Skip to main content

Are you really free, and do you really want to be? Pt 2.


In my previous post, I gave a brief philosophical outline of the necessarily nuanced approach one must take when considering the nature, and reality of freedom.

The reason for doing so is to respond to the difficulties often incurred when thinking through difficult doctrines lines predestination or election. As humans, we are usually opposed to restrictions on our freedom, even if we can agree intellectually with a legal requirement for instance, such as stopping at a red light, we can often find ourselves instinctively compelled toward rebellion at the thought of our autonomy and persona authority being overridden. And so we can find it particularly difficult to yield our consent to paradoxical realities presented in the Bible. The doctrine of predestination, for instance, jars with our sense of free will, in particular, and makes us uneasy in the knowledge that if some of predestined to salvation, others are necessarily predestined to not salvation. We struggle to reconcile God's justice, particularly, with such a difficult doctrine. If God is just, how can he hold those who are not destined for salvation, accountable for their sin? In contrast, we can also feel a little short-changed even if we consider ourselves as part of the elect. We might still be uneasy with the fact that God chooses us. As Romans 9:16 says "It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God's mercy". We wonder how God can feel valued if we didn't make the judgement call on his character to deem his salvation worthy of accepting...

Freedom is a challenge to use, especially when it comes to our salvation. The previous post was the philosophy, and this post will provide the theology, and hopefully, some proper clarity on just how we should think of freedom as Christians, and in how to get our heads around things like predestination a bit better.

Of course, there is a lot to miss out here, but there are three Biblical ideas in particular I think will help us.

1. We are slaves to sin.
In the Bible, people are often referred to as slaves to sin, or dead in sin. These analogies are designed to reveal the level of influence sin has over fallen man. To be a slave to something means to be bound by the restrictions of that particular master. And so to be a slave to sin means to be bound by the control of sin. Sin will, in fact, allow a man a great number of freedoms, in fact, more freedom that any person would ever naturally want or indeed need. Sin will allow a person to do anything that takes him further down the road to hell, and away from heaven. And so in one sense, we might say that under sin's rule is where we might be most free of all. However, the simple restriction sin does impose upon its slaves is the ability to turn to repent and accept Christ as Lord and saviour. Being a slave to sin means we're not free to choose Christ, to at one moment see him better than our master and leave for another. We might hear the gospel call from the pulpit or read it in our bibles if we are slaves to sin, we are both deaf and blind, and unable to respond to it as we come into contact with it. Sin is a not a good master, there will be no manumission. Sin will only sell its slaves for the very highest price. A slave to sin is as good as dead already. We are also told that sinful man is dead in his trespasses. That means that in his very nature he is not able to respond to any gospel call in a beneficial way. Just like Lazarus sinful man is dead and in his grave. Completely lacking the faculties necessary for doing anything profitable towards prolonging life, let alone seeking out salvation for one's soul. And so like a slave or Lazarus, sinful man must wait, for the intervention of another. No slave from some southern State ever sought our Mr Wilberfoce for assistance in the emancipation cause, and neither did Lazarus call upon his Lord to be raised again. In the depth of his slumber, Lazarus lay unable to either conceive nor attempt a resurrection attempt. What good would it even do when met with the cold hard heavy weight of the tombstone blocking his exit? It was impossible for him to request, even to desire to request a new life giving work be performed for his benefit. And so it is for the sinner. Yet, when Christ did come to Lazarus, and when Christ called Lazarus, at that moment, Christ's power entered Lazarus to bring new life to his body, and along with the desire to respond to that call walk out of the tomb in faith. And thus it is with the Christian. God acts first. God comes to us, and at the moment he calls and empowers, a man will respond in faith, just as Lazarus, and in an instant, go from being dead in sin, to alive in Christ. Christ's power and decision, not our own. Being dad to sin, indeed limits our freedom to the extent that we could never hope to accept the offer of salvation without supernatural intervention such as the will of God. Even if our concern be that God cannot possibly value our love and affection if we do not decide that He is worth loving, we must remember that every Christian that has been saved by the will and power of God does, in fact, love his saviour. God is glorious and wonderful and worthy of our praise despite our ability or even desire to affirm it and give it. But the honour God seeks from man is that is a retrospective appreciation from mankind, standing in awe of the state he was in, and that God would go to the lengths he did to retrieve us from slavery to sin, to freedom in Christ. If God was sitting around waiting for sinful man to examine the gospel call and respond fully with love and affection and thanks from man's own free will and choice and decision, He would be waiting a rather long time. So that fact that man does not choose salvation based on an intellectual and emotional affirmation of the positive qualities of God does not matter to God one bit. Because that is an impossible reality. God cares most for freed slaves to continue in love and to learn and to grow in grace, knowing what the have been freed from. Slavery to sin is spiritual death that requires a miracle for resurrection! We must also note at this point that our slavery to sin is because we are indeed guilty.

2. The nature of such doctrines.
We should be careful also to note the primary purpose of a doctrine such as predestination. It's a doctrine that should thrill us and comfort us. It is a doctrine not written down to scare sinners but to comfort saints. To know that we had no chance of ever choosing salvation in our own strength or decision of will, should make us eternally grateful that God did intervene, beyond our limited freedom of will. The wonderful truths contained in Romans 8 and 9 in particular, are designed to comfort the Christian, to help the Christian be confident that their salvation is going nowhere. To know that our salvation does not depend on our wills or our works means we can't lose it based on those things either. All those he predestines, he will glorify. It's a wonderful process designed to secure the faith and assurance of the believer. And so to first question God's justice because of such a doctrine is to miss the point. I understand that down the line, our thoughts will naturally begin to question how God can be just, there is a logic to that, but that would be to miss intended purpose. Our starting point with a doctrine like predestination should be the security of the believer, to focus on the primary purpose of it. It's the place we go to when we need to encourage ourselves or others of the certainty of the hope we have in Christ. Peter commands that believers always have to hand the reason for the hope they have, and is the hope not rooted in the foreknowledge and predestination of your salvation by God, because those he foreknew he predestined, and those again sanctified and will glorify, because of the merits of the life death and resurrection of Christ? Remember also that TULIP was composed in response to faulty doctrines within Roman Catholicism and Arminianism, which both leave a lot of room for doubt and insecurity regarding salvation. Everything about the sin that either enslaves us or lingers in our flesh is reason to be sceptical about our own hearts and our own intentions toward God, and without supernatural intervention, how can we ever trust ourselves? How can we ever know our repentance or our faith to be genuine? How can we ever trust ourselves to love him and affirm Him as glorious enough to be sure He will be pleased with that? But to know that God predestined my salvation frees me to rest on the merits of Christ more easily and more fully. That is the purpose of it. And is that not a doctrine of grace?

3. The glory of God.
The third thing I find valuable to comment on here is the glory of God. As the Puritans laid out for us in Westminster, we might say that "The chief end of man is to glorify God, and enjoy Him forever". The catechism I believe, on this point, is based on Psalm 86. More succinctly I believe the idea is expressed in Isaiah 43:7 where God states the purpose of His creating and choosing a people for Himself "everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” Really the chief end of mankind, of creation, indeed of the whole universe, is to glorify God. Before we get frustrated or worried by tricky theology and begin to question how God can be who we think He is, or who we want Him to be, when some Biblical ideas at first appear incompatible, we must take a step back. Before we demand answers from God we must understand that God is more interested in God than in us. God is all about making His glory known. God was glorious before creation, and He would still be glorious without creation. That includes people. But God has chosen, as the Catechism states, to eternally intertwine His glory with the salvation of some. We must not forget this remarkable fact. The fact that some, let alone any, were chosen to enjoy God, in salvation, and thus make His glory known by their enjoyment of Him. That's a remarkable fact because God decided it before He'd even created anyone, and certainly before anyone sinned. God did not have to create a single thing to be as glorious as He is. But He was so glorious that He decided to create the human race as a type of creation designed to enjoy God. It's as if He couldn't contain Himself. He created mankind so that He could give the gift of himself because He knew that if He created man, exactly as He did, man would a specimen completely and utterly fulfilled, joyous, happy and complete. God's glory is our good! The welfare of humanity is intrinsically wrapped up in it. And we are privileged to be included in that. As Jonathan Edwards has written, "It is no argument of the emptiness or deficiency of a fountain, that it is inclined to overflow". God does not need mankind. God does not owe us salvation. He is an abundant fountain, abundant in glory, that overflowed and thus creation happens. And to be caught up in that overflow is a most incredible and precious gift indeed. We are clay that is subject to be moulded any way God sees fit. God is glorified by His treatment of that clay whether He creates some vessels for honourable or dishonourable use. And can we not be so eternally glad and thankful that He made but some, let alone any for honourable use, and to feature so keenly in the promotion of God's overflowing glory by being created to enjoy Him?

And so my question stands: do we really want to be free? Our only hope of salvation from sin is the will and intervention of God to rescue is. Let's not forget that He created us in the first place when He had no need to whatsoever. But let's put our own existence in perspective. Let's put God in His proper place. Let's not crave autonomy, or think more of ourselves than we ought, but thank God for His kindness in making us capable of enjoying Him. And be comforted by the fact that we were once in a sorry state, but can now be fully assured of our status, and hope.

Photo by Andreas Wagner on Unsplash

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Does God care what you look like? Part 1: Yes!

Does God care about the way we look? Does he care about our bodies, our hairstyles or our clothing? Does he care about tattoos or a wonky nose - or perhaps a scar or physical defect? In my church, we generally don't care about what people look like. Black, white, fat, thin, fashionable, unfashionable. How someone looks might be a very occasional point of interest, but generally speaking, what someone looks like will not have a significant influence on our judgement or value of a person. Heck, even I managed to get away with leading a Sunday service in shorts without getting so much as a raised eyebrow. Whilst the modern day, western, evangelical church scene will be keen to point out that there are more important things to worry about than what people look like - taking a sort of "man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart" approach - the rest of the world is obsessed with personal appearance. Beauty is big business and hot topic All you ha

The Importance of Plastic

What I like about philosophy is that you have an idea which you express in a certain way, according to the language you use, the words you know, the analogies you can think of, the categories you have defined, the context you exist in etc... But then you spot something, another idea, expressed rather differently and related to a different situation, yet somehow it seems eerily familiar. I love it when I see a conceptual crossover of ideas. I love Francis Schaeffer's 'line of despair' idea, I love Elaine Scarry's 'beauty makes copies of itself' idea and I love Piet Mondrian's 'plastic art' idea, to name but a few off the top of my head. It's quite reassuring and encouraging to find resonance in your own thinking with the ideas of great minds. But not necessarily surprising. God made the world to work a certain way, so why shouldn't people come up with similar ideas about how to interpret the material and spiritual universe? Anyway, I want to b

Jesus IS Ruling Well

Jesus IS Ruling Well As I was reflecting on 2020 and pondering the year ahead, a verse from Psalm 118 came to mind. As it turns out the whole Psalm is full of the type of wisdom that will help us all to reflect on a year we didn’t expect and will help us prepare for a year we can’t really predict. Psalm 118 offers us three things to remember about God, and then an appropriate response at the end. This little transcript is in no way an in-depth exegesis of the whole psalm - so full of glory as it is - but touches on the key points which are of most use to use for helping us get to grips with how God operates in the world. Point one: Remember that God is good The first thing we need to remember according to the psalm is that God is good . Give thanks to the Lord for he is good. That's how the psalm begins. Right from the off, the psalmist is establishing the innate goodness of God. It’s the premise of the rest of the psalm and good practice for us, to recognise that God is a good God