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Christian Biblical Studies
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At the beginning of human history, the mind of Man received its first spark of intelligence from the Divine Creator and he was endowed with free will. A subordinate ‘king’ on earth, made in the image and likeness of the heavenly King, Adam’s choice to disobey his Maker demonstrated the hazards attached to personal autonomy. In consequence, he precipitated the fall into sin and death, the dire effects which we all now experience in the troubles and sorrows of the present life.
Nonetheless, the introduction of free will was a master stroke on the part of the Creator. It brought into being a decision-maker, responsible for its own actions, notwithstanding the risk that things might go wrong and result in chaos.
But God’s overall sovereignty is never outdistanced by chaos. Omniscience permits what Omnipotence need not control. This is celestial Genius on display to those who care to study it. And the random, multi-stranded, complex littering of human experiences across the amphitheatre of history will in due time reveal the beneficial results for the entire human family. This doctrine of the ‘permission of evil’ is fundamental to the understanding of the Divine Plan of the Ages.
There has always been tension between human autonomy and Divine sovereignty. The exercise of our own free will bumps up against certain limits, for we are by nature subject to the Creator and the final analysis may not do whatever we want to do. Historic movements towards national independence often triggered corresponding domestic agitation for social and political liberties — freedom from religious persecution, unlawful restraint and imprisonment, electoral suffrage, and so on. In the modern world, the gains were earliest and most far-reaching in western (Christian) nations, but we are now in an era of personal autonomy and eager to throw off the old restraints of self-control and restrictions on our behaviour.
Looking at this from the personal point of view, if we choose to follow Christ we cannot allow our own will and preferences to control us. We cannot serve two masters simultaneously: the flesh and the spirit. The Me – our former identity – is strong, and old bad habits are difficult to break. But as a committed Christian, all that one thinks, says, and does must henceforth be subject to the standards and requirements which Christ represents. ‘Take my yoke upon you and learn from me’ says He (Matt. 11: 29).
The attitude of consecration unashamedly declares, ‘Not my will, but Yours’. And so we break down the boundaries of Selfishness and Worldliness in order to let Him in. Our aims and ambitions are no longer our own. And though we may often chafe at the restrictions of Christian living, where else can we go? Who else can forgive and cleanse us but Christ, the anointed King and our Saviour?
The Calvinistic notion of ʻtotal depravityʼ is correct only insofar as it asserts there is no aspect of the human condition left undamaged by the Adamic curse. We retain the ability to make choices, but we cannot recommend ourselves to God or win salvation by the inventiveness of our own imagination, our own works, or by our own merit. Even our cherished free will is pinched upon on by the perverse tendencies of our fallen nature, scuttling our best intentions. As St. Paul puts it — ʻI have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it outʼ (Rom. 7: 18). But being justified by faith, we can sing,
Not my own, but saved by Jesus,
Who redeemed me by His blood,
Gladly I accept the message,
I belong to Christ the Lord.
— Whittle-Nathan, McGranahan (1878)
Lacking faith, most people will never understand the power and goodness of God until they come to witness it first-hand in the future Kingdom of Christ, who will then be their Judge and King. Christ will function as the all-powerful representative of God in the earth. Intended to restore and not to destroy, His Kingdom will raise all mankind from the ‘sleep’ of death and bring the race under a benign regime of discipline, education, and heart-reformation, to the end that all will learn to appreciate the Heavenly Father and to love and honour Christ the Saviour who died for them, submitting willingly to His influence. See Phil. 2: 9-11).
Then the end will come, when [Christ] hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For [Christ] must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For [God] ‘has put everything under [Christ’s] feet’. Now when it says that ‘everything’ has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When [Christ] has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.
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