Can Two Wills Be Finally Free?
The question in the title of this post is my attempt to grapple with the way our creaturely, conditioned, and dependent freedom interacts with the unbounded and unconditioned freedom of our Creator. Our will is free in certain ways. And His will is free is certain ways. Biblically, it is important to affirm the real “freedom” of both wills, human and divine. But it would be a hasty and costly error to assume that this word “free” carries the same weight and scope in both cases. (Just as it would be to assume that freedom must be final in order to be real.) The word “finally” in the title is meant to identify the the difference between the freedom of the human will, where even our rejection of God is ultimately under His sovereign sway, and the freedom of the divine will which is neither boundaried nor conditioned by any other autonomy. This is final freedom – it belongs to the one whose freedom triumphs over all other freedoms. And the consistent biblical testimony is that this final freedom belongs only to God.
As Jesus talks with Nicodemus in John 3, we may recognize ourselves in a man who “marvels” and “does not understand” when Jesus posits the free will of the Spirit. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” This is not the last time that someone would marvel at the assertion of God’s free will, especially where our salvation is concerned. In fact, the need to preserve “free will” seems to be a regular feature in soteriological debates.
What was surprising to me when I began to study the biblical witness is how often, how comprehensively, and how energetically God’s Word insists on His final freedom. We so often want to talk about our free will; while the Bible says so little about that but so often wants us to worship the final freedom of our sovereign God. In fact, Scripture includes explicit affirmations of final freedom for each member of the Triune God.
Here is a sampling of what I found:
The Father’s final freedom is celebrated in texts like these:
Exodus 3:14 God said to Moses “I AM who I AM”. Say to the people of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.”
Isaiah 43:13 “I am he; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can turn it back?”
Isaiah 45:6-9 I am the Lord and there is no other; I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things…woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’? Woe to him who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’ or to a woman ‘With what are you in labor?’
Daniel 4:35 All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the hosts of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”
Ephesians 1:11 In him [Christ] we have been chosen, having been predestined according to the purpose of him [Father, see vs 4] who works all things according to the counsel of his will.
James 1:18 Of his own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of His creation. (cp. Jn. 1:12-13)
II Timothy 2:25 God may perhaps grant them repentance.
Paul’s sustained defense of God’s freedom found in Romans 9-11 could be included here in its entirety, as could the book of Jonah. The issue of final freedom is bound up most often with God’s identity as Creator, Lord and Judge such that He is finally free because He is the One all of our (dependent, conditioned, but real) freedom comes from, is ruled by, and is accountable to.
The Son’s final freedom is celebrated in texts like these:
Philippians 3:21 The Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. I Corinthians 15 is an extended commentary on this verse.
Colossians 2:19 [Christ is] the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. Ephesians 1 and 4 expand on this idea of Christ supplying life and leadership to the church.
John 8:36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. If it is in relationship with Jesus that we are set free from our bondage to self, sin and Satan (cf Col. 1:13), the Securer of our freedom must himself be free.
John 10:18 No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father. The Son’s final freedom is not independent of the Father’s final freedom. The same is true of the Spirit’s work.
John 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you that you should bear fruit.
John 17:2 Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh.
John 19:11 You [Pilate] would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.
The Spirit’s final freedom is celebrated in texts like these:
John 3:8 The wind [Spirit] blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So those born of the Spirit are.
Acts 10:44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. This saving work is interpreted by the apostles in 11:17-18 like this: “If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
I Corinthians 12:11 All these [spiritual gifts] are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
Hebrews 2:4 It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will.
This is a beginning of the biblical witness to the glorious, absolute and final freedom of our Creator God. All other freedom, while real, is the derivative and dependent freedom of the creature (Luther called it the “freed” rather than the “free” will). It is true that certain texts acknowledge the freedom of the human will. But to make a musical analogy, the individual notes of those texts are themselves written in the key of this comprehensive biblical testimony. Thus they will only be heard rightly if they are allowed to sound in a context where our faith (Romans 12:3) influence (II Cor. 10:13), physical freedom (Romans 15:32) and very life (James 4:15) are assigned by God.
This final freedom is, in a sense, what it means to be God. Therefore only one will can be finally free. And that will, as the Bible delights to reveal to us, is that of the only wise, all good, ever-loving, perfectly just God. May the truths in these Scriptures stir our freed will to worship this ultimately and always free God!