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Some Thoughts On A Centuries-Old Theological Battleground
Now that I am getting older I often see my long-departed dad in the mirror when I shave and sometimes when I pause to reflect upon my attitudes and actions the “image” of both my parents is clearly discernable. And though I appreciate some of the DNA they passed along, my wife can tell you that I would be a more likeable person if a few of those genetic traits were missing! But no matter how much I try to renovate myself, I have found it to be virtually impossible to make appreciable changes to my personality and only by constant vigilance do I manage to suppress a few of my glaring deficiencies.
So my question is this: In those instances when I have tried to change for the better, was my will truly free in the effort? Even though no one twisted my arm to make me do it, was the motivation completely internal and uncoerced? Or would I not have to admit that negative external feedback had interfered with my comfort zone and thus my motive to adjust the problem was selfish? In other words, was I not virtually pressured into an attempt to make myself more acceptable to others?
If we lived in total isolation our will would be free to do what comes naturally. Selfishness and other genetic predispositions could be blissfully ignored because the only person we would have to please is number one! But since monasticism runs contrary to human nature, we congregate and the sparks fly as our egos conflict! Internal elements that literally constitute who we are and operate beyond our control move us in predictable patterns as involuntarily as breathing. Thus one’s ability to will is clearly limited and raises a legitimate question as to whether or not the definition of “free” can tolerate limitations.
Then we must take into account the universal problem of sin that is an inseparable part of our personality. Because even though as a born again Christian I have been set free from the penalty of sin and am trying to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Pet.3:18), the practical reality is that all efforts to improve myself not prompted by the Holy Spirit will fail miserably:
“Therefore, my dear ones, as you have always obeyed [my suggestions], so now, not only [with the enthusiasm you would show] in my presence but much more because I am absent, work out (cultivate, carry out to the goal, and fully complete) your own salvation with reverence and awe and trembling (self-distrust, with serious caution, tenderness of conscience, watchfulness against temptation, timidly shrinking from whatever might offend God and discredit the name of Christ). [Not in your own strength] for it is God Who is all the while effectually at work in you [energizing and creating in you the power and desire], both to will and to work for His good pleasure and satisfaction and delight” Philippians 2:12-13 (Amplified Bible, emphasis mine).
Why must my will—my “strength”—be ignored and resisted? Because I am a sinner by nature and that principle was confirmed by King David when he stated:
“Behold, I was brought forth in [a state of] iniquity; my mother was sinful who conceived me [and I too am sinful]” Psalms 51:5 (Amplified Bible).
My friend, I am not a sinner because I sin. The fact of the matter is that I sin because I am a sinner! I was born a sinner and as long as I remain in this frail body of clay sin will play a role in defining who I am. So no matter how much I might try to will it otherwise, all such efforts on my part can no more change my nature than a leopard can change his spots or the Ethiopian his skin (Jeremiah 13:23). Only God can make me a better person.
And contrary to what has been taught by some preachers with more zeal than knowledge, being born again does not get rid us of our sinful nature and anyone with “one eye and half sense” should be able to discern the fact that all Christians continue to sin after they are saved! A “technical” state of sinless perfection for the believer is achieved through justification by a Holy God—a legal decree that declares us to be perfect in His sight—even though in practical everyday terms we remain hell-deserving sinners as long as we are on this side of heaven! And the reason why many are confused regarding this subject is that they really do not understand the theological definition of sin—which, simply put, involves any and all failures to measure up to God’s standard of perfection!
“Since all have sinned and are falling short of the honor and glory which God bestows and receives” Romans 3:23 (Amplified Bible, emphasis mine).
If in every area of your life that you are not just as perfect as God Himself, you “miss the mark” and that is exactly what the Greek word hamartia—translated as “sin” throughout the New Testament—really means. And when we get a handle on that concept, the realization of just how far we fall short of God’s standard of perfection should bring us to our knees in shame. So even though it is impossible to be sinless, we must make every effort to sin less. Then only with the help of the Holy Spirit can we make any headway toward that goal.
That is why the Holy Spirit directed the Apostle Paul to write about his own post conversion struggle with sin:
“Once I was alive, but quite apart from and unconscious of the Law. But when the commandment came, sin lived again and I died (was sentenced by the Law to death). 10 And the very legal ordinance which was designed and intended to bring life actually proved [to mean to me] death. 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity and getting a hold on me [by taking its incentive] from the commandment, beguiled and entrapped and cheated me, and using it [as a weapon], killed me. 12 The Law therefore is holy, and [each] commandment is holy and just and good. 13 Did that which is good then prove fatal [bringing death] to me? Certainly not! It was sin, working death in me by using this good thing [as a weapon], in order that through the commandment sin might be shown up clearly to be sin, that the extreme malignity and immeasurable sinfulness of sin might plainly appear. 14 We know that the Law is spiritual; but I am a creature of the flesh [carnal, unspiritual], having been sold into slavery under [the control of] sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions [I am baffled, bewildered]. I do not practice or accomplish what I wish, but I do the very thing that I loathe [which my moral instinct condemns]. 16 Now if I do [habitually] what is contrary to my desire, [that means that] I acknowledge and agree that the Law is good (morally excellent) and that I take sides with it. 17 However, it is no longer I who do the deed, but the sin [principle] which is at home in me and has possession of me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot perform it. [I have the intention and urge to do what is right, but no power to carry it out.] 9 For I fail to practice the good deeds I desire to do, but the evil deeds that I do not desire to do are what I am [ever] doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not desire to do, it is no longer I doing it [it is not myself that acts], but the sin [principle] which dwells within me [fixed and operating in my soul]. 21 So I find it to be a law (rule of action of my being) that when I want to do what is right and good, evil is ever present with me and I am subject to its insistent demands. 22 For I endorse and delight in the Law of God in my inmost self [with my new nature]. 23 But I discern in my bodily members [in the sensitive appetites and wills of the flesh] a different law (rule of action) at war against the law of my mind (my reason) and making me a prisoner to the law of sin that dwells in my bodily organs [in the sensitive appetites and wills of the flesh]. 24 O unhappy and pitiable and wretched man that I am! Who will release and deliver me from [the shackles of] this body of death? 25 O thank God! [He will!] through Jesus Christ (the Anointed One) our Lord! So then indeed I, of myself with the mind and heart, serve the Law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. Romans 7:9-25 (Amplified Bible, emphasis mine).
As I have stated in previous articles, there are only two kinds of sinners: lost ones and saved ones. And by the grace of God alone, I am blessed beyond measure to be one of the latter. So even though as a believer I cannot will my way to sinless perfection, I can, however, please God by willfully trying to avoid sin and live the Christian life to the fullest.
What I want to emphasize at this point is that prior to being saved I could not please God no matter how much I tried because my will was totally impotent:
“So then those who are living the life of the flesh [catering to the appetites and impulses of their carnal nature] cannot please or satisfy God, or be acceptable to Him” Romans 8:8 (Amplified Bible, emphasis mine).
And if there is any question about what Paul meant by “…those who are living the life of the flesh…,” it is explained in verse 9:
“But you are not living the life of the flesh, you are living the life of the Spirit, if the [Holy] Spirit of God [really] dwells within you [directs and controls you]. But if anyone does not possess the [Holy] Spirit of Christ, he is none of His [he does not belong to Christ, is not truly a child of God]” Romans 8:9 (Amplified Bible, emphasis mine).
The expression “those who are living the life of the flesh” is referring to people in whom the Holy Spirit does not dwell—the lost and unregenerate masses. And as long as they remain in that condition it is impossible for them to please God or be acceptable to Him!
Then to make matters much worse, we find more information in the Book of 1 Corinthians relative to those who are lost:
“But the natural, nonspiritual man does not accept or welcome or admit into his heart the gifts and teachings and revelations of the Spirit of God, for they are folly (meaningless nonsense) to him; and he is incapable of knowing them [of progressively recognizing, understanding, and becoming better acquainted with them] because they are spiritually discerned and estimated and appreciated” 1 Corinthians 2:14 (Amplified Bible, emphasis mine).
These clearly stated passages tell us the lost can neither please God nor understand the Gospel message and when we factor in the scriptural principle that they are spiritually dead (Rom.6:13; Eph.2:1 and 5; Col.2:13), the 800 pound gorilla in the room is this: how can they will to change their predicament when they are blinded by Satan to the fact that they are spiritually dead and their souls are in jeopardy?
“For the god of this world has blinded the unbelievers’ minds [that they should not discern the truth], preventing them from seeing the illuminating light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ (the Messiah), Who is the Image and Likeness of God” 2 Corinthians 4:4 (Amplified Bible).
Then to top it off, is it not a blatant contradiction to propose that those who are slaves of sin and Satan have the freedom to will anything of a spiritual nature?
“Jesus answered them, I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, Whoever commits and practices sin is the slave of sin. John 8:34 (Amplified Bible, emphasis mine).
“In which at one time you walked [habitually]. You were following the course and fashion of this world [were under the sway of the tendency of this present age], following the prince of the power of the air. [You were obedient to and under the control of] the [demon] spirit that still constantly works in the sons of disobedience [the careless, the rebellious, and the unbelieving, who go against the purposes of God]” Ephesians 2:2 (Amplified Bible, emphasis mine).
As our subtitle suggests, even after the passing of hundreds (if not thousands) of years the principle of free will retains the potential for heated debate within Christendom. The vast majority of evangelical Christians today have been taught that unregenerate man has a free will and thus possesses the ability to change his mind concerning Christ. But in closing I respectfully ask you to ponder something: Since the Word of God tells us an unsaved person cannot please Him, how can that individual possibly change his mind about Jesus Christ, when a genuine change would doubtless be pleasing to God? And how is it possible that his will could have any relevance due to the fact that he is spiritually dead?
Adam and Eve originally possessed the ability to please or displease God (the theological definition of “free will”), but wound up forfeiting the ability to please Him. So it sure does look to me like God does the saving after the counsel of His will—not that of a spiritually dead and totally alienated slave of the devil (Eph.4:17-19).
“Even as [in His love] He chose us [actually picked us out for Himself as His own] in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy (consecrated and set apart for Him) and blameless in His sight, even above reproach, before Him in love. For He foreordained us (destined us, planned in love for us) to be adopted (revealed) as His own children through Jesus Christ, in accordance with the purpose of His will [because it pleased Him and was His kind intent]” Ephesians 1:4-5 (Amplified Bible, emphasis mine).
“In Him we have redemption (deliverance and salvation) through His blood, the remission (forgiveness) of our offenses (shortcomings and trespasses), in accordance with the riches and the generosity of His gracious favor, 8 Which He lavished upon us in every kind of wisdom and understanding (practical insight and prudence), 9 Making known to us the mystery (secret) of His will (of His plan, of His purpose). [And it is this:] In accordance with His good pleasure (His merciful intention) which He had previously purposed and set forth in Him, 10 [He planned] for the maturity of the times and the climax of the ages to unify all things and head them up and consummate them in Christ, [both] things in heaven and things on the earth. 11 In Him we also were made [God’s] heritage (portion) and we obtained an inheritance; for we had been foreordained (chosen and appointed beforehand) in accordance with His purpose, Who works out everything in agreement with the counsel and design of His [own] will” Ephesians 1:7-11 (Amplified Bible, emphasis mine).
“So then [God’s gift] is not a question of human will and human effort, but of God’s mercy. [It depends not on one’s own willingness nor on his strenuous exertion as in running a race, but on God’s having mercy on him.]” Romans 9:16 (Amplified Bible, emphasis mine).
“And it was of His own [free] will that He gave us birth [as sons] by [His] Word of Truth, so that we should be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures [a sample of what He created to be consecrated to Himself]” James 1:18 (Amplified Bible, emphasis mine).
Spiritual deception is raging around us and in my personal opinion the concept of free will continues to play a major role in the “easy believism” we see today. Preachers are using psychological methods calculated to put pressure on lost people because they are convinced the only thing standing between them and salvation is their stubborn will. They believe the will can be turned around through preaching (and music) calculated to impact the emotions and enhance the odds that some will change their mind and accept Jesus Christ. But the problem with preachers trying to do the work of the Holy Spirit is that most of the “decisions” wind up being made in the head and not the heart—a fact lamented by the very man who made that theology and preaching popular a little over a hundred years ago: the evangelist Charles Grandison Finney.
There is one thing our churches definitely do not need: more tares among the wheat!
If you have been born again and received Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, but have been very lukewarm in your spiritual walk with Him, you need to immediately ask Him for forgiveness and for renewal. He will instantly forgive you, and fill your heart with the joy of the Holy Spirit. Then, you need to begin a daily walk of prayer and personal Bible Study.
If you have never placed your trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior, but have come to sense His reality and the approaching End of the Age, and want to receive His FREE Gift of Eternal Life, you can do so now, in the privacy of your home. Once you truly believe in Him as Lord and Savior, you are spiritually Born Again, and are as assured of Heaven as if you were already there. Then, you can rest assured that the Kingdom of Antichrist will not touch you spiritually. If you would like to become Born Again, turn to our Salvation Page now.
We hope you have been blessed by this ministry, which seeks to educate and warn people, so that they can see the coming New World Order Kingdom of Antichrist in their daily news.
Finally, we would love to hear from you. You can write us at:
Cutting Edge Ministries, C/O Pastor Ron Riffe
P.O. Box 26
Gordo, AL 35466
You can also E-Mail Pastor Ronald Riffe regarding questions or comments about this article.
God bless you