Are we ever free to choose?

It used to worry me when my kids watched horror movies. But they weren’t the least bit perturbed. “Don’t worry, Dad,” one of them told me, “I can handle it.” And obviously in his mind he thought he could. He talked as if he had complete control.

Paul, however, talked as if we have no control over our minds at all, because we’re constantly being influenced – even controlled – by other forces. He called one of those forces “my sinful nature,” Romans 7:18, and it was so powerful in him that even though he wanted to do good he could never carry it out without some ugly, self-centred motive spoiling it for him. And Paul hated it. But there was no escape, his sinful nature had him by the nose.

But Paul talked of another force too, the Holy Spirit. And he talked to Christians in terms of this force being in control of them instead. “You, however,” Romans 8:9, “are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.” And the Spirit is so powerful that it overrides the sinful nature. According to Paul, it can even completely set us free from the “law that wages war in our minds” that’s always messing up our motives. No longer, therefore, do we have to “live according to the sinful nature but (instead) according to the Spirit,” verse 4.

And how the Spirit does that for us is by setting our minds on what it desires, not on what the sinful nature desires, verse 5 – “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” The “set” of the mind changes with the Spirit. It’s set on “life and peace” mode (verse 6), enabling us to “put to death the misdeeds of the body,” or kill off all those awful thoughts and questionnable motives that wrecked our life and peace before, verse 13. They have no control over us anymore.

Our minds are now tuned to a different frequency. And we find ourselves with a completely different mind. It even loves God. But now our minds are actually capable of love, unadulterated by selfish motives. And it’s all being done for us by the Spirit.

So are we ever free to choose? Not really, because as non-Christians our sinful nature had control of us, and as Christians the Spirit has control of us. But with the Spirit in control we can be good without any selfish motive messing things up for us.


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