Thursday, March 18, 2010

Arguing Against Free Will

Calvin must have heard many theologians argue in support of free will. It is a tough pill to swallow – to admit that someone other than ourselves are in control of our lives. Especially in our day in America it becomes even harder. We are told from a young age that we can achieve anything, the choices are ours to make, the harder we work the more we shall receive, and the sky is the limit. It is, after all, the American dream – work hard and be rewarded well. That may work in certain aspects of our lives, but not when it comes to matters of salvation, eternal rewards, or even sin.

Certain theologians like Pelagius argued that necessary sin is not sin and should not be held against us. Only sin that we voluntarily commit should be held against us. Pelagius apparently did not realize that all sin is voluntary – we rush headfirst into it. Our corrupt will desires to sin. Calvin did a little mocking of this idea, “If anyone may wish to dispute with God and escape judgment by pretending that he could not do otherwise, he has a ready reply, which we have brought forward elsewhere: it is not from creation but from corruption of nature that men are bound to sin and can will nothing but evil... the corruption that enchains us: the first man fell away from his Maker.” I, like Calvin, doubt that God will allow that as an acceptable excuse for my sin.

Other theologians supported an idea that reward and punishment lose their meanings if virtues and vices come through anything but free choice. Once again, our sin is our own. Though we were held in captivity by sin, we still willingly rushed into sin, therefore, we deserve punishment for our sin. We also have no merit except that which comes through God's grace. “...grace does not arise from merit, but merit from grace!” Calvin quotes the “Golden Chain of Salvation” contained in Romans 8:29-30, “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” He then writes, “Why, then, according to the apostle, are believers crowned [II Tim. 4:8]? Because they have been chosen and called and justified by the Lord's mercy, not by their own effort...But nevertheless, inexhaustible and manifold is God's beneficence and liberality are, he rewards, as if they were our own virtues, those graces which he bestows upon us, because he makes them ours.”

Some argued that all distinction between good and evil would be obliterated if there were no free will. Calvin writes about this, “Now we are not in the least afraid to admit what Paul asserts with great earnestness: all men are both depraved and given over to wickedness [cf. Rom. 3:10]. But we add with him that it is through God's mercy that not all remain in wickedness.” It is God's choice to elect some – this is what distinguishes good men from evil men.

Still others argued that exhortation in the Bible would be meaningless unless it was within man's power to obey. Augustine confirms that it is still our fault as sinners that we do not live up to the Law, but God gives only the elect the capacity to fulfill it. Christ told us in John 15:5 that without him we can do nothing. Paul wrote that our minds can be changed through exhortation, rebuke, and teaching. Calvin sums up his defense by writing, “Thus we see how Moses placed the commandments of the law under severe sanctions [Deut. 30:19], and how the prophets bitterly menaced and threatened the transgressors. Yet they then confess that men become wise only when an understanding heart is given them [e.g., Isa. 5:24; 24:5; Jer. 9:13ff; Jer. 16:11ff; Jer. 44:10ff; Dan. 9:11; Amos 2:4], and that it is God's own work to circumcise hearts [cf. Deut. 10:16; Jer. 4:4] and to give hearts of flesh for hearts of stone [cf. Ezek. 11:19]; his to inscribe his law on our inward parts [cf. Jer. 31:33]; in fine, by renewing our souls [cf. Ezek. 36:26], to make his teaching effective.” God is the one who changes us through His grace and mercy, giving us the desire to do His will.
Tomorrow's reading: 2.5.5-2.5.8

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