Do we have free will? It depends on what we mean by free will, and it depends on who you mean by “we.” The freedom that Adam and Eve possessed prior to the Fall is different from the freedom which is experienced by all humanity after the Fall. Furthermore, these two types of freedom are different from the freedom that is experienced as a regenerate believer and what a regenerate believer will experience in the eternal state.
It might be helpful to distinguish between two terms in understanding this. This distinction boils down to a differentiation between “true freedom” 1 and “freedom of choice.”
True freedom consists of the ability to act without the hindrances of sin, whereas freedom of choice consists in the ability to do as you wish.
Here is a helpful way to remember the four different eras and the types of freedom experienced within each:
- Human beings as created had both true freedom and freedom of choice.
- Human being as fallen forfeited true freedom but retained freedom of choice.
- Human beings as regenerate have regained a measure of true freedom while retaining freedom of choice.
- Human beings as glorified will be perfected in true freedom and will retain freedom of choice.
If understood correctly, the Calvinist can affirm the reality of free will but not without properly interpreting the term through the lenses of Scripture. Given the fundamental discussions that most bring to an understanding of “free will,” it is probably not wise to affirm the phrase unless one has the chance to nuance the term as done in this series.
Fallen creatures are free to do what they want. All they want is sin. God overcomes that desire in the elect and creates in them a new desire which subsequently inclines to God and His promises. This inclination is hopefully growing now as they mature, but will certainly one day be fulfilled as the residue of their flesh is destroyed and they experience the fullness of resurrection.
1 I don’t really like the term “true freedom” because I don’t think that “true” is the best adjective to describe this type of freedom, as if other versions are “false.” I think that “complete freedom” or a term like that would be better, but the phrase “true freedom” is the most commonly used in theological discussions, so I will use it for the sake of consistency.