The Root of Free Will

When we discuss Calvinism and the question of “free will” comes about, it is helpful to break things down for the sake of clarity. It may be helpful to start with human action and move backwards to consider what determines a person’s action. The point of this post is to demonstrate what the root of our actions is. It is not about “free agency” but about the root of our free actions. The term “free will” is often used rather sloppily, in general terms. Yet the Calvinist and the non-Calvinist often mean something different by the term. I find the term helpfully defined in many places but for the sake of this post John Murray’s will be used

the will of man is regarded as autonomous and undetermined, and capable of volition good or bad, apart from any previous conditioning by our moral and religious character (Murray, Collected Writings, 2.60)

Murray provides a helpful breakdown to show the point that the root of our will is our heart.
1. The reality of human action is a basic (but important point) that affirms fallen humanity having the real power to act. Persons are really able to perform certain actions that occur on their power and it is not an illusion but a true and real action.

2. The responsibility of human action affirms that when humanity acts there is a consequence (negative or positive). As humanity is made in the image of God, our actions must comport to that likeness we bear. This places us under a moral law full of obligations, ought and naughts so to say. The law that reflects the character of our maker is a law that we all know, as it is part of who we are. The law is part of our “encoding” since we are made in the image of God.

3 The freedom of human action affirms that those actions for which persons are accountable to, under the moral law, occur as a result of ones own volition. In other words, a person chooses or wills to act before the act is executed. It seems rather obvious if a person does not desire or will to execute an act they will not bring it about freely. We are responsible for our actions because we did them and we wanted to do them.

4. The determination of volition brings up the next question. What moves our will? A person’s will is powered and exercised by their character. A persons character is their “habitus”. The “habitus” is that whole complex of desires, motives, and principles. In Scripture this “dispositional complex” is called the heart.

“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”
(Proverbs 4:23 ESV)
And Jesus is the one who says
“You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.”
(Matthew 12:34–35 ESV)
“For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery,coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.”
(Mark 7:21–22 ESV)

Scripture has made the point clearly throughout that the heart is the fountain of good and evil from a person. Our will is moved by our character which is determined by our “heart” according to Scripture. The non-biblical term would be our “inward disposition”. The grace of the Gospel is that it takes our heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh.