I’m learning a LOT reading RC Sproul’s Romans Expositional Commentary. (aff link.)
In the current chapter, studying Romans 7:14-25 where Paul is is discussing the will of man, Sproul starts off by talking about two of the most pervasive pagan ideas that creep into our minds and culture, almost without us noticing them.
One is the pagan idea that our universe is independent and autonomous, that it’s run like a machine, according to fixed laws of nature. Failing to recognize that the laws of nature are in place due to God’s divine providence.
Psalm 100:3 Know that the Lord is God indeed.
This world and all the created things in it belong to God, and He rules it. To think otherwise is to embrace a pagan idea that does not align with Biblical teaching. Sproul says that what we call these days “the laws of nature” are just descriptive ways we talk about the methods God chooses to use to govern our world. Except more and more today there is the pervading assumption our world merely “governs itself”.
What About That Thing Called “Free” Will?
The other even more pervasive pagan idea is the humanistic/secular concept of free will, light years removed from the Biblical view of the human will. Sproul comments that this view is so deeply entrenched that anytime something about the sovereignty of God is brought up, either in preaching or even (in my view) casual conversation, there is a knee-jerk reaction and people protest that such an idea violates the “free will of man”.
Like we owe no allegiance to Him that created us, unless we “want” to give Him such allegiance. How egotistical such a view is.
Hebrews 13:15 Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name.
This is because (often even without fully realizing it themselves) Christians are identifying and agreeing with a pagan idea that humans are volitional creatures. In other words, we as humans have an ability to make choices and exercise our will, and we recognize differences between voluntary and involuntary actions.
According to Sproul, the pagan view is that the will is so free that we can respond to everything according to what he calls philosophical indifference. So, to be (truly) free the will cannot have any sort of preconceived predisposition in one direction or another.
He calls that the will of indifference, but quotes John Calvin as saying that while we do have free will in the sense that we have an ability to choose the things we want or don’t want, that ability to make choices is not indifferent.
Genesis 6:5 The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
Our ability to make choices is heavily commandeered by our base sinful natures, the corruption of our hearts, out of which every decision we make originates. Before regeneration in Christ occurs we are corrupt. That is our condition, and even after our regeneration, we are constantly in a battle against satan, seeking to repossess us.
So What is the Will?
Sproul says John Edwards answers this question by saying “The will is simply the mind choosing.” Pretty cut and dried, right? Sproul calls the will “a faculty or an ability by which human beings are able to make choices.” Also pretty cut and dried.
Sproul then says:
“We are living, breathing people who make choices all the time. An action of the will, a voluntary action, takes place. In our thinking, in our mental approach to something, we determine what is desirable at that moment. On the basis of that activity of the mind, we exercise our choice. In fact, if the mind were not involved in our choices, our choices would have no moral basis whatsoever. A mindless choice is not a moral choice.“
He goes on to say Edwards breaks things down even more:
“Choices do not occur in a vacuum. Choices are not uncaused effects… All choices have a cause, and the antecedent cause for every choice we make is what Edwards called inclination or disposition. He set forth the principle that not only do we choose according to our desires, but we must choose according to our desires and we will always choose according to our strongest desire at the moment of choice… Once we understand that, we will realize that never in our lives have we chosen to do something we did not want to do. That is the ugly power of sin. We choose sin in any particular situation because we want to. The devil does not make us do it; we cannot make that plea on judgment day. Every sin we commit proceeds from our internal desire… That is how it works. If we work really hard to come up with a choice we have not made according to our strongest inclination at the moment, we are not going to be able to. Every choice we have ever made, even though it might have seemed repugnant, was chosen because not choosing it was even more repugnant.”
This is why it can be so difficult to be a Christian sometimes. Even after we are made new in Christ, even after our Spirit has been regenerated and tries to seek the things of God, there is still a part of us that is in conflict with ourselves. And when that conflict arises, we choose what appears to be easy or “feel” good in that moment. We make choices as our “old” selves rather than our “new” selves.
Romans 7:19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.
In short, we choose to sin rather than obey God. It’s not that we don’t want to obey our Father, a part of us does. But as Sproul says “we have evil desires and inclinations that bump up against our good intentions.” You might liken it to the road to hell and all that.
Over to You
Ever thought about any of this stuff before? Sproul can get pretty deep, but I’m finding his breakdown of books in the Bible fascinating reading, and I’m learning a ton. What sort of pagan concepts do you embrace? Do you even realize you’re doing it? Feel free to comment below.