1For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
2Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. 3Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law. 4You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.
7You were running well; who prevented you from obeying the truth? 8Such persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. 9A little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough. 10I am confident about you in the Lord that you will not think otherwise. But whoever it is that is confusing you will pay the penalty.11But my friends, why am I still being persecuted if I am still preaching circumcision? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!
13For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." 15If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
The issue of "free will" has been receiving a lot of attention from philosophers the past two decades. One reason for the interest comes from naturalistic philosophers who are trying to come to grips with conclusions drawn from materialist implications. For materialists/naturalists, all physical things -- stars, plants, animals, and human beings -- are seen to be governed by physical laws and physical causation. Even though human beings might subjectively feel like they have free will, in actuality, at the chemical level of brain function, human beings are causally determined. In other words, our awareness of free will does not really match up with the law-like behavior of cells and elements (neurological, chemical, or otherwise). Therefore, our subjective experience of free will is a form of illusion. Our subjective experience that we are free must make room for the true picture of who we are: we are not free.
The Bible does not talk about "free will" as such. It does talk about freedom and enslavement. It does assume the truth of our commonsense experience that we are free about certain things and not free about other things.
The relevant notion of freedom in the Bible (as is the case above) is freedom with respect to God and moral freedom. It might be surprising to hear but the Bible also does not believe that humans have free will under certain conditions. In our fallenness -- in our pre-redemptive state -- humans do not actually enjoy free will. Our wills are "in bondage" as Luther argued in his book, The Bondage of the Will. Jonathan Edwards argued a similar stance in his Freedom of the Will. For both Luther and Edwards, when we examine the Scriptures, it is clear that humans in their fallen state are thoroughly enslaved to the power of sin. Our "natural" state is one of enmity against God. There is not a neutral ground. Something stronger and greater is at work in the human personality beyond the power of will: the power of our sinful nature/the power of sinful proclivities.
We experience true freedom -- or, we get "free will" -- only after we have experience the saving grace of Christ and the indwelling Spirit in our lives. Only then are we truly free: free to love God or not, free to love people or not, free to sin or not. Before our experience of freedom in Christ, those options were not available. Perhaps in theory, but never in reality. Without the Spirit setting us free, we could not, on our own, choose freely to love God. We could choose various things (e.g., cereal or pancake) but we were helpless in regards to honoring and loving God. A sinner is set against God. That's what the power of sin always does.
But thanks be to God, we are free! Because of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
What are we do with our new freedom? Paul has an answer: use your freedom not to indulge yourself; use your freedom to serve others ("become slaves to one another"). Of course the freedom we have can be used for self-indulgence. But there's a higher calling for our freedom: to love God and to love others.
Now that's a worthy use of freedom!
Let's pray: Lord God, with the freedom that we possess, help us to choose your will, to choose the better way, to choose love over hatred, to choose compassion over indifference, to choose the welfare of others rather than just our own. May you be glorified by the way we use our freedom today. In Jesus' name, amen.