Free will and faith

Can you define “free will” from a Lutheran standpoint and everything that it entails? Do we have free will truly? And could you give some back up to the idea that it’s the Holy Spirit’s work in us and not our choice to follow God?

Ever since the fall into sin in the Garden of Eden, people’s free will is limited to making decisions about their earthly lives. So, people decide what vocation they might undertake in life, where they will live—things like that.

After the fall into sin, people by nature can choose only evil in the spiritual realm; they cannot choose to establish a relationship with God. The Bible explains: “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Romans 8:7). “Every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5). “Every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood” (Genesis 8:21). Because of natural sin and unbelief, people are God’s enemies; they want to do only that which displeases God.

Now as a child of God, my free will is much different than before my conversion. Now my new self wants to use the means of grace to strengthen my faith; now I want to follow God’s law as a tangible way of showing my thankfulness to him for my salvation in Jesus his Son. However, even when I, as a child of God, want to do those things in life that are good and godly, I recognize that it is God working in me: “It is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13).

The Bible makes it very clear that faith is the Holy Spirit’s work and not ours. What Jesus first said to his disciples applies to all Christians: “You did not choose me, but I chose you…” (John 15:16) 1 Corinthians 12:3 states that it is only because of the Holy Spirit’s work that people are able to confess Jesus Christ as their Savior. Ephesians 2:8 speaks of faith as “the gift of God.” Philippians 1:29 describes how people are on the receiving end of God’s gift of faith: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him…” Colossians 2:12 describes faith as “the working of God.”

How thankful we are that the Holy Spirit did what we cannot do. Through the gospel (Romans 10:17), the Holy Spirit connects us to Jesus Christ in saving faith so that we enjoy all the blessings he won by his holy life and sacrificial death.