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If by “free will” I mean some kind of sovereign control outside of God’s control then I do not have “free will”. God is sovereign and in control of this world and me in every respect.
If by “free will” I mean the ability to choose, then I do indeed have free will. The Scriptures do seem to back this up. Jesus gives the call to make the decision to give our life to him: “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” (John 7:37). The Bible finishes with such a call (Revelation 22:17): “The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.”
And yet the Bible also makes it clear that no one can come unless God has enabled them. Jesus also said: “All that the Father gives me will come to me” (John 6:37) and “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” (John 6:44). We cannot come to Jesus and give our life to him unless God enables us to do so. What then of our free will?
The confusion, as is so often the case, is over the doctrine of sin. We grossly underestimate our sinfulness. The Bible teaches that we are off-side with God. We are not searching for God, but running away from him. Romans 3:10-11: “as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” We are spiritually dead – spiritual corpses – we are dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1). Dead people don’t turn to God. In our sinfulness we deny God; we run away from him; we do not choose him.
How do we reconcile our spiritual ‘deadness’ with free will? Calvin got it right: we always use our free will to sin. We never use our free will to turn to God. The invitation to come is there, and it is real. But it is only as God pours out his Holy Spirit on us, granting us repentance and faith, that we can turn to God. Only then will our sinful nature be overcome so that we can choose God. If salvation was up to our free will, no one would be saved.
Predestination is a doctrine full of comfort for Christians. Are you having a bad day? Having doubts? God has you. His salvation does not depend on your faith or works. Your faith, like your works, will never be 100%. But God’s salvation is 100%: all of him. He has you; he chose you; he has saved you through our Lord Jesus Christ.