Death, Zombies and Free Will
Dead in Transgressions, Alive in Christ
Our Current State
Evangelical Christianity today continues to make it’s way back to Pelagianism, or the belief that man is inherently good. People are being taught that we have the ability to fulfill the law by exercising our own free will apart from the grace of God. This teaching fails to understand our nature and denies the doctrine of original sin. God created Adam without sin, and in the garden in what is commonly called The Covenant of Works, God told Adam so long as he was obedient, he wouldn’t see death. That deal was broken and death and sin entered the world as a result. The Bible teaches us that we are now sinners by nature (Psalm 51:5), that we are sinners by choice (Eph. 2:3), and that none of us are immune: “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.” (Rom. 5:12) So not only has sin entered the world through Adam, but it has been passed down from generation to generation, (this is why Jesus was born of a virgin), and the effect is the total corruption of our mind, body, and spirit. Romans 3:10-12 says, “There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one.” We are born in to sin with a natural inclination to do wrong.
Despite clear biblical teaching that man’s heart is wicked (Jer 17:9) and that we are now dead in our sins, (Gen 3:6, Gen 2:16-17, Rom 5:12-21, Rom 3:23, Eph 2:1-3, James 2:10, etc.), we crave the notion that we are ultimately responsible for our own salvation. We continue to search for ways to include our own efforts and works in the act of salvation in order to justify our role in it. Sadly this is nothing less than heresy in dealing with the nature of man, as God has made it clear that the work of salvation is completely through His gift of grace, “it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph 2:9). If we are in Christ and have any role in our own salvation, yet there are others who are not, would we not have reason to boast? Truth is, even our best efforts are “nothing but filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) before God. We are simply unable to be obedient to God’s will (Rom. 6:16; 7:14) on our own. We are, “by nature children of wrath,” (Eph 2:3) under the curse of sin.
Free Will and Zombies?
At this point, despite all biblical evidence, people are often upset. Angry at the truth. The fact that it’s clearly taught in scripture makes no difference and we try and look for ways to make it mean different things. If God is Sovereign over all things, then we aren’t, and that’s a direct attack on our pride. Now before we ask if this is unfair or unjust, listen to the Apostle Paul who predicted that response and answered it clearly in Romans 9, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” (Romans 9:16) The Sovereign Creator of the Universe is well within His rights to handle His creation how He so chooses.
We need to understand that God is not only just and fair, but merciful. WE DO HAVE FREE WILL. We have the ability to make decisions based upon our own desires. In The Freedom of the Will, Jonathan Edwards says that man is free to choose according to his disposition. Human beings always choose according to their strongest desire, and so we make free choices. The fact is however, that the human will, as a result of sin, is enslaved to selfish desires, and we no longer have the ability to choose good on our own. Left unchecked we will choose ourselves and our “passions of the flesh” every time. John Calvin said it this way, “if you mean by free will a faculty of choosing by which you have the power within yourself to choose what you desire, then we all have free will. If you mean by free will the ability for fallen human beings to incline themselves and exercise that free will to choose the things of God without prior monergistic, (God’s work through the Holy Spirit), work of regeneration then free will is far too grandiose a term to apply to a human being.” We have the freedom to choose, but we don’t have the desire to be righteous. Being “dead in our sins” (Eph 2:1) means that we are spiritually dead wholly disposed to hate God with no ability, nor inclination, to free ourselves. Dead is dead.
I remember watching the movie ‘I Am Legend‘ with Will Smith years ago. He played a scientist who was immune to a man-made plague that transformed most of humanity into bloodthirsty zombies. He wanders alone with his dog through New York City, and is constantly trapping the zombies so he can test them and find a cure using his own blood. He eventually does find the cure, and restores one young lady back to humanity while the cure is taken to save the rest of humanity. I remember thinking, “Does anyone think he violated her free will by saving her?” I mean think about it, he didn’t ask permission. In fact he captured her against her will in order to do it. She had no ability in her state to get out of it and she had no desire too! He gave her what she needed to be human again…a rebirth so to speak (see what I did there? :>). So is that fair? Do you think she was angry and wanted to go right back to being a zombie after finding out he did that without her permission? Sounds silly, right?
Forgive the weak allegory here, it’s not meant to be comprehensive. I just find it to be a simple illustration of how God intervenes on our behalf in saving us from our own sin in a way that people today may be able to see more clearly. Like Zombies, we are dead, (spiritually), and completely unaware of our current state. We are no more trying to seek God for our own freedom from sin than the zombies are seeking to free themselves. God doesn’t drag us kicking and screaming in to a new birth against our will, He simply offers us the ‘cure’ of a regenerate heart through the Holy Spirit and gives us a new birth. This is why the Lord told Nicodemus, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3).
The Good News!
So the bad news is that we “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23) and “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). But that’s what makes the GOOD NEWS so wonderful! The final sentence in Romans 6:23 states, “…but the gift of God [is] eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The triune God’s gift to us is salvation through grace by faith in His Son Jesus Christ, who was obedient in life where we couldn’t be, and accepted our due punishment on the cross to declare us righteous before God! Paul sums it up in his letter to the Ephesians:
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
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