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Volume 14, Issue 6: Stauron

The Embrace of Grace

Gary Hagen

What did the nation of Israel do to "deserve" four hundred years of servitude in Egypt? In one sense—absolutely nothing. It was for the glory of God that a nation born as slaves conquered the world's reigning superpower. The fear of Israel preceded them into the Promised Land because of their God.

Israel reaped "natural consequences" in a fallen world. They received nothing less than their fallen state deserved. They were not innocent. So in our lives.
The man of John 9 was born blind, not as a judgment on him, but to display God's work. Yet the blind man was not "innocent." John 9: 40-41 shows that Jesus used the man's bondage in blindness to teach a spiritual truth.
But in both cases, those who were bound were powerless to help themselves. They needed a deliverer. They did not have free will to extract themselves from their chains.
Now consider Hawaii. This lovely island chain has the unique distinction of being the most isolated spot on the globe—over 2,000 miles of water separate these balmy shores from anywhere. The islands are volcanic in origin. So how did the first Hawaiians arrive? Presumably not by 747.
Imagine for a moment what would have happened had the answer been a group of Polynesian Cub Scouts out for a three-hour (outrigger) tour, despite father's warning of a red morning sky. A storm comes up and blows the hapless waifs clear to a new land—Hawaii.
Mango, papaya and coconuts abound; they do lunch. But a Norwegian cruise liner headed back Polynesia way is a few thousand years from getting onto a drawing board. Since the Cubbies didn't achieve their Magellan patches yet, the question becomes—do they have free will to return to home? They haven't a clue even which direction to launch out, much less how to rebuild that battered outrigger. Their exile from their original state and that of their descendants is without the free will to return.
Augustine discovered a lot of things. Hawaii wasn't one. But Augustine does argue a case for man's free will. Yet it is a case far different than that which most evangelicals put forward today. Augustine points out that man had free will in the beginning. But through an evil use of his free will, he broke away from the wholesome bondage to his Creator's laws.1
In the evil use of that original free will, Adam not only set himself and his heirs on the road to physical death, but he also committed spiritual suicide. His disobedience also resulted in the death of his free will in the way most understand the term today. Sin conquered man, and we became helpless bond-slaves to sin (2 Pet. 2:19). No free-will remained except the free will to serve sin (Rom. 6:20). Augustine likened it to a man who killed himself and afterward was clearly powerless to restore himself to life.2
Man is not free to serve righteousness (Rom. 6:19) unless he is first set free from his bondage. Only the Son of God can set us free indeed (John 8:36). We are set free from our bondage to sin by His grace, through faith (Eph. 2:8).
Not only is that freedom from sin granted by grace, but so is the faith that receives this freedom. His grace creates in us a new heart, capable once more of freely choosing righteousness (Rom. 6:19). Yet this state does not apply to unregenerate man, contrary to what many inside the Church claim today. Augustine expounds on Philippians 2:13, "For it is God which worketh in you, both to will and to do of His own good pleasure," and on Romans 9:16, "So, then, it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy."3
But many today prefer at least a symbiotic approach to deliverance from sin. That is, there must be both the general mercy of God and the will of the specific man. They hold that the will of man is the sine qua non. But such a view says that the grace of God is not sufficient if the will of man is absent. As Augustine pointed out, they might as well rewrite the Scripture to read, "It is not of God that showeth mercy, but of man that willeth," because the mercy of God by itself does not suffice. In Augustine's day, no Christian would dare to claim that. Unfortunately, Christians today brazenly contradict Paul's teaching in droves.
Usually the problem begins in our pulpits. The gospel message is often needs-centered, not sin-focused. Yet Luke 24:47 records Christ's words in the Great Commission—that "repentance and remission of sins" should be preached in His name. When we stray from that Commission, we invent another. Instead of repentance, we swap in choice, free will.
Ephesians 2:8-9 shows that both the grace and faith necessary for salvation come not from ourselves, but as gifts from God. But Scripture also teaches the same thing about repentance (Acts 5:31; 11:18). God calls us to repentance and also gives the faith to respond to His call.
Error does not grow alone. It travels in pairs, or in trios and more. And so the error of free will is compounded with its logical corollary, that Jesus died for all men—not only for elect sinners. Yet when God works faith and repentance in a believer by the Holy Spirit, it is because—as Turrettin pointed out—the gift of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit are inseparable. "The Son is not given to acquire salvation for any others than those to whom the Spirit was given to apply the salvation procured."4Christ inherits all nations, not every man (Ps. 82:8 cf. Jn. 17:9,20).

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