On Free Will And The Savior

As I write this, it is about four and a half ours or so into the Day of Atonement where I reside. One of the most relevant chapters about this day, one that I have heard cited at least a couple dozen times in connection to this day, is Leviticus 16. This chapter ends as follows in verses 29 through 34: ““This shall be a statute forever for you: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether a native of your own country or a stranger who dwells among you.  For on that day the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the Lord.  It is a sabbath of solemn rest for you, and you shall afflict your souls. It is a statute forever.  And the priest, who is anointed and consecrated to minister as priest in his father’s place, shall make atonement, and put on the linen clothes, the holy garments; then he shall make atonement for the Holy Sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tabernacle of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly.  This shall be an everlasting statute for you, to make atonement for the children of Israel, for all their sins, once a year.” And he did as the Lord commanded Moses.”

For mankind to be close to God, they had to have their sins atoned for. Intimacy with God requires holiness, which is a standard that is impossible for mankind to achieve on our own. The lengthy and complex ritual of atonement was symbolic of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice to purge believers of their sins, but the symbol was present long before the sacrifice itself took place. Indeed, the Passover lamb, by which the sacrifice of the Firstborn Son of God opened the way to freedom from sin, demonstrated the shadow of what would be made substance far into the future. The forgiveness of the sins of faithful believers from ancient times was made on a promissory note for the future sacrifice of the perfect lamb. Several biblical writers note that Jesus Christ was slain from the foundation of the world [1], in that His sacrifice was a necessity from the period of mankind’s fall, was probably foreseen ahead of time, and was prophesied as early as Genesis 3.

At the end of the lengthy novel War & Peace, Leo Tolstoy makes a lengthy comment about free will in which he disparages the idea. It is a trivially easy task to demonstrate that the choices that mankind makes are highly constrained by the limitations of our knowledge, of our character, of the strong force of habit on our behavior, on the weight of pressure that weighs on us from any number of external sources, to say nothing of our fallibility to various means of deception and trickery, to which none of us are immune. Yet although none of us is completely free, because of the pushes and pulls of our corrupt human nature, our wicked societies the depth of the ruts of our habits and personal and familial and community and generational and societal patterns of thought and behavior, we are nonetheless properly held responsible for the choices we make even with these various constraints and influences and pressures.

To be sure, Jesus Christ did not suffer from these same constraints on his behavior as we have that lead us along the garden path to sin, death, and corruption. Yet, as we have already seen, He was already under constraints based on the the commitment He had made to serve as the sacrifice for sin to reconcile believers to God, to wipe away the stain of sin and to open up the way for repentant believers to live in holiness and approach God, who cannot bear to be close to that which is tainted by sin and rebellion. Given that this will was set, and was clearly and repeatedly expressed in the moments of highest stress during Jesus’ earthly life [2], it seems rather pointless to speak of the free will of Jesus Christ. That will had been determined long before Jesus’ earthly life, a will that had been set from the foundations of the world to sacrifice itself to bring mankind close to God, to bring about reconciliation between God and His rebellious and wayward children, created in His image and likeness yet dwelling in futility and error. Since the sacrifice as the perfect lamb required the Savior to be without sin or blemish, it naturally follows that the will that had been set to act according to the will of the Father to bring sinful and fallen humanity into reconciliation with Him was also set into living without sin and offense in order to qualify as the perfect one-time sacrifice for our sins. Such a will is not free to sin, something that is admittedly hard for us to understand or relate to given the continual pull we have towards wickedness as a result of our fallen and corrupt human nature. But it does not follow that those things that are hard to understand or relate to are any less true.

[1] See, for example, the following:

Revelation 13:8: “All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”

1 Peter 1:17-21: “ And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.  He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.”

Hebrews 9:23-28: “Therefore it was necessary that the copies of the things in the heavens should be purified with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.  For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another—He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.  And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.”

[2] See, for example, the following:

John 8:28-30: “Then Jesus said to them, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things.  And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.”  As He spoke these words, many believed in Him.”

Matthew 26:36-39: “Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.”  And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed.  Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.” He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.””

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, History, Musings and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to On Free Will And The Savior

  1. Catharine Martin says:

    Thank you for blogging about this. I really appreciate it.There is an interesting tie-in between the will of God and what He wills to us as inheritors of the Kingdom, all because Christ had to die first.

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