Question: How can we tell the difference between God’s will and man’s free will? How much free will does a person have?
There is clearly a distinction in Scripture between God’s will and human will. For example, in Deuteronomy 1:13 Moses recalls how leaders were chosen from the tribal heads of Israel to assist him in governing the Hebrew people in the Wilderness:
Deut. 1:13 Choose some wise, understanding and respected men from each of your tribes, and I will set them over you.
This was exercising God-given freedom to make wise decisions for the sake of the whole nation.
On the other hand, God Himself was to choose the place where the Tabernacle would be established in the Promised Land, and it was the responsibility of the Israelites to discover what God’s will was in that matter:
Deut. 12:5 But you are to seek the place the LORD your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling. To that place you must go…
Sometimes discovering God’s will is a matter of exhausting our own efforts at trying to influence events. For instance, when the apostle Paul’s companions and friends, including Luke, tried to convince Paul not to go on to Jerusalem because a prophecy given in the church indicated Paul would be severely persecuted there, they were unsuccessful. Paul chose to go anyway:
Acts 21:14 When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.”
However, more often than not, believers can discern God’s will easily enough just by choosing (i.e.,, exercising their free will) to walk in the Spirit and not in the flesh, to stay intimately connected to God by avoiding sin and living in Christ’s righteousness. As Paul says in Ephesians:
Eph. 5:15-18 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.
The reality is, God has given man a great deal of free will, but that power to make choices is always contained within the boundaries of God’s sovereignty. His grand plan for mankind and all of the universe will unfold as He has determined it should. He will never allow us to make choices that will alter that. I would encourage Bible Gems readers to read Bible Gems # 48, “Witnessing & Election,” for further insight related to predestination and free will.
The upshot is this: God does not want His will for us to be a mystery. Rather, His desire is that we should seek His will and freely choose His will over our own. As James reminds us,
James 4:15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.
Do you have other questions related to God’s will and human freedom of choice? Click on the “comment” link at the end of this article and submit your question.