Do people have free will?

Andrew Naselli takes a long look at the question of free will over here. Fascinating stuff. take some time this weekend to explore it.

Here is the introduction to get you started:

Non-Christians and Christians alike often give the same answer to difficult questions like these: Why did God allow sin in the first place? Why does God save some people and not others? Why does God send people to hell? Why can living like a Christian be so frustrating? The immediate solution often suggested is simple: “free will.” To many people, it’s a satisfying answer: “Oh, that makes sense. Yeah, God does x because he has to preserve my free will. Yeah, OK. Next question.” I’d like to suggest that we re-think this important issue. 

The title of this short essay is a question: “Do We Have a Free Will?” That question may be jarring to you because it asks if something exists that most people assume exists. My short answer to that question is that it depends on what you mean by “free.” The longer answer is the rest of this essay.

ok and just because I can’t let it go, here is another section to tease you over there for all of it.

Is libertarian free will the reason for the origin of sin?

Short answer: No. 

When addressing this hugely difficult question, it is helpful to consider the following: 
1.  God is not the author or agent of evil, and he is not culpable for evil. 

2.  Satan is not God’s equal opposite (i.e., a God-versus-Satan dualism). 

3.  God, who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will, ordained that sin would enter his universe. (See the short essay in this series entitled “How Could a Good God Allow Suffering and Evil?”) God sovereignly works through secondary causes (such as humans) such that he is not culpable for evil but the secondary causes are. 

4.  Satan and then Adam and Eve sinned because they wanted to sin, and they are morally responsible to God for it. (The ability of humans to sin has four historical stages. First, Adam and Eve were initially able to sin. Second, after their fall, all unregenerate humans [i.e., those who are spiritually dead] are not able not to sin. Third, regenerate humans [i.e., those whom God has given spiritual life] are able not to sin. Fourth, glorified regenerate humans are not able to sin.) 

5.  Tension remains because compatibilists cannot explain exactly how God can ordain all things without being the author or agent of evil. It is at places like that that your head will start spinning if you try to put all the puzzle pieces together (we don’t have all the pieces!). Rather than deny explicit statements of Scripture that support compatibilism, a far better option is to acknowledge that this is a mystery that we finite and fallen humans simply cannot comprehend exhaustively.

6.  There is no easy answer to explaining why God ordained the origin of sin in the first place. John Piper offers a helpful pastoral perspective in Spectacular Sins and Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008). (This is available online for free as a PDF: See esp. pp. 39-64.) Why doesn’t God simply wipe out Satan? Piper concludes, “The ultimate answer . . . is that ‘all things were created through [Christ] and for [Christ]’ (Col. 1:16). God foresaw all that Satan would do if he created Satan and permitted him to rebel. In choosing to create him, he was choosing to fold all of that evil into his purpose for creation. That purpose for creation was the glory of his Son. All things, including Satan and all his followers, were created with this in view” (p. 48).

emphasis added.

I read Spectacular Sins earlier this year. it was really very good indeed.

Now it is on sale for 5.00

Do yourself a favor, and if this stuff interests you, spend five dollars on Spectacular Sins and read it too. Then you will see why I was so offended by Wm Paul Young on page 165 of The Shack.

Hat tip to Challies who says this one is not for skimming so set aside a few minutes to read it.


The Meaning of Man’s Will

R. C. Sproul has a three part series on what it means when we say that man has free will. Fascinating stuff. This is the kind of stuff that keeps a person from swearing off the internet altogether.

Here are the links:

part 1
part 2
part 3

and here is a bit of the introduction:

The term free will as applied to man is often glibly declared with little or no understanding of its meaning. There is actually no unified theory of man’s free will, but a variety of competing, and often conflicting, views about it.

The question of man’s free will is made more complicated by the fact that we must examine it in man, in terms of how the will functioned before and after the fall of Adam. Most important for us today is how the Fall affected man’s moral choices.

It was St. Augustine who gave the church a close analysis of the state of freedom that Adam enjoyed before the Fall. Augustine’s classic concept of freedom distinguished four possibilities. In Latin, they are:

1. posse pecarre–referring to the ability to sin.
2. posse non-pecarre–referring to the ability not to sin, or to remain free from sin.
3. non-posse pecarre–referring to the inability to sin.
4. non-posse, non-pecarre–referring to the inability not to sin.

Considering Adam before the Fall, Augustine argued that Adam had possessed both the ability to sin (posse pecarre) and the ability not to sin (posse non-pecarre). Adam lacked the exalted state of the inability to sin that God enjoys (non-posse pecarre). God’s inability to sin is based not on an inner powerlessness of God to do what he wants, but rather on the fact that God has no inner desire to sin. Since the desire for sin is utterly absent from God, there is no reason for God to choose sin.

Before the Fall Adam did not have the moral perfection of God; neither did Adam have the inability to refrain from sin (non-posse, non-pecarre). During his time of “probation” in the garden, he had the ability to sin and the ability not to sin. He chose to exercise the ability to sin and thus plunged the race into ruin.

As a result, Adam’s first sin was passed on to all his descendants. Original sin refers not to the first sin but to God’s punishment of that first transgression. Because of the first sin human nature fell into a morally corrupt state, itself partially a judgment of God. When we speak of original sin, we refer to the fallen human condition which reflects the judgment of God upon the race.

and here is the first paragraph of part 3.

But what about man’s will with respect to the sovereignty of God? Perhaps the oldest dilemma of the Christian faith is the apparent contradiction between the sovereignty of God and the freedom of man. If we define human freedom as autonomy (meaning that man is free to do whatever he pleases, without constraint, without accountability to the will of God), then of course we must say that free will is contradictory to divine sovereignty. We cannot soft-pedal this dilemma by calling it a mystery; we must face up to the full import of the concept. If free will means autonomy, then God cannot be sovereign. If man is utterly and completely free to do as he pleases, there can be no sovereign God. And if God is utterly sovereign to do as he pleases, no creature can be autonomous.

and where he gets to the meat of the coconut here:

I leave the question of explaining the Fall of Adam by virtue of the exercise of his free will to the hands of more competent and insightful theologians. To blame it on man’s finite limitations is really putting blame on the God who made man finite. Biblically, the issue has been, and always will be, a moral one. Man was commanded by the Creator not to sin, but man chose to sin, not because God or anyone else forced him to. Man chose out of his own heart.

Consequently, to probe the answer to the how of man’s sin is to enter the realm of deepest mystery. Perhaps all we can do in the final analysis is to recognize the reality of our sin and our responsibility for it. Though we cannot explain it, certainly we know enough to confess it.

wow. These are from the book How Can I Know God’s Will by R. C. Sproul and here on this page are downloadable MP3 lessons on it.

Free will of the wind

I downloaded and listened to this sermon last week. Powerful explication of John 3:8. listen to, watch or read the whole thing.

So the point so far is that the wind is mysterious. It has a will of its own, so to speak. It comes and it goes by its own laws. We don’t control it. We didn’t then. And we don’t now 2,000 years later. The wind is free. We do not decide what the wind does. The wind does what the wind does.

The Decisive Act—The Wind’s, Not Ours

Then Jesus makes the comparison with the Spirit’s work explicit. Verse 8: You have heard how the wind works . . . “so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Literally: “In this way is everyone who is born for the Spirit.” You have heard how the wind works . . . “in this way everyone who is born of the Spirit comes into being.” The point of emphasizing the freedom of the wind in producing its effects is to make plain the freedom of the Spirit in producing people who are born again.

So what verse 8 is teaching is this: We don’t cause the Spirit to bring about the new birth any more than we make the wind blow. Or to be more specific, the decisive act of will in the new birth is not ours. The Spirit’s will is decisive. To be sure, our will moves in the moment of the new birth. Change happens in us. There are perceptible effects of the wind—“ you hear its sound.”

The main effect of the wind—the Spirit—is that we are made alive spiritually—born again—and now our wills move. They move to receive Christ and believe on Christ. But our wills move because the wind is blowing, not the other way around. We don’t move first. Our wills are awakened and moved toward Christ because the Spirit blows where he wills and gives life to whom he wills.

God’s glory

Al Mohler also touches on the question that I quoted from John Piper the other day.

First he starts with an important reminder:

Human beings are trapped in a human frame of reference. When we think of motivation, we inevitably start with our own self-conscious knowledge of our own motivations. For a human to seek his or her own glory is narcissism in purest form. Human egotism is constantly on display. And, if we are honest, we know that we seek our own glory as a reflex.

then he gets to the meat of the matter:

The Bible tells us that God does all things for the sake of his own glory. As God spoke to his people through the prophet Ezekiel: “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes” [Ezekiel 36:22-23].

God’s saving acts are for the sake of his own glory, even as his people are redeemed. He acts to vindicate his own name and to display his own power and holiness. Creation itself displays his glory, extending to every atom and molecule. “The heavens declare the glory of God,” sings the Psalmist, and God created the world for the purpose of putting his glory on display [Psalm 19:1].

As Herman Bavinck expressed this truth, “God can rest in nothing other than himself and cannot be satisfied with anything less than himself. He has no alternative but to seek his own honor.” Similarly, though from a very different theological perspective, Karl Barth defined God’s glory as “his dignity and right, not only to maintain, but to prove and declare, to denote and almost as it were to make himself conspicuous and everywhere apparent as the One he is.”

This is merely the logic of what it means for God to be the one perfect being. As such, he cannot look beyond himself for anything or anyone greater. In an often-overlooked passage in Hebrews, we are told that “when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself” [Hebrews 6:13]. When humans take an oath, we naturally invoke God’s name. When God makes a promise, he can invoke no greater name then his own. This is not evidence of selfishness or narcissism — only an irrefutable logic.

Even so, some who are troubled by this question may remain puzzled. Even when God is understood to be the one perfect being, this still appears to be a cold logic.

The most important corrective to this misunderstanding is to realize that God’s glory is a generous and self-giving glory. His glory is his own joy, and the display of his glory brings his creatures true joy.

When a human glorifies himself, he robs others of joy. Self-aggrandizement and human megalomania cause hurt and harm to others, not blessing and joy.

But when God displays and exhibits his glory, he shares joy with his creatures and wholeness with all creation. Put most directly, without the knowledge of God’s glory, we would be robbed of true joy. God would be less than perfect — even selfish — if he did not display his glory and allow us to share in the divine joy and fulfillment.

emphasis added

Go read the rest, and especially the conclusion. excellent.

Is God for us or Himself?

Is God for us or Himself? That is the question answered by this sermon from John Piper delivered at Wheaton College back in 1984. My brother-in-law, Todd, sent me the link by email last weekend.

Such an excellent reminder of the whole point of this exercise we are going through. how do you react to statements like this:

Why did God create us? Isaiah 43:6-7, “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth (says the Lord), everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory.

Why did God choose a people for himself and make Israel his possession? Jeremiah 13:11, “I made the whole house of Israel … cling to me, says the Lord, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise and a glory.”

Why did God rescue them from bondage in Egypt? Psalm 106:7-8, “Our fathers, when they were in Egypt, did not consider thy wonderful works…but rebelled against the Most High at the Red Sea. Yet he saved them for his name’s sake that he might make known his mighty power.”

Why did God spare them again and again in the wilderness? Ezekiel 20:14, “I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations in whose sight I had brought them out.”

Why didn’t God cast away his people when they rejected him as king and asked for a king like the nations? 1 Samuel 12:20-22, “Fear not, you have done all this evil yet do not turn aside from following the Lord … For the Lord will not cast away his people for his great name’s sake.”

Ezekiel 36:22-23,32 puts it like this: “Thus says the Lord God, ‘It is not for your sake, 0 house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name … And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name … and the nations will know that I am the Lord. It is not for your sake that I will act,’ says the Lord God. Let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, 0 house of Israel.'”

Why did the Son of God come to earth and to his final decisive hour? John 17:1, “Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee.” A beautiful conspiracy to glorify the Godhead in all the work of redemption!

And why will Jesus come again in the great day of consummation? 2 Thessalonians 1:9-10, “Those who do not obey the gospel will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints and to be marveled at in all who have believed… ”

From beginning to end, the driving impulse of God’s heart is to be praised for his glory. From creation to consummation his ultimate allegiance is to himself. His unwavering purpose in all he does is to exalt the honor of his name and to be marveled at for his grace and power. He is infinitely jealous for his reputation. “For my own sake, for my own sake I act,” says the Lord. “My glory I will not give to another!”

emphasis added.

I have to say that the most intense reactions that I ever received teaching Sunday school to adults was when I would hit this truth. God is God. God’s purpose in everything is to bring praise to Himself. If God existed for any other purpose then He would be an idolator. God alone is worthy to receive honor and glory and praise and worship.

Here is how John Piper describes the reaction that he encounters:

My experience in preaching and teaching is that American evangelicals receive this truth with some skepticism if they receive it at all. None of my sons has ever brought home a Sunday school paper with the lesson title: “God loves himself more than he loves you.” But it is profoundly true, and so generation after generation of evangelicals grow up picturing themselves at the center of God’s universe.

go read or listen to the rest of the sermon. excellence.

here is one more bit, because I can’t resist:

God is the one Being in the entire universe for whom self-centeredness, or the pursuit of his own glory, is the ultimately loving act. For him, self-exaltation is the highest virtue. When he does all things “for the praise of his glory,” he preserves for us and offers to us, the only thing in the entire world, which can satisfy our longings. God is for us, and therefore has been, is now and always will be, first, for himself. I urge you not to resent the centrality of God in his own affections, but to experience it as the fountain of your everlasting joy.

emphasis added

Spectacular Sins

I am just finishing the book Spectacular Sins by John Piper.

As you might expect from Piper, his purpose is to demonstrate from scripture the sovereignty of God in every situation including several specific spectacularly sinful occasions.

He deals with the fall of Satan, Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden, The pride of Babel, the sale of Joseph into slavery by his brothers, Israel demanding to be ruled by a king like other nations, and Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. He shows in each circumstance how God permitted “wisely” the sin to occur and that the sin was a preexisting part of God’s plan to achieve maximum glory for His name.

The book is very easy to read. The book is very short. I highly recommend it as a handy dandy reference book for anyone who struggles with the concept of God allowing evil to occur in His creation.

I bring it up because of this bit that I read last night on pages 84-85:

The most magnificent thing about the Lion of the tribe of Judah in his fulfillment of Jacob’s prophecy is that he lays claim on the obedience of all the peoples of the world not by exploiting our guilt and crushing us into submission, but by bearing our guilt and freeing us to love him and obey him with joy forever. The Lion of Judah is the Lamb who was slain. He wins our obedience by forgiving our sins and making his own obedience–his own perfection as the righteous one–the basis of our acceptance with God. And in this position of immeasurable safety and joy–all of it owing to his suffering and righteousness and death and resurrection–he wins our free and happy obedience.

The story of Joseph is the story of a righteous one who is sinned against and suffers so that the tribe of Judah would be preserved and a Lion would come forth and prove to be a Lamb-like Lion and by his suffering and death purchase and empower glad obedience from all the nations–even from those who put him to death.

Does he have yours?

emphasis added

Why pray?

Pulpit Magazine concludes its series on why we should pray if God is sovereign with part 4 here. The first three parts are linked here.

“5. We should pray because God has ordained prayer as a means by which He accomplishes His eternal purposes.”

This part is a little longer and more involved, but it is the crux of the whole thing. Go read it and think about it a while. Read the Bible passages that it points to and think about it some more.

here is one of the examples:

A second example can be found at the end of the book of Job. God addressed Job’s friend, Eliphaz the Temanite, saying,

I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly (Job 42:7b-8a; NIV)

Then, as verse 9 reveals, Eliphaz “did what the Lord told them; and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer” (NIV). From this it is clear that God not only ordained that His wrath toward Eliphaz would be turned aside, but He also ordained that the means He would use to accomplish that end would include the intercessory prayer of His servant Job.