August 22, 2008

August 22, 2008 reading


Today's Bible Reading Jeremiah 46-48

I'm also reading:
Family Driven Faith   Voddie Baucham, Jr.
Solomon Among the Postmoderns   Peter J. Leithart

I am continually amazed at the Bible's clear presentation of the sovereignty of God over the purported free will of man. In today's Bible reading I came across the following verse in Jeremiah 46:

15 Why are your mighty ones face down?
   They do not stand
   because the Lord thrust them down.
16 He made many stumble, and they fell.

God is truly in total control and we need to make sure we're on His side of things.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
 — Philippians 2:12-13


  1. Hi Richard, I am puzzled by the following phrase,"purported free will of man."Can you elaborate? I heartily agree, of course, that God is in control. Blessings and a pleasant evening to you. Peggy in Fredericksburg

  2. Hi Peggy. It's good to hear from you again.

    The historic theological debate over "free will" refers to mans ability or inability to accept or reject the gospel of Jesus Christ. Martin Luther's most famous work (other than "A Mighty Fortress Is our God") was a book titled The Bondage of the Will. In this book, Luther was taking issue with the Roman Catholic view that man must work together (synergistically) with God to acquire salvation. Luther's biblical argument was that men are dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1,5) and that apart from the effectual regeneration of the Holy Spirit men are not even able to accept the gospel of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:14).

    Saint Augustine debated this very same issue in the 2nd Century A.D. against Pelagius. The same topic has been debated throughout Christian history with multiple notables arguing for or against man's libertarian free will, which is seen by the free will camp as being something that God chooses not to exert His sovereignty over.

    I have never been able to see an indication that since Adam's fall man has had a free will. The Bible says that men cannot (not will not but cannot) choose Christ.

    Romans 3:11 says There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God.

    Romans 9:15-16 says (speaking of belief in Christ and salvation) For [God] says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.

    Ephesians 2:8-9 says For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

    John 1:12-13 says But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

    To me it seems abundantly clear from scripture that sinful man does not possess libertarian free will. In fact, even those who are among the household of faith are described in the Bible as being "slaves to Christ" whereas those who are outside the household of faith are spoken of as being "slaves to sin."

    Romans 14:23 says that "whatever is not of faith is sin," so even though unregenerate man can choose such things as Coke or Pepsi and can choose whether to help the old lady across the street or to run her down with his car, according the scripture even the choice that we would see as being the "good" choice is described as "sin" because it did not spring from faith.

    It is a hard doctrine, but I think it is clearly taught in scripture.

    Let me know if I answered your question or if I am way off in the field surrounding it.

  3. Hi Richard, Thank you for your thorough and thoughtful answer. I had to print it out so I can ponder it at leisure when my mind is clear. As a Lutheran Christian (Missouri Synod) I am in agreement with you on the issue of man "choosing" salvation. I am wondering about the role of our free will, though, when choosing to lead a holy life or choosing to yield to sin. Perhaps that is a separate issue, a different area of "free will" entirely.
    Thank you for taking the time to answer this. The books I am reading, "The Practice of Godliness" and "The Pursuit of Holiness," both by Jerry Bridges, have led me on some thoughtful quests and a lot of Bible reading.
    Blessings to you and thank you for this place where people can speak freely without fear of criticism. Peggy

  4. Peggy - From what I've read of Jerry Bridges (and I've read a handful of his books), he and I are on the same page theologically in regards to this issue.

    Once man has been regenerated and has entered the "household of faith," become a "child of God," or however you would like to phrase it, he has the ability to choose right or wrong, whereas before he had the ability to choose only different wrongs.

    It is important that each of us seek to grow in grace, to become more Christlike.

    But even in this, God is totally and completely sovereign and he directs the heart. The apostle Paul directed the Philippians to "work out their own salvation" and to recognize that it is actually God who works in us to direct our hearts to do good.

    Phil 2:12-13 Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.

    We are led by scripture, then, to recognize that God is sovereignly in control and we are humanly responsible for our actions. So we Christians must seek holiness and repentance, but only God can grant that we will find such things.

    This is seen in scripture when Paul is admonishing young Pastor Timothy as to how he should handle opposition from those within his own flock (in other words, from Christians). In 2 Timothy 2:24-25 he says: And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth (emphasis mine).

    So it seems to me that even Christians must rely on God to grant us the ability to repent of our sins and turn to doing what is good and right.

    The balance I see when we come to terms with this seeming dichotomy is that we must recognize our responsibility to do good and God's ability to grant us the success in this endeavor. If we truly wish to grow more Christlike, we will recognize our need to petition God for this growth. In this way, our will melds with His will and he gets the glory and we get the blessing of growing in Christlikeness.

    Psalm 37:4 speaks of this in this way: Delight yourself also in the Lord, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.

    So we are assured that if we desire Christ above all things, God will give us our desire--Christ.

    That is how I see this issue. I hope this helps and I hope that God will guide you closer to him as you study his word in this regard. God is good!

    If you're interested, I can recommend some books that deal more directly with this particular issue -- books that really helped me to understand the scriptural teaching on these things.

  5. Richard, Your answers are indeed helpful and I appreciate your thoughtful response. There is a lot to chew on here! I would like to see the titles you recommend. The Holy Spirit has placed within me a great hunger to learn recently, and I am enjoying the process immensely. God IS good! Blessings to you, and a happy and peaceful Sabbath day. Peggy

  6. Since you are a Lutheran, I would recommend that you find Luther's Bondage of the Will online. It is an outstanding book and is in the public domain so you can read it for free. Always a nice deal. But Bondage of the Will was written during a different time and there are many rabbit trails that you'll have to read through to get to the actual "Free Will" debate. The book is actually more about justification by faith alone than it is about the will of man.

    The next few books are my highest recommendations. The first is Easy Chairs, Hard Words by Douglas Wilson. This is written in the Socratic method with two fictional people having a conversation. It explores the most common questions that surround this issue with one of the characters asking the questions and the other answering them. I found this one to be very, very helpful.

    My second recommendation would be R.C. Sproul's Willing to Believe (subtitled: The Controversy over Free Will). It is clear, succinct, and has solid scriptural exegesis and exposition to support its thesis. A very good book.

    Thirdly, I would recommend a book that is not actually on the will of man but rather more along the lines of the Jerry Bridges books you're reading. It is Desiring God, by John Piper. This book hit me like a ton of bricks. It is convicting and encouraging all the way through and will make you look at some old orthodox biblical truths from some new angles. This is my favorite book of all time. And it does touch on man's ability or inability to willingly accept the gospel.

    For a historic overview of the doctrines surrounding the free will debate, I recommend The Doctrines of Grace by James Montgomery Boice and Philip Graham Ryken. This is another outstanding book and is one of my favorites. It will give you a historical perspective on the understanding of these doctrines and the development of thought concerning them.

    A classic in the field is The Five Points of Calvinism by David N. Steele, Curtis C. Thomas, and S. Lance Quinn. It is thorough and easy to read and will give you loads and loads of scripture to ponder.

    If you would like to hear both sides of the extended debate that is called Calvinism/Arminianism, you must read Debating Calvinism by Dave Hunt & James White. This one is in true debate format with one side presenting their thesis, the other side providing a rebuttal, and then a few shorter counter-points following. Then the sides switch order for the next thesis. It's a good book written by two well-established apologists who see these doctrines from opposite viewpoints.

    If you'd like to get a taste of classics in the field, I'd recommend Redemption, Accomplished and Applied, by John Murray and God's Will, Man's Will, and Free Will, by Ernest C. Reisinger.

    I've listed these in my personal preference priority - mainly based on how much each of these books impacted me. If we were speaking in general (not just on the matter of free will), I'd recommend Desiring God before any other book than the Bible. It is truly outstanding and if you follow the link you'll find it for free. It is worth the cost of the book though, and is readily available at Christian book stores. It is destined to be a classic. I'd also recommend every other book written by John Piper - and there are quite a few of them. They are all outstanding and very convicting and edifying.

    Happy reading, Peggy. May God bless you deeply through this process.

  7. Richard, Many, many thanks. You went to a lot of trouble to prepare and explain this list, and I grealy appreciate it. I have a lot of reading to do! I'd best get busy. :) Peggy


No personal attacks. No profanity.

Please keep your comments in good taste. Leave a name so we know who you are. Your comments are welcome, but anonymous flames and sacrilege will be deleted.