Are we robots or free agents?
I have received this comment: “As for free will, your Bible states repeatedly that there is none. Paul does so directly in Romans 9, and this God’s repeated interference, controlling people’s minds, etc, abrogate free will”. So in this post we will look at what the Bible says in Romans 9. Because of the structure of this letter, Romans 10-11 are also considered.
Romans was written by Paul to believers in Rome in about AD 56. The theme of this letter is the gospel – the good news about Jesus Christ. According to MacDonald, in Romans Paul answers these main questions:
– What is the subject of the letter? (1:1, 9, 15- 16)
– What is the gospel? (1:1-17)
– Why do people need the gospel? (1:18-3:20)
– According to the gospel, how can ungodly sinners be justified by a holy God? (3:21-31)
– Does the gospel agree with the Old Testament Scripture? (4:1-25)
– What are the benefits of justification in the believer’s life? (5:1-21)
– Does the teaching of salvation by grace through faith permit or even encourage sinful living? (6:1-23)
– What is the relationship of the Christian to the Old Testament law? (7:1-25)
– How is the Christian enabled to live a holy life? (8:1-39)
– Does the gospel, by promising salvation to both Jews and Gentiles, mean that God has broken His promises to His earthly people, the Jews? (9:1-11:36)
– How should those who have been justified by grace respond in their everyday lives? (12:1-16:27) (more…)
The answer to this question depends on the source of temptation and the fact that angels and people have a free will.
Source of temptation
The steps from temptation to sinful behaviour and then to death are described as, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (Jas. 1:13-15NIV). So, a temptation to sin doesn’t come from God. Although God can test our faith, He never tempts us to sin. He has no dealings with evil. Temptation is described as our “own evil desire”, which comes from our inner sinful nature (Mt. 15:19). The temptation isn’t necessarily evil , unless we dwell on it until it leads to sinful behaviour, like conception leads to the birth of a child. Jesus was tempted, but He didn’t sin (Mt. 4:1-11).
But Adam and Eve didn’t have a sinful nature and lived in a perfect environment. So who was the source of their temptation to sin? Jesus was tempted although He didn’t have a sinful nature (Heb. 4:15). He was tempted by Satan (Mt. 4:1-11). In Adam and Eve’s case it was the serpent, which is one of Satan’s names (Gen. 3:1-5; Rev. 12:9; 20:2). So Satan tempted Adam and Eve and this lead to them disobeying God. Satan is the tempter (1 Th. 3:5).
But did God cause Satan to tempt Adam and Eve?
God commanded Adam and Eve, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Gen. 2:16-17). They were given a choice to obey God or to disobey Him; they had a “free will”. In order to be free to follow or ignore God, we have to be able to make choices. A loving relationship requires the freedom to make choices. They chose to accept Satan’s temptation instead of rejecting it. This was their own decision, even though Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the snake (Gen. 3:11-13). God did not create evil, but He made people with a free will, and therefore with a potential for good and evil.
Angels, including Satan, didn’t have a sinful nature and lived in a perfect environment. So who was the source of their temptation to sin? Satan was created “blameless”; he was sinless (Ezek. 28:15). But because of pride and arrogance he desired to rule the universe like God (Isa. 14:13-14; Ezek. 28:17). Where did this pride and arrogance come from? He was made perfect, so God can’t be blamed: “You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you” (Ezek. 28:15). It was his own choice. Angels were also given a choice to serve God or not; they had a “free will”. Satan was the first one to oppose God and he lead an angelic rebellion against God (Mt. 25:41; Rev. 12:7). God did not create evil, but He made angels with a free will, and therefore with a potential for good and evil.
Clearly God desired angels and people that would choose to follow Him. This also means that some angels and some people will choose to reject Him. Satan’s choice led to demons in the angelic world and evil in the universe. So God didn’t cause Satan to tempt Adam and Eve, it was Satan’s choice.
In God’s love and omniscience, He knew Adam and Eve would sin, and He already had a plan in place to restore them to fellowship when they did. Although God planned to send Jesus to die for their sin, He didn’t cause them to sin. Satan rebelled by choice, he then tempted other angels to rebel and then tempted Eve and Adam and they sinned by their choice. We in turn are also tempted by Satan and by our sinful nature inherited from Adam and Eve, but we sin by our own choice.
Written, January 2012