All scriptural references are from the World English Bible unless otherwise noted
Most creatures were created with the right to have free will, a.k.a. "free agency". In its most basic sense "free will" is the ability to choose one's course of action.
Free will is what enables us to make choices, either for the good or the bad: We can choose to join a church, or we can choose to join a street gang. We can choose to believe in God, or we can choose to be an atheist. Even in very small ways we exercise free will: Choose the orange or the apple? The red rose or the red carnation?
HUMAN FREE WILL
In Scripture we can see that free will has been available to mankind since the beginning of creation. It tells of times when Free Will was used for the good:
Scripture also tells of times when free will was used for the bad:
The option to use or abuse free will hasn't changed over time as we can readily see to this day: Some people choose to give money to charity while others choose to steal money for themselves. Some people choose to eat healthy food, while others choose to eat unhealthy junk.
But free will isn't confined to humankind.
ANIMAL FREE WILL
The animal kingdom also possesses the gift of free will: Cattle can freely choose where to wander (Exodus 23:4), a bird can choose where to nest (Psalms 84:3), and locusts freely swarm where they wish (Proverbs 30:27). Outside of Scripture we easily observe various creatures exercising free will: Bees will make a hive in your attic, dogs will lay on your furniture when you aren't looking, and Cats will get into your trash. Nobody forces these creatures to make a particular choice; they are free to choose as they desire.
But free will is not confined to just people and animals.
SPIRITS AND FREE WILL
Free will also exists within the spiritual realm. The Bible shows that Angels weren't created as emotionless automatons rigidly programmed to do God's will. They are sentient (self-aware) creatures (Luke 1:19) who feel emotion (Job 38:7). Although most angels choose to obey God it is their ability to exercise free will that allowed Lucifer to choose to fall from grace (Isaiah 14:12-20), and other angels to choose to interbreed with human women (Genesis 6:2-4, 1 Peter 3:18-20) Therefore, even though angels are labourers for God's work, they are not precluded from using or abusing their free will.
As we can clearly see free will is a gift which can either be used or abused; therefore it is a gift that comes with great responsibility. If one uses free will for the good, that one will be blessed (Matthew 5:2-9, Luke 6:35). If one uses free will for the bad, that one must live with the consequences (2 Timothy 4:14, Hebrews 2:2). Please note that when free will is abused it is always due to selfish desires.
In spite of the potential for abuse free will is a gift of love because it let's us make our own choices; God isn't forcing us into anything. Our free will enables us to pursue our hobbies, our dreams, and our career paths. You aren't forced to play soccer if you'd rather be swimming. You aren't forced to be an accountant if you'd rather be a farmer. We are happier because free will allows us to choose what we like instead of being forced into things we don't like.
We must keep our guard though; if we aren't careful to use this gift responsibly we can end up creating problems. For example, adults are free to drive cars, and they are free to drink alcoholic beverages. However, if one abuses free will by driving a car while under the influence of alcohol somebody could easily be injured or even die. In the news you can see plenty of examples of abused free will when you read about crime, corruption, and greed.
These abuses should not label the gift of free will as something evil from God because God does not cause evil (James 1:13). Remember, the existence of the gift itself isn't evil, it's our own selfish attempts at abusing the free will that creates the evil. To illustrate: The existence of Morphine isn't evil; it's a gift for those in extreme pain due to injury or cancer. However, if a person takes that same Morphine to sell illegally on the streets, that gift is then being abused. The existence of Morphine isn't evil, it is the person's abuse of the drug that is evil. Likewise, the gift of free will is a blessing – it is the selfish abuse of the gift that makes it look evil.
FREE WILL'S PURPOSE
Free will is a multipurpose gift. Not only can it make us happier by allowing us to have and do the things we like, it also shows an individual's true character. And one's use, or abuse, of free will speaks volumes. It is also important to keep in mind that when Judgment Day comes, each person will be judged according to his or her deeds (Matthew 16:27, 1 Corinthians 3:8, Revelation 22:12). Although people are saved by grace through belief in Christ's blood (Acts 15:11), you are not truly saved if you don't live a life that reflects your faith (James 2:14-18). Your choice to use or abuse the gift of free will is a part of this reflection of your faith, and it is part of those deeds that you will be judged on.
Let's also keep in mind that Free Will allows us to choose whether or not we want to love God. He wants us to love Him only because we choose to love Him, not because we have no other choice in the matter. Love without sincerity is empty and meaningless; for love to have real meaning it must be voluntarily chosen. Without the gift of free will we wouldn't have the opportunity to show Him real, meaningful love.
DOES GOD HAVE FREE WILL?
God does not cause evil (Luke 11:11-13, James 1:13), He cannot tell a lie (Hebrews 6:18), and all that He does is righteous (Revelation 16:7). Since God cannot choose to sin, does that eliminate His free will?
Not at all.
The only reason He cannot sin is because sin simply doesn't apply to Him. "Sin" is basically the falling short of God's perfect love. Since He is the personification of love (1 John 4:8), and love works only to the good (1 Corinthians 13:4-7), it is His nature to do only that which is good. Much like a cat cannot change its nature to become a bird, God cannot change His nature into a sinful being. Sin cannot apply to God any more than feathers and eggs can apply to a cat.
God absolutely does have free will: He gives and takes away as He sees fit (Jonah 4:6-7), He reconsiders His
plans when He sees fit (Exodus 32:9-14), and He causes situations to occur as He sees fit (Exodus 7:16 - 11:8). Since He does have free will, and because we are made in His image (Genesis 1:26), the ability to exercise free will is extended from Him into us. The only difference is, because we are not the personification of Love, our use of Free Will can potentially be abused in our realm.
In a nutshell, free will is a loving gift from God that can contribute to our daily happiness. If we allow selfish desire to creep in, there is also potential for abuse of this gift. Let us remember to use our gift of free will in such a way so that, come Judgment Day, we will gain the Reward of Heaven and everlasting life.