on free will

Returning to my favorite online source of definitions, here is the definition of ‘free will’:

1 : voluntary choice or decision [I do this of my own free will]
2 : freedom of humans to make choices that are not determined by prior causes or by divine intervention

Question for the class:

If an individual can only choose one path out of two possibilities, is his will free?

KJV Revelation 22:17 And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.

ESV 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.

NAU 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 wishes take the water of life without cost.

NET Revelation 22:17 And 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 wants it take the water of life free of charge.

Not to be contentious, but some theologies deny that men have a will while claiming to affirm it.

See also Isaiah 55.1, John 7.37

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3


  1. Chris Anderson says:

    Do you really believe sinners will choose God without “divine intervention”? Really?

    What you’re describing is a universal invitation. I preach that. But I don’t believe sinners can respond to the invitation without divine intervention, whatever you call it.

  2. Don Johnson says:

    Once upon a time, Dr Bell said something like this in class: “The sovereign God decreed that man has a free will.”

    Either a will is free or it isn’t. If one cannot make a particular choice, his will isn’t free in that area. (The ability to choose is no credit or merit to the one choosing. All the merit is in Christ and his work.)

    As to ‘intervention’ – God can and does intervene in the affairs of men. How, when and where is not entirely revealed in the Bible.

    But Rev 22.17 literally says “the one who is willing” – that is what the participle means. I believe that is absolutely true, whatever arguments the philosophers will make on either side of the issue.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  3. Chris Anderson says:

    But it’s not just philosophy, Don. The point is, men can’t and won’t seek God without divine intervention. How else do you explain Rom. 3:10-11, or Matthew 16:17, or II Cor. 4:4-6, or John 6:44, or many others?

    As for free will, the last person whose will was able to choose God apart from God’s initiating work was Adam. Since the fall, if left to ourselves, we’ll not choose God. We can’t.

    *If left to ourselves.*

    My question for you is this: Why are you saved, Don? Why did you trust Christ and repent of sin?

  4. Don Johnson says:

    You’re right, men don’t seek God of themselves. They seek their own way. But seeking is not choosing, is it?

    When a man hears the gospel, he is confronted with the gospel’s demands. Repentance and faith or self-will and rebellion. The one who is willing may come.

    How does God’s grace enter the picture? It is God’s grace that there is a gospel to be preached. It is God’s grace that the gospel is heard at all. It is God’s grace that I was born into a Christian home in North America instead of a pagan home in Papua New Guinea or equatorial Africa or somewhere else. If that is all you mean by enabling, I am quite comfortable with that. But if you mean that when confronted by the demands of the gospel, I have no real choice, that the faith that I exercise in salvation is not a real act of my will, or that some hearing have no choice but to simply turn away and reject, then I totally disagree with that notion. The one who is willing may come. The lost are not condemned because they are unable but because they are unwilling.

    Did I seek God out? No. He sought me out. Did I come and believe? I most certainly did. And so did you.

    That is why we send missionaries. That is why we evangelize. To offer grace to sinners. If they do not hear, they cannot believe (though we understand that they are still without excuse, having rejected the light they have). But the offer is a real offer. Some accept it and some do not. The will responds, one way or another.

    But really, this is a debate we cannot resolve. Many men, with much better minds, have wrangled over this ground long before this. Some men think they have the subject resolved with their systematic theology. In order to do so they must ignore certain claims of Scripture. This is the great failure of systematic theology. It is incapable of fully comprehending the mind and revelation of God.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  5. Don Johnson says:

    An addendum regarding ‘dead in sin’ as in Eph 2.1, etc.

    Dead in sin is not the same as being dead. The term is surely a metaphor, or else you could make no appeal to unsaved men at all for righteousness. Unsaved people actually do perform acts of mercy, kindness, righteousness, etc. They can be appealed to on that basis.

    On the other hand, brute beasts cannot be appealed to in that way. A few of our men were out hiking this week in a remote area of the Island. They met a bear on the way. Fortunately for them, they didn’t rile the bear and the huckleberries, etc, are plentiful, so the bear wasn’t interested in them. But suppose the bear was aggressive towards them. What could they do? They could only find a way to escape or intimidate the bear into thinking an attack wasn’t worth the risk. They couldn’t appeal to the bear’s nobler feelings or compassion.

    With a man (although some are brute beasts), you can make an appeal for mercy, an appeal to the nobler aspects of human nature. You can make this appeal to an unbelieving man who is dead in sin.

    So what does dead in sin mean? It means that you are condemned, without hope, unable to save yourself. It doesn’t mean you are a brute beast, it means you are lost. You cannot quicken yourself, only God can quicken you. … But it does not mean that when confronted with the claims of the gospel that you cannot believe. You are pressing the metaphor too far when you make that claim.

    How can I make such a bold statement? Because the Scriptures keep calling the sinner to believe. Because Rev 22.17 says ‘the one who is willing’.

    To make ‘dead in sin’ mean you cannot believe goes beyond the meaning of the term in its context and fails to account for the meaning of the rest of Scripture.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  6. Kent Brandenburg says:


    I’m with you on this. I think that Calvinists somehow believe we’re taking glory away from God by acknowledging what He said in Rev. 22, among other places. Why does “will” equal “don’t-believe-in-Divine-intervention”? Of course, we believe salvation is of the Lord. He does all the saving. He initiates it through His supernatural revelation, so that every dead man is without excuse.

  7. Chris Anderson says:


    Again, we won’t solve this, but the need for divine initiative obviously isn’t limited to Eph. 2:1. (And BTW, I’m not one who would say that “divine initiative” = regeneration.) It’s taught throughout the Scripture, in texts detailing man’s depravity, in texts on illumination (II Cor. 4:1-6, etc.), in texts on God’s divine choice of the redeemed (consider Ephesians 1:4, for example). The Bible is clear that God chose me from before the foundation of the world, long before I could have chosen Him. It’s God’s fault I’m saved, and I praise Him for that.

    I just posted a comment from Barrett on Eph. 1:4 that may interest you, as I know you respect him. It’s here:


    One more thing. I certainly preach “whosoever will” passages. Amen. However, the basis for them in the OT is in Joel 2:32, as I understand it, and the end of that verse demonstrates that those who call on the name of the Lord are those whom the Lord has called.

  8. Don Johnson says:

    Chris, the problem is that Calvinism simply isn’t a holistic theology. Neither is Arminianism.

    No one is denying that divine initiative is necessary. ‘How shall they hear without a preacher?’ No one is denying that God chooses the saints, and in fact did so from eternity, not temporally.

    But Calvinists deny the plain teaching of the Scripture concerning the human will. They twist and turn words around to mean things they don’t mean. Revelation 22.17 still stands: ‘let the one who is willing take the water of life freely’. There are other areas of Scripture that Calvinists typically and plainly deny, especially 1 John 2.2.

    The point that is made by calling one’s self a ‘biblicist’ is that whatever the Bible says is so. I really think that a lot of time is wasted in the attempts of so many to rationalize Biblical statements according to a human construct, i.e., systematic theology. ST has its place, it is a useful tool, but the Bible is the authority, nothing else.

    In fact, I think that is the spirit behind Barrett’s comment you cited. Even though he is too narrow on some points of theology, and completely wrong on others, in the main, he lets the Bible speak. And I am glad to count him as a friend… and you, too.

    Anyway, I don’t want this to degenerate into wrangling between us. I think Calvinism is a flawed human system. There are some doctrines it teaches which are consistent with the entirety of Scripture. But there are many it refuses to accept as well. That produces the zealotry that makes men disciple-makers for Calvin, not Christ. But there are lots of good men who, while holding differing systems, are completely willing to accept the orthodoxy of men who differ and work together where they can for the furtherance of the kingdom. I don’t have any problem with that kind of attitude.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3