Joshua 24. 14, 15|
My mother was born in 1898. Her mother died when she was 13, the youngest of eight. Things got worse when her father and her oldest brother fought over the affections of Izetta, a neighborhood girl. The father won and his new family was more than the child could endure. She was now an outsider, always looking in. Her stepmother was not much older than she was. So she left home to live with her oldest sister. What had happened colored the rest of her life. "Men are no good", she used to say. From then on she cherished her own family against all enemies, foreign and domestic. This is what made her tick.
My father, oldest of five to survive childhood, quit school at 14 to help support the family. All the rest of his life he tried to make up for his lack of education, felt responsible for everybody and worried for the world. But he loved learning. He was a truth seeker. Reading the books in his library, I found he was always there before me with comments pencilled in. This made him tick.
Brother Bill lived in his shadow. Five years younger, he worked for Pop. Musical, and quick with figures, he was frail and sickly all his life. He died in 1947 at 41. He didn’t get a chance to tick.
Their three lives were molded by environment and heredity–basic observations of modern psychology and sociology. The danger in this thinking is, of course, that you are not responsible for your behavior, giving rise to the notion that you can do your own thing. Should you do wrong it’s somebody else’s fault. All this implies that man has free will. Is it relevant to the point, or illogical to say that man has free will when he is a captive, so to speak, of his environment and his genetic makeup? Suffice to say that the Bible does not support the view that there is no free will. Good kings had bad sons and bad kings had good sons; Israel was told to choose who they would serve, and we know how that turned out. In the dispensation which followed the Old Testament , in New Testament times we are admonished to diligently seek God and the truth–to know Christ and enter in at the strait gate.
So contrary to all of the above, we exercise our free will to choose to serve God and our fellow man, a commandment of His son. By baptism we show our desire to stop being bad and to start being good. We become Bible scholars and deep thinkers. We preach the gospel at every opportunity. We’re going to sell all our goods and give to the poor. Well, wait! Hang on a minute, let’s be reasonable about this. ( No farce, please). Becoming a follower of Christ is not ‘stopping being bad’ and ‘starting to be good’. Take this example: Our dear sister, Katherine who came to truth late in life,–does the old Baptist hymn apply to her?
I was sinking deep in sin
Far from the peaceful shore
Very deeply stained within,
Sinking to rise no more.
When the master of the sea
Heard my despairing cry
from the waters lifted me
Now safe am I.
No. She repented of her dead works. She acknowledged her imperfections. She saw the opportuity to be given perfection. Though imperfect, she nevertheless could envision perfection and to see God, or the ultimate good, manifested in His son. Through baptism and through the eye of faith, our imperfection is clothed with his righteousness, another word for perfection. So maybe it is true–that we stop being bad, that is, imperfect, and start being good. Well, not quite. No. Wrong–we are good now. Etta Rae–a member of the holy roller church down the street told me once that you are saved when you accept Christ. She was right, you know. You are saved if you can only believe it.
Life in Christ is not a life of penance or of duty or of making points with God. No. It is our pleasure to demonstrate our faith. Those works we were doing before baptism are no longer dead works, because they are not done to save ourselves, but somebody else–done to help others. Sadly, all this is fact, but it sounds like theory, because it doesn’t bear any relationship to the reality of our lives. How is this? We still serve God and mammon; we continue to be double minded and unstable; our motives mixed and our heart never pure. Why? To explain. We don’t have free will after all. If truly free, it’s possible we might have lived our lives perfectly. But we can’t, because the sins of our father Adam have been visited upon us in the form of his flawed nature. Adam’s will was more free than ours–God pronounced him ‘very good’. His choices were plain–black and white. God was speaking directly to him.
Consider our plight. We are not ‘very good’ as Adam was. Our choices are not always clear. Our Father and His son, Jesus Christ, exist only on the printed page, except for our ability to see them through the eye of faith. Our vision is impaired in two ways. For one, we see through a glass darkly–we see a poor reflection of ourselves in a distorted mirror , so the scientist is half right after all.
It’s yes and no–we have free will, and we don’t have free will. So what is the message? Don’t be too hard on yourself because you are only human? Quite the contrary. Because of your frailty you must be hard on yourself. This must be the mechanism that drives us. You may call me wrong on this, but my conscience is clear and my heart is pure–my motives not mixed. Consider what Paul says of himself in Cor 4. 1-- Phillips: I don’t value my opinion of myself. I might be quite ignorant of any fault in myself. But that doesn’t justify me before God. Our imperfect and limited free will counts for very little for the reason that we cannot will ourselves to be free. We can’t put on incorruption, immortality. It is a gift of God. And thanks be to Him who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord.