Archive for June, 2014

Daily Grace

The moment you understand that people are not as free as they think they are… you are able to have compassion.  Instead of judging them for doing wrong when they should be doing right, you start developing some sympathy. –Paul Zahl

One of the pillars of grace is the teaching that people do not have free will.  Of course, this sounds blasphemous in a culture that trumpets the utter freedom of the individual, that says, “I am the captain of my fate.” You see, if the will is free, we should not need someone to save us. But, clearly we do.

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. Romans 7:15, 18

WGThe Apostle Paul confesses the inability to live the life he wants, as hard as he may try. He says, “I can’t bring it about.” Our “un-free” will explains our addictions, our compulsions, and the brokenness that gets the best of us each day.

We hear that our will is not free and our collective roar insists: “If we do not have free will, then we are puppets. We cannot be responsible for our actions.” We need to know that God has not made us puppets. We can’t lay the blame with him. What Paul says is that we do precisely what we want to do.  That is the problem. Our wills are corrupt, unable to choose the good, unable to execute on what often are noble wishes.  Or, as Gerhard Forde says,

We have no remaining choice, not because we are supposedly forced into something, but because we have already made it.

In a sense, our choice was made long ago, and we are simply living out of it every day.  For me, this leads to three implications.  First, there is no room for pride in me (or any of us for that matter). Whatever good we may have results from grace. “Nothing good lives in me.” (Romans 7:18)  Second, this makes room for compassion for others.  It shows us that other people need grace just as we do. How often do we judge others for their weaknesses and criticize them in our hearts? The truth reveals this perspective as the unhealthy and dishonest pride that it is. Third, it changes how we speak to people. Here is Jonathan Wong’s perspective:

The people that fill our pews are in desperate need. They have come because they are “weary and heavy laden” (Matt. 11:28). Yet instead of rest they receive an additional burden of what they ought to do, or be, or become. This is because the preacher assumes that their wills are free, and they assume that the must exercise their free will to help themselves, of course with the help of grace… The reality, however, is that they are sinners whose wills are bound, and they cannot act on the exhortation, because they will not… Therefore the hearers need deliverance, not a helper merely, but a savior.

Are we asking others to do what they cannot do? Are we frustrating and discouraging them rather than sharing the liberating grace of Jesus?  Are we ourselves frustrated for the same reason? Grace is not something we need once. We need grace day in and day out.