Libertarian Free Will: It’s Not Biblical – Part 3

Well, I am back now to finish up this series, which I had planned to do two months ago; however, the Lord had different plans, which included back surgery. And I praise God his plans included it because I wasn’t able to tie my own shoes for the last 9 months. I am truly grateful—Amen!

In part 2 of this series, I provided Scriptures demonstrating that God brings about human free actions that we are responsible for. As stated, this view of free will is referred to as compatibilism. This means that Human free will is compatible with God’s sovereign will by which he determines what will come to pass according to his divine decree and ultimate plan.[1] Our freedom is not constrained; rather, it is unconstrained within God’s decree, and our choices and actions are part of what he has ordained to take place.

Before going further, I want to again define what Libertarian free will is:

“An agent is free with respect to a given action at a given time if at that given time it is within the agent’s power to perform the action and also in the agent’s power to refrain from the action.”[i] Ultimately, a person has the ability within his own power to make any decision, and any decision contrary to it, in any given situation. “The will is free from any necessary causation . . . [I]t is autonomous from outside determination.”[ii]

My perspective, and that of the Reformed community, is that this view is unbiblical. Nowhere in Scripture do we see that humans have this kind of freewill; rather, our wills are enslaved to sin and can only do the freewill-actions within an enslaved state (John 8:34; Romans 6:6, 16-17, 19-20; 7:14; 2 Peter 2:19; Titus 3:3; Galatians 4:8-9). Fallen man’s desire is to only do wicked actions, regardless of any good action he might do (Matthew 7:11; Luke 11:13). We cannot do anything righteous; Christ was the one who did the righteous act on our behalf (I refer you to my post examining Romans 5:12-19).

Further Understanding Compatibilism

God decrees all things; therefore, he knows all things that ever occur. His knowledge is in advance to the future events that are to come about in his plan of redemption. His knowledge of future events “in no way causes anything to happen; it merely guarantees that what [he] knows will in fact happen.”[2] But the certainty of the actual events that ensue for everyone does not mean that people are then mere robots. Rather, in God making people as “non-glorified human beings,”[3] they are given a nature that is inclined to make choices that are common to all humans. Just as various animals have natures that are different than humans, though common to each animal within its species, predetermined actions can be known due to the environment and situation they are put in.

Mankind’s understanding of the animal kingdom is ascertained by the observation of an animal’s actions and habits based on its nature and how it interacts within the environment it lives in. In knowing the nature of animals and how they respond (make choices) in their environment, scientists can create an environment and setting for an animal that, with most certainty, they can get a desired result (choice) based on the use of the nature of that animal in that environment (example: lab rats in a maze).

Likewise, as it pertains to human nature, and God’s exponentially greater understanding of human nature, God gives humans a nature and puts them in an environment that he knows he can use to bring about choices (that conform to his will) made by humans. But just as the animal that is placed in an artificial, man-made environment makes choices that are made freely in accordance with its own nature, humans also, based on their nature in the environment that God has placed them in, are free to act in “accordance with their desires, dispositions, inclinations, knowledge, and character.”[4]

In Matthew 7:15-20, Christ told his disciples that they would know those who are of God by their fruits. A good tree only bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit; thus, you will know them by their fruits. A tree can only give a certain fruit based upon its nature. “The tree is not free to produce good or bad fruit at random, but is governed by its nature.”[5]

Scripturally speaking, this perspective makes the most sense (again, look at the Scriptures discussed in the first post). God is sovereign over all, and he is the primary cause of all things to take place. The Scriptures bear witness to the fact that nothing in creation can act independently of God’s sovereignty (: Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:17; Acts 17:28; Nehemiah 9:6; 2 Peter 3:7; Job 12:23; Job 34:14-15; Job 38:32; Matthew 5:45; Matthew 6:26; Numbers 23:19; 2 Samuel 7:28; Psalms 33:14-15; Psalms 104:14; Psalms 104:29; Psalms 135:6; Psalms 139:16; Psalms 141:6; Psalms 148:8; Proverbs 16:1; Proverbs 16:33; Proverbs 20:24; Proverbs 21:1; Proverbs 30:5; John 17:17; Ephesians 1:11; Galatians 1:15; Jeremiah 1:5; 1 Corinthians 4:7).

God has exhaustive knowledge and knows what humans will do based upon the nature he gave them. He has the ability to persuade and compel people to make choices, which they willing make, to conform to his will. Likewise, people make decisions in accordance with their will that do bring about actions that cause harm or evil to others. God too permits these situations. In these instances, God permits these and uses these actions to conform to his will; for God “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11).

Genesis 50:20 is a clear example of this. Prior to this verse, Joseph’s brothers were fearful because when Joseph revealed his identity to them, they were afraid of what he might do to them. In an act of evil, they sold him into slavery. And now Joseph is second-in-command over Egypt and has the power to return evil to them. In Genesis 45:5, Joseph says, “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.” Joseph understands that he is in the position that he is because God is sovereign. It was God’s plan for the events and circumstances to happen to Joseph in the manner they did. Joseph recognizes this. A severe famine was coming to Egypt, God’s doing, and it was God’s plan for Joseph to be there prior to this event and to be used by God to save the people.

After the famine, Joseph’s brothers come to him again and were in fear for their lives. But Joseph says to them, “‘Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them” (Genesis 50:19-20). God had two different designs within his plan. This verse “did not say that God used their evil for good after they meant it for evil. It says that in the very act of evil, there were two different designs: In the sinful act, they were designing evil, and in the same sinful act, God was designing good.”[6] The brothers acted in accordance to their own wills and desire to commit evil. But that act of evil was in accordance with the will of God. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Joseph was called for a purpose, and God worked out all things for good for Joseph because he loved God.

There is a tension between man’s freewill and God’s sovereignty, and while we cannot fully reconcile this tension due to our puny, finite minds, what we can do is seek to be consistent in our theology. We have to take what Scripture teaches, regardless of what we think it should teach. Scripture does not portray a God who is like that of the pagan, Greek gods, who are only supported and empowered by the creatures that worship them. Rather, the God of the Bible is sovereign over everything in all of creation, for he is the one who supports, sustains, and empowers it (Acts 4:24; Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:15-16). Furthermore, the Bible does not portray mankind as a robot or puppet. Man makes choices and is held accountable for them (Genesis 2:16-17; Exodus 20; John 3:36; Acts 2:23; 4:27; Romans 1-3; 6:23; 1 Corinthians 9:21; Galatians 3:10; Titus 3:3; 1 John 3:4).

Conclusion

In looking at the biblical and theological evidences put forth in these last 3 posts, I believe the biblical understanding of freedom is the ability to choose according to our greatest desires in the moment of that choice. Man always chooses to sin, which is why he needs God to change his nature of desiring to do so. If ought implies can, then everyone has the ability to be morally perfect because we ought to live a sinless life. If we had a truly free will in the libertarian sense, then we would have the freedom to save ourselves by never sinning.

While this subject is truly a weighty one, we must be ok with seeing that the sidewalk ends at some point. Speculation can lead to unnecessary frustration, and even dissension among believers, and more time wasted trying to understand the mind of God, instead of glorifying God for his perfect, omnipotent mind. He has it figured out, so rest in that.

 

—Romans 11:36

For further reading:

The Sovereignty of God, Arthur Pink
Freedom of the Will, Jonathan Edwards
Election and Free Will, Robert A. Peterson
The Doctrine of God, John Frame
Still Sovereign, Tom Schreiner and Bruce Ware
No One Like Him, John S. Feinberg
Bondage of the Will, Martin Luther
Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin

 

_________________________________

[1] When speaking of God’s foreknowledge and foreordination of events, sometimes there is a confusion of terms, which leads to a misunderstanding of God’s eternal decree. We need to avoid the error of fatalism. From creation to glorification, God has foreordained (i.e., planned from eternity past) all human actions and events of nature and history. However, God’s foreknowledge (i.e., his perfect knowledge beforehand of all actions and events from eternity past; and of the elect, it’s an intimate, personal knowing of them) of all events and human actions that occur in history does not infer they must happen or that one can’t refrain from doing so because God foresees them. Rather, God foreknows certain actions or choices take place because the one doing the action does not refrain from doing otherwise.

God has foreordained all that shall come to pass and foreknows all things because of his foreordination of them, and these events may come to pass through the free will actions of humans or through God’s causative actions in accordance with his eternal decree. However, no one makes a choice that is against one’s will; rather, all choices are made because one most desires to make that choice because it is most desirable to that person.

[2] John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: Doctrine of God, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), p. 741.

[3] Feinberg, No One Like Him, p. 788.

[4] Loraine Boettner, Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1991), p. 219.

[5] Ibid., p. 220.

[6] John Piper, Spectacular Sins: And Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008), p. 81.

My Amazing Wife

I have been off blogging for a bit due to a much needed back surgery. I am still off,  but I wanted to share this with everyone in love and appreciation for my very godly, loving, and amazing wife.

I have been dealing with a herniated S-1 disc since last June, causing continual excruciating pain. If you have had back pain, then you know how bad it can be. Lets just say, I had many tearful moments just trying to stand, put on shoes, and just even walking. So, after a few lumbar injections, which brought little relief, going the surgical route was my next step.

The surgery was an outpatient procedure—crazy, huh? The neurosurgeon made a 2-inch incision in my lower back, shaved off some bone, cut away some tendons and blood vessels, and removed the bulging portion of the disc. I woke about 4 hours later and stood up immediately with no pain!

It was truly a joyful moment. I think maybe I knew it would be successful because I remember singing a hymn to a nurse while waking up from the anesthesia. My vision is -6.0, which means I can read a book just as long as the pages are touching my nose. So, with that type of vision and the fogginess of the drugs, the nurses face looked like a mix of blurry, overlapping shapes. So, with a terrible voice like mine, I hope it wasn’t too hard to listen to.

My wife helped me take a stroll around the nurses desk and back to my bed. It was amazing. I was so overwhelmed that I could not hold back any tears.

But within five seconds my joyful, trickling tears turned into heavy weeping . . . for my wife.

You see, my wife suffers from a rare nerve condition called Trigeminal Neuralgia. It’s a condition were the Trigeminal Nerve, which is the nerve that runs from the base of your skull/neck area toward the face, with three branches extending out to the cheek, upper lip, and lower lip area, which also reach deep into the teeth. The nerve has become damaged due to a cluster of blood vessels that have grown around the nerve, rubbing on it constantly. Some however don’t have the visible signs and the nerve is just diseased or something else in the skull is impinging on it. She, and others, describe the pain as electric shock, chewing on broken glass, having teeth broken, burning fire, like stabbing a knife in your mouth, and others I cannot remember. Touching her face, talking, wind, touching teeth together, smiling, laughing, and eating trigger the pain spikes. There are some people that cannot even kiss their spouses anymore because the pain is so bad.

See some of the pics below people have drawn up to describe what it is like:

WHAT-IS-TN

 

TNPic1

And because of the fact that this disease generally gets progressively worse, many have taken their own lives, which led to the naming of this condition as the suicide disease. Most people that have it get the pain sensation on one side of the face. The pain can be at different intervals, some people can go for weeks or months with out having a serious attack.

Well, my wife is one of the rarest of rare conditions; she has it on both sides of her face and the pain is constant. There is never a time where she doesn’t have pain. Over the last 9 years she has seen 25 doctors, had 2 brain surgeries, 2 treatments of gamma knife radiation (both surgeries and the radiation treatments are considered to be 85-90% successful; she had no improvement), and a balloon rhizotomy, where a needle is slid into an opening in your cheek area and a balloon is filled up with gas quickly to stun the nerve. She is on many nerve-block drugs and narcotics, which provide some relief but mostly to only take the edge off. Most days she has to put ice-packs on her face to help calm the pain. I had many helpless days where she is sprawled out on the couch with ice packs on her face, tears flowing, kicking her legs, and just waiting for the pain to subside. While the pain does level out and becomes manageable, she always has it.

It all started out as what we thought to be a tooth ache 9 years ago.And other than what she has done already, there are no cures.

But she presses on, glorifying Christ in her pain.

You can probably see why my tears of joy shifted into weeping. . . She was the one who should have experienced this.

She should have been the one to go under the knife and wake up with out pain.

And you know what. She was in tears—she was in tears of joy for me. While weeping in her arms, I continued to say to her through my tears, “I am sorry. . . I am so sorry.”

She did not change her expression one bit. She had this great smile of joy and delight in what God had done for me. She was praising God through it all. She was truly happy for me.

My wife is amazing. I continue to grow in love for her everyday. She is my soul mate who God planned to give to me before the foundation of the world.

I love you Myndi, and I thank you Lord.

— Romans 11:36

Please check out her blog site and be sure to get a copy of her book:

http://www.dontwasteyourpainthebook.com/

 

 

Penal Substitutionary Atonement a Lie? Part 3

[1756 words = 7 minute read]

Last week, I ended my post with a plethora of biblical texts refuting Ericksen’s statement that penal substitutionary atonement is a lie. Ericksen’s diminutive perspective of God’s holiness demonstrates he doesn’t understand the depravity of man and the deserved wrath stored up for him because of sin.

I continue on.

He writes,

“The whole premise of penal substitutionary atonement is a lie. God didn’t respond to Adam and Eve by mimicking them. God didn’t turn from them. In fact, God went in search for them. “Where are you?” God asked Adam and Eve. That’s the truth of the Adam and Eve story, it’s the truth of the biblical story, and it’s our truth. When we abandon God, God doesn’t abandon us. God doesn’t respond with wrathful anger. Rather, God responds with grace and compassion that seeks to be in relationship with us.”

Ericksen is right on this point. Though Adam and Eve disobeyed God, incurring death for their sin, God came for them and extended grace to them in the shedding of the blood of another animal to cover their sin. We see before a theology of the atonement is fully developed an exchange being made. While God spared their lives at this moment, God told them that they would surely die if they ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and they most definitely will, returning to the dust that they came from (Genesis 3:19).

But he spared them.

After God made “garments of skin and clothed them” (3:21), “he drove out the man” (v.24), cleansing the temple-garden and closing it off from sin and death in placing the cherubim and a flaming sword as guards at the east end of it.

God did not respond with the wrathful anger they deserved; if he did, there would be no Christ, the one to come in whom God fully manifests his nature and character in—demonstrating wrath and love through. So, while we see God’s demonstration of grace, his wrath still has to come. A just judge cannot let lawlessness go unpunished. If God overlooked the sins of mankind, he would not be righteous; he would be unjust and a liar (Ps. 9:8).

Adam’s sin brought death into the world (Romans 5:12), and “the judgment following one trespass [Adam’s sin] brought condemnation” (5:16). So while Adam’s sin brought condemnation, Paul tells us that God in his divine forbearance “passed over former sins” (Romans 3:25). Beginning with Adam and Eve, his provision through sacrificial substitution allowed them to live for a while, along with God’s covenant people, Israel. But it did not remove man from his deserved condemnation, reconciling man and God. But in Christ, God put forward a propitiation that demonstrates his righteousness, so that he might be just and the justifier” (Romans 3:24, italics mine), by exacting justice for the sins of the world but also showing his love and mercy in reconciling the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:18).

The Bible makes it clear—“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36, italics mine). God’s wrath remains on those who have transgressed the law. Christ or no Christ, God’s wrath remains. Paul says to the Ephesians, “you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world . . . carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature, children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (2:1-3).

Just because the wicked are still living, it doesn’t mean their just condemnation through God’s wrath won’t be displayed. God will respond with wrathful anger; he already did for those who are his in Christ’s first coming and will do so for the children of Satan at Christ’s second coming.

Ericksen continues, quoting from a . . . Rabbi?

As the great 20th century Rabbi Abraham Heschel explained, the primary point is not our search for God, but rather God’s search for us.

“All of human history as described in the Bible,” wrote Heschel, “may be summarized in one phrase: God is in search of [humans].” 

Now, I will have to give him credit here because Heschel shares a glorious truth of the Christian faith: God entering into his own creation coming to man through Christ to restore what was lost. However, I just find it ironic (and sad) that he is quoting a Rabbi who, while making this profound point, ultimately misses it.

Ericksen writes,

“For Christians, Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God’s search for humanity. In this particular human being we see that atonement has nothing to do with God’s pent up wrath or violence, but everything to do with the truth of God’s grace and forgiveness. The Gospel of John tells us, “’The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth … From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.'”

Yes, Christ is the ultimate revelation of God’s search for humanity, but Ericksen doesn’t demonstrate how what Christ did was not part of God’s wrath. The grace given is that Christ comes to bear our penalty taking the wrath of God for us. Galatians 3:13 says “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law becoming a curse for us.”

What is grace? It is getting something we don’t deserve. Christ came to give his life as a ransom for many, paying the debt we could never repay.

I think Colossians 2:13-14 most succinctly captures this legal exchange:

“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”

Why do you think we have the earthly example of the Levitical priesthood and the sacrificial system? (Read Hebrews 9-10)

Why is Christ referred to as the spotless Lamb (John 1:29)?

Peter speaks of “the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:19), which finds its origin in Exodus 12:5, in God’s instruction to Israel regarding Passover, “Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old.”

Ericksen writes,

“In each Gospel we discover that God didn’t need the cross in order to forgive. The truth of God’s “grace upon grace” is that God forgives sinners, tax collectors, and cowardly disciples, in other words, everyone, before Jesus even went to the cross. God has never atoned for sins through wrathful violence. God doesn’t respond to us mimetically. When we abandon God, God doesn’t abandon us. Jesus is the particular revelation of what the Bible generally reveals — God makes atonement, God became at-one with us, not through wrathful violence, but through nonviolent love and forgiveness. It was human wrath that hung Jesus on a cross, not God’s. How does God respond to our wrath? As John wrote, with “grace upon grace.” Jesus revealed that grace as he hung on the cross and prayed, “’Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'”

God did not need the cross to forgive? One needs to look at the statements in the Gospels Jesus makes regarding his purpose and reason for coming (Matthew 16:21; 20:18-19, 22, 28; Mark 8:31; 10:33-34, 45; Luke 11:42; 22:22, 37, 46; John 6:38; 10:17; 12:27) to see the cross was not just needed, it was planned to be used to show his glory. So, whatever God purposes is needed.

Another key element that Ericksen fails to see is what the cup represents that Christ is to drink. In the Old Testament, the cup normally signifies God’s judgment in the outpouring of his wrath (Ps. 75:8; Isa. 51:17, 22; Jer. 25:15, 16). This means intense suffering for those who drink of it. Christ demonstrated great fear in the moments prior to his crucifixion where he prayed to the Father, asking to not drink this cup (Matthew 26:42; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42). He was fearful because it was one thing that the Son never experienced: the wrath and separation from his Father as only those under judgment experience.

In those six hours on the cross the Father abandoned the Son (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34).

His abandonment led to our adoption.

And then Ericksen uses wrath in a way I have never seen in theological discussion; he says, “It was human wrath that hung Jesus on a cross.” Where in the Bible do we see human wrath? What we do see is that our sin is what hung him up on the cross.

Ericksen concludes saying that we don’t need to feel guilty if we find ourselves abandoning God; God doesn’t respond to human sin with wrathful anger. Now, that is true for those in Christ, for nothing can separate them from his love (Romans 8:38-39). But God responds with wrath, judgment, and fury to those who are still enemies (Romans 2:8; cf. 5:10)

I am not sure if Ericksen assumed that the woman was a Christian who strayed from the faith. I wasn’t there but from what he said about her upbringing and experience in church, I assume that she is not a Christian; rather, she is one coming to the end of her life, feeling guilt wrought about by the Spirit, opening her eyes to the condemnation she is under. She should feel anxious and fearful. Christ says, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

Ericksen’s experience tells him that when he “channels God’s nonviolent and nonjudgmental love,” anxiety and fear go away. And that is what manifested in this lady’s demeanor.

Now, maybe he shared more than what he wrote about in his experience, which led to a further discussion about the gospel.

But, maybe his unbiblical understanding of God’s holiness, the atonement, wrath, and judgment only affirmed her in her sin.

There was no discussion here of repentance and faith in Christ for what he did on the cross to save sinners. If she truly saw how amazing it is that God saves wretches, then I would think her fear and anxiety would turn into weeping.

If Ericksen shifted the conversation toward the gospel of Jesus Christ, in which those elements were mentioned, which demonstrated the work of conversion by the Holy Spirit, then amen!

But if demonstrating “God’s nonviolent and nonjudgmental love” only made her feel justified in her own deeds, then that is a pity. Her blood is on his hands.

 

—Romans 11:36