“Where the spirit of Jehovah is, there is freedom.”—2 COR. 3:17.
1, 2. (a) What different views do people have regarding the matter of free will? (b) What does the Bible teach us about our freedom of choice, and what questions will we consider?
WHEN faced with making a personal choice, one woman told a friend: “Do not make me think; just tell me what to do. That is easier.” The woman preferred being told what to do instead of using a precious gift from her Creator, the gift of free will. What about you? Do you like making your own decisions, or do you prefer that others decide for you? How do you view the matter of free will?
2 People have debated this subject for centuries. Some claim that there is no such thing as free will—that all our actions are predetermined by God. Others argue that true free will is only possible if we have absolute freedom. However, to understand this matter properly, we must turn to God’s Word, the Bible. Why? It reveals that Jehovah created us with free will; that is, the capacity and freedom to make our own intelligent choices. (Read Joshua 24:15.) The Bible also answers such questions as: How should our freedom to make decisions be exercised? Does it have limitations? How does the way we use our freedom of choice reveal the depth of our love for Jehovah? How can we show respect for the decisions of others?
WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM JEHOVAH AND JESUS?
3. What example does Jehovah set in the use of his freedom?
3 Jehovah alone has absolute freedom, but the way he uses it sets a pattern for us. For example, he chose to select the nation of Israel as his name people, “his special property.” (Deut. 7:6-8) This was not an arbitrary choice. Jehovah was being true to a promise that he had made centuries earlier to his friend Abraham. (Gen. 22:15-18) Furthermore, Jehovah always exercises his freedom in harmony with his attributes of love and justice. This is evident in the way he disciplined the Israelites, who repeatedly abandoned true worship. When they expressed heartfelt repentance, Jehovah willingly extended love and mercy, saying: “I will heal their unfaithfulness. I will love them of my own free will.” (Hos. 14:4) What a fine example of using his freedom for the benefit of others!
4, 5. (a) Who was the first to receive God’s gift of free will, and how did he use it? (b) What question must each of us ask?
4 When Jehovah began his creative works, he lovingly chose to bestow free will on his intelligent creatures. The first one to receive this gift was his firstborn Son, “the image of the invisible God.” (Col. 1:15) Even before coming to earth, Jesus chose to remain loyal to his Father and not join Satan in his rebellion. Later, when Jesus was on earth, he exercised his free will to reject the temptations of the great Adversary. (Matt. 4:10) In earnest prayer the night before his death, Jesus reaffirmed his determination to do the will of God. He said: “Father, if you want to, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, let, not my will, but yours take place.” (Luke 22:42) May we imitate Jesus and use our free will to honor Jehovah and to do his will! Is that really possible?
5 Yes, we can imitate the example of Jesus, for we too are made in God’s image and likeness. (Gen. 1:26) However, we have limitations. We do not have the absolute freedom that Jehovah has. God’s Word explains that our freedom has boundaries and that we must observe the limits Jehovah appropriately places on us. What is more, wives are to be in subjection to their husbands and children to their parents. (Eph. 5:22; 6:1) How do these limitations affect the way we use our free will? The answer to that question can determine our everlasting future.
THE USE AND ABUSE OF FREE WILL
6. Illustrate why it is proper for our freedom to have limitations.
6 Is having free will with limits real freedom? Yes, it is! Why can we say that? Limitations put on people’s freedom can protect them. For example, we may exercise our freedom of choice to drive to a distant city. However, would we feel safe traveling on highways where there were no traffic laws, where everyone was free to decide how fast or on which side of the road to drive? Obviously not. Limits are necessary in order for all to enjoy the blessings of true freedom. To illustrate further the wisdom of using our free will within the boundaries set by Jehovah, let us consider some Bible examples.
7. (a) How did the gift of free will distinguish Adam from other forms of life in Eden? (b) Describe one way that Adam exercised his free will.
7 When creating the first human, Adam, God gave him the same gift he had given his intelligent creatures in heaven, the gift of free will. This set Adam apart from the animals, since they live according to instinct. Consider an example of how Adam used his free will in an appropriate way. Animals were created before man. However, Jehovah reserved the joy of naming those creatures for his first human son. God “began bringing them to the man to see what he would call each one.” After Adam observed each animal and assigned it a suitable name, Jehovah did not step in and override Adam’s choices. Rather, “whatever the man would call each living creature, that became its name.”—Gen. 2:19.
8. How did Adam misuse his free will, and with what result?
8 Regrettably, Adam was not content with his God-given assignment as cultivator and caretaker of the earthly paradise. He was not satisfied with his extensive freedom to carry out his God-given mandate: “Be fruitful and become many, fill the earth and subdue it, and have in subjection the fish . . . , the flying creatures . . . , and every living creature that is moving on the earth.” (Gen. 1:28) Instead, he chose to overstep his God-ordained boundaries by eating the forbidden fruit. This gross misuse of free will resulted in millenniums of suffering and pain for Adam’s descendants. (Rom. 5:12) Knowing the consequences of Adam’s decision should move us to use our freedom responsibly and within the limits set by Jehovah.
9. What choice did Jehovah give his people, Israel, and how did the nation respond?
9 The descendants of Adam and Eve inherited imperfection and death from their disobedient parents. However, they retained the right to exercise the gift of free will. This is evident in the way God dealt with the nation of Israel. Through his servant Moses, Jehovah gave the people the choice to accept or reject the privilege of becoming His special property. (Ex. 19:3-6) What was their response? They freely chose to carry out the conditions of becoming God’s name people and unanimously declared: “All that Jehovah has spoken, we are willing to do.” (Ex. 19:8) Sadly, in time the nation misused its freedom of choice and broke that promise. Let us heed this warning example and always treasure our gift of free will by continuing to stick close to Jehovah and obeying his righteous requirements.—1 Cor. 10:11.
10. What examples prove that it is possible for imperfect humans to use their free will in a way that honors God? (See opening picture.)
10 In Hebrews chapter 11, we find the names of 16 servants of God who chose to use their free will within the limits set by Jehovah. As a result, they reaped rich blessings and a sure hope for the future. For example, Noah showed great faith and chose to obey God’s instructions to build an ark for the preservation of his own family and future generations of humankind. (Heb. 11:7) Abraham and Sarah willingly followed God’s leadings to a land of promise. Even after they embarked on this long journey, they had the “opportunity to return” to the prosperous city of Ur. However, they kept their eyes of faith focused on the future “fulfillment of [God’s] promises”; they were “reaching out for a better place.” (Heb. 11:8, 13, 15, 16) Moses turned his back on the treasures of Egypt, “choosing to be mistreated with the people of God rather than to have the temporary enjoyment of sin.” (Heb. 11:24-26) May we imitate the faith of such ancient ones by treasuring our gift of free will and using it to do God’s will.
11. (a) What is one of the great blessings of free will? (b) What motivates you to use your free will properly?
11 While it might seem easier to have someone else make decisions for us, doing so would rob us of one of the great blessings of free will. That blessing is revealed at Deuteronomy 30:19, 20. (Read.) Verse 19 describes the choice that God gave to the Israelites. In verse 20 we learn that Jehovah gave them the precious opportunity to show him what was in their hearts. We too can choose to worship Jehovah. We could have no greater motive than to use God’s gift of free will to express our love for him and to bring him honor and glory!
AVOID MISUSING YOUR GIFT OF FREE WILL
12. What must we never do with our gift of free will?
12 Imagine that you gave a valuable gift to a friend. How disappointed you would be if you learned that he had thrown your gift in the trash or, worse yet, that he had used it to injure someone! Now think of how Jehovah must feel as he watches so many people misuse their freedom to make choices in life even to the harm of others. Indeed, just as the Bible foretold, during “the last days” men would be “unthankful.” (2 Tim. 3:1, 2) May we never misuse this precious gift from Jehovah or take it for granted. How, though, can we avoid misusing our gift of free will?
13. What is one way we can avoid misusing our Christian freedom?
13 All of us have freedom of choice regarding associations, styles of dress and grooming, and entertainment. However, our freedom could become “a cover for doing wrong” if we chose to become slaves of our own fleshly desires or if we adopted the disgraceful fads and trends of the world. (Read 1 Peter 2:16.) Instead of using our freedom “as an opportunity to pursue fleshly desires,” we want to be determined to make choices that help us to heed the admonition: “Do all things for God’s glory.”—Gal. 5:13; 1 Cor. 10:31.
14. What does trusting in Jehovah have to do with our use of free will?
14 Another way to guard our gift of free will is to put our trust in Jehovah and let him guide us within the protective boundaries that he has set for us. He alone is ‘the One teaching us to benefit ourselves, the One guiding us in the way we should walk.’ (Isa. 48:17) We must humbly acknowledge the truthfulness of the inspired words: “Man’s way does not belong to him. It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step.” (Jer. 10:23) May we never fall into the trap of choosing to rely on our own understanding, as did Adam and the rebellious Israelites. Instead, may we “trust in Jehovah with all [our] heart.”—Prov. 3:5.
RESPECTING OTHERS’ GIFT OF FREE WILL
15. What do we learn from the principle found at Galatians 6:5?
15 One of the limitations on our freedom is that we must respect the right that others have to make their own decisions in life. Why? Since we all have the gift of free will, no two Christians will always make exactly the same decision. This is true even in matters that involve our conduct and worship. Remember the principle found at Galatians 6:5. (Read.) When we recognize that each Christian must “carry his own load,” we will respect the right that others have to use their own gift of free will.
16, 17. (a) How did freedom of choice become an issue in Corinth? (b) How did Paul resolve matters, and what does this teach us about the rights of others?
16 Consider a Bible example that illustrates why we must respect our brothers’ freedom to make their own decisions in matters of conscience. Christians in Corinth became divided over the matter of eating meat that may have been offered to idols but was thereafter sold in a meat market. Some reasoned: ‘Since an idol is nothing, the meat can be eaten in good conscience.’ However, others who formerly worshipped those idols felt that eating the meat would be an act of worship. (1 Cor. 8:4, 7) This was a sensitive issue, one that threatened to cause divisions in the congregation. How did Paul help the Christians in Corinth to gain God’s view of the matter?
17 First, Paul reminded both sides that food would not bring them nearer to God. (1 Cor. 8:8) Next, he warned them not to allow their “right to choose” to become “a stumbling block to those who [were] weak.” (1 Cor. 8:9) Later, he instructed those with a more sensitive conscience not to judge those who chose to eat such meat. (1 Cor. 10:25, 29, 30) Hence, in this important matter related to worship, each Christian needed to make a conscientious decision. Therefore, should we not also respect our brother’s right to make personal decisions in matters of lesser importance?—1 Cor. 10:32, 33.
18. How will you show that you treasure your gift of free will?
18 Jehovah has given us the gift of free will and with it true freedom. (2 Cor. 3:17) We treasure this gift because it allows us to make decisions that reveal to Jehovah how much we love him. May we continue to show our appreciation for this precious gift by using it in a way that honors God and by respecting the way that others choose to use their gift.