One of the questions and debates that have plague man for many years is that of Free Will. Do I not have a choice in becoming a believer? Do I not decide to follow Jesus? If not am I nothing more than a robot? Man by nature wants to be in charge in control (or at least feel he is).
Last week while preaching one of the men I minister to made a remark about Free Will. Of course I raised an eyebrow, not because he was theologically incorrect but because I realized he did not have a true understanding of Biblical Free Will. So today we will explore the topic of Free Will as described and defined in the Bible.
There are two main schools of thought when it comes to free will. They are: The following paragraphs (taken from Romans: An Interpretive Outline, by David N. Steele and Curtis Thomas) give a particularly clear and concise summary of the differences between Arminianism and Calvinism.
Arminianism: or human ability. Although human nature was seriously affected by the fall, man has not been left in a state of total spiritual helplessness. God graciously enables every sinner to repent and believe but does not interfere with man’s freedom. Each sinner possesses a free will, and his eternal destiny depends on how he uses it. Man’s freedom consists in his ability to choose good over evil in spiritual matters; his will is not enslaved to his sinful nature. The sinner has the power to either cooperate with God’s Spirit and be regenerated or resist God’s grace and perish. The lost sinner needs the Spirit’s assistance but he does not have to be regenerated by the Spirit before he can believe, for faith is man’s act and precedes the new birth. Faith is the sinner’s gift to God; it is man’s contribution to salvation.
Calvinism: or Human inability. Because of the fall, man is unable of himself to savingly believe the Gospel. The sinner is dead, blind and deaf to the things of God; his heart is deceitful and desperately corrupt. His will is not free; it is in bondage to his evil nature; therefore, he will not—indeed he cannot—choose good over evil in the spiritual realm. Consequently it takes much more than the Spirit’s assistance to bring a sinner to Christ—it takes regeneration, by which the Spirit makes the sinner alive and gives him a new nature. Faith is not something man contributes to salvation but is itself a part of God’s gift of salvation; it is God’s gift to the sinner, not the sinner’s gift to God.
While I adhere to the reformed, covenant or Calvinist approach to this and most doctrines I am not here to bash any other. I am a Baptist first and foremost because Jesus was baptized; if it was good enough for my Saviour it is good enough for me. That is not to say I do not admire some who think Calvinism is a curse word.
To keep things simple I have chosen to utilize: A Faith to Confess: The Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 Rewritten in Modern English ©1975, Carey Publications, Ltd., 75 Woodhill Road, Leeds, U.K., LS16 7BZ as found on the Founders Ministries Web Site. (ESV)
Article 9 of the BCF 1689 reads: FREE WILL
Section 1. In the natural order God has endued man's will with liberty and the power to act upon choice, so that it is neither forced from without, nor by any necessity arising from within itself, compelled to do good or evil.
The confession uses three scripture references to support its claim. We will break them down individually.
Deut 30:19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse: therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed;
This is an interesting and somewhat confusing scripture to quote. Moses and the tribe of Israel would have surely known the story of the Garden and how God had cursed the ground and all that was in it. How because of Adam and Eve’s sinful choice all mankind was condemned to death. Is the bible contradicting itself? No never! God cannot tolerate lies: Prov 12:22 Lying lips are abomination to the LORD: but they that deal truly are his delight.
So what is it how can we have a choice in death or life. Read carefully it says God has this day put before you. This verse is not referencing the fall of mankind but a future gift offered by God to individuals. He is saying when offered this gift you must choose, wisely choose life.
This is not new to the Jews for a few Chapters earlier in Deut 11 we find:
26 Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse;
27 A blessing, if ye obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you this day:
28 And a curse, if ye will not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside out of the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods, which ye have not known.
What is the key to the curse (death) chasing false God’s in any form. The key to the blessing (life) is Faith in the only true God. Ok so we do have a choice? Read on my friends.
Mat 17:12 but I say into you, that Elijah is come already, and they knew him not, but did unto him whatsoever they would. Even so shall the Son of man also suffer of them.
Ok, flash forward a bunch of centuries form Moses to the time of Christ. Jesus himself says in Matt 17:12 that as in times past when great prophets like Elijah were ignored so too shall the Son of Man be ignored. Not just ignored but will suffer under the hand of men. Do you see it man chooses evil over good. He will do it every time.
Christ says the same thing in John 3:19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.
Ok full circle back to the dilemma, if our evil nature does not allow us to choose life what choice do we have?
Jas 1:14 but each man is tempted, when he is drawn away by his own lust, and enticed.
We have a choice in our personal deeds. You have the Free Will to choose to cave in to the temptations of life or not. Johnathan Edwards in his work The Freedom of the Will defines “will” as “that by which the mind chooses”. We as human being make choices daily. You are choosing to be here tonight (or to read this online). You choose to eat, drink and much much more.
R. C. Sproul in Chapter 63 of his book Essential Truths of the Christian Faith writes: even the most ardent Calvinist would not deny that the will is free to choose whatever it desires. Even the most ardent Arminian would agree that the will is not free to choose what it does not desire.
The question then arises what is it man desires? Ps 37:4b he will give you the desires of your heart.
Section 2. In his state of innocency man had freedom and power to will and to do what was good and acceptable to God. Yet, being unstable, it was possible for him to fall from his uprightness.
Gen 3:6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat; and she gave also unto her husband with her, and he did eat.
ECCL 7:29 Behold, this only have I found: that God made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions. Or the Amplified version Behold, this is the only [reason for it that] I have found: God made man upright, but they [men and women] have sought out many devices [for evil].
Prior to the fall man was fully capable of free will. God did not in fact create robots. Yet seemingly always man desires what he does not have. Better put he covets those things he thinks will better his life. There may or may not be any measurable benefit to his desires but that will not deter man from trying to obtain his desires. Those who have ever battled any form of addiction (drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, etc.) understand this all too well. We would do anything for that next high knowing full well the last was a disappointment but having high (pun intended) hopes the next will fully satisfy or desires.
It is this selfish desire that man will, on his own, ALWAYS revert too. We have shown in John 3:19 above and discussed at length previously (See sermon on John 3) that man has no innate ability to do that which is upright before God. Man is sinful and that sinfulness comes from the desires of his heart.
So I wish to spend the remainder of our time looking at the word and deeds surrounding the sin of COVETOUSNESS
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (KJV) defines it as:
kuv'-et-us-nes: Has a variety of shades of meaning determined largely by the nature of the particular word used, or the context, or both. Following are some of the uses:
(1) To gain dishonestly (batsa`)
Exodus 18:21 Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens:
The way to gain favor with man and God is to deal honestly with them. Be a man of truth. We must as the bible says put off the old man (and all its worldly desires) while putting on the new man and focusing our desires on God.
Ezekiel 33:31 And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness.
Always beware of smooth talking men. You know the type they promise the world and cannot deliver. They are in for themselves. We see them throughout the bible (Serpent?) and even from pulpits today.
(2) The wish to have more than one possesses, inordinately, of course (pleonexia),
Luke 12:15 And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.
1 Thessalonians 2:5 For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness:
What will be the legacy of your life? Will it be the possession left behind or the exemplary life you led? It is never too late to leave a legacy as an example to all. There were two unknown thieves on the Calvary hill next to Christ. Both left indelible impressions on history one of damnation the other of life.
(3) An inordinate love of money philarguros,
Luke 16:14 And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him.
Those who look to themselves above all will deny the truth in any form.
2 Timothy 3:2; philarguria, For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,
Corruptible man is incapable of walking upright in the Lord
1 Timothy 6:10; the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
Note money in itself is not the root of all evil. It is the love of money over the love of God. Who or what is your IDOL. What or who is it you put before Christ? When my wife and I married our Pastor made a point to counsel us never to put one another before Christ. It is a word of wisdom I never fail to pass on.
Hebrews 13:5, Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.
Our conversation (life) should be one of gratitude. There is nothing wrong with asking for improvements (better running car, home, job etc.) but we should not let that become the focus of our desires. Our focus should always remain on God.
If we are going to call ourselves a Christian we must align our actions with those honoring God. Our will, our ability to choose our deeds and actions must be based upon His precepts His laws not our covetous desires. Otherwise we are nothing more than false witnesses to the Cross.
Next week part II Free Will in Salvation.