Two Questions about Free Will
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Sunday, December 27, 2009 at 2:22pm
TWO RELATED QUESTIONS: One reader has asked whether those who are saved still have free will in heaven. Another has asked a related question: how could Jesus be fully human and not be able to choose to sin? (This latter question assumes that Jesus could not sin, a view that I espouse.)
MY REPLY: The common assumption of these two questions is that a certain kind of free will is part of the essence of humanness. The free will assumed here is the ability to choose between opposites, without that choice’s being fixed or determined by some power outside the person’s own will. The important point is that our present freedom includes the ability to choose between good and evil. Based on Biblical teaching about human existence in this world, we must say that human beings do indeed have such free will in this earthly life.
At this point, though, I will raise a question that I do not think has been given enough attention: does the fact that human beings have such free will in this earthly life require that we must ALWAYS have it in order to be fully human? Is such free will truly part of the ESSENCE of humanness? This is sometimes just taken for granted, and this assumption gives rise to the above questions. But here I choose to use my own free will (!) to challenge this assumption. I regard this kind of free will to be a necessary aspect of our EARTHLY life as human beings. It is part of the nature of our earthly life as a probationary period, with the choices we make during this segment of our existence determining whether or not we are eternally saved or lost. But this does not require that human beings must ALWAYS have free will, in the sense described above.
Thus in answer to the first question above, the saved in heaven will indeed have freedom, but not free will in the sense of being able to choose to sin. When God perfects the saints (at death, even before the final heaven—Heb. 12:23), and confirms them in their holiness, they will no longer be able to sin. We will be confirmed in holiness as free creatures who have already demonstrated (by our free acts) our preference and desire for that state. In our final state we will be as spiritually pure and beautiful as a holy bride dressed for her wedding (Rev. 19:8). We will live forever in a completely glorified state, unable to sin again. But we will be fully human, and will still have a kind of freedom. In fact, we will never have been MORE human, or MORE free.
And in answer to the second question above, Jesus did not HAVE to be able to choose to sin in order to be truly human. True humanness, and true human freedom, do not require this ability. (Whether Jesus COULD have sinned is another question, and must be decided on other grounds. See my next note.)
True humanness without the ability to choose sin has two important analogies. The first is God himself, who is free to do whatever he pleases: “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3, ESV). He is free, yet he cannot sin (Job 34:10-12; James 1:13). This is the kind of freedom we will have in heaven. Second, we must infer that all angels originally had free will in the same probationary sense that human beings now do; some used their free will to choose sin (2 Peter 2:4), but some did not. Those who did not choose to sin appear to be now confirmed in their holiness, in the same way we will be in heaven.