so important because it tells you who initiates and completes salvation, you or God. So in a nutshell, John 3:16 can only be used as a defense of “free will” if you choose (pun intended) to ignore the context that precedes and follows the verse.
All of the verses that people love to throw out in defense of man’s sovereign free will like John 3:16, 2 Peter 3:9, 1 John 2:2 are perfectly compatible with God’s sovereign grace and shame on the Calvinist who suggests that there are verses in the Bible that refute election. The overall theme of Scripture is that God has chosen a remnant of lost mankind to redeem and we are redeemed from a fate that is already determined. Free will aside, your fate is sealed as a sinner and that fate is an everlasting hell. It is only through the particular redeeming grace of God that any escape the fire. From the Garden to the Cross, the story is one of God's sovereignity, not man's free will.
In his Gospel account John records the Great Shepherd discourse which gives a clear explanation of God’s electing grace.
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father. (John 10: 11-18)
Christ laid down His life for His sheep, His sheep who know His voice. They know His voice because they are His sheep and they are His sheep because the Father gave them to Him and that is who Christ died for. They are not His sheep because they chose Him, they were given to Him by the Father.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one. (John 10: 27-30)
We didn’t put ourselves in Christ’s hands, God the Father gave us to Him. Another great passage is in Romans 5. Christ’s death on our behalf was not based on some perceived future righteousness on our part. In contrast, Paul tells us that Christ died for us when there was no reason to do so. Our faith has for its source God’s gift to us, our faith doesn’t have as its source our own dead, sin laden hearts. While we were still weak, while we were still lost in our sins, Christ died for us.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:6-11)
The death of Christ was not predicated on our future choice of Him. Christ didn’t die for me because He could see that I would choose Him of my own free will. When Christ looked at me, I am sure that he saw that I (and every other Christian) would die lost unless He not only died to pay for our sins but ensured that the Spirit would regenerate our hearts. Christ died for me when my salvation was hopeless and through the Word and the Holy Spirit ensured that I would come to faith. Free will always ends in the same place: an eternal hell. If you are a Christian, thank God that His grace overcame your stubborn heart, that His will was done and not your own. God’s great gift to His people is not free will, it is His will.