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Limited Free Will

The wisdom of the Proverbs says, “A man plans his ways but the Lord directs his steps” (Prov 16:9).

In a few words, the Bible reflects the mystery of the interrelationship between the freedom of our thoughts and the enabling, limiting, and over-riding will of God.

The extent of our freedom is something that is beyond our ability to understand even though many have tried. Naturalistic philosophers from a number of different schools have reasoned that the freedom of the human will is an illusion, that what we think and do are predetermined by laws of nature.

Then there are the philosopher-theologians who reason that if God knows the end from the beginning, that means he has to predetermine by his own will all that happens so that he can know what will happen.

Seems to me that such thinking is as contrary to Scripture as other forms of philosophy that attempt to reason away the wonder of God-given freedom and choice.

On the other hand, it appears just as contrary to the Old and New Testament to conclude that we are as free as we feel. For openers,

1. Sin in the form of any number of habitual behaviors robs us of our freedom. The Apostle Paul talks about having a “will”, but not being able to live up to his own ideals because of the principle of sin in our flesh (Romans 7:18-19).
2. God, in turn, predetermines the times and boundaries of our lives (Acts 17:26).

All of which shows how important our thoughts are. Even if we can’t understand where our own freedom really begins and ends, the Bible does not lead us to believe that human will, responsibility, or accountability are just an illusion.

Am convinced that any philosophy, with or without biblical prooftexting, that suggests that we don’t have a will that is both free and limited, does not do justice to our God.

What we think and choose today (far more than the circumstances of our lives) seems to be a big part of what this phase of our eternal journey is all about.

At the very minimum choosing to say, “Lord, help me, in this moment, to pray, to think, and to act in a way that honors and shows my love for you and others” might reflect that most important and real freedom of our lives.

If even those choices are influenced positively by the prayers of others in our behalf, then our choice to ask God to help us, by his Spirit, to live up to those good desires, by his grace, is a freedom we need to treasure.

Can we figure it all out? I don’t think God wants us to. Why else would he inspire a statement like, “The thoughts of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord” (Prov 16:1).

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26 Responses to “Limited Free Will”

  1. SFDBWV says:

    Ecclesiastes 12:13 ” Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep His commandents: for this is the whole duty of man.”
    :14 ” For God shall bring every work into judgement, with every secret thing, whether it be good , or whether it be evil.”

    Philosophers have for ages tried to understand what is the purpose of man. Most agree that man’s purpose is to be happy. It would seem all of our actions are directed toward that goal.

    Predestiny…Says that it doesn’t matter, all will work out how God has planned reguardless of our mishandling of the matter.

    The study of Prophesy would indicate this to be true.

    It would seem that our only real free will gift from God is to either obey or not. The consequence, to be happy or not. Both in this life and the next.

    Some posts ago I told Mart he could come and sit on my porch and maybe we could figure it all out. He agreed that sitting on the porch would be good but doubted we could figure it all out…I agree.

    Such an exercise seems to show us actualy how little we really know, and how little we know of God.

    Maybe a blessing to be ignorant of such matters, and be content.

    Have a nice day

  2. r6hill33 says:

    Thank you for this posting. I have been having a long-term discussion for several months with my 23 year-old son who does not believe that God has an active place in His life. He believes that God can direct peoples’ lives, but chooses not to. Therefore, he has a lot more liberty to do whatever he chooses because God just doesn’t want to micromanage his life. Whenever I express my concern about a decision he has made and my desire that it be “God’s will” he replies that he and I think differently. I sent him your post and hope it will add to his thought process. This was definitely a God send. Thanks.

  3. refump says:

    Hey Steve, If it is a blessing to be ignorant of such matters I must be the most blessed person on earth! Joshua 24:15
    But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
    Seems like Joshua thought he had a choice.
    A friend got me thinking about God’s perfect will & His permissive will. His perfect will would have us do this but His permissive will allows us to choose. I am still trying to get head wrapped around this. Looking forward to the other posts to help understand.

  4. SFDBWV says:

    refump, then you agree, the only real choice we have is to whether to obey or not to obey.

    It would seem that we have the choice of accepting Jesus as well,yet it is written that HE choose us, before time began.

  5. gsus4me says:

    Ephesians chapter 2 has a good treatment of this subject. We were dead in our trespasses and sins. There was nothing we could do to save ourselves — a dead person can’t do anything. But God made us alive and raised us up with Christ, and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms.

    I agree with rdrcomp, that we can’t decide to be saved without God’s drawing us, but once we’re drawn we have the option to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved.

    On the playground, I have a pretty good idea who would like to be on my team, and who would not. I’m not about to pick someone who hates me and will not play even if I choose them. So I pick people I know will agree to play on my team with me.

    I wouldn’t want to make someone miserable by picking them if they hated me. In fact, that would make both of us miserable.

    The gospel call is universal: Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. Many are called…but few chosen. I believe God chooses those who respond in a positive way to the universal call.

    The ruler in Luke 18:18-23 appears to be one who was drawn to Jesus, but chose his riches over acceptance of Jesus, for it says he went away very sorrowful, for he was rich.

    This has probably all been said before. I’m new here, so if I’m repeating stuff, forgive me. (Isn’t forgiveness wonderful?!?!?!)

  6. gsus4me says:

    Mart writes: “Then there are the philosopher-theologians who reason that if God knows the end from the beginning, that means he has to predetermine by his own will all that happens so that he can know what will happen.”

    I have no problem with a God who doesn’t pre-determine every detail of my life, but knows ahead of time what choices I will make. When my children were small, I could offer them choices and know which they would choose. I didn’t make them choose in that way, it’s just that I knew my kids!

    Hey! God knows us! Sometimes that makes me ashamed to enter His presence, but I also know that He loves me regardless of my performance. The fact that He knows my frail form and loves me just the same is one of the most awesome facts of which I am aware. Oh, the crazy love of God!

  7. paulruppert says:

    I like this article. It brings to thought that our paths are known by God as well as all the rest. I believe that yes we do have a freedom to choose our path, and God has given Himself the duty to offer a change to our paths if they are leading us in the wrong direction as generally it is that way as is written, our ways are not God’s ways. I believe God knows the ending as He knows the beginning. I feel our ending may change as we make decisions in our lives, then again it changes again as God directs our paths back on track. To know that God puts up with plenty of garbage from us until we are with His son Jesus, then for a brief moment in His life, He can breath a moment of relief.

  8. dependent says:

    Mart, once again you amaze me by writing something that reaches directly into my life.

    I latched on to Prov 16:9 several years ago when contemplating a forced mid-life career change. During the upheaval of layoff from a 25 year career with a single company, combined with a serious illness that altered my capacity to continue in a similar role, this scripture helped me keep keep a balance between the huge decisions/consequences I faced and the comforting, guiding hand of God in my life.

    I take comfort knowing that God loves me enough to shape the desires of my heart in such a way that I can discern, choose and enjoy a path that pleases Him and leads to blessings for those around me.

    In my view, God’s omniscience, omnipresence, unlimited wisdom and unfailing goodness *somehow* combine outside of time to fathom all the paths and choices (and permutations thereof) that I have and will take. And the miracle of His spirit within me provides the amazing opportunity for increasing convergence of my will to his will–my paths and ways increasingly submitting to His best for me. That is a miracle of grace–one that I am seldom cognizant but humbly grateful for as hindsight amplifies HIS wisdom and love with which he guides.

    I don’t have to know the how or the why, but the more I learn of his attributes (for He desires to be known), the wonder and reverence in my heart multiplies.

    Pro 20:5 A plan in the heart of a man is like deep water, But a man of understanding draws it out.


    Pro 2:3-8
    For if you cry for discernment, Lift your voice for understanding;
    If you seek her as silver And search for her as for hidden treasures;
    Then you will discern the fear of the LORD And discover the knowledge of God.
    For the LORD gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.
    He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk in integrity,
    Guarding the paths of justice, And He preserves the way of His godly ones.

  9. poohpity says:

    If I believe that God is all knowing which I do then God knows who will choose Him and who will not. I thought that His will is that all will be saved but some choose a different road but God knew ahead of time. I guess the limit would be what God has planned and that will not be changed although we would love to have our way which as history has shown we mess things up. I thought that God’s plan was to have a living, breathing relationship with us walking side by side in close harmony but you know how that turned out. I believe God has given us free reign to make any choice we want, we can choose our way or will or HIS but HIS WILL will be done in heaven and on earth no matter what we choose so I guess it is limited.

  10. rokdude5 says:

    Though philosophers may think that man’s purpose is to be happy, I learned that man’s purpose is to bring glory to God and of course, when that happens we tend to be blessed and joyful. We didnt choose God; He chose us. John 15:16 (Praise God for that!)

    Like I said before, like playing chess with God, I think God gives us the freedom to pick our “moves”. But God has already made the first gazillions moves plus He knows what to do if we decide to move to or fro.

    The day I “know EVERYTHING about God” is the day I become God (bad move!) yet I know I want to know Him more and more (good move!). That dichotomy always gets my heart and mind spinning.

    Steve, please set another rocker on the porch for me. Im still scratching my head over a lot of things. “RJ”

  11. BobbiLee says:

    In light of this discussion on freedom of will, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my dressage horse. Training a horse by this method means that the horse is so obedient and in tune to the rider’s/master’s will or requirements, that the horse has the freedom and the power to give his most perfect and highest performance. When that horse is “on the bit” and takes it willingly and softly and is not in willful disobedience, he is in perfect obedience and has perfect freedom to perform and accomplish all that his master requires of him. The master first has to get the horse’s attention and there is harmony between the two. In fact, that horse can do “airs above the ground” and literally dance.

    The Master demands the requirements, and obedience to the Master’s hand brings about freedom to be all that I can be. My problem is that I like to do some rein-jerking when God, my Master requires obedience in an area of my life. Then, when I finally yield to his hand, sin and willful disobedience is out of the way and I have the freedom to become all that God has planned for me. Maybe I can even do some of those “airs above the

    When I am chomping at the bit, jerking the reins or determined to do my own thing, I will never have the perfect harmony and freedom with my Master. Sin/disobedience is bondage. We only THINK we have freedom in this condition. Ahhhh, I so want to dance. . .

  12. SFDBWV says:

    RJ, you are so very right. Man’s sole purpose is to bring glory to God, and the uplifting of His son Jesus Christ.

    I don’t wish to give too much credit to the philosophy of man, but even in thinking that I please God in any way…..makes me happy.

    I have a 6 foot swing on the porch. I learned many many years ago to add springs to the connections at the chain. This gives sitting a much more enjoyable experiance.

    It would be nice for us to be able to set and enjoy the surroundings and perhaps have some coffee or iced tea or maybe just a cool glass of spring water, and ponder all of lifes ups and downs and our place in them.

    People have gotten too busy. Television and Hollywood tells them what to think. Fewer and fewer take time to read a book or visit a friend.

    Each person I meet, has a life experiance. It may be very different from mine or may be very similar. But from talking with that person, something can be learned and shared, strengthened or perhaps understood.

    This is as close as we can get for now, here on this blog. But it does give us a chance to mingle and be social. ( thank you Mart )

    In the beginning God walked and talked with Adam. A friendship as well as a Father and son relationship. Wow, just imagine God at your elbow to ask and be answered every and all questions. But right away Adam wasn’t “happy”. He needed a companion. Though I have not read that Adam complained. God knew just what he needed.

    Was God already setting up the fall of man? So that He could rescue man Himself? Had the rebellion in Heaven already occured? Was God preparing salvation and reckoning for all of creation through the creation of Eve? Was this all already His plan? Or did the rebellion of the angels cause God to rethink His course of action?

    Lots of questions to ponder. Lots of people have already tried to give possible answers. It is fun to seek out the answers. But also as said in the writtings of Solomon…chasing the wind. Kinda like flying a kite.

    This week the doe’s all brought down their fawns down to the feeder. As if to show them off. My lone grey fox now spends 4 or 5 hours a day in my back yard eating seeds. Without bothering the squirrels or doves.

    Hope all have a good day today.


  13. pegramsdell says:

    Steve and RJ, can I come over and swing too? Can’t think of anything better than to sit with y’all and talk and listen (deep calls to deep).
    I’m so glad that God chose me to live with Him forever and forever. He says that I was created to please Him. Can’t think of anything that will please Him any more than for us to gather in His Name and Honor Him. :)

  14. SFDBWV says:

    Yes Peg, you are most welcome.

  15. Mart De Haan says:

    Thanks to all of you for the reflecting you’ve done on this subject. Am planning to do something on Moses and the Taliban that I hope to post tonight. Also, wanted you to know that we plan to send out our monthly e-mail tomorrow pointing to this site, so we could see a few more friends show up tomorrow.

  16. daisymarygoldr says:

    “The extent of our freedom is something that is beyond our ability to understand”-MDH

    My own freedom began, the moment Jesus freed me from the trap of the devil and his will (2 Tim 2: 26)… to do the will of God. Being made alive in Christ, I had the free-will to choose life or death.

    However, the freedom of my will ended, when I chose to take upon myself the yoke of Christ. Under the yoke of Christ, there is nothing left for me to figure anything out…because in that situation there is no more room for my self-will.

    Under the yoke of Christ I have found true freedom from the self-will of my evil flesh because I no longer rely on my own understanding and wisdom. He is the one who is faithfully directing the path that may not be favorable to me but is certainly pleasing to Him.

    So, with that understanding, I do not picture myself as a dog… rather as an ox yoked together with Christ! Hence, I really don’t find it beyond my ability to understand. As a yoked ox, I am no longer my own…my heart, mind, soul, body, health, wealth, time, talent, family and everything… is subjected to Him.

    When yoked together with Christ, my life is not about chasing my own desires. I’m learning from Jesus to delight… to do the will of God. Although my flesh tries to resist, yet the easy yoke of Christ lovingly compels me to submit to the over-riding will of God.

    As a yoked ox, I have consciously set aside my free will to walk with Jesus in the path of my eternal journey which God has already predestined for me.

    Q: “Can we figure it all out?”
    A: “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing, but the glory of kings is to search out a thing” (Prov 25:2)!

  17. dependent says:

    I am glad you decided to post these thoughts, choosing that particular phrasing, daisymarygoldr!

    [tongue planted playfully in cheek :-)]

  18. gr8grannyjacobs says:

    For me if I am truly seeking God’s will in my live He will show me the way also for me sometimes my seeking falls short but He finds a way to bring me back into His will. When I want Him with all of my heart His will is limitless not limited in bringing joy and peace into my heart. His will is always best.

    Steve, Loved your words: Each person I meet, has a life experience. It may be very different from mine or may be very similar. But from talking with that person, something can be learned and shared, strengthened or perhaps understood.

  19. bubbles says:

    This article is something that’s kept me awake thinking about many times over the years.

    I’m thankful for Romans 8:28 . . .all things work together for good to them that love God. . . while we have consequences for our choices, God can still make all things work together. This is too much for the human mind to grasp.

    When we get to heaven, I’ve often wondered if the Lord will explain things to us that have happened here that we don’t understand–like the unexpected early deaths of loved ones. Perhaps it won’t matter when we are in heaven!

    Steve, on a side note, I was able to enjoy the back porch last week ‘way down south. It was so good to sit with the insect candles and hear the frogs and katydids scratch. Much better than TV! Porch sittin’ is great.
    It’s always so nice to hear about the creatures in your backyard. Thanks for telling about them as well as your lovely insights–and everyone else’s too.

  20. Rick123 says:

    Jam 1:13 Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: 14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. 15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.

    Jam 1:13…for God cannot be tempted with evil…Hbr 4:15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as [we are, yet] without sin.

    Jesus has always been subject to the will of his Father, from the past, present, and future. So did the Father know that Jesus was going to overcome temptation? Hbr 4:15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as [we are, yet] without sin…Jesus was tempted in all points like as we are but he did not sin…Some say that Jesus could not have sinned, because he was God/Man. If Jesus could not have sinned he could not have been our Savior, because he was tempted like us, he was at risk to lose it all if he gave into temptation. Jesus inhabited sinful flesh, his body was subject to temptation, but he overcame his sinful flesh. If Jesus would have sinned that would mean that he is not immutable. The only immutable being is God our Father because he can not die nor be tempted, and he is not subject unto the will of any other being. God our Father is the only immutable being because he has always been the Only One True Source. Jesus came to our world to do the will of his Father and to do all the things that the Father gave him to do on earth. The fact that Jesus obeyed and did the will his Father, proves that he is not immutable.

    God the Father: Can not be given life unto him nor can he die. Jesus was given life and he died.

    God the Father: Does not obey anyone nor is he subject unto anyone. Jesus obeyed and did the will of his Father.

    God the Father: Can not be tempted with evil, neither tempts he any man. Jesus the man was tempted but did not sin.

    God the Father: His perfection is unsearchable, and he is not made perfect. Jesus was made perfect.

    God the Father: Is the Only One True Source, all power has always been with him alone, and he has delegated his eternal power unto Jesus. Jesus was GIVEN all power which denotes that it was not his, and which means that Jesus is not the Only One True Source. Jesus upholds all things by the eternal power that was delegated unto him by God his Father.

  21. poohpity says:


  22. plumbape says:

    LOL poohpity

  23. poohpity says:


  24. sharon manning says:

    As you mentioned we do not have much say over our gifting or parents or culture or where we live or when even but from II tIMOTHY 2: I often think of we do have the choice of if we are vessels of honor or dishonor and like Joshua we can choose who to listen to

  25. Gordon says:

    One can spend endless hours trying to figure out God and man in philosophy. It can be entertaining and frustrating. However, one verse that has caught my attention in light of this discussion that causes me to consider how I frame my view is what Paul wrote in I Timothy 3. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4. who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5. For there is one God, {and} one mediator also between God and men, {the} man Christ Jesus,(NASV)

    If God desires all to be saved and I believe this statement means what it says then the only answer to this statement for me is that man has “limited free will”.

    I am reminded of the statement Jesus made in Luke 7: 50. “And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”. Jesus told her that it was “your faith” and I take that to mean it was her “faith”. Of course, the question always comes up, where did she get her faith? Paul, answers that question in Romans 10: 17. “So faith {comes} from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”. The capacity to be able to hear something, process what we hear and come to a conclusion seems to be a given until we start talking about God and faith, at which point we find reams of paper with endless arguments that set fort how we believe what we read. This would, I think, be counter to the following: Isaiah 1: 18. “Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool.” According to Paul’s statement it takes two things to result in faith: One man must have the capacity to think and will, this because he is created in the image of God and second that has to be some information of something and this something is the gospel – good news. God created us and God supplied us with the object of faith.

    If God does not want me to make a decision about my state in sin, His provision for my salvation then why do I need to be told anything? What purpose do all the 66 books of the Bible serve if not to read and learn about God, our nature and what we must do to solve our sin problem? If God pre-picked a few of the all why go to all the trouble to do what has been done to bring about the Bible so that we can read it only to despair or worry if we are one of the special few?

    Finally we come full circle back to I Timothy 2:3-5 3. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4. who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5. For there is one God, {and} one mediator also between God and men, {the} man Christ Jesus,”

    The question that I am stuck with is: If God desires all to be saved and can save them and does not what does it make this verse out to be? This thought placed along side the view that God picked a few of the all is contradictory. Also, this scripture compared to universalism is contradictory too in light of John 14: 6. Jesus *said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” So, in my thinking both views are not only wrong but would force one to conclude that this verse has not place in the Bible because it directly contradicts these views. What are we left with? Is it a compromise or is it limited free will? I have concluded that man has limited free will and because of God’s absolute knowledge He knows all the actual and possible decisions of every man that has lived, is living and will live and knows how to get the gospel to them according to their dispensation. The content of the gospel has been progressive and today we have the full revelation of the gospel and our content is complete, whereas what we know now was not fully understood way back when, you pick the dispensation time in history.

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