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The decision to believe in Christ, is it an independent decision? Could a person’s decision to believe in Christ be affected by one’s life experiences? Would it be easier for one to accept Christ living in one environment compared to another living in a different environment? If this was true, had God been fair to those who were born in an environment more difficult to accept Christ? For the bible tells us that even before the foundation of the earth, God had already prearranged the paths we would take in our lives.

The account of the Lord’s death on the cross together with two robbers in the Book of Luke will help us better understand what man’s free will is:

‘One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!" But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."’ ~Lk 23:39-43

The two criminals that were nailed to the left and right of Jesus were both under the death penalty. They lived a life of sin and probably robbed and killed countless people. From their conversation, they must have known each other and could even be likely partners in crime. Now, they have been captured by the Roman government and sentenced to be crucified on the cross, to repay for the sins they had committed. No one would pity them because they were made to serving their due punishment. God, however, took pity on them, and in His mercy offered them the final opportunity to be saved, by arranging the Saviour of the world, Jesus Christ, to be nailed together with them before they die.

Sadly, one of the criminals even at death’s door continued to hurl insults at Jesus without signs of remorse. All he wanted was to be released from his punishment and never for a moment did he feel he was deserving of the sentence. The other criminal however, was deeply sorrowful and remorseful for his sinful deeds. He fully understood that he was being punished by God for the sins he had committed. All the pains and suffering he had brought to others were now being repaid upon him, to be crucified on the cross was his just deserve. Feeling guilty and ashamed of his sins, he repented before God, but at the same time, he believed that the person whom he was nailed with was truly the Christ – the Saviour of the world. He further pleaded with Jesus to remember him when His kingdom comes, a sinner once crucified alongside with Him. And because of this sinner’s repentance, by turning to Christ just before he died, he is now forever with the Lord Jesus in paradise.

Both of the criminals committed the same crime, both nailed alongside Jesus, and both bestowed the same grace and opportunity. However, one chose repentance and believed in Christ, while the other rejected the Lord; therefore one was saved, while the other perished. Though they shared similar experiences, from their choices, we see that going through the same life experiences does not equate to making the same decision, and this is the definition of free will. To further elaborate on this point, let us assume a pair of twins who grew up in the same environment. They have the same looks, height, weight, intelligence, capabilities and interests. Throughout their lives, they experienced the same pains and joys in life, and made exactly the same choices in life. One fine day, a Christian shares the gospel message to the both of them. After hearing the gospel, both of them understood the message equally well. They knew that they were sinners and also understood the reality concerning heaven and hell. However at the point of decision to receive Christ, they make completely opposite decisions. One chose to receive Christ while the other chose to reject Him. This is what it means by ‘free will.’ In spite of having experienced the same guidance by God in their lives, having heard the same gospel, and having experienced the same moving of their hearts by the Spirit, the deciding factor to entering heaven or hell still remained a choice of their free will – their personal decision. Although God would have employed all ways and means to lead a person to saving faith, He, however, would never interfere with a person’s freedom to believe in Christ.