Do angels have free will?
A previous post answers this question related to mankind. The resources section below has links to some related posts. However, the situation with angels is peculiar and I can find very little in Scripture to help. Nevertheless, we can consider a few verses.
The first thing to remember is the sovereignty of God. Psalms 76:10 tells us “Surely the wrath of man shall praise you; the remnant of wrath you will put on like a belt.” So, even mankind’s willful evil actions are under God’s restraint. Further, we read “for those who love God all things work together for good.” (Rom. 8:28) Not only is God sovereign in His restraint of evil He also guarantees that “all things” will bless His people. But, how far does this extend? Does this include all of God’s creation? The Lord Jesus declared God’s goodness to all when He said “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matt. 5:45) I think we must conclude that in all God’s creation he guarantees that when all is said and done (Rev. 20:11–15) we will see that only that evil that furthered God’s purpose of redemption (2 Pet. 3:9, Gen. 50:20) was permitted. Indeed, Christ Himself is the Head of all Creation. (Col. 1:15–17) So, no matter what the demons (fallen angels) desire to do, God is sovereign over them.
Perhaps the angels that faithfully serve God need only a brief comment. They are “His ministers.” (Heb. 1:14) Some familiar passages provide examples of this ministry. Angels accompanied the Lord when He visited Abraham. (Gen. 18:2) Elisha recognized their protection when the king of Aram sent “a great army” to take him captive. (2 Ki. 6:17) Angels appeared to prophets (Dan. 6:22; 8:13, 16–17; 9:21; etc.) and most notably to Joseph, Mary, and the Lord Jesus Himself. (Lk. 1:11, 26; 22:43) Finally, we are encouraged to be hospitable because angels might visit us. (Heb. 13:2)
Now, we need to take up the difficult part of this question. I do not believe this issue is substantially different from that discussed in the related post on man’s free will referenced above. Angels are spirit beings. And as was mentioned in the previous post, spirit beings possess some kind of independence that permits them to act on their own. So, obedience is voluntary. They are not robots. God would not violate the integrity of beings that he has created. Consequently, when Lucifer turned from his own place he apparently led a number of angels in his rebellion and they all became opposed to the will of God. (Isa. 14:12; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6) The very fact that some rebelled against God shows that they had “free will” at least to this extent. Second Timothy 2:26 indicates that at least Satan still has an independent “will.” It would also appear that there was no opportunity for repentance and redemption as there is with mankind. Scripture is completely silent as to such a provision.
We must remember that the angels behold the face of God in a way that humans never could. God is a spirit. Angels were created to dwell in his presence. Indeed, even Satan is allowed into the presence of God. (Job 1:6) So, their knowledge of God was direct. Rebellion in their case was with full knowledge of their place and the consequences of their actions. Thus, redemption could not realistically be provided since no repentance could be expected. Also, Hebrews 2:14-18 (esp. v. 16) sets apart Christ’s work for mankind rather than for the angels.
Romans 9:22–23 is helpful in understanding the difference between angels and mankind in this respect. We see here that God was willing to bear the sorrow (to speak humanly, as we must) of having some of His creatures reject Him so that for others the immeasurable “riches of his glory” could be made known. If we consider the cross we cannot dare to accuse God of a lack of love for His creatures. Doubtless, there are many mysteries in this area that may be revealed in eternity.
The following are some posts that deal with related issues.
- Was Evil Created by God?
- What Was the Snake in the Garden?
- Who Are the Elect Angels?
- When Do We Judge Angels?
- Sons of God. (In Genesis 6.)