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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Free Indeed: Liberty In Christ

"True liberty consists only in the power of doing what we ought to will, and in not being constrained to do what we ought not to will." - Jonathan Edwards

As I read this statement above earlier this week, it began to dawn on me how often we as humans can seriously misunderstand what true liberty actually entails. We have a great inclination to believe that to be free means to do whatever we will--everything is a matter of choice, right? Especially in considering the United States of America, freedom equates to free will. In other words we can do what we want, so long as we understand, what I like to call, the "Spider-Man principle":

With great freedom comes great responsibility.
(Okay--so it's not exactly what he said, but you get the idea...)

But can this answer really suffice? Is this really just a matter of opinion? Are we scientifically engineered to be autonomously free? These are the tough questions that have been struggled with for centuries. The popular worldview of the day definitely would lend itself towards affirming the notion of free will, but this may be a bit premature. Survey the following statement:

So even in the scientific realm, there is no clear cut answer to the problem of the liberation of the will. However, there was something said that was very important. The speaker found the idea of arbitrary, random acts of the will to be disconcerting. Is there some sort of "glitch in our system"? If we read the statement at the beginning by Edwards correctly, then the answer would have to be a resounding "yes".

A Crack in the Liberty Bell

According to scripture, man is "free" to act as he naturally wills. The only down side is that man is naturally inclined to do what he ought not do. Ours is a tainted freedom. This is something that we all know from our own personal experience. We can all identify with the apostle Paul when he says,

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. - Romans 7:15-20 ESV

It is because of our inherent sinful nature (Original Sin) that we cannot do the things that we know that we should do--acknowledgement and glorification of God. In turn, this doesn't leave us free at all. In fact, it leaves us desperately enslaved to sin (Genesis 3; John 8:34; Romans 1:18-23, 3:11-18 & 23).

Order from Chaos (Who's choosin' who?!)

So far as we have seen, our choosing will get us nowhere. Our wills are, in fact, in bondage to sin and evil. This has been attested to from both the secular and christian worldview. However, in the majority of Churches and christian institutions, the problem of the will becomes even more confounded by doctrinal inconsistency with the Word of God. Listen to this song performed at Pensacola Christian College:

So, in other words (according to the lyrics of this song), I'm the captain of my fate and the master of my own destiny--even though in my natural state (from the verses referenced above) I am completely incapable of seeking after God. How can these things be? I do believe that their "wonderful gift of choice" is an exercise in futility, not to mention unbiblical:

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. - John 1:9-13 ESV

"No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe." (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father." - John 6:44, 63-65 ESV

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. - John 15:16 ESV

Nowhere else is this case more firmly driven home than in this particular passage of scripture:

So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. - Romans 9:16 ESV

Freed to Serve

Our freedom is paid at a very high cost; by the death of Christ. Contrary to popular beliefs that circulate in our day, we are not brought out of the bondage of sin simply to do whatever we wish(1 Corinthians 6:19-20). As Martin Luther stated,

"Saint Augustine writes, that free-will, without God's grace and the Holy Ghost, can do nothing but sin...Hence, we conclude in general, that man, without the Holy Ghost and God's grace, can do nothing but sin; he proceeds therein without intermission, and from one sin falls into another. Now, if man will not suffer wholesome doctrine, but contemns the all-saving Word, and resists the Holy Ghost, then through the effects and strength of his free-will he becomes God's enemy; he blasphemes the Holy Ghost, and follows the lusts and desires of his own heart, as examples in all times clearly show."

So, it is God who grants us grace through the gift of faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). We are set free from the bonds of sin to be slaves of righteousness. The freedom that is to be found in Christ is not one of independence, but rather total dependence and reliance on the person and work of Jesus Christ and to be tethered to him throughout eternity. It is then (and only then) that we are not only free to do what we want, but also to do what we ought to its chief end (Mark 12:28-31). A country's freedom is dependent on its military to maintain that freedom--and how much more does the liberation of our souls depend upon the grace of God to break us free from the chains of sin and bind us in the chains of Christ!

Derek Webb - "Medication"

"The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." - John 8:35-36 ESV

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." - John 15:1-5 ESV

For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. - Romans 6:20-23 ESV

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. - Romans 7:21-25 ESV

Soli Deo Gloria,


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