In speaking about man and man’s will, we should always keep in mind that, as human beings, we have a free will. This means that man is self-governed; man has an independent will. Whatever is not approved by him cannot be forced upon him, and whatever he opposes cannot be pressed upon him. Having a free will means that man has his own opinion. Man is not a machine to be maneuvered by others. All the actions of a man are controlled by himself. Within man there is a will. This will controls the things within and without. Man is not like a machine to be controlled by any power from outside. Within man there are governing principles that decide man’s conduct for him.
This was the condition at the time of God’s creation of man. God created a man, not a machine. God told him, "Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: 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" (Gen. 2:16-17). In these verses we can only see God’s command with persuasion and prohibition, but without compulsion. If Adam would have been willing to obey and not eat, it would have been Adam who so willed. When Adam became disobedient and ate, there was no way for God to stop him. This is free will. God put the responsibility of eating or not eating on man and allowed man to choose according to his free will. God did not create an Adam who could not sin, who could not disobey, or who could not steal. This would have made man a machine. God could advise, prohibit, and command, but the responsibility to obey was upon man. Because of His love, God cannot help but command in advance. But because of His righteousness, God will not force man to do anything that he is not willing to do. If man wants to obey God, it must be man himself who is willing; God will not force him. God may use many ways to make man willing, but unless man consents, God will not do anything to force him.
This is a very important principle. As we will see later, God’s work never goes against this principle, even though the work of evil spirits’ does. Therefore, we can differentiate what is of God and what is not.
THE FALL AND SALVATION
Man fell. This fall did great damage to man’s free will. In the universe, on that day, it can be said that there were two great opposing wills. On the one hand, there was the holy, good will of God; on the other hand, there was the filthy, rebellious will of Satan. Between these two wills, there was the autonomous, independent, free will of man. When man listened to the word of the devil and disobeyed God, it seemed that he was answering God’s will with an eternal "no" and answering the devil’s will with an eternal "yes." Man’s will became the slave of the devil after the fall because he exercised his own will to choose the devil’s will. All of his activities became subject to the will of the devil. As long as man does not overthrow this initial surrender, his will is bound by the devil.
In man’s fall, his position and condition became totally of the flesh. This flesh is corrupt to the uttermost. Hence, man’s will, like his other faculties, is controlled by the flesh. In this dark situation, nothing that issues from man’s will can please God. Even if man wants to seek after God, his activities remain in the realm of the flesh; they have no spiritual value. When he is in this condition, he can serve God in many ways according to his own ideas, but all these are merely "self- imposed" means of worshipping (Col. 2:23), and they are unacceptable to God.
Unless man receives God’s new life and serves God in this new life, his activities are of the flesh no matter how he serves. Even if he has the intention to work for God and suffer for God, it is altogether vain. If man is not saved, his will may aspire for the high things; it may be toward good and toward God, but it is still useless because in God’s eyes it is not a matter of how the fallen will wants to work for Him, but a matter of how He wants man to work for Him. Man may initiate and prepare many good works; he may think that this is serving God, but if the works are not initiated and carried out by God, man is just worshipping his own will!
(Spiritual Man, The (3 volume set), Chapter 35, by Watchman Nee)