“Where the spirit of Jehovah is, there is freedom.”
1, 2. (a) What different opinions do people have about free will? (b) What does the Bible teach us about our free will, and what questions will we consider?
WHEN 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 wanted to be told what to do instead of using her free will, a precious gift from her Creator. What about you? Do you like making your own decisions, or do you want others to decide for you? How do you view free will?
2 People have different opinions about free will. Some say that free will does not really exist because God has already decided all our actions. Others say that free will is possible only if we have absolute freedom. However, the Bible teaches that we were created with the ability and freedom to make intelligent personal choices. (Read Joshua 24:15.) In the Bible, we also find the answers to the following questions: Does our free will have limits? How should we use our freedom to make decisions? How do our decisions show how much we really love Jehovah? How can we show that we respect the decisions of others?
WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM JEHOVAH AND JESUS?
3. How does Jehovah use his absolute freedom?
3 Jehovah has absolute freedom, and we can learn from the way he uses his freedom. For example, Jehovah chose the nation of Israel to be his people, “his special property.” (Deuteronomy 7:6-8) He had a reason for making that choice. Jehovah wanted to keep the promise he had made to his friend Abraham. (Genesis 22:15-18) In addition, Jehovah is always loving and fair when he uses his freedom. We can see that in the way he disciplined the Israelites when they disobeyed him. When they were truly sorry for what they had done, Jehovah showed them love and mercy. He said: “I will heal their unfaithfulness. I will love them of my own free will.” (Hosea 14:4) Jehovah set a good example for us by using his freedom to help others!
Before coming to earth, Jesus chose to remain loyal to God and not to join Satan and his rebellion
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 Jehovah chose to create angels and humans with free will. Jehovah’s first creation was Jesus. He was created in God’s image and had free will. (Colossians 1:15) How has Jesus used his freedom? Before coming to earth, Jesus chose to remain loyal to God and not to join Satan and his rebellion. When Jesus came to earth, he made the choice to reject Satan’s temptations. (Matthew 4:10) Then, on the night before his death, Jesus assured his Father that he wanted to do His will. He said: “Father, if you want to, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, let, not my will, but yours take place.” (Luke 22:42) Is it really possible for us to imitate Jesus and use our free will to honor Jehovah and do his will?
5 Yes, we can imitate Jesus because we too are made in God’s image. (Genesis 1:26) However, we do not have the absolute freedom that Jehovah has. God’s Word explains that Jehovah has put limits on our freedom and that he expects us to accept those limits. For example, within the family, wives should be in subjection to their husbands, and children should obey their parents. (Ephesians 5:22; 6:1) How do such limits 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. Give an example that shows why it is important for our freedom to have limits.
6 Can limited freedom ever be true freedom? Yes, it can! Why? Because limits can protect us. For example, we may choose to drive to a city far away. But imagine that there are no traffic laws, and everyone can decide how fast and on which side of the road to drive. Would you feel safe traveling on that road? Obviously not. Limits are needed in order for all to enjoy the benefits of true freedom. Let us consider some Bible examples that show how the limits set by Jehovah can benefit us.
7. (a) What was one difference between Adam and the animals? (b) Describe one way that Adam used his free will.
7 When Jehovah created the first man, Adam, he gave him the same gift he had given the angels, the gift of free will. But God did not give animals free will. How did Adam use his free will in a good way? Adam had the joy of naming the animals. God “began bringing them to the man to see what he would call each one.” After Adam watched each animal, he gave it a meaningful name. Jehovah did not change any of Adam’s choices. Instead, “whatever the man would call each living creature, that became its name.”
8. How did Adam misuse his free will, and what was the result?
8 Jehovah gave Adam the responsibility to make the earth into a paradise by telling him: “Be fruitful and become many, fill the earth and subdue it, and have in subjection the fish of the sea and the flying creatures of the heavens and every living creature that is moving on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28) But Adam chose to eat the forbidden fruit, and by doing so he ignored the limits that Jehovah had set. Because Adam misused his free will, humans have suffered for thousands of years. (Romans 5:12) Let us remember the serious consequences of Adam’s decision. That will motivate us to use our freedom in a good way and accept the limits Jehovah has given us.
The Israelites chose to become God’s people and accepted the limits God set
9. What choice did Jehovah give his people, Israel, and what did they promise to do?
9 All humans have inherited imperfection and death from Adam and Eve. However, we still have the right to use the gift of free will. We can see that by the way God treated the nation of Israel. Jehovah gave them the choice to become his special property or not. (Exodus 19:3-6) The nation chose to become God’s people and accepted the limits God set. They said: “All that Jehovah has spoken, we are willing to do.” (Exodus 19:8) Sadly, the people later chose to break their promise to Jehovah. We can learn an important lesson from that example. Let us always treasure our gift of free will and continue to stick close to Jehovah and obey his laws.
10. What examples in Hebrews chapter 11 prove that imperfect humans can use their free will to honor God? (See opening picture.)
10 In Hebrews chapter 11, we find the names of 16 faithful men and women who chose to respect the limits set by Jehovah. As a result, they received many blessings and a wonderful hope for the future. For example, Noah had great faith and chose to obey God’s instructions to build an ark to save his own family and future generations. (Hebrews 11:7) Abraham and Sarah willingly obeyed God and went to the land He had promised to give them. Even though they had the “opportunity to return” to the city of Ur, they focused on God’s promises for the future. The Bible says that they were “reaching out for a better place.” (Hebrews 11:8, 13, 15, 16) Moses rejected the treasures of Egypt and chose “to be mistreated with the people of God rather than to have the temporary enjoyment of sin.” (Hebrews 11:24-26) Let us imitate the faith of those men and women and appreciate our gift of free will, using it to do God’s will.
11. (a) What is one of the greatest blessings of free will? (b) What motivates you to use your free will in a good way?
11 It might seem easier to have someone else make decisions for us, but then we would never experience one of the greatest blessings of free will. What is that? The Bible explains at Deuteronomy 30:19, 20. (Read.) In verse 19, we read that God gave the Israelites a choice. In verse 20, we learn that Jehovah gave them a chance to show how much they loved him. We too can choose to worship Jehovah. And we also have a unique chance to use our gift of free will to honor Jehovah and show how much we love him!
DO NOT MISUSE 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 would you feel if he threw your gift into the trash or, even worse, used the gift to harm someone? You would feel hurt. Jehovah has given us the gift of free will. So he must feel hurt when he sees people misuse their freedom and make bad choices or harm others. The Bible said that in “the last days,” men would be “unthankful.” (2 Timothy 3:1, 2) So how can we show that we are thankful for our precious gift from Jehovah? And how can we avoid misusing it?
13. What is one way we can avoid misusing our Christian freedom?
13 All of us have the freedom to choose our friends, our dress and grooming, and our entertainment. However, we could use our freedom as an excuse to make choices that God does not like or to follow the trends of people in the world. (Read 1 Peter 2:16.) Instead of using our freedom as an opportunity to do what is wrong, we should use it as an opportunity to “do all things for God’s glory.”
14. Why do we need to trust in Jehovah when we use our free will?
14 Jehovah said: “I, Jehovah, am your God, the One teaching you to benefit yourself, the One guiding you in the way you should walk.” (Isaiah 48:17) We need to trust in Jehovah and accept the limits he has set so that we can make good choices. We humbly admit that “man’s way does not belong to him. It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step.” (Jeremiah 10:23) Both Adam and the unfaithful Israelites chose to reject the limits Jehovah had set and instead relied on themselves. Let us learn from their bad example. Instead of relying on ourselves, let us “trust in Jehovah with all [our] heart.”
RESPECTING THE FREE WILL OF OTHERS
15. What do we learn from the principle found at Galatians 6:5?
15 We must also respect the freedom 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 decisions. This includes decisions about our conduct and worship. Remember the principle found at Galatians 6:5. (Read.) When we recognize that each Christian is responsible for his own decisions, we will respect the freedom that others have to use their free will.
16, 17. (a) How did free will become an issue in Corinth? (b) How did Paul help those Christians, and what lesson does this teach us?
16 Let us consider a Bible example that shows why we need to respect our brothers’ free will. Christians in the Corinthian congregation argued about eating meat that may have been offered to idols but that was later sold in a meat market. The conscience of some Christians allowed them to eat the meat because they knew that an idol was nothing. However, others who used to worship such idols felt that eating the meat would be like doing an act of worship. (1 Corinthians 8:4, 7) This was a serious problem that could have divided the congregation. How did Paul help the Christians to solve this important issue?
17 First, Paul reminded both groups that food would not strengthen their friendship with God. (1 Corinthians 8:8) Next, Paul warned them not to allow their “right to choose” to hurt the conscience of those who were weak. (1 Corinthians 8:9) Later, he told those with a sensitive conscience not to judge those who chose to eat such meat. (1 Corinthians 10:25, 29, 30) So in important situations related to worship, each Christian needed to make his own decision. Should we not also respect our brothers’ freedom to make personal decisions even in smaller matters?
18. How will you show that you treasure your gift of free will?
18 Jehovah has given us the gift of free will, which brings us true freedom. (2 Corinthians 3:17) We treasure this gift because it allows us to make decisions that show how much we love Jehovah. So let us continue to make choices that honor him, and let us respect others’ right to choose the way they use this precious gift.