The will of man is a complex topic that is discussed throughout the Bible. As Christians, it is important for us to understand what God’s word says about how our will interacts with God’s will and plan. This affects the way we make decisions and how we view concepts like sin, salvation, and sanctification.
In this post, we will take a comprehensive look at various bible verses to understand the biblical perspective on the will of man. Here are some key takeaways:
- God created man with a free will to make choices
- Our will is naturally inclined towards sin after the Fall
- Salvation involves submitting our will to God’s will
- God transforms our will to desire holy things
- We are still responsible for willful sin as believers
- Our wills will be perfectly in line with God’s in eternity
Let’s explore these topics in more detail from Scripture.
The Origin of Free Will
The Bible teaches that human beings were created by God with the ability to make free choices. This free will originated in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve were given a command by God to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17). Even though they were without sin, Adam and Eve used their free will to disobey God’s command and eat the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:6).
This first act of disobedience had drastic consequences. It resulted in the Fall of mankind into sin, meaning that the will of man was now corrupted by sin and inclined toward evil (Genesis 6:5; Romans 3:9-18). However, even after the Fall, humans still possessed the ability to make choices. God did not revoke man’s free will due to sin, but He did promise eventual redemption from the bondage of sin through faith in Christ (Genesis 3:15; Galatians 5:1).
As human beings, the will is a fundamental part of the way we have been created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27). The ability to make choices is part of what makes us unique persons created for relationship with God. Our will interacts with our intellect, emotions, and other faculties to guide our actions and behavior. As believers, understanding the freedom and responsibility of our will is key to living in line with Scripture.
The Bondage of the Will to Sin
Although mankind has free will, the Bible is clear that our will is tainted by the effects of the Fall. As sinners, our wills are naturally inclined toward evil. In Romans 7, Paul describes this inner struggle between what we know is right in our mind and the sinful desires of the flesh:
For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. (Romans 7:18-19)
Paul realizes that his will, which was once free before Christ, is now in bondage to the sin nature he was born with. As Augustine stated, the will of fallen man is no longer truly free because it is subject to the slavery of sin. Rather than being able to choose good, the will of sinful man can only be free if it is freed from sin by God:
For the apostle says, “I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.” (Romans 7:23) Hence also he says, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of those who believe not, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” (2 Corinthians 4:4)
Apart from God intervening, the will of man only desires sin due to the inherited corruption from Adam. The will is in bondage to the sin nature and captive to keep choosing evil.
Salvation Restores Our Free Will
The good news of the gospel is that Jesus came to set us free from bondage to sin and restore our will’s freedom! Through His death and resurrection, those who put their faith in Christ are given a new heart with new desires. Ezekiel 36:26 describes this regenerating work of salvation:
A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.
At the moment of salvation, God removes our heart of stone enslaved by sin and replaces it with a redeemed heart that can choose righteousness. The Spirit’s power enables us to submit our will to God’s will and receive the gift of eternal life. As Jesus says in John 8:36, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”
This does not mean that believers no longer struggle with sin. But it does mean that we are no longer powerless to fight against sin. Through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, followers of Christ are liberated to willfully obey God:
But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. (Romans 8:9)
This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16)
Because our wills have been freed by Christ, we can now yield our wills to righteousness rather than sin. Salvation restores our ability to choose good over evil in cooperation with the Holy Spirit.
Submission to God’s Will
The mark of a redeemed will is one that submits to the will of God. At conversion, a believer surrenders their life to the lordship of Christ. Their desires are transformed to want what God wants. Jesus exemplified this posture of submission when He prayed:
Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. (Luke 22:42)
As His followers, we are called to have the same mindset by saying “Not my will but yours be done.” This submission is not always easy because the residual effects of sin remain during this life. But the believer’s spirit is willing to yield to God’s will even when the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:41).
The more our wills are conformed to Christ through reading Scripture and obeying His commands, the more our human wills align with God’s divine will. Paul exhorts us:
And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:2)
Sanctification is the process of our will becoming increasingly submitted to God’s will and desire. This is not the Creator violating the will of the creature but the creature willfully surrendering his or her will to the Creator.
Remaining Responsibility for Sin
At times, Christians may misuse their free will to gratify the desires of the flesh. But we are still responsible for willful sins. Salvation does not give license to sin without consequence:
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? (Romans 6:1-2)
As new creations in Christ, we have been freed from slavery to sin. Therefore, any conscious choice to keep sinning is an act of the will against God’s law and commands. Paul warns that those who live according to the flesh rather than the Spirit will perish despite their profession of faith (Romans 8:13). That is why Scripture calls us to purposefully put sin to death (Romans 8:13; Colossians 3:5). Believers must use their freedom for holiness rather than more sin (1 Peter 1:13-16).
Although Christians can never be entirely sinless in this life, willful sin grieves the Holy Spirit and dishonors God. Thankfully, as we confess our sins, God is faithful to forgive us and cleanse us (1 John 1:9). But confession should lead to a renewed commitment to obey God from the heart. While temptation is inevitable, choosing to sin is contrary to the desires of a redeemed will submitted to Christ.
The Glorified Will
In eternity, the battle between our will and God’s will shall cease. The saved will enter God’s presence and receive a glorified body and soul. There will no longer be any presence of sin or temptation to hinder our will. As redeemed creatures, our wills will finally be in perfect harmony and alignment with God’s will. The apostle John describes this future hope:
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)
We were originally created for this purpose – to freely choose righteousness and live in perfect relationship with God. After the frustration of this fallen world, we will finally experience the full freedom from sin that Christ purchased through His victory over death. Our wills will wholeheartedly choose that which is good, beautiful, and pleasing to the Lord.
What a joy it will be when the struggle between the wills of man and God comes to an end! As Charles Spurgeon proclaimed, “The will of God will then be the will of man.” Let this hope motivate us to submit our wills more fully to Christ each day until the glorious appearing of our Lord and Savior.
In summary, the Bible has a complex perspective on the human will that should inform our theology and spiritual growth as believers. We have been created with a will meant for good but enslaved by sin. Praise God that salvation liberates us from sin’s grip and transforms our heart’s desires. However, we retain responsibility when we willfully choose disobedience over obedience as Christians. As we submit more each day to God’s will through His word and Spirit, we will experience increasing freedom from sin’s power over our wills. One day we will know the ultimate freedom of a redeemed will in perfect harmony with our Creator and Redeemer.