Free Will?

Whether we have a free will or not, isn’t the real question that solves the underlying reality. Certainly we would all agree that we are impacted by outside influences in everything we do. The wind blows cold and we shiver. The sun beats down on us and we sweat. We are given undeniably logical reasons for doing something and we are likely to do that. Unless, of course, our reasons for action have been influenced by another force, perhaps illogical but almost unexplainably irresistible, such as an emotional reason. We can do “silly” things for love, bravery, selfishness and personal pride. Not all our reasons for action have to make sense. Not all our actions have an unregrettable outcome either. So in a way, it is almost undeniable that our “free will” is influenced by inputs, whether it be our environment, actions of others or the advice of others, including possibly God and His word. And what Christian would dispute that God even controls our environment and all that entails.
However, that really isn’t the crucial issue. In every decision, there is a microscopic squeak in time, where we actually make the move to go either one way or the other. Perched on the razor sharp point of the moment, we will either choose to go one way or the other (or perhaps even another of the sometimes innumerable paths available). What happens to us, at that pivotal, all-important moment, as we decide how we will act.
On mundane, fleshly issues, such as when will we fall asleep, or when will we sip on a glass of water and just how much water will we sip, I don’t know that it matters so much. The consequence is not immediately evident, although I have no problem even granting that each of these little actions and their timings, are all orchestrated by God, leading to the ultimate end result. As He knows the number of hairs on our head, certainly a constantly changing number on every person in the world, (which would in itself keep every computer in the world busy for the task) I don’t think it’s presumptuous to think that God does control even the mundane actions, all resulting ultimately in His glory.
The real question comes in trying to figure out just how men could ever choose to disobey or reject God. As we sit on that pinnacle of decisive action, able to go either way, does God nudge us to go one way or the other, or do we shift our own weight and decide which way we want to go?
The reason this is such a distressing and important subject is because we know that there is nothing we can do to earn righteousness in God’s eyes. Oops, now I’ve started talking about things not so mundane or simple as slurping water. Our eternal destiny is suddenly in the headlights. When the issue of our salvation or damnation comes up, it is of course, much more important to get the answer right. So, we may not care why we take three deep breaths, rather than two shallow breaths, but let’s get this part right, now. I’m not making fun of this, because it really is more important.
So, why do we choose to believe in Christ, resulting in our salvation, or choose to reject Him, causing our eternal separation from Him, our damnation? Is it by the power of God, or is it by our own choice? What is that driving force that ultimately makes us tip and go one way or the other. That little finger that tips our scales. At that tiny, undefinable squeak in time, there is something that causes us to go one way or the other: to God or away from Him. So what is it?
Most of us will readily agree we are taught in scripture that, as fallen humans, we contain nothing in ourselves to cause ourselves to turn to God. Despite all the purely logical and beneficial reasons to turn to God, it just isn’t in our nature. Enter the wonderful love of God. When we give in to God’s overwhelming love, we are not acting out of our own strength or motives. We are only doing what God has designed us to do. With a love calling to us, stronger than any romantic novel could every try to verbalize, how could we ever pretend we were the instigator or initiator of this relationship. Without a doubt, we love because, yes, “because” He first loved us. There is no other reason this could happen. Here is the driving force we were looking for. That true underlying power, that tips us as we truly fall off that momentous peak, and forever fall-fall in love with our Creator, knowing He will catch us. For that is ultimately what we are relying on, that God has provided for our eternity, as shown through Jesus. We are trusting that Jesus alone can save us. He is our only hope. We get no credit and knowing our own feebleness, we want no part in undergirding our own salvation. To rely in our own selves would be the ultimate in folly. We know. So God had drawn us with His love. But how do the unbelievers fall the other way, to their destruction?
The driving force that tips the unbeliever to reject God and rebel against Him is not the same force that cause us to turn to God. It is not the love of God. As the unbeliever sat upon the pinnacle, he chose to not be won over by the love of God. He acted, not as God wanted him to act, but on his own. God has offered his love but “they would not”. Men are lost by their own actions, when they step outside God’s direction and act on their own power. We are saved by God’s power alone, the lost are lost by their own actions. We are told throughout scripture why men are judged by God, because they rebel against Him. Yes, because they reject God. We are also told that we are saved by turning to God, but that is not by our own strength or driving force, but by the love and action of God. It is a faulty logical assumption to think that salvation and damnation must be caused by the same driving force. (This is where many get stuck and cannot see the logical conclusion, because they assume both must be caused by the same driving force.) It only make scriptural sense that we, believers, are saved by God and men are lost by their own rebellious actions.
The driving force behind faith and ultimate joy and life in God is God and His love.
The driving force behind evil and rejection of God and all He offers, is man’s action in rebelling. They would not (let Him gather them under His lifegiving, surrounding love.)
So back to the original question, are we saved or lost by God or by our own choice? The answer is Yes and Yes.
Saved by God and Lost by their own choice.

PS-Certainly it was no surprise to God, that some would reject Him. But that doesn’t mean He caused it. Knowing and causing are not necessary equivalents. When it says that He created some for honor and some for dishonor, it was because He knew that would be the outcome, yet He still made them.

PPSS- I believe that the Bible clearly teaches that God loves the world and as such has truly offered the narrow path to them. If God had not actually offered it to them, how could He hold them responsible for rejecting Him? They are responsible for their rejection of Him. God doesn’t play word games and hide His true meaning. When He judges them for their actions, that is exactly what He is doing. But never fear, just because they are responsible for rejecting God, it does not mean that we are on the other hand responsible for accepting God. Again, the driving force, the responsible party in each is different.

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Coveting- The Sin coveted by society

We are all familiar with 9 of the 10 commandments.  We are all ready to hold ourselves and others up to these rules given by God.  Of course, Don’t Steal!  Don’t Lie!  Don’t worship any false god.  However, the last commandment, about coveting is largely ignored.  In our society today, it has almost become an accepted frame of mind.  It has even become a major thrust of many political movements.

Before I am misunderstood, I need to explain what the 10th commandment actually says.  The word covet, in the Hebrew, which is the actual language used by God to give Moses the commandments, means to desire something.  But it is not wrong to desire something.  The problem comes when we desire something that is not ours to have.  It is wonderful to strongly desire your mate.  Your mate.  The problem comes when you desire a mate that is not yours.  Or when you desire their donkey, or mode of transportation, (Jaguar or BMW nowadays). Or when you desire anything that is theirs.  It doesn’t say not to desire to work to get something like theirs.  It says, don’t desire theirs.

Many in our society truly have made it an accepted frame of mind to covet the things that others have.  These “others” are often the wealthy.  We actually talk as though it would be best to take from these wealthy, so that we could have it.  Of course, we’d like to vote in legislators and judges to do the “taking”, so we don’t have to do the deed, but we think we should have their money, instead of them having it.  Some have called this Class Envy, while others call it Fairness or Equity in society.

It seems strange to me that so many have embraced this obvious violation of the tenth commandment as though it is a virtuous  mindset.  It seems that one political party is encouraging its members to thrive in this coveting mindset, as their driving and guiding force.  It is the Tenth Commandment! For some, it is their Founding Virtue.

Some may say, well, I wouldn’t have any reason to covet, if the rich weren’t so greedy!  Just to clarify a point, Greed is not the same as Coveting.  They are close cousins, but one is the tenth commandment and the other is not.  Greed is condemned in its own right.  A study of the Hebrew word for greed, exposes a destructive attitude and action underlying this desire for something.  being willing to do whatever it takes, even harming another, to acquire some thing.  Desiring to earn things honestly is actually a virtue.  Only to a certain  point.

“To” what point? As we all realize, anytime we desire anything, even a “good” anything, more than we desire God, that thing becomes an idol and we become an idol worshipper or at least an idol “desirer”.  But really, that is another discussion for another day, as important as it is.  The main point I’m after is correcting the notion that it is okay to covet another person’s things.

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Where did all the “good ” people come from?

Years ago, I was praying, asking God how we could make it clear to the whole world, that “it” is all about whether or not we submit to God and His rule or not.  If they could just understand, (I proposed to God),  that all they need to do is follow God and His ways and they could enjoy His forgiveness and abundant life.  It all makes so much sense!  So much of the problems we see in the world would be eliminated.  If only we could make this clear!  Then everyone could join in and we’d all be on the right track! 

Then it hit me with a thud,  we are actually benefitting from the fact that many are not living out how they feel towards God.  Jesus told us that the way to life, in His kingdom is narrow, and that few would travel on it.  Few will follow Him, follow God.  I realized that if the majority of people actually acted out how their heart was turned, they would not be acting as if they were good, upstanding, moral, God-fearing people!  Most people, (the Bible teaches) are determined to go any direction, do anything, EXCEPT what God has recommended for their life.  Most humans abhor the thought of being ruled by another, creator or not!  It is THEIR life and they are going to do what they want. This made it clear to me that we are actually blessed that it isn’t necessarily so clear to everyone in the world,that the lines are drawn in the heavenlies so clearly.  We have a fairly decent world.  Or at least, it could be a whole lot worse!  If the ungodly, those who refuse to follow God, were actually living out their hearts, they would be living with no respect to God or man.  They would be wreaking havoc on anyone and everything.   So I realized that, for some reason, there seem to be an awful lot of people who actually act pretty decent, and have fairly moral, logical, views and lifestyles.  They don’t kill, they don’t publicly steal, they appear to be treating others nicely.  But why?  This puzzled me for years, until this morning.  I’m glad they aren’t living out all the ungodliness that is in their hearts.  But I still didn’t know why  we were enjoying the fairly decent world we live in, (not to ignore the atrocities we hear of). 

The answer came to me this morning when I realized that people work to appear nice and proper, not out of obedience to their creator, God, but rather out of something that is the root of all ungodly actions.  People act “good” out of Pride!  They want to look good to others.  Fortunately, in much of the world, people have a pretty good idea of right and wrong.  I agree with C.S.Lewis that all people are aware of an absolute right and wrong.  Even people who are not willing to submit to , or follow God’s lead, put on a show that they want to “act right”.  Why would they care?  Well, people would look down on them if they “act wrong”.  They don’t want people to look down on them. We are all very willing to act pretty decent, as long as it gets us what we ultimately want in the end, glory for ourselves, praise from others , endorsement that we are the best, and that we are handling our lives quite well on our own!  Such a motivation for “acting right” is only effectual as long as the desired goal of self-glory is achieved.  This also explains how people can so quickly turn from a seeming appropriate behaviour to a vicious, back-stabbing, cutthroat demeanor if the person is crossed or refused their place on the pedestal.  If they can’t get what they want by following the “nice” rules, then, watch out!  They will do whatever it takes to get that glory, that esteem, to get “their way”! 

So really, our goal hasn’t really changed.  There is just a paradox that we are trying to educate people that they realize they must make, and ARE making a choice , whether they realize it or admit it.  If we are successful in making this clear to people, we stand a big chance of converting a typical “good” person, into an fuming, raging rebellious creature.  This could cause our world to be less convenient and civil to live in.  However, we also have the opportunity to see a person turn and fall at the feet of Christ in submission and live to enjoy the abundant, eternal life that God has in store for those who will follow His way.  Of course, that is the real goal. 

So as we see the world and its morals crumbling around our feet, I guess we need to realize that we are actually, really just getting a more honest picture of the majority of men’s hearts, as sad and inconvenient as that may be in our everyday society.  The Bible predicts that men will grow worse and worse, but that doesn’t mean we will enjoy it.

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Spiritual Competition

The urge to compete can be very fruitful when it leads us to perform better than expected.  If you were selling a product, for example, you certainly wouldn’t want to produce the worst product on the market.  And you wouldn’t want to advertise it in a boring, lack-luster way, ” This is our product that you could try if you want. . .”

We can all see the advantage of competing to do our best!  Now that I’ve praised the obvious benefits of this drive to compete, I’m going to ask you to see just how harmful this same tendency becomes when we harness it to travel in our spiritual journey.

Spiritual competion would be when we try to appear more spiritual than others.  This can take on many forms, many of which are hard to recognize, even within our own hearts.    The stage for our performances can be to the public at large, in a small private by-invitation-only gathering, in a one-on-one relationship or in our own quiet thought life.

In each of these theaters, the largest problem is that when we perform to try to be or act more spiritual than another, we are simply wasting our time.  Our goal as Christians is not to make ourselves look good, but rather to make God look good, to glorify Him!

The other, devastating result is how we can injure other Christians.  They may be coming up to us, timid as little spiritual bunnies, nibbling at the little bits of clover they find along the path, and we, the so-called spiritually mature, can blast them with a torrent of spiritual expectations that makes the tender clover seem to sour in insignificance in their mouths.  They were cuddled at Jesus’ feet, feeling His loving hand carressing their backs, when suddenly you tell them, or at least infer, that Jesus would be happier with them if they did thus and so.  Look at me.  I do thus and so.  Their feelings of spiritual inferiority can be crushing!  Of course, it makes you feel good, unless you realize the cruel load you’ve just placed on their shoulders.   So much for sitting at Jesus’ feet. . .

The sparring that ensues when two prideful self-proclaimed spiritual giants clash their spiritual swords is neither entertaining nor edifying.  Pride, being the root of human sin, is innate to all, recognized by all, and repugnant to all when they see it in others.  When you think you’re flexing your spiritual biceps in  such a clash, your really just hanging out your dirty laundry for all to grimace at.

This is where I must warn parents not to compete with their own children. Who would think to do such a thing!  But I have seen so many children who have just plain given up when confronted with the challenge thrown down by their parents.  They realize there is no way they could match their own parent’s level of spiritualness, they think, and so they totally abandon any pretense of trying.  On the other hand, I have seen the children “take on” their parent’s prideful display and show an even more arrogant  approach.  (I don’t think for one moment that this causes all rebellion in children.  This is just one way you don’t want to encourage it.)

So what should we do instead?

Look to, and encourage others to look to Jesus and His life.   Only He had pure motives.  I don’t want my children to think that I, on my own power, can do anything of value.  On my own, I will taint or wreak destruction on everything I touch.   It is the truth, so why not make it clear and give up any other pretense.  After all, isn’t that really our goal in all our relationships, to encourage others to turn to Christ!?  If others see anything truly good in you (or me), it must be Jesus doing it!

The last area I will discuss, where we should avoid spiritual competition is in our own private life wherein we compete against a type of spiritual phantom man we have constructed in our minds.  We have this picture of what we think we should look like spiritually and are constantly beating ourselves down when we fail to meet that expectation.  We are defeated continually and always striving to pump ourselves up to perform.  But again we fail and lie crushed in the reality of our failure.  To this we must say, “Of course, what did you expect?  You’re human, not Jesus.”  We must accept that Jesus is the one in control of our spiritual growth, not us.  If we truly believe that Jesus has all power, then He certainly has the power to make us grow and act as He wills!  Accept this!  It is His life to live for His glory!  Don’t despise or reprove God for how He has moved in your life.  Rather,  enjoy His love and trust His Holy Spirit to live through you!  By His power, in His time, He will do His will in you.  Talk about an abundant life!  Take me I’m yours!

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What Enemies??

While watching an action hero movie, (Live Free or Die Hard, but it could have been any other such movie), I saw how relentless the bad guys were in attacking the good guys.

I realized How Much More there is a spiritual battle going on this very moment!
The enemy is more real, more determined to defeat us and more evil and bad than any movie or story could try to relate or duplicate!

All the more reason for every one of us to be on guard to follow Christ and submit to God at all times!
Satan desperately wants to destroy us and our families, not just for now, but Forever!

We must thank God for His strength and protection!”

Sometimes we may think it’s okay to do just a little sin, a mental sin and it won’t matter.
But the entire destructive force, the scariest, most indescribably evil monster force is hiding, crouching behind that little sin, and “its desire is for you!” to control you and consume you!
Don’t ever forget or take lightly that ghastly evil you are unleashing in your life when you look under that card, or under that rock, to sin.

Again, Thank God for His power to keep us !

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Legalism

Legalism as I’m defining it is the tendency to set up a certain action as a standard of righteousness. While we all detest those who set up such standards, this is a tendency we all share in one sneaky form or another. I would hesitate to declare that we all share this tendency, except that we all share the underlying driving force which finds relief in setting up these standards. Pride. The root of all our problems which separate us from God and each other. The root of all sin. From the Garden of Eden to our little common theatres of everyday life, we are driven by our pride. Our pride can be hidden in displays of self-sacrifice, but even in these we receive some sort of satisfaction when others notice it, and if not, we can even applaud ourselves for having done what others would not, by giving so selflessly, without recognition. An adoring audience of one will suffice when we know our own opinion is accurate. “Yes”, we think,”I’m good”. When what we are really saying to ourselves is “I’m better than so and so”.
If we’re honest with ourselves, and who would want to be otherwise, we surely recognize these games we play. Saints and thinkers through the ages have all been troubled with the contradictions within the privacy of their own hearts. Even when they try to do something good, they realize they probably had selfish reasons down deep.
I think the harder we try to work up pure motives on our own, the more frustrated we will become. After all, do we think that we have the power in our own nature to perform untainted acts? Not I. Pure and undefiled acts can only come as a result of the Holy Spirit working through the heart of a believer in Christ. This comes when we quit the struggle of trying to achieve this on our own merits. This is the only way we can not be entangled with the tendency to legalism. The tendency will always be there, tempting us with the flattery which pride offers, but if we realize how futile and empty are those paths, we can laugh, look to Jesus, and follow where He leads. In the Joy of His Life. Not the futility of our own efforts.

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God Rested?

I have always assumed that God, being God, performed all creating and designing effortlessly.  I mean, no big effort.  Just another day, no sweat, no big deal. Creating perfectly is just what God does. No big exertion in light of His abilities.

Even when I consider His actions with the world and with us individually today, that’s probably no big exertion.  He’s God.  All powerful.

But it does say that “He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.”

So perhaps, I realized, God does exert Himself, but he has an infinite ability to exert without getting too tired to perform.

Not only does He have infinite powers and wisdom, but also infinite endurance to keep going and to do more by His infinite exertion than we could comprehend.

He is able to work so hard, He can perform millions and trillions (and more) of things at once!

This actually increased my admiration for Him, that He would choose to work so hard for His creation, which means He worked so hard for us!

Perhaps He’s not just kicked back, sipping heavenly tea and non-chalantly, un-interestedly flicking His pinky to perform massive miracles as He yawns.  Just another easy, laid-back, no-big-deal day in the life of God.

Rather, He’s possibly very energetically and intricately involved with no limitations on His abilities or compassion or wisdom, giving each person’s prayer request that total and intimate attention, without detracting or distracting from all the other prayer requests and details which being Ruler of the universe demands.  The Bible says that all things are held together by Him.

Ultimate caring!         Ultimate focus!    Ultimate Love!

This lead me to an amazing admiration for God’s love and exertion toward us!   He really Cares!

ps.  Other aspects, such as the fact that God doesn’t grow weary and didn’t actually need to rest, and that we should rest on the weventh day and that we shouldn’t pretend we are God and shouldn’t need rest, are the subjects of other more focused considerations.  This is plenty to bite of and chew for one meal.

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