Man, created in Godís
image, possesses a mind, a heart, and a will. The mind, or
intellect, allows him to think rationally, not by sheer instinct
like an animal. The heart, or emotion, enables him to feel,
unlike a robot or machine, human experience. The will, or
volition, enables him to make decisions and choices that have
moral consequences. It is his capacity for action, a capacity
that allows him to choose this over that and
those instead of these.
In his unfallen
state, man was good and very good. The fall, however, affected
every part of manís being. Manís mind, by virtue of his fallen
nature was darkened, incapable of understanding the things of
the Spirit of God (Ephesians 4:18; 1 Corinthians 2:14). Further,
his emotions are now deceptive and untrustworthy (Jeremiah 17:9)
and his will, that is, his ability to choose good over evil and
right over wrong, is bound. The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith
"Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost
all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying
salvation, so as a natural man, being altogether averse from
that good, and dead in sin, is not able by his own strength to
commit himself, or to prepare himself thereto."
So, is man free? If by the word "free" one means that
people have the ability to make certain choices on their own
(i.e. free from compulsion, force, or coercion), then the answer
is "yes." For example, people have the ability to choose to go
to the store or stay home, to buy a newspaper or not, to eat
beef or to eat fish, etc.; such choices are within the natural
capacity of human beings. People are free to act according to
If by the word "free", however, one means free without any
limitation, then the answer is "no." People are not free to act
contrary to their nature. I cannot choose to fly. Yes, I can
choose to travel by airplane, but I cannot choose to sprout
wings or become a bird. My will, you see, is not entirely free.
It is bound by the limits of my nature. We do not have the
freedom to be anything we are not.
Man, in other words, is not free to act outside the boundaries
of his human nature. He cannot live the life of a fish in the
ocean or fly like a bird in the air without external resources
enabling him to duplicate his natural environment. Just as that
is true on a natural level, it is also true on a spiritual
level. In his fallen state, man cannot choose to be righteous.
The Ethiopian cannot by his own sheer willpower, change the
color of his skin, nor the leopard his spots. Neither can those
whose nature is depraved voluntarily do good (Jeremiah 13:23).
Manís will is enslaved to his sinful nature. Left to himself,
his only capacity is fleshly.
Unregenerate people are not free to choose righteousness or
wickedness; they are, on the contrary, "free from righteousness"
(Romans 6:20). By nature, manís will is a "will not" (Psalm
10:4; Psalm 58:3; John 5:40, Isaiah 26:10). His only inclination
is toward carnality. The natural man will never choose anything
but sin, because he cannot operate outside the parameters of his
sinful nature (Romans 8:7). The nature of manís will is not
Not until his nature is changed does he have the desire or the
capacity to choose righteousness. Prior to Godís work of
regeneration in the soul, therefore, manís will is bound by the
old nature. In regeneration, the fallen sinner is made "willing
in the day of Godís power" (Psalm 110:3). He is given a new
nature, a righteous nature, capable of responding to God.
Because the old nature is not eradicated, however, a warfare
between the Spirit and the flesh ensues (Romans 7) - requiring
deliberate and decisive efforts of the will for righteousness
(Romans 6:11-23). In other words, the believer must choose,
every day, between the options of serving sin or righteousness
(Joshua 24:15; Romans 6:13). With such a conflict facing us, we
should be glad that the Holy Spirit will continue to work within
us "both to will and to do His good pleasure"
Because manís will, apart from the new nature given in the new
birth, is bound, it is incapable of choosing eternal life. Manís
only hope of eternal life, then, is rooted in Godís initiative
and choice. Salvation, in other words, depends on Godís choice,
not mine, and upon His sovereign will, not manís fallen will
(John 1:13; Romans 9:16; Ephesians 1:5,11; Hebrews 10:10). That,
my friend, is a firm foundation!