Free will and God

I have been struggling recently with free will vs. God being in control of all things and nothing happens that he does not already know. How can I have free will if God already knows what I am going to do and how my life is going to turn out? Any additional resources, books, or sermons on this topic would be appreciated as well. Thanks!

Ever since the fall into sin in Eden, the free will that people have is limited to making decisions about their earthly lives. So, people choose to marry or remain single, enter into this or that vocation, live in a certain area, etc. Of course, when it comes to making decisions like those, people may not always get what they want.

After the fall into sin, people by nature can choose only evil in the spiritual realm. “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.

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).

As Christians, you and I have much freedom when it comes to making everyday decisions in our lives. We can choose this, we can reject that. Does God know what we are going to do? Certainly. God knows all things, but “God’s foreknowledge is not causative,” Lutheran theologians say. The fact that God knows in advance what will happen does not mean that God forces people into that action.

There are a few pages in the following two books from the People’s Bible Teaching series that address your question: Man and God’s Providence. Chapter five of The Narrow Lutheran Middle provides more detail. Finally, the “Will of Man” section in Volume III of What Luther Says contains information on “free will” (Luther calls it “self-will”). Your pastor or church library may have that last book.