The Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity 2017

The Epistle – Ephesians 4:17-32

The Gospel – St. Matthew 9:1-8

Article 10 – Of Free Will

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.

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The focus of this Article today is on a word (or a hyphenated word) that gets a lot of use in our day.

 

Most of the time, however, it is not used in the same way this article uses it.

 

Article 10 reads this way. 

 

 

The condition of man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith, calling upon God.

 

Wherefore (usually now way, therefore) we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us (or going before us….going ahead of us) that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will.

 

So, we have to first think about what this all means for us.  This is a hard concept for many.  It conjures all sorts of questions about who we really are.

 

The condition of man when God created him and then gave him Eve…

was a condition that was pure and undefiled.  Man was obedient to God.  He loved only God and not himself.

 

He obeyed God and knew that all things came from the gracious hand of God.

 

But when Adam and Eve decided to strike out on their own by eating what God had told them not to eat, something very very bad happened.

 

The condition of man was altered.

He was now what we refer to as fallen.

Man fell from his original position of being in favor with God and being obedient and subservient to God.

 

Man was now (and is now still) fallen in that every part of him was affected.

Body, mind, thoughts, choices, decisions.

 

Man still retains the image of God.  We were created in His image and we are still in His image.

 

But what has happened is that the image is damaged.  We may liken it to the fun house mirror.  When we go to the fair we can go into those attractions that have different kinds of mirrors.

 

When we stand in front of those we are distorted.  We laugh at how we suddenly become short or pudgy or tall and slim or out of shape.

 

What happened at the fall, however is much more serious and not funny at all.

 

The fall affected Adam and then since we are born from Adam or we come down through the line of Adam….all of us…we too inherit this problem.

 

We don't learn it as we get older.  We are born with it. We are born fallen. We are born now in an estranged relationship to God.

 

He has not abandoned us.  He is still gracious to every man who comes into the world in that He sheds His common grace on all.

 

Each person enjoys the sun and the rain…food, drink, ..at least to some degree or another.

 

But each man also shares in this common loss.  The loss of the freedom of the will.

 

Now, to be clear, there is a distinction.  Every choice we make in life we make for some reason.

 

All of our decisions are based upon what seems good for us at any given moment.  That is key to understanding all of this.

 

We are free to choose whatever we desire.  We do some things out of a great desire and we do other things when we really don't have much desire at all.

 

But either way the desire is there because if not, we wouldn't choose whatever we are choosing.

 

The question now is, “What do we desire?”

 

What does our will desire? 

 

Keeping the fall of man in mind, the desire of man is also affected.  He chooses but he chooses now for reasons that are tainted or distorted or corrupted.

 

We choose for more selfish reasons rather than out of “pure motives.”  And further, even when we think we have the purest of motives in a choice or an act….we don't.

 

There is always an element of impurity embedded in there somewhere.

 

We catch ourselves doing this (if we are honest with ourselves.)

 

We do something nice for someone and later we might pat ourselves on the back or have a thought about how good the act was.

 

And there is struggle there because we want to shoo those thoughts away. But we still have them from time to time.

 

We might not want credit or recognition for doing something but we have still sometimes have ever so small thoughts about what we have done and a desire for recognition.  

But the Article states today that there is a tighter focus.

 

It says again, the condition of man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith, and calling upon God.

 

So here is a more serious issue.  Because we are in Adam and fallen, we cannot turn to God on our own.

 

We cannot prepare ourselves by our own natural strength…or doing any good works…to have faith in God.  Calling upon God.

 

So each of us sits here, professing to be a Christian, and yet this Article says that we have not gotten here on our own.

 

We did not turn to God on our own strength.

We did not even prepare ourselves to turn to God.

We do not have that sort of strength within ourselves.

 

How did we get here?  If we are fallen and the will that we have is in bondage to do only what it desires…and it cannot desire God and cannot turn to God by nature, how have we been turned to God?

 

How is it now that we DO desire God?

…And have a will turned toward God?

We got here by the grace of God. It was God’s doing, now our own.

 

We weren’t forced to come here. We weren’t forced to become Christians. What made our wills want this?

 

It was (and still is) the grace of God.  God called us out of that “fallenness” into His glorious light.

 

God brought us unto Himself. What we are unable to do, God IS able to do.

 

What our free will cannot accomplish is righteousness.  And it cannot produce holiness.

 

It is free all right, but it is only as free as what it desires. 

It has been set free in that it now can do things it could not before.

 

Before the grace of God, we could not choose Him.

Before the grace of God we could do no good work that was pleasing to Him.

Before the work of the Holy Spirit in us, we were powerless.

 

Now because of the grace of God, we have been turned, changed so that we can do things that are pleasing to God.

 

Yes they still have that hint of sin attached to them somewhere...but because of the grace of God and the ongoing cleansing blood of Christ our frail choices are made into God honoring, God approving choices and decisions.

We cannot appreciate the grace of God, until we appreciate and understand our former condition.

 

Even our Prayer Book proper has a few places where it wholeheartedly agrees with this.

 

The Collect for Lent II reads this way, “Almighty God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Or in the Penitential Office on page 63, “O God, whose nature and property is ever to have mercy and to forgive; Receive our humble petitions; and though we be tied and bound with the chain of our sins, yet let the pitifulness of thy great mercy loose us; for the honor of Jesus Christ, our Mediator and Advocate. Amen.”

 

The Article says again that we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God….(but here is the second half) without the grace of God going before us.

 

He goes before us. We are described in the Bible as dead in sins and trespasses. 

 

The use of the word dead is important.

Dead is not sick. It is not unhappy or disinterested…or lazy.

Dead is not even dying.

 

To use a water and swimming analogy, we are not drowning. We are floating face down in the water.  We are dead…or at least were dead.

 

But God has swum out and saved us.

He has brought us to shore and has breathed new life into us.

 

We cannot revive ourselves once we are even out of the water.

Dead men only come back to life by and through the power of God.

 

And how much free will does the drowning man have anyway?

He wills to swim to the shore but the current won’t allow him. So much for his freedom.

 

And we have many limitations in our lives that the use of the term “free will” is a bit silly many times. 

 

There are always outside forces influencing our decisions. We are never totally uninfluenced, neutral and free in an ultimate sense of the word.

 

So, where does this leave us?

 

We are now, as Christians more free than we were before God saved us.

 

What do we do with this information and this freedom?

This freedom in God now allows us to do what we could not do before….freely.

 

Notice that the Article says that we are not free to..

Prepare ourselves.

Call upon God by faith.

Do good works pleasant and acceptable.

 

Well, this new found freedom the will has received, only by the work of God the Holy Spirit, is what now enables us to do for instance what Paul writes today and in many other places…..

 

Ephesians 4:17-32

 

The New Life

 

[17] Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. [18] They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. (read: lack of free will)

 

[19] They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. [20] But that is not the way you learned Christ!—[21] assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus…”

 

Here comes the freed will’s work… [22] to put off your old self, (which by God has already been put off)

which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, [23] and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, [24] and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

 

Therefore, having put away falsehood, (so Paul assumes that we are working to do that….put away falsehood and insincerity)

 

Here is the work continued…. “let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.

 

[26] Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, [27] and give no opportunity to the devil.

[28] Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.

 

[29] Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

 

[30] And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

 

[31] Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.

 

[32] Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (ESV)

 

That is the work of the will that has been set free.

Free to love God.

Free to love neighbor.

Free to follow the commands from St. Paul here today.

 

All because of the work of God in us. Empowered by a new will. One that accepts the Good News that God in Christ has forgiven us…. emboldened to exercise that freedom now to the Glory of God the Father.

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.+