Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: free will

Free will

We must believe in free will — we have no choice. Isaac Bashevis Singer.

Hmm. I wonder what he was getting at? Having nothing more to go on to discern a more complex meaning in Mr. Singer’s thought than this fragment, I will say that I agree.

When Moses told the people “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life;” and Joshua later said to the same people “ Choose you this day whom ye will serve,” we must assume that the people really were free to make the choices offered to them.

Yet many Christian denominations, probably most, teach that we do not have free will to choose our own destiny. They magnify the sovereignty of God to the point of saying that if humans can choose whether or not to answer God’s call then we are saying that God is less than almighty.

But if words mean anything, the Bible is offering us just such a choice, from Genesis to Revelation. Where then do people get the idea that the Bible doesn’t mean what it says?

Determinism, the belief that the gods, karma, fate, or whatever you want to call the ultimate power in the universe, have pre-determined every detail of one’s life, has always been part of Eastern religions. It entered Western thought through Zeno, founder of the Stoic school of philosophy.

It entered pseudo-Christian thought through Augustine, who laid the intellectual foundation for Roman Catholic policy. Augustine adapted Zeno’s thought, saying that God has predestined some people to be saved, and some to be damned. Since it is not given to mankind to know into which category they fall, the church has the right to compel all people within its territory to be members of the church and to turn the non-compliant over to the civil authorities. And since the church and the civil power were in complete unity, disobedience to the church was treason to the state and must be punished by death.

Since it could not be known who was predestined to salvation or damnation, then one could not discern that by the moral conduct of the person. In fact, those who led a pure and holy life were deemed to be deceived and the worst of heretics. This led to such aberrations in the Middle Ages as girls being led to the executioner because they refused the advances of the priests.

During the Protestant Reformation, John Calvin refined the doctrine of Augustine; the essence of Calvin’s doctrine is often described by the TULIP formula:
Total depravity – the depravity of mankind prevents them from choosing to answer God’s call.
Unconditional election – The conduct of the elect has no part in determining their salvation.
Limited atonement – Christ only died for the elect, those predestined to be saved.
Irresistible grace – the grace of God is imparted to the elect, who have no power to resist it.
Perseverance of the saints – The elect can never lose their salvation.

This is the explicit doctrine of the Presbyterian, Reformed and most Baptist churches. Other churches believe much of what Calvin taught, but may be a bit nebulous about the origin of their beliefs.

The problem with believing Calvin’s doctrine is that church pews are occupied by people who believe that they have been born again through the irresistible grace of the Holy Spirit, but show little evidence of leading a Christian life. The old Westminster Confession got around this by saying that a born again person may take many years to develop an assurance of salvation. The modern teaching is that the new birth and conversion are quite different things, the new birth being instantaneous and conversion being a slow, almost imperceptible process.

The Bible makes no such distinction, the words are used interchangeably. There was a transition period for the disciples who walked with Jesus but did not receive the Holy Spirit until the Day of Pentecost. Jesus told Peter “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” It was only a few days later that Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost and 3,000 were baptized. After that, the Apostle Paul says “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.”

Some may be confused by Paul’s thoughts on predestination. Read the passages as a whole. He is saying that God had predestined that there should be no more division between Jews and Gentiles, but that all could be saved in the same way. He is not speaking of individuals being predestined to salvation. At the end of one long passage on predestination, he writes: “What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law.”

“It was just his time to go”

Whenever someone dies unexpectedly it can be counted on that some kind soul will say, “Well, I guess it was just his time to go.” This is supposed to be a comfort to the bereaved family. How is this going to make the tragic loss of a loved one easier to bear? Shall they cancel their grieving in submission to the inexorable will of a God who decided that “now was the time for this person to go,” no matter how gruesome the circumstances?

I don’t get it. How far would these people be willing to push this line of thought?

WARNING: THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH DESCRIBES EVENTS OF STOMACH-CHURNING EVIL!

The dozens of prostitutes that Robert Pickton picked up in Vancouver, killed, put through a meat grinder and fed to his pigs, was it “just their time to go?” Why then was Robert Pickton convicted of murder? He would merely have been the instrument to accomplish that which God had decreed must happen.

I cannot stomach that kind of belief that makes God responsible for all the horrific evil that goes on in this corrupt world. I know that there are true believers in divine election who can spin elaborate arguments to prove that a person such as Robert Pickton is entirely guilty for the things he has done, even though he could not have chosen to do otherwise. My poor mind is just not capable of such mental gymnastics.

Neither can I simply accept it on faith, because it contradicts everything that the Bible tells me about God. “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Do not err, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” (Jamies 1:13-17).

There is a curious resemblance between the convoluted arguments put forward by believers in divine election and those who believe in evolution. There are individuals who argue that not only is man a random blob of protoplasm with no meaning or purpose, but even his thoughts are nothing but random, meaningless electrical impulses. It appears that they see no irony in using their intellect to prove that their thoughts are completely devoid of meaning.

Both election and evolution deny that man has any freedom of choice. The proponents of these arguments believe that they are spinning an exquisite garment of the finest thread. Many people looking on are impressed with the vigour of their claims and assume they must be true, even though the threads are so fines as to be invisible. We should rather announce the obvious truth: the emperors are completely starkers!

It was Robert Pickton who decided it was time for those women to die. Despite their lamentable choice of occupation, they were individuals made in the image of God, who said: “As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11).

What is the New Birth?

Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?   Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.  The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.  Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?  (Gospel of John, chapter 3, verses 4 to 9).

I think we all have questions like Nicodemus, until we actually experience the change in our lives brought about by the new birth.  Even then, there is confusion about how this change actually took place.  Here is a brief exposition of what the Bible has to say on the subject.

As I read the Scriptures, there are three parts to the new birth.  They are not really experienced as three steps to a new life, but when one considers what has taken place in his life, he will be able to identify that all three of these were part of his experience.

First is the call of God, through the Holy Sprit.  “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him” (John 6:44).  “And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father” (John 6:65.  “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30).  “Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?”  (Romans 2:4).  “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation” (1 Peter 1:15).

Secondly, we must repent.  “In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:1 & 2).  “From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).  “And they went out, and preached that men should repent” (Mark 6:12).  “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13L5).  “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19).  “Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21).

The third part is the adoption of the new believer by God.  “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15).  “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Romans 8:16).  “And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.  Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ” (Galatians 4:6 & 7).  “ But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.  And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.  If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-25).

Some profess that the new birth is wholly a work of divine election and irresistible grace, with man having no choice in the matter.  Others teach that we have only to accept the promises of God and that this is entirely our own choosing.

The Bible rather teaches that God must first call us, awakening our heart and conscience to our sinfulness and need of salvation.  We can either accept or reject this call, God does not override our freedom of choice.  Repentance is the act of accepting God’s judgement on our sinfulness and seeking His forgiveness.  But it is not enough for us to judge the state of our heart and say that we have repented.  Salvation is not complete until we have received the Holy Spirit, the token that God has accepted us as His child.  This adoption produces fruit in our lives that will be evident to others.

For most people, the experience of the new birth is a very quiet event.  For some, it can be quite dramatic.  It is not the nature of the experience that makes us a child of God, it is the fruit of the Holy Spirit working in our lives that identifies us as His child.

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