The Free Will Fallacy

A few days ago, one of the parishioners of the church I serve, called me with an interesting question. At the time he called, I was unable to answer my phone, so he left a message on my voice mail. He said: “Hey Pastor! I was just calling you with a question: Where is it in the Bible where it talks about man having free will?” Well, as I listened to his message, I asked myself: Is there any scripture in the Bible that speaks to the issue of man having free will?

The Bible indicates that there once was a time in the beginning, when man ‘had’ limited free will! Before Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, they had the ability to freely choose to obey or disobey God. However, Adam and Eve were the only humans created with that limited free will! When Adam and Eve made the choice to disobey God, sin entered into the world and consequently, the limited free will that Adam and Eve had was lost! The Bible teaches that all who were born after sin entered into the world, were and are, born with a sinful nature and a natural propensity to sin.

Now, I don’t know where it came from, but I grew up believing we had the absolute freedom to choose good or evil. I onced believed we came into this world innocent and neutral and the ultimate decision was to choose righteousness and goodness or sin and evil before we died! But, that is not the case at all! According to the Bible, we were all; born with a sinful disposition! We were not born neutral; we were born sinners! Apparently, the ancient King David recognized this fact because he wrote in Psalm 51:5: “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” There are some who are suggesting today, that their sinful disposition should be excused and affirmed because they were “born that way!” But, is the fact that all of us were born in sin a legitimate excuse to remain in sin? None of us had a choice in the matter, we were all born sinners, with a natural propensity or tendency to sin! Have you ever noticed the fact that you really don’t have to teach a child to do wrong? They are born with a natural tendency to try to lie, steal, and cheat!

And are we to blame God and say it’s all right for them to lie, steal and cheat, simply because they didn’t have a choice in the matter because they were born that way? Of course not! Our original parents were not forced to disobey God, they made a choice to disobey God and as a consequence, all of their offspring are born with a sinful disposition. Therefore, we teach, encourage, and train our children not to lie, steal, and cheat, although doing so, is in a sense, unnatural to their natural disposition! We do this because of the existence of a moral code, the ignoring or violation of which, causes society to sink into moral degradation and chaos! We teach them to do right, although it is against their nature to do right!

Now, the inability to exercise free will presents a moral dilemma! How can man be expected to do the right thing when he does not have the freedom to choose right? The Apostle Paul gives voice to this dilemma in Romans 7:15-25, he writes: “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. 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, bin 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!” (ESV) The Good News of the Gospel is that through acceptance of and faith in the sacrificial, atoning work of Jesus on Calvary’s cross and God subsequently raising him from the dead, we can be set free from the power of sin! Paul Achtemeier writes of those who are believers: “Because of Christ, we have, for the first time, a real choice: For the first time, we can choose not to sin! For the first time, it is possible that exhortations to good can be followed. . . The enslaving power of sin no longer rules us.”[1]

Achtemeier further asserts:

“The power of sin has been broken. The Christian is no longer enslaved to it. After dying with Christ in baptism, the Christians are free from the lordship of sin. For the first time, they can do something other than sin. . .Free to do what is good, not what sin forces them to do. They are now free to do what God wants them to do. And right there is the problem. As human creatures, Christians are free only within the framework of some lordship, either of God or of sin. There is for human being whether baptized into Christ or not, no neutral ground. Human beings are creatures, not gods. It is precisely the search for that ‘neutral ground’ that search to be gods for themselves, that got human beings into enslavement to sin in the first place. So the choice is not slavery or freedom in some absolute sense. The choice is, rather, slavery to which lord, to which ruling power?”[2]

Achtemeier’s last point brings us full circle back to our original premise; the question of free will. Absolute free will is a fallacy because we are human beings and not gods. Free will within the constraints of humanity outside of a relationship with God through Christ is a fallacy because the person who has no relationship with God through Christ is under the bondage of sin. Sinners sin because they can’t help themselves! It’s their nature! Sin is their master and they have no choice! The Christian has, to some extent, free will, because the Christian can choose not to sin and to obey God. However, even the Christian does not have absolute free will because, he is human and not a god. It is because Christian is redeemed that the Christian has the freedom to choose which master he will serve!

[1] Paul J. Achtemeier, Romans (Interpretation, a Bible commentary for teaching and preaching), Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1985, 105.

[2] Achtemeier, 109.

Just As I Am?

    just-as-i-am  The song says: “Just as I am, without one plea, Thou blood was shed for me. And Thou that biddest me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come!” Traditionally, the song has served as a testimony of God’s grace toward the repentant sinner. However as of late, the phrase: “Just as I am” is erroneously being used by people who have no intentions to change or repent to come to God. Let me explain. There really is no need to “clean up” before coming to God. In fact, if we could “clean ourselves up” there would be no need to come to God! The Bible declares in Isaiah 64:6: “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” (KJV) It is of interest to note that the word translated as “filthy” in the Hebrew text was the same word used to denote a woman’s menstrual rag! The prophet was saying that all of our so-called righteous deeds are like a woman’s used tampon or Kotex pad in God’s sight! Ugh!!! The point I am trying to make is this: There is nothing we can do to make ourselves “presentable” or “worthy” of God’s acceptance and grace. In fact, if we could, then grace wouldn’t be grace!

So then, it is because of our inability to clean ourselves up and the power of God’s grace that we can come to God “just as we are.” However, although we can come to God just as we are, once we come to God, we cannot remain as we are! One of the aspects of salvation that is not being talked about much these days is the concept of repentance. We read of John the Baptizer’s stance concerning repentance in Luke 3:7-14: He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” (ESV) Note that for each individual or group that came to John to be baptized, a change of attitude and behavior was required to serve as “proof” or evidence of conversion.  Biblical repentance (the repentance that God requires for salvation) is not simply being sorry or remorseful for sin, but rather it is a change in attitude and behavior! It is not just a matter of turning to God, it also involves turning away from sin! In other words, the drunk can come to God just as he is; a drunkard, but he cannot continue to be a drunkard and expect God to be OK with it! The Bible demand repentance; a change in attitude and behavior!

Now this change of attitude and behavior is completely beyond the capacity of the sinner to do on his own! When a person truly repents and comes to God, that person is “born again!” God places His nature or His Spirit within that person; a change instantaneously occurs and a spiritual transformation begins to take place. The instant change is called “being born again” and the transformation is called sanctification: It is the process whereby the truly repentant and saved individual is gradually conformed to the image of Christ. In the “old church” the emphasis was mostly on being “born again.” But being “born again” is not the end-goal, but rather being born again (made a new creation in Christ [John 3:3-8; 2 Corinthians 5:17]) is just the beginning of the process whereby the individual is transformed into the person God called and created them to be! (See Romans 12:1-2) Just as a baby is born in a moment and we are happy, we would stop rejoicing and start being concerned if the baby didn’t grow and develop from infant to adulthood through the process of growth and human development within the framework of time.

We can accept and understand this in the natural course of life, but when it comes to the spiritual realm, there are many today who are expecting some completely unnatural and even freakish developments! For instance, it is unnatural to expect God to accept and be OK with sinners who keep on sinning after they claim to have been saved! I’m sorry, I know this statement is not “politically correct” in our day and time, but there really is no such thing as a “saved sinner!” For instance, the idea of a “saved liar!” is absurd! A saved person doesn’t consistently, habitually as a lifestyle trait and action, tell lies! Now this is not to say that saved people never lie! No! I am not saying that! But I am saying: Saved people do not consistently, habitually, practice lying as a lifestyle trait! I use lying as an example, but anything the Bible designates as sin can be substituted and the principle remains the same: The truly “saved” person does not make the practice of sinning a consistent, habitual, lifestyle trait! The Apostle John wrote in 1 John 3:9: “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God.” (ESV) Listen! I don’t care how much they might speak in tongues or how much anointing they might claim to have; according to the Bible, people who consistently practice a lifestyle that the Bible calls sin are not saved! The fact that they consistently practice a sinful lifestyle is the proof! Now, the issue today is that people want to “redefine” what sin is! But it really doesn’t matter how “natural” it might feel, if the Bible calls it sin; it is sin! And no matter how we might try to justify our sinful behavior, by our “redefinition” on sin, that doesn’t change the fact that our behavior is sinful!

Who are we to call what God has called wrong; right? In fact, the Bible pronounces doom upon those who do this! “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20 KJV) One of the things I learned early in life is that when you’re in living in someone else’s house, you must abide and live by their rules, whether you like them or not! The last time I checked; God was still in control! This is God’s world, not ours! We are living in His house! No matter how we might not agree with Him, that does not change the fact that the LORD, He is God! It is He that has made us! Contrary to what many might like to believe; God is NOT a creation of man; man IS a creation of God! And since God is the Creator, the creature is subject to the rules of the Creator! And if the Creator calls it wrong, it’s wrong! If the Creator calls it sin; it’s sin! It doesn’t matter how “good” or “natural” it might feel! It is His world that we are living in! It is He that made us; we didn’t make Him! And it’s not a valid excuse to say that it’s OK because that is the way the Creator made us! He made us perfect, but when sin entered into the world, His creation was marred! (See Genesis 3) Therefore, we were all born a certain way that wasn’t the way God originally made us! We were all born “wrong,” that’s why we all need to be “born again!” And since we were all born wrong and we all need to be born again, when He invites us to come to Him “just as we are,” it is foolish and absurd on our part to think He would be satisfied to leave us in the same broken and helpless condition in which we were born!

“Houston; We Have A Problem!!!”

mission controlI remember years ago, whenever there was a major situation on board the command module of the Apollo space flights, the astronauts would always radio back to earth with this message: “Houston; we have a problem!” Well, in just the past couple of years, it’s been Trayvon Martin in Florida, Micheal Brown in Missouri, Eric Garner in New York, and now, Freddie Gray in Maryland, not to mention the countless others whose names I can’t recall and others who did not make the national headlines! It is fairly obvious to me that we have a problem! It is a systemic problem that springs from the core of America’s soul!

I was about to write a post about this when I came across this Facebook post from Benjamin Watson, who plays tight-end for the New Orleans Saints. I think Mr. Watson is right on with his assessment of the situation, so I’m going to let him speak for himself. The following is his Facebook post from April 29, 2015:

Benjamin Watson suit Benjamin Watson uniform“We have major problems as a nation. Yesterday Ferguson burned. Tonight ‪#‎Baltimore‬ burns. Tomorrow it will be another city in our homeland. Watching the coverage I’m hearing yet another version of a nauseatingly familiar narrative. Violence by police reciprocated by violence by the community, reciprocated by violence by police reciprocated by…. It seems fruitless to continue to analyze, condemn, and respond to these dreadful episodes. “Frustration, anger, tension boiling over, upset and unfortunate” are words we hear from Baltimore residents. When it comes to law enforcement, race, poverty, education, immigration we always talk about fixing “broken” systems. We resolve to legislate for education, job creation, and systemic overhaul. These are helpful and definitely needed BUT we have done all of these things ad nauseum and look at us!! Without a change of heart these attempts fail us. So what can we say? What can we do? Systems are broken because people are broken and if systems are fixed without hearts being changed the result will be a legalistic attempt that will lack long term results. Our problems are wholistic and common to the human heart. Hatred, prejudice, exploitation, pride, self righteousness, secrecy, and rebellion, manifest itself in the explosions we’ve seen over the last year, the last century, and the last millennia.

Tonight I see so much entrenched pain without remedy. Most are handling it without violence while a few are committing the unacceptable.
Tonight I see young children, asking like my daughter did earlier, “What’s happening daddy”, in desperate need of parents to walk them through these disturbing scenes.
Tonight I see “smoke,” but we must address the fire. The response that we are watching is just “smoke” from years of hopelessness. After each situation the more I am convinced that the love of God for our fellow brothers and sisters who were created in His image, is our only hope for reconciliation. But the only way we can even see him that way is if God illuminates our view and changes our thought process. I’m not talking about holding hands and singing. Love is an action that compels one to treat another with dignity and respect even if they don’t deserve it. It pushes for education and opportunities for those in poverty. It gives identity and self worth. It administers justice without abuse. It honors authority and promotes peace. It is not weak, but strong for what is right!
Tonight I see a brokenness that only Christ can give us the wisdom and power to mend.

We pray for every disaster that happens to us. Bombings, natural disasters, cancer and outbreaks. What we’ve seen in our country lately deserves that same attention. Our attempts to fix this have fallen short.
We, and most importantly, the body of Christ, must stand for justice in all areas, for all people. We must set the standard for the correct way to treat people.

Tonight I pray for the pastors, leaders, police and community of Baltimore.
Tonight I ‪#‎PrayForAmerica‬.”

Thank you Mr. Watson, for sharing your insightful analysis!

The Land of the Living Dead!

living dead

For as long as I can remember, I have always been a horror and science fiction fan. Now, while some may see this as a conflict of interest in regard to my Christian faith, nevertheless, through the years I have found that being a viewer of Star Trek and horror movies has provided some good fodder for deep theological illustrations and insights and such is the case with this post.

I was reading the Epistles the other day when it suddenly dawn upon me that we are living in the land of the living dead! Let me show you what I’m talking about! In Ephesians 2:1, Paul informed the Ephesians that God had “quickened” (Old English word meaning; “made alive”) them who were once dead in their trespasses and sins. In Romans 6:2, Paul asked his readers: How could they who were; “dead to sin” live any longer in sin? Do you see that? According to Paul, the person who is not saved is “dead in sin” and in a sense “dead to God!” They are physically alive, but they are spiritually dead! On the other hand, the person who is saved is “dead to sin” and alive to God! The saved person is physically and spiritually alive, but is dead to sin! When we were lost, we were dead in sin! Once we are saved, we are dead to sin!

Therefore, everyone alive in the world today is, in a sense, a living dead person! The person who is not saved is alive to sin, but dead to God. The person who is saved is dead to sin, but alive to God! We are all, alive and dead at the same time! As a consequence, in this case, truth is stranger than fiction! Now, don’t go home and lock yourself in your closet! The zombies are not coming to get you! But, just know that every day you live; you are living in the land of the living dead!