John 15:9-11 Study Notes – Getting Joy from Obedience

Here are my study notes from yesterday morning’s lesson.  We spent some time talking about joy in life, and how big of a deal it is that in this section of Scripture Jesus reveals His desire for us to have joy.  That’s a far cry from the stoic detached God we hear about from critics of Christianity!  I hope you enjoy these short notes, and that this week you are challenged to think especially on verse 11.

Blessings,

PJW

 

15:9-10 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.

The Awesomeness Meter…Broken

I think there are basically 6 points to verses 9-14 that need examined.  But first, I can’t move on to look at these general themes without noting something in particular about verse nine – as I was looking at this verse and the whole section I just couldn’t get over Jesus saying that He loves us (note the past tense there as if he’s always loved us) “as the Father has loved me.”

What this ought to tell us is something about the relationship between the Father and the Son, and also something about how much Jesus loves us.  I’m not sure how much it would help to prattle on here about this, because every explanation or description I think of to describe it seems to make it seem trite in comparison with what I know Jesus is describing.

Think of it this way: when God does something, He does it in a BIG way.  Not size-wise, but in terms of awesomeness.  Think of the awesomeness meter being broken!  Okay, now that the picture is in your head, realize that the intensity and depth of His love for the Son is going to match that depth and intensity that the Son has for us.  If that doesn’t blow your mind I might as well quit teaching now!

Its this kind of truth we need to lay as a foundation stone for our understanding of Christian doctrine.  Let me give you an example of why….if someone asks you if you can loose your salvation, or if Jesus is really with you in a trial, or if God is really in control of all the details of your life, or if Jesus really died specifically for you, and so on…you can answer in the affirmative because you have a foundational understanding of how much Jesus loves you.

  • Jesus doesn’t loose any sheep – He’s too powerful and loves you too much
  • Jesus doesn’t abandon you – He loves you too much
  • God the Son is in control of all things and that includes all the details in your life – He loves you too much not to be involved
  • Jesus really did die for you – because He loves you as much as the Father loves Him

I think you probably get the picture!  Paul got the picture also, and that’s why he could write the following:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

The Mark of a Christian

So the first part of verse 9 is foundational, and as we examine verses 9-14 I want to look at the mark of discipleship and what enables us to obey.  Christ is primarily here concerned to show what life in the vine looks like, and to exhort His disciples toward that life which will reflect their relationship with Him.  Just as it was the purpose of ancient Israel to be a light to nations and show forth the glories and joy of living in true relationship with God, so too is it our privilege to be a light to the world and show others what true communion with God looks like.

I want to explore these truths under six headings:

    • Disciples Obey
    • Disciples Obey Because Jesus Obeyed First
    • Disciples Obey and get Joy as a Result
    • Disciples Obey because they love Jesus
    • Disciples Love Jesus Because He First Loved Them
    • Disciples Are Called to Radical Obedience and Love

Notice that there is a sort of ascending or building house of truth here…

Disciples Obey

Jesus says that the result of being united with Him is that we will bear fruit. If you are in the vine then you will bear fruit – so what does that look like? It looks like obedience.

The mark of a true disciple of Christ – a born again believer – is that they will bear the fruit of obedience to the commands of Jesus.

That is why Jesus can confidently assert, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.”  Keeping the commands results from abiding in Christ.

If you are consistently not obeying Christ’s commands, then there is good reason to wonder if you are truly saved and numbered among His sheep. It is a simple fact that those who have been converted become a new creation, and that new creation behaves in ways that are different than those who are not “in” Christ.

Of course the sanctification process is slow – painfully slow sometimes! – but we know that what God began He will be faithful to complete (Phil. 1:6).

Disciples Obey Because Jesus Obeyed First

Note now from verse 10 that Jesus isn’t asking us to do anything that He didn’t first accomplish. He is the “righteous branch” (Jer. 23:5) and is not only our example, but also paved the way for us to be capable of obedience. That’s what Jesus is saying when He says, “Just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”

These are the two truths we must internalize here:

  1. Jesus obeyed first and is our example of how to live in righteousness and truth
  2. Jesus’ obedience means that even when we fail we will still be righteous in the eyes of God

Jesus was just as human as we are, tempted as we are, and yet was without sin (Heb. 4:15; 2 Peter 2:22, 1 John 3:5), and Jesus’ obedience has been imputed to our account (Rom. 4:22-25) in order that we might become “the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

The result of this obedience is not only the ability to obey through the power of the Holy Spirit, but the beautiful truth that when we fail (and we will) we can boldly come before the throne of grace and ask for forgiveness – with the confidence to know it will be forgiven (Hebrews 4).

Therefore, because Christ’s righteous life ransomed us from a life of sin and corruption, which would have resulted in eternal death, we give Him our lives as an offering. We serve, we teach, we follow Christ – we obey.

As Christians we now follow the example of Christ by the power of Christ.  Just as He obeyed through the power of the Spirit, so we too “walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4) and obedience to His commands.

Of Christ’s submission to the Spirit Bruce Ware comments:

Although Jesus was full God, as a man he chose to rely not on his own divine nature but on the power of the Spirit. In this way, he lived his life as an example for us (1 Peter 2:21-22), and fulfilled the perfect obedience that Adam had failed to accomplish…As a man, Jesus submitted fully to the Spirit, even though in terms of rank, within the Trinity, Jesus has authority over the Spirit.

Likewise we Christians are to submit to the power of the Spirit as we follow the example of Jesus. Romans 6:17-18 describes this beautifully:

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:17-18, ESV)

15:11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

Disciples Obey and get Joy as a Result

Just as Christ is our example in obedience and walking in the power of the Spirit, so too is He in receiving joy as a result.  Look at what we read in Hebrews 12:

…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2, ESV)

I think this joy is not only something we experience in heaven, but also here on earth.  There is a joy in obeying your Lord – in serving Him with all of your heart.  This is proven by our own experience, is it not?  We obey Christ’s word and someone benefits by our kindness, or our generosity and it thrills our soul!  In this way the kingdom of heaven’s benefits are made manifest in our hearts even before we see that kingdom consummated upon Christ’s return.

This is what is meant, then, by the psalmist’s exhortation, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Ps. 34:8)

Obedience to God is not drudgery it is joy, and this is so because it is done in love.  That’s why Jesus said above, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.”  Love is the overarching descriptor that Jesus uses to explain the nature of His obedience to the Father and our obedience to Him.  Without love your obedience is a “clanging symbol” (1 Cor. 13:1) and is completely unprofitable.

As we’ve said previously, love for God and others is a mark of being a Christian. As was mentioned in chapter 13:

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35)

Therefore all of this joy springs forth first from a heart that is loving toward others and toward God. Without this love there will be no joy. All of your “righteous” deeds will be like annoying sounds upon the ears of those whom you purport to serve.

A Last Word About This Joy…

There will be sometimes that we obey knowing that it is the right thing to do, and are empowered by God do obey, and yet we don’t experience that joy right away.  It seems like we’re doing something difficult and not something that excites us. But I can only attribute this to our sin nature.

For example, I once told Derek (Stone) that I really didn’t enjoy doing evangelism, but I would sign up to go because I knew it was the right thing to do.  Gradually, I asked for God’s help, and He changed my desires. Am I a gifted evangelist?  No! (I laugh just asking the question!) But boy o boy do I enjoy sharing the gospel when I’m given the opportunity.  What held me back from enjoying evangelism rather than just carrying out my “duty”?  My sin nature.

It is our sin nature that prevents us from being joyful all the time. It is our sin nature that brings millions of Christians to church every Sunday as if it were some perfunctory gathering and not a joyful time of worship.  It is our sin nature that mellows our worship as something mindless and heartless.  It is our sin nature when we think that showing up to church is something special when 90% of our friends are sleeping in.  It is our sin nature that cares more about the style of worship than learning out to worship properly in the first place. It is our sin nature talking after church when we nitpick about the sermon and yet haven’t lifted a finger to serve for months and months.

Don’t be fooled.  You are a sinner, and in this world you will have trouble – and much of that trouble will not be brought on by Satan (as if you’re that important), but by your own sinful self-centeredness.

You will never experience the joy of the Lord if you continue to live in the flesh instead of walking by the Spirit.  Forget yourself and your self-centered schedule and your self-centered dreams, and start reorienting your life around the Son of God. That is my prayer for you this year.

Study Notes for 10-27-13, John 14:15-24

Below are study notes for John 14:15-24

14:15-17 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. [16] And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, [17] even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

“If” You Love Me

Here we see that the prerequisite for obedience to Christ’s commands is a love for Him.  That makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?  I mean, if we are in love with the Lord Jesus, then of course we will want to obey Him!

But the next thing that should come to mind is that we can’t obey the law even if we do love Jesus.  The disciples don’t even get a chance to ask the question, which should be: How are we supposed to follow all of your commands, or even want to do that all of the time? Instead, Jesus anticipates the problem and promises the Holy Spirit to them.  Until now they have had Him as their helper – that is why Jesus says “another” helper.  The first “helper” was Jesus, and the second is the Spirit (later I will explain the term “paraklētos” which is the Greek term translated “helper” here).

If we examine the passage closely, we’ll notice that all the way from verse 15 or so through about verse 26 there is a theme that Jesus develops for the disciples, namely, that the Holy Spirit will come to represent Himself.  Jesus is going away, and He wants to comfort the disciples and prepare them for that absence by explaining not only what they will need to do, but how they are going to do it.

Now the Holy Spirit’s role is obvious from the verses we read here, and what we’ll read below. Here the Spirit is said to help us by causing us to love Christ. You might not see that immediately, but that is the clear implication.  For those who love Christ obey His commands, and because its clear that Jesus knows we need help to obey commands, we must also need help to love Him.  John would write about this in his epistles:

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. (1 John 4:11-13)
 
We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)
 

And so it is that the Spirit is the one who creates in us a love for God. He softens our hearts, and speaks softly to us, explaining the great truths of God’s gospel.  Without His initiative, we would still be dead in our trespasses.

Jesus explains here also that “the world cannot receive Him”, that is to say that on our own we cannot receive the Spirit of God. It isn’t up to us who receives the gift of the Spirit. God is the one who sovereignly chooses who He will to abide with. We’ll address this in more depth in just a moment…

You know Him Already

The last thing Jesus says in these three verses is that the disciples already know the Spirit. This is a mysterious thing.  Pastor Scotty Smith writes:

As Jesus continues instructing his disciples in advance of his ascension we enter the most profound teaching about the Trinity to be found anywhere in the Bible. There is much mystery here, but let us affirm what is clearly in the text. The better we know Jesus, the more Trinitarian we will become. The gospel is the means by which we enter the fellowship, love, and joy shared by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit throughout eternity – a staggering thought indeed.
 

Therefore, we should look closely here at what Jesus is saying and marvel a bit…Jesus can say, “You know him” Because, “he dwells with you and will be in you.” Let’s not miss this, because I think it’s a really important statement. What Jesus is saying is that even though they don’t yet have the Spirit living inside of them, they have been with Jesus, and that is tantamount to knowing the Spirit already. For not only is Jesus filled with the Spirit, but when the Spirit comes it will be as if they have Jesus right there with them – only now instead of having Jesus walking the hills of Judea with them, they will have Him in their hearts.

Why is this important?  Because you have that same Spirit, Christian! You have the Lord Jesus’ Spirit living within you, you are the temple of the living God. His mind, His will, His love for you is embodied in the fact that He sent His Spirit to you.  What I mean by this is that He has a plan and a love for you, and He is working that out through the power and person of the Holy Spirit.

To have the Spirit is to have Jesus, and to have Jesus is to have the Father, as we shall soon see…

This is why it is vital to understand that our God is a triune God, and that He is three persons, each with different roles.

14:18-20 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. [19] Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. [20] In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

First, I want to note that at the end of verse 18 we see here that Jesus says, “I will come to you.” This just further shows what I mention above about how Jesus Himself is coming to us in the form of His Spirit.  They are not one in the same person, rather, they are so alike in their mind and purpose that we cannot tell them apart.  They are on the same mission, and they are both part of the One Godhead. Having the Spirit is tantamount to having Jesus live within us – that is what Jesus is saying here.

The entire idea is tied up together in verse 20, “I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” That is the whole idea!  This is DEEP water we’ve just wandered into.  But what an amazing thing.  Jesus is teaching us something about the Trinity here, and about how role in the Kingdom. He is saying that His bride, that’s us, will be “in Him” and He will be “in us” just as He is “in” the Father. Don’t miss this. Cherish this. This is such profound, such wonderful truth that you can’t forget it.

What are the consequences?  Well I can think of several, but especially one: if we are that close to Christ and that “in” the Trinity, then surely there is nothing (as Paul writes in Romans 8) that can separate us from His love!  In other words, to separate us from the love of Christ would be like separating Jesus from the Father, or the Spirit from Jesus.  It is unthinkable, in fact, it is impossible.

Adoption and Love

Now, secondly, since we have seen and laid the foundation for understanding how Jesus will be with us, and how it is that we will do those greater works (in and because of the Spirit), we see that there is a side-benefit to having Christ go away…we are adopted into His family!

I think that verses 18 and 20 are closely tied to 21 and 15.  What I mean by that is that Jesus is saying that by loving Him, it shows that you are part of His family. Love is a by-product of family membership. Love happens for two reasons: First, because the Spirit has adopted us into the family by regenerating us to everlasting life and enabled us to love as Christ loves, and secondly, because of His work we have a desire to love. So there is His initiating action here, and our obedient response.  Jerry Bridges calls this “dependent responsibility” because not only to re require Him to start us off on the path, but we rely on His help to stay on the path.

So we see here that love is a mark of family membership.  We love because we are adopted!

Lastly, and more particularly to this passage, I want to note how Jesus says, “because I live, you also will live.”  What He means here is to signify the importance of the resurrection. Because we are “in” Him, that means that when He conquered death, when He arose from the grace, when He ascended into heaven, that we, too, arose and are guaranteed heaven.  Why? Because, again, we are “in” Him.  To be “in” the Lord is to be guaranteed all of the promises that He has earned for us.

Listen to how Paul describes the Spirit’s interaction with our spirit in reminding us of this great promised adoption:

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:15-17, ESV)
 

Therefore, because He earned life, we get life. Because He was perfectly righteous, we are made perfectly righteous in the eyes of God. Because He broke the bonds of sin and death, we too have been loosed from sin, and will never taste spiritual death.

Think about the significance that the resurrection now has in your mind and your life. If Jesus never rose from the grave, then all of this is moot (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). We’d still be dead in our sins. But Jesus is here saying (ahead of all of this even occurring, mind you) that when He rises from the dead, we too will walk in “newness of life.”  This is what Paul was saying in Romans 6:

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:4-11)
 

Later Paul adds:

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:9-11, ESV)
 

14:21-24 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” [22] Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” [23] Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. [24] Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.

Here we have once again the reiteration of what Jesus said earlier.  Verse 21 and verse 15 are almost identical. If we love Him we keep His commands.  It harkens us back to the sermon on the mount where Jesus said that those who bare fruit are those who are His.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:15-20)
 

The second thing that Jesus says here is that, “my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”  This is very much like verse 20 when He said, “I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”  The idea here is that not only is Jesus in us, but that the Father is also in us.  This would have been enough to blow the minds of the disciples.

NOTE: this passage, along with others, has been historically used to support to filioque insertion in the Nicene Creed which states that the Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. It is this addition that eventually helped create a schism between the Eastern (Greek) and Western (Latin/Catholic) church (the major historically recognized year of this is 1054, even though the problems and disagreements started well prior to this). 
 

We read earlier how Philip said ‘just show us the Father and that is enough for us Jesus!’  And I explained how the Jews thought of seeking the face of the Lord, and the face of God, and how Aaron’s benediction embodied this idea of being blessed by the revealing of God’s face to us one day. The idea derives from the time when Moses learned that no man can see God and live, but was allowed to view God’s “hindquarters” (in anthropomorphic language).  The idea being that God’s face is so glorious and so bright and resplendent that to view it would be too much for a finite creature to handle – we would die instantly.

Now here we begin to see the sweetness of the revelation we have in NT times. Not only has God sent His Son to us in the incarnation, not only did He die for our sins and impute to us His own righteousness, but He has gone a step further still.  He is going to live within us – His Spirit abiding in us! Meaning, as Jesus says here, that the Father and the Son will essentially be using us as their temple on earth.  They will be manifesting their presence on earth through us!

Have you stopped to consider the ramifications of this? We have become to used to the idea of the immanence of God, that we forget who it is we’re talking about here. We forget so easily in our day that this Being who inhabits the believer is the same one who spoke the universe into existence!

If that doesn’t lend some sobriety to your walk with Christ I don’t know what will.  Because Jesus is reminding us here that if we really love Him, you will pursue Him, you will obey Him, you will understand the reality that the God of heaven and earth has deigned to come down and live – in you!

D.A. Carson is right to mention that, in a very strong way, this passage builds on antecedent passages about the Spirit, the one that I want to mention most particularly is in 4:23-24 where Jesus (speaking to the Samaritan woman) says:

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24, ESV)
 

Oh the sweetness, oh the condescension, oh the love of God in this! Can you not see how crucial this is to understand?  God has sought out those who will worship Him in “spirit and in truth” – He is doing this by putting His Spirit within us. He wants us to know Him properly, and for our minds to do this He must be the first to act.  He must take the initiative, and He must powerfully work within us. As we read earlier:

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. (John 6:63, ESV)
 

Jesus is urging us on here to think DEEPLY about the reality of what is going on here. You must take this seriously and understand the privileges and responsibilities associated with being a Christian. This is a call to loving, awe-filled obedience to your Lord.

Not to the World

Lastly, I didn’t want to skip over what Judas says here because he has a good question. He has heard Jesus say already, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  So if God loved the “world”, why is it that He won’t manifest Himself to the world?

The answer is that while God loves His creation, He has a special and specific plan of redemption for His chosen sheep. We start with the prerequisite understanding that the world cannot receive Him because the world does not want Him.

And contrary to the rejection of Christ, the world will not have a “choice” to accept the Spirit in the same way they saw the incarnate Christ and rejected Him. For the Spirit’s mission, though a continuation of Christ’s, has different objectives, that is to say that Christ is working to accomplish something new through the Spirit (the next phrase of His redemptive plan), namely the quickening of all those whom the Father has predestined to life and the reside within them, fashioning them after His image, and keeping them (preserving them) until the day Jesus Christ returns or we die and join Him in Heaven.

Be sure of one thing: Jesus knows who will believe and who won’t (see John 6:64), and He will not cast pearls before swine. He will not reveal His glory to all. Those who receive the Lord Jesus and the joy of eternal life are those whom He has chosen, those whom His Spirit has softened and called to Himself.  This is, of course, the work of the Spirit. He is the one doing the softening and calling and regenerating.

The world cannot receive the Spirit, not because the Spirit isn’t the one doing the work, not because the Spirit can’t soften the hearts of men. But simply because the Spirit isn’t going to soften the hearts of all men. He isn’t going to be sent to the whole “world”, but rather to those for whom Christ died.

Slavery to Sin and “Free-Will”

In today’s class I touched on the much disputed, but often incorrectly explained, notion of man’s so-called “free-will”.

What I wanted to show today, and what I will demonstrate in this post, is that “free-will” must be correctly defined and understood if we’re going to use the term in a Biblical and accurate manner. Further, the idea itself that “free-will” exists is a bit of a misnomer, and I will seek to give you some logical reasoning for that truth.  Lastly, “free-will” as it relates to our choice of Christ and salvation from bondage is a most abhorrent notion in the general way Christians today think of it. I will show you why its not only abhorrent, but also a logical absurdity.

Free-Will Popularly Defined

First we must understand what we’re talking about, and that means defining our terms.  “Free-will” is often understood to mean our mind/soul/will making choices in complete freedom and liberty, with no previous (“antecedent”) influence or outside influence or internal (spiritual) influence. For brevity sake, let it suffice to say that those who define freedom this way say that our will can be completely neutral or “indifferent” before we make our decisions. That the only thing that affects our decisions is our mind, or emotion, or understanding etc. (pre-supposing an entirely “free” act of the mind upon the will…as if one can be suspended apart from the other without any antecedent motive or influence).

I believe this is a poor definition of “free-will”, but it is what most people think of when they hear the term. They think of the power to make their own choice without reference to any outside/inside agency or coercion.

There’s No Such Thing as a Perfectly “Free” and Unbiased Will

In order for this popular definition of “free-will” to work in reality, our will must first achieve a perfect state of indifference or neutrality before making a decision – before choosing one thing or another. Without laboring the point too much, let me just say that this is a logical impossibility. It is impossible to not have any prior inclination or motive informing our mind/will either internally or externally. In other words, we do not live in a vacuum.

Jonathan Edwards explains, “to make out this scheme of liberty, the indifference must be perfect and absolute; there must be a perfect freedom from all antecedent preponderation of inclination. Because if the will be already inclined  before it exerts its own sovereign power on itself, then its inclination is not wholly owing to itself…For so long as prior inclination possesses the will, and is not removed, the former binds the latter, so that it is utterly impossible that the will should act otherwise than agreeable to it. Surely the will canot act or choose contrary to a remaining prevailing inclination of the will.

Now maybe it is obvious what I am getting at…the idea of a “free-will” (as popularly defined) is really non-existent because of the fact that we always lean on prior information and current desire to form our decision making.  We cannot properly claim for ourselves perfect indifference. In fact, because we are born into a bondage to sin all of our decision making is tainted by our sinful viewpoint and sinful desires. This is why re-birth is so crucial to true sanctification, and why “renewing our minds” has a much deeper meaning than most people perhaps realize.

Our Will is Never at Liberty Until Freed by Christ

Let us now briefly take a step back before looking at what Christ has done for us through regeneration, and remember the that prior to His work we were in a state of complete mental, emotional, and spiritual captivity. A.W. Pink helps us here:

The condition of the natural man is far, far worse than he imagines, and far worse than the average preacher and Sunday school teacher supposes. Man is a fallen creature, totally depraved, with no soundness in him from the sole of his foot even unto the head (Isa. 1:6). He is completely under the dominion of sin (John 8:34), a bond-slave to divers lusts (Titus 3:3), so that he “cannot cease from sin” (2 Pet. 2:14). Moreover, the natural man is thoroughly under the dominion of it. He is taken captive by the Devil at his will (2 Tim. 2:26). He walks according to the Prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience (Eph. 2:2). He fulfills the lusts of his father, the Devil (John 8:44). He is completely dominated by Satan’s power (Col. 1:13). And from this thraldom nothing but the truth of God can deliver.

We’ve also read in our study of John that mankind not only doesn’t desire the good things of God, but actually desires to stay in his sin and darkness (see John 3:19-21).

So when Jesus and Paul say that we are in bondage to sin, they’re saying that in man’s natural fallen state he will always choose sin above the things of God. Read that carefully – he will always “choose” sin above God and righteousness. It isn’t as though we didn’t have the “freedom” to choose. It is that in our “freedom” (or shall I say “bondage”) we chose sin – and we will always choose sin until the work of the Spirit because the things of God were things that we did not desire. The “antecedent” motive that Edwards speaks of, is tainted by sinful desires and information. Not until Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, changed out hearts and brought us into newness of life, did we desire to choose Christ or the things of God.

You can now perhaps begin to see how we can rightfully say that as human beings we are not puppets or robots, but that the way we popularly speak about “free-will” is off-kilter and inaccurate. Our freedom exists, but it is informed by our desires, and we choose the things we desire most. Therefore, prior to Christ, we were truly free only to sin.

Calvin explains, “For so long as we are governed by our sense and by our natural disposition, we are in bondage to sin; but when the Lord regenerates us by his Spirit, he likewise makes us free, so that, loosed from the snares of Satan, we willingly obey righteousness. But regeneration proceeds from faith, and hence it is evident that freedom proceeds from the gospel.”

Edwards further elaborates, “The will, therefore, so long as it is under the influence of an old preponderating inclination, is not at liberty for a new free act; or any, that shall now be an act of self-determination.”

In Conclusion – New Creations in Christ!

This has been a short post, and certainly there is more to be said on this topic, but I wanted to explain the logical absurdity of the idea that somehow, outside of the internal sovereign work of the Spirit and the reading of His Word, we freely choose/chose God and make righteous decisions. First God loved us, then we responded in love toward Him for the irresistible beauty of the offer of eternal life. The blinders were taken off, and we now freely choose what He freely offers.

In order to appreciate this great truth, we must first understand and appreciate what freedom is, what it is not, and just how much freedom we had prior to our being born again. The power of old things (antecedent inclinations and desires) has been broken. In the context of our discussion on the will, Edwards explains this reality, “Therefore, if there be the least degree of antecedent preponderation of the will, it must be perfectly abolished, before the will can be at liberty to determine itself the contrary way.” Thanks be to God that he has “abolished” our old ways (though we still battle the flesh – Rom. 7), and given us His Spirit!

Because we are now new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), and as I explained this morning, we now have freedom to choose not to sin. Our choices always rest upon our strongest inclinations/desires at the moment of choice. If you are not a Christian, that inclination will never be for the things of God (see Romans 1). If you are a Christian, and walking in the Spirit, you will bear the fruit of that Spirit (Jn. 8:31-32), and make choices that reflect the One who is changing those desires within you (2 Cor. 3:18).