If someone asks if we have free will, you should ask at least two questions first:

  1. Who do you mean by “we”?
  2. What do you mean by “free will”?

Those aren’t just academic questions. Without clarifying definitions and distinctions, the discussion can’t get off the ground.

The reason we need to define “we” is that the answer changes along the lines of redemptive history, with humanity being in one of four stages:

  • created
  • fallen
  • redeemed
  • glorified

The reason we need to define “freedom” is that there are at least two very different ways to define the term:

  • True freedom would be “the ability to love and serve God unhindered by sin” (Robert Peterson, Election and Free Will, 131).
  • Freedom of choice or spontaneity is “the ability of human beings to do as they wish” (Peterson, Election and Free Will, 126).

Using Peterson’s discussion, I put together the following chart:

True Freedom Freedom of Choice
Created Possessed Possessed
Fallen Lost Retained
Redeemed Regained a measure Retained
Glorified Perfected Retained


This can also be mapped unto an older taxonomy using Latin nomenclature to describe differing relationships to moral ability:

Humans before the fall able to sin,
able not to sin
posse peccare,
posse non peccare
Humans after the fall not able not to sin non posse non peccare
Humans after redemption able not to sin posse non peccare
Humans after glorification not able to sin non posse peccare


So to answer the question, start by asking a couple of your own, then introduce these definitions and distinctions.