I received the following question:

I find myself getting into a lot of debates on the topic of Free Will. Do you know of any slam-dunk verses supporting Free-Will?  By slam-dunk I mean like Acts 13:2 is for non-trinitarians.  A verse where there is no way to weasel out of it.  It just shuts them up, as Jesus would shut up the Pharisees.

Thanks for the question.

Well, as you know, it is difficult to pin anyone down to a truth when they do not want to hear it. I would say the best way, perhaps, would be to point out instances where what God states His will is did not come to pass through the refusal of men. One such example is Matthew 23:37, which states, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” The Lord here expresses a desire that did not come about due to the unwillingness (because of the free will) of the men of Jerusalem.

Another passage which shows free will in action is Jeremiah 32:35.

And they built the high places of Baal which are in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire to Molech, which I did not command them, nor did it come into My mind that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin.

Here, the Lord reveals that the wicked actions of Judah were an exercise of their free will, for what they did was not only not the command of God, but it had never even entered His mind to do such a thing until these wicked men invented it. So the exercise of free will resulted here in wicked men thinking of something that God had never thought about.

Ultimately, you cannot “force” anyone to come to your way of thinking, even by a “killer verse.” They just come back with their favorite verses to express their way of thinking. In the case of those who deny free will, these are usually badly translated to make their ideas look more probable. As far as shutting them up, this is hard to do when they are insisting on something that is already so counter to reality. If one would point out, for example, Joshua 24:15, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve,” they would just say that it appears like they had a choice, but really God had already made the choice for them.

You could try a verse like Malachi 2:9 where God talks about people not walking in His ways. But then I suppose they would come back with talking about God’s sovereign will versus His perfect will or His permissive will and things like that. Ultimately, they have built a pretty complicated way of wiggling out of any difficulty. I think you will have trouble pinning them down with any knock-out verse. Probably the best strategy is to show them that the verses they rely on are not really saying what they think they are saying. But it is doubtful that even that will shut them up. This view seems to largely depend on reasoning about what they think God should be like, rather than on Biblical evidence anyway. I don’t think there is any easy knock-out punch on this one.

Thanks again for the good question.