Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Freedom of Will

So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, continue working out your salvation with awe and reverence, for the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort – for the sake of his good pleasure – is God. (Philippians 2:12-13 NET)
People usually think of freedom of will as the ability to choose, a deliberative action by which we select from among competing options. But in recent years, I have come to think of freedom of will as the ability to live according to our true, inherent nature; which is to say, according to who we really are — and who we really are is beings created in the image of God and to be like God (Genesis 1:27).

St. Maximus the Confessor, a very interesting Christian theologian from the 7th century, spoke about this distinction. There is the “gnomic” will, which is the deliberative will, choosing among the perceived options. But there is also the “natural” will, by which we act according to our inherent, created nature.

The problem has never been that human beings have free will and must deliberate between moving toward God or away from God, and therefore must somehow be persuaded to choose the former rather than the latter. The problem has been precisely the opposite: human will in bondage, leaving us incapable of acting according to our true, inherent nature, our natural selves, as God created us to be. Human will needed to be redeemed and set free.

God delivers us from that bondage of will through the Incarnation, in which Christ became one with us, not only revealing God’s faithfulness toward us but also becoming our faithful response to God. But more than that, and as the manifestation of that, Christ delivers us through the crucifixion, in which he destroyed death and all the powers that kept our human will in bondage.

Now we are in the process of the outworking of that deliverance, for it is God himself who is at work in us, bringing forth in us what he desires (Philippians 2:12-13). In other words, God’s work in us is freeing our wills from bondage so that we may naturally be what God created us to be from the beginning: the image of God, created to be like God.

Another way of saying this is how the apostle Paul put it in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” This not about us deliberating among the options and choosing “good works” but about our inherent nature as beings created and redeemed in Christ Jesus being manifested through “good works.” What we receive in and through Christ’s union with us is true freedom of will, which is to say, freedom of being — for it is Christ who is ever and always the source of our being.

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