I hope David will forgive me but I am going to be very naughty and jump ahead of him on my uninvited tagging allong on his TULIP series. I will not do as good a job of explaining this as he will, but we do seem to spark off each other quite well. Consider this a primer for the masterly post he will no doubt put up fairly soon.
I have been speaking quite a lot about “free will” lately and that leads nicely to this subject. My point about the limits to our will is really important to understand the subject of Unconditional election. Terry Puritt has also posted his own story about his “Free will journey” which is well worth a read.
Unconditional election quite simply means that there is nothing in us that prompts God’s choice of us to save us. The doctrines of grace are there to humble us and recognise that it wasnt something special about us that led to us being saved. As the old saying goes, the only thing I contributed to my salvation was my sin.
There is a natural tendancy for us to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. If our wills are totally free then we have grounds to congratulate ourselves on our own morality and to feel superior to the “sinners” out there. I fear that many evangelicals today are distinctly lacking in the grace department. The old notion “there but for the grace of God go I” seems all too often to be absent.
I believe firstly that from a moral point of view even before I am a Christian I owe much to the general grace of God in restricting my will. Even as a Christian, it is less about my will power and more about the power of God in restraining my errant impulses. If the congregation I am a part of knew the kind of thoughts my mind sometimes has I wonder would they want to hear me preach? If my will
had free reign and was unfettered by God, by society, by my upbringing, by my experiences I guess my life would not be a pretty sight.
When we find someone in the “gutter”, it is not usually exclusively because of bad choices they have freely made- although their choices do play a part. Is a son of a robber more likely to grow up to be a robber? You bet your life he is. Can he change? Yes, sometimes. Might he change even without becomming a Christian? You bet. Is he likely to change entirely of his own accord without any influence being put on him from outside? No way.
I guess my point is this- we are all sinners, and it is the grace of God that constrains us from becomming worse ones.
The idea of free will if it doesnt take account of the restraining and at times hardening hand of God, of the constraints of society, and yes even of the biology of our brains, is just an illusion. It is well known now that if the biology of the brain is disturbed in certain ways our “impulse regulation” can go awry and people start to act out the urges that we spend most of our lives suppressing.
To my mind, it is vital that we realise something else about our wills- we are in ever increasing bondage to sin when we are not yet saved. We willinging put ourselves in that path, and some of us go further along it than others. But we all choose to rebell against God.
I do believe that the gospel comes with a genuine offer of salvation to all who hear it. Turn around, excercise that will of yours- repent and believe in Jesus. Begin to walk away from the sin you have been giving yourself too. But, those pleas fall on deaf ears.
The reality of our so called “free wills” is that they cannot recognise a good thing when they see one. Which convict on death row offered a pardon and release wouldnt grab it with both hands? We say instead “it can’t be that simple” and “how can Jesus take my punishment, that would be wrong”
The harsh reality of our situation is that faced with a choice to get out of the trap we are in we instead choose to reject our Saviour’s offer of help.
Thats where grace becomes even more gracious. We never deserved an offer of help in the first place. But having turned down his offer Jesus woo’s us and over-rules our wills. I didnt freely choose to follow him, he chose to pursue me. I didnt reach out to him, he reached out to me. I wasnt seeking him, he was seeking me. I was dead, he made me alive. I was blind, he made me see. I hated him, he loved me.
For God’s over-riding of my will I am eternally grateful. My wonderment at his choice of me makes me realise that he can choose others. I am determined whenever I preach to do so expecting to see fruit. If God can save me, he can save anyone.
We have to believe this, and at risk of offending any arminian readers I have yet to offend, I think you believe this too. For sure I have never heard an Arminian pray except like a Calvinist. An Arminian will ask God to change peoples hearts and soften them to hear the gospel as much as any Calvinist.
I thank God that Jesus says to us today the same thing he said to his disciples all those years ago “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide” (Jn 15:16)