Do we as Christians have free will? Do we have a choice whether or not we follow God? Can we fall away from God, once we have been saved? All these questions can be answered by looking at Scripture and looking deeper into the context of God’s word. So let us begin our study of free will and falling away.
First, we must establish the definition of free will. A basic understanding of the principle of free will can be described as having a choice of our decisions, actions, and thoughts. We control our own thoughts, actions, and decisions. No one else does. Now that we have a basic understanding of free will, let’s look at what God says concerning the topic.
The first idea we must realize is that God gives us a choice as to whether or not we follow Him. God does not make that decision for us. We, as His creation, are given a choice of following Him, or not following Him. Jesus makes this very clear in John 7:17 which says, “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own”. Here we see that following God is a choice. We see the statement begin with an “if” and follow it with a “chooses”. Both words describing an event that does not have to take place. In this case, the event is choosing to do God’s will, or in other words, following Him. We see that we have a choice also in Joshua 24:15 which says, “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”. We clearly see a choice being given. Joshua tells the Israelites they can serve whomever they choose, but Joshua makes it clear that his household will serve the Lord, again, another choice. We must also realize, however, that we must make a choice. Romans 8:12-13 says, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” We see a choice here, we can either live by the flesh, or by this world. Or we can live by the Spirit. We must make that choice. So we can conclude that all people have a choice in whether or not they follow God. It is not a pre-determined event.
But what about falling away? Once we choose to serve God but we indulge in the ways of Satan and distance ourselves from God, can we really fall away? Are we ever “not with God” so to speak, once we’ve been saved? Or is it because we were saved once, we don’t have to worry about falling away? Thankfully, we don’t have to wonder about these questions. God gives us the answers.
In his first letter written to Timothy, Paul comes right out and clears this question up. In 1 Timothy 4:1 Paul writes, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons,”. Here, Paul is saying that the Spirit says that some will depart from the faith, in other words, fall away. It is interesting to note that Paul says that the “Spirit” itself says these things. We know that all of Scripture is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16). So why put an emphasis on God saying these things here? Perhaps we will never know, but it can be inferred accurately that this was an important message, a warning from God. It was a warning against falling away from the faith and falling away from God. So if we believe that we can’t fall away, we must ask ourselves this question, ‘Why would God warn us about something that can’t happen?’, ‘Why would He warn us about falling away if it was impossible to do so?’. The simple answer is this. We can fall away, beloved, and we can thank God that He warns us about it.
Another example would be James 5:19-20 which says, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”. How can someone save a soul from wandering away from the faith, if their soul is already saved? The answer is, they weren’t with God if they were away from the truth. They had fallen away.
The good news is, if you’re a Christian, yet have fallen away from God, there is hope. That hope comes from grace and repentance. Revelation 2:5 says, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” We must turn from the path we are on, and turn to the One who saves, God Almighty. 1 John 1:9 promises, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” If we confess our sins and repent, God will forgive us and we will be with Him once again. 1 Corinthians 10:12 tells us, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” Therefore, we must remember that we can fall away and we must always be on guard.