If people go to hell, isn’t it their fault because God gave them free will and they rejected him?
Free will a misnomer
The use of free will is a misnomer in spiritual matters. Adam and Eve were created with free will to choose either good or evil. They were able not to sin. After the fall into sin, humanity lost that free will along with the image of God. Now our natural condition is hostile to God (Romans 8:7), we are dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1), and every inclination of the thoughts of our hearts is only evil all the time (Genesis 6:5). People are only “free” to sin in any way they please. We are not able not to sin. If you doubt it, go one day without sinning to prove it. Not one of us could!
When God worked faith in our hearts, God’s image and our free will were partially restored. God placed the new man of faith in our hearts. The apostle Paul encourages us to “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). However, because of our old Adam, our lives of thanks to God will always be imperfect until he takes us to heaven. There, our will is perfectly free because we will be free of our old Adam. We will not be able to sin.
“Free” will in spiritual matters
There have been attempts to use human reason throughout church history to answer the question “Why are some saved but not others?”
The 16th-century French theologian John Calvin rightly recognized that we are born dead in sin and have no free will in spiritual matters. Unfortunately, he taught that the difference between the saved and the damned is found in God. He taught that God chose some to be saved and others to be damned. It may make sense, but it is not what Scripture teaches.
The Dutch theologian Jacob Arminius rightly recognized that those who go to hell would do so by their own fault. Unfortunately, he taught that the difference between the saved and the damned is found in man. He taught that people have a partially free will to choose to believe in Jesus and apply themselves to grace. It may make sense, but it is not what Scripture teaches.
Based on Scripture, Martin Luther recognized that the question is actually two questions. All people are equally depraved, and God wants all to be saved. Therefore, why are some saved? It’s entirely by God’s grace. Why are some damned? It’s entirely their own fault. This biblical teaching goes beyond our reason, but we believe it because it is the clear teaching of Scripture.
Free will in externals
While we do not have free will in spiritual matters, one can speak of free will in external matters (i.e., matters pertaining to our lives here on earth). We have the freedom to choose where to eat, what job to take, who to marry, as well as many other choices.
The old Adam still binds our will in spiritual matters, and that will remain with us until Jesus takes us home to heaven. The struggle between our new man and old Adam daily exhausts us. We cry out with the apostle Paul, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” Always remember the comfort of his answer, which relies entirely on God for salvation: “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24,25).
Have a question, ask it here!
Author: David Scharf
Volume 109, Number 05
Issue: May 2022
- Q&A: Why is Pontius Pilate immortalized in our creeds?
- Q&A: How does remembering my baptism help with the guilt I carry?
- Q&A: Do parts of the Bible teach works righteousness?
- Q&A: How can I overcome my struggle with lust and pornography?
- Q&A: How should I help my child struggling with same-sex attraction?
- Q&A: Should Christians pray to saints?
- Q&A: Is anger sinful?
- Q&A: How can parents encourage adult children who wander from the faith?
- Q&A: Does the doxology belong in the Lord’s Prayer?
- Q&A: Is God fair?
- Q&A: When we pray, “Your kingdom come,” what are we praying for?
- Q&A: How can I better manage what God has given me this year so that I glorify him?
- Q&A: What are ways to glorify God besides singing in church?
- Q&A: I have no special gifts, and I mess up all the time. Does God really need me?
- Q&A: How do I overcome the feeling that my life has no purpose and I don’t make a difference?
- Q&A: My friend died and was not a professing Christian. What do I say to the family?
- Q&A: How can my mother and I forgive my father for being unfaithful and causing my parents to divorce?
- Q&A: Why were demon possession, gifts of healing, and gifts of tongues more prevalent in biblical times?
- Q&A: Is Christianity the only religion that gives the certainty of heaven?
- Q&A: If people go to hell, isn’t it their fault because God gave them free will and they rejected him?
- Q&A: Why are the 40 days between Jesus’ resurrection and his ascension important for the disciples and for us?
- Q&A: Can you explain Jesus’ words to the wailing women he met on his way to be crucified?
- Q&A: What if spouses don’t “love” each other anymore?
- Q&A: Is it wrong to have a cross with Jesus’ body on it?
- Q&A: Is our time of grace really unchangeable?
- Q&A: I know that we are saved by grace apart from works, but how can it be that easy?
- Q&A: Are there degrees of glory in heaven as a reward for good works?
- Q&A: Do Lutherans take the Bible literally and teach millennialism?
- Q&A: Are there different interpretations of the Bible?
- Q&A: How can we be sure the Bible includes what God originally gave us?
- Q&A: Why does it seem like Christianity is so negative?
- Q&A: How can I explain how Jesus’ resurrection is possible and if the Bible is reliable?
- Q&A: Is it okay to live together if we are planning to get married?
- Q&A: How is the Bible God’s Word?
- Q&A: Were we “created to make a difference”?
- Q&A: Am I being judgmental if I point out someone’s sin?
- Q&A: Do I need to read the Bible to have a relationship with God?
- Q&A: Can a Christian vote for a political candidate who supports abortion?
- Q&A: Does God really care?
- Q&A: Does it really matter how God made the world?
- Q&A: Does God send people to hell?
- Q&A: Is death natural?
- Q&A: How can I forgive and forget?
- Q&A: Does God help those who help themselves?
- Q&A: How can we say that the Old Testament God is the same as the New Testament God?
- Q&A: Is Jesus the only way to get to heaven?
- Q&A: Doesn’t God want me to be happy?
- Light for our path: Does God hate us?
- Light for our path: What kind of comfort can you give someone when a loved one commits suicide?
- Light for our path: What does a submissive wife in a Christian marriage look like?
- Light for our path: Is it a sin to want to die from a terminal illness?
- Light for our path: What advice can you give about applauding in church?
- Light for our path: Can you please explain Matthew 5:20?
- Light for our path: What is karma?
- Light for our path: Can the devil personally be tempting me and a lot of other people at exactly the same time?
- Light for our path: Does the word Easter refer to Ishtar, the Babylonian fertility goddess?
- Light for our path: What role does emotion play in contrition?
- Light for our path: What does the white stone in Revelation 2:17 mean?
- Light for our path: Is the cross symbol now anti-Christian?
- Light for our path: Were Joseph and Mary engaged or married when Joseph learned of Mary’s pregnancy?