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      "To the Praise of the Glory of My 'Free' Will." ...?

      Saturday, January 12, 2008


      One of the most prominent debates in all of Christendom for say the last 2,000 years or so has been the issue of man’s “free” will. Pelagius and Augustine disputed this as early as the late 300’s, but many think that this is really about the first time this issue was ever addressed. Now it’s no secret that the Puritans regarded “free” will to be an idol. Take John Owen and Augustus Toplady for example. I must admit that I agree with them, but I’ve always tried to make a case for it (as opponents of the doctrine say) using only the words of the Bible. I am all for Sola Scriptura, but I am not for Scripture out of context. There's a big difference. I presume the greats of the past have used the following argument, and the only reason I'm not aware of it is because of my ignorance. Nonetheless, I’m not aware of this particular argument being used so if you know of some writer that has addressed the subject using these two verses, please let me know so I can read further.

      I’ve heard many convincing cases against “free” will like how many verses there are that speak about what man is not able to do in his unregenerate state, but none that say what he is able to. That’s pretty telling right there. Earlier today, though, I was reading through Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians and something caught my attention. Paul wrote:

      “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a stewardship of the gospel is committed unto me.”
      (1Co 9:16-17)

      Now, at first this may seem like a strong case for a man having a “free” will to choose to follow God if he pleases or not. It may even look trivial, but look a bit closer and read this verse… (here’s the key)… in context. When did Paul write this letter to the Corinthians? Was it before or after his conversion? It was obviously after. Well, what was his will to do before his conversion? Anyone who honestly deals with facts will admit that before Jesus Christ knocked him off his horse, he was killing Christians. In fact, he was doing exactly what his will permitted him to do. His will was sinful, and because he chose according to what his desires and will wanted him to do, he killed Christians with his will; not against it. Take into account what exactly Paul was doing on that Damascus road. (Acts 9) He was following his will that was entirely free to kill Christians as he pleased. Note that was his will. Now, note what he says in his first epistle to the Corinthians: “if I preach not the gospel! For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will,” It seems his will changed. He now speaks of a different will when he says, “against my will” (which is also why I believe Romans 7 was written as a believer, but that’s something to address at another time.) If it were true that he had this will his entire life and was killing Christians all the while saying, “Ah, this is against my will.”, then he would not have said in his epistle to the Philippians:

      “Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinks that he has reasons he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but rubbish, that I may win Christ,
      (Php 3:4-8)

      Certainly unregenerate Paul counted killing Christians to be gain to him because he considered “persecuting the church” to be an attribute then, but post-conversion he “counted them loss for Christ.” Why would a man in one sense count all of those things that Paul mentions in Php 3:4-6 gain, but later to be loss? Why would a man that is acting according to what his nature will allow him to choose prior conversion speak of doing certain things post conversion to be “against his will”? It’s simple. His will was not free to do what was pleasing to God, but rather pleasing to himself. The issue of “free” will is a myth. The will is free only to choose what a person’s nature will allow it to. Paul’s sinful nature only allowed him to persecute Christians and have no remorse. Paul’s post-conversion spiritual nature allowed him to say, “Oh, I count all that but loss for the very sake of the one whose people I have persecuted!”

      “Free” will is a myth, and it is nothing more than an egocentric way to say in so many words, “God saved me because of my ‘goodness’.” It’s why Paul the Apostle could kill those who preached Christ according to his will prior to Christ’s intervention and say that not preaching Christ would be “against his will” post intervention. It’s also why he could say: “To the praise of the glory of his (God’s) grace, in which he (God) has made us (objects of mercy) accepted in the beloved (Christ).” (Eph 1:6) and didn’t say, “To the praise of the glory of my ‘free’ will decision to follow Christ and stop persecuting the Church.” It’s also why the writer of Matthew makes it perfectly clear that one is “born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (Joh 1:13)


      After the first clip that deals with being God centered, here is a three part clip where Mark Kielar explains the history of the doctrine of ‘free’ will, what exactly the human will is, and contrasts it with God’s Sovereign grace which He is free to give as he pleases. As it is written, “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (Php 2:13) Note that it is not written, “It is you who works in God both to do and to will of your good pleasure.”


      6 comments:

      Joe C said...

      Hey Lane,

      I just wanted to say, I don't bear any hardship or malice towards you. And also that I enjoyed this post, it's a really good way of explaining the "free" will issue to people who don't quite get the whole picture. I find the way you put it is generally easiest way to explain it. You know, how you talked about how a man is a free only to choose what his nature dictates. Before a man is brought to Christ, he is consumed by his sinful nature, and choses to sin, which is natural for him. After conversion, a man with a changed heart towards God, would be able to chose the things of God, or still disobey (sin) since we fight with our flesh still as Christians. I think at that point you have actual free will, knowing good from evil, chose to obey or disobey, but only because God has saved you. A good way to put it indeed.

      Joe

      Lane Chaplin said...

      Joe,

      I want you to know that I hold no hostility towards you, either. The reason I come across so harsh is because you take what I say from a fleshly perspective, which anyone who does that reacts the exact same way (myself included if I were to do so.) I left you a comment at Symphony of Scripture. I hope this helps you understand why exactly I sound the way I do to you and why compromise is not an issue. When you go to CRN.info for guidance, of course I can't speak for everyone there but from what I've read, they aren't walking in the light. If they were, they wouldn't react so negatively and vehemently against it when it is shown upon them by Ingrid and others. (For everyone that does evil hates the light, neither comes to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he that does truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are worked in God. - Jesus Christ (Joh 3:20-21)) Now, it's clear that Ingrid claims that those at CRN.info are partaking in the works of the devil, and it's clear that CRN.info is claiming that her works are satanic. They can't both be right. Who do you believe? Well, if you're a child of God, you believe in Jesus Christ as he is recorded in Scripture regardless of what any man says opposite of Him.

      Know that you've been in my prayers and will continue to be, but also know that when it comes to Christ, compromise isn't an option, not declared by me, but declared by Him:

      Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father who is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father who is in heaven. Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that takes not his cross, and follows after me, is not worthy of me. He that finds his life shall lose it: and he that loses his life for my sake shall find it.

      - Jesus Christ
      (Mat 10:32-39)

      and

      He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathers not with me scatters abroad.

      - Jesus Christ
      (Mat 12:30)


      There is no neutrality as Christ declares. One's either with Him or against Him. If he truly is my Lord, I can't say there is some sort of friendly neutrality and still be serving and worshiping Him in Spirit and in truth; neither can anyone else. I pray you understand that regardless of the price you will have to pay in order to do so.

      Anonymous said...

      John MacArthur: Because God says it doesn’t. And, that, also, is not comprehensible to me, but that’s what it says. The Bible says that people go to hell because they refuse to believe. I believe that as strongly as I believe the doctrine of election. I believe the sinner is culpable. The sinner is guilty. I believe, the sinner is responsible to God and will be judged for his willful rejection. How God partners up His sovereign elective purpose with volition and human responsibility is maybe something God could have told me more about, but I think, in the end, that no matter how much He told me about it, I still would not comprehend it. So, it’s like everything else in my life, when it comes to God. As John Murray once wrote: “In all major doctrines there’s an apparent paradox that appears to us inscrutable.” But, that’s because we’re dealing with the infinite with finite minds. I don’t think, if I had more information on how election and human responsibility go together, it would help me to ultimately understand it. But, I think it’s wrong for people who believe strongly in human responsibility and human will and who see the call of the gospel extended universally, and the culpability of sinners clearly indicated in scripture over and over and over again to, therefore assume that the doctrine of election is in violation of that and is not true.
      Lane,
      Can you not say that man's free will and God's election crosses paths and we as humans cannot explain it?

      Lane Chaplin said...

      I cannot say that and stay true to my conscience. Man's will is corrupt. Paul was killing Christians according to his will prior-conversion and said that neglecting to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ whose sheep he was killing would be against his will post-conversion. I believe the reason you are having a hard time with this is because you come with the presumption that man's will is the determining factor of whether God "mercies who He mercies and compassions (the greek word is a verb) whom he compassions." Since Adam ate the fruit, all men are guilty. No one deserves salvation regardless of anything they do and regardless if their will is free or not. The only one since him that wasn't was Christ. If it's by some act of man's free will that he's made right with God, then the glory doesn't go to God but to the man for doing something right and deserving merit which contradicts what Scripture teaches. (Eph. 2:8-9) I do believe there is a point where man's responsibility and God's election meet, but the reason man even responds correctly is to the praise of the glory of His grace. It's not because a man can proclaim a good thing he did and urge others to do the same. ("free" will decision and/or "sinner's prayer") "Most profess their own goodness, but who can find a faithful man?" (Prov. 20:6)

      I believe the issue of man's will not being the determinant factor in salvation is dismissed only because of a low view of sin and a high view of man, hence modern "evangelicalism".

      Anonymous said...

      The gospel is not fragile. In it, the wisdom of God in Christ overthrows kingdoms, powers, principalities, egos, and various cherished doctrines.

      "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith" (Rom. 1:16-17)

      What is the condition of man apart from Christ, and what salvation is offered to us in that condition? The Word of salvation does not come to sinners who are ailing. It comes to sinners who are dead. It does not come to those who have anything to contribute to the process of resurrection. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He was not pulling while Lazarus pushed. Before the word of life comes to us, before the breath of God is breathed into us, our condition is hopeless.

      We are in the grip of carnal hatred. Without Christ, what does the mind of man do? Where does it gravitate? "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (8:7). Described another way, this condition of hatred is a form of death, and it is a death that reigns. Apart from Christ, sinners are dead -- not sick. "And so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned" (Rom. 5:12). Again, the image here should be that of Lazarus in the tomb. How much did he contribute to his resurrection?

      Enslaved means enslaved. Prior to regeneration, an image Scripture gives for our condition is that of slavery. "Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness" (6:18). A man cannot serve two masters. He is either a slave of unrighteousness, or he is a slave of righteousness.

      This is the condition of sinful man. How extensive is the problem? Does it afflict a portion of the human race, or all of it? The third chapter of Romans is conclusive on the extent of the sin problem. All are under sin (3:9), whether Jew or Gentile. No one seeks God (3:11). No one does good (3:12). No one fears God (3:18). "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 2:23). Tall or short, rich or poor, Jew or Gentile . . . all have angered God.

      We are tempted to think that our moral inability to please God must somehow alleviate our guilt. This is because we want to measure our culpability by our own ability to do otherwise, which is not how the Bible defines sin. Sin is lawlessness, and not going contrary to our better impulses. Sin is defined by the Scriptures, not by those things we have done wrong that we might have done right. The fact that the law condemns sinners who by nature are unable to be anything else does not in the slightest excuse them. The law says what it says so that the whole world might become guilty before God (3:19). If the Bible said, "Thou shalt not be a snake," the fact that the snakes can't help it would not excuse them. We are by nature objects of wrath.

      Now if man cannot save himself, or prepare himself for salvation, then how can it be done? We are saved through the decision of the Father, the obedience of the Son, and the coming of the Holy Spirit. First we should consider the decision of the Father. The fact that a passage is famous does not silence it. "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his son . . ." (8:29). Those whom the Father foreknew, those upon whom He had set his electing love, these He predestined to glory. The salvation of God has its origin in the sovereign will of the Father.

      But the decision does not save by itself. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit together weave the salvation of man. The obedience of the Son is next -- it is through Christ we receive atonement (5:11). The first Adam plunged all his descendants into death (5:17). The last Adam accomplished abundant life for all His descendants (5:17-19), the new humanity. The salvation of God was accomplished in the death, burial and resurrection of the Son, our Lord Jesus Christ (5:6).

      Then came the Spirit. The Father chose us before all worlds. The Son died outside Jerusalem, two thousand years ago. When does the Spirit do His work? In the first place, He was poured out upon the Church at the Day of Pentecost. And in the second place . . . well, when were you converted? "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death" (8:2). Our minds are either carnal, which is death (8:6), or they are quickened by the Spirit, in which case we mortify the flesh (8:13), and we cry out Abba in the spirit of adoption (8:15-16).

      How should we respond to this two-fold understanding of redemption? It is two-fold because we are dead and Christ makes us alive. It is a two-part thing -- death and resurrection. The carnal mind and the faithful mind respond to this in two entirely different ways. The carnal mind says that "this makes us puppets." Because the carnal mind will not bend before God's logic, it breaks. "Thou wilt say then unto me . . ." (9:19). The one place this argument (which makes such good sense to our flesh) appears in the Bible it is directed against the Lord's apostle. If you make it, who do you direct it against? If we reject this kind of intellectual rebellion, as we ought to, we find the glory of submission. Election, and all the truths that follow from it, are a glory and a covering. "What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us . . ." (8:31-34).

      And this is how we persevere -- the perseverance of the saints is not so much a doctrine to be affirmed as it is a life to be lived. And it is to be lived on the basis of what God has revealed to us. Not only are we to believe the doctrines taught in the Word of God, we are to believe what God tells us about their effect -- on our lives, on the unity of the saints, on the purity of our faith, on the eventual salvation of all men.

      Lane Chaplin said...

      Very well said, second Anonymous person!

      I do ask in the future that anonymous persons at least leave their first name in closing of their comments. I haven't stated this policy on the blog yet, but I would like it to be done in the future so I can know who writes great comments like the previous one or be able to dismiss pejorative assertions that anonymous people have an inclination to make and run away.

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