The word angel means “messenger” or “agent”. Scripture tells us that angels are witnesses to the creation of the world, which indicates they were with God long before the great event. Angels were created by God for a very divine purpose. They are here for one reason: to do God’s Will. In short, they were created to be instruments or agents to carry out His work. The Bible says, “Praise the Lord, you His angels, you mighty ones who do His bidding, who obey His Word” (Psalm 103:20). Just as angels are largely unseen by us, so also is their work. If we knew all the times angels were at work and the things they were doing right before us, we would be amazed. God does many things through His angels including giving us protection in times of danger, and not just physical danger, but also moral and spiritual danger as well.
In the Bible, perhaps the biggest and most important role of angels is praising and glorifying God. Revelation 5:11-12 gives a description of over 100 million angels praising God in heaven. Revelation 4: references angels who day and night never stopped saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty, who was and who is to come.” Angels were also there to celebrate the birth of Jesus. We don’t know how many there were that day, but we do know that it was a great company of heavenly host. For angels, praising God is very important. In the Psalms, we are told that not only angels, but all of creation is to praise and worship God.
Given angels have an important role to praise and worship God, and are also called to do God’s Will, many question if angels have free will. Understanding this question and what the Bible has to say about angels can really help us understanding of God and His ways, but what is learned about the angels themselves must usually be drawn from implicit, rather than explicit descriptions.
Angels are spiritual beings who have personalities that include emotions. The Bible tells us, “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!’” (Luke 2:13-14).
We also know they have intelligence. Scripture tells us that even Satan was disguised as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 13:14). Satan was an angel who was cast out of heaven along with many other angels who decided to follow him and chose to sin. The Bible tells us, “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until judgment” (2 Peter 2:4). When it comes to free will, the Bible reveals this was an exercise of their ability to choose. Scripture reminds us, “And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains…” (Jude 1:6).
There are a number of scholars who believe there was some sort of probation period for the angels, similar to the time when Adam and Eve were in the garden. Those angels who did not choose to sin and follow Satan have become the “elect” angels. The Bible tells us, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality” (1 Timothy 5:21). These angels were confirmed in holiness. These angels are also referred to as ‘holy angels’ and ‘holy ones.’
While elect angels may be confirmed in their holiness, it doesn’t mean they have lost their free will. Every living creature has choices to make at any given moment. The holy angels do have the ability to sin, but that does not in any way mean that they will sin.
One way you can better understand this issue, we can look at the life of Christ. Jesus was tempted in every way, yet He did not sin. Jesus had the ability to choose whatever He pleased. Jesus said, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to take it up again…” (John 10:17-18). However, Jesus’ first priority was always to please His Father, and that is always what He chose. Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to accomplish His work” (John 4:34). In a very similar way, the elect angels praise and serve God because they choose to; they obey God because that is what they desire most to do.
We know that as humans, we have free will, but we struggle with sin because human nature has been corrupted by sin. This is why we all sin. The Bible tells us, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). This is why we struggle with being good as opposed to being bad. The holy angels are without sinful nature. They are not inclined toward sin but rather toward righteousness, doing everything that pleases God.
Ultimately, the holy angels have free will, but the Bible makes it clear they will not sin. The angels who are part of heaven are sinless. They are designed to serve God and remind of us how God is completely worthy of praise.