The Gospel as Free Will, Part I

The Gospel as Free Will, Part I

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By Jesse Mullins, Jr.

COPYRIGHT 2010 JESSE MULLINS

SomethingSolidPicGodBreathedIn writing this message I am taking material that I have preached on two different occasions, and I am putting it into written form.

I have never heard anyone else speak on this subject. Nor have I seen anything published on it, though portions of my message will be familiar ground to most Bible students. As for my overarching ideas here, I have encountered them in bits and pieces in my studies, and have sensed hints of them in some preachers and writers. But I have not seen anyone put them together with the express purpose of demonstrating the importance of the gospel as the first appearance of free will in man’s ability to become a child of God. Which is to say, as the beginning of self-determination in man’s quest to obtain spiritual life and, later, eternal life. This strikes me as a very important subject. It is one that has occupied me much in my studies and my journaling. I expect to write considerably more in this vein, but this message serves at least as an introduction to this line of thought.

The Right to Become Children of God

Let’s begin with a familiar passage of scripture. I will share it here and will share what I believe is the most common view held about the meaning of this passage. Then I will pose a divergent view. The passage is John 1:12-13:

Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God -  (13) Children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”

This passage sets up a contrast. It is saying that A is not B. Idea A is that the Lord provides a way to become children of God, and that this means of making “children of God” is not the same kind of family-creation that one would see in Idea B. Idea B is the idea that a biological family unit of a human father and a human mother, whether in Bible times or in our own times, produce their children through natural (biological) means. And, therefore, Idea A is different from Idea B. I am assuming that this is the way most people view the passage. The import of the passage, then, would simply be that God’s way of producing a family involves each person’s making a choice for himself, as to whether to be in the family or not, whereas the human family’s way of increasing their numbers involves two family members deciding for the third member—the child. Each method produces (or can produce) its intended effect. But they work by different ways.

SomethingSolidFamilyPicnicPrayeriStock_000002121769XSmallNow let us consider a slightly different (though closely related) interpretation. Let us look at the passage as though it is expressing a contrast between the New Covenant and the Old Covenant. Of course, I still believe that the passage asserts that A is not B. And I still believe that everything we’ve said about the first interpretation is true. But perhaps the passage is also saying something about the two covenants.

And if so, then the passage is contrasting not just two different ways of creating children, or family, but two different ways of creating children of God. And it may sound like a strange thing, but, as this study will indicate, there really was a time when children of God were created by acts of human reproduction. Every Israelite of Bible times was, as we shall see, a member of God’s chosen people—His earthly, spiritual family. And each was brought into the family simply by being the biological lineage of Abraham. Simply by being an Israelite by blood—which is to say, by childbirth. When John writes of “Children born not… of… a husband’s will,” he evokes the same thought we hear bandied today when someone quips about a child having been at one time “only a gleam in his father’s eye.” And again, as odd as that may fall upon our ears—this idea that children of God at one time came from human procreation—scripture is clear on this matter.

Now, I will say from the outset that I do not need for this particular passage to uphold this meaning in order to make my points. I have plenty of scripture for making my points. I am altogether fine if my second possible “view” of this scripture is not what John precisely meant here. As I said already, I have no objection to the first interpretation, what might be called the “surface meaning” of the passage. It makes sense. Who would deny it? And maybe that was all that the writer meant.

Let’s assume, for a moment, that my “second” meaning is totally wrong and that the first interpretation is the only interpretation. And let’s see where that takes us. Here is the critical portion of the passage:

…to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God -  (13) Children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”

So, John is saying that A is not B.

I could say, for instance, that an oak tree is not a rosebush. If I said that, no one could censure me for not telling the truth. I have spoken the truth. I have every right to say it.

I could say, likewise, that a podium is not a chair. If I said it, no one could refute my remark. It is a fact.

How much, though, have I helped anyone by saying either of these things? Was the reader likely to have been struggling with some notion that A (a podium) was indeed the same thing as B (a chair)? How much has John helped anyone by saying that the Lord’s way of making children is not the same as a biological being’s way of making children? It’s true, yes. But how much do we gain from hearing it?

A More Fitting Contrast

Now, in our second interpretation, we say something slightly different, and perhaps more helpful or useful. It’s the idea that (considering this from the context of John’s own timeframe) a change is happening. It’s the idea that, in the approaching New Covenant age, a person can become a child of God by his or her own free will, not by the sheer luck of having been conceived and brought to term by a married couple who happened to be Israelites.

SomethingSolidMotherSoniStock_000004719120XSmallLet’s look again at the first view:  the Lord makes children of God by their “believing in Christ’s name.” A man and woman today make a child. But a man and woman today do not make a child of God. They make a child. They do not make a child of God. Two different things.

But in the second interpretation, we are talking something more akin to “apples to apples.” The Lord makes children of God by their “believing in Christ’s name.” An Israelite man and woman conceive and they make—no, not just a child – they make a child of God.

So now we are comparing two similar things. We’re not contrasting an oak tree with a rosebush. So that causes us to see that the difference here is the mode of creation of (not just “children,” but) children of God. The statement becomes something more than just the bald fact that the children of God are different from children of humans. It becomes, instead, a statement about two different ways of producing children of God.

It becomes, then, a focus on change in the world. God no longer creates children of God the same way, and this difference is important.

SomethingSolidPottersWheeliStock_000004499404XSmallBut to see this difference, one has to see that God was obtaining children of God before this new way came along. And I believe God wants us to see that fact. Moreover, I believe that this fact is so apparent that I don’t need John 1:12-13 to prove it.

One way in which we will determine whether or not these ancient Israelites were children of God will be by determining whether or not they had spiritual life. By determining whether or not they had salvation - that is, a means of being saved from their sins. We will want to see if they were equipped with something that could take them to Heaven. If these conditions apply, then it is going to be hard for anyone to consider the Israelites as anything but children of God. If the faithful among them end up in the same place in the afterlife as do the faithful among the body of Christ, then, again, it is hard not to see that they were children of God.

So let’s go elsewhere in scripture. Hebrews 9:15 is a good starting point.

And for this reason He [Christ] is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant…”

It’s from this passage, and related passages, that we obtain the doctrine that, as many preachers have said, “the blood of the cross flows both ways.” By "both ways" we mean both forward in time and backward in time - that is, retroactively.

Saved by the Blood of Christ

The “redeemed” in his verse are the people who were under the first covenant. The first covenant was the Old Covenant, also known as the Mosaical Covenant. Those people were the Israelites, known in Jesus’s time as the Jews. This verse states that those people were redeemed. It indicates that Christ’s blood brings forgiveness to those people, most of them (by this point) long deceased.

If one is “redeemed,” then one has one’s sins forgiven. If sins are forgiven, one is “saved” from sins.

If one is saved from one’s sins, one is saved from eternal destruction. If one is saved from eternal destruction, one goes to Heaven. That is, if one was faithful. Faithful Israelites went to Heaven. If one is saved from one’s sins, one has “salvation." Hebrews 11:16 states:

But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them."

That city is Heaven. "They" are the faithful among the ancient Israelites, and the patriarchs before them. If one goes to Heaven, then one had salvation.

Just as the Israelites had “salvation,” so they also had spiritual life. Consider the message of I Cor. 10:1:

For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; (2) and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; (3) and all ate the same spiritual food; (4) and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ.”

The Israelites ate spiritual food. They drank spiritual drink. They were not spiritually dead. They were spiritually nourished. They were saved by Christ.

And yet, at no moment in their earthly lives did they have anything that could be called a “moment of conversion.” And we can see why they would not. They were already children of God by being born as children of Abraham. Being physically birthed into the family of God, they had no need, nor any occasion, to seek that familial inclusion by some other means.

However, the Gentiles (all non-Israelite people on earth at that time), were not God’s people, and so they were not children of God. The scriptures tell us that the Gentiles were (in the times before Christ) “separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12).

If a person was born an Israelite, that person was one of God’s children. If one was born a Gentile, that person was not one of God’s children.

"We Know What We Worship"

Jesus made matters clear in his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. He was passing through Samaria, traveling in a land where the locals were not Jewish. Here is what the woman said to Jesus at the well (John 4:20-21):

Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.”

Jesus replied to her, “You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.”

Salvation was of the Jews. The Jews had salvation. They had forgiveness of sins under the Old Covenant. They went to Heaven. I know that some could be wondering about this. They might be recalling that passage in Hebrews that states, “…it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins…” (Heb. 10:4). Some Christians take that verse to mean that the Israelites did not receive forgiveness of their sins. That’s not what the verse says. It does not say that Israelites did not receive forgiveness. It says that forgiveness does not come from the blood of bulls and goats.

We obtain forgiveness by being faithful and obedient. Our faith must have an object. It must be directed at something. In the Christian age, our faith is directed at Christ and his saving gospel. But let us think for a minute about how things must have been in the ages before Christ. In the Old Testament age, in the times of the ancient Israelites, Christ had not come and accomplished His mission, so there was no possibility of the Father commanding His children to direct their faith at Christ. But they had to direct their faith at some object. That object was the priestly/sacrificial system and the Law of Moses.

SomethingSolidTenCommandmentsiStock_000009489613XSmallFaith directed at that object was a saving faith for them. Now, we know that the scriptures identify the New Covenant as being better than the Old Covenant. (Heb. 7:22: “So much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.” Heb. 8:7: “For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second.”)

But we also can understand that the existence of a “better” covenant is not enough, simply on the face of things, to negate or nullify whatever positive qualities the “inferior” covenant had. If my neighbor’s house is better than my house, that fact does not mean that my house does not protect me from the elements. It might mean that the things my house does, my neighbor’s house does better. But it does not mean that my house no longer does, or never did do, the things I knew that it does and that it did.

We know from scripture that the Old Covenant brought forgiveness and Heaven to faithful Israelites. The word “better” has to apply to some quality or qualities that exist apart from those rewards.

Objects of Faith: The Clear and the Dim

One characteristic that made the earlier covenant inferior—not invalid, but inferior, or lesser—was the dimness of the object of faith. The Old Covenant system was comprised of “types” and “shadows” (Col. 2:17). In grasping things this way, we have an explanation for how the Old Covenant system could be deemed inferior, and yet still have been workable—capable of getting results. Some devices can be inferior and yet they can still achieve the same results as superior devices. Maybe they do not achieve as many successes, but they still achieve successes—and the same kind of successes. The saved Israelites will be in the same Heaven that we hope to achieve through our own faith.

SomethingSolidCandleStoneTabletsiStock_000010398152XSmallThe Old Covenant was not inferior in strict terms of making salvation "available," so to speak, for those under the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant system could facilitate forgiveness and could get an Israelite to his Heavenly reward. Could, and did. The difference lay elsewhere. When we contrast its murky “object of faith” (a priestly system and a set of laws to observe) with the stirring, laid-bare appeal that is the fully unmasked work of Christ, we can see why the Old was inferior to the New. That’s not an inferiority of end results, if rewards and grace are to be regarded as end results. It’s just that the Old Covenant’s shadowy object of faith might not have elicited quite the fervency or the fullness of understanding that the work of Christ inspired, and inspires.

The Old Covenant system was “ratified” (in the sense of being fulfilled or satisfied) by the obedience of Christ, but the Israelites were not permitted to behold the obedience of Christ, and there had to be someplace where they could direct their faith. Therefore, they had an inferior object on which to base their faith. But inferior or not, faith placed in that object was saving faith. It was not the blood of the bulls and goats that effected (i.e., “finalized”) their forgiveness. That final cause would come later from the obedience of Christ. But they were commanded to have faith in their objects of faith, and the faithful among them did so. Paul said, in Romans 9:31-32:

But Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. (32) Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works…”

In other words, the “law of righteousness” saved Israelites if they made that system the object of their faith, not the receptacle of their works.

When Paul says that Israel “did not arrive at that law,” he is not saying that every single Israelite was lost spiritually. He means that a great many of the Israelites pursued the law as though it were purely a matter of doing works. But he does not mean that every single Israelite lost out on Heaven. We know that some were saved. Hebrews chapter 11 tells us so.

Even the Israelites Were Saved by Faith, Not Works

The ancient Israelites had to have faith in the law. They had to apply faith to it because there was no sacrifice of Christ for them to place their faith upon. Yes, they were obliged to perform works. But the important point here is that, once they had performed their works, they were required to have faith in the system itself - in the priestly system and the Law of Moses. It would be that faith, and not the works themselves, that saved them. So they were commanded to have faith in the saving power of their sacrifices and their adherence to the Law, just as we are commanded to have faith in the saving power of the gospel. And it would be the faith in their system that saved them, if they had sufficient faith. Some of them did. Hebrews chapter 11, known as the Roll Call of the Faithful, tells of some who pursued the Old Law as an object of their faith, not as a yardstick of their works. They were saved. The Old Covenant did save some Israelites.

And so the faithful among them received forgiveness. Christ’s blood accomplished that for them—not the blood of bulls and goats. But, as was said earlier, Heb. 10:4 does not say that forgiveness was withheld from the faithful Israelites. It does not tell us that Heaven was withheld from the faithful Israelites. What Heb. 10:4 does tell us, once we take it in context with the foregoing chapter, is that that something else bestowed that forgiveness on the Israelites. We can see, from Heb. 9:15, what it was that provided that forgiveness, and we can see clearly that it—as well as Heaven—was provided to the Israelites.

My point here has not been to establish the superiority or inferiority of either covenant. My point has been to establish that the Old Covenant could have been inferior to the New, but that the Old Covenant still provided a pathway to salvation for the faithful.

Understanding that the ancient Israelites had salvation is foundational. I do believe that most of the impetus today for the too-widespread belief that Jews did not have salvation comes from the idea that “the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins.”

This idea is more damaging to our understanding of the Bible than many realize. It hinders people from understanding what is happening in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. If those books are read with the idea in mind that Jesus’s Jewish hearers had no apparatus in place (prior to Jesus's arrival, or during Jesus's ministry) for obtaining Heaven or obtaining forgiveness, then the remarks that Jesus makes are taken in a different way than they are if we understand that those hearers were obliged—right up until Pentecost—to be faithful to their system and to do whatever its prophets told them to do.

The Mystery and Its Connection to Free Will

But that is a different subject. For now, we are looking at the idea of free will. We first must establish that the Israelites had a pathway to forgiveness and even to Heaven.

As one more indication of that truth, let us look to Eph. 3:3-6:

That by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief, (4) by referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, (5) which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; (6) to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

SomethingSolidCrossAtSunriseiStock_000003140825XSmallFellow heirs, members, and partakers. With whom? With the Israelites. With the Jews. Logic tells us that the Gentiles are the ones who are being welcomed into this (already established) inheritance. It cannot be stating that the Gentiles received something first and then the Jews were also welcomed into it. No, the Gentiles are the late arrivals here. So the “body” that is now expanded to include two parts—Jew and Gentile—is a body that previously held only one part—the Jews, also known as the Israelites. God’s chosen people.

By this we can understand that the blessings received by the Jews are - at the advent of the Christian era - extended to the Gentiles, who are now able to enter into the kingdom as Christians. Christians are being brought into this body that already encompassed the Jews.

And, as indicated earlier, that body enjoyed the blessings of forgiveness and, in the next life, Heaven.

And previous to this revealing of the mystery, that body was entered into only by means of human reproduction.

Someone could try to contest that view. They could say, “I think in Bible times a person could exercise free will in becoming an Israelite.” If so, they’d be referring to a passage such as this one: Lev. 19:34:

The stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Yes, it was true that the Father did permit certain individuals who were not of Israelite extraction to be absorbed into the Israelite nation.

But we need to understand that as an accommodation to the Hebrews, not as a way of evangelizing or proselytizing among the nations. In Old Testament times, though the Father discouraged and even forbid intermarriage with the “nations,” i.e., the Gentiles, He nonetheless dealt with matters in realistic terms. It was inevitable that some foreigners would join up with the Hebrews and even marry into their race. When that happened, the offspring would be descendants of Abraham. They would have Israelite blood in them. Thus, the Father simply makes provision for the inevitable when He instructs His people to love and accept such new arrivals. But this is not the same thing as instructing His people to recruit such outsiders as converts.

And yet the idea that He did wish this—that He wanted to expand His kingdom this way—is still strong among certain Christians.

One such person once told me that Jeremiah’s statement that Israel was “a light to the nations” is a reflection of the fact that God wanted to reach out to the Gentile nations of Old Testament times.

But we can see how it is possible for Israel to be a “light” to those nations without Israel being an invitation to those nations to become Israelites or to become “like” Israelites.

Israel Not an Evangelizing Faith

Often, when one hears a believer urging this idea of Israelite “evangelizing” of Gentiles, the prime “example” given of it is the case of Jonah preaching to the Ninevites. We know, from the book of Jonah, how the Father sent him to those people and had him preach to them. We know from that account that they repented.

So, was the Book of Jonah an account of Israel reaching out to create more children of God among the “nations”?

For what follows on this topic (of Jonah and the Ninevites), I credit preacher Dan Billingsly, of Lubbock, Texas, whose study on this matter helped me with my own understanding.

I won’t try to fully summarize the career of Jonah. We know of how God told him to go preach to the Ninevites, but he tried to run away from God. It was during this flight from God that he boarded the ship from which he was thrown into the sea—causing him to be swallowed by the great fish, and thereupon to be regurgitated onshore three days later. Only then did he proceed in his assigned mission.

We will better understand Jonah’s reluctance, and the implausibility, even the impossibility, of the Ninevites as candidates for conversion, when we understand who the Ninevites were and why Jonah was sent to them.

The Ninevites were Assyrians. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria and of its empire. It was to be the Assyrians who would overwhelm the Kingdom of Israel, also known as the Northern Kingdom, also known (after the invasion by Assyria) as the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.

The prophet Jeremiah wrote of God’s plans for raising up the Assyrian empire to punish the Kingdom of Israel for their persistent idolatry. Jer. 5:15 states:

‘Behold, I will bring a nation against you from afar, O house of Israel,’ says the Lord. ‘It is a mighty nation, It is an ancient nation…   (17) And they shall eat up your harvest and your bread, which your sons and daughters should eat. They shall eat up your flocks and your herds; They shall eat up your vines and your fig trees; They shall destroy your fortified cities…”

But even given that God needed a ruthless nation to carry out this judgment against Israel, the Assyrians proved so bloodthirsty—long before their services were required—that their other neighbors were subjected to hostilities and atrocities such that God had to quell matters even before the time came for their invasion of Israel.

Bible Series Jonah sepiaThus we read in the Book of Jonah (Jonah 1:2) how God sent Jonah on his mission:

Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.”

After the episode involving the great fish, Jonah arrived in Nineveh, where he preached his message, identified in Jonah 3:4 with these few simple words: “Yet 40 days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed.”

We know from scripture that the Ninevites relented and changed their ways (Jonah 3:10):

Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He has said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.”

But are we to take this episode as an account of Jonah reaching out to a nation to convert them into children of God? Or should we restrict our thinking only to what scripture tells us, which is that Jonah went there to warn the Ninevites to stop being so wicked, lest they be completely destroyed?

Jonah's Mission Not One of Outreach

God was ready to wipe the Assyrians off the map and, presumably, start over in raising up a nation to punish Israel.

We see the word “preaching” used in the account, but we also know that the word “preach” means to proclaim. Proclaiming can be something short of trying to convert someone into a faith.

And even the word "preaching," if it were to be applied here (rightly or wrongly) in its New Testament sense, in the sense of proclaiming the good news of salvation, would have to refer to a message aimed at leading some unsaved person from a condition of spiritual death to a condition of spiritual life. Or from a condition of being lost to a condition of being saved.

None of this applies to the Assyrians. We know what happened to them. There is no indication that they became “godly” at any time. Within about a century of Jonah’s visit, they overran Israel and destroyed its fortified cities, dispersing its people into various foreign lands.

Soon after that, we find that God, being finished of His need for these cruel people, has allowed that they, in turn, will be conquered. The book of Nahum is largely devoted to this subject, with Nahum reciting prophecies about the impending destruction of Nineveh, as for instance in Nahum 3:7:

It shall come to pass that all who look upon you will flee from you, and say, Nineveh is laid waste!”

One artist's conception of "Ninevah": this engraving by John Kitto appeared in 1868 in "An Illustrated History of The Holy Bible."

One artist's conception of Nineveh: an engraving by John Kitto from "An Illustrated History of The Holy Bible" (1868).

Nineveh was defeated in 609 B.C. by the Babylonians.

So this state of affairs does not lend any credence to the idea of the Ninevites being converts to Hebraism or to the religion of the Israelites.

Now, imagine for a minute how the discussion could have proceeded if Jonah truly had been trying to convert the Ninevites to Jonah’s own religion or to some other form of obedience to Jehovah, whatever that might have been.

What if? Suppose the Ninevites Had Wanted to Be Converted...

Jonah could have preached his message and some of the Ninevites could have responded to his message, as though it was an offer of salvation. Now, we do know that they “repented.” Repentance simply means having a change of heart. It does not necessarily mean anything beyond a change of heart, and it does not necessarily mean a change of heart that involves becoming a child of God. But we are exploring that angle, so let us assume that that is exactly what it did involve for them. A change of heart that was accompanied by a desire to become a child of God.

So certain Ninevites respond. Now they come to Jonah. They ask Jonah what it was that he (Jonah) responded to when he became a child of God.

Jonah would have had to pause. He would have had to tell them that he did not respond to anything to become a child of God. He would have had to tell them that he himself became a child of God by being born to an Israelite father and mother. And he would not be able to point to anything else that gave him that distinction.

So maybe then the Ninevites would ask Jonah if they could respond to something in the Word of God as it had been revealed to Jonah and the other Israelites.

Again, Jonah would have to say that he could not help them there, either. He could not point to anything in the scriptures that showed that adherence to a set of beliefs did anything toward making a person a child of God if that person was not of the lineage of Abraham.

If one or two of the Ninevites were to follow Jonah back to his people and join up with them, then those one or two Ninevites could have been absorbed into the Israelite race. But we are not given to conclude that any of these Ninevites were hoping to migrate over to Israel. There is no suggestion of that. And if they are not going to join up in the Promised Land with the Israelites, then these Ninevites would not be the “stranger that dwelleth among you.” And if not the “stranger that dwelleth among you,” then not eligible for that provision of acceptance.

And even for the “stranger that dwelleth among you,” there is nothing in the accounts that indicate that there was a set of beliefs for that stranger to assert or adopt. All we are given to believe is that, as an accommodation to God’s people, these strangers could be admitted among their numbers. That is all.

So, again, nothing in the account of Jonah and the Ninevites gives us any ground for thinking that these people became converts to the religion of the Israelites, nor that they even became “godly” at all.

Purely by "Accident"

But this account does point up something else. I can express it best with an illustration.

Years ago, when I lived in Wyoming, I would see vehicles with bumper stickers that proclaimed, “Wyoming Native.” We’ve perhaps all seen this kind of thing in other states. It’s an expression of pride in one’s roots.

Sometimes, too, it can be an expression of dismay against change. In the Wyoming I knew, the long-time residents were somewhat resentful of the influx of out-of-staters who had migrated in and, by their sheer numbers and spending habits, had changed local ways of life and driven up the cost of living.

These “Wyoming Native” bumper stickers seemed to irk the out-of-staters, some of whom took to displaying stickers of their own. One such indignant message said, “Wyomingite by Choice, NOT by Accident of Birth.”

That phrase, “by accident of birth” – humorous or silly, it matters not how we view it – is helpful to us in our scriptural context. That’s because it describes, in the most pointed fashion, the exact situation we are confronted with in Old Testament times. These Israelites were children of God literally “by accident of birth.” And that should give us pause.

Doesn’t our logic tell us that, whatever else God might have been working toward in this book’s unfolding scheme of redemption, He would be moving toward a relationship of free will? Isn’t that what a marriage is? A marriage involves the consent of both sides, not just one side. A marriage, at its best, is entered into freely and equally by both parties.

Now, to propagate a family by free will, and not by the “will of a father,” (and here we could even say “the will of an Israelite father,” for that was precisely the motive power that created children of God in those days), then a change is required. To have the exercise of free will among a people, one must have a proposition. Why a proposition? Because the would-be converts must exercise their free will upon something.

If Jonah were preaching a message of conversion to his hearers, then those hearers could have said to Jonah something like this: “Jonah, we want to be more like you. Tell us, Jonah, what you heard and what you responded to that changed you from an ungodly person to a godly person.” Jonah would have had to say to them, “I’m sorry. I cannot do that.”

No Message of Salvation for Jonah to Preach

When Jonah went to the Ninevites, there was nothing that he could reveal that would give the Ninevites something that they could respond to with a “yea” or “nay.” That is, other than the fact that they were obliged to comply or not comply with God’s warning against them. But apart from that, there could not have been anything in Jonah’s message that gave them opportunity or occasion for becoming a child of God. If there were something, it would have had to have been something that Jonah could point to in the scriptures. There was nothing in the scriptures of his day that served that purpose. We know this is so because we have the same scriptures that Jonah had.

So there was no proposition for individuals to act upon with their free will.

The simplest form of free will is yea versus nay. I accept or I don’t accept.  Pro or Con. Yes or no.  These “yeas and nays” are exercised with respect to a proposition. For a vote to be cast, there must be something for the voter to act upon. For free will to be employed by human beings in determining whether or not they will become children of God, there must be some proposition for them to express their “yes or no” against.

Now you know that I am going to say that this proposition is the gospel. We already know that the gospel includes more than just “yea or nay.” But we should acknowledge that it does indeed demand a response that necessarily involves a “yea” or a “nay.”

SomethingSolidSunbeamiStock_000010560385XSmallWhat is the gospel? We read, in I Corin. 15:3-4:

…that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, (4) and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day…”

When the gospel was given in the book of Acts, that occasion marked the first time that people could become children of God by their own deliberation, by their own choice, by their own action. When Peter stood up and (in Acts 2:22) began, “Men of Israel,” that speech marked the introduction of free will as a two-way street in the affairs of God and man.

For us, obtaining free will, and exercising free will, is relatively free. We were not obliged to pay for the privilege. But for deity, extending free will to human beings is, as we shall see, a grim and grisly business. It is enough to make you sweat blood.

We will explore why that is so. Meanwhile, on another level, we should take note that society has turned the gospel into something that we simply accept. It was never something we merely accept. It was something we assert.

There is a profound difference between accepting and asserting.

We will explore that difference in our next installment.

There are several conditions we could expect to be true about the gospel, even before we hear the gospel, if only we understand some things about the nature of God. If God has a nature that is discernible and somehow explicable, then by our God-given powers of reason we should have been able to ascertain, even in advance, certain conditions that would have to apply to God’s ultimate decree and final solicitation to His creations.

This concludes Part I. In Part II, we will set aside our preconceptions and foregone conclusions about the gospel and examine it in light of what we have uncovered thus far. We are seeing a thread emerge in God's plan for saving mankind. That thread involves God's pursuit of a "marriage," a two-way street, in His relations with those who would be His. Logic will tell us that certain conditions would have to apply if God's free-will appeal to man is going to be perfect. And since God is a perfect God, we would have to expect His appeal to be a perfect one. Once we have explored some logical expectations, we will see that God did indeed satisfy them, as we would have expected. It is a faith-building process to apply logic to these matters and then to see logic upheld. I think you will find Part II to be a faith-building study, and yet a study that challenges us with what it truly means to "obey" this gospel. Looking forward to our next time together!  Blessings, Jesse

NEXT TIME:

What our free will means to God. What our free will cost God. Why the New Covenant's beginning is linked to the advent of free will. What it really means to "obey" the gospel.

NOW THAT Part II has been posted (this line is being composed in April), we will insert a link to take anyone direct from here to Part II. Just click here.

COPYRIGHT 2010 JESSE MULLINS



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