Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Everyday is Reformation Day here on this blog!

As James Swan mentioned in a recent post, "But everyday is Reformation Day here on this blog" !; and as how I had never seen this debate before, it was very encouraging to watch and listen to this with it's spiritual truth.  For it reminds of Luther's famous statement at the end of his work, The bondage of the Will, in answering Erasmus' The Freedom of the Will. (cited below)

Debate on the Bondage of the Will - James White vs. Steven Blakemore (Professor at Wesley Biblical Seminary)

Several Old Testament passages were cited by Dr. White that point to the enslaved will of man:

Genesis 6:5 "And the LORD saw that the wickedness of man upon the earth was great; and that every intention of the imagination of his heart was only evil continuously." 

The Hebrew of Genesis 6:5 is very graphic and emphatic.

וַיַּרְא יְהוָה כִּי רַבָּה רָעַת הָאָדָם בָּאָרֶץ וְכָל־יֵצֶר מַחְשְׁבֹת לִבֹּו רַק רַע כָּל־הַיֹּֽום׃

The Farsi translation of Genesis 6:5 is also very graphic and emphatic and captures the depth of depravity of the human heart  - 
و خداوند دید که شرارت انسان بر روی زمین بسیار است، و هر تصور از خیال های دل وی دائماً محض شرارت است

As I teach Iranians (all former Muslims, been doing this in evangelism, discipleship, church ministry, since 1993) the Old Testament, I require them to memorize this key verse on the depravity of man.  It is powerful in its teaching in pointing to the enslaved will of man in sin, as seen by even after the flood, Noah gets drunk and sins (Genesis chapter 9) and even after the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot and his daughters commit serious ugly sins. (Genesis 19) The OT teaches man's depravity in the historical narrative.

It seems Jesus is drawing upon this verse (Genesis 6:5) when He emphasizes the roots of sinful actions come from the heart and the thoughts and imaginations and intentions/motives within the heart - Matthew 5:21-26 (anger and hatred); Matthew 5:27-30 (sexual lustful thoughts and fantasies); Mark 7:20-23 (pride, arrogance, and foolishness are among the sinful attitudes deep in the heart that Mark describes in a much larger list than what Matthew gives us in Matthew 15:19).  The list in Matthew 15:19 is only seven sins, whereas in Mark 7:20-23 there are 13 sins listed.  Don't neglect the gospel according to Mark!  Mark has some very important nuggets of truth that are not in the other 3 more popular gospels.  (For example Mark 1:15 (combining repentance and faith); Mark 9:48 (graphic description of hell) and Mark 11:17 (the emphasis on "the nations"), to cite a few more.)

Jeremiah 13:23  Can the Ethiopian change his skin
Or the leopard his spots?
Then you also can do good
Who are accustomed to doing evil.

The Hebrew word לִמֻּדֵי  (li-mmedai) that is translated "accustomed to" points to something being trained and taught into and learned over a long period of time - so that it is a ingrained habit.  

The Farsi translation of "accustomed" is very strong.  It is the word, "Mo'taad" (معتاد) which is the word that describes drug addition and unbreakable habits.  Our hearts are addicted to sinning.  This translation is very useful in bringing home the truth of the bondage of the will in teaching Iranians who have come to Christ from an Islamic background.  

Jeremiah 17:9  "The heart is deceitful above all else and desperately sick, who can understand it?"  

From the New Testament, I would add Mark 7:20-23 as another very important passage on this issue of sin deep within the heart of mankind.  

Luther to Erasmus:  “I praise and commend you highly for this also, that unlike all the rest you alone have attacked the real issue, the essence of the matter in dispute, and have not wearied me with irrelevancies about the papacy, purgatory, indulgences, and such like trifles (for trifles they are rather than basic issues), with which almost everyone hitherto has gone hunting for me without success. You and you alone have seen the question on which everything hinges, and have aimed at the vital spot; for which I sincerely thank you, since I am only too glad to give as much attention to this subject as time and leisure permit.”  (The Bondage of the Will, 1525; answer to Erasmus' The Freedom of the Will, 1524)
Source: Luther’s Works, 33:294.  See also here in a different translation.
For Luther to call the issues of the papacy, purgatory, and indulgences trifles compared to the bondage of the will and to point out not only the necessity of grace but the sufficiency of Grace in order to be saved, was really saying something major, since Luther wrote a lot of other things against the papacy and indulgences and purgatory!  This shows how important this issue is - "the vital spot".  As others have said, "the main issue of the Reformation" - the sufficiency of grace - that grace alone monergistically causes one to become born again/alive to God and that same grace carries us all the way in justification and perseverance and sanctification until death.  

We see the doctrine of election and justification combined in Romans 8:33-34, and that Christ's intecession for us at the right hand of God keeps us in Him against the accusations of Satan when we sin.  His grace keeps us and the reality of continual repentance and brokeness when we sin proves our faith was real and our justification was God's grace and we are constantly rejoicing in the finished work of Christ for us!  

"Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us."  Romans 8:33-34

Luther was very insightful. He wrote that the issue of the bondage of the will in sin, man’s inability to choose good over evil, without the grace of God, was the main root issue of the Reformation and he thanked Erasmus for focusing in on that.
Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, he who commits sin is the slave of sin.” John 8:34
The root of one act of sin shows that we are slaves to sinning, which speaks to the will within man - the will is enslaved to only do what we want to do, which is to sin.  Even good works are tainted with evil motives of selfishness and pride.  "according to it's lusts and desires"  
John 8:43  "Why do you not understand what I am saying?  It is because you cannot hear My word."    This "cannot" speaks of the inability of the human mind to understand apart from regeneration, which causes the will to be able to then respond in repentance and faith. 
John 8:47  "He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God."    One must be "of God" first, before they are able to hear spiritually in the heart.
Romans 6:22 – “but now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God . . . ”  The will is only freed up to be able to choose rightly after regeneration.  See Romans 6:6-7 - "that we should no longer be slaves to sin"
We do not have free will ability to choose or do good without the grace of God. We do have natural human freedom of choice in that we are free to choose as we want to choose; but the question that gets to the root of that issue even deeper is “what does man naturally want, without the grace of God in regeneration?"

James White's book, The Potter's Freedom, in answering Norman Geisler, and which Geisler has never answered; also shows the relationship of the bondage of man's will with the doctrine of God's total free will. 

Sam Storms' book, Chosen for Life, is probably the best one book I have read on this issue.

See also John Piper's web-site and many books.  search around and there are many sermons and articles on these issues.

Others who also explain these issues well are
John McArthur ("Grace to You") 
R. C. Sproul (Ligonier Ministries)

Other key verses:

Ephesians 2:1-3 - we were dead in our sins.  Verse 4, "But God . . . made us alive . . ." !

John 3:1-8 - The famous passage about being "born again"; by God's Holy Spirit.  See verse 8, we hear the sound of the wind, but do not see it and cannot tell where it comes from and where it is going - it is mysterious in that sense.  It is invisible, unseen.  The new birth, when God converts the soul on the inside, by His Holy Spirit, is mysterious in that we cannot see Him, and we cannot control Him or when or how that work that the Spirit does, comes about.  What we know is that when a person genuinely repents and trusts Christ, and there are results of a changed life and attitudes, that is evidence that God has worked that in their hearts on the inside.

Titus 3:3-5

Ezekiel 36:26-27 - God has to give us a new heart and new spirit.  Only God can take away our rocky and stony hard heart. 

Acts 16:14  "The Lord opened Lydia's heart to respond to the things spoken to her by Paul."  

John 6:44  "No one is able to come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him."

John 6:65  

Romans 8:7-8 - "the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God, for it does not subject itself to the law of God; for it is not even able to do so."  - "not able to do so" -  there is the concept of inability again.  

Dr. White did an excellent job of responding to Dr. Blakemore's seeming attempt to take the debate more away from the bondage of the will to Predestination, Election, the decrees of God, supralapsianism and infralapsarianism, and Particular Atonement. I am always impressed with his keen sharpness and readiness and ability to respond to his opponents in debate.  I appreciated how Dr. White showed the freedom of God's will, the He is sovereign and does what He pleases for His glory, based on His holiness, and that He demonstrates His holiness (Isaiah 6) and wrath against sin (Romans 9:22-24).  God demonstrates the fullness of all His attributes, not only His love.  (Romans 5:8, 1 John 4:8) 

Dr. White's answers to Dr. Blakemore show how the different aspects of Calvinism all relate to each other, and that they are intimately connected.  

The debate is also here, the 6th debate down. 

Indeed, the issue of the bondage of the sinful human will vs. the freedom of the human will is the "vital spot" of the Reformation.  This was the background behind the phrase, Sola Gratia - "by Grace alone"!

1 comment:

PeaceByJesus said...

Related to the Reformation, i came across a blog ( http://theophilogue.com/2009/11/29/the-council-of-trent-myths-misunderstandings-and-misinformation) which reviews part of John W. O’Malley’s article “The Council of Trent: Myths, Misunderstandings, and Misinformation,” in Spirit, Style, Story: Essays Honoring John W. Padburg, S.J. Edited by Thomas Lucas. Jesuit Way Loyola Press: 2002, and wondered if you were familiar with it.

Excerpts of the review spanning 5 pages,

Although Hubert Jedin left few stones unturned when he published the most comprehensive treatment of the Council in 1975 (four volumes long, only two of which were translated into English), “few English-language historians” have taken the time to read through them because “as the little girl said about the book on snakes, [Jedin's work] tells people more about Trent than they could possibly want to know” (206).

For example, it is now clear that “Charles Borromeo, archbishop of Milan (1564-82) and great implementer of Trent, in effect rewrote the decrees by giving them a specificity and sometimes a rigor they originally lacked, and by supplying what he thought the council ought to have done but had failed to do” (206). ”These interpretations were foisted onto the council and became Trent” (206). Because many historians have tended to focus on the implementations of the councils decrees rather than the council itself, “this new scholarship, for all its merits, has contributed to the tradition of ignorance and misunderstanding of the council itself” (206).

..within the theological framework in which it formulated its decree, the council was resoundingly anti-Pelagian” (211). “The council interpreted Luther, however, as denying any human part in justification, as altogether eliminating human responsibility—relying on ‘grace alone.’ Anti-Pelagian though the council was, it also taught that in some mysterious way, human beings played a role in their own justification. Indeed they somehow ‘cooperated’ in it, though grace always held primacy” (211).

...“Most of the bishops who assembled at Trent in 1545 had never read a word Luther wrote and knew only through hearsay what he supposedly had taught. Most of the theologians they called on to assist them knew little more” (210). The exceptions to this are: Girolamo Seripando (prior general of the Augustinian order) and Cardinal Reginald Pole....

Only after a long “stand-still,” the suspension of all sessions, and the new appointment of Giovanni Morone as a papal legate (“who had recently been released from the papal prison”) was there significant progress made on reform (214). ...“Trent did not define the prerogatives of the papacy because, had it been able to do so, it would have in some measure tried to restrict them. This is another aspect of the Council of Trent that is little known or appreciated” (216).

...“By the seventeenth century Rome had for the most part established itself as the effective interpreter of the council and, in responding to various pressures of the era, more and more presented the council as a systematic, complete, and exhaustive response to every problem. From Rome itself, therefore, sprang the myth still prevalent today that ‘Trent’ was comprehensive in its scope and exhaustively detailed in all its provisions” (223). Giuseppe Alberigo said: “Under the aegis of the council, Catholic theology in the post-Tridentine era closed a great number of open questions, which at Trent were indeed recognized as such. The effect was to put a blight on theological pluralism and to promote a false identification of the certainties of faith with theological intransigence” (223).