Posted by: Grover Gunn | September 26, 2008

Thoughts on Free Will

The concept of free will needs to be discussed on two levels, the ultimate level and the more proximate level. The ultimate reality is that God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass and is in exhaustive sovereign control of the historical process. This is how God knows the future without referring to anything or anyone outside of Himself. At the same time, God has created free agents who, though dependent upon God for their existence and sustenance, make spontaneous choices for which they and not God are rightly responsible. We know these facts about divine sovereignty and human responsibility because God has revealed them to us in Scripture. Understanding fully the relationship between these two revealed truths is beyond the intellectual capacity of the finite creature. The apparent irrational tension between an ultimate determinism and creaturely freedom has a rational resolution in the eternal perspective possessed only by eternal God. 

The more proximate issue is the relationship of the will to the free agent. The immaterial part of the human is an integrated, organic whole. It does not consist of a collection of isolated and encapsulated entities which function independently of each other. The intellect and the will are merely functional distinctions within the human spirit or soul. Any action of the will is an expression of the character of the free agent:

  Matthew 7:15-20
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.
16  “You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 
17 “Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.
18 “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.
19 “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
20 “Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”
   
  Matthew 12:33-37
33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit.
34 “Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
35 “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.
36 “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment.
37 “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
   
  Matthew 15:17-20
17 “Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated?
18 “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man.
19 “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.
20 “These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.”

Whenever the will acts, it does so based on what the intellect has ultimately determined to be best for the free agent according to the free agent’s standards. When a free agent wills to do evil, no matter how evil the evil may be or how obviously against the real interests of the free agent, the free agent in his most ultimate judgment has judged the act to be to his greatest good. No free agent ever wills anything which he has, in his last judgment, judged as bad for himself, even though he may recognize this on other levels. Because of this, the decisions, choices and actions of a free agent are a measure of his moral character and a revelation of his moral standards. The fallen free agent always has on some level a knowledge that his evil actions are contrary to the moral standard of absolute good and thus remains responsible for his actions.

The free agent acts as a free agent whenever he spontaneously wills something based on his final understanding of the good and his own best interest. The free agent acts well as a free agent only when his final understanding of the good and his own best interest is rightly informed through faith in God’s revelation. Only then is the free agent’s understanding in conformity with absolute factual truth and absolute moral standards.

Adam and Eve were created in a state of innocence in which they looked in faith to God as their ultimate reference in determining the good and their best interest. They also were created with the ability to change their faith reference from God to self. In innocence, they had no inner inclination to do so, but did so under the influence of an external tempter. After shifting their ultimate faith reference from God to self, they saw the apparent short term advantages of what God had forbidden and judged it to be to their best interest to disregard God’s warnings and to partake of what God had forbidden in disobedience to God’s command. They continued to act as free agents, but they no longer acted well as free agents.

As a result of the change in their faith reference, Adam and Eve were no longer innocent in terms of either their legal standing or their moral condition. With a heart corrupted by making self the ultimate reference, they did not understand the true sinfulness of their sin nor the true misery of their new situation. With their new autonomous faith reference, they could not recognize that it was to their best interest to make God once again their faith reference. This moral inability resulting from their autonomous faith reference was a just penalty for their transgression.  Their descendants, who were begotten in Adam’s moral image, also had this autonomous faith reference. This was a just legal judgment upon Adam, who was the sole material source of the human race and who acted as the legal representative of the human race during his period of probation in paradise. After the fall, the human’s autonomous reference distorted all his understandings and inclined all his decisions toward disobedience to God’s revealed will. This noetic distortion and volitional inclination to sin dominated and characterized his life. In an act of mercy, God restrained the consistency of the human’s conformity to his autonomous faith reference to prevent self-destruction and to enable secular civilization.

When Adam rejected God as humanity’s faith reference, God had a right to abandon humanity as sustainer. Had God done so completely, creation would have descended into chaos and collapsed. To the degree which God did withdraw as sustainer, chaos and curse came upon creation, including sickness and physical death. This was a just judgment upon Adam’s sin. 

With an innocent heart, Adam had changed his faith reference from God to self under the influence of an external tempter. With a corrupt heart, the fallen human would need more than a righteous example, teacher and exhorter to enable him to change his faith reference back to God. He would need a strong Redeemer who paid the necessary ransom price. The only such Redeemer is Jesus Christ. When Jesus redeems an individual, He gives him a perfect legal standing before God and makes God again his dominate faith reference, yet without totally eliminating at this time the autonomous faith reference. The result is that the redeemed human lives a life that is dominated and characterized by righteousness, and yet sin still touches all that he does. He also has the potential for slipping back temporarily and partially under sin’s dominance. God through specific means of grace combined with the work of the Spirit strengthens the redeemed person’s faith and thus enables him to die more and more unto sin and to live more and more unto righteousness. Thus God in salvation progressively restores the free agent’s ability to act well as a free agent.

The soul is made perfect in holiness at death, and the total person is made perfect in holiness at the resurrection on the last day. At this point, God enables the redeemed to return to God as their faith reference with absolute consistency. The human is from this point forward in an environment free of all external tempters and temptations. Glorified humanity will then live as spontaneous free agents in a permanent condition of perfect holiness with no internal motivation or external temptation for changing the faith reference point. Though perfect in holiness, glorified humanity will engage in an everlasting progression of learning and development as they build a new civilization on the new earth. This will be the highest state of freedom and happiness because humans will spontaneously and perfectly choose to do what is right and good and in their best interest as measured by the absolutes rooted in God’s nature.

Advertisements

Responses

  1. To se that we have an ability that only the Living God has, is blasphemous.

    We are not free. We are bound to sin, and cannot free ourselves.

    We need a real, live, Savior. Not a wimpy little god that comes to our door like a mendicant, begging us to make a decision for him.

    Thanks, so much.

  2. Here are quotations from the article you have commented on:

    “The ultimate reality is that God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass and is in exhaustive sovereign control of the historical process. This is how God knows the future without referring to anything or anyone outside of Himself.”

    “After the fall, the human’s autonomous reference distorted all his understandings and inclined all his decisions toward disobedience to God’s revealed will. This noetic distortion and volitional inclination to sin dominated and characterized his life.”

    “With a corrupt heart, the fallen human would need more than a righteous example, teacher and exhorter to enable him to change his faith reference back to God. He would need a strong Redeemer who paid the necessary ransom price. The only such Redeemer is Jesus Christ.”


Categories

%d bloggers like this: