Sunday, August 19, 2007

The freedom of the will

"If, then, I find taught in one place that everything is fore-ordained, that is true; and if I find in another place that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true; and it is my folly that leads me to imagine that two truths can ever contradict each other. " - C. H. Spurgeon

In all the doctrines of grace, the one most people find offensive is that which is called unconditional election. The assumption that God has chosen some over others is unthinkable to them, it offends their sense of justice. This is rightly so. How can a just God be capable saving all men, yet only choose to save some? Even worse so, if God is then responsible for calling man to himself, why has he not done so? In all of this, one is forced to ask, why cannot a man choose for himself salvation? The truth of the matter of the will must always rely on God. In all our existence God must be first, otherwise we have nothing in our faith. If God is not first in the lives of someone, that person is not a believer. The very thing a believer does is pray "Your will be done" (Matthew 6:10). From the very beginning of Genesis 1:1 God has not afforded us answers to 'why' and 'how' the things that be are in the state they they exist. God reveals His truth according to the good pleasure of His will. There are people who take it for what it says and there are those who refuse to accept it.

"How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, 'n' how many ears must
one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, 'n' how many deaths will it take
till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend,
is blowin' in the wind,
The answer is blowin' in the wind." - Bob Dylan "Blowin' in the Wind"

So when we find taught that it is God who calls, we cannot claim that we know who he calls and how he calls. We are told by God:

"And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy." - Exodus 3:19

This clearly indicates that we cannot know, nor it is the intention of the Father that we do know, who is going to be called to salvation and who is not. The discples had the same problem as we do with such doctrine (who can be saved) and in His graciousness Jesus gave them an answer:

25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, "Who then can be saved?" 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." - Matthew 19:25

Also Jesus asserts:

"No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day." - John 6:44

This seems to dishearten Christians, although I cannot understand how this is so. If you are a Christian, you have learned from God. This makes you a part of His kingdom.

The bigger question then becomes: Who then is called? If it is God who calls these people to Himself, why are we commanded to go out and teach the nations? Why should we evangelize or talk about God? To such people I generally hold my tounge, but the question that iches under my throat begs to be let out, to ask: How often do you speak about God to others? What evangelism do you do? What evangelism do you support? This goes beyong the mere handing out of tracts. This must be infused in your very life. Who can truly say "God did not make me an evangelist." God commands your evangelism:

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" - Matthew 28:19

In this the father has revealed the means of his election. He calls through the work of those who go out in his name and preach. If we look at some of the verses that teach us this manner of winning souls

"Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me" - John 6:45
"I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?" - John 9:27
"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. " - John 10:27
"How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?" - Romans 10:14

The faster men learn that it by hearing God's word that others will call on Him will be saved the better. We know that it is by no other than Christ's works that can save us. There are those that are not of God. They will not hear the word of God:

"Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God." - John 8:47

But that does not mean we remove from their ears the opportunity of hearing the word, for God may one day use the words that they heard as seeds that are slow in blossoming:

The sower sows the word.
15 And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them.
16 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy.
17 And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.
18 And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word,
19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.
20 But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold." - Mark 4:14 - 20

But first the seed must be thrown out. God has graciously given us seed to bear, we throw it out in faith, knowing that God is in control of the flight of the seed, the landing site of the seed, the manner in which the ground is tilled and the watering and nourishment of such seedlings. Sometimes He may use us, other times the seed may be dormant for a while, ready for harvest when it is His will.

Does this remove from man's free will? No, this doctrine does not encumber the freedom of man. Man may do whatever he pleases. Man is simply not in control of his salvation from evil. Being conceived in sin and brought fourth in iniquity it is the nature of man to sin.

"Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.
35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.
36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you." - John 8:34 - 37

We know that it is not up to man to save himself, otherwise Christ would have died in vain. We know that Christ came for those who would believe. This does not excuse us from doing His work that he called us to.

In evangelism, this proves a great relief. No matter what we do, we are saved, and God will save those who he wills. It does not count how badly we witness or how terrible an example we are to men, as sinners. We can count that the glory of God will always win out:

"If anyone's work[referring to work done in the name of the kingdom, being tested by fire on the last day] is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire." - 1 Corinthians 3:15

If it were not so, if all men could come of their own will, they dare not rest a single minute of their lives. I urge men to continue being Arminian, for their evangelism must be far more educated, far more intense and greater in grief than any others. The Arminian evangelist believes that man can chose God, regardless of the timing, on his own accord. Men who do not believe on Jesus Christ will be burned in eternity and the burden that befalls an Arminian who does not convince a man to truly believe must carry the weight greater than I could bear. I am not joyful over people who do not believe or do not repent, but I can rejoice that it is God who changes the mind and replaces the heart.

"And I will give them[you] one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them[you]. I will remove the heart of stone from their[your] flesh and give them[you] a heart of flesh" - Ezekiel 11:19 [36:26]

The Arminian theology does not let a man sleep at night for there are those who go unsaved. There are those who are not convinced. If God is not sovreign in salvation, then those men all have missed their opportunity of salvation. This is then the Arminians fault. If it is God who calls, the people of God may take some rest, to go to Church and keep a family, because they know that it is God who calls, and not one of His chosen will perish.

To any Arminian, I would ask you to consider these words:

"... Do you consider yourself to be compassionate of other humans? If you're right, as you say you are, and that you believe that, then how can you sleep at night? When you are speaking with me, you are speaking with someone who you believe is walking directly into eternal damnation, into an endless onslaught of horrendous pain which your 'loving' god created, yet you stand by and do nothing. If you believed one bit that thousands every day were falling into an eternal and unchangeable fate, you should be running the streets mad with rage at their blindness. That's equivalent to standing on a street corner and watching every person that passes you walk blindly directly into the path of a bus and die, yet you stand idly by and do nothing. You're just twiddling your thumbs, happy in the knowledge that one day that 'walk' signal will shine your way across the road... If you're right, then you're an uncaring, unemotional and purely selfish [explative] that has no right to talk about sbjects such as love and caring..." - J. D. Franz, Atheist1

This man knows what love is. He knows what caring is. I do not accuse all Arminians of not evangelising, I do not know all Arminians. These words plague my heart as I hope they do yours. I pray that they never leave you and that they affect your heart each and every time you hold back on what you believe. The Calvinist feels this pain as well, but does find some joy that at least if his efforts are not validated, that God will win those who are meant to be won.

I am not against Arminians, I think that there are those that are very doctrinely execellent. John Wesley was one such man. With insight and vigour his ministry flourished, although I am saddened to think of what he would say if he were around today. I think he would have more in common with Calvinists rather than those who call themselves Methodists:

Charles Simeon(CS) [to John Wesley(JW)]:"Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions... Pray, sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?"
JW: "Yes, I do indeed"
CS: "And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything that you do; and look to salvation soley through the blood and righteousness of Christ?"
JW: "Yes, soley through Christ."
CS: "But sir, supposing you were ar first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?"
JW: "No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last."
CS: "Allowing then, that you were first turned by grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?"
JW: "No."
CS: "What, then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in it's mother's arms?"
JW: "Yes, altogether."
CS: "And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?"
JW: "Yes, I have no hope but in Him."
CS: "Then Sir, with your leave I will put up my daggers again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially, unite in those things wherein we agree." 2

The choice put forth to man is who he shall serve, but man has chosen the world. Man is slaved to sin, only God can bring him out. One may ask if perhaps all men are elect and the act of acceptance is all that is required. Then I ask you what separates our God from the other gods in the world today. Why christianity for your salvation? There are many other religions that promise more earthly blessings for simple works. Ryken and Boice address such an issue:

[A person might say:] "The gift[salvation] has been selected and paid for, but no one can be forced to take a gift. In the same way, the world has been saved, but many will not be saved because they do not believe on Jesus"... Is unbeleif a morally neutral choice, merely deciding to accept or not to accept salvation? Or is it a sin? It is a sin, of course. In fact, it is the most damning of all sins, for it is the equivalent of trampling the very blood of the Son of God underfoot... If Jesus died for all sins, including the sin of unbelief...we are back once again to universalism.2

When man fights for his own will, he removes the possibility of God being sovreign over all things, for we can actively pursue that which actively offends God and renounces His will. To do so is to put ourselves on the same level of God, since we are equally opposed forces pulling and pushing in equal force to one another.
________________________

1 Ray Comfort "Intelligent design vs. Evolution: Letters to an Atheist", Bridge-Logos, ISBN 0-88270-166-5

2 James Montgomery Boice and Philip Graham Ryken "The Doctrines of Grace: Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel", Crossway Books, ISBN-10: 1-58134-299-3

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