, , , , , ,

Are you saved? Do you have complete and ultimate, 100% positive assurance that you are going to Heaven? Are you one of God’s predestined chosen elect? These theological questions have been raised and perpetuated throughout Christianity, more so for the past century of Evangelical Christianity. On face-value, these questions are crucially important and bear soul-searching resemblances to each other – I give them sincere credence and the attention they deserve, in and of themselves. Let us face it, when a question involves our salvation and whether our name will be written in the Book of Life not to be blotted out, regardless of who asked it, a thorough examination and spiritual discernment should hopefully follow leading to an adequate and proper understanding.

The doctrines of free will and predestination are perhaps two of the most mysterious and intimidating topics in Christianity. They are the cause of debate among many Christian denominations. Yet, they invoke in an almost unfathomable way, this sense of morbid curiosity. After all, would you not want to know if you, among others, are predestined to Heaven? The teachings of free will and predestination and/or the lack thereof could be the utmost divisive sword in Evangelical Christianity, conceivably. Subsequently, it could be argued that Evangelicals have taken a keen interest in knowing not only their own personal eternal fate, but also the destiny of others as they perpetually evangelize common and widespread rhetorical questions; if you were to die today, what would you say to God to let you into Heaven; do you know where you will spend eternity; are you saved?

Is it possible that one of these doctrines gets completely rejected by the will itself, ironically, and the other should not even be of concern to us? Is it plausible that free will has everything to do with your entrance into Heaven, while predestination is nothing but an unmitigated distraction and downright waste of time as it relates to the economy of salvation? Lastly, is it imaginable that many Christians unknowingly and inadvertently turn these “doctrines” completely on their heads, spin them around in an unnecessary whirlwind, just for them to land in a complete backwards way of theological reasoning?

It would seem logical for us not to put the cart before the horse, and to examine the doctrine of predestination first, followed by the doctrine of free will (or no will). However, considering the fact that we have the will to accept or reject the ‘merit’ of predestination altogether, we will start with free will.

The idea that our will was enslaved beyond our control or that man in fact had no will (or at least the capability to act on it), was largely conceived, confessed, and defended by Martin Luther in the first quarter of the 16th century. He even compiled a work, entitled De Servo Arbitrio (On the Enslaved Will or On the Bondage of the Will) involving a critical discourse regarding the rejection of man’s free will and coincidentally, predestination. The literary genius of Luther goes to lengths attempting to use evidence from Scripture trying to disprove that man has a choice of whether he allows good (God) or evil (Satan) to rule us and guide us to our inevitable eternal destination. Here is a famous quote from his work:

“Man’s will is like a beast standing between two riders. If God rides, it wills and goes where God wills…If Satan rides, it wills and goes where Satan goes. Nor may it choose to which rider it will run, or which it will seek; but the riders themselves fight to decide who shall have and hold it.” (pp. 103f)

Eleven years later, the French Protestant theologian, John Calvin expanded and expounded Luther’s conception of the enslaved will. Unfortunately, he took Luther’s private and individual interpretation of Scripture masquerading as an apostolic doctrine, and raised it to the next level. Not only did God ordain us the incapability to rationally choose between who our “riders” will be, said Calvin, but he went so far as to teach and confess that God pre-ordained and authored evil, along with predestining certain souls to everlasting hell against their will, from all eternity. Here are a few samples of Calvin’s works:

“man by the righteous impulsion of God does that which is unlawful”, and that “man falls, the Providence of God so ordaining.” (Inst. IV, 18, 2; III, 23, 8)

“life and death are acts of God’s will rather than of his foreknowledge”, and “He foresees further events only in consequence of his decree that they shall happen.” (Ibid)

“eternal life is foreordained for some, eternal damnation for others.” (Inst. III, 21, 5)

The above-mentioned is only a mere glance and perhaps an oversimplification of Luther’s and Calvin’s doctrines. Nevertheless, most orthodox Lutherans and reformed Calvinists will fully agree with the quotes provided and unceasingly defend them.

Do we have free will, especially as it correlates with our eternal salvation and/or eternal damnation?

Is there a more terrifying thought, utterly horrifying feeling, or even depersonalized and derealized sensation that makes your heart race, teeth grind, and pores pour sweat, than to imagine experiencing the reality of eternal separation from God? Is there concurrently a more pacifying, consoling, and assuring message; a more comforting, soothing, and peaceful feeling than to be fully convinced beyond all reason, faith, and hope that your name is written in the Book of Life and nothing can expunge it, not even the gravest of sins?! The latter question is of greater concern than the former.

If we can convince ourselves, and others, using the great ‘convincer’ – God’s written Word alone, and that its authority conveys to us the idea that man’s will is but an illusory facade and our eternal fate is based solely on the supreme providence and preeminent sovereignty of God; then what an apparent beautiful and organic sedative for that original horrifying and terrifying possibility. But what if we could go to Scripture and not only convince ourselves that man is in fact endowed with free will, but prove it in an unbiased, exegetical, and historical substantiation that will ultimately and inherently lead us to the believe that the predestination of our souls is not really a matter for us to even weigh in on?

“Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness”. Genesis 1:26 NIV

God has free will, as He is free will Himself. God did not create out of necessity, but of love. God has no need for creation. Yet He wills what He will, bound by absolutely nothing but Himself. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thess. 4:3 NIV). God, who is freedom itself, even willed to choose the elect out of many that were called: “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:11 NIV). God did not have to choose to love us and/or redeem us. The Divine Will of God is a choice, not a necessity, but a choice that in His perfect freedom did not have to choose to love us and/or redeem us. “For God so loved the world that…” but bound by the chains of love, paradoxically (God is love), He freely chose to love poor sinners and humbled Himself to an Infant in flesh, perpetually sorrowful unto death on a cross. Jesus Christ, Our Blessed Lord Himself was and is everlasting the complete and ultimate encapsulation of free will, as He had two wills; one human, and one divine. The free will of Jesus was even prophesied in Isaiah 7:14-16 NIV: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste” and also “I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart” (Psalm 40:8 NIV).

Moreover, even the created angels, Seraphim to guardian, Cherubim to fallen, were made in the image and likeness of the Trinity, endowed with free will and the gift of intellect to act on that will. The fall of Lucifer and his following angels were exactly the result of an independent choice enacted and ennobled by their free will: “And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling” (Jude 1:6 NIV), while Saint Michael and the other angels freely chose to adore God Incarnate, born of a Woman, for all eternity.

The only way us men have no free will, is if God is bound by something outside of Himself, which we know is not true. Adam and Eve, before their fall into the bondage of the devil and sin, had the freedom to will a choice of obeying God’s command or disobeying Him into knowing both good and evil, for they were both perfectly made in His image and likeness, freedom itself. The capability to choose, given to them, was not out of necessity, but again, love. Love is the choice of choices, and for Adam and Eve to be created in the image and likeness of God, that endowment could and would not be neglected or omitted. The real question is whether human free will was lost after the fall into sin, originally and perpetually. And also, could that freedom be restored?!

Let me put this simply, Jesus Christ was born to die so that we could live, and live freely. We were born to live, so by the grace of God we can choose to die to ourselves and allow His Spirit to make us truly alive in this life! “He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him” (1 Thess 5:10 NIV). Our blessed Lord tells us, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” and more substantially, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (Matthew 16:24 NIV, John 12:24 KJV). This denial and death initially takes place in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. This is exactly where free will gets even more restored, elevated, and widened. Through Baptism, we have even more free will than both Adam and Eve put together before their fall! Not only are all of our sins (original and actual) forgiven, not only are all the effects of sin (corporeal and spiritual) and their due punishments remitted, and not only is all our guilt completely removed through Holy Baptism, we are  in every way possible renewed, reborn, and regenerated making us new creations! “By the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour” and “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature” (Titus 3:5,6 KJV, 2 Cor 5:17 KJV).

Great, so what on earth does this have to do with free will? Initially, we died to ourselves through Holy Baptism. But, there is even a greater calling to free will of the Baptized after we are reborn and regenerated anew. That calling is nothing but a choice of the will. As God first chose us, apart from our will, He wills and destines us to choose Him in return, hence the term ‘covenant’. God made a promise, a pact, a vow if you will, to each and every one of us when He made us clean through the washing of regeneration. His promise was this: “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13 KJV). Every future evil inclination, every seemingly future impossible temptation to resist, each and every apparent diabolical tendency felt physically in our flesh, and all the battling against the arrows that the Devil shoots at us – comes down to a choice of the will; will we choose (that capability given to us already in being regenerated and renewed) to allow the Spirit to continue to live in us, rule us, and guide our every step towards complete sanctification, or, will we freely choose to reject the Mercy of God and His sanctifying grace (just as Adam and Eve did when they were Immaculate) by committing a deadly, mortal sin: “There is a sin that leads to death…and there is sin that does not lead to death” (1 John 5:16,17 NIV)? Let me reiterate, only by the pure grace of God being infused into us, “because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5 NIV), are we even able to “endure to the end”. However, as we know, there are those who will not endure to the end and shall not be saved. This is just the reason, according to the Bible alone, that throughout the Old and New Testaments alike, we will be solely judged on our works. We will not be judged solely by the work of Christ, as nowhere does Scripture reveal that implicitly, explicitly, ambiguously, or unambiguously. Further, nowhere does the Holy Bible say we will be judged by faith, or even by grace! There are dozens of passages throughout the entire Bible that concretely, unambiguously, and straightforwardly declare that we will be judged by our works – not redeemed by, not saved by, not sanctified, not justified, not reconciled, but judged! I will give you two only:

“‘I the Lord have spoken. The time has come for me to act. I will not hold back; I will not have pity, nor will I relent. You will be judged according to your conduct and your actions, declares the Sovereign Lord.’” Ezekiel 24:14 NIV

“But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will repay each person according to what they have done.”’ Romans 2:6-7 NIV

Redeemed by Jesus Christ, “who gave himself as a ransom for all people” (1 Tim 2:6 NIV), “who [the Father] reconciled us to himself through Christ” (2 Cor 5:17 NIV), “for it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:8 NIV) “since we have been justified through faith” (Romans 5:1 NIV), “and his faith was made complete by what he did” (James 2:22 NIV), “in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us” (Romans 8:4 NIV), “For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:37 NIV), for as “Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent –  the Lord detests them both” (Proverbs 17:15 NIV), “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10 NIV).

Saint Augustine once said, “if we have no free will, how will God judge us”?! What is there to judge?! Many souls claim that God will judge us solely on the merits of Christ outside of us letting His merits produce fruit in us. I have yet to find that claim in the Holy Bible. Moreover, if that were the case, what is the point of Judgement Day? If God judges Christ, on our behalf, then why would He need to set apart a specific place and time to profess that, and to separate the sheep from the goats?! Luther was on to something in the aforementioned quote. To remind you:

“Man’s will is like a beast standing between two riders. If God rides, it wills and goes where God wills…If Satan rides, it wills and goes where Satan goes. Nor may it choose to which rider it will run, or which it will seek; but the riders themselves fight to decide who shall have and hold it.” (pp. 103f)

I have absolutely no problem with the first three sentences. I completely agree that God or Satan wills and rides us to our eternal destination. Where Luther was wrong, was when he wrote: “Nor may it [man’s will] choose to which rider it will run”. The choice of allowing God or Satan to rule our lives is really the only thing that is really ours! God endowed us men, just like the angels, to choose upon whom we mount. We, at any given time, whether through grace or sin, can choose to even exchange which rider we let ride us. God can take our life, our wealth, our power, our health, anything and everything from us – the only thing he cannot and will not take from us is our free will; the choice of allowing Him to repose in our hearts forever, or our choice to reject Him and His free gift of sanctifying grace, thus choosing Satan as our rider straight into our own personal freedom of hell, forever.

For we are made in the image of the Trinity, but more importantly, we were and are remade, renewed, and regenerated to even a higher degree of freedom by abiding in Truth! Truth is not a mere message, or a sole line of philosophical reasoning, or a sheer doctrine substantiated by Holy Writ. Truth is a Person, and that person is Our Blessed Lord, Jesus Christ. If we abide IN that Person, He will abide IN us. What better way to abide in that Person, than to experience something that even the highest Seraphim will never be able to do; to, with the aid of God’s grace, will to make the choice to go to the communion rail, and choose to allow that Truth’s body, blood, soul, and Divinity enter every part of your heart, body and soul to really allow you to “participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Peter 1:4 NIV). Truth is indeed a Person, and if you want the Truth to set you free from the bondage of thinking you are not free by having no free will, humbly go to Lamb of God by choosing to allow the Holy Spirit to guide you to Him. It is there, where you can allow God to choose you eternally, to be among the predestined elect, as “many are called, but only few are chosen”. God predestined you to have free will, and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it! So, instead of being unceasingly infatuated with whether or not others are among the chosen elect of God by asking those familiar Evangelical questions, why don’t you show them how you allowed God to come to you, and how He has worked through you, in you, and with you? After all, it is by your fruits that they will know you!

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go, I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” Psalm 32:8 NIV