This thing called "Free Will"

When I hear people talking about the idea of the free will of man as if it is a self evident truth, an axiom of sorts, without ever really giving arguments as to where they come up with this idea, and speaking of the importance of maintaining that man has a free will while condemning any idea that seems to threaten this, it sparks a few questions and thoughts in me that I’d like to share with you.

The first question is "what is meant by the phrase free will"? Are we to understand the phrase to mean that the will of man acts completely free from any and all other influences? I propose that this can not be the case. For in every act of willing or choosing the person willing or choosing does so based on that which he desires or wants. In other words no one ever wills anything contrary to his or her desires. Even people who choose to do things they don’t want to do, such as getting up early to go to work, do so based on the knowledge or belief that the paycheck for that day will be worth the displeasure of getting up. Proving that their willingness to get up was based on their desire to get paid, or we could say our willingness is based on what we value, which is the same as saying it is based on what we desire. This to me is strong evidence that the will is not free but is subject to the wants and desires of the individual doing the willing or choosing. The will is the servant of mans desires.

An example of the limits of the power of the will can be seen in the case of quitting cigarette smoking. A person can will to stop smoking but in order to be successful he must fuel his desire to quit with the belief that not smoking is more valuable to him than the value of the pleasure of smoking a cigarette. In this case the will is in complete subjection to the desires of the one willing. We see in this that the will has power to carry out the thing desired but no power to create or change a desire. You can will to quit smoking but you can not will to stop liking to smoke or wanting to smoke or desiring to smoke.

So what is this Holy Grail of the free will. Why is the idea in theology so utterly important to those who assert it’s dominance? In attempting to answer this question I can only assume that a preacher, in preaching to his audience, an audience that he asserts has a totally free will, and desiring to influence this free will, approaches his objective like this. The preacher must convince his audience that there is something to be gained that is more valuable than any inconvenience or distasteful thing they must endure to attain it. In the case of Christianity this sounds like a very noble endeavor as any price we must pay to attain eternal life surely would be worth it. The problem with this approach is that mankind is utterly incapable of providing anything to God that would merit Him giving us eternal life. The result of this type of preaching can easily become a works based gospel, In other words If you do this and that, and especially if you don’t really want to do it, you will be granted Eternal life. You see, if everybody wanted this Eternal life then this kind of preaching wouldn’t be necessary at all. No one has to bribe you or convince you of the rewards of eating your favorite food, you eat it because you love it. The problem with man is not only that he is unwilling to be saved but that he has no desire for God at all.

This is one of the differences between two Christian groups. One  called Calvinists and others called Arminians. The Arminian maintains that mans will is utterly free and self-determined, if given the right information he can use his will to believe and therefore become a Christian. The Calvinist maintains that man has a will but denies that the power of the will alone is enough to cause men to be redeemed. The difference may at first seem like semantics but to those who hold one of these views they're whole understanding of God seems to hang in this argument. I think most Arminians would agree that only God's power can change men's hearts and that we need new spiritual taste buds or we will never love God the way we should, but for them this is all initiated solely by man using his free will. This is how they protect the fairness of God toward sinners. The Calvinist also believing that man needs to be deeply changed, attributes this change completely to God changing mans unwillingness (which he believes is the state of all men) into willingness by changing man at the core of his being, overcoming all the resistance that the man may have had to the gospel prior to this. In this way the Calvinist believes that God can and must work in the hearts of men or they will never come to Him. 

So in preaching, instead of relying on the will of man to accomplish that which your preaching is set out to do. I submit that the better idea is to preach in such a way that the Glory of God is magnified and that the taste buds of your hearers are awakened by the majesty and goodness of almighty God. And That the power of the Holy Spirit, not mans power to choose, be trusted in to change the desires of those listening. When your hearers begin to desire God they will be willing to reach out to him. This is what is meant by being born again, that God himself has worked in the hearts of men in such a way that they now desire him above all else, and their unwillingness has been turned into willingness, God removing the resistance toward him and causing them to want Him.

So it seems to me that the person relying on the will of the individual to will himself into Christianity will assert the freedom of the will. But the person relying on God to change the hearts of men and in so doing motivate their will, will be more concerned with asserting that almighty God, the maker of all things, has the sovereign power to influence the desires of all people, and in so doing influence the will of all people.