Can We Be Free in Heaven and Yet Not Sin?

I read an account of a Christian on a college campus who was posed this question:

If evil and sin are the result of mankind’s free will, then why is it that people in heaven will have free will, but not sin? God made angels, and they do not sin. Why could it not be the case that God could have made humans that do not sin?

As the story goes, the Christian was struggling with the answer to the question.

I do not know the Christian named in this story, nor was I there at the time, so I am not posting their name here. However, it does not surprise me that many Christians would struggle with questions such as these, for Christians have too long not delved deeply into wrestling with such issues or seeking to give answers.

As to the last question, whether God could have made a world where people are free yet never choose evil, there is a way to answer this by investigating every logical possibility of mankind, freedom, and choice. I have given a lengthy response to that (see here). In short, the only way to achieve the greatest possible good is to allow people the freedom to choose whether or not to sin, and when given such a choice, sin will be chosen inevitably.

But regarding the first question, whether or not people in heaven will have free will yet choose not to sin, there is another aspect of this. Here I will give a long quote from Norman Geisler’s Systematic Theology:

[In heaven,] our freedom will be perfected. While all freedom involves self-determination, in order to test His creatures, God also gave them the freedom to do otherwise, that is the (libertarian) power of contrary choice. This freedom is still retained in fallen humans; however, it will not exist in heaven, where our freedom will be perfect and made more like God’s.  Being absolutely perfect, God does not have the freedom to do evil (Heb. 6:18; James 1:13). Likewise, at the Beatific Vision, when we behold absolute Goodness, we too will no longer be able to sin.

Now, by God’s grace we are able not to sin (1 Cor. 10:13), but then we will be not able to sin. This is not the loss of true freedom but the actualization of it. Perfect freedom is not the freedom of being in bondage to sin; instead, it is the freedom of being delivered from sin. Again, heaven, like marriage, is not the deprivation of freedom but the fulfillment of it. We will one day be delivered from bondage, including bondage to Satan. (3.242-243)

Knowledge of God is knowledge of an infinite good; once one directly sees infinite good, it will no longer be possible for him to do evil, for to be directly informed in one’s mind by absolute good is to become completely conformed to it. Hence, the Beatific Vision makes sin impossible. Just as seeing absolute beauty will spoil one forever from longing for anything ugly, likewise, beholding the absolutely holy will overpower any attraction to or desire for the unholy.

Though heaven makes sin impossible, it does not destroy but instead  fulfills our freedom. Heaven completes our freedom to completely love God, just as (analogously) marriage here on earth frees us to love the one to whom we belong. True freedom is not the freedom to do evil, but the freedom to do good. The essence of free will is self-determination, and if one’s self chooses to do only the good, then the fulfillment of it in a place where only good can be done is not the destruction of freedom, but the fulfillment of it.

God is both free and unable to sin; it will be likewise for us when we become most godlike, for the perfection of our freedom is the freedom from sinning, not the freedom of sinning. The best freedom is the freedom to do the best; beholding and loving the absolute best (which makes sin impossible) is the best thing we can ever do. (4.306-307)

Perhaps an analogy will help. A man is free to take drugs, but if he becomes an addict, he is enslaved to the drug. True freedom will then be the freedom not to take the drug. Likewise, we are slaves of sin (John 8:34) but true freedom will set us free from the bondage of sin (Romans 6:17).

If you would like an even more simple explanation, one rooted in Jonathan Edwards, think of this: When we are glorified in heaven, God will give us a new desire. We will not desire to sin, even though we are free.

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About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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38 Responses to Can We Be Free in Heaven and Yet Not Sin?

  1. Nate says:

    I’m sorry, but this isn’t a real explanation. It’s just word games.

    If God can give us “perfect freedom”, which means we won’t want to sin, then he still could have done that from the get-go. And all “perfect freedom” really means is an inability to sin, which is exactly what the atheist in the beginning of your post was talking about. His question still hasn’t been answered. And it’s no surprise, because there isn’t a sufficient answer for it.

    Heaven, as it’s been described in the Bible, is a place without sin and where the saved reside for eternity. In such a place, we can’t have free will, or we would eventually sin — this of course is how theists explain evil in a world created by a perfectly good god. And if people sin in Heaven, they can’t stay there, which takes away the eternity thing. IF we explain all this away by saying that it’s possible for God to create a realm in which freedom of choice will still leave sin as an impossibility, then the next logical question is why he didn’t do that to begin with. Which once again makes the existence of evil a real problem. If God could have created us in a way that gives us free will, but where we would never want to disobey him, then NOT doing that is pretty reprehensible. Such a god would not be all love and all good.

    Geisler’s explanation is ridiculous and disappointing. I actually find it hard to believe you accept it, because even though we disagree, I usually find your approach to these issues honest and reasonable.

    If I’ve misunderstood something here, let me know. But I don’t see how the original question was answered at all.

    • humblesmith says:

      Did you read the post on the link near the beginning of this post?

      • Nate says:

        Yes, I did. I also read it when you first posted it in August. The scenario Geisler gives above — about a “perfect freedom” — is not one of the 6 possible realities that you listed in that post.

    • humblesmith says:

      Don’t miss the point where he says “to be directly informed in one’s mind by absolute good is to become completely conformed to it”. This involves a change in our nature. We are informed, e.g. re-formed, to ultimate good. Such a state of ultimate good is not merely the ability to choose but something fundamentally different, a change in our nature. Ultimate good is incapable of evil. Now, we only know partial good mixed with error and are therefore capable of evil. Geisler speaks of a metaphysical change.

      • Nate says:

        Why couldn’t God have created us with this metaphysical change still in place?

        (Thanks for the replies, by the way)

        • humblesmith says:

          As for why God does things, most things we do not know why. We do not know why He created in the first place, rather than not. I can tell you why we do not have it now, which is due to the uncleaness of sin, which is antithetical to the good. We can speculate about Adam, but it is just that –speculation. Here’s mine: Adam was not in the presence of God all the time, and did not have this same in-forming of the good that Geisler speaks of. If you notice in Genesis, Adam did not sin in the presence of God, but did so when God was not visible to him.

          On a related note, the “beatific vision” which Geisler speaks is an old theological term that means seeing God as He is. When we look at beauty, we enjoy gazing at it and getting to know it for a time. Since God is infinitely beautiful, we will never tire of gazing at Him and being with Him. Just as when we love a beautiful person here on earth, we have no desire to hurt them, then when we will have no desire to hurt an infinitely beautiful Being when we are always present with Him.

          • Nate says:

            But once again, God could have created us with the “in-forming of the good” that Geisler speaks of at the very beginning. The fact that he didn’t, means God purposefully gave us a sinful nature that he could have avoided; thus, the problem of evil is still unanswered.

            This isn’t a real answer either:

            As for why God does things, most things we do not know why.

            If that’s how you really feel, then I don’t know why you’d attempt to even answer the question at the beginning of your post. There, you make it sound as though the answer is clear, so to follow it up by saying that we just don’t know why God does what he does shows that the opposite is true: the answer isn’t clear at all.

            I’m not trying to bust your chops or anything — from what I know of you, I like you a lot. You seem to be a very sincere individual, and that’s why I’m trying to help you see that there is no good answer to the question at the beginning of your post. The problem of evil is a real problem for Christianity, and the descriptions of Heaven and Hell are equally problematic. That’s a hard thing to come to terms with as a Christian — I know, because it was hard for me as well.

          • humblesmith says:

            I return the compliment. I generally cut short with those who merely want to argue and not at least try to think through the issues. You’ve been respectful.

            But come now…..are you saying that unless we know the purposes of an infinite being, we must then deem it incoherent? We are not even able to know the purposes of humans, let alone God. Why, most of us do not truly know why we do things ourselves, let alone why other people do things. We can know what they do, but determining true motives of other minds is an endless journey. Psychologists have no signs of working themselves out of a job. After all the odd theories generated by Sigmund Freud, he is oft quoted as saying, “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”

            But I’ll toss the burden of proof back to you: if God’s presence is the cause of informing of the good, then it explains Adam and heaven. The link I gave then provides every logical combination of freedom, and why the current one is essential.

            As for evil, I’m tempted to violate my own comment rule and start on that trail. I’ll just say that the worst Christians can be accused of is saying we do not know God’s purposes, but that there is one. The atheists/materialists are reduced to saying that the most heinous acts are not evil at all, merely natural forces. I’ve posted extensively on this, some of which you’ve already commented on. Just type ‘evil’ and ‘morality’ in the search box.

            Peace.

          • Nate says:

            are you saying that unless we know the purposes of an infinite being, we must then deem it incoherent?

            See, this is where I don’t think you can have it both ways. You began this post by attempting to answer the question of how free will can exist in Heaven, if free will is the cause of evil on the earth. You said that the answer was easy, because (as Geisler says) God will just give us a new kind of free will in Heaven that won’t allow us to do anything contrary to his will. How this qualifies as free will is a mystery, but it’s what you posit, nonetheless.

            It was then pointed out that this makes no sense, because if God could have done that, then he could have done it when he first created man; thereby, preventing sin from ever occurring and eliminating the need for Hell. Since God didn’t do it this way, it again brings up the question of why an all-loving, all-good God wanted evil to exist. In fact, he essentially created it himself, since he created the means for it to exist.

            To answer this, you said that we can’t understand the mind of God. If that’s your ultimate defense, then you can’t pretend to know that a form of free will exists in which we can’t choose sin, nor can you pretend to know that God would use that method, even if it did exist. In essence, this entire post was meaningless.

            I’m not saying that we have to know all of God’s purposes to discuss this problem — I’m simply saying that if you don’t think this is a question we can ask about God, then you really have no business trying to answer it. I hope my point’s coming through clearly — please let me know if it isn’t.

          • humblesmith says:

            This comment again does not seem to take into account that the in-forming in heaven is a result of the immediate presence of God, resulting in a change of desire in heaven. It also introduces what choice is allowed, which I did not say.

            This comment again says that because you do not understand why God did did something, then it “makes no sense” which I take to mean you believe it does not work logically, a point you have yet to demonstrate.

            This comment again does not seem to take into account the greatest good argument of the post I linked, which explains God giving Adam freedom of choice and the corresponding evil that resulted.

            We’re starting to repeat, so I’m stopping here. Thanks, I found the discussion valuable.

          • Nate says:

            If this freedom of choice that avoids evil requires God’s presence, then he could have left us in his presence. Or he could make his omnipresent presence more known to us now. In other words, whatever relationship we’ll have with him in Heaven that won’t allow us to choose evil could have been implemented when he first created mankind. It was not, which means God wanted evil to exist.

          • 'gelo says:

            Adam was always in the presence of God as is everyone who has ever been born.
            Adam made his choice when left to his own devices so that he could make a genuine personal choice.
            This was no failure, but part of the purpose of God.
            Jesus was in exactly the same, if not more disadvantged position as Adam – fully human, and in a position to make a genuine personal choice and yet He did not choose to trust God.
            So it is not that humanity in the sinless, but not perfect, state was not capable of trusting God, but that it chose not to – and the rest is …. :^)

          • Nate says:

            Then there’s no reason to think the same thing wouldn’t happen in Heaven. But if people go to Heaven for eternity, then sin can’t happen. And if God can make us so that we can have free will but not sin, then he could have made us that way from the beginning. So once again, the problem of evil is still a real problem for Christianity.

  2. Debilis says:

    Brilliant thoughts here.
    I’ve been listening to some lately who have pointed out that we tend to understand “freedom from”, but not “freedom for”. When one starts to think, it does become clear that freedom is much more complex than it seems.

    So, thank you for getting me thinking.

  3. 'gelo says:

    Good question and good thoughts. Thanks all.
    If God is uncreated and good, it seems to me to mean much more than He doesn’t do bad. In fact I think it is more correct to say that ‘good’ is what God is – which makes sense in that WHATEVER God is, because He is GOD, is going to be ‘good’ – ie what is acceptable.
    Fortunately(?) God is love, so that’s fortunate for us, because if God was something other than love, then THAT would be ‘good’ – ie what is acceptable.

    If we accept that God is uncreated and is love then He doesnt have to go through any moral choice process.
    But since WE are created, because of love, we HAVE to have a choice of whether we accept salvation to a new nature which is God’s very nature, which once the remnants of sin are finally divested in ‘heaven’ will mean that we wont sin not because we cant, but because we have no cause to be tempted.

    • humblesmith says:

      The main conclusion at the end is correct.

      However, to clarify…..

      Things are not good just because God says them. He could not have said “thou shalt steal” and then stealing would have been good. Rather, God’s nature is infinite good, therefore He only commands good things. Adam was created good, but finite, therefore apart from God’s presence he was able to take a good thing, freedom, and use it in an evil way.

      • Nate says:

        Ah, but if we examine the OT in particular, we see that God did not only command good things. He told the Israelites to slaughter men, women, and children for the sake of taking their land. He told the Israelites in Numbers 22 that they could kill all the Midianites, but keep the virgin girls for themselves. Or Psalms 137, where the inspired writer talks about the Babylonians and says, “Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rocks.”

        God commanded plenty of horrible things. So is he not “all-good,” or did those things become good simply because he commanded them?

      • Nate says:

        Also, if you acknowledge that if God had commanded people to steal, that wouldn’t have made it okay, then you recognize that a moral standard exists that is higher than God. I agree with you on that score, but that’s precisely the reason that God doesn’t have to exist in order for us to have morality.

      • 'gelo says:

        My problem is I cant see any other way of determining ‘good’ other than what God is and what He defines as ‘good’, which is what He did in Genesis. (‘Good’ didnt exist before He defined – not described – it I don’t think you can have anything other than relative morality apart from God.
        There HAVE been cultures who genuinely regard deceit, conquest & other things we would say are bad, as good.
        Ultimately, God is under no obligation or subject to any judgement other than Himself, which is why I think what He says/is can be the only ultimate gauge of ‘good’.

        • Nate says:

          But ‘gelo, if you found out today that God does not exist, would you go on a raping and killing spree, or would you prefer to continue living your life morally? If it’s the latter, then you can see that there are plenty of good reasons to remain moral aside from God.

          If however, you would go on a raping and killing spree, then by all means keep your faith in God! ;)

          • 'gelo says:

            If I found out today that God did not exist I would do what I think almost every other person does – that which I consider morally expedient and generally conditioned by my culture.
            I consider morality and sin are related but by no means the same.
            One ethnic groups morals can be very different and even opposed to anothers and yet each considers them moral. Even within cultures we see significant differences in morality. Some think capital punishment is right others the opposite.
            My active trust in God is what leads me to do what He tells me is right not just what is convenient, expedient or emotionaly/phsychologicaly/physicaly (you get my drift) suitable.
            No doubt, as you would expect, moral and Godly actions look the same much of the time, but whilst there is an overlap, the two are anchored in distinctly different points, which most often only tend to show when the pressure is on.

  4. Grundy says:

    “God will give us new desire” can’t honestly be used in the same conclusion as “even though we are free.”

  5. Pingback: If You Go to Heaven, Do You Lose Free Will? | Finding Truth

  6. William says:

    Prov 16:4 – God created evil.

    Isaiah 14:12, 2 Pet 2:4, & Rev 12 – Angels sinned in heaven…

  7. zanspence says:

    Cool. I found this through Finding Truth’s blog. I agree that our freedom will be perfected. What God is doing on earth is perfecting our love. I always believed that God want’s people in heaven that are pro-heaven, not anti-hell. In other words we don’t surrender our will and ask to become like him because we are scared of eternal puishment(granted I don’t want it) but the perspective is we want eternity in his presence. That’s why he says if you love me you will keep my commandment (John 14:15). Love is our motivation. And it grows through trials and because of free will, in that we truly choose him.

    • Nate says:

      But we are not perfect. Even when we love someone completely, we occasionally wrong them, because we are fallible. So if we continue to have free will in Heaven, all of us will eventually sin, considering we would have an eternity in which to make a mistake.

      And if God could have created us so that we are infallible, then why didn’t he do that to begin with?

      This is why the problem of evil has no good answer. Evil exists, even though the Universe was supposedly created by an all-powerful, perfectly good God. That’s a contradiction.

      • 'gelo says:

        Nate – I think there is a difference between a mistake and sin.

        • William says:

          Sure, but cant there be an overlap at times?

          If a human father treated his children the way that god is portrayed as treating us, would that man be called a good father, or a deadbeat father?

          If the angels could sin in heaven and were cast out, why do you think that man wont be since Peter pointed out that the angels were better than us?

          • 'gelo says:

            Yes there can be overlap in the sense that the actions can look the same. We recognise that and mostly take that into account, and I believe so does God. Thats some of why we are told in Romans 2:15 that part of judgement will be people’s thoughts, ie the things they know (as opposed to what they kid themselves) are right and wrong.
            So, basically, when someone does something wrong unintentionally or unknowingly, it is a mistake, but when they do it deliberately and knowingly it is sin.

            God is the ultimate Father and if all fathers were modelled on God, as was the intention, the world would be a far better place. Most children, whilst they are young, have instances where they see their fathers (or mothers) as deadbeats. Most adults would accept that as part of childhood’s inability to have a wider view. A Father who loves and would give Himself for us even whilst we are calling Him a deadbeat sounds good to me. :^)

            Angels are of a different order and we are their envy. Even so – the angels weren’t cast cast out of heaven because they could sin, but because they did sin. Big difference.
            I don’t think people will sin in heaven because Jesus didn’t even sin on Earth and we have the opportunity to have His nature implanted in us, (which is God’s intention for humanity) therefore I think the likelihood of us sinning in Heaven is the same as the likelihood of Jesus sinning in Heaven.

          • Nate says:

            If we can have Jesus’ nature implanted in us, then God could have done that when he created us. He did not, and that means that some part of God wanted evil to exist. Does a perfectly good being desire evil?

            This is the problem that Geisler and this post try to get around. But the fact is, there’s no way to get around it, because if God could have made us in a way that allows us to retain free will but never sin, then he could have done it to begin with. In other words, this doesn’t work both ways. Either God wanted evil, which contradicts his nature, or we have no free will in Heaven, which brings about a whole bunch of other problems.

          • 'gelo says:

            NATE – ” in a way that allows us to retain free will but never sin,” is to me contradictory.
            For love to work there needs to be free will – we need to have opportunity to choose.
            If I hypnotise my girlfriend into loving me you would laugh at any declaration of mine (or hers for that matter) that she loved me.
            As I said, Christ demonstrated that it is entirely possible for humanity born sinless to not sin. So as we grow into His likeness we sin less and less and more and more sin less and less out of the better motivation.
            God wasn’t going to implant Jesus nature in us without our consent for the same reason. However once we give our consent by choosing to adopt an attitude of active trust He does so and we begin the journey of ‘growing into Christ-likeness’.
            I should read the Geisler article as soon as I get time – I have found Geisler good, but I’m not sure about the ““in-forming of the good” concept. I haven’t heard of that before I don’t think.

          • Nate says:

            It’s the first I’d heard of it too, and I agree that it’s contradictory.

  8. zanspence says:

    Do you see God as a loving father? Or a sky bully?

  9. zanspence says:

    Or do you think he hasn’t given an easy case to automatically see him as a loving father?

  10. Nate says:

    Hi zanspence,

    If you’re asking me, I don’t believe in God. But the OT portrays him as a cruel character, so sure, sky bully is probably a good description.

  11. humblesmith says:

    Vigorous comments, but all the criticisms were simple assertions, none of which gave any disproof of the original post, or took into consideration the link at the top of the post, which addressed why God allowed sin. So the original post stands, and was not refuted.

    It’s going round and round, so we’ll cut it off here. Thanks.

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