“Christ has set us free from sin, death, and the power of the devil”
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” (Galatians 5:1)
Just recently these words were read in one of our worship services, and it got me thinking of how people can say, “God has given us free will.” Personally when I hear this it bothers me, not because the statement in and of itself is wrong, but because people may misunderstand what free will is. For this reason let us divide free will into three different categories. Category one deals with basic things such as what you will eat today, what you will wear tomorrow, and what job you want to do. When it comes to these things God has given us free will.
Category two deals with what we call civic righteousness. Civic righteousness deals with what everyone decides to do whether good or wrong. Even unbelievers who either haven’t heard God’s Word or reject it can still do what God’s law says. They can do good things such as giving to charity, helping their neighbor across the street, or being kind and polite to random strangers. When it comes to civic righteousness God has given us free will. But even though unbelievers can still do what God’s law says this doesn’t mean that they truly fulfill God’s law. Scripture tells us that without faith it is impossible to please God.
And concerning faith is what category three is about. When it comes to spiritual matters mankind by nature has no free will. This is why asking an unbeliever if they have accepted Jesus Christ into their hearts is a foolish question to ask because by nature an unbeliever cannot and will not accept Jesus Christ as their Savior. None of us can do this by nature because by nature we are dead in our transgressions and sins. By nature we are enemies of God. By nature we find God’s message to be foolishness. So just in the same way a dead person can’t do anything, just in the same way you wouldn’t trust your enemy, just in the same way if you found something to be foolish you wouldn’t accept it, our natural inclination is to oppose God and our natural condition is held in slavery to sin, death, and the power of the devil. So when it comes to spiritual matters by nature we don’t have free will.
But as the above passage mentions, it is Christ who has set us free. Christ has set us free from sin, death, and the power of the devil. By his Word and Sacraments he has created spiritual life in us, he has reconciled us so that we don’t view God as our enemy but as our friend, he has changed us from viewing his message as being foolish to viewing his message as the truth for our lives. As believers God has given us free will in spiritual matters so that we put our faith in him and live our lives for him.
So the next time you hear someone say, “God has given us free will” may this help you understand what free will is and appreciate that God has given us free will. And may this help us to use our free will to serve God and one another for that is why Christ has set us free.
- Pastor Neal Behm