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The Memorial Moment is a devotion written every weekday by Pastor Scott Murray of Memorial Lutheran Church and School, Houston Texas. It includes a quotation from a church father, Pastor Murray’s ruminations on that text, a related Bible text, and a prayer. It is read all over the world by more than a thousand subscribers. It will arrive in your email every morning to start your day off right. Click here to subscribe.
Below is today’s Memorial Moment:
Human freedom is a knotty issue. Theological systems are often pigeon-holed as supporting either human freedom or human bondage. Classic Roman Catholic theology seems to champion human freedom, to the degree that it attributes human actions as the cause of salvation. Now, admittedly, in this system God gives the grace to those whose wills have been inclined toward him, and by dribs and drabs the human will turns in greater and greater completeness and sincerity toward God. What makes the difference between the believer and the unbeliever is that the believer was inclined toward the divine heart, even if by a very small motive of his own will. The difference between the two is never in the will of God. Of course, this is an attempt to justify the divine judgment against unbelief. In other words, if people are not themselves the cause of their own belief or unbelief, then how can God’s judgment against unbelief be just?
Classic Calvinism accepts human bondage to the degree that God is the sole cause of salvation. It is presumed that if God is the sole cause of salvation, then those who are damned must be consigned to damnation by the divine will. You can’t have it both ways; if God saves, God must also damn. In this case humans have no freedom whatever; whether they are saved or damned. The question of God’s justice is simply shuttled into the category of mystery; there to languish unanswered until the final judgment makes everything clear. Of course, in a perversion of Calvinistic thinking, those who become convinced that they are unable to affect their salvation one way or the other often fall into recklessly perverse lives. After all, what does it matter?
Could it be that human freedom is much more complex issue than these two relatively common and simplistically consistent systems might let on? God’s will is that all humans should be saved (1Ti 2:4) and our heavenly Father has gone to the extraordinary length of offering His Son into suffering and death for those who have ever been His enemies (Rm 5:10). How unaccountable is the love of God that He has so profligately offered such a precious offering to save those so worthless. His justice is vindicated, not by the worthiness of those whom He saved, nor by the mystery of His choice, but by the shockingly impossible value of the offering. Christ, the Son, as the truly free man, takes up the sins of the world and places Himself under the penalty of the divine wrath. Nothing moves Him to this but His wild and untamable love for us humans, not our relative worth. He frees us without counting either our worth or begrudging His cost. In Him we are truly free. The complexity of freedom in God’s presence cannot be crammed down into a theological system. Freedom is only in Christ.
I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me. O LORD my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O LORD, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit. Sing praises to the LORD, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime.Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.” By your favor, O LORD, you made my mountain stand strong; you hid your face; I was dismayed. To you, O LORD, I cry, and to the Lord I plead for mercy: “What profit is there in my death,if I go down to the pit?Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? Hear, O LORD, and be merciful to me! O LORD, be my helper!” You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever! (ESV)
Do we then by grace make void free will? God forbid! No, rather we establish free will. For even as the law is not made void by faith, so free will is not made void by grace, but is established (Rm 3:31). For neither is the law fulfilled except by free will but by the law is the knowledge of sin, by faith the acquisition of grace against sin, by grace the healing of the soul from the disease of sin, by the health of the soul freedom of will, by free will the love of righteousness, by love of righteousness the accomplishment of the law. Accordingly, as the law is not made void, but is established through faith, since faith procures grace by which the law is fulfilled; so free will is not made void through grace, but is established, since grace cures the will by which righteousness is freely loved.
Now all the stages which I have here connected together in their successive links, have severally their proper voices in the sacred Scriptures. The law says: ‘Thou shalt not covet’ (Ex 20:17). Faith says: ‘Heal me, for I have sinned against you!’ (Ps 41:4). Grace says: ‘See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.’ (Jn 5:14). Health says: ‘O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.’ (Ps 30:2). Free will says: ‘With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you’ (Ps 54:6). Love of righteousness says: ‘The insolent have dug pitfalls for me; they do not live according to your law.’ (Ps 119:85). How is it then that miserable men dare to be proud, either of their free will, before they are freed, or of their own strength, if they have been freed? They do not observe that in the very mention of free will they pronounce the name of liberty. But ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom’ (2Co 3:17). If, therefore, they are the slaves of sin, why do they boast of free will? For by what a man is overcome, to the same is he delivered as a slave (2Pt 2:19). But if they have been freed, why do they vaunt themselves as if it were by their own doing, and boast, as if they had not received? Or are they free in such a way that they do not choose to have Him for their Lord who says to them: ‘Without me you can do nothing’ (Jn 15:5); and ‘If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed’ (Jn 8:36)?
Augustine, On the Spirit and the Letter, 1.52
Free us, Lord Jesus, by the power of Your love, that we might find ways to freely serve others in love. Amen.
For all those who are still laboring to repair hurricane damage along the Gulf Coast, that they might be kept safe in their labors
For President Tom Cedel of Concordia University, Texas, that God would grant success to him in his leadership of the university community
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