the Idol of ‘Free-Will’

Published January 12, 2013 by Andrew Lindsey in Reformation Theology

“Emptiness is loneliness, and loneliness is cleanliness
And cleanliness is godliness, and God is empty- JUST LIKE ME”
from the Smashing Pumpkins, “Zero”

The above lyrics are probably shocking to most readers of this blog- I have included them here because the song they are quoted from was wildly popular when I was in high school, and I think that many people who come across this blog will recognize them. What these lyrics illustrate is the blatant nihilistic, self-centered, rebellion against God that is, as I have described in previous postings, at the heart of every person. Most people would not admit to feelings that “God is empty- JUST LIKE ME”, but in light of Scripture, this is exactly how they are living each day.

When I have described this prideful rebellion as the root problem that each of are born into, I mean just that- this problem goes to the very core of each person, influencing our every thought and decision. As the prophet of Jeremiah in speaking the judgment of God stated: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

This deceitfulness of the heart makes it utterly impossible for us to gain any true knowledge of the holiness of God or of our own rebellion without a special work of God on our hearts by the Word. The deceitfulness of the heart makes us believe that we are doing just fine and that God has an equally high opinion of us as we have of ourselves (see Psalm 50:16-21).

This is the danger of practicing theology based on anything except the Word of God. True theology glorifies God, exposes our rebellion, and drives us to Christ that we will cry out to Him for mercy. False theology makes God to be more like us, and causes us to believe that our condition is not that bad. False theology is all based on our rebellious nature.

Consider the following writing on false theology:

Theology typically works this way… It goes inside people and tries to find some power in them that is an “image of God” or “vestige of the Trinity” that is something not overthrown by sin- something that we just couldn’t possibly doubt- and then it builds its system of thought by adding God’s “revelation” from Scripture to complete what it found. Theologians have joined philosophers in identifying the one thing inside people as “free will.” But for Luther [who is here used as an example of a true theologian] this was not just a bad place to begin thinking; it was the source of every single sin, the fashioner of every single sinner, and the direct opponent of God. He called it “enthusiasm,” God within-ism, which refuses to start with the word from a preacher sent by God and so cooks up some peculiar form of religion of the self. Adam and Eve did it, and so it is the original sin. It is also the sin that is repeated in ever evolving mutations of the same problem. It is theology curved in upon itself that only succeeds in declaring to the world what one find’s while gazing at one’s own navel. [from Steve Paulson, Luther for Armchair Theologians, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004. 14.]

For this reason you must beware any theology that is based upon ‘free-will’ and cling instead to Scripture as the first and final authority, for “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17).

[This blogpost is edited from a post originally published on 6/28/05.]

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