Confessing Our Faith In the Culture – Chapter 9

Of Free Will

“The doctrine of the free will of man is theologically and practically pivotal.” Waldron

Three crucial components must be clearly understood to have a proper grasp of free will – freedom, ability, and responsibility. A proper grasp of the doctrine of free will is essential to Biblical parenting, evangelizing, and counseling.

Freedom is:

  1. natural liberty – no limitations inherent in humanity
  2. to make choices – in keeping with desires
  3. governed by one’s ethical disposition and moral nature (power of self-decision according to his desires)
  4. absence of external force or necessity of nature
    1. external entities (laws, states, God) do not force us to choose against our will
    2. our environment is not causal

Note: external entities and environment influence, not control our freedom and behavior.

Freedom is not:

  1. ultimate and unbounded – the ability to make any choice whatever under any circumstances
  2. complete unpredictability
  3. disconnected from God’s sovereign will – there was a law from the beginning before the Fall

Ability is:

  1. consistent with his desires
  2. relative to his state

Ability is not:

  1. ultimate and unbounded
  2. the capacity to act against desires or moral disposition

Responsibility is:

  1. based on freedom and ability (see Phila. Assn. Circular Letter, 1783)
  2. based on actual choices
  3. placed on us by God

Responsibility is not:

  1. excused by influence
  2. excused by limitations placed on freedom and ability

So what does all that have to do with parenting, evangelizing and counseling?


  1. Putting boundaries on children’s choices and behavior does not necessarily infringe on natural liberty.
  2. Behavioristic methods (reward and consequence) can mold a child’s behavior to a degree.
  3. “Relapses” shouldn’t surprise us, especially in unconverted children.
    1. After all they’re only doing what’s natural.
  4. Reward and consequence must be closely associated with responsibility. Eph. 6:4 (discipline AND confrontation)
    1. Certain behaviors don’t just make me unhappy, they are sin against God.
    2. Accountability to an authority, not just a matter of opinion
  5. Socializing (Freud) and environment (Skinner) and a sense of responsibility (Rogers) are important.
    1. People and surroundings do influence (but not control) the individual.
    2. Responsibility before God is the beginning of dependence on him.

“Children who are deterred from quarreling by fear of spanking are not necessarily performing a good work, but they are certainly doing better than if they were not deterred. Similarly, children should be taught to pray even though they may lack a right spirit or converted heart, because for them to neglect to pray would be worse. We must not give over requiring and teaching our children to do what is right because they lack a right spirit, but we must also not let them rest in a purely formal conformity to God’s will.” (Waldron, p.213)


  1. Since man freely chooses based on his nature, making a choice for Christ cannot be the goal.
    1. Offer a sufficient reward of the right type at low enough cost and the choice is a given.
    2. It’s not the sinner’s choice that saves.
  2. We must present the facts of the Gospel and plead with sinners to turn to Christ.
    1. The Creator has been patient but he commands repentance. Acts 17
    2. All who come to Christ will not be rejected. John 6:37 Romans 10:13
    3. Those who believe will be saved. Acts 16:31 Romans 10:9-10
  3. The goal is genuine repentance following conversion resulting from a new nature.
    1. See Luke 24:46-48; 2 Corinthians 5:17; 1 John 1:9


  1. People in trouble do not need
    1. re-socializing (Freud)
      1. re-programming conscience so it doesn’t overrule natural desires
    2. a new environment (Skinner)
      1. genetic tinkering + environment = über man
    3. to live up to their potential (Rogers)
      1. it’s an internal problem with an internal solution
      2. merely need to plug into pre-existing resources
  2. People in trouble do need
    1. to know and acknowledge the difference between sickness and sin
    2. to repent of any sinful behaviors and patterns
    3. to be pointed firmly in the direction of what is right
    4. to be given proper help and necessary tools to develop the habit of doing right

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