Ultimate Free will—Free not to be able to sin

As I committed to reading through Calvin’s Institutes with a friend, in honour of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017, I thought it would be worth jotting down some bits that I found particularly interesting. Here’s the quote for today:

To us it is given both to will and to be able. The original freedom [of Adam] was to be able not to sin; but ours is much greater, not to be able to sin.

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 2, 3.13

Many people are grumpy against Calvin for his view on free will—allegedly beacuse he opposes all free will of humans. Regardless of what you’ve heard about him or his namesake people (Calvinists), it’s worth thinking through this quote, because it’s actually talking about the goal of the Christian life—truly being free of sin.

Before the fall in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve were the picture of freedom. And they actually had free will—theirs was the freedom to do good things, and the freedom to rebel against God. But we see in their rebellion in Genesis 3 that creation is broken. Adam and Eve and every subsequent human now are bound in their rebellion towards God.

Isn’t this something we long to be freed from? Imagine living life where you can actually do the good things you want to do instead of messing things up all the time. Where it’s not hard to do the right thing, in fact, everyone does it!

But something even better than that is coming: The freedom to not be able to sin. It seems odd, doesn’t it, that we would be restricted in some ways to enjoy our freedom. But really it’s the ultimate culmination of our hearts desires, as everyone who spends eternity with Jesus will be overjoyed at the prospect! Everything that we feel and want to do, we can do. There’s no option even of messing it up like Adam and Eve did, which is why Calvin calls ours a much greater freedom. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain [Revelation 21:4].

Maybe some of you would then ask “Why didn’t God create Adam and Eve in that kind of environment and skip the pain in the middle?” I have my thoughts on it, but if I knew the complete answer to that, I think every other mystery of the universe would already have been revealed.


Malcolm Purdey is a Christian, husband, father, student minister and science nerd. He completed a PhD in Chemistry and worked as a research scientist before making the jump into ministry in early 2017. He has been married for 5 years and has two daughters aged 3 and 1.

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