Irenaeus who was a disciple of Polycarp who was a direct disciple of the Apostle John clearly taught man has a free will. Some Calvinists will state that man does have a free will on a minor level… yet man is not a moral being… and is totally depraved.
“ But if some had been made by nature bad, and others good, these latter would not be deserving of praise for being good, for such were they created; nor would the former be reprehensible, for thus they were made [originally]. But since all men are of the same nature, able both to hold fast and to do what is good; and, on the other hand, having also the power to cast it from them and not to do it,-some do justly receive praise even among men who are under the control of good laws (and much more from God), and obtain deserved testimony of their choice of good in general, and of persevering therein; but the others are blamed, and receive a just condemnation, because of their rejection of what is fair and good. And therefore the prophets used to exhort men to what was good, to act justly and to work righteousness, as I have so largely demonstrated, because it is in our power so to do, and because by excessive negligence we might become forgetful, and thus stand in need of that good counsel which the good God has given us to know by means of the prophets.”
He then adds:
“No doubt, if any one is unwilling to follow the Gospel itself, it is in his power [to reject it], but it is not expedient. For it is in man's power to disobey God, and to forfeit what is good; but [such conduct] brings no small amount of injury and mischief.”
What we see here in the writing of a disciple of the direct linage of John the Apostle the very opposite of the crux of which is the Calvinist argument… does man have a free will?
On one hand man has never had a “free” will as he is either a servant to sin or a servant to Christ… yet even in that bondage and freedom God gives man a choice to choose and believe or not to believe. Now the Calvinist will challenge this and state, “Then you are preaching works!” To that I state this plainly if a man sees he is lost and in need of salvation from death… note I am stating death not sin as God gave the Israelites the sacrificial system… a way for forgiveness, yet in that there was not way to eternal life and salvation from death. This is an area that the Calvinist often misses also… that we are not being saved from sin into heaven… but from death into life… and that life is eternal I am not saying that the sacrificial system was a way to permanent forgiveness as God has always looked not at the blood of bulls and goats… but at the repentant heart that turn in faith that God alone will save him. Yet, if it was just forgiveness man needed… then Christ could have died and stayed in the grave… yet it is in the Resurrection we have Life… God has a free will and as stated in the first part to subject God to a system then denies God to have a free will and makes him no longer sovereign. Yet, as God has a free will so also man in His image has one also.
Irenaeus states a bit later:
“If then it were not in our power to do or not to do these things, what reason had the apostle, and much more the Lord Himself, to give us counsel to do some things, and to abstain from others? But because man is possessed of free will from the beginning, and God is possessed of free will, in whose likeness man was created, advice is always given to him to keep fast the good, which thing is done by means of obedience to God.
“And not merely in works, but also in faith, has God preserved the will of man free and under his own control, saying, "According to thy faith be it unto thee; "thus showing that there is a faith specially belonging to man, since he has an opinion specially his own. And again, "All things are possible to him that believeth; “and, "Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee."
The issue then is was man perfect in the Garden… or was he innocent? We are not told that man was ever perfect… only that he was good. Genesis 1: 31 “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning--the sixth day.”
Man and woman made in the image of God were made good… yet it never says perfect. Man and woman were perfectly innocent I will give into…
Now the Calvinist will state that before the fall man was perfect…though if he was then he would not have fallen…so it seems that man was not yet perfected… but rather had something still to learn. I suspect that was what the walks in the Garden were, times of intimate teachings.
Yet, before this could happen man fell. Now, there are scriptures to support that the sin of Adam is imputed to us. Yet there are also scriptures that clearly state man is to be held guilty for his own sins…. A man who sins dies is the point. Deuteronomy 24: 16 “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin.”
This makes sense as we can only die ourselves… we cannot die for someone else… unless we are immortal beings which we are not… only Jesus is. (1 Timothy 6:16)
Romans does speak of how the sin nature that man inherited at the fall is past on… 1 Cor 15: For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. For as in Adam… or as Adam sinned and died we too sin and die…yet this does not mean the same thing as total depravity. Man is blinded we are told… he is given over to his own wicked desires and in that deserves God’s wrath… yet God has given a way of salvation to all mankind… as all have sinned and are cursed to die, all have been given the gift of salvation… contingent on if we receive that gift. A man must still choose… Life or death. The sin nature is not passed on as some Calvinists teach through the blood of the man.
Again, this is not works… it is taking God at His word and having faith in a Hope… A hope that is not seen. And in that Hope is salvation itself.