March 01, 2011

Laus Deo Part 5

Here is the Fifth installment of my guest blogger Ben Hogan's discussion on Free Will and Grace.  You can read it (and Ben's other posts) in it's entirety at http://www.bzhogan.blogspot.com/.  As always my comments are either in [] or at the end in bold.


"Jeremiah says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”

Romans 3 says, “For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.’”

The language here is clear. We are inherently sinful. Granted, some people by nature are more generous than others and can perform more good works than others, and that is still by a gift of God, but it does not imply salvation or a life free from the bondage of sin and death. Actually, since we are bound by sin and only know how to operate in such a way, then it isn’t right to say that we have “free will” anyway because we are enslaved to sin. Free will, in itself, really doesn’t exist. We’re either under the bondage of sin and can only act accordingly, or we are regenerated by the Holy Spirit and living by God’s grace who works in us to will and to act. Either way, we are not so in charge of our lives and emotions and intellect and will that we can say it is truly free. Augustine would actually say that the will is indeed free, but not freed. Free of righteousness, but enslaved to sin. Is it starting to sink in a little deeper now?

Augustine actually made an interesting point about how it could be wrong to deny free will. Why would he say that? He says, “Only, lest anyone should presume so to deny freedom of will, from a desire to excuse sin.” It’s almost like Paul making the argument in Romans 6 that we shouldn’t keep sinning just because we’re under grace. There is never an excuse for sin. You’re not forced to sin; you do it willingly, under the influence of your inherited sin nature.

Augustine would say that if there is indeed a free will, it is only after we have been given it, by grace. Nothing should be said of us that doesn’t inveigh it being graciously given by God. In Augustine’s own words:

“How much so ever miserable men presume to plume themselves on free will before they are made free, or on their strength after they are made free, they do not consider that in the very expression free will, liberty is implied. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17). If, therefore, they are the servants of sin, why do they boast of free will? He who has been vanquished is the servant of him who vanquished him. But if men have been made free, why do they boast of it as of their own work? Are they so free that they are unwilling to be the servants of Him who has said, ‘Without me, you can do nothing’?” (John 15:5).

So, then, throwing the phrase “free will” around does no good because it is improperly used anyway. Calvin suggested that the church would do itself a great favor by dismissing of the use of it altogether. I would be inclined to agree only because it brings different definitions and ideas to people’s heads, which means it isn’t doing itself justice to use it. The underlying problem is that we are not looking to Scripture for a real understanding of the concept. In fact, you won’t find the term “free will” mentioned anywhere in the Bible.

After gaining a proper understanding of our inability to will ourselves to salvation and of God’s efficacious calling through election, we begin to have a real, deep, understanding of just how powerful and holy God is. We have so much to be thankful for that we should be called children of God.

Going back to Romans 9, Paul says, “What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory.“

This is something that Paul is undoubtedly saying from his own personal experience, which has helped him in understanding God’s grace all the more. It is strikingly similar to what he wrote to Timothy in his first letter (verses 12-17):

“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Amen indeed. Paul said that even thought he was a blasphemer and the worst of all sinners, God had immense mercy on him and gave him much grace, SO THAT His immense patience would serve as an example to all the other believers. Remember how Paul came to know the Lord? It wasn’t because of Paul; it was because of God’s divine intervention on the road going to Damascus. Just like Paul wrote to the Romans…that some people are bore with great patience, even prepared for destruction, SO THAT they can be used to display the riches of God’s glory to the objects of his mercy; he also wrote to Timothy that he himself was shown great patience SO THAT Jesus could use him as an example for those who are objects of God’s mercy, those who would believe and receive eternal life.

God has a purpose for everything. Sometimes the evil we see in our lives is there just for us to draw closer to Him and to learn about the riches of His glory. Isn’t that bizarre? The bad in the world is often there just for our own benefit.

After King Hezekiah was healed from an illness that nearly killed him, he said, “Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish. In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind your back.”

Hezekiah knew that the pain was for his benefit, but let’s also remember that while we may benefit greatly from our pain and trials, God is always glorified through it. We receive the benefit. God receives the glory. For my own name’s sake I delay my wrath; for the sake of my praise I hold it back from you, so as not to destroy you completely. See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another. (Isaiah 48:9-11)”

Everything is purposed and within God’s command and will, even the evil that we see in the world. Satan had to get permission from God in order to torment Job (Job 1).

In light of the examples of people we see in Scripture and the detailed account from Paul in Romans 9 of how some people are created for noble purposes and some for ignoble, we can only assert that, yes, God has already planned the outcome for everyone, but he uses both the elect and non-elect to display his glory and purpose.

For us, as believers, we can teach that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord be saved (Romans 10:13). If we are teaching the true Gospel, then the Holy Spirit will do its work. You see, we don’t have to run our own litmus tests on who is really regenerated in order to know if they are really saved. While we should be aware of whether or not we are bearing fruit, we should know that the Holy Spirit will do all the work in saving people, through Christ. We deliver the unadulterated message. It is part of God’s plan to use those who have already believed in Him to further His work (Matt. 28:19, 20). The wrong assumption would be to stop all evangelizing and prayer and witnessing since we know that God has already ordained and established everything. That would be missing the point for God’s work in our lives. We are often part of his electing plan in the lives of others.

I like what John Calvin says regarding this, “Men are indeed to be taught that the favor of God is offered, without exception, to all who ask it; but since those only begin to ask whom heavenly grace inspires, even this minute portion of praise must not be withheld from Him. It is the privilege of the elect to be regenerated by the Spirit of God, and then placed under his guidance and government.""

With you for His glory