QUESTION: Roselle asks, "Did God create angels with free will?"

ANSWER: What an interesting question! And not an easy one to answer completely, or with total certainty. Though angels come into the Bible’s story here and there, God’s Word focuses mainly on this earth, and things that pertain directly to humanity. We are told some things about angels, but the Lord has not seen fit to answer all our questions on the subject. For that reason, some of what I’ll share below is a deduction, based on clues we’re given.

Angels are powerful spirit beings created by the Lord (Col. 1:16), and appointed to help believers (Heb. 1:14). Though they have the ability to take on a physical form when needed, in their natural state they are invisible. And there are many, many of them.

God made “an innumerable company of angels” (Heb. 12:22). And He made them all at once. That is, they differ from man in that God made two human beings, and the rest have come by procreation from the original two. But the heavenly angels “neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Matt. 22:30). They do not bear angel babies. Nor can they die (Lk. 20:36). From that it would seem that the number of angels in existence remains eternally the same.

In our case, the sin of Adam and Eve has corrupted all who have descended from them--with the exception of the virgin-born Son of God (Rom. 5:12). We commit acts of sin because we’re first of all sinners by nature, “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). But angels, created individually, did not inherit a sinful nature as we did.

However, similar to man, they are moral agents. They're not like mere robots, or puppets on a string. The angels all came into being by a creative act of God, and they came into existence, with a real but untested holiness. In the latter characteristic, in the beginning, they were like Adam and Eve in Eden.

The angels praise God (Ps. 148:1-2), and are called to worship Christ (Heb. 1:6). That they are "sent forth to minister" (Heb. 1:14) implies that they obey God's commands. Such activities would seem to require a moral choice. That means they are not simply programmed to act in these ways, without thought. Angels need to choose to serve God, and worship Him. So, yes, God did create the hosts of angels with a free will.

Further, we know that there are holy angels (Matt. 25:31), and there are also evil (or fallen) angels--Satan and his demon host. The latter group were not created that way. At some point they rebelled against God and were cast out of His presence (cf. Isa. 14:12-15; cf. I Tim. 3:6). When Satan rebelled, other angels followed him. (Some take Rev. 12:4 as a reference to this–cf. vs. 9.) Hell was originally created to house these wicked beings for all eternity (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20:10).

My guess is that those who rebelled were then confirmed and established in their wicked state. That is, at the decisive moment, their choice radically changed them. It is now impossible for Satan or demons to repent and be restored to the service of God.

In contrast, it seems that those who refused to rebel with Satan were confirmed and established in holiness--that they can now no longer sin. I believe that is how it will be for us as well, in the heavenly kingdom. Not only will it be impossible for sinners to repent and be saved after death (Heb. 9:27), the saints will be established in an eternal state of holiness (see Rev. 22:11).

This is not quite the same as saying that angels or human beings no longer have a free will. For their love and service for God in eternity to be meaningful, it surely must be chosen freely. However, the choices are made out of a nature that is absolutely holy, without the slightest taint of corruption, and therefore choosing to do wrong would be unthinkable.

There is one more tricky issue I’d like to address. The conclusion you will reach on it may be affected somewhat by your theological position, overall.

The Bible makes reference to the holy angels as “elect angels” (I Tim. 5:21). So were they elected (chosen) by God from the beginning to be eternally holy, in a similar sense that specific human beings were chosen for salvation (cf. Rom. 8:29-30; Eph. 1:3-5; I Pet. 1:1-2)? I do not know for certain, but it would seem so.

This involves one of those pairings of Bible doctrines that must be kept in balance--because the Bible does that. We cannot emphasize the freedom to choose to the point that God is robbed of His sovereignty. Nor can we allow God's sovereignty to remove any responsibility (of either angels or men) to choose rightly.

In some way that we cannot understand, our very real choices, and our accountability for them, operate within the certain foreknowledge and sovereign purpose of God. It may well be the same for the angels.