The Practical Implications of Free Will

In the follow-up post to "A Beginner's Guide to 'Free Will'," entitled "Six Practical Reasons 'Free Will' Matters," John Piper expounds upon the practicality of Free Will. After all, he states, "It is a great mistake to think that the issues of free will are merely academic, with little practical effect." (link) We are not informed, however, which proffered definition of Free Will Piper is corresponding to in this sequel. But he commences the first practical reason why Free Will matters, stating, Knowledge of God's Love: "To know your spiritual deadness and the miracle that rescued you is to know, as never before, the greatness of God's particular love for you personally." How does this remark relate to Free Will?

Because our Free Will has been destroyed in the Fall, leaving us helpless in a spiritual sense, then this aids the worshiper in properly assessing not only one's own desperate state but also the immense greatness of God's love and power toward the individual. But then we read this statement: "One of the things that makes this love 'great' is that it is not God's general love for everyone, but his special love for you personally." I rejoice in God's love for me personally and in particular. But there is more behind this statement than what Piper is suggesting explicitly: God only loves some people redemptively and those people are those whom He unconditionally elected to regenerate and ultimately save through Christ.

We understand this conclusion from his other writings, notably the more recent article, "Why Can't God Eternally Love Those Who Don't Believe in Him?" Piper continues that train of thought: "We know this because it raises you from the dead and gives you spiritual life and faith." This is Calvinistic code language for "God must first regenerate you if you are to believe in Christ and thus be saved." He then qualifies this: "If you don't know your former deadness and his special gift of resurrection [i.e., that regeneration precedes faith], you don't know the 'greatness' of the love of God." We can suppose, then, that only Calvinists can know "the greatness" of the love of God. This is unfortunate, indeed.

From here Piper naturally follows with the second practical reason why Free Will matters, and it relates to the first, that of Amazement:
If you really see and feel your helplessness and God's deliverance, you will be amazed that you are a Christian. You will be amazed that your heart inclines to the beauty of Christ. You will be amazed at every good resolve, and every impulse to praise, and every good deed. You will be inclined to talk like David in 1 Chronicles 29:14: "Who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly?" Every use of your will to act for God's glory [i.e., every act God decreed for you to perform] is amazing. And it is a wonderful thing to live a life of regular amazement.
I am amazed and astounded that I am a Christian but I did not arrive at this astonishment via the notion that God unconditionally elected to save me and not others. I also arrived at this amazement through the avenue of reflecting upon my wicked life prior to salvation. Only later did I appreciate the love and power of God toward me with regard to my spiritual deadness and personal helplessness. Had God not graciously and mercifully opened my eyes -- my heart -- then I could not have trusted in Christ and been gloriously saved to the uttermost (Heb. 7:25). But be certain of this: I trusted in Christ by the enablement of the Holy Spirit. God did not trust in Christ for me. God enabled me to do that which I could not do for myself. But I trusted in Christ freely, being freed by the Spirit of God to that response, a grace-induced movement of the Holy Spirit that I could have resisted. The Holy Spirit enabled, not regenerated, me to believe in Jesus Christ. I am saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8) and not saved by grace to faith.

This is where the Calvinist and the Arminian part ways biblically and theologically -- and most gladly. I agree with Piper's final four practical reasons why Free Will matters with regard to the love and power of God toward us who are trusting in Christ: Humility, Thankfulness, Patience and Boldness. I also agree with his conclusion regarding the awe-struck wonder of relishing in God's amazing grace. Yes, even Arminians who believe in Freed Will (rather than strictly Free Will -- freed by the enabling power of the Holy Spirit) can and do, with tears streaming down our faces, sing with heart-felt bewilderment:

Amazing Grace -- how sweet the sound;
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found.
Was blind but now I see.

The astounding grace of God toward sinners -- all sinners throughout the world and this sinner in particular -- has caused worshipers like the Arminian hymn-writer Charles Wesley to pen the words:

Amazing Love -- how can it be,
That Thou, my God, should'st die for me?

Again, such is accomplished not by adopting a theory of unconditional election or particular love, nor even by proffering that regeneration must precede faith due to our spiritual deadness and helplessness, but by the sheer magnanimous grace, mercy, and love of our Triune God through Christ Jesus our Lord manifest in the hearts of untold numbers throughout the world and the ages by the ministry of the Holy Spirit. One glance at the Cross of Jesus Christ and the love of God toward undeserving sinners is manifestly obvious.

Without Him I could do nothing.
Without Him I'd surely fail.
Without Him I would be drifting,
Like a ship without a sail.

Loving God, worshiping in the Spirit, and being discipled in Christ is not a competition. None among us should ever even be tempted to compare ourselves to one another. Jesus is our standard. So, we are not to perceive of Arminians as more humble than Calvinists or Calvinists as more intellectual than Arminians. We are one in Christ Jesus -- and we are one by the unifying Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:12, 13). He has made us one in Christ. Be careful of Christian leaders who attempt at making one brand of Christians as better in any sense than other Christians: spiritually, theologically, doxologically or ecclesiologically.

The Arminian can sing the hymns of Luther, as the Calvinist can sing the hymns of Wesley, as the Lutheran can sing the hymns of Isaac Watts. Each believer is being sanctified -- made holy -- by the Holy Spirit according to the will of God the Father: "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son." (Rom. 8:29 NKJV) "For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified." (Heb. 10:14) Yet we share in this responsibility: "Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God." (2 Cor. 7:1 ESV) By the illuminating grace of the Holy Spirit, know personally, intimately and experientially the great love of God in Jesus Christ for you -- weep, rejoice, and simply stand amazed in His presence. But keep your focus on Christ and His Cross and not yourself, your badness, your sin.

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Calvinist R.C. Sproul admits that faith is "something we do. God does not do the believing for us." See Willing to Believe: The Controversy over Free Will (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006), 25.

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ABOUT WILLIAM BIRCH

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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.