Sovereign Grace Blog

Thoughts on the freedom of the will


I was asked for my input to a dialogue that a friend is having with a fellow family member/pastor. I’ve changed his name to Pastor X.

Here’s the situation:

Pastor X is a huge libertarian free will guy (understatement), and he is challenging me to explain what happened in the garden with Adam and Eve who were made in the image of God but disobeyed. He thinks that choice to eat proves that God gives humans libertarian/self-determining free will.

My response:

The kind of free will that I think Pastor X thinks exists and I don’t is the idea that any moral agent chooses based on no prior motives or inclinations. I don’t think that is true of God’s will, of the will of an angel, nor of us humans. The only explanation that makes any sense to me is the one Jonathan Edwards put forward: “The will is the mind choosing.” In other words, the will, by its definition, incorporates prior inclinations from which to choose; and it always chooses the strongest inclination at any given moment. So Adam’s choice to eat does not prove that God gives humans libertarian/self-determining free will. It just proves that Adam was created with a moral ability to sin and that at that given moment in the garden he chose the strongest inclination that was before him.


The error starts with the assumption that to be made in the image of God means that one must have the ability to will or choose willy-nilly…based on nothing, based on no motives or inclinations from which to choose. That’s where the issue is. The real mystery is that God did create Adam with the ability to sin...with the inevitability that he would sin.


Your examples of limited knowledge and limited strength and limited emotional experience all do feed into the prior motives or options before the mind. But sin (the inclining of something other that God as one’s true pleasure) is a moral issue. So I’m hesitant to attribute the fall to mere finiteness. The main reason is because none of us in our future state of resurrection without the ability to sin will be God (omniscience, omnipotent etc.). So we will always lack knowledge and ability. But morally, we will not be able to sin.


So the story in the garden does not prove or define the nature of the human will. It just demonstrates the will at work; and proves that God created Man with the Moral ability to choose the bad.

1 Comment

Pastor Joe, what do you mean by Pastor X?

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