Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Freedom of the Law and Bondage of the Will

The Freedom of the Law and Bondage of the Will

Free will is an oxymoron in more than one way. Will is not free: it’s expensive. And in this sinful world that expense comes at the restriction of freedom. Let me explain. Last night my family read the following:

Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered a unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. 2 And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. 3 Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said, ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace. Leviticus 10:1-3


Waw

41 Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord,
your salvation according to your promise;
42 then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me,
for I trust in your word.
43 And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth,
for my hope is in your rules.
44 I will keep your law continually,
forever and ever,
45 and I shall walk in a wide place,
for I have sought your precepts.
46 I will also speak of your testimonies before kings
and shall not be put to shame,
47 for I find my delight in your commandments,
which I love.
48 I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love,
and I will meditate on your statutes.

Psalm 119:41-48


As a sinner, whenever I have flexed my free will I have rebelled against God. The term in Psalm 119:45: “wide place” is the Hebrew “rachab” which literally means “roomy”. The sense here is that one who seeks God’s law walks in freedom or liberty.

However, the law appears to us to be restrictive. I asked my kids about this and they agreed. The law says “don’t do this” or “only do that” and we are restricted. I asked them if they could think of some rule or law that restricts their freedom. They offered up the rule, “Don’t jump on the bed.” Well, this is not part of the law of God that we’ve been reading in the Bible, but it was a perfect example. They said that without the rule they were allowed to jump on the bed. With the law, they were restricted from jumping on the bed.

What makes this a perfect example is that a few years ago my brother’s family went to beach. Not long after they were there their young son took to jumping on the bed. He fell off the bed and broke his leg in the thigh. That pretty much did it for the beach vacation. Not only was he restricted, the whole family had to give up the rest of the vacation and come home early. While a rule like “don’t jump on the bed” may seem restrictive, following such a rule would allow for the freedom of a nice vacation in the surf and the waves for the whole family.

While such an example is an outward and tangible example, God’s law operates on the same principle regarding our spiritual freedom. If, as it is argued, God created us with free will, then apart from God our will is not free. God’s law is a revelation of his will. Therefore, can we say that the law is restrictive? We must also say that God is restrictive.

The debate between those who argue that the will of man is sufficient for faith and those who argue that the will of man is subordinate to God’s sovereignty is merely academic if it is not realized that the theological tension is resolved in our reconciliation with God.

One thing that happens when God’s law is transgressed is that the transgressor is filled with internal confusion. God’s law perfectly followed never results in theological tension. After all, God is rational and he creates good reason. Once sin enters the relationship, our perception of God’s perfect will is distorted. We can see this in every story of romance. I love a romantic story as much as some women. What kind of romance stories would we have if there were no tension to be resolved because someone did something wrong or even just wanted something they shouldn’t? So people end up with all sorts of conflicted emotions and have a time trying to sort them out so the relationship can be healed.

So the first shall be last and the last shall be first. The result of the theological tension here should be mere theological weightlifting, but that I should deny my will and submit to God’s. If my will agrees with God’s will, then I don’t exult my will as though I came up with the right path on my own. How does that glorify God? If I say that God’s way was the right way all along and I was acting outside of His will, I don’t blame Him for making me do it. I accept the blame as an act of my will against God’s will and recognize that I am dead apart from my creator and am bound to sin by definition. Only by denying my will and submitting to His will in the power of the Holy Spirit, and by his grace in the provision of the atoning work of Jesus Christ, am I finally freed from my sin.

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