Are we able to choose?

Clearly, the Bible says that every person without exception turns their back on God and is unrighteous, foolish, lost, at war with God, and spiritually dead. Though physically alive, the Bible says that we are not merely sick from sin but spiritually dead in that we are as inclined toward and capable of seeking God as a dead corpse is inclined and able to run a marathon. As sinners, we are not prone to properly diagnose the depth of our sin; thus, some sinners speak of our condition in less stark terms, as if there is a vestige of goodness in us that can simply choose God of our own free will. Such a belief is nonsensical for five reasons.

First, human beings do make choices for which we are morally responsible before God. Our will is not free, but limited by our nature and the options that God provides for us. This explains why, when we are out for dinner and are handed a menu, we get to order what sounds best to us but cannot decide to eradicate gravity on planet earth.

Second, our choices regarding God are merely reflections of our hearts, and if our hearts are not for God, then our choices will not be for God. Jesus spoke of this multiple times:

  • Matthew 7:16-18 – You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.
  • Mark 7:21-23 – For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.
  • Matthew 12:33 – Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit.

Third, Adam and Eve were the only man and woman ever to have had a truly free will. Before they sinned, they did not have a sin nature and were free to choose God and good. Unlike Adam and Eve, the Bible says we have a “heart of stone” until God gives us His Holy “spirit” and a new “new heart”. (Ezekiel 36:26. Simply stated, we start with a heart that cannot choose God until He chooses to give us a new heart.)

Fourth, we truly do not have free will in that we can choose anything we want in life, because only God is free to do as He wills, and we are limited by the choices that are set before us as created beings. For example, we cannot simply choose to be healthy if we are sick, to fly without an airplane, or to never taste death, because our will is not free to make such choices.

Fifth, as shown in the previous string of Bible verses, we have each chosen to walk away from God, chosen to be unrighteous, chosen spiritual death, chosen to be hostile toward God, and chosen to be enemies of Jesus Christ. When we do make choices, they are for death and not life. Paul is clear on this point in the opening chapters of Romans where he says we “suppress the truth” (1:8), have “futile…thinking” (1:21), “claiming to become wise, they became fools”, and have a “debased mind” (1:28) because, “none is righteous, no not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God”. (3:10-11)

How has the sickness of sin affected you and those around you? Who can you pray for to receive healing, forgiveness, and salvation today?

This is an excerpt from Pastor Mark’s Romans 8-9 commentary Duck Duck Doom. You can get a free e-book copy by clicking here or get a physical copy for a gift of any amount during the month of March here.

To find the new, free Romans 6-11 digital study guide for individuals and small groups, hear Pastor Mark’s entire sermon series on Romans, or find a free mountain of Bible teaching visit or download the Real Faith app.

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