Can We Decide to Follow Jesus?
Bonded Vs. Free Will
“I was saved when I was ____ years old.”
“So, then I made a decision to follow Christ.”
“It was then I decided to accept Jesus into my heart.”
These phrases have become a staple in the modern Christian testimony. As Christians share the story of their faith journey many, knowingly or unknowingly, stumble into what theologians have deemed, “decision theology”. Although these may just appear to be a colloquial turn-of-phrase, especially in a part of the country where Baptist and Non-denominational churches are far more familiar than a Lutheran church, they hint at a much bigger theological question: Can humans turn to God on their own? Do we really have a free will?
If this question seems daunting or, perhaps worse, irrelevant, don’t click away just yet! I’m going to do my darndest today to break down what free will really means, what this tells us about human nature, and how this all effects our salvation. So, put on your theology hat and buckle in, dear friend, because this question may be far more important than you realize.
What Is Free Will?
There seems to be two main ways the notion of a “will” is thrown around when discussing the choices we make. Sometimes people refer to our “will” in regards to the earthly decisions they’re making. What kind of sandwich will I make today? Where should I work? Should I finish reading this blog post? These earthly decisions are things God has allowed us to have control over; and that’s not what we’re talking about today. We’re going to focus on the spiritual side of things. Can I come to an understanding of God on my own? Can I make a decision to believe in Him on my own? Can I understand His plan and act in accord on my own?
What This Tells Us About Human Nature
Those who believe in free will would argue that you can freely understand all of those questions. God provides a gift and you can choose to accept it all on your own. But there are some key Scripture verses that really challenge that notion. When humanity fell into sin it was our very nature that was corrupted; our very will:
“Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”– Romans 5:18-19
One sin broke the perfect unity of our will with God’s will, and thus all humans inherit a broken (or bonded) will. We long for what is sinful and cannot naturally know what is good:
“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”– Romans 7:15
God tells us there is nothing that we can do to change this condition. It is inherited sin that haunts us all: “Can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.”– Jeremiah 13:23
How This Effects Our Salvation
So far, this may seem like a lot of bad news. After all, if we understand that knowing Jesus is the key to salvation, as it famously says in John 3:16, how do we have any hope? How is anyone a believer at all if our will is so broken? How can we live a Christian life?
Well this, dear friend, is what the good news of the Gospel truly is. Your will is broken and bonded to sin. That’s why Jesus came. It is Jesus who finds us. Not the other way around:
“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”– Luke 19:10
Salvation comes from God’s will, not our own. When we talk about “making a decision” or “accepting God” we make it about what we have done, when it’s always been about Him:
“He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.”– James 1:18
The only choice we can make when it comes to God is the choice to reject Him. Otherwise, it’s all the work of the Holy Spirit inspiring us to believe the good news of God’s plan for our salvation:
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”– Romans 15:13
Friends, if you find yourself using these phrases, or even thinking about salvation as your choice, know you are forgiven. God doesn’t draw a hard line at our phrasing and kick us out of paradise. Because the act of salvation really has nothing to do with our actions, words, or choices. Thank the Lord. But when we do catch ourselves taking even a little bit of the credit, let’s stop, repent, and reflect on the great news that there’s nothing we can do to save ourselves because Jesus has already done it all.
Director of Youth Ministry
Redeemer Lutheran Church