Free Moral Choice

a. Paul’s vision concerning outreach to Asia: In Acts 16:6 Paul and his mission team evidently determined to personally go into Asia to preach. However, “they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia.” They thus changed plans and decided to go into Bithynia, a province of Asia. However, “the Spirit did not permit them” (At 16:7).

The reason the Spirit did not want them to go to these areas is discovered in Acts 19:8-10. The Spirit foreknew that Paul would later have the opportunity to indirectly preach to all Asia through the medium of teaching in the school of Tyrannus.

In Acts 16:9 Paul was given a vision that detoured him to Macedonia. However, he had a choice even concerning this vision. He could have disobeyed. The Spirit allowed him to exercise his free-moral choice by giving instructions in the vision to go into Macedonia. But this did not mean that Paul had to obey the vision. The fact that the vision to go to Macedonia was given in a vision assumes that he was only given the opportunity to go. He had to make the decision to go.

The fact that the Spirit “forbade” and “did not permit” in the above context concerning Asia and Bithynia indicates that something other than inner nudges and inclinations were used to detour Paul’s plans. The fact that a vision was given to direct him to the correct location is also evidence that the Spirit guarded Paul’s free-moral choices by giving him knowledge through vision by which he could make a decision. The Spirit simply did not force him to do anything.

b. Paul’s vision concerning obedience to his call: Later in his life, Paul stood before King Agrippa and stated concerning a vision that led to his conversion as recorded in Acts 9: “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision” (At 26:19). In order for Paul not to be disobedient to the vision, he must have had the freedom to make a choice concerning the vision.

Therefore, in reference to any vision, the beholder could make a choice. Free-moral choice was not violated in the case of Paul in either Acts 9 or 16. In both situations Paul had a choice as to whether he would obey or disobey the visions.

c. Paul’s vision concerning travel to Jerusalem: At the end of his missionary journeys, Paul was returned to Jerusalem for a final visit. He came to Tyre. The disciples there “told Paul through the Spirit not to go up to Jerusalem” (At 21:4). Nevertheless, Paul continued on to Jerusalem. He then came to Caesarea. The prophet Agabus came down from Judea, and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit …” (At 21:11). Agabus then gave Paul a symbolic prophecy that he would be delivered into the hands of the Gentiles in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, and against the Spirit’s warnings and counsel, Paul free-morally chose to go to Jerusalem.

It was in Jerusalem that he was eventually arrested. In this case, Paul was allowed by the Holy Spirit to exercise his free-moral agency. He was given the knowledge concern­ing his future, but he was left with a choice as to what he would do in reference to the knowledge that came from the Holy Spirit.

From what happen on Paul’s way out of Caesarea, we learn that he was not even moved emotionally within himself to change his mind. Though the pleading of the brethren in Caesarea for him not to go to Jerusalem certainly touched him, he still went to Jerusalem (At 21:13,14­). It is clear, therefore, that he was not controlled directly by the Holy Spirit. In fact, he went on to Jerusalem and was arrested. However, the Lord stood by him with the comfort­ing words, “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome” (At 23:11).

The conclusion to the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of Paul would be that though Paul was often led by the Spirit on different occasions, he was not directly controlled in his behavior by the Holy Spirit. When a vision was given to him, he still maintained the freedom to make a decision concerning what to do. In his decisions, he always followed the direction of the Spirit to accom­plish his ministry (See At 9:15). At other times when it involved his personal safety, he chose to go on his own accord, though he was forewarned by the Spirit. In reference to his moral behavior, he was left to be a true free-moral individual.

Paul would conclude this point for us with the following words: “But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disquali­fied” (1 Co 9:27). Though Paul preached the inspired message of the gospel, he was still free-morally responsible to live by that which he preached.

In the same context of obedience he exhorted Timothy, “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Tm 4:16). Though this thought seems to scare some, the fact is that these free-moral men were left on their own to do what Paul had told the Philippians, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Ph 2:12). When it comes to moral behavior in reference to our salvation, every Christian is responsible for himself. And because we are responsible for ourselves, God will remain just in judgment if we are “disqualified.”

[Next in series: May15]

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