Posted tagged ‘Free Will’

God’s Invitation

November 13, 2017

 

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The question, “How can a loving God send people to hell?” reveals a misunderstanding of at least three things: 1) what love is, 2) what hell is and 3) how people end up in hell. What we are talking about are the words Jesus spoke to these points, to which this question is directed. The question packs assumptions that load the question in the wrong way.

Let me explain.

I previously wrote a piece making the point that God Doesn’t Send People to Hell. In that piece, I addressed the question, but I addressed it primarily from a philosophical view. Below we will examine where these philosophical points come from.

The philosophical view is pretty simple, and flows from the proposition that God is Love.[1] Love doesn’t coerce people against their wills. Therefore, God will not compel anyone to be with Him who chooses not to be with Him because love doesn’t coerce people against their wills.

If heaven is eternal life with God, hell is eternal life without God. If God doesn’t coerce us, He leaves the determination up to us. God doesn’t send people to hell; people choose to go there because they don’t want to be with God.

God invites us to choose Him, but he doesn’t require, coerce or compel us to choose him against our wills.

This proof holds together well philosophically, but does it line up with the teachings of Jesus?

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God Chooses Us So We Can Choose Him

May 10, 2017

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“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide….” (John 15:16)

That seems to settle it. We did not choose Jesus. Jesus chose us. He also appointed us that we should go and bear much fruit and determined that our fruit should “abide”. There doesn’t seem much for us to do. God, the vinedresser, will do His work and cause us to beat fruit.  Right?

But then, why did Jesus direct his followers, “Abide in me”? That is a command, and a command requires a response. A response requires volition. Volition requires the exercise of the will, and that suggests we have a choice to make.

So whose choice is it?

So let’s be clear about this. We didn’t choose Jesus. He chose us, and he chose us to bear fruit… but then He asks us to do something.  He says that we must abide. We don’t bear fruit if we don’t abide:

“As the branch cannot bear fruit but itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5)

We can’t bear fruit apart from Jesus; we can only bear fruit if we abide in him.

But lest we think that we are left to our own devices, now that Jesus has chosen us, He makes it clear our abiding in Him isn’t enough! He must abide also in us.

Clearly, the relationship is reciprocal.

This is all well and good, but how do we abide in Jesus?

“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Fathers commandments….” (John 15:10)

Taking it a step further, Jesus adds:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:12-13)

After God chooses us and appoints us to bear fruit, we must abide in Him and allow Him and His word to abide in us. This requires doing on our part. We are not passive in this process. We must keep God’s commands, and that means loving others by laying down (laying aside) our own lives.

We must do all of this to beat fruit, which is what God appointed us to do.

And here is the kicker: if we don’t abide in Jesus, we die because a branch can’t live apart from the vine. It withers and dies when it is disconnected from the vine. It’s good for nothing but to be burned. (John 15:6)

So – Jesus chooses us out of the world, but we have to engage Him in that choice by exercising our own choice to abide in Him, by exercising our own choice of letting His word abide in us, by exercising our own choice to abide in love, which means following His example of laying down our lives for others.

Yes, Jesus chooses us … so that we can choose Him.

Does God Choose Those Who Choose Him?

May 2, 2017

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A fellow blogger has written on Paul’s writing in Romans 11:1-6 and The Remnant of Israel where Paul says that “God did not reject His people, whom he foreknew”. Rather, God “reserved” for Himself “seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal” in the time of Elijah, and Paul says similarly of his time when he wrote the letter to the Romans, “there is a remnant chosen by grace”.

This “dialogue” Paul has with himself in the letter to the Romans continues the theme I have been writing on lately: God’s choosing us (before the foundation of the world) and the choices God gives us. How can they both fit into our theology? How can it be that God chooses us and we choose God at the same time?

Paul’s brief summary of God’s interaction with the nation of Israel has evidence both of God’s choice and the choices He allows men to make. God chose the Abraham and His descendants who became the nation of Israel. The history of the nation of Israel is replete with virtually the entire group, but for some outliers, – some of the prophets, a few kings and other nonconformists –  continually running after other gods and refusing or simply failing to love God and His commands.

Most of them rejected God, but Paul says God did not reject them – not all of them anyway. God reserved[1] for Himself a number – a remnant.

Is this God responding to the choices made by the people of Israel? Or has God carved out (reserved for Himself) a number of the people who would not turn from Him because He reserved them for Himself? How much of this remnant is God’s choice, and how much of this remnant are the result of the choices of the people He reserved to Himself?

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The Choices God Gives Us

April 28, 2017

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“But to all[1] who did receive[2] Him, to those who believed[3] in His name, He gave the right[4] to become[5] children[6] of God— children born[7] not of blood, nor of the will[8] of the flesh[9], nor of the will of man, but born of God.” (John 1:12-13)

Johns packs a lot into these short verses, tucked into the first chapter of his Gospel that is profoundly full of other significant meaning:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. All things were made through him….In him was life, and the life was the light of men…. The true light…. was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him… he gave the right to become children of God…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us….”[10]

These are some of the most profound and remarkable verses in all of Scripture. God became flesh, and He lived among the people He chose as His own, but they didn’t even recognize who He was. But those who received – who believed Him – He gave the right to become children of God.

I see two choices here: the choice of receiving Christ and the choice God gives us after receiving Christ – the right to become children of God. My Reformed friends might be tempted to overlook the import of this power-packed passage.  I am little unnerved by it myself, truth be told. I don’t trust my own heart to make the right choices!

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God Chooses US

April 25, 2017

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God lets us choose Him: “But to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” But that isn’t the beginning of the story – or the end of it.

God chooses us. He gives us the right to become children of God[i], and He made that choice before the foundation[ii] of the world. We become the children of God not by blood descent, not by the will of parents or anyone else – maybe not even by our own will – but by God’s choice.[iii]

I do not have a systematic theology. I am not a theologian, and my understanding of systematic theology is limited, but free will has always seemed self-evident to me. It also seems eminently biblical. God created us in his own image[iv], and a primary characteristic of God is agency. We see in the story of Adam and Eve that God gave us agency too, by giving them dominion over the animals of the earth and in the choice to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The freedom to choose is also a necessary condition of love. God is love[v], and he created us in His image to reflect Him, to glorify Him and to love Him.

The point of an image is to image. Images are erected to display the original. Point to the original. Glorify the original. God made humans in his image so that the world would be filled with reflectors of God. Images of God. Seven billion statues of God. So that nobody would miss the point of creation. Nobody (unless they were stone blind) could miss the point of humanity, namely, God. Knowing, loving, showing God.[vi]

God created us to love him. Therefore, we must have agency/free will in order to be able to reflect back His love as He intended.

But there is another side to this. There is not only what we call faith; there is grace. There is God’s unmerited favor. God chooses us. We call this predestination and attribute it to God’s sovereignty

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God Lets Us Choose Him

April 22, 2017

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In back-to-back chapters in the Gospel of John (8, 9 and 10), Jesus has conversations with Jewish crowds who question who he is. Jesus never tells them in direct words, “I am God,” but the crowd clearly knows what he is talking about. This is similar to what we experience in life.

The world is made in such a way that it is governed by natural laws that have existed since the beginning of time. The cosmological constants were set from the beginning and are so finely tuned that they could not be changed this way or that way, even the slightest bit, without negating the possibility of life on Earth. Many scientists look at these laws and draw the conclusion that either they have always existed or they are simply all there is.

But where did the laws come from? Where did the universe come from? There is plenty of other evidence that God, the Creator, exists. The cosmological constants do not eliminate the possibility of a God. In fact, if those constants had a beginning, they must have had a beginner. But, there is room to question and to dismiss the idea.

Many of the Jewish people at the time of Jesus, especially the influential leaders, questioned who Jesus claimed to be.  Jesus did not get in their face about it. Just like God does not reveal himself in the created Universe in a way that we could not ignore him, Jesus was subtle, but clear.

I find this to be fascinating. It reveals a deep thread that has been coming into focus for me going way back in time.

God created us with free will. If he was in our face, we would have no free will. He would overwhelm and overcome us if we could not ignore Him.

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Plans, Paths and Choices on the Way

April 3, 2017

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The plans of the heart belong to man,
but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord. Prov. 16:1

God expects us to make our plans. The ability to plan, to exercise choice, was given to us by God, who created us in His own image. But we do not control the outcomes. On the one hand, we do not control our own destinies. On the other hand, we are not left to our own devices.

The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps. Prov. 16:9

We have the responsibility to plan our ways, but God determines the outcomes. We can spend our entire lives planning our ways without any thought to God, who determines our outcomes. We have the ability to live as if God does not even exist, but we do not escape the One who establishes the course we actually take. We may have no choice in the outcomes, but we have choice in our planning.

To that extent, we could plan our ways with God in mind, seeking God’s wisdom, God’s purposes and God’s plans. Or we can choose to plan our ways without regard to God at all. God gives us that choice.

A man’s steps are from the LORD; how then can man understand his way? Prov. 20:24

The actual courses we take, however, are affected by the “circumstances” of our lives, the opportunities and obstacles that come our way, and the almost unlimited variety of influences, happenings and factors that ultimately determine the “steps” we take. This is just another way of saying that God establishes our steps.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance.  James 4:13-16

We don’t control our own way though we often think (presume) and act as if we do.  God doesn’t frown on our plans. He made us with the capacity to plan our own ways, but we err (sin) if we fail to understand that we are not in control of the outcome of our plans. Our ability to freely plan our ways creates an illusion that we are the captains of our own destinies, but thinking and acting as if we actually do captain our own destinies is arrogance of the first order.

What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. James 4:14

Our lives are but a breath. (Job 7:7) Our lives are like clouds that appear and then vanish into thin air. (Job 7:9) Our days on earth are just a shadow. (Job 8:9) Our days are like the runner, fleeing away. (Job 9:25) Our days pass on like grass boats slipping downstream. (Job 9:26) Our lives are like a wind that passes and never returns. (Psalm 78:39) We are like flowers that bloom and quickly wither. (Job 14:2)

LORD, make me to know my end and what is the extent of my days; Let me know how transient I am. Psalm 34:9

Don’t presume about your life. Be mindful that life is short. Be aware that God is ultimately in control. God has his purposes.  Pray and seek God and to understand His purposes. Make plans, but always be mindful of God and his plans and purposes. Invite God into your plans; seek for your plans to be harmonious with God’s plans.

We can live our lives on our own, going our own ways or we can live life in harmony with God and His ways. God gives us that choice, and we are responsible for the way we exercise that choice. At the end of our short days, as the bloom withers, what will be the outcome of our lives if we lived them our own ways?

The creed of this world lived our own way, apart from God, is I Did It My Way. We can do that. We can boast we did it our way. But, to what end?

As for me, when I think of the alternatives, when I consider the temptation to be the captain of my own soul, come hell or high water (as it is said), I think of the disciples complaining of the words of Jesus spoken to the crowds:

“This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (John 6:60)

Jesus didn’t change His message to accommodate His followers, and, as a result, “many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him”. (John 6:66)

In this context, Jesus turned to the twelve disciples and asked,

“Do you want to go away as well?” (John 6:67)

This is the question we all must face. This is point to which we all have or will arrive, either in this life, or when our days are done. How we respond to it is the ultimate choice we make or will make.

We don’t control when the light that is our life will go out. Our days are numbered, and they are in God’s hands. We don’t control when the choice to accept and follow Him can be made.

The plans of the heart belong to man,
but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord. Prov. 16:1

We make our choices, but God is the determining factor in our destiny. Will we choose to submit our selves, our plans, our destinies to God? Or will we go our own way.

When Jesus asked his disciples whether they wanted to go away too, as the others followers did when the message got difficult for them, Simon Peter answered for the group:

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

This, too, is my response. Though I often stumble, there is no other path for me. There is nothing else for me. There is nowhere else I want to be.

How about you?


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