Thursday, January 03, 2019

Christianity And Free-Will

Is your will free - whatever we mean by that - or is "freedom" an illusion caused either by the complex chemistry of our genetics or our early upbringing, over which we had very little, if no control? A lot of sparks have flown in the debate over "free will" and its role in evangelism and conversion. Now, perhaps it's time to offer an overview of the main issue.
  • A free agent
While the term "free agency" is only terminology, it helps to make a distinction here. The Bible is very clear that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). All have missed the mark or standard of obedience to God set by him. Alas, the glorious goal of an intimate love relationship with God in joyful obedience to him has been smashed and lost in ugly failure.

Jesus himself taught that "everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin" (John 8:34). This evil rebel power has invaded our humanity, ruined it and brought us under its dictatorship. Yes, I am a free moral agent in the sense that I make moral choices and am personally responsible to God for all of my thinking and actions. I am not an automaton! But is slavery to the dictates of sin combined with an inability to break free from it, really freedom? No - not at all!

Also, it may be helpful to consider that our "will" is never an abstract entity but central to our person and that through the indwelling power of sin, I am in bondage to it and its dictates and possess no natural powers of self recovery from its tyranny.
  • Responsible
One of the things I have often noticed is that people believe "free will" to be a vital part of the gospel message. So that when Christians share the gospel and ask someone to trust in the Lord Jesus as their own Saviour, they are inviting them to make a "free will" decision to trust in Christ. And then if "free will" is somehow challenged, they feel the gospel itself is being undermined, or that you are not going to share with people how they need to trust personally in the Saviour.
Part of the difficulty with this understanding is that it appears to give to everyone a general sort of freedom to make up their mind as if they already possessed this and merely had to decide to use it to put their trust in Christ for salvation.
  • Responsibility not equal to ability!
The big difficulty with this common sort of "free will" idea is that it makes a universal responsibility equal to a universal ability. It seems to have the idea that because God is just (which he most certainly is) he wouldn't ask people to do something they cannot do; that is, because all people are responsible before God to repent and turn to Christ in faith, to be fair, they must all equally possess that ability and simply need to use it! And, so the thinking goes, God doesn't ask people to do what they are unable to do.

But he does! We are all obligated to be perfect and offer God absolute obedience. Heaven is perfect, and one sin is enough to be banished from it forever. Now, nothing less than a free acquittal and the perfect righteousness of Christ put to our account, received by faith, is on offer in the gospel of Christ - God's perfect solution to the worst of problems!
  • Responsible but not able
One of the biggest problems with "free will" thinking in relation to evangelism is that it tends to inject a type of humanism into an understanding of fallen human nature, where people are encouraged willy-nilly to decide for Jesus and told "Go on, you can do it!" No, they cannot. This is where decisionism has ruined so many people, making them think they are truly converted. Instead, this is where the tension between God's command to repent and the sinner's natural inability ought to be made most clear, where they need to realise, by nature, they are spiritually dead - lifeless (see Ephesians 2:1) and in urgent need to be born of God, to receive life from him.

This is where the sinner ought to feel the crushing vice-grip of God's compelling command and, at the same time, his total inability to heed that command! This is where people begin to feel trapped, and rightly so and begin to call on God out of a sense of terrible lostness and inability to free themselves from the bondage of their own sinful nature, and to call with urgency, as they have never called before!
  • If the Son sets you free...
What sweet good news! "So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:36). The one Liberator of the bondage of the will is the gracious Saviour of sinners. His means? Both direct and indirect - the gospel witness of individual Christians, their prayers, the word of the cross, and the direct enlightening, convicting and regenerating work of God the Holy Spirit.

Has the Lord Jesus set you free? If he has, you will have soon found out that to love him and to serve him freely in the strength that he supplies is true freedom, with which the old notion of "free will" is unworthy of the rather exalted powers attributed to it.

Turn to him today, as naturally unable as you are, you must still turn and come to him, and when you do, you will be able to say that the Son has also set you free!

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