Will we be capable of sinning in heaven or will we not have free will?

Question: I heard Ravi talk about the 4 options that God had in creating the world. This world, the one in which people have free will to sin or not to sin, is the only one in which true love is possible since love requires choice. I was just wondering then: if true love requires the ability to reject it, then will we be able to sin in heaven, or will we not have free will?

[The answer Ravi gave can be heard in the following video starting at 12:50 in response to the question, “Why did God put the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden in the first place?”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_87GZCsdgXw]

When we approach a question like this, we first have to acknowledge that we are firmly in the realm of speculation. It is a legitimate question to ask, though. One way to approach this, with Ravi’s points in mind (for more on this understanding of freedom, I would highly recommend watching this short video on Alvin Plantinga’s Free Will Defense, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n0tLRO8_qRI), let’s look at a way in which it is possible to have both true love in the sense defined above and a sinless existence in heaven.

We ultimately have two options: we can be truly free or automatons (note: there is debate among theologians over what sort of freedom we have in a fallen world, but for the sake of this argument let us just assume that in a given situation, we have the ability to choose one thing over another, sometimes over pressure, inner desire, and so forth). Now, God could have created us as automatons that never do anything wrong. But then we lack to have the freedom to choose. However, by giving us the freedom to choose, we run the risk of alienating ourselves from God forever by choosing to rebel against Him.

Let’s talk a bit more about freedom first. Sometimes we look at the evil in this world and attack God when it is our freedom that has wrought much of it – however, the alternative (a life with no freedom) is vehemently rejected by nearly everyone. People actually want more freedom than they already have, not less. The idea is that there can be no morally significant choices without the ability to have chosen between the good or evil choice (these are black-and-white categories for clarity, although I admit it is not always this clear).

The issue we come to, then, is whether God’s choices are truly praiseworthy if He can do nothing else. Is God not free since He cannot sin? Of course, this is a nonsensical statement as we understand God, but a valid question. One major assumptive problem with it, though, is that God and humans are not the same type of being. That said, we can somewhat alleviate the challenge by saying that a morally significant choice does not necessarily require that one could have genuinely chosen one thing or another, but that the choice that was made was not compelled by any external agent. So maybe I would always choose A over B, but as long as that choice is not coerced by an external agent and comes from my own desires/character/heart/soul/will/etc., then it is morally significant (even if these characteristics are shaped by nature and environment, I do not think they are necessarily determinative ).

God does seem to want all of us to be with Him in eternity (1 Timothy 2:4; Titus 2:11). And in eternity it appears that we will truly be free in all the right ways, yet unable (or un willing ) to sin. Several things point in this direction, but I would just quickly cite the proximity of God, lack of pain and mourning, God being our temple, and access to the Tree of Life in Revelation 22 as proof of this point. So why was that not the plan for earth in the first place (the inability to sin)? One way in which to answer this is that in eternity we will not be able to sin because we have freely asked Christ to change our hearts to ones that, one day, will have a certain part of our “freedom” removed: the freedom to want evil (either this is done by removing what is evil in us or greatly increasing what is good – perhaps by the bestowing of our glorified bodies – to the point where evil is never what we would choose, or both … or something else all together!).

So then, this world could be seen not necessarily as a proving ground or a test (though it may also be that), but as a genuine opportunity to choose freely to live with some freedom removed in order to love freely and abundantly and spend eternity with God by choice rather than coercion . It is the desire for a freed will (free to love abundantly and correctly) rather than a free will (prone to freely choose destruction). In this sense God gives us the two things we want: freedom and a life without the possibility of evil. And he does not violate our freedom by giving us a life without evil, which He might have had to do if He gave us life without the possibility of evil right away. And He does not coerce us in heaven, but rather he makes us new through our grace-empowered and chosen faith into creatures that freely will to only do good. He gives this gift to all those who want it. As C. S. Lewis writes in The Problem of Pain, “The damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; the doors of hell are locked on the inside. . . . They enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded, and are therefore self-enslaved.”

*Note that this is, like Plantinga’s free will defense, a possible answer to this question. There is much, much more that could be said. Theologically, there would be much to debate between Calvinist, Arminian, Lutheran, and other non-Calvinist traditions on this matter. For resources concerning that particular debate, see https://www.rzim.org/page/faq-calvinism-or-arminianism.

You can also listen to some other responses to this interesting question in the RZIM Ask Away episode, “Will I Be Able to Sin in Heaven?”: https://www.rzim.org/listen/ask-away/will-i-be-able-to-sin-in-heaven.