This is a really difficult topic. I see academic approaches to reasoning about how we choose, that are sort of abstract, and don’t really match the way that the Bible presents free will and choosing and what evidence is, and what evidence is relevant, and how much of what kind of evidence justifies believing a certain proposition. (These are really basic questions in Epistemology.)
It’s a difficult question, because different Christian groups (and schools) use different sets of vocabulary to describe the same topics. But if I don’t use the type of vocabulary that someone is expecting, then they often think that I am not speaking about what the Bible really means.
When it comes to the Bible, it does not agonize over many of the questions that secular philosophers agonize over (Do I exist? Is the physical universe real? Do I perceive my environment accurately? How do I choose? etc.).
And when it comes to mental choices, and physical actions, I think that the Bible sees them both as types of actions. (Which is why faith requires both certain mental choices, and living out physical actions that follow “by faith” from those correct choices.)
I like the very simple, but very unobvious discussion by James in chapter 2, about lying. With James, you could say that he only recognizes one sin, and that is lying. (God created hell, for the sin of lying.) But to lie, we need to misrepresent something in relation to some universal standard (aka some aspect of our shared reality). This involves the shared reality that we live in. We can lie against God’s moral/ethical law by not accepting some part of it (such as, we should not show partiality/favoritism in our congregations). We can lie by mentally accepting God’s moral/ethical law, but not living it out (James’ example is Christians who accept God’s moral/ethical law, but then show partiality/favoritism to the rich). We can lie, by not accepting who God is (he is part of our shared reality.) We can lie by denying or destroying what God revealed to us through our conscience. We can lie against our shared reality of valid reasoning methods (by putting out arguments that are fallacies, or refusing to recognize valid arguments or evidence). James’ vocabulary of lying, is based on the obvious shared reality that we live in (this is important for those interested in apologetics).
Other writers in the bible use a bit different vocabulary, but describe that our intentions will become obvious in our physical actions, even though we try to hide them.
NIV Matthew 6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
As I wrote about a section in Timothy:
NIV 1 Timothy 5:24 The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. 25 In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever.
RSV 1 Timothy 5:24 The sins of some men are conspicuous, pointing to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. 25 So also good deeds are conspicuous; and even when they are not, they cannot remain hidden.
NA28 1 Timothy 5:24 Τινῶν ἀνθρώπων αἱ ἁμαρτίαι πρόδηλοί εἰσιν προάγουσαι εἰς κρίσιν, τισὶν δὲ καὶ ἐπακολουθοῦσιν· 25 ὡσαύτως καὶ τὰ ἔργα τὰ καλὰ πρόδηλα, καὶ τὰ ἄλλως ἔχοντα κρυβῆναι οὐ δύνανται.
Paul has just finished explaining how Timothy is not to be hasty in commissioning church leaders. Paul requires that anyone who is to be considered for a position of church leadership have a public and righteous lifestyle. They must have a track record.
But Paul is saying that our actions may be judged as good or evil (before the final judgment, when God is perfect knowledge will evaluate our actions).
When considering church leaders, part of their track record had better be holding to orthodox teaching.
Even when righteous deeds are done in secret, they will probably eventually become known. It is curious that Jesus said, “let your light so shine among men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your father who is in heaven.” Being the light of the world, does not mean hiding all you do under a bushel basket. Nor does it involve announcing to the world, what you are doing. Nor does it involve doing righteous deeds in order to be seen by the world.
The Scriptures often present an obviousness about our intentions, when observing our physical actions. Theological systems tend to not accept that there is this obvious connection.
Some other interesting verses are:
NIV 2 Timothy 3:9 But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.
NIV 1 John 3:7 Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.
RSV 1 Timothy 3:10 And let them also be tested first; then if they prove themselves blameless let them serve as deacons.
NIV Romans 12:2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-- his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Rom 12:2 NIV)
NIV John 15:8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (Joh 15:8 NIV)
NIV 3 John 1:11 Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God. (3Jo 1:11 NIV
NIV Revelation 2:2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.
NIV 1 Peter 3:11 They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it.
NIV Romans 12:9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
NIV Romans 7:19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do-- this I keep on doing.