Free will is a doctrinal linchpin for the Christian faith. Free will allows for choice which differentiates between the relationship-types explained in the Bible. Choice allows an individual to do one of two things according to Christianity: align him or herself with the good and righteous will of God; or, rebel against his goodness and righteousness to remain in an autonomous state of deceptive wickedness. This posits two relationships available to an individual in his or her lifetime: a relationship with God; or, a relationship with their sin. These two relationships cannot co-exist because a totally righteous and holy God cannot associate with sin because it is a complete violation of his nature. God is good. God is love. Wickedness is neither, and so the two cannot collide without one having to admit defeat. The Bible assures us that wickedness eventually is ultimately destroyed and an eternal punishment awaits those who align themselves with wickedness at the end. Goodness wins. Love triumphs. There is justice for all the pain caused and all the devastation wrought.
Free will stands in the middle of these two options and proffers choice. The problem is that free will does not mean a person has the ability to do anything. Instead, it is the ability to make choices within the constraints of our nature and not in a manner that contradicts it. What does this mean? This means that any choices we make cannot escape the realities of our natural being. I can choose to jump off a roof in an attempt to fly, but this is foolish because I cannot fly. I am not a bird. My choice was to jump which is within my nature to accomplish. The choice was not to fly because that is physically impossible for a human. Free will works the same way. By nature, I am a spiritually wicked creature; so, of course, the choices I make cannot escape the fact of who I am. I can desire to be righteous. I can desire to be good, but the only free will to accomplish these desires is restrained by the very nature of my person. I can do a good deed. That is within my abilities because it rests on the physical and emotional aspects of personhood. But a good deed does not assume spiritual goodness. In fact, spiritual goodness requires a standard. Being naturally holy and righteous and good, God becomes the standard. But, I just stated that human beings are not naturally good, holy or righteous especially when we must compare the state of our goodness to the standard of God’s goodness.
We are faced with a dilemma here. If it is impossible for a person to act upon free will outside of their nature and their natural instinct is towards sin which contradicts God’s standard of righteousness and God cannot have a relationship with sin because it contradicts his very nature of goodness, how is it ever possible for a person to gain a relationship with God? If we only have two ultimate choices – aligning ourselves with God or sticking to our sin, we seem to be screwed simply because of the fact that our nature and God’s nature cannot collide. No amount of good deeds (because they do not alter the spiritual state of a person’s nature) will ever cancel out the wickedness that is destroyed and punished in the end.
There is an answer. God is all-knowing, therefore, he knew that giving humanity free will would allow us choice (preventing us from mindlessly obeying him as slaves because he wants a relationship with us instead), but he also knew that these choices could not extend past our nature. He knew we would be stuck and unable to build a relationship with him using our own power and will. He knows we cannot escape the wickedness that permeates our nature and thus our desires to be righteous enough to be in relationship with him are impossible. He knows; so, he stepped in. God is love. This is apart of his nature. To express this love, he provided a way to be in a relationship with him that still allows humanity to act upon free will in alignment with their natural personhood. God sacrificed himself. This sounds brutal, but in order to divide something and equal zero, equivalent sums must be in the equation. God is totally righteous. Humanity is totally wicked. To mathematically produce “sameness,” God had to zero-out sin by offering sinlessness. By dying, he did this and thus provided a way to having a relationship with him that is possible.
With this monumental act, God offered another choice upon which we can freely act. We can now choose to believe, trust and verbally share what he has accomplished for humanity. These are emotional and physical realities that function within our free will. When we make these choices, he acts according to his own nature and chooses to view our sin in light of what he did. The beauty of all this is the fact that God is in control and instead of using this control to doom humanity to eternal punishment, he instead, chooses to offer love and righteousness and a relationship with himself that only requires belief, trust and witness.
This is Christianity. This is hope.