Whose Free Will?

Jan Antonsson


The Glory Road Blog, A Kingdom Highway

November 18, 2016

Neosho, MO 64850

“In Christ we have been given an inheritance, since we were destined for this, by the One who works out all his purposes according to the design of his own will (Ephesians, 1:11, Phillips).

Most Christians have been taught that man has free will, and as with many things that church or even political leaders say over and over again, it has become ingrained truth by virtue of sheer repetition.  The reason for this may be the need of spiritual leaders to justify God’s consignment of sinners to an everlasting hell.  Man has a chance to do the right thing, the opportunity to obey God, and since the rules are plainly spelled out, they insist, no one has an excuse for not following them, and they therefore, deserve whatever punishment they get.

As a child, I was horrified by the raw power of God’s might displayed among the children of Israel when He punished them.  I can remember asking myself, how those Israelites could be so stupid as to disobey God when they had seen up close and personal, His anger unleashed, and His judgements laid upon them.

Then I grew up and realized that many of the sons of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were traumatized by their fear of God’s wrath and retribution.  Having been under the lash of the Egyptian taskmasters for centuries, they were whipped down, feeling worthless, and like sheep, they needed a shepherd to lead them. 

We would probably have felt the same way, were we standing in their midst while they waited at the foot of Mount Sinai to hear Moses’ report: “Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire.  The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder.  Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him” (Exodus 19:18-19, NIV).

Moses delivered to them the “Ten Commandments,” written by the finger of God on two tablets of stone (See Exodus 31:18). Because the people had witnessed the smoke, heard the trumpet, and felt the earthquake, they trembled in terror. 

Standing at a distance, and who could blame them for that, they implored Moses, “‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen.  But do not have God speak to us or we will die.’ Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid.  God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning’ (Exodus 20:18-20, NIV).  That plan, which didn’t work out very well, is still used today.

Thus began the tradition for the people of God to put a man or men between themselves and God. Sadly, fear of the Lord does not edify, and eventually, the rebellion that comes from trying to be good and not quite measuring up, eventually sets in as low self esteem, depression, and hostility toward the church and God.

God knew this, even as He was thundering and shaking Mount Sinai.  So why did He subject the children of Israel and us to this fearsome display of His wrath?  It’s my lifelong policy NOT to speak for the Almighty, but looking at His dealings with all the many folks who acted on the Biblical stage gives us a clue.

Adam and Eve, for instance, were newly minted humans, luxuriating in paradise with their Creator, all their needs supplied, all their wants met, and all they had to do was avoid eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  That’s it.  Only one thing separated them from Eternal Life in Paradise, and they blew it, or at least Eve did.  Adam did too, but he was only the first of a long line of men who were seduced by their wives into veering off the “straight and narrow.”  God said, The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.  He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.  God banished them and, “After he drove the man out, he placed on the East side of  the Garden of Eden, cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life (Genesis 3:22-24, NIV).  That seems like a tragic end to the story, but it’s only the beginning.

Whether you believe the Genesis account is about actual people, or allegory, metaphor, or myth, it does lay out a principal of God’s dealings with us:  before we can come into resurrection life, we must go to the cross, lose everything we hold dear, including our lives.  “For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25, NIV).  Losing our lives sounds scary, but whatever it means, in Christ, God will go through it with us, as He reconciles us to Himself  (II Corinthians 5:19).

In the words of the beloved old Hymn, “The way of the Cross leads home,” into our lives, come thistles, cactus patches, losses and pigpens, judgments and course corrections, all, I believe, to bring us to the point of self-emptying.  God in His infinite mercy, brings us to the end of ourselves in order that He may be all and in all in us. It’s not a pretty process, often painful in the extreme.  Our pride and ego take a death blow as we realize that it’s all about what He has already done in Christ to bring us safely back to Paradise, and nothing that our puny self efforts could accomplish.

Those rare souls who have accomplished much, influenced many, and been the touchstone and light for those who had lost their way, often have the most difficult time letting it all go, so that God can have His perfect way in their lives.

But for those, who by virtue of their exalted position, with control over the lives of others, it often is an impossible assignment to realize that it is His will, not theirs which prevails.  I’m thinking here of Pharaoh, King Saul, Nebuchadnezzar, and the Herods, who by anyone’s definition were powerful, dangerous, ruthless monarchs,  full of themselves.  Herod the Great, upon hearing from the Magi that a king of the Jews had been born, ordered all the baby boys in Bethlehem two years old and under to be slaughtered (See Matthew 2:1-12; 16-18).

Herod Antipas beheaded John the Baptist (Matthew 14:3-12), and tried Jesus (Luke 23:8-15).  His successor, Herod Agrippa, grandson of Herod the Great, had James, the brother of John put to the sword (Acts 12:2), and imprisoned Peter during the feast of unleavened bread.  An angel of the Lord appeared to him and led him to safety (Acts 12:3-18).  At a gathering in his honor in Caesarea, Agrippa sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people.  “They shouted, This is the voice of a god, not a man.’  Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died” (Acts 12:21-23, NIV). Ouch! It never pays for man to seize God’s glory.

Obviously, all the ruthless kings mentioned here, deserved their comeuppances, but let’s remember that even the heroes of the faith were also brought very low before the sovereign will of God. Moses’ willful act of disobedience kept him out of the Promised Land.  He was only allowed to see it from afar.  King David, a man after God’s own heart was betrayed by his son Absalom. Saul of Tarsus was knocked off his horse and blinded by Christ Himself. All came to the end of themselves.

Shortly before He was killed, Jesus summed up the history of martyrdom of the prophets and righteous men who were killed and crucified, flogged in the synagogues, and pursued from town to town (See Matthew 23:33-36).  He lamented, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.  Look, your house is left to you desolate” (Matthew 23:37-38, NIV).

He said to His disciples and to us, “If anyone wants to follow in my footsteps, he must give up all right to himself, take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24, Phillips).  That speaks of giving up the idea that my will is of any account in God’s plan for my life. Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven”  (Matthew 6:9-10, NIV). We can give up our will only by His grace.

For those who are still convinced that our will is what matters, here’s the definitive scripture in favor of God’s will being the deciding one: GOD has all men penned together in the prison of disobedience, that he may have mercy upon them all” (Romans 11:32, Phillips).  It’s the same “all.”  The church has always been adamant that we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but they spit up at Paul’s declaration that a) God is in charge of our disobedience, and b) He intends to have mercy upon ALL of us!  Lenny always paraphrased this verse by saying, “It’s all God’s fault!”  The bottom line is, only GOD has free will, because only He is free.  And yes, in this life, we can make choices; we do reap what we sow, but, according to Paul, it is only God’s will which decides our eternal destination: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive(I Corinthians 15:22, RSV).  Again, it is the same “all,” in both instances.

My dear friend John Gavazzoni wrote about free will, “If you attempt to resist the will of God, the ultimate act of futility, to have your own way, you do so, not from freedom of will, but from the bondage of the will. Jesus’ description of the men who were representatively embodying mankind’s enmity toward God in crucifying Him was, “They know not what they do.” That’s the bondage of darkness and ignorance that only the sovereign grace of God can deliver us from, and deliver us to true freedom, the freedom to be who we really are in Christ.”  End quote.

Father, we rest in Your sovereign will for our lives, Your guidance, Your deliverance and Your assurance that at the end of our journey through cactus patches and pigpens, crosses and losses, you await our arrival with a robe, a ring and a crown to welcome us home to feast and fellowship with You eternally.  We join our voices with “the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.” Amen.  Jan Antonsson.

Jan and Lenny Antonsson

17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail address)

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