Free will is a topic over which there has been much debate both in Christian and non-Christian spheres. The one side claims free will means we are free to choose any or all options. If I want to be saved (in Christian terms), I choose to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. If I am male but want to be female (or any of the other genders), I choose it. Reasonably speaking, this is at the heart of many cultural debates today. I have read and heard many times that because I am white, I am racist. This argument speaks against free will or the choice to be racist. If I have no choice but to be racist, then how can I be culpable for racism? This kind of argument is used by the gender issue. “I am a female in a male body. I did not choose this. It is who I am.” Thus, we are expected to accept the argument and those who claim to be some other gender. They can’t help it. They cannot, therefore, be culpable on a moral level.
Such reasoning is self-contradictory. If it is true in one case, then it must be true in every case. And in that case, why are people losing jobs and, moreover, apparently racist comments (this is a wholly different topic)? Obviously, they can’t help it. To hold someone culpable, the activity they become involved with must be a free choice. The extreme application of the argument against free choice is fatalism. Think of Doris Day singing, “Que sera, sera.” The argument against fatalism is that no one can truly live that way. There are no choices, only the illusion of choices. There is no right or wrong because what will be will be. The consequence? There is no culpability. In that case, we might as well disband the police (and military, border patrol, etc.).
We know this cannot be reasonable because we all make choices, and there are predictable consequences to our choices. If I choose to skip school, I will not be able to use my intelligence. Some might say this is where about half of our country is. If I don’t have such a choice, then welfare programs make sense because I can’t get a job. But do they? Why would we choose to give our money away when there is no choice. Even to choose to create such programs. This becomes survival of the fittest, which makes many scientists and teachers very happy. They would have evidence of evolution.
No. To make me accountable for racism, you must identify the action that is racist and demonstrate that I had a choice in my action. I may not be thoughtful or reflective about my choice. I still have the power to not do racist things. Thoughts don’t count unless they are acted upon. No one can read my mind, and only I can judge my thoughts. Unfortunately, humankind wants it both ways. You can judge my thoughts, but I cannot judge yours. And now, the real punch to free will. There is nothing that scientifically explains gender beyond two: male and female. If I say I am a homosexual, it can only be a choice of my free will. The choice may have been influenced by many things, but in the end, it is still a choice. Let me be clear. I believe that those who claim to be other genders or homosexual still deserve respect due to every human being. However, I do not need to approve of forced programs telling me that this is morally good. This especially goes for our children.
Free will is something we all have and human beings. Yet, how free is our free will? If I am offered a slice of cherry pie or a slice of apple pie, I will always choose cherry. Why? I don’t know. The choice is free, but at the same time not absolutely free. The choice I make is freely made. I can choose the apple. However, my choice is influenced by something within me that prefers cherry over apple (or anything over pumpkin). What is that thing? I believe it is something tied to my personality, which, together with many of such things, makes me a unique human being. I also believe that my personality, my personhood has a source which is the Creator.
Free will has limitations because we are created beings, finite in all aspects of our being. We cannot have unlimited choices because we are not unlimited. This brings me to a man named Pelagius. Pelagius lived during the fourth and fifth centuries when the church had developed significantly but was still young. Pelagius was a diligent scholar and committed to the Christian faith. As such, he soon realized that many Christians were not living as the Bible told us to live. Faithful as he was, he sought the reason for this and concluded that people were choosing to live the way they did. The reasonable answer to his conclusion is to teach people that they had the ability to live holy lives if only they would choose to do so. Pelagius became know for his asceticism when he lived in Rome. No one is a true teacher if they do not live the life.
There was another devout Christian man who lived in North Africa. His name is Augustine. You may have heard him called Saint Augustine, though you have never heard of Saint Pelagius. Through the efforts of Augustine, Pelagius, and his teaching called Pelagianism, were declared heretical by the church in 418 A.D. (B.C.E.) and excommunicated. The fundamental disagreement was over the nature of free will and went all the way back to the Garden of Eden and the first sin (original sin). I will save you from what I consider to be a thrilling debate. But the conclusion is foundational to all debate over free will.
I remember that Jesus claimed that he did nothing of his own will but by the will of the Father. “Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.’” (John 4:34, ESV) “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” (John 6:38, ESV) A part of that work is the call of the gospel.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”John 3:16, ESV
The gospel is offered to everyone. Anyone who believes shall have eternal life. The offer, though, does not imply that I can choose to believe. So, John also wrote that the belief is not of our will.
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”John 1:12-13
So, we are all bound to the death of sin from our birth. There is no such thing as an innocent newborn child in terms of original sin. All human beings wrestle their entire lives with sin. We all do wrong, and we are culpable for the wrong that we do. Anyone who does not think racism is evil is a fool. Likewise, everyone who sees racism where there are no acts of racism is a fool. The name has changed over the years. Systemic racism. Institutional racism. Sadly, when one focuses on others’ perceived racism, they are blinded to their own racism. When we use epithets like homo or homophobe, we are focused on others. And to be honest, I’ve got too many of my own problems to get all tangled up in yours.
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.Matthew 7:3-5