Free will isn’t free

You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience -- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

-- Ephesians 2:1-3, ESV

What if someone told you there is no such thing as free will? It would probably punch a negative button in your brain. After all, you're an American, living in the land of the free, a citizen of the greatest democracy in the history of the world! You choose where to live, where to work, and whether to go in today or call in sick. You choose your spouse, how many kids you want to have, and where they'll go to school. You choose what to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

You make all these decisions according to your own free will. Or, at least, you think you do. But what if someone told you differently, that your will is not free, but bound, due to your own shortcomings and a superpower infinitely above your pay grade? You'd probably think only those crazy Calvinists believe stuff like that.

Robert Sapolsky is no crazy Calvinist. He is a certified genius, a Stanford University professor, and he specializes in neurobiology. He is Jewish, with no religious affiliation nor affection to any Christian theological point of view. Based on his research, Sapolsky confidently declares, "We've got no free will."

His latest book is entitled, "Determined: A Science of Life Without Free Will." In it, he attributes faults within our own brains, factors out of our control, and the sheer complexity of human life as nullifying the concept of free will that is near and dear to most people's hearts. Other people and other powers create other circumstances that dictate our own. Even the act of picking up a pen in his class, the professor said, is a choice preordained by a myriad of other matters determined by someone other than yourself.

Now, I'm no neuroscientist. I'm one of those crazy Calvinists. But I agree with the good Dr. Sapolsky, albeit for spiritual reasons that supersede his scientific data. There is something wrong with us that prohibits uninhibited free will. It is called total depravity. And there are not powers, but a singular power that creates and controls the circumstances of our lives. This is called sovereign grace.

Total depravity is the condition of the human race whereby sin has rendered us spiritually dead. God's promise to the first sinners was on the day they sinned they would die. They did not die physically, for they ran and hid. They did not die emotionally, because they were ashamed and afraid. They died spiritually, and have transmitted that death to the whole human race.

We remain physically free to choose how to move, feed, and clothe our bodies. We are free emotionally to choose the words we use to encourage or insult others. But we are dead, spiritually, and separated from the living and loving God, and will remain so eternally, unless sovereign grace intervenes.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ -- by grace you have been saved -- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

-- Ephesians 2:4-10, ESV

Grace gives you faith, when you are spiritually regenerated (born again) through the acceptance of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Then, you know, love, worship, and serve the Lord, until the day you don't die but go to be with Him forever. This you do, freely and willingly, when total depravity is overcome by sovereign grace. Free will is finally yours! But, it wasn't free.

Chuck DeVane is the pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church. Call him at 501-525-8339 or email [email protected].