Friday, June 18, 2010

Freedom or Bondage of the Will? Part I

Does the Unregenerate Man Possess Free Will?
 Part I

Choices, Consequences, and Control


The concept of free will reared its ugly head in the fifth century when a British monk living in Rome in absolute horror, rejected a prayer of Augustine. The prayer was, “Grant what Thou commandest and command what Thou doest desire.” It absolutely horrified Pelagius that God’s divine assistance was required to perform any duty or function that God commanded of man. Pelagius held that if God commanded a man to do something then man was able to comply with God’s command from within himself.

Augustine along with the overwhelming majority of biblical scholars, theologians, and church leaders knew that as a result of the fall of man, mankind lost the capacity of "free-will." As I explained in yesterday's post Adam and Eve had been created with the capacity to choose to remain obedient by choosing righteousness, or they could choose to be disobedient and choose unrighteousness. We know from the Genesis account that they exercised this capacity and chose disobedience and unrighteousness.

From Cain, Abel, and Seth onward we as human beings do not have the same capability. Do not confuse our ability to make hundred's of choice a day with the capacity that they possessed and lost. Yes, you chose the time you get up, to the kind of coffee that you drink, to the clothes that you will wear, and etc.

Having been born spiritually dead, human beings do not have the capacity to choose to do righteousness as Adam and Eve did. The choices and decisions that we make are all limited by the sinful nature that we inherited by Adam. By Gods' standards, not by man's standards, human beings do not have the ability to choose or desire righteousness. All the choices we make are within the framework of our sin nature.
We are free to choose or to make choices but not outside of that sinful human nature.

Pelagius rejected the idea that the original sin of Adam and Eve carried forward into the offspring and progeny of Adam and Eve. Pelagius denied that sin was imputed or charged to man as a result of the fall of Adam in the Garden. Pelagius believed at worst, Adam’s sin was designed “to set a bad example” to all of his progeny. Pelagius did not believe that there were consequences because of Adam’s sin.

As a matter of fact, Pelagius believed that the human will after Adam’s fall was capable of choosing good or evil without any divine help or assistance. Pelagius taught that man, after the fall was in full control of himself and thereby capable of obeying God and responding to God perfectly and on his own. Pelagius taught that man could by his own will and choice live a sinless life. Pelagius’ teachings are summarized in a book he wrote called In The Defense of Free-will. He complied a list of 18 points. Eventually, Pelagius and his teachings were denounced as heresy as early as 529 AD. At least three other councils deemed the teaching of Pelagius as heretical.

Pelagius was opposed by Augustine of Hippo, one of the most influential early Church Fathers. When Pelagius taught that moral perfection was attainable in this life without the assistance of divine grace through human free will, Augustine contradicted this by saying that perfection was impossible without grace because we are born sinners with a sinful heart and will.

Augustine did not deny that fallen man still has a will and that the will is capable of making choices. He argued that fallen man still has a free will  but has lost his moral liberty. The state of original sin leaves us in the wretched condition of being unable to refrain from sinning. We still are able to choose what we desire, but our desires remain chained by our evil impulses. He argued that the freedom that remains in the will always leads to sin. Thus in the flesh we are free only to sin, a hollow freedom indeed. It is freedom without liberty, a real moral bondage. True liberty can only come from without, from the work of God on the soul. Therefore we are not only partly dependent upon grace for our conversion but totally dependent upon grace.

If you set fresh meat and straw in front of a lion which do you think he will eat? He will eat the fresh meat. Why? It is the nature of a lion to eat fresh meat. It may be the nature of a cow or a horse to eat straw, but the nature of a lion is to eat meat. Your nature can only choose to sin. Why? Because your nature is bent toward sin, it is biased by sin and that is because of the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. Even in the good that we choose to do is tainted by the sin of our sin nature.

Man's powers of decision are free to choose whatever the human heart dictates; therefore there is no possibility of a man choosing to please God without a prior work of divine grace. Since the fall of man, man does not desire to please the God of the bible.

What most people mean by free will is the idea that man is by nature neutral and therefore able to choose either good or evil. This simply is not true. The human will and the whole of human nature is bent to only evil continually.

Jeremiah asked, "Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil" (Jer. 13:23). It is impossible. It is contrary to nature. Thus do men desperately need the supernatural transformation of their natures; else their wills are enslaved to choosing evil.

Pastor Steve Weaver writes, "A good definition of free will is the ability of the mind to make choices in accordance with our natures. This definition of “free will” also applies to God's free will. He too is bound by His nature. Therefore, He cannot sin! Why? Because it is not His nature! But God does have a free will and, unlike human beings, He has an accompanying good and holy nature."

Jonathan Edwards said that "the will is the mind choosing: though there is a distinction between mind and will, the two are inseparable in action. We do not make a choice without our mind’s approving that choice. We always act according to the strongest inclination at the moment of choice. We choose according to our strongest desire at a given moment."

You see the problem is not with the will of man. We all possess a will. The problem is not the will - it is the nature of man. Because it is not man's nature to do a thing, he is not free to do the thing.

Recommended Reading:

Martin Luther: The Bondage of the will
Jonathan Edwards: The Freedom of the will
R. C. Sproul: Willing to Believe; Chosen by God
R. C. Sproul: The Pelagian Captivity of the Church

10 comments:

welcome to my world of poetry said...

Excellent post Gregg, interesting to read as always.

Have a great week-end;
Yvonne.

Pilgrim Mommy said...

The assumption of a morally neutral free will (which I formerly believed) has become the default today. This view influences (and reduces) your view of the sovereignty of God. Is this Finney's influence?

Great series of posts!

JD Curtis said...

Thank you for this post Gregg. You raise several points in refence to free will that I had not previously considered.

If you get a chance later, please stop by and check out today's post on my blog. I respect you and your opinion and would like to know what you think of it.

Brian Ray Todd said...

Immediately the title reminded me of "On the Bondage of the Will", by Martin Luther, was published in December 1525, which I have not read, but need to. And the Debate of Pelagius and Augustine reminded me of a listen I once heard by the late Dr. D. James Kennedy, titled "All Theology in a nutshell". Salvation by my works/ Salvation by God + my works alone / Salvation by God alone(through the finished work of Jesus Christ). I'm glad that you addressed this issue as it eliminates the gray areas and give a clear picture of the free will of mankind. Thank you.

The Old Geezer said...

Gregg

You always bring clarity to some of the most difficult subjects. I loved the way you wrapped up this study with your final statement:

You see the problem is not with the will of man. We all possess a will. The problem is not the will - it is the nature of man. Because it is not man's nature to do a thing, he is not free to do the thing.

Why can't God's people see this obvious truth?

Gregg said...

Yvonne - Thank you again for your great commpliment.

PM - yes, you are right, the idea of a morally neutral will is the default in today's church. Yes, it is the product of Finney's influence. You are so right. And thanks!

JD Curtis - I hope that you are better informed.

Brian Ray Todd - Yes, you do need to read Luther's book. It is outstanding. It is amazing how wicked Pelagius teaching was and yet how it has infiltrated the thinking of the church.

OG - If I bring any clarity it is because of the Holy Spirit. Thanks!

JD Curtis said...

Thank you for your well thought out comments on my blog Gregg!

AL said...

Great post, and really helps make sense of the subject.

arlee bird said...

This is all very clear in some ways and yet it is also a bit confusing as I try to sort it out. Is part of the problem the raises debate and disagreement a matter of semantics? The way you explain it sounds very good, but I could imagined it presented another way and it sounding equally good.

Great post though.

Lee
Tossing It Out

Anonymous said...

While on the internet and facebook and Youtube I've noticed so many Christians that don't believe in Original sin. One street preacher is making a documentary called "Beyond Augustine" due out in Aug.http://beyondaugustine.wordpress.com/ There is a group of street preachers that all believe this. They tell folks they no longer sin and the world just laugh at them. The lost know they are sinners even those these "righteous" men think they aren't. And we wonder why the Church in America is so messed up.