God’s Ways and Our Ways

”For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9

I have yet to find a loving parent who would present to a child a choice between two alternatives, one of which would be extremely harmful (life terminating). Yet that is exactly what God did in presenting to Adam a choice concerning the fruit of a certain tree – ‘eat that fruit and die!’ (Gen 2:17). A wrong decision would result in physical and spiritual death, the former eventually and the latter immediately.

Concerning ‘how’ men are saved and find eternal life we come up with and love the notion that salvation ‘depends’ on human decision, as if God sent His Son to die to only to make salvation possible, when to consider such a thing, for human parents, would be entirely loathsome if not unimaginable. I actually asked a man recently if he, as a parent, would kill his child to make something, anything, merely possible and he glibly answered, “Of course not, but God did!

Concerning repentance for sin and belief unto salvation, some of us are fond of saying that God would never command us to do what we, in our own strength, are unable to do (Mark 1:14-15). I have yet however, to find any human parents who has not done exactly that, in order to demonstrate to a child, that child’s utter dependence upon them.

It seems that when it suits us, we let God be God, but when we would rather He be like us, we say He is like us. Why do we do that?

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” – Eph 2:8-9

The best I can come up with is that we think we must understand a great mystery, or we just love to boast. It would do me well to remember Abraham’s words when, while bargaining for Sodom, he said:

“Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes.” – Gen 18:27

Living in Denial

“The only reason the atheist has for ‘wanting’ to believe that God doesn’t exist is that he hates him.”

Author Anonymous

The reason the atheist can only ‘want’ to believe that God doesn’t exist is that he knows otherwise. The atheist’s hatred for God is evident from his many railings, if not directly against God, against God’s people. The wise atheist is never caught railing against God, for he would look extremely foolish railing against that which he says does not exist. His wisdom is on a very short leash however, because he is given away by his railings against God’s people.

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”  – Romans 1:18-20

“For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” – Romans 8:7

The heathen rage because they desperately want to believe there is no God, however they know He exists, and He speaks of them as objects of His wrath and under condemnation for their unbelief. Men can only ‘not’  believe in Him, they cannot deny Him.

Whosoever Will May Come

 “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely. – Rev 22:17 (KJV)

That must be one of the favorite verses of evangelical Christians. We use it a lot, with special emphasis on “whosoever”, as if anyone and everyone can or is able, to actually come to Christ. It’s a great thought, but it is it true according to what we are given in Scripture? Perhaps a separate question would be helpful here. “Just who CAN come Christ?

Who can hear? Who thirsts for Christ? Who desires Christ?

CANNOT/WILL NOT

 “No one understands; no one seeks for God.” – Rom 3:11 (Those who don’t seek.)

“For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” – Rom 8:7 (The carnally/fleshly minded.)

“And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” – 2 Cor 4:3-4 (The blind man wearing a veil.)

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. – Eph 2:1-3 (The dead man – deserving only of God’s wrath.)

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. – John 6:44 (The one not drawn to Christ by the Father.)

“And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” – John 6:65 (The one not granted to come by the Father)

“Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock.” – John 10:25-26 (Those who are not His sheep.)

CAN/WILL

 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” – Matt 7:7 (The true seeker.)

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” – John 6:37 (Those the Father gives the Son)

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. – John 6:44 (The one drawn by the Father to the Son)

“And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” – John 6:65 (The one to whom it is granted by the Father.)

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” John 27-28 (His sheep.)

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved—Eph 2:4-5 (Those made alive by God)

“And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” – Acts 13:48 (Those appointed to eternal life.)

“One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” – Act 16:14 (The one whose heart has been opened to hear and receive the gospel.)

“..even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, Eph 1:4-5 (Those chosen and predestined by God for adoption.)

“But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.” – 2Th 2:13 (Those chosen for salvation.)

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father…” – 1 Pet 1:1-2a (The elect according to the foreknowledge of God.)

Those are but a few of the passages of scripture that address the question “Who CAN come to Christ.?” They say what they say, and ought to be solid food for thought for all of us who name The Name of Christ.. Perhaps we will be more urgent in praying that God will call men and women to Christ, and that He will open hearts; enabling those to whom we witness to Come!

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Except where noted, all Scripture passages are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV)

"All you need is a personal relationship with Jesus!"

Picture this conversation between a couple of guys, perhaps friends at work, or school, during a lunch break. One is a Christian (Eager ‘Evangelist’) looking for an opportunity to share Jesus. The other guy is a known nonbeliever (Lost Soul) who has been going through some tough ‘stuff of life’ – marriage in trouble or girlfriend dumped him, having problems paying bills, maybe he even was on the wrong end of an IRS audit, whatever. The list could go on and on. The poor guy is almost in tears and the moment is ripe for our eager ‘evangelist’

Eager ‘Evangelist’: “All you really need is a  personal relationship with Jesus, and everything work out OK!”

Lost Soul: “Really? I just need a personal relationship with Jesus and all my problems in life can be solved? What do you mean?”

Eager ‘Evangelist’: “Just that God loves YOU, and has a really great plan for YOUR life!”

Lost Soul: “He does? Wow!!!!!!! I love ME too!!!!!!” “I had a plan, but man, it’s totally on the skids! Are you telling me God has a better plan for my life?”

Eager ‘Evangelist’: “You’ve got it!!!!! He wants fix ALL the broken stuff, and for you to live abundantly in every area of your life!”

Lost Soul: “Way Kewl!!!! How do I get this relationship?”

Eager ‘Evangelist’: “Just repeat after me. . .”

Lost Soul: . . .repeating with sincerity the little prayer. . .

Eager ‘Evangelist’: “Congratulations! You’re SAVED!”

Well, I could have reversed the roles there, because that’s a been there done that moment. Is there truth in that? Yes, but not the whole truth of the matter. Something has been left out. I used to leave it out, and it’s left out of countless ‘gospel’ presentations every day. I might have even used the rest of the popular ‘evangelistic tool’, but the central focus was on point #1, paraphrased in the above title.

Perhaps the tool isn’t used as much these days, but the central focus of most evangelism these days is the personal relationship with Jesus that is lacking in everyone outside of Christ. While it’s true that a saving personal relationship  with Jesus is lacking, is it true that everyone outside of Christ has no personal relationship, as we so readily communicate in our witnessing?

Would Jesus agree with that assessment – that those who have not believed in Him have no relationship with Him? Let’s see.

“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” – John 3:18

We love to share a verse a couple of verses before this one, as well as those after, but how we love to omit this one in our presentations! If we know that Jesus is the judge, and I hope we all do, since that’s what the Bible tells us, everyone outside of Christ because of unbelief (everybody who does not believe), has a very personal relationship with Jesus

So much for Jesus’ opinion of personal relationships, what did the great Apostle Paul have to say of the matter?

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” – Eph 2:1-3 (Emphasis mine)

If you missed what Paul told the Ephesian Christians, he told them that before they were the recipients of God’s saving grace through faith in Christ, they were by nature objects of God’s wrath, like the rest of mankind. I don’t think it can be any clearer than that, my friend.

To this old guy, it seems evident that every everyone, absolutely every person of the planet, lives within the framework of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ – we either live under ‘wrath’ or under ‘grace’.

Think about it and evaluate your ‘evangelism’. I’ve had to evaluate mine.

Man’s Will and God’s Will – Horatius Bonar

“Cannot I do with you as the potter? saith the Lord. Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in my hand, O house of Israel.” – Jer. 18:6.

“I do not deny that in conversion man himself wills. In everything that he does, thinks, feels, he of necessity wills. In believing he wills; in repenting he wills; in turning from his evil ways he wills. All this is true. The opposite is both untrue and absurd. But while fully admitting this, there is another question behind it of great interest and movement. Are these movements of man’s will towards good the effects of the forthputting of God’s will? Is man willing, because he has made himself so, or because God has made him so? Does he become willing entirely by an act of his own will, or by chance, or by moral suasion, or because acted on by created causes and influences from without?

I answer unhesitatingly, he becomes willing, because another and a superior will, even that of God, has come into contact with his, altering its nature and its bent. This new bent is the result of a change produced upon it by Him who alone, of all beings, has the right, without control, to say, in regard to all events and changes, “I will”. The man’s will has followed the movement of the Divine will. God has made him willing. God’s will is first in the movement, not second. Even a holy and perfect will depends for guidance upon the will of God. Even when renewed it still follows, it does not lead. Much more an unholy will, for its bent must be first changed; and how can this be, if God is not to interpose His hand and power? ”

Horatius Bonar (1808-1889), Scottish minister and hymn writer.

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Above excerpted from the larger work by the same title, which can be read here.

Free Agency & Free Will – What’s the Difference?

What’s the Difference?

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9

Definitions are important, especially when discussing the topic of human free will. Huge difficulties arise if two people engaged in the discussion bring to that discussion different definitions of the very topic under consideration. We know this from experience. Therefore let us define two aspects of the human condition; free ‘agency’ and what we call free ‘will’, with an eye to Scripture. J. I. Packer, provides us some excellent insight.

“Clear thought about the fallen human condition requires a distinction between what for the past two centuries has been called free agency and what since the start of Christianity has been called free will. Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and others spoke of free will in two senses, the first trivial, the second important; but this was confusing, and it is better always to use free agency for their first sense.”

Free Agency

“Free agency is a general mark of all human beings as such. All humans are free agents in the sense that they make their own decisions as to what they will do, choosing as they please in the light of their sense of right and wrong and the inclinations they feel. Thus they are moral agents, answerable to God and each other for their voluntary choices. So was Adam, both before and after he sinned; so are we now, and so are the glorified saints who are confirmed in grace in such a sense that they no longer have it in them to sin. Inability to sin will be one of the delights and glories of heaven, but it will not terminate anyone’s humanness; glorified saints will still make choices in accordance with their nature, and those choices will not be any the less the product of human free agency just because they will always be good and right.”

Key to Packer’s definition of free agency is that humans choose based on their sense of right and wrong and their own inclinations. In short, we are free to choose whatever pleases us. Jonathan Edwards, in the 18th century work, The Freedom of the Will, similarly defined the human condition. The question then becomes, “What is a person ‘pleased’ to do?”. To answer that, we look to Scripture.

Free Will

“Free will, however, has been defined by Christian teachers from the second century on as the ability to choose all the moral options that a situation offers, and Augustine affirmed against Pelagius and most of the Greek Fathers that original sin has robbed us of free will in this sense. We have no natural ability to discern and choose God’s way because we have no natural inclination Godward; our hearts are in bondage to sin, and only the grace of regeneration can free us from that slavery. This, for substance, was what Paul taught in Romans 6:16-23; only the freed will (Paul says, the freed person) freely and heartily chooses righteousness. A permanent love of righteousness—that is, an inclination of heart to the way of living that pleases God—is one aspect of the freedom that Christ gives (John 8:34-36; Gal. 5:1, 13).”

Are we as human beings, marred by the fall, pleased to do what pleases God? Many, if not most Christians these days use the term free will meaning that we are able, on our own, to freely choose or reject Christ based on analyzing the options, exactly as Adam and Eve could before the fall of man. Although the majority of believers seem to believe that, or something really close to that (Pelagianism or semi-Pelagianism), does it make it true? Does the majority determine what is truth, or does scripture? Summarizing his thoughts concerning the human will and free agency, Packer offers:

“It is worth observing that will is an abstraction. My will is not a part of me which I choose to move or not to move, like my hand or my foot; it is precisely me choosing to act and then going into action. The truth about free agency, and about Christ freeing sin’s slave from sin’s dominion, can be expressed more clearly if the word will is dropped and each person says: I am the morally responsible free agency; I am the slave of sin whom Christ must liberate; I am the fallen being who only have it in me to choose against God till God renews my heart.”

Food for thought on a Saturday morning.

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J.I. Packer’ quotes are from the books Concise Theology; A Guide to Historic Beliefs

What did Jesus Say About End Times?

Christians have always been curious about the End Times. It’s part of our nature to be curious about such things. Even Jesus’ closest followers asked about the end of the age:

Mat 24:3  As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?”

Mar 13:3-4  And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?”

Luk 21:7  And they asked him, “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?”

What is significant to note is the context around the disciples’ question. What is stated clearly in the Matthew account and inescapable in all three parallel accounts is that the question is asked in the context of the second coming of Christ. All of the accounts end with “then they will see the Son of Man coming”, followed by the gathering of ‘the elect’.

Mat 24:30-31  Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

Mar 13:10  And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations.

Mar 13:26  And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

Mar 13:32  “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come.

Luk 21:13  This will be your opportunity to bear witness.

Luk 21:19  By your endurance you will gain your lives.

Luk 21:27  And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.

More importantly than ‘when’ are our actions and attitude. As believers we are not to speculate:

“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

We are not to be alarmed by the ‘events’ of the end times, whether they be personal persecution, drastic weather/natural phenomena, or warring nations. We are to endure by God’s power and we will be ‘gathered together’ with Christ – the ‘salvation’ spoken of in these passages.

Mat 24:6  See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.

Mat 24:13  But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

Luk 21:13  This will be your opportunity to bear witness.

Luk 21:19  By your endurance you will gain your lives.

We are to ‘bear witness’. Of what? the gospel:

Mar 13:10  And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations.

How can we summarize Jesus’ teachings about the end times?

  • They began before the destruction of Jerusalem, which is specific to the above passages of scripture, and will end at the Second Coming of Christ.
  • A lot of ‘bad stuff’ (according to us and not necessarily to God) will happen between the beginning of the end times and Christ’s coming.
  • Some of that ‘bad stuff’ will happen to followers of Christ, but we are to continue to spread the gospel of Christ to ‘all nations’, meaning those in our areas of influence as well as the nations of the world.
  • All of God’s elect will be gathered together with Christ – our ‘final’ redemption to God’s great Glory.

While Jesus does does provide a lot of detail concerning the ‘signs’, he forbids speculation about the ‘when’. Rather, he tells his closest followers (and us) to endure while spreading the gospel of Christ, confident of His Second Coming and the hope of our final redemption and glorification.  What should the apparent escalation of ‘stuff’ we see do to our thinking and attitudes?

This old soldier thinks it should cause within us an even greater urgency to spread the gospel of Christ!

Key Problems with Understanding Free Will – Problem 2

Defining Free Will

So what do we mean by free will?

Free will is defined as the power of making free choices unconstrained by external agencies or coercion; the ability to determine one’s own fate or course of action without compulsion, also referred to as self-determination.

Jonathan Edwards defined an act of the will:

“The faculty of the will is that faculty or power, or principle of minds, by which it is capable of choosing: an act of the will is the same as an act of choosing or choice.”

Edward’s major premise is this:

“A man never, in any instance, wills any thing contrary to his desires, or desires any thing contrary to his will.”

What a man desires is determined by his nature. He can do anything he pleases, but what he pleases is always determined by his nature. Edwards considered the notion that man is capable of ‘uncaused’ acts of the will absurd. Edwards concludes, “Thus, this … notion of liberty of the will, consisting in the will’s self-determination, is repugnant to itself, and shouts itself wholly out of the world.”

Bob DeWaay provides this summary:

“Those who assert absolute self-determining freedom of the will have serious problems. Dependent human beings, coming into the world with their own desires and inclinations, will not choose contrary to their own natures. For example, a person who utterly loathes beef liver (for whatever reason) will not choose to eat it. Whatever it is about that person’s nature that makes him hate liver, also causes him to choose not to eat it. The human will does not show up out of nowhere, uncaused, sovereign (to use Finney’s term for it) and fully capable of self-determination. Whatever makes a person the way he is causes him to choose as he does.”

So what’s the bottom line? How ‘free’ is the human will? Human Is it completely free and self-determined, or it is constrained by the ‘nature’ of a man. Contrary to what most people think, free will is not specifically spoken of outside of the context of Jewish law and offerings made after the obligatory offerings requirements were met. Does a command to ‘choose’  necessitate the ability to choose ?

“Free” will is not as easy a topic to discuss as we like to think. We need to be asking, “What is in the nature of a man?” and take it from there. Now that subject the Bible does specifically address!

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Key Problems with Understanding Free Will – Problem 1

Two Definitions

Here are two alternative definitions of free will. The first is the typical definition demanded by Arminians (those who believe that a free will choice to believe brings about salvation): “The ability to choose between options, either of which could be actualized by the act of choosing.” The second definition was proposed by Jonathan Edwards: “The ability to choose as one pleases.” I will explain these in the pages that follow and defend the second one. In so doing I will discuss several problems that arise in seeking to understand free will.

The Bible Does Not Directly Address Free Will

Free will is assumed from passages that teach human responsibility.

Free will is never directly addressed in the Bible. Even in passages where prophets and others asked God why He allowed so much evil to harm the innocent, it was not discussed. The answer was never that God was committed to the principle of free will and determined that allowing evil was a necessary by-product of free will. The will of humans is discussed in the Bible and the New Testament has a Greek word for it, but its relative freedom of choice is not directly discussed. To derive our understanding we have to go by implications from other Scriptures.

The bible clearly teaches that humans are responsible, and the ‘free will’ assumption is that, if we are responsible, we must have free choice in the matter.  However, if we say that in order for a person to be responsible, that person must be perfectly able to make correct choices to obey God—it is the same as rejecting the teaching of the Bible. The Bible teaches that humans are both responsible for their sin and in bondage to their sin. It teaches that God’s grace is necessary to deliver us from sin. If man were free to perfectly choose obedience, then someone other than Christ could have lived a sinless life and escape judgment based on human merit. That idea denies Paul’s teaching in Romans 3:9-18. Also, Paul teaches in Galatians 3 that the command to obey all of the Law or be cursed proves that those who are under the Law are cursed. Logically, if people had the ability to obey the Law perfectly, then it would not follow that being under the Law insured that they would be cursed. But Paul said that it did. This provides a fatal counterexample to any universal claim that responsibility implies ability.

Most free will theology is based on philosophical considerations that are imported to the discussion from outside the Bible. Since the Bible does not directly discuss the meaning of “free will,” the concept must be derived from passages about human bondage to sin and human responsibility and culpability before the Law of God.

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Above adapted from Critical Issues Commentary, Issue 92 – January / February 2006

Human Will and Choosing to Obey God

How “freely do men choose to obey God?

Consider these three basic positions on the will of man in relationship to ability to choose to obey God:

  1. Famous 19th century evangelist Charles Finney taught that humans are fully able to obey God without any special work of grace. The mere presence of a command from God, they say, requires the reality of free will ability to comply. that position, called Pelagianism, actually goes all the way back to the 5th century and an ascetic named Pelagius, who denied the doctrine of original sin as developed by Augustine of Hippo, and was declared a heretic by the Council of Carthage.
  2. Semi-Pelagianism teach that without prevenient grace, man would not be able to respond freely to the call to believe; but that God has already provided such grace to all humans. “Prevenient” is an old English term that means “to go before.” The semi-Pelagian view is also “synergistic”—meaning that salvation and sanctification are a cooperative effort between God and man.
  3. Luther and the other reformers taught the bondage of the will. This position, anathematized by Rome in several canons on justification, was that all fallen sinners are in bondage to their own sin so much so that they will not submit to God without a prior sovereign work of God’s grace. This became the Reformation doctrine of “grace alone,” also called “monergism.” By this thinking salvation is an act of God alone.

This Topic is Complex

This a complex topic because the relative freedom or bondage of the will is different for different types of people addressed in the Bible. Adam and Eve were certainly created by God with a level of freedom of will – they had the ability to choose based on the nature God gave them. The Fall impacted that freedom of the will, and the human will of every human being born thereafter. Therefore the freedom of will, or lack thereof, is different for people born with a sin nature after the Fall.

Also, the relative freedom of will experienced by a regenerate person differs from an unregenerate sinner. A person cannot believe in and trust in Christ for salvation without an effect on human will and its freedom to obey God.

Furthermore, consider the uniqueness of freedom for the redeemed in heaven. Clearly these differences are important to any discussion of the freedom or bondage of the will as the case may be. Whatever definition of free will we defend should account for these cases.

Further posts will discuss problems inherent to the understanding of free will.

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Adapted from Critical Issues Commentary, Issue 92 – January / February 2006