free will: before the fall, after the fall, and after the new birth

Pastor John has a great post at Desiring God called, A Few Thoughts on Free Will.  

Here’s his scriptural analysis of free will pre and post fall and post new birth:

“Before the fall of Adam sinless man was able to sin. For God said, “In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17).

As soon as Adam fell, sinful man was not able not to sin, since we were unbelieving,and “whatever is not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).

When we are born again, by the power of the Holy Spirit we are able to not sin, for “sin will have no dominion over you” (Romans 6:14).

This means that what Paul calls “the natural man” or “the mind of the flesh” is not able not to sin. Paul says this in Romans 8:7-9

The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (See also 1Corinthians 2:14).”

So, we are children of wrath if we have not been born again.  We are unable to do anything but sin.  I have heard so many objections to this truth of the Bible.  For instance, “What about my friend who is a really good person and cares about others and does all these good works?”  

My only response is to say that the “heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it?”  Only God can know the extent of the wickedness of the heart.  

And when He says that anything that does not proceed from faith is sin, I believe Him.  My own conscience condemns me enough to know that all “good deeds” done for reasons other than Christ are vain and sinful.

Pastor John continues with this:

“How then shall we think of free will?

It is not a saving power. In his freedom to will, fallen man cannot on his own do anything but sin. Such “free will” is a devastating reality. Without some power to overcome it’s bent, our free will only damns us.

We could stop here and turn with joy to the gospel truth that God overcomes our resistance, gives us life, wakens our dead inclination for Christ, and freely and irresistibly draws us to himself (John 6:4465Acts 13:48Ephesians 2:52 Timothy 2:25-26).

But it sometimes helps to answer objections. One common objection is that, if we “cannot” do what is right, and “can only” do what is sin, then we are not acting voluntarily and cannot be praised or blamed.

Here is part of John Calvin’s answer to this objection:

The goodness of God is so connected with his Godhead that it is not more necessary to be God than to be good; whereas the devil, by his fall, was so estranged from goodness that he can do nothing but evil.

Should anyone give utterance to the profane jeer that little praise is due to God for a goodness to which he is forced, is it not obvious to every man to reply, “It is owing not to violent impulse, but to his boundless goodness, that he cannot do evil?”

Therefore, if the free will of God in doing good is not impeded, because he necessarily must do good; if the devil, who can do nothing but evil, nevertheless sins voluntarily; can it be said that man sins less voluntarily because he is under a necessity of sinning? (Institutes, II.3.5)”

Good stuff.  And how much more am I willing to praise and give glory to a God who is the “author” of my faith.  Not just a God who makes my faith possible and then depends on my “free will” to enact it, but He Himself makes it happen.  I give Him all the glory.  

Ephesians 2:4,5: But [2] God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—”

one purpose of suffering and calamity

I’ve been reading in Amos lately.

In chapter 4 verses 6-13 the writer recounts all the difficulties the Lord has sent to Israel in order to persuade them to return to the Lord.  But they don’t return.

Here’s a list of the calamities He sent them (minor in comparison with what was to come):

  • cleanness of teeth and lack of bread 
  • withheld the rain, no water
  • struck with blight and mildew and locusts
  • sent pestilence
  • killed young men with the sword
  • carried away horses
  • made the stench of the camp go up to their nostrils
  • overthrew some of them

And after each calamity it is reported, “‘yet you did not return to me,’ declares the Lord.”  

The ESV study bible notes these calamities as “patient appeals” by God that come before the largest calamity of all:

“Therefore I will do thus to you, O Israel;

because I will do this to you,

prepare to meet your God, O Israel!”

So what do the Israelites have to fear?  What is the huge calamity that the Lord was working to spare them from?  It is meeting God (which would come by way of the Assyrians obliterating them).  Meeting God is the greatest calamity in the world, for those who are in rebellion against Him.  And Israel was in rebellion.

I pray that this truth will give me some urgency in sharing the Gospel.

Not all calamities and sufferings are given for the specific cause of jerking us out of rebellion.  But I dare say that all calamities and suffering should have the effect of causing us to draw nearer to God.

So, I’m praying now, as things are good and blessings flow like water and honey in my life, that I’ll think now about how to respond when calamity comes.  That I’ll get a footing for the hard times that I may one day face.  

And that my footing will be in the Word and in Jesus Christ, the one Mediator between God and man, without whom, meeting my Maker would be more fearsome than any earthly calamity.

daily devotions: life-giving or performance-based?

I read a great article by Tim Challies called The Quiet Time Performance.  

Here’s the heart of the article where he quotes Jerry Bridges:

Why is it that we tend to think this way? [meaning that God will bless us for good quiet times and punish us for bad] According to Bridges, we’ve come to believe that God’s blessing on our lives is somehow conditional upon our spiritual performance. In other words, if we’ve performed well and done our quiet time as we ought to have done, we have put ourselves in a place where God can bless us. We may not consciously articulate this, but we prove that we believe it when we have a bad day and are certain that on this day we are absolutely unworthy of God’s blessings. This attitude “reveals an all-too-common misconception of the Christian life: the thinking that, although we are saved by grace, we earn or forfeit God’s blessings in our daily lives by our performance.”

Do you think of quiet times this way?   (By quiet times I mean read the Word and pray).  On the days when you miss, are you just waiting for God to be “dishing out bummers”?  I think Challies has hit on some crucial points to help those who do quiet times for performance.  The kind of people who are sharing what they “learned” in quiet times more to show off or make sure everyone knows that they had quiet time than anything else.

If you brag about your quiet time, there may be a problem.

The same people who try to impress man with their devotions are probably also trying to impress God.  

But I’d like to come at it from the other side as well.  Yes, there are people who do quiet times for performance.  And if we end the conversation there, many people will, (now liberated) say, “Aha, I don’t need to do quiet times, God’s blessing on my life is secured by the death of his Son.”  

They’d be right.  Challies says, “Quiet time becomes tyrannical when you understand it as a performance.” 

So perhaps to end the tyranny, we should end the quiet times.

No!  Of course not, and that’s not what Challies is saying.  Here’s some of his concluding remarks:

So what, then, does Scripture command? It commands that the Word of God be constantly upon your heart. You are to pray, to read the Scripture and to meditate upon it, but you are to do so from a joyful desire, and not mere performance-based duty.

To look at devotions as mere duty, done to gain favor is lethal.  But to see them for what they should be, namely, the means by which I survive from day to day, they become a precious grace, not a performance for a blessing.  They are Air. Water.  Food for my soul.  

My pastor says it best in regard to prayer specifically (although I think the same can be said for Bible reading).  In answer to the question, “Is prayer a duty?” he says:

You can call it that. It’s a duty the way it’s the duty of a scuba diver to put on his air tank before he goes underwater. It’s a duty the way pilots listen to air traffic controllers. It’s a duty the way soldiers in combat clean their rifles and load their guns. It’s a duty the way hungry people eat food. It’s a duty the way thirsty people drink water. It’s a duty the way a deaf man puts in his hearing aid. It’s a duty the way a diabetic takes his insulin. It’s a duty the way Pooh Bear looks for honey. It’s a duty the way pirates look for gold.

And so, Challies says, quiet time should come from a joyful desire.  I think it should also come from a desperate need.  Desperation is more often my motivation than joy.  I’m needy.  I’m sinful.  Without the Word and prayer I get lost.  

And the more I’m in the Word, the more my need for it increases, not the other way around.  The more I pray, the more I need to pray.  

There’s no amount of time that is the “right” amount of time to do devotions.  Some will gain more for their soul from teaching a child one tiny verse and letting it affect their life and heart than others who spend hours studying.  Some are praying all through their day and others set aside a time to do so.  

The point is to rail against legalism, while preserving the Water that is the Word of God and prayer for thirsty people.

Any thoughts, readers?

when cold feels hot

Have you ever had really cold hands?  

Maybe you just came in from outside and you were touching snow with your bare hands.  Then you go to wash them and the water feels so tingly hot.  But then you wash up your arm a little ways and you notice that the water is really very cold.  

It just feels hot on your cold hands.

This happens to me everyday.  I have perpetually cold hands, so I’m always testing the water up on my arm to find out what the temperature really is.  Because I can’t trust my hands.  My hand perception isn’t trustworthy.

This got me thinking.

I wonder what other perceptions I have that I shouldn’t be trusting.  What head perceptions do I need to check on my arm to make sure I know what’s real?  Of course, I wouldn’t really check my arm, instead I’d run it by Mr. TommyD or a good friend.

What perceptions that I have about people are wrong?  about sin?  Maybe I think someone doesn’t like me.  I think they’re cold towards me, but really they’re warm.  Or maybe I have become so accustomed to certain sins that I don’t even feel them as cold.  

This is just one of many reasons I’m really happy to be married.  I’ve got someone there to check my perception v. reality meter.  Of course, God’s Word and the Holy Spirit are the ultimate reality check-ers.  Because they show us True Reality.  And that’s why it’s incredibly dangerous for me (or anyone) to get away from Scripture.  It is the one constant in culture of change.  

It cuts through perception to reveal timeless and timely Reality.  Without it I go adrift in my own perception.  

The Word gives me Christ.  

And Christ is Real.