Free Will must be the most awesome and most terrifying aspect of human nature. When God created the world, with all of it’s lovely buzzing, walking, and squawking things, He gave mankind the unique ability to exercise Free Will (with capital letters because it’s super awesome). This meant that mankind could choose a life of complete harmony with God or a life pursuing another path. We all know how this story goes; we chose “the other path”.
Creation v2.0: Now Featuring Sin!
It’s important for us to understand that Free Will existed before sin because it cuts to the core of what God does and doesn’t want in our lives. God doesn’t want us to be automatons. God doesn’t want little slaves. God does want a relationship with His creation and a relationship must be built on a Free Will decision to love and follow. Sin, then, just becomes the manifestation of Free Will that pursues purpose and happiness through things other than God (man, that was deep… I might have the engraved on some driftwood or something).
First, let’s try to understand Free Will, Fairness, and Salvation
So what does this have to do with today? Simple answer: everything. Almost everything we deal with is the result of someone else’s Free Will. That cold you caught from someone at school? Someone decided of their own Free Will to come to school sick. That car crash in the news last week about someone getting hit by a drunk driver? Someone made a Free Will decision to drive drunk. What about that family member that just contracted a horrible disease? Yes, that’s Free Will too. How? We (all several thousand years of us) decided to leave a perfect, problem-free, pain-free, and death-free creation to pursue a life of sin. ‘But Joseph, that doesn’t sound fair at all!!! How could a loving God do that?’ Well, it really is fair. “Fair” implies some action and reaction that are either balanced (fair) or unbalance (unfair). God gave mankind a perfect life. The ‘action’ was man’s original sin which introduced sin into creation. We know from the Bible that the wages of sin are death (we’ll get to the scripture in a bit). That means that by us having to suffer disease and injury that results in death, we are actually getting the ONLY “balanced” reaction towards our sin. If you didn’t follow that, we sin and therefore we have to die. That’s fair.
…BUT WAIT, IT’S NOT AS DEPRESSING AS IT SOUNDS..
If we actually look at the “for the wages of sin is death” verse, we’ll see that the verse doesn’t stop there.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23 NLT, Source: Bible Gateway)
The second part of that verse says that though there are “wages” for sin (fair), there is also a gift. For review, ‘fair’ implies that there is an action and a balanced reaction; sin is balanced by death. That’s fair. A GIFT, on the other hand, is something completely and utterly different. A GIFT means it is given to a recipient independently of whether the gift is deserved or not. A gift, more often then not, isn’t about “fair”, it’s about love. God loved His creation and saw that the wages of sin diminished the power and glory of man’s greatest ability (Free Will, if you forgot the running theme). That is why it was necessary for God to afford us the GIFT of salvation; so that through Christ we could be empowered to use our Free Will to pursue Christ and have eternal life.
Christ’s death and resurrection was sort of God “regifting” Free Will. It re-empowered the creation to decide what type of relationship to have with it’s creator by deciding what type of life to follow.
Okay, I understand Free Will. How does this help me with people who make Free Will decision that impact/hurt/annoy me?
If we put aside talk about sickness and death, we’re faced with more mundane issues (relatively speaking) that agitate us, annoy us, or infuriate us. Your sister made a decision to wearing your shirt and ruined it, and now you’re left with little more than a rag. Your parents made a decision to move to a new state so now you have to make completely new friends. Your pastor decided that the ministry you’ve helped out needs to change in a way that doesn’t involve you, so now you’re wondering what your role is. These are all less-than-life-or-death situations that we are thrust into because of the Free Will decisions of others. As the not-so-church-friendly phrase goes, “[stuff] happens”.
Reading Doug Fields’ “Your First Two Years In Youth Ministry“, he talks about the incident in Matthew 22 when some Pharisees try to trip Jesus up by asking him what the most important commandment is. His response is well known, but (in my opinion) often grazed over.
Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40 NLT, Source: Bible Gateway)
I want you to really think about that for a moment. “This is the first and greatest commandment.” That’s actually very profound. That means that when you are doing student ministry, the students are NOT the greatest thing you have going on. In evangelism, the ‘lost’ aren’t the greatest thing. In music ministry, the worship experience isn’t actually the greatest thing (and I’ll defend the wording of that one!). The greatest thing is God. Period. That’s it. End of discussion.
…now let me continue my discussion…
How does God being the GREATEST thing change how we deal with the effects we experience from other people’s decisions? Where I keep coming back to is that it’s all about attitude. Did your sister take your shirt? No worries because I still love God and He still loves me (though he may wonder what happened to that shirt He gave me). Did your parents decide to move and leave you stranded in a new place with no friends? It doesn’t matter because I still have God and He’s all that matters. Did someone come up to you and tell you to move out of a job, club, team, or ministry? I doesn’t matter because I still love God and He still loves me. If your focus, first, is on God then suddenly these little frustrations caused by other people’s decisions become WAY less important.
…some life application…
This lesson is easy to write and easy to agree with, but hard to do. When I was in high school, I was asked to set up a youth band for our group which was one of these large 150 person youth groups. I worked with a great group of guys and girls to put this thing together and had completely sunk my little teenage life into it. You can imagine my surprise (read: anger, hurt, confusion) when one of the “in” people in the church (don’t act like you don’t know what that means) got together with our new youth pastor and a couple youth to tell me that someone had ‘heard a calling for music ministry’ and they wanted me to step down from leading. Maybe it was ego… maybe it was the fact that to “make their case” the teen that “felt a calling” decided to make up a bunch of stories about me doing terrible, horrible things so that adults would rally around their cause. Either way, I was not a happy camper. In fact, I was not a happy camper for about 5 years. It wasn’t until I graduated college that I really started to “get” that the GREATEST thing is God. Understanding that was enough to help me get over the emotional hump of getting back into church. I was still distrusting of people and ministry, but then I realized that the second most/equally important commandment is to “love my neighbor”… which unfortunately means ‘getting over the past’ and moving forward. That’s what love does. Love forgives. Love “get’s over it”.
Free Will really is tricky, especially when it hits you in the deepest, most emotional place. When someone else makes a Free Will decision, no matter how noble and genuine their reasoning is, the effects of a flawed world can make those decisions sting in a way that eats us alive. It’s easy to get mad and stomp off into the sunset when those things happen, but that’s when we have to keep our minds grounded in the GREATEST thing and another equally important thing: love God, and love your neighbors. As long as we keep our minds focused on what is GREATEST, then what is important will come along in tow and the effects of other people’s Free Will decisions will matter less and less regardless of how dramatic the consequences may be.