Communion Presbyterian Church ARP

What's the Reason for Free Will?

I’m free, to do what I want, any old time!   Funny that this pop song has been co-opted to sell credit cards – the most oppressive, debt producing, institution of our day singing about freedom… That’s evil!


Are we really free to do what we want?  Think of all the things I want to do… make a few movies, start a school, plant more churches, build a cathedral, fund all kinds of ministries that help the community, I want more children, and I want to win a gold medal in the Olympics!  It’s what I WANT!  Now I don’t want a gold medal in any lame sport, I WANT a Gold Medal in Men’s Soccer, because the USA Men’s team has never won any medals in Olympic soccer. 


Now I know that all the other things that I want, I can do those things with the proper providential meetings.  But for the soccer goal, I’m just not equipped anymore to compete at that level, even though I still play every Monday night.  So, my final hope for winning gold in soccer is to compete in the senior Olympics.  But for that to happen, I would probably need to become a citizen of Brazil – and I don’t know if I want that. 


How free am I to accomplish my goals if I can’t get dual citizenship?


Another example.  I wanted to kill a rat that was in my shed; and I got what I wanted.  How did I do it?  By knowing what rats want!  I know the nature of rats, and I know the nature of mouse traps.  Now, a good friend said, “Use Almond Joy, because Almond Joy’s got nuts, Mounds don’t.”  But the mouse trap manufacturer suggested peanut butter.


Well, peanut butter didn’t work because the rat just licked all the peanut butter off the trigger – no snapping action!  That is one careful rat!  But, when I jammed Almond Joy into the trigger mechanism… Good night Ricky!


You see, a rat has a nature.  It desires Almond Joy, and even if a rat has some innate knowledge of how a mouse trap can end its life – Almond Joy will dominate every rat faculty– appetite, desire, dexterity, EVEN the will to live.  Although the rat had the freedom of my entire shed, and was feeding well on my theological books and my old photographs… Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t!


And here’s the point – Freedom has boundaries, freedom has consequences.  If someone told me, “RevK, don’t let anything get in the way of what you want.  If it’s a gold medal in soccer, just believe it and achieve it.  But that would require a total shift of lifestyle that I don’t think anyone wants to support.  Sure, I could go after that bait; but it’s not worth it.  It’s not worth giving up everything that I have to attempt something that is physically beyond my capabilities – and would probably earn me a trip to the psyche ward -- this is all silly talk.


So in this respect, not even God is completely free because He has boundaries.  Right?  There are some things that God just cannot do – like break a promise, like lie, like act in any way that is contrary to His nature.  And even though there are some things that God cannot, and will not do... God IS STILL the Most Free Being because everything He wants, He gets (Now I’m speaking of a God revealed in Scripture and articulated in Reformed confessions – I don’t have time to distinguish the true God from a God who can have his desires thwarted.) Furthermore, all of the desires and goals that God has are absolutely good and the consequences of which bring Him glory – all the time, 24/eternity.  I know that is a hard concept to grasp when tremendous loss and tragedy occur --- but we have talked about these matters in more detail in our other messages in this series.


So consider:  Angels were created to be angels, freely.  Angels were created to be servants who declare the glory of God.  Angels are most glorious when they live according to their design and purpose!  But the Scriptures indicate that some of the angels freely chose to reject this design, and in fact, became hostile against God for whatever reason, and now they deal with new boundaries, and the consequences of their free choice, which is imprisonment and final judgment and punishment.


Interestingly enough, since God is good in all He does, and since it is good that rebellion has the consequence of judgment and punishment, God will be glorified for His punishment of those who hate what is good and do what is evil.


There seems to be a replay of this in Adam and Eve.  Who were created to worship and glorify God with every aspect of their being – thoughts, will, emotions, activities -- freely. 


But like the Angels, they were also free to abandon the first kind of freedom for another kind of freedom that brought about boundaries and consequences.  Since Adam and Eve determined that they would be better off by disobeying God and freely chose to eat the forbidden fruit.  As a result, the boundaries were the removal of true communion with God and each other, and the consequence was death, and a lineage of descendants who would not know the first kind of freedom they enjoyed in this life – but only the freedom of a fallen nature – ?? and how free is that?


Well, it’s the freedom of an old man who has all kinds of wants but no power to accomplish them.  It’s the freedom of a rat.  To be driven by all kinds of appetites and instincts that may lead to many days of survival; but one that will never choose something contrary to it’s nature.  The rat will always eat my books and never read them.  Well, that’s because a rat can’t read!”  And that’s my point.


Now that we have inherited a particular nature from Adam, our nature only desires what our nature wants – and what does it want?   Freedom! Freedom to always fulfill what our nature wants.  And the question is, what do you really want, and for whose benefit?


Let me stop right here for a side bar and clarification.  We are talking about the reason for Free Will (I can’t wait to tell you; but that’s the big conclusion).  But before we get there, we have to understand that Free Will means something different when discussed under different banners.  For example, the word ‘Justification’ in a legal and philosophical context means, the reason for why a belief is held or for why an action was carried out.  For example, “I felt justified in stealing his bike because he stole my skateboard.”  In these arenas, when people attempt to justify themselves, they appeal to a standard for why their belief and behavior is warranted.


In a theological sense, Justification is simply to be declared righteous, free from guilt, and in complete compliance with God’s law.


In the same way, the phrase FREE WILL, has different meanings under different banners.  Legally and philosophically, everyone with reasonable cognitive faculties has the freedom to choose the best option for living.  No one, or Nothing is forcing anyone to choose to be criminals.  Even if they are, we all have the freedom to say NO!  This way of looking at Free Will helps us to maintain a certain type of morality and accountability to the law.


But in a theological sense, Free Will is a phrase that is only applied to a special set of people.  Theologically, the only folks who have a Free Will, are those who are not dominated by the sinful nature.  Those who are not regenerate, or born again, or new creatures in Christ, these do not have a Free Will, they only will one thing… satisfy and please their own human desires, and never the eternal and God glorifying desires of the Christian.


Them are fightin’ words, I know, but that is the theological banner.  It says that in other realms, people are held accountable to their free choices, but under the theological category, there is nothing about our nature that wills for what God wants.  Nothing in our heart, or conscience, or pursuits.  Sure, the pagan might like hearing the story of the Gospel, it may have some positive impact upon their will and emotions; but the truth is people have a nature that is fallen, some people are more hardened than others, but fallen natures are consequently bound to be self-seeking only unless their nature if first changed, renewed, regenerated, so that it chooses something that it wouldn’t before.


But wait! There is a scientific banner too!  Popular scientific literature, along with some early and recent studies, can now claim that all of our ‘decision making’ is only an illusion because all we are is a bunch of chemical and electrical processes that have been pushed in a certain direction (these scientists are obviously committed to a materialist worldview).  Therefore, every decision we make has been proceeded by an earlier decision, and a decision before that, and on and on and on – so it is not a person, or a mind or a soul making these decisions, it is really the Pachinko ball falling through a grid of potential choices and reactions, and our decisions are already pre-programmed based upon our chemical make-up, and although some subconscious part of the brain thinks we’re making decisions it is only the result of a closed system comprised of deterministic neuronal synaptic firing. 


So when we ask someone, why they did what they did, and they say, “I don’t know!”  We had better realize that reason and logic are illusions of our own mind, we are as Chris Neiswonger put it, “Little rocks crashing together.” This is not a joke, serious scientific study is attempting to prove this theory.


Now do the preprogrammed Calvinists jump up and cheer, and say, “We told you so! People don’t have Free Will!  They only choose choices based upon the material in their brains.  And since brains are ruined by sin, no amount of brain food is going to make a person choose to follow Jesus!”  Only quirky Calvinists like me would try to have fun with that logic.


And this seems to be a problem with the scientific explanation of free will.  It just doesn’t compute.  Our minds are more than programmed computers.  Computers run programs but don’t have any emotional or moral reflection about the program. Computers don’t have peace, or joy, or satisfaction, or guilt for how they think and act. (Except for HAL).


And so we have the final match up of the Free Willies.  In the legal, philosophical, psychological world, we DO have free will; we are capable of all kinds of choices; unless we did something really bad, then we can plea insanity – something else in us took over, that wasn’t really “me.”   According to the modern scientific world, we have NO free will because all we are is a programmed machine that has fooled itself into believing that choice is real when in reality, we only choose options based upon our own material.


Finally (CAMP), in the Theological world, we have a contingent free will.  Those still possessing the inherited fallen nature of Adam and Eve are still running, hiding, and hating God, and glorying in it, and are responsible for the consequences of those choices; but those who have been born again, united to Christ by faith; have a restored freedom that will actually choose to confess sin, need, dependence, and even the road of the cross so that in whatever choice (although not perfectly) they seek to honor God’s truth. 


The Free Choice in the Theological view is also first contingent on God’s election, because those with a fallen nature never do choose God.


The question is, do people want, on their own accord, to live the life that God outlines?  Even thought the Bible commands are not physically impossible – there are no commands to leap from tall trees or to fast for 40 days; there is only a moral obligation that we are morally capable of managing – things like: don’t gossip, or lie, or steal, or lust, or covet – all manageable details.


The ? IS: Do people really want this morality, or are we committed to oppose it?


It is here where the Scriptures state that those who do not have a regenerated heart by the work of the Holy spirit – they only will to do things that meet their needs and desires; while the person who is born again, will actually desire to do things that are quite contrary to their first nature.


You know that phrase, “second nature”?  It’s the desire of the athlete to put into practice skills and responses that must be learned so that it does not become a thought but an automatic response -- that we need to train ourselves to obey a new way of doing things in order to even compete.  This has a lot of relevance to the Christian because the scriptures tell the Christian is to actually live in a way that is contrary to our first nature, as in, = pay the consequences of disobedience even if it brings about a certain amount of shame and suffering to.  Take our guilt somewhere, rather than cover it up.  Sacrifice our desires in order that someone else may benefit.  Seek to glorify God rather than seek comfort and satisfaction of self…


Let’s turn to our text and consider the background and the requests made that are all contrary to nature.


Philemon is a book written to a Christian man who had a slave.  This slave ran away and absconded with property.


First nature of a slave?  Slavery stinks. I’m going to seek my freedom, and equal the score financially.

First nature of a slave owner?  You can’t rip me off!  You’re going to pay when you get caught!


The slave’s name was Onesimus, and while he is on the lamb, he runs into the Apostle Paul, and becomes a Christian.  Paul then goes after their second nature.


Second nature of a runaway slave?  Return, repent, pay the consequences no matter what as a witness for Christ

Second nature of an offended slave owner?  Forgive the slave, and now treat him as a brother.


Writing to Philemon  10 I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. 11 (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) 12 I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. 13 I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, 14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own free will. 15 For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother- especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. 17 So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me.


One thing we didn’t cover was the nature of an Apostle!  HIS WILL To help two people reconcile based upon Gospel truths!  Even though they had their own personal freedoms to despise each other for perceived wrongs. 


But because Christians have buried their former way of living with its limited array of choices, and now embrace a life of service to the Gospel.  Gospel truths mean that fellow believers serve one another – even slave owners serving their slaves (I’ll have to address the whole slavery issue at a later date).  Gospel truths also mean that Christians don’t need to be forced ‘Taliban style’ into obeying scriptural commands, but our new, our second nature embraces a whole set of choices that never would have been an option before.  Gospel truths develop a new foundation for our new choices which are based upon a savior who emptied himself of all his glory, rights and privileges and choose to become a slave and to give up his life to pay the ransom for all kinds of slaves.  For all kinds of people who are slaves to their first nature!


Jesus will take these slaves to the cross and pay for everyone’s debt, and raise them to a new life of freedom.  The freedom to let go of everything that we believe belongs to us, and claim all the spiritual treasure that really do belongs to us.  It is in anticipation of a future day of freedom, the freedom to live with a completely new nature, one that only lives to please God, that we freely set aside our desires and appetites here in order to reflect the life of Jesus Christ.


But this is the reason for Free Will.  It was our possession in Adam in Eve in the Garden, it was a glorious life of perfect communion with God.  However in their fall, the freedom we seek rarely brings us freedom at all.  Our freedoms are actually a rebellion to God’s perfect rule.  As a result, we promote alienation, and discord, and hopelessness.  For some reason, we know that freedom is a core value of our existence, but when we try to apply it in our lives, families, churches, and governments – it becomes an unruly, burdening selfish beast, that oppresses people because it seeks power and control independent of the power and control of God’s law and Christ’s sacrifice. 


We can only know Free Will again when we are born again; where a whole new set options become available to us.  The freedom to serve others, the freedom to depend on Christ’s power, the freedom to embrace truth, even if it may condemn us – we have the freedom to confess our need of Christ above the needs of self.


The fact that people will live Freely as Christians in a way so contrary to our first nature is an indication of the eternal fruit of the tree of life feeding our souls.  We do not automatically respond to deterministic options, we are empowered to choose obedience, love, and devotion to God – and our first taste of freedom here is developing our appetite for an eternal reality to be free again to fulfill our restored nature in Christ as a child of his kingdom.

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