Copyright Remy Sheppard 2018 - Theme by ThemeinProgress
I engaged a person on Reddit’s r/AskAChristian over the topic of Libertarian free Will. He (I assume) stated that Christianity is incompatible with Libertarian Free Will, but didn’t see how, if that was true, we could be held responsible for our sin.
Well we both agree that Libertarian Free Will is garbage. This is my response to this person via private message. I offer this as a simple treatment of the will and original sin, and hope it edifies you and answers questions you may have.
The false idea behind Libertarian Free Will is that there is no input on the will, it is always neutral and segregated, acting under its own volition.
If this were true, we would never make decisions at all because there would be no reason to decide. If we came to a fork in the road, we would, if we truly had Libertarian Free Will, make the unseen third choice: To just sit there and die. There would be no reason to choose one road over another, so we wouldn’t.
I like this example because it contrasts the truth against both extremes: That we have a completely free will; or that we’re robots.
The truth is in the middle.
We have free will in that we can freely use our wills to freely choose that which we desire. The problem is what we desire is evil, and we will never freely make a choice against our desires.
Allow me to use a clumsy example: I could kill my wife right now. It’s 7:05 AM here and she is sound asleep. I am perfectly possessed of my faculties and perfectly capable of the act. I could choose, freely, to go get a knife and run it through her. It would not be hard in any sense.
What restrains me from doing this? Is it the consequence? No. Even if there were no consequence I would still decline. It’s my desire. I simply don’t want to kill my wife. Because I don’t want to, I won’t. I will never do anything that I don’t want to do.
This is what makes something like pornography addiction so difficult. In the sober moments you don’t want it, but when your passions are high it’s the only thing you want.
As an aside: The theologian Jonathan Edwards has a marvelous treatment on this subject called The Freedom of The Will – It’s public domain so you could read it for free, though I recommend paying $0.99 for one on Amazon because it’s well formatted.
That evil desire not God’s fault. God made us with what is as close to a libertarian free will as is functionally possible.
God told Adam, “Don’t eat the fruit of this tree.” And that is like… the first shit Adam did. He named some tigers, boned his wife, and then did the one thing he wasn’t allowed to do.
People say, “How could God have created us to do this? How could we have fallen in the first place?”
God created us good, he did not create us perfect. He also did not create us sinful, but rather sin entered the world through Adam.
The late American theologian R. C. Sproul, in his seminal work on the topic Chosen By God, put it like this, “It’s as if I owned a garden, and I hired you to keep and care for my garden. When I show my garden to you, I tell you, ‘I’m going away on business. When I return, I want all the hedges trimmed. But I must warn you: there is a great big ditch on the right side of the garden. If you climb down into that ditch, you won’t be able to climb out, so it’s best to avoid it.’
“I leave on my business and the very first thing you do is walk over to the ditch and say, ‘I bet I could climb out!’ and go ahead and climb down in it. When I return from my business, my hedges still aren’t done. I find you in the ditch and ask why the hedges aren’t done, and you say, ‘How could I have done what you asked? I’ve been trapped in this ditch!’”
In this story it is not the owner of the garden at fault. He warned the worker to avoid the ditch. The worker did, of his own volition, choose to ignore the warning. He was still hired and paid for a job and will still be held accountable for not completing that job.
It is his fault that he didn’t do the job, and it’s his fault that he’s in the ditch.
We can raise a few objections, to be sure, and this isn’t a perfect example but it’s simple to the mind, so I enjoy it. Most commonly we hear, “Why was the ditch there!”, as if the presence of the ditch makes the gardener somehow culpable.
This is silly when you think about it: It’s his garden, he can put in it whatever pleases him to put in it. The Bible tells us that God was pleased with the garden and all he put in it.
To blame him because you fell in the ditch is like blaming your mom for leaving cookies on the counter when she catches you with your hand in the jar. It isn’t her fault. The edict is clear: Don’t eat the cookies.
The real mess, a mess that theologians have struggled with for literally over a thousand years, is the problem of original sin. Original sin is not the first sin Adam committed. Rather, original sin refers to our broken and sinful natures.
We are not sinners because we sin. Rather, we sin because we are sinners. It is in our nature. The issue you will raise at this point, again, is our culpability if it’s in our natures.
But I will say again: We have both choices in front of us, and the ability to freely choose between them. We’re just too stupid to make the right choice.
We really want the cookies in the jar. And regardless of the impact of our desire on our choice, the edict still stands: Don’t take the cookies.
You may see the real problem here, but in case not I’ll lay it out: How are we broken after Adam? Why does his sinful nature transmit to us?
There are a few different answers to this that theologians have proposed over the years.
I believe the answer lies in what we call the federal view of sin, in that Adam in the garden was the perfect representative of every individual in human history and was held as our representative in the legal sense.
We understand this concept in government: We choose representatives to represent our interests in government.
We understand this concept legally: If I hire someone to murder on my behalf, I am held responsible for the murder along with that person because they carried out my interests.
This second one is closer to what happened in the garden, I think: With Adam and I both being judged because he carried out what I ultimately would have also done. He carried out my desire.
Of course, we can then argue the fairness of this because we didn’t choose Adam to represent us. The best answer I can give you is that God is Just, Holy, Righteous, and Perfect. If I had to choose my own representative, or let Him choose, I’d probably let Him choose. He literally knows best.
We can also look at this problem and perhaps untangle it a bit easier if we start not chronologically but soteriologically. That is: Within view of salvation.
If we start at the Cross, at the finished work of Christ, we can see the need for Adam to represent us in sin: If a system of federalism weren’t established as such, Christ could not represent all the believing in his sacrifice. Instead Christ would have to suffer and die for each person who believes, every time they come to him.
But because we know that sin entered the world through one man, so sin can be conquered in the world through one man. So perhaps the reason God chooses to let Adam represent us in a federal manner was so that Christ could do much the same. The precedent had been established.
Regardless of whether the federal view is the most precise, we still know that sin entered the world through Adam. We know that the immediate judgement of God on Adam is that he and his descendants would be mired in that sin.
We still have a will. And the will we have is free. It is not free in the sense that it is liberated from our desire or liberated from input. Our wills are not liberated. It’s like a sports car with a governor on the engine, if I may use another clumsy example.
The car can go 160 mph, but the governor is going to kick in at 85. The governor doesn’t change the capacity or ability of the engine.
Our wills are free in that there are choices before us and we possess through our will the ability to freely choose whichever option is most desirable to us. Our desires are the governor of our wills.
This routes us back to our broken desire, courtesy of Adam. That broken desire is not God’s fault, he didn’t make Adam sin. He doesn’t make you sin. You sin completely on your own. And you are held responsible for your sin.
Your sin is deserving of eternal punishment because your sin is against an Eternal God.
But all of this, my friend, showcases to use the glory and love of the Almighty God. He had no responsibility to save any of us. Indeed, He could have just smote Adam from the Earth and been done with the whole thing.
But He didn’t do that. In fact, the very first thing He did when He found Adam was took mercy on him and made him and his wife clothes.
And just as he’s done for Adam, so he has done for us. He has made clothes out of Christ’s righteousness, that sinners might exchange their filthy rags as it were.
This is the great hope of salvation: I am held accountable to the law, but in my evil state I have no desire to keep it. I am required to worship God and live my life for His glory, but only desire rebellion.
God has every right to destroy me. He brought me into existence for His glory and I’ve done nothing but rebel. Even now we are only sustained to life by his loving kindness towards us, and I still would choose rebellion if I were my own.
But instead of destroying me as I deserve, and as He has every right to, He chose instead to destroy His Son. His Son, who was holy and blameless, and did all I am powerless to do.
His offer is simple: Trade your filthy, sinful rags, for the righteousness of His son. If this makes sense to you, and you feel the call of God, then I urge you to repent of your sin, confess Christ Jesus as your Lord and King, believe God raised Him from the dead, and you will be saved.
You may be bound in your ways, governed by your broken will, but God has made a way. I pray that He gives you the faith to believe and delivers you by His might and power.