In seeking our purpose for living, one of the big questions we ask is this: “What’s the difference between God’s will and free will?” It is not an easy question to answer and many theologians have outlined their opinions and interpretations in Bible college/seminary textbooks.
One thing that I have determined over the years is that God’s will can be divided into three categories: His permissive will, written will, and secret will. It is God’s permissive will that has everything to do with our free will. When trying to figure out our significance and the meaning of life, we wonder where our own free will fits into the picture. We wonder what right we have to make many of our own choices in anything in life.
What is God’s permissive will? How does it help us understand our own free will in choosing the paths we take?
Free will is day-to-day life
In part one of this series, I mentioned that one of the primary principles for living with purpose is obeying God’s commandments. One passage even says it is the whole duty of man. Okay, it seems hard to swallow – especially if you are newly considering what the Bible has to say with regards to your purpose in life. Can we make any of our own decisions without being afraid we are going against God?
Let’s put God’s commandments on a simpler scale. When God first created Adam and Eve, He only gave them one commandment.
The LORD God commanded the man. He said, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden. But you must never eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because when you eat from it, you will certainly die.” – Genesis 2:16,17, GW
What does that mean to us? It means that everything else they did in their day-to-day life was their own choice. They couldn’t eat from that one tree. That was their only commandment. But they could make their own choices to do anything else they wanted.
Of course, they couldn’t even obey that one commandment as we know. They lost their innocence – and ours – to this day. So as time went, God added more commandments. He created the Old Testament Law and then after Christ, the New Testament.
Christians need to read the New Testament in particular to know God’s commandments for living, but outside of that, we have the free will to do anything we want. That is God’s permissive will. He permits us to do our own thing – make our own choices – as long as we first obey His commandments.
Don’t let free will put you in bondage
It’s great that we have free will, have a say in creating purpose for ourselves, and even in the normal things that we do each day. But we must be careful not to take advantage. If we get so used to doing our own thing, we get dangerously close to the line of disobeying God’s commandments. We are all guilty of doing that. When we cross that line, we are actually in bondage to sin. We are no longer free, even if we think we are. That is actually where we start out before faith in Christ. If we believe, we must learn where that line is.
You were indeed called to be free, brothers and sisters. Don’t turn this freedom into an excuse for your corrupt nature to express itself. Rather, serve each other through love. – Galatians 5:13, GW
…If you live by what I say, you are truly my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. – John 8:31,32, GW
Christ has freed us so that we may enjoy the benefits of freedom. Therefore, be firm in this freedom, and don’t become slaves again. – Galatians 5:1, GW
In discovering purpose for living it’s important to know that free will plays a part. In many ways, we are free to determine our own purpose. God permits that. But God wants us to be spiritually free. When we are living according to His commandments first, then we can freely choose many other things in life with a clear conscience.
Go now to the next part in this series: Discovering purpose for living Bible-style, III – God’s written will