Monday, March 16, 2009

Free Will and Monergism

First a warning, this post is long! Its been a long, long time coming this post. For a long time, I've considered whether I should write it at all. Conversation I have on this topic, often end up in heated debate, even argument, it is for this reason I have considered it so much. When speaking to my dad about this post however, like usual, he said something to convince me, he said (paraphrasing) the following:

'If what you are saying causes offence then either it is not truth or the truth is offensive, if it is the latter it is still truth and should still be said' - His point was simple, true and Biblical (John 8:31-46).

One of the most common debates I have with Christians relates to man's part in salvation. The common understanding and held position of most I speak to is one where salvation is a cooperative act between man and God (synergism). The general view is this: God offers salvation to man and then man has the option to accept or reject it. If he accepts, he is saved, if he rejects, he isn't. It should be noted here that the vast majority of people holding this view do not look on this as a once in a lifetime opportunity. Proponents of this view would say that man is given this opportunity many times, but the principal will always remain, God will not 'force' salvation on anyone, he will only give people the option to accept or reject and then it is their free choice.

The view above, to me, is a nice view logically, it removes lots of uncomfortable questions (see later) by putting a dependence on man, it leaves a little bit of goodness in man (the part to choose God of their own free will) and allows us a bit of control... as man, quite simply, we like control. There is little less comfortable than saying 'there is nothing you can do about it' and having to accept t

The question, for me, is, is the view above Biblical? It is here that I disagree with those holding this view. I was challenged recently to give Biblical evidence that this view was wrong and this is my attempt to meet that challenge, before we dive into the Biblical evidence it is first important for me to explain where exactly I see the above argument going wrong. The process above is something akin to the following
  1. Man hears the message of Christianity
  2. The Holy Spirit convicts man of their sin
  3. God offers salvation to the person through the sacrifice of Jesus paying for their sins
  4. The person then has a choice to make, of his own free will, to accept or reject salvation
  5. The person chooses to accept and is saved or the person chooses to reject and is not saved
  6. If the person accepts the Holy Spirit comes and lives inside the person
  7. The Holy Spirit then works, with the persons free will, to make the person more Christ like.
So where do I see a problem in the above? Predominantly in step 4, and the free will choice made by man. It is for this reason that the important question for me to tackle here isn't 'Does man accept or reject God?' but more fundamentally 'Does man have free will in terms of salvation?' The first question is a corollary, if we can show man does not have free will in terms of salvation then he certainly cannot make a decision.

The next thing however, is to answer the question on free will, we in fact need to ask another question, namely 'Is man totally depraved?' or put another way 'Is man (post-fall) capable of choosing good?' Then we have the following, if man is not capable of choosing good then they cannot choose good, only bad, so they do not have the free will to choose God (the good choice) and hence their salvation cannot be dependent on their decision accept or reject (for man will always reject)

So our aims are the following:
  1. Show Biblically that man is totally depraved
  2. Use this and other Biblical evidence to deduce that man cannot have free will in terms of salvation (and hence cannot make a choice to accept salvation of his own free will)
Humans are totally depraved:

Firstly total depravity does not suggest that humans cannot do what are outwardly good works, it does not say that humans will not help one another out, give to the poor, look after the sick or do many other things that look good through human eyes. Total depravity says we cannot do anything, of ourselves, that is good in the sight of God. It is important here to remember that God looks not only on the outward action, but the motive behind the action. Incidentally, we should note here that total depravity is a consequence of the fall back in genesis 3, the Bible does give a clear verse on how our righteous acts look before God (Isaiah 64:6)

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

So we see in the above verse that even our best works are polluted before God, in other words, of ourselves we are indeed incapable of doing something good before God. This shows that our actions are always polluted, what about our will:

Romans 1:18

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

Romans 3:9-18

9What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; 11no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." 13 "Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive." "The venom of asps is under their lips." 14 "Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness." 15 "Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16in their paths are ruin and misery, 17and the way of peace they have not known." 18 "There is no fear of God before their eyes."

Romans 8:7

7For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.

All of the above talk of how the will is enslaved to sin, look at the Romans 8:7 above, it says that the mind is hostile to God and it cannot submit to God's laws. The mind does not, will not and cannot submit to God's laws. Romans 3:9-18 reiterates the message given in Isaiah but in fact takes it further, we have that no-one seeks God and Romans 1:18 talks of how we suppress the truth. I hope by now you can see that the Bible clearly teaches the total depravity of man. Contrary to popular opinion and counter to how we like to look at ourselves, man is not good, as Paul declares 'no-one does good, not even one'. Our mind is in bondage to sin, since the fall, humans have a sinful nature, we will not, do not, indeed cannot choose the things of God without divine intervention.

There are many, many more passages relating to total depravity, also take a look, for example at Jeremiah 17:9, Genesis 6:5, Psalm 51:5, Psalm 58:3, 1 Corinthians 2:14, Proverbs 14:12, 1 Corinthians 1:18

Man does not have free will in terms of salvation:

The first thing to get clear here is to be precise, I am only considering here free will in terms of salvation. I am at no point here trying to argue that we have no free will in terms of other things, such as what we want to wear, eat, do etc. I am also not considering the free will of a Christian to reject God's grace. I am here looking only at the idea that for salvation Christians of their own free will must choose to accept salvation. My main reasoning here is to cover one question at a time, looking any further than this, gets into philosophical questions on free will and questions on whether salvation can be lost. Whilst these are interesting questions, they are beyond the scope of this post.

So we have looked at the case above of the total depravity of man, from an idea of total depravity it is difficult to not conclude a problem for proponents of free will in terms of salvation. One possible argument one can use however is to say that God puts us in a state where we have the choice. There are a few problems with this argument as follows:

1) God is still changing the will of man without their will, if only to put them in a state where they can choose good or bad. To do this he must still impose on our free will in the first place, he must come in and change our will, without our permission (due to total depravity meaning we would reject given the opportunity).

2) It is very, very difficult to support this view Biblically, I ask anyone holding this view to please feel free to leave verses supportive of this as comments to this article for me to consider.

3) There are lots of passages that rule out such a possibility and point strongly towards this not being the case:

Perhaps the two biggest chapters in the Bible against this are Ephesians 2 and Romans 9. Lets look at an extract from Ephesians 2:

1And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

The parts I particularly want to focus on here are verses 1, 5 and 8-9. Verse 1 and 5 tell us that we were dead in trespasses and sins, note that isn't dorment, nearly dead, badly wounded, injured, that is dead and we are made alive by Christ. I ask as a simple logical question, can a dead man ask to be brought back to life? When Lazarus was raised from the dead, did Jesus ask him if he could raise him? No, Jesus, simply raised him back to life. The biggest problem however for the view of man's needing to accept however is perhaps verses 8-9. If God offers salvation and I accept it and someone else doesn't as an act of my own choice then I can conclude that I did in fact make a very good decision and they didn't. Put another way, I made a better decision than someone who chose to reject. Suddenly, I do have a reason to boast for I was clever enough to make the right choice. Further one can perhaps also conclude that I am at least in part, saved by works -contrary to what the verse above says- for my work was to make the correct decision, it might be a very small work, but it is still a dependence on me, still something I have to do.

Election is another important concept (Romans 9, briefly mentioned above is a big chapter for this). I am not going to go into election in great detail here but the Bible has numerous passages talking of an elect. Christians in general seem united on the idea of an elect however there view on the elect varies. Those holding the above views on salvation generally view election in relation to foreknowledge. They say that because God is omniscient, he knows who will choose him, when they are given the opportunity and it is to these the elect refers to. I see two main problems with this:

1) It does not remove the idea of God choosing only brings it backwards to when we were created, it leaves the problem that God created, or allowed us to be created in such a way that when the offer came the person would reject. This again leaves many of the problems synergism tries to avoid, such as God choosing some people and not others.

2) The view above is a logical one that again is not Biblically supportable. For a start we have Ephesians 1:4:

even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love

This doesn't say God knew what our choice would be, it says the he chose us. Jesus also says in John 15:16 that the disciples did not choose him but he chose them. Is it possible that God chose us based on that he knew we'd choose him?

So we know that God chose us, but was his choice based on his knowing what we'd choose? Biblically the answer to this is no. There is not one place in the Bible that teaches that God's choice of who to save is based on anything at all to do with us - even knowledge of our acceptance. Instead, there is Biblical evidence telling us that we are predestined, according to his will (Ephesians 1:5, Ephesians 1:11) and pleasure (Ephesians 1:5). We are also told outright that it does not depend on mans desire (Romans 9:15-16).

So we have shown many Biblical problems with the idea that salvation is based on the free will of man, most notably, we are totally depraved so will always choose evil over good. The idea of God putting us in a state where we are capable of choosing him and then giving us the free choice is problematic. The reasons for this is it gives us a reason to boast and that Biblically those who are saved are chosen by God. Finally there is no evidence whatsoever (in fact there is evidence to the contrary) that this choice is based on God knowing what choices we will make.

Some Final Thoughts:

I have tried to be careful throughout here to repeatedly say man making a choice totally of his own free will is wrong, I mean this in the sense that God must change their will as an act of God. I should state here that perhaps this should be worded slightly differently for clarity throughout, perhaps if I think carefully I'll come up with a better way of wording it, but for now let me make the following clear:

God does not drag people in to heaven kicking and screaming, no, God changes people's wills so that they desire the things of God, those who believe do so entirely willingly, for prior to their belief their will has already been changed.

If one sits down and thinks there is at least one situation where we did not have free will yet we do not complain, before a knee jerk reaction to the above it is worth thinking about the fact that you were born without your consent, you did not choose it, why then do you believe that you must choose to be born again?

This article is introductory, I aim to next look at the consequences of the above. I plan to look on what affect this has on evangelism and sanctification in particular.

I should note that I have particularly used in putting this together and recommend checking out their website for lots of questions (Although I am of course not saying I definitely agree with 100% of what they say).

Please do feel free to leave comments, questions etc!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Let Go, Let God

Before you read on, I should warn you, this post is written whilst I'm feeling inspired, so it may lack even more clarity than usual. It is written based on my thoughts after doing something I don't usually do. I went outside to a nice spot tonight and just sat there with some music. While I was there, this post came into my mind and I felt the need to write it. I was pretty sure my next post was going to be on conscience, that is no longer the case. It features quite a lot of information from various different sources, some from a very long time ago and some more recent... here goes.

A very long time ago (by very long I mean a few months) I heard a comment on my scrupe forum that struck me. It struck me so much that it became a quote on my facebook page, that quote is the title of this post 'Let go, let God'. I thought it was a beautiful quote, something that would be a really good idea to do not only for scrupers but for people in general. I didn't think much more of this quote at the time and it seemed to pass from my memory.

Lets fast forward to just a few days ago, a close friend of mine said something along the lines of 'don't chase, wait for God', what she was referring to isn't important, the important point here is, I made a bit of a joke of this at the time and the thought passed from my mind fairly quickly.

Now lets get to today. If you ask my housemates they'll say I've acted strange today, I suspect I may get some questions on it at some point. I've been for a walk on my own and I've been to sit somewhere I haven't been despite living here for over 6 months. I can understand their questions, I would likely ask questions too. I can assure them however, if they read this, there is no problem! So what happened today, well I was sat outside just looking at the nice view and thinking and back into my mind came 'Let go, Let God'. This time however it came back as more than a nice saying, it came back with real meaning, back to my mind came the comment my friend made to me and this time it made complete sense. Further, to my mind came a song I've been listening to a lot recently by a group I highly recommend called Rush of Fools. The song in question is called Fame and some of the lyrics are:

I have tried to follow, I have tried to lead
I have failed at everything
I have been the culprit to my selfish needs, made everything but You my King

I couldn't be any less worthy
To spend one day much less forever with You

I lift my hands just as I am, I'm letting go of false control
I lift my voice, I have no choice
My life is Yours, use me for Your fame, Your fame

Letting go, as you can see was suddenly upon me from every angle, I now know clearly the situation. I know the song made sense, my friends comment was spot on, the quote from all those months back was important. As I sat there and looked around me I was reminded that my God is the creator God. That letting go to my God was letting go to the God who made all that was around me, the God that spoke the world into existence, the God that flung the stars into space. Letting go to God isn't putting my life into the hands of anybody, its putting my life into the safest place possible. Its putting my life where it should have been all along.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Christians and Judging

A few weeks ago I got into a conversation about whether it was right to speak out on a certain topic to other Christians. I won't give the full content here as that isn't important but suffice to say the situation involved various Christians acting in a way that was unbiblical, unacceptable and causing problems. At the time I suggested to the person that quite simply someone needed to tell them that what they were doing was unacceptable, now in this situation I was probably wrong for reasons I will explain later. The argument I was confronted with however was that to bring it up was to be judgemental and that Christians were not supposed to be judgemental. The main verse cited at the time was Matthew 7:1-5:

1 "Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Now, the verse above clearly states that we shouldn't judge, however, like we see frequently, to take only one passage of the Bible does not give us a complete picture. We could read this to mean that we should never say anything to a fellow Christian who is doing something wrong unless we are perfect. Doing so would then be judging them after all wouldn't it? To hold this view completely would be to say we can never say or arguably even think anything about another Christians behaviour. Whilst most wouldn't go this far, taking the extreme example, if a Christian commits murder or child abuse for example should we ignore it so as to not be judgemental? I am sure people can see the problem here, but interpreting as described above actually necessitates such a conclusion.

Is this really what the Bible means by judging, does God really want us to never tell anyone what they are doing is wrong? Lets take a look at another few verses, firstly from Matthew 18

15 "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them."

Now this is interesting, just a few chapters later we are given the advice that if your brother sins against you, to go and tell him. We are given instructions here for the process of escalation we should follow in these situations, but that is a different topic. My point here is that we as Christians are not told just to keep quiet in these situations, so the question here is, how is this situation different? In what cases are we right to tell people when they have sinned and in what cases are we wrong?

Looking at the case in Matthew 18, we see that the brother has sinned against you. It seems from this verse at least that in the case where the sin is against you, you are allowed to bring it up. The next part of this is important however, 'if he listens to you, you have gained your brother' Now to me, this seems to give some guidance on when we should bring things up, it sounds like it should be brought up in serious cases. The implication here is that the sin against you is strong enough that, for it not to be brought up, means a breakdown in the relationship between you and the other Christian.

Is then this the only guidance we have biblically on the topic? Is it only right for us to speak out against sin when it is directly against us and enough to cause a breakdown between us and the other Christian? Well, lets look further, there are numerous references in the Bible to this topic, a few of them are:

John 7:24 - Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.

Luke 17:1-4 - And he said to his disciples, "Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. 3Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 4and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' you must forgive him."

Galatians 6:1 - 1Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

Proverbs 7:25 - Better is open rebuke than hidden love.

2 Timothy 4:2 - preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

As we can see, there seems to certainly be biblical instruction that we aren't always to keep silent. We see in the above several things however, what is described here is a world different to simply telling people they're wrong. Judging is telling people they are wrong for your benefit, it is belittling other people. Christians should not do this. What Christians should do is correct others with gentleness. We should tell others when they are doing something sinful when it is for their benefit. We should be correcting them to restore them. The over-riding rule in Christianity is to love. Before you correct the person ensure that you are acting in love.

I said at the start of this that in my situation I may have been wrong. I say this as my concern in the situation was perhaps impure, I was angry with the situation and whilst the situation was wrong, it was perhaps not my place to get involved. My intent would have been to simply angrily tell the people they were wrong, not lovingly and gently attempting to correct. The balance here is not easy and had I gone shouting my mouth off I would have been wrong. My being incorrect on this occasion however, in no way changes the biblical instruction, we should correct our fellow Christians, and doing so should be an act of love.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Wrong impressions

Every so often you speak to someone who makes quite an impression. Ordinarily for me, that person says something that rings with truth. Well that happened today, I was having a chat with someone I don't know very well and they were by their own admission rather blunt. I quite appreciate bluntness, I understand it, its too the point, there is no confusion with it, its not always nice but its something you can do something with.

So the person said to me (and I paraphrase slightly) to' be careful with the impression I give to girls by speaking to them'. I often speak to girls, one of my best friends is a girl and its probably fair to say that I can seem over friendly with girls to the point where it gives the impression that I am attracted to them. This isn't so much of an issue if its a girl you'd actually like to date, at least then you can't be giving them the wrong impression, they might not be interested but you're not leading them on in any way. The problem is when it is with someone you're not interested in. This is something that I've thought about myself over the last couple of weeks. I have even discussed it with a few people, however this was the first time it has been brought up by someone who didn't know me very well, I am quite impressed with them for doing so and the consequences of the small discussion is continued thought into the matter by me and this article.

So where is my thinking on the matter? Well, the first thing I know is that I'm more likely to give someone I'm not interested in the wrong impression than someone I am interested in the right impression. There is simple reasoning for this, one situation I am the one at risk of getting hurt, the other one I'm not and its nice to have someone like you.

This however, is not a nice attitude at all, in fact, its an awful attitude and it is this attitude that is the root cause of my problem. My focus is wrong, completely opposite to the attitude God would want me to have. It is another example of the old man winning the battle in me, the natural inclination of me is to look out for number 1. To focus on my own happiness, my own needs, my own desires. This is a polar opposite to the attitude of Christ, and opposite to the attitude of the new man in me. I'm selfish, God wants me to be selfless. There is a constant battle in the life of any Christian between the new and the old, between the sin that is so attractive to the flesh and the holiness which is so attractive to the Holy Spirit living in them.

The person who said this to me has done me a favour by doing so, her comments can be used by God to make me more and more Christ like. I'll never be perfect in this life but with God's help with taking advice on board when it is given, even when it is difficult, I can be better than I am now. For my imperfections I will rely on the grace of God to help me through. This is only the very beginning of this and there is much more for me to still accept with this - its difficult - its going against my natural impulses. I have overcome challenges in the past and this is just the next and I don't intend to fail.

Monday, January 19, 2009

I Want That Faith!

So, its been a few days since my last post and I am no longer in a waiting period, unfortunately the decision this time didn't go the way I'd have liked it to but it is a good opportunity for me to trust God in the situation. Anyway on to the topic, last night after church I got into a lengthy discussion with a guy I hadn't met before, we predominantly discussed two things, the first which I may write an article on later was to do with whether certain activities should be taken part in by Christians and the second was faith and exactly what that is, it is that I want to look at here.

Firstly what I want briefly look at is what I think is often a common misinterpretation of faith by many Christians, particularly in my generation, then I want to again briefly look at some reasons as to why these misinterpretations might be occuring and whether it matters. Finally I will look at what faith is and the sort of faith that I think we should be striving for.

The Misinterpreted Faith

There are of course lots of misinterpretations of faith, in this case I'm focusing only on one, that being one that mixes faith and feelings. A common thing I hear these days is about 'feeling God's presence'. Before I go on I should state that I am in no way stating here that people do not feel God's presence or that doing so is a bad thing. My point here is that feeling God's presence is not a sign of strong faith. Put another way, not feeling God's presence is in no way a sign of a lack of faith.

Why The Confusion?

So where has this idea that feelings and faith are somehow intertwined come from? Why do we have this notion that if we're not feeling God our faith is somehow deficient? I think the simplest explanation here is the most likely, that being, we're taught it. It is common in many of our churches these days for people to be taught based on feelings, that God will 'make them happy', that they should be 'feeling God's presence' churches are often intentionally or unintentionally, giving people the impression that unless they are feeling God's presence something is wrong. The implication to those not feeling God's presence is then that there is a problem with them, a problem with their faith. If all these people around me can feel God, why can't I?!

Does this really matter?

I began to touch on this in the previous paragraph, the problem with this is that it leads people to a misunderstanding of one of the most important parts of Christianity, it leads people to despair about the lack of feelings they are experiencing and in the end they either believe they have no faith and blame themselves, or they blame God. The consequences of this can indeed be very serious.

Real Faith and the Faith I Want

Now as I've said that faith is not a feeling, what then is it?

Well, the Bible gives us a definition, Hebrews 11:1 says:

'Now Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen'

Faith is simply put trusting in God and when is it most difficult to trust? Is it when you have an overwhelming presence of God? No it isn't. The hardest time to trust God is when things are going wrong, when you look around you and all you can see is darkness but still you trust God, still you give thanks to God.

Real faith is like this, where no matter what the situation we still have faith, that even if we are in the most desperate of situations, where all of our strength had gone, we still turn to God. That even in the times where we can't feel God at all, the times where it feels like God has abandoned us, the times when we doubt whether God even exists, it is at those times that when we still turn to God that we'll be demonstrating true faith and that is the faith i'm aiming for.