Justified Apart from Our Free Will

 
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What our heart wants our mind justifies. We want what we want when we want it. There's not a whole lot we can do to curb the wanting either. This may not seem like much of a problem until we ask what our wanting does to effect God's relation to us. How does our unending need for personal freedom to choose effect salvation? The answer is simple, just not easy for us to accept. What we want in relation to God is captive to sin, death, and the devil. In relation to each other we may have some small amount of freedom to choose, but in relation to God’s saving work for us at Golgotha, we always choose sin and resistance. That's what it means that our will is in bondage.

For Martin Luther, God's own way of being God for us is the only solution to the problem of our freedom. God sent his Son to save us from a free will. God’s solution to the problem of our free will is to set us free through the suffering and death of Christ Jesus.

For Luther, the work of theology, the task of Christian preaching, and the foundation of all pastoral care is to preach Christ crucified for the sin of the world. "What is the Father doing through the Son?" is the question asked by the preacher. How is God reconciling the world to Himself? Luther recognizes that if the Father sent the Son to save us, nothing we do frees us from sin and death. Instead, God sends His preacher and His proclaimed word to point us to Christ crucified. This alone is God's desired way of being God for us. Only a preacher who assumes his hearers are in bondage to sin and death comes to set the captives free.

Cute stories that take over as the primary narrative of the sermon, anecdotes and personal experiences tear down the preaching office brick by brick. They lead us to do theology by inference. We do theology by analogy and symbolism. We try to peek into God’s hidden will. We want to preach and worship God where He doesn't want to be preached and worshipped by us. We want Jesus to sit on the bench until we have decided how He will carry out our game plan.

Therefore, the only way for God to locate Himself where He wants to be preached, revealed, and worshipped to us is for Him to lead us to where He wants to be God for us Calvary-much. Take the saying of Christ in John, says Luther, "No one comes to me unless my Father draws him.” What does this leave to free choice?"

It's not human freedom that we struggle with, but God’s freedom. God’s election of sinners on account of Christ’s work is the problem and the impediment to our free will. God takes on the problem of our bondage, freedom, and salvation. He does this in Christ Jesus apart from what we want or choose, which means that we often don't see a God of mercy and love. Instead, we view God as jealous and capricious because He undermines our supposed free will.

God preaches a concrete word to us in the present tense. We hear the Good News that Jesus is God’s mercy for us.
— Donavon Riley

We don't like that in Christ Jesus all God's promises are fulfilled. He doesn't ask us for our opinion, what we want, or hand out a multiple choice questionnaire. Instead, He sends us a preacher to reveal to us that His Word heals, forgives, saves, and finally frees us to forego the necessity of finding our identity, significance, and life's meaning in anything other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God preaches a concrete word to us in the present tense. We hear the Good News that Jesus is God’s mercy for us. We hear that God is really God for us where and when he translates us sinners into His kingdom through His Word. Through His preacher, God reveals who we are in truth and exactly who He will be for us.

At Calvary, what our heart wants and our mind justifies meets its end. At Calvary, our free will meets its end. This is not bad news, but the end of our free will and the beginning of true faith. That's why the Church insists in every generation that Christ must be preached and Christ alone. It's the only way we can be freed from our bondage to personal freedom and choice in relation to God and salvation. God justifies us by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, apart from our free will.

Donavon Riley is a Lutheran pastor, conference speaker, author, Online Content Manager for Higher Things, a contributing writer for 1517, Christ Hold Fast, and LOGIA. He is also the co-host of The Banned Books podcast and the As Lutheran As It Gets podcast.




 

 

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