The Will of Man

The Misunderstanding


By Dr. Ken Matto


Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.  (John 1:13)


There seems to be a major confusion in Christianity concerning the will of man.  Many believe that the will of man has no limitations but that is not what the Bible teaches.  It is not a question whether man has a will because all humans have a will and they can exercise faith within that will.  The faith along with the will has limitations in the unsaved individual.  The will is part of the intelligence factor which man was given at creation but now darkened by sin so the question is not whether a person has a will but the question is “Is the will of man free and alive or is it dead?”


The word “will” found in the New Testament is the word “thelēma” which means “will, desire, determination, decree, pleasure, purpose, inclination.”  The word is used 64 times and is translated “will” 62 times, “desires” 1 time and “pleasure” 1 time.


To understand the limitations of the will of man we must go back to what happened in the Garden of Eden.  God had instructed Adam and Eve that they had free reign over the Garden and could eat from any tree they wanted to.  This was the only time that humans had free will because sin had not yet entered into the world.  So there were no limitations and because they were not affected by sin, and without sin there was no need for salvation, since they were already in a blissful state in right relationship with God. 


{16} And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:  {17} But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.  (Genesis 2:16-17)


So we read above that they had free reign of the Garden and the warning included death if they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  So now after Eve was created, Satan then comes to her tempting her and she eats of the forbidden fruit and then gives it to Adam, and lo and behold, they were banished from the Garden and under the sentence of death.  Now we know from the Scriptures that there were two deaths which took place at that time.  The first was spiritual death which caused the great separation between Adam and God and that is why an animal had to be killed to make them aprons of clothing which was an early prophecy of the death of Christ on Calvary for his people.  Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)  (Ephesians 2:5)  In Ephesians 2:5 and also other places we read that we were dead in sins which was the direct result of the sin of Adam and Eve.  The word behind “dead” is “nekróus” which means “lifeless, dead, useless.”  So now man was plunged into a state of spiritual death.  But God raised him from the dead:  (Acts 13:30)  The same word used to describe the deadness of unsaved man is used to describe Christ’s condition in the tomb, that of total deadness so there is no mistake in interpretation.  The other death in view was physical death which did not happen at that moment but the mechanics of death were now at work in Adam and Eve which was the aging process that every human being on earth is subject to, both rich and poor.  The aging process begins at conception and ends with physical death.


Now once sin had taken hold of Adam and Eve, they were now in a state of sin meaning they were in darkness because of sin and this penalty was now handed down from one human being to another.  Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart:  (Ephesians 4:18)  Now that man was in sin, understanding which comes through the intellect was now darkened and coupling that with spiritual death, they could no longer have spiritual fellowship with God unless something takes place first.  That something is spiritual resurrection which I will discuss later in this article.


In the condition of spiritual death, you cannot have a relationship with God because you lack spiritual connection.  God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.  (John 4:24)  God is a Spirit and a spiritually dead person cannot fellowship with one who is spiritually alive.  If you are in a cemetery alone, will you be able to hear the people in the graves praying?  The answer is no.  Why? Because they are dead and that is why God does not hear the prayer of the unbeliever.  The living do not hear because those who are praying are dead!


Since man walked into the state of spiritual death other things took place too.  Limitations were now placed on man and those limitations were intellect, understanding, physical, faith and will or determination.  To those who think we do not have limitations, ponder this for a minute.  When you go to sleep tonight and while you are waiting to fall asleep you have a little time frame till that happens, think on this one thing and see if you can process it, “The Lord Jesus Christ had no beginning…” Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.  (Hebrews 7:3)  You will then find out how limited you are.


Now since we are in a sinful state with limitations, we still have a will and we still have faith.  However, both of these are now tied to this earth.  Just as Adam and Eve immediately died spiritually but not physically, that was passed on to every human being.  Before salvation, we are in that condition.  We have physical life but we do not have spiritual life.  The will of man is now limited to the things that we can see, that is, this earth.  Of my own will I can buy whatever car I want, wear whatever clothes I want, live where I want, partake in hobbies that I want, etc.  All the things that we will are all tied only to this earth.  In the same manner we have faith but it too is limited to the things of this earth.  I have faith when I sit on a chair it will not break, I have faith when I drive a car that it will not break down, I have faith that my job will still be their tomorrow, I have faith that food I eat in a restaurant will not poison me.  So we have faith but it is severely limited to the things of this world.  So two questions remain, how do I become saved?  How do I cross the barrier from the corporeal world to the spiritual world?  The answer is simple, you don’t because you can’t!


{12} But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:  {13} Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.  (John 1:12-13)


In John 1:12-13, we are given the way a person becomes born again, that is, spiritually alive.  Those who receive him, not accept him, are given the power, that is, the authority to become the sons of God.  To become a son of God (and that includes daughters) first of all they are not born of blood.  That means because your parents or siblings are saved or your father is a minister does not mean you are automatically saved by your relationship to them.  A person cannot be born again of the will of the flesh, since the fall, the flesh contains only sinful tendencies.  The Apostle Paul knew that well and so do we!  For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.  (Romans 7:18)


Then we cannot be born of the will of man because we see above that the will of man is now tied to the earth because of indwelling sin which has darkened our horizons to the eternal.  Have you ever been to a funeral of an unbeliever where instead of seeing the seriousness of the fact that a person just died and will soon face the Judgment Seat of Christ and then be sentenced to eternal damnation that it is like a party atmosphere?  Have you ever heard statements  like “go to hell,” or “What the hell do you care” or how about this one “For Christ’s Sake?”  Both Christ and Hell are beyond the earthly horizon of man so instead of taking them seriously, they use them as swear words.  If the horizon of unsaved man had the ability to see beyond the physical, they would not take each of those I mentioned and use them in a cynical manner.  Then the final part of this verse speaks about the fact that salvation is “of God.”  But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD.  (Jonah 2:9)  Jonah knew salvation was of the LORD in the Old Testament.


The big question remains as to how does a person who is steeped in spiritual darkness and spiritual death become saved?  We saw that the will of man cannot accomplish this.  We saw the will of the flesh cannot accomplish this.  We saw that being born into a Christian family cannot accomplish this but only God can save a person.


{25} When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?  {26} But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.  (Matthew 19:25-26)


In Matthew 19:25-26, the disciples were bewildered concerning who can be saved.  Then Jesus answers their query and tells them in plain terms that with man as the starting point of salvation it would be impossible especially based upon what we just read in John 1:12-13.  Then Jesus continues and states that “with God all things are possible.”  God is the one who brings salvation to people, he initiates it and completes it.  All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.  (John 6:37)  Notice in John 6:37, it states the God the Father is the one who gives the true believer to the Lord Jesus Christ and he will never cast us out.


So we have read plainly that the will of man cannot accomplish salvation, even initiating it.  Now the next misunderstanding concerning the will of man is the area of faith.  We have already looked at the fact that because of original sin, faith has also been reduced to being tied to this world.  So then how does one have faith to believe?


But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,  (Galatians 5:22)  We read plainly in Galatians 5:22 that one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is Faith.  Which means that a person must have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them to receive the fruit of faith.  For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.  (Romans 1:17)  Romans 1:17, if you recall, as the catalyst for the Reformation and speaks to the fact that the “Just” shall live by faith, that is, the true Christian.  We read before about the limited faith of the unbeliever and they too live faith to faith but only on a secular level.  When God saves us, we then order our lives by faith in him and that is why we go from faith to faith and not works to works because works cannot save us.  Once we have the Holy Spirit indwelling us we are able to have faith in God and to believe.  In other words, before we can believe and exercise the faith of Romans 1:17, we must be already saved.  So if I am to be saved before I believe then how is that accomplished if I do not initiate it?


I am glad you asked.  Since a person is in a state of spiritual deadness and unable to raise themselves, then something must happen within us to elevate us from spiritual death to spiritual life.  In Revelation 20:5-6 there is a scenario which is overlooked about 99.5% of the time.


{5} But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.  {6} Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.  (Revelation 20:5-6)


Notice in verse 5 it states “This is the first resurrection.”  Now dispensationalists look at this and claim it is the rapture.  This is an erroneous teaching.  The understanding of the first resurrection is found in verse 6.  It speaks about those who had part in the first resurrection being blessed and holy which describes what the believer becomes because of salvation.  Then the next phrase gives us the insight as to what this is speaking about.  “On such the second death has no power” speaks about the first resurrection removing the power of the second death.  The first death is physical death. The second death is eternal damnation.  Since we have received our resurrected souls which is the first resurrection we are passed from death unto life, the second death has no power in the life of the believer.  Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.  (John 5:24)  The first resurrection is the resurrection of our dead souls unto eternal life which is personal and specific in the life of those God calls and the second resurrection will be on the last day when all believers and unbelievers will be raised if they have physically died before the Lord returns.  No person on earth can will either the first or second resurrection.  Lazarus couldn’t will his own physical resurrection and no person can will their own spiritual resurrection.  Lazarus was dead and could do absolutely nothing to raise himself in the tomb, it had to be done from an outside source and that outside source was the Lord Jesus Christ.  Same with us, we are saved not from within because we saw that the only thing within unsaved man is death and sin, and therefore our spiritual resurrection must come from an outside source and that is God himself who raises us to newness of life.  Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.  (Romans 6:4)  So let us capsulize the salvation which the LORD has given us as a gift.


Sins are Removed

{13} And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;  {14} Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;  (Colossians 2:13-14)


We have assurance of Salvation and can now Believe on Christ

These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.  (1 John 5:13)


We now have Faith that reaches beyond the earthly Horizon

For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.  (Galatians 3:26)


A Place in Heaven is Reserved for You

To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,  (1 Peter 1:4)


We are Kings and Priests

And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.  (Revelation 5:10)



The salvation God gave us gives us assurance, faith beyond earth, a place reserved in Heaven, and we are made kings and priests.  This salvation was planned before the foundation of the world by God and a person actually thinks their “free will” has accomplished all this?  It is the height of arrogance to believe that a person can initiate their own salvation from a position of total deadness.  God is the one who planned this all out for his children and no amount of earthbound will or faith will ever grasp that gift.

There are two types of wills.  The first is the will of unsaved man tied to this world and the second is the will of God implanted in the true believer at the point of salvation.  There are two types of faith.  The first is the limited faith of the unbeliever tied to this world and the second is the unlimited faith tied to the eternal God.