The Nature of the Human Will

by Mike Ratliff

Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me– not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. (John 6:43-46 ESV)

Even those who most ardently proclaim the sovereignty of man’s freewill must honestly deal with passages throughout Sacred Scripture which make it clear that the human will of the natural man is incapable of attaining such a high role. In fact, God’s Word actually makes it clear that the Human Will is simply the faculty of choice with no inherent ability to make a decision on its own. It is the Human Mind that decides while the Will is the “faculty of choice, the immediate cause of all action.”1 Therefore, it is quite incorrect to allocate the sovereignty of choice to a mechanism within each of us, created by God, which enables us to carry out the volition of the mind.

God gave man the ability to choose, to make a choice of refusal or acceptance. However, the choice must first be presented to the Human Mind before a choice can be made. In other words, the choice will be made between two or more options based on preference. What is preference? Isn’t it the desiring one thing over other choices? I will usually choose a Snickers candy bar over a plain milk chocolate Hershey bar. However, if I am presented with the choice of a Hersey Special Dark chocolate bar over the other two, I will usually choose it. This is not rocket science. The Human Will is the mechanism my Mind uses to exercise my preferences. The Will is in no way sovereign. It determines nothing; it only attempts to carry out what my preferences are.

The rebellion against the Sovereignty of God through the teaching that He would in no way violate the “sanctity of the Human Will” is currently the predominate teaching in the visible Church in our time. This was not always the case. An honest audit of the heroes of the Church down through the ages, still revered in our time, show that they were predominantly Reformed in their theology. Their understanding of the role of Man in the relationship between our race and God was that He is sovereign and His people are partakers of His mercy through His grace to be in covenant with Him through the gift of faith and that this was according to His will and by His power (Ephesians 2:1-10). This relationship is in no way predicated on any volition by His people to somehow work to attain it, deserve it, or keep it.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10 ESV)

Carefully and honestly read the passage above. How does the unregenerate Human Mind operate according the Apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit who is God? The unregenerate person, being dead in the trespasses and sins in which it walks, follows the course of the world, following the prince of the power of the air, Satan. The unregenerate person walks according the passions of the flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the MIND. The unregenerate person is, by nature, a child of wrath, as is the rest of unregenerate mankind. The Mind of the unregenerate person is in bondage to the passions of the flesh. Is there then an island of spiritual residue that chooses righteousness somewhere in this mass of spiritual blindness and bondage that chooses only to pursue the desires of the body?

as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12 ESV)

This is God’s indictment against our race. There is no one who has even a shred of righteousness within them that is able to NOT turn aside or to seek for God. This is very clear. So how is that people are able to exercise their will to choose to believe, repent, and become part of the family of God?

What is it that determines the will? We reply, The strongest motive power which is brought to bear upon it. What this motive power is, varies in different cases. With one it may be the logic of reason, with another the voice of conscience, with another the impulse of the emotions, with another the whisper of the Tempter, with another the power of the Holy Spirit; whichever of these presents the strongest motive power and exerts the greatest influence upon the individual himself, is that which impels the will to act.2

Before regeneration, a person is dead in trespasses and sins. He or she is spiritually dead. The Human Mind outside of the grace of God will always choose and act by exercising the Will to choose only things according to the passions of the flesh. This includes religiosity. I have counseled and encountered countless numbers of people who have reached the end of their ability to remain religious. Why? They can no longer exercise the Will to remain so because the motive to do so is no longer there. Some remain in their religion, albeit in an apostate state while others bolt or walk away. The desire to be religious is no longer there because whatever positive reinforcement they received for being religious has either gone away or something else is seen as more desirable to their MIND so they choose to pursue it. This is the state of the unregenerate religious Christian. Since they are not regenerate, they are still controlled by the passions of the flesh and are unable to any longer be religious through the exercise of their Wills.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:16-19 ESV)

Before salvation, everyone regards Christ according to the flesh. However, all truly in Christ regard him thus no longer. Why? All in Christ are new creations. The old has passed away, the new has come, and all of this is from God who, through Christ, reconciled them to Himself. Do you see that the genuine Christian is made so by God? It is a supernatural thing. All of those He reconciles to Himself are new creations. What is this? This is the believer’s regeneration. Regeneration is the work of God in the believer in which he or she is brought from spiritual death to spiritual life to be born again (John 3:3; Ephesians 2:1-3; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 1:23; 1 John 2:29; 1 John 3:9; 1 John 5:4). Within this process is also the forgiveness of sins paid for in Christ’s substitutionary death (Galatians 6:15; Ephesians 4:24).

What is the new reality for the born again believer? Unlike the unregenerate professing Christian, the old has passed away; behold the new has come. The old flesh driven value systems the believer had are no more. Priorities have changed. Faith is now alive and spirit-driven and this enables the believer to believe God and see through the lies of the enemy and his seed. The regenerate believer loves what God loves and hates what He hates. His or her Will is now held captive by a Mind that is in the process of sanctification becoming more and more holy as God burns away the residue of flesh driven rottenness from the heart. Evil and sin are still present because the flesh is still within, but the regenerate believer sees them in a new perspective and they no longer control him or her.

No one is saved or becomes born again through the exercise of a sovereign Human Will. This would be antithetical to what God’s Word clearly teaches nor does it correctly address the actual role of the Will. The Mind controls the Will and an unregenerate Mind cannot choose to be a born again believer. No, God must first draw the believer to Himself then regenerate him or her to belief and repentance by His grace through the gift of faith. It is God’s good work from beginning to end. The spiritual difference between an unregenerate professing Christian and one who is born of God is sometimes only discernable by observing their fruit.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. (Galatians 5:16-25 ESV)

Examine yourselves my brethren. Do you find your Will choosing things that are on the list the flesh desires? If so, then you are being controlled by the passions of your flesh and that means your Mind desires these things. This should be a huge red flag to you that something is not right with your spiritual condition. Take it to the throne of Grace. How are you doing on the second list? All regenerate believers should be manifesting this fruit at some level. The more mature in Christ we become the more this fruit should be seen in us by all those around us. Christians mature into this state through continual Mind renewal (Romans 12:1-2). If the believer’s Mind is renewed unto God continually like this then what will the Will choose?

1Pink, Arthur W. The Sovereignty of God, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1984, p.130.

2Ibid, p.131.

Addendum: I highly recommend this article for further opportunities of edification.

3 thoughts on “The Nature of the Human Will

  1. Pingback: The Nature of the Human Will - Reformata

  2. My brother, Once again I am thankful for the opportunity to read what has been written here on Possessing the Treasure. I always come away thankful and encouraged and often corrected. I do not pray for you enough my brother. I have been blessed much by your ministry.

    The simple explanation from pararaphs 7 and 8 on how the Human mind functions in making choices before regeneration was particualarly helpful. Kim T

  3. God bless you Kim! It is always a pleasure to hear from you. I do covet your prayers my sister and I thank you for your gentle encouragement.

    As for as paragraphs 7 and 8, I used my own life before salvation as the model for that combined with my study into God’s truth since He drew me unto Himself, regenerating, justifying, sanctifying, adopting, and glorifying me. I used to wonder what He saw in me that He would do this, then as He matured me I realized that any good I do is Him working through me for there is nothing in me that made me worthy of salvation. Nothing!

    God’s call is for His people to forsake the passions of the flesh by crucifying it then our Minds will be made free to choose to pursue Christ with pure motives and, in turn, God will mature us and the fruit of the Spirit will become manifest in our lives. We cannot produce this fruit through the exercise of the Will.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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