The belief in free will in relation to God has become so self-evident that for many it is beyond questioning. The Gospel amounts to an offer that God makes to freely willing wills. After all, the objection goes, we’re not puppets are we?
What the so-called free will argument is really concerned with is preserving the autonomy of the independent self over against God; to remain a continuously intact self that remains in charge. This is probably why free will churches are so appealing and why, when the gospel is discussed, the final word is not Christ’s word of promise to you, God’s decision; but the law’s relentless word to you, that you must do something, take action, make a decision, prove your worth. We love having something to do.
A big problem with decision religion, of course, is that once you begin deciding you can’t stop. That is how life works under the law. The free will needs the law and the law needs free will. There is always more work to do; more principles to follow, more piety to improve upon, always more to do to demonstrate that my freely willing will is serious about all this Christian business. The preachers of the free will, decision gospel must keep prodding the freely willing will to keep willing! I’ve been there and, frankly, it’s exhausting. Maybe you are there. If so, I have good news.
The logic of the Gospel assumes not a free will where God is concerned but a bound will.
To be chosen, elected, baptized by the living God is not the result of human willing. The Bible could not be more clear. As St. Paul spells it out;
“So then it (God’s mercy toward sinners) depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”
Did you get that? The gospel, God’s mercy toward sinners, “does not depend upon human will.” The gospel is ‘good news’ precisely because it is not dependent upon human willing. The gospel is a word proclaimed out of the freedom of God to the human will that is bound in sin, for whom every decision has the self at its center.
Paul is declaring all throughout his letters that God, in His perfect freedom, has done some free willing of His own. He has decided to have mercy on you. Jesus Christ has made a decision for you! God is not satisfied when you have closed the deal with your decision. That is nothing more than holding up the law and saying to God, “Accept me because I have done this.” God is satisfied when, in faith, He is justified in His decision, in His word of promise to you. This is the promise that God gives to sinners and that is made personal in your baptism.
Freely willing wills do not like baptism, of course, especially infant baptism. Why? Because infants can’t freely will. And here is where the so-called free wills actual love of human autonomy, of itself, is revealed in all its nakedness. In the end the freely willing will defends the so-called freedom to choose with more determination and passion than God’s actual freedom to willingly have mercy on sinners.
I have been in this conversation countless times over many years with Christians who have attempted to save me from my baptism. With absolute conviction, freely willing willers have tried to convince me that God has actually not had mercy on me because I have not made a free will decision. These free willing wills, actually bound under the law, have been determined to strip me of my assurance in Christ’s decision for me in baptism’s promise (the gospel), put me in spiritual hand cuffs, and return me to an assurance based on my decision (the law), however they may have been motivated. That this prevailing pseudo-christian orthodoxy holds wide sway in the churches gives ample testimony to humanity’s determination to stay in the saddle, even to the point of making war on the grace of God, in the name of God.
Confronting the sinner with the gospel in the form of demand, contingent on free choice, turning the gospel into a law, is of course sin. So, I will say unto you, dear reader, should you be preparing to mount a defense of the free will, what I have said whenever I hear the handcuffs rattling, and continue to say whenever God gives me opportunity: In the name of Jesus Christ I declare God’s gracious, freely-willed decision for you: your sin is forgiven for Jesus sake.
“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Lutheran Church of the Master, Corona del Mar, California