Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sorry, But We Do Not Have A Free Will

One of the problems we face today when speaking to people about the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man is correcting the view that man has a free will.  We need to be very clear about what the Bible teaches about free will; no one has one except God.  Yes, man was originally created with one but lost it in the Fall.

The Bible is clear about this.  For instance, in Rom. 3 the Word of God says that no man seeks after God or is capable of doing any good thing.  Now think about this.  If I am by nature incapable of doing good then I am incapable of choosing to do good.  My will is corrupted in some way in which I cannot choose to do good.  It would be better to say that I cannot do good because I will not do good because I don’t want to do good. 

One might think within himself, “Wait just a minute, I am free to think and choose whatever I want to. No one is telling me what to think.  When I get up in the morning I am free to pursue whatever I want.  If I want to choose God I can and if I don’t want to, I won’t.”  One reason people have a hard time understanding free will is because they don’t detect any force or influence in their minds expect their own will. 

But to claim the freedom of the will to do either good or wrong is akin to saying that a dog has the freedom to bark or not.  There is a fundamental problem with this logic.  A dog does not have the freedom to choose between barking or meowing or mooing because he is a dog by nature.  Thus he is incapable of doing anything other than being a dog and dogs bark. 

Romans 3 is saying that this applies to humans as well.  We are by nature sinners and so the only thing we are capable of doing is sinning.  To insist on being able to exercise our will in a way that chooses God or obeys him is to insist to be able to do what sinners cannot do. 

One way fallen man has made this confusing is by changing the definition of sin and righteousness.  We redefine sin and lower God’s standards so that it appears that we are doing things that please him but we have only set ourselves up as the standard which means that everything we do is in rebellion to the Lord. 

Rom 6:17 says, “But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed.”  Here is another place where we learn that before God gives us a new nature we were under bondage to sin.  For the natural man to claim to have a will that is free is to claim to be his own boss independent of his sin nature.  But if the will is under bondage to sin, then it is not free; there is no third option, you are either free or a slave; you are either in jail or out of jail.  One cannot be in a middle position. 

It will be much easier to understand and explain the Bible when we don’t start with unbiblical presuppositions.  Understanding that we are totally corrupted by and in bondage to sin will immediately cause us to realize that we are totally dependent on God for every step of salvation.  And this is true of the rest of life also.  We need him each step of the way for without him we can do nothing; nothing but sin that is.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Who Did Jesus Understand Himself To Be?

Mar 10:19  You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'" Mar 10:20  And he said to him, "Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth." Mar 10:21  And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, "You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."

James White made an interesting point the other day speaking about the rich, young ruler.  In seeking to expose the fact that he was a law breaker and in particular an idolater Jesus tells him that in order to inherit eternal life he must keep God’s Law perfectly.  This young man does what so many have done before and after him.  He assumes that because he has not grossly broken the second table of the law he is not guilty of the first commandment. 

This got me to thinking.  Jesus starts off with the easier ones then finishes by showing that this man loves himself more than God because he is not willing to part with life’s pleasures for the sake of Christ.  Ultimately Jesus is teaching us that no poor attempts of law keeping are going to save anyone.  In order to inherit eternal life one must trust fully on Christ alone.  But first one has to realize that we are all lawbreakers regardless of how good you think you are.

So I think the beauty of Jesus’ words here is not that he moves from the law to himself because he doesn’t.  He is going to show this man that he is a law breaker and he is still referring to the 10 Commandments.  If I can paraphrase Jesus’ words I think he is in essence saying, “Okay, you think you have kept the 10 Commandments because you have kept from treating your fellowman cruelly.  Let’s cut to the chase.  The first commandment is that you shall have no other gods before me.”  (This Jesus more clearly explains means that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind.)

Now the amazing thing.  Jesus doesn’t say, “Are you willing to forsake all for Yahweh”, he says “Are you willing to forsake all for me!”  The question here is whether this man has broken the law and Jesus equates his love for Yahweh with his love for Jesus.  If the First table of the Law can be summed up in total love and allegiance to Yahweh and Jesus says in order to have eternal life one must give total allegiance to the Son, then it seems the obvious conclusion must be that Jesus is God.

Jesus is commanding this man to forsake all and follow only him.  If Jesus isn’t God then he is in essence commanding him to break the very first and greatest commandment.  Perhaps another way of putting it is that it is impossible to keep the commands of God unless one follows Christ as God.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Heavenly Obedience

We have been considering the Lord’s Prayer in Mathew 6.  While I was preparing the sermon on God’s will being done on earth as it is in Heaven I thought of a couple of places where we might get a glimpse of his will being done in Heaven.  We have all heard messages on how God’s will is done in Heaven and how our obedience should mirror the obedience of the angels in glory.  His will is no doubt done immediately, it is done totally, it is done by all, etc.  And these are certainly important things to consider as we examine our lives.

I believe a case could be made that it is also done eagerly.  If our God is perfect in his wisdom and goodness then any commands he gives must be for the most glorious purposes and we should be eager and joyful in our response or we are demonstrating a lack of faith in his perfectly glorious person.

So where are these examples?  How about the first chapter in Ezekiel?  Here the Cherubim are described for us.  In verse 9 we read, “Their wings touched one another. Each one of them went straight forward, without turning as they went.”  As we read through the chapter we see that this is mentioned quite a bit and seems somewhat obvious as to why.  Here are the verses:

Eze 1:12  And each went straight forward. Wherever the spirit would go, they went, without turning as they went.
Eze 1:14  And the living creatures darted to and fro, like the appearance of a flash of lightning.
Eze 1:17  When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went.
Eze 1:25  And there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads. When they stood still, they let down their wings.

The text seems to emphasize their quickness in obeying the Lord and at least one advantage of having four sides was that they didn’t even have to take the time to turn in another direction.  There was absolutely no delay in doing the Lord’s will!  To me this speaks of eagerness; anything that would cause delay should be removed so we are unencumbered.  This is pretty much what Hebrews 12:1 is teaching when it says lay aside every weight that would slow us down in serving the Lord.  It all goes back to what our most pressing desires are. 

In Ezekiel 1:25 it says that when God spoke they stopped moving, let down their wings and listened to him.  They were never to forget that the important thing was not what they were doing but who they were doing it for. 

This verse made me think of Matthew 18:10, "See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.”  I thought it was interesting that these “guardian” angels were described as always looking at the face of the God in the discharge of their duty to protect their charges.  (Let’s assume anyway that this is what guardian angels do.  I can’t say that I have a handle on guardian angels.) 

If we asked someone to babysit our children and they were occupied with a boyfriend or the TV while they were babysitting we would assume they were not doing their job very well.  But remember that God does not need angels to look after us; it is his ordained way of caring for us to some degree.  Their first duty is not to care for us as they see best but to do so in accordance to the will of God.  Thus the glorious truth of what Jesus is saying besides the fact that even children have the attention and care of the Lord is that nothing happens to us that is outside of God’s will for us because the angels have one concern only; to care for us as the Lord would have it.  So their focus is not on us but on hearing from God. 

When we pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, let’s be careful that we aren’t only concerned with governments and others.  It is first a prayer that in our lives God’s will is honored above all else and may God help us to do so eagerly and joyfully.  Any delay or complaining or souring of our attitudes is not the obedience his nature deserves.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Crux of the Gospel

I was listening to James White the other day and I thought he made a point worth sharing.  He was comparing the way the Apostles presented the gospel to the way many have come to present it in our day.  We tend to start with the sinner and ask him if he wants to go to Heaven or not.  We make it mostly about his escaping Hell and he can escape if he asks Jesus to save him. Of course, all of this has to do with the gospel message but if we study the way the Apostles presented it, it comes across with a different emphasis.

I started reading in the book of Acts to confirm this since I was raised with the mindset that the main question is whether we are going to Hell or not and what I find supports White’s point.  We don’t read of the Apostles going around asking people if they wanted to escape Hell or not.  They for the most part just proclaimed the fact that Jesus has been appointed Lord of all through his death and resurrection and that everyone had better submit to him and it is this submitting to him as Lord that brings salvation.

In Acts 2 we read of Peter speaking of the significance of the crucifixion but his emphasis isn’t on how this atones for our sins but how it is the means to his exaltation as Lord, “Act 2:34  For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, "'The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, Act 2:35  until I make your enemies your footstool.' Act 2:36  Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified." Act 2:37  Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"  

The inference is that Jesus Christ is our judge and since these men had a part in his death they were not ready to meet him but all Peter does is lay out Jesus as Lord and the Holy Spirit did the rest.  He certainly does not lead them in a rendition of the “sinner’s prayer”.

In Acts 3 especially starting in vs. 17 Peter again refers to their murdering Jesus and points out that he is the Author of life.  The inference is that they have rebelled against their creator and in vs. 18 they need to repent and turn again.  In other words submit to him if they are to be saved.  He then reminds them of Moses’ words that God would raise up a prophet like him that they “had better listen to” and if they didn’t listen to him they would be destroyed.  Acts 17 is interesting in this light as well.  Paul doesn’t begin by talking about the cross and that Christ died for their sins since no one in Athens knew anything of this and wouldn’t have understood its significance.  He mainly speaks of the fact that God is Lord and Creator; his Son is the appointed Judge proven via the cross and resurrection and all had better repent of their sin and believe in or submit to him.

I am not saying that the Apostles didn’t speak of the atoning work of the cross or that they never mentioned Hell but do you see where the emphasis is compared to a lot of what goes on today?  It is on the Lord of glory and our duty to acknowledge him as such.  It isn’t on us and our need of eternal life and the escape from Hell.  Eternal life in heaven is seen as the result of salvation not the goal of salvation.  To them the goal of salvation was having a right relationship with Jesus, not just as savior but as Lord.

The effect of salvation is to get us on our knees in obedience to Christ, not just to get us justified so we continue to live as we want.  If we apply this to the Lordship Salvation controversy of recent years one can’t help but think that those that take the side that one doesn’t have to acknowledge Jesus as Lord to be saved have missed the point of the gospel entirely and are in danger of preaching a false gospel.  Is the crux of the gospel Jesus as Lord or is it us having eternal life?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Hope, Coveting and Contentment

I was reading a discussion on the difference between hope and coveting and thought there are interesting points to make and I will interject the subject of contentment since this is involved in the question I believe.  First of all, to avoid confusion it is always good to define our terms.  Biblical hope is an unrealized promise from God, Heb 11:1  Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  It is promised to us, it is legitimately ours; we just don’t have it yet.

Coveting in the Bible usually has a negative connotation because of the 10th Commandment, but it means to desire something greatly.  It doesn’t have to be used in a negative sense such as, “I covet your prayers”.  The sin comes in when we desire either something that God has told us is not ours to have such as our neighbor’s wife or to desire something inordinately.  Sinful coveting is to desire something so much that we aren’t content with the lot God has given us.  This can create some problems then because if God hasn’t given us something then should we desire anything we do not have?

Let’s go back to the subject of our Blessed Hope.  It is clear that we are to desire for the Lord to come back and to be with God in Heaven.  Is this to covet something that we do not have and so to be discontent with God’s providence?  I think the answer is clear.  Otherwise Paul is sinning in 2Co 5:2,  For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling”.  The issue is whether it is godly desires that honor him or selfish desires that do not have the Lord in mind.  Paul had a measure of discontent because he wanted to experience the fullness of the glory of God and it isn’t possible while we remain in this sinful flesh.

There are many things as Christians that we should covet; godliness, growth in the Lord, Christ honored in our lives.  And I would say that many times we do not covet these things as much as we should.  Being content in Christ doesn’t mean that we just sit back and lose all interest in things and are just glad we are saved and could care less about everything else.  It is possible and necessary to be quite content in all that Jesus is to us and yet understand that there are many things that we are lacking and need in our lives.  I suppose it is a paradox to some degree but not too difficult to understand if we stop and think about it. 

But let’s think about one way this might work out in our thinking.  Is it wrong for me to desire or covet a car that I don’t have?  I think we can see that in some way if we don’t on some level want something we don’t have (read paycheck for example) we won’t accomplish anything at all.  At the root of whether this is a sin or not is that basic question, “Why do you want what you want”?  If you want it for prestige sake or because your selfishness won’t allow you to be content and happy in the Lord without it, then it is easy to see that sinful desires are involved.

On the other hand, if your car isn’t doing the job and buying it won’t stop you from serving the Lord then that is different.  (Obviously there are a lot of other considerations but hopefully the point is made).  Perhaps a better example would be food.  We are to be content with enough food to live on but three times a day I begin to covet, lust maybe, for it.  Overall I am content with the food I have.  It is not my portion to eat as the rich do and that is ok with me but I am not content if I do not have that portion allotted to me.

The point is that desire doesn’t mean that we aren’t content in the Lord but our desires need to constantly be examined in light of scripture and as a measure of our love and contentment of Christ.  1 John 3:3 says, “And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”  Sin causes a certain amount of discontentment in this life that can only be alleviated in our glorified state.  To be perfectly contented in this life would mean that we are contented with our sinfulness to some degree.

When Paul said that he had learned to be content in every situation that didn’t mean that he didn’t have unrealized goals and desires but every desire had the glory of Christ as its basis.  Certainly hope, coveting and contentment have a place in our lives but like everything else, meditation on the Word of God gives us direction.