The Wesleyan Way: Freewill
This morning I want to piggyback off of how we ended the service last week. If you remember I showed a video of a show Oprah did where she had Pastor Rick Warren talking about cards that you are dealt in life. He talked about how we are all dealt the card of Chemistry: we don’t choose our chemical makeup. I did not choose to be 6’6”…if I had I would have also made myself able to jump high. Not my choice. He talked about the card of Connections. We don’t choose our earliest connections. We don’t choose who our parents are. He talked about Circumstances. Things happen in our lives outside of our control, those are our circumstances. Maybe we were born without a limb or with cerebral palsy or whatever our predispositions are…that is our circumstances. Then our Consciousness, these are things we have been told all of our lives. Things in our heads that maybe we can’t get out of our heads and just have to deal with. I cannot change the fact that I have a memory of some kids in school insulting me and making me feel like a nobody. Then he said, the fifth card in the deck of life we are handed is the wild card. The fifth card is Choices. We didn’t choose our chemistry, but we can choose to be positive and take care of our mind and body. We didn’t choose our earliest connections, but we can choose to have healthy relationships now. We didn’t choose our circumstances…but we can make the best of what we have gone through in life and choose to put ourselves in better situations for our future. We didn’t choose our Consciousness…we didn’t choose our brains and we didn’t choose to have the memories we have growing up, but we can choose to make better memories now and we can choose to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.
Do you remember that from last week? Okay, most people would agree with that…that we have choices. Most Christians, pastors and people who make it their career to study the Bible would agree with that. However, many Christians, pastors, theologians and bible scholars would very much disagree on whether or not we have a choice when it comes to our salvation. There is this prominent, popular belief among many Christians and pastors and Bible scholars that we don’t choose whether we are saved or not, but that God chooses whether we are saved or not. This belief called Limited Atonement or Particular Redemption. The word you may have heard it as is predestination. It’s part of an entire theological system articulated by a French theologian who lived in the 1500’s named John Calvin and cutely illustrated by the word acronym TULIP. PIC.
I don’t have time to go over this entire system and preach and teach on freewill, so I just want to talk for a minute about this idea of Limited Atonement then share why I don’t subscribe to this and why I am a Methodist.
Here are a couple of quotes by John Calvin:
God preordained, for his own glory and the display of His attributes of mercy and justice, a part of the human race, without any merit of their own, to eternal salvation, and another part, in just punishment of their sin, to eternal damnation.
God “saves whom he wills of his mere good pleasure.”
Regarding the lost: “it was his good pleasure to doom to destruction.”
Regarding the lost: “it was his good pleasure to doom to destruction.”
This is what is known as double predestination. If God predestines some to salvation and the person has nothing to do with choosing God, then God also predestines some people to damnation and they have no power, no say in the matter at all.
Let me tell you about Justus Arminius. He was a dutch theologian that came right after John Calvin and the theology of John Wesley and the Methodist Church comes out of Arminius’s writings. Arminius believed in free will and wrote specifically against this idea of predestination that John Calvin was so sure of. Here’s what Arminius said:
Concerning Grace and Free Will, this is what I teach according to the Scriptures and orthodox consent:—Free Will is unable to begin or to perfect any true and spiritual good, without Grace.
He also came up with a system like Calvin did that doesn’t have a cool acronym like TULIP…it would be HCURF which isn’t nearly as pleasant as TULIP…but I believe it’s more Biblical. His 5 points are basically the opposite of Calvin’s 5 points. So where Calvin says we have no say in our own salvation…Arminius says…we have say in our salvation…God’s grace is a gift that we either accept or reject. We have a choice. And what that means also is that just as we can choose salvation through Jesus Christ, we can also choose to reject Jesus and no longer be saved. Arminius believed so strongly in freewill that just as Calvin believed in double predestination – God chooses some to salvation and some to damnation at his good pleasure – just as Calvin believed that – Arminius believed in double freewill – you can choose to be saved and you can choose not to be saved and you make that choice at any point in your life.
So enough about what these two dead theologians said…lets look at scripture. Lets look at what the Bible says. Here’s the deal, there are scriptures that point to predestination and foreknowledge and those kinds of ideas. However, I believe in each of those scriptures where we see those words and those ideas context dictates the meaning and in each case assumes that the group who is predestined chose for themselves salvation. How that works I don’t know. I also believe that where the simplest truth is obvious that’s the one that’s going to win me over when it comes to a debate between freewill and predestination. Here are two scriptures that to me so clearly and obviously point to the truth of freewill and of what God’s pleasure is.
Peter is talking about judgment and last days and says this: READ 2 Peter 3:8-9. God’s pleasure is not that some people are predestined to damnation. I actually believe that just as Jesus wept for Lazarus and because he saw the destruction of the Temple because of his people’s unfaithfulness I also believe that Jesus weeps when people reject him for their eternal salvation. If it is God’s desire that none should perish and everyone come to repentance then doesn’t it make sense that He grieves when someone doesn’t accept his gift of grace in Jesus Christ?
Lets look at the second scripture: READ 1 Timothy 2:1-6. God’s desire is for all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. Even politicians. That’s the point of this scripture. Paul starts by saying pray for your leaders…the kings and all those in authority. God knows people in authority are often dirty…and he knows that they need to be saved…and Paul says God actually wants them to be saved. God desires that Obama be saved.
When it comes to freewill lets keep it simple…any of you heard of the KISS method…Keep it simple stupid. It sounds derogatory but I think it’s true. So I started with all this theology and TULIP and Calvin and Arminius…lets just use the KISS method and think about these scriptures and scriptures like John 3:16: READ.
It’s obvious to me that we have freewill and that we’ve had from the beginning of time. If Adam and Eve didn’t choose to eat the fruit (Eve was first) then humanity cannot be held responsible for sin entering the world.
So the question then becomes: what are we doing with freewill? What kind of choices are you making in your life? Are you making choices that allow the fruit of the spirit to grow and mature and ripen in your life…or are the choices you are making the fruit…or not even the fruit…but the actions of the flesh.
One thing that helps keep us in the right state of mind and helps us remember to develop the fruit of the spirit in our lives is communion. The fruit of the spirit is this love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. I’m going to say them again and I want you to think about as you take communion which one of these characteristics of the fruit of the spirit do you need to develop in your life. Would you listen to them again and as you prepare to take communion and as you take communion would you be in a worshipful and prayerful mindset as you think about which fruit of the spirit you want to choose to work on, because you have the choice, to work on it this week. Which one do you need to work on…and I hope you will choose to pray and seek God and ask him to help you.