Grace > Wrath, Or “Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment”

Mercy triumphs over judgment.

James 2:13b

See that verse? It says something quite beautiful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. And is this not just what we need? If judgment triumphed over mercy, we would all be doomed, for instead of Christ on the Cross for us we would ourselves all suffer God’s wrath.

Yet there is a thought out there, and a someone popular one among conservative evangelicals like myself, that God’s mercy and His judgment are equals, that His wrath defines Him as much as His love. And the reason for this emphasis is certainly understandable. Theological liberalism and progressivism both act as though God’s “No” were non-existent or at least negligible in the grand scheme, so proper theology ought to resist such a temptation. But we must not respond with error in the other direction, unbiblically making grace and condemnation equal in God. For this is not what He has revealed to us in the Scriptures and in the life of His Son.

Some of you will be suspicious on this point, so I will seek to demonstrate it will a few Biblical proofs. Let it be known that God defines Himself more with love than wrath, and deals more fully in grace than in judgment. The first proof I put forward is the Old Testament judgment texts. Time after time in the OT, especially in the prophets, God warns of frightening and severe judgment. But what follows? Nearly never is that the last word. Almost every single terrifying warning is followed up by the promise of future grace. A small sample includes the entire book of Amos and its conclusion in 9:11-15, the curses of the Law in Deut. 29 and their conclusion in 30:1-10, the book of Joel and its conclusion in 3:16-21, and large portions of Isaiah. The theme repeats, woven throughout all God’s dealings with Israel: you have sinned, you will be severely and brutally punished, but you will always be restored.

Another proof comes from God’s own nature. We know that love is necessary to who and what God is, for John tells us, “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8, 16). Yet we are not told likewise that “God is wrath” or “God is judgment.” For how could this be? While God has always eternally loved and been loved in His inner Triune life, as the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father, God’s wrath only exists as a response to sin. Wrath and judgment are not eternal characteristics of God’s life, but historical realities created in response to earthly sin. To speak a bit more technically, God’s love is necessary (i.e. He would not be God without it), but His wrath is contingent (i.e. it only exists in response to something else). God has always loved and will always love, but judgment came only after sin came and will end after sin ends.

Finally, I point to the order of God’s interactions with us humans. Which does God want for all people, grace or judgment? I’ll give you a hint: check 2 Peter 3:9. What does He take no pleasure in? The death of the wicked (Ezek. 18:23), which brings them to judgment. And which of His activities, mercy or punishment, does He require that each of us emulate every day? Jesus’ own words seem clear on that matter. Above all of this, which side does He use to fulfill the other in the life of His beloved Son? Did He have mercy on His Son to make sure we were all condemned, or did He send His Son into death and wrath so that we could all be saved? The Cross here makes the answer obvious.

Hopefully, then, it is clear. God has a preference to love, grace, and mercy over wrath, judgment, and condemnation. They are not equal aspects of how our Father in heaven relates to the people He has made. Grace beats condemnation, love overwhelms wrath, and mercy triumphs over judgment. This is what God has told us out of His abundant kindness towards us. So let us celebrate what the Father does for us through His Son, that we should experience such love!

The Lord says to his people,

“Your wounds are incurable,
your injuries cannot be healed.
There is no one to take care of you,
no remedy for your sores,
no hope of healing for you.
All your lovers have forgotten you;
they no longer care about you.
I have attacked you like an enemy;
your punishment has been harsh
because your sins are many
and your wickedness is great.
Complain no more about your injuries;
there is no cure for you.
I punished you like this
because your sins are many
and your wickedness is great.
But now, all who devour you will be devoured,
and all your enemies will be taken away as prisoners.
All who oppress you will be oppressed,
and all who plunder you will be plundered.
I will make you well again;
I will heal your wounds,
though your enemies say,
‘Zion is an outcast;
no one cares about her.’
I, the Lord, have spoken.”

The Lord says,

“I will restore my people to their land
and have mercy on every family;
Jerusalem will be rebuilt,
and its palace restored.
The people who live there will sing praise;
they will shout for joy.
By my blessing they will increase in numbers;
my blessing will bring them honor.
I will restore the nation’s ancient power
and establish it firmly again;
I will punish all who oppress them.
Their ruler will come from their own nation,
their prince from their own people.
He will approach me when I invite him,
for who would dare come uninvited?
They will be my people,
and I will be their God.
I, the Lord, have spoken.”

Jeremiah 30:12-22

Reflections on Cinderella

Last Saturday night was date night for my lovely wife and me. Since our baby Nathan is old enough to stay with his grandmother for a few hours these days, we could go out for dinner and a movie for the first time in forever. What movie did we see? Cinderella. And I will admit to the face-palming of my masculinity that I was the probably the one most interested in seeing it.

As expected, the movie was lovely. Disney pulled off its Disney magic yet again, to the surprise of few, and created a fresh take on a classic which will certainly become the new canonical Cinderella story in the next generation’s consciousness. All this is quite fitting.

But Disney movies, fairy tales in particular, seem to always leave me with many thoughts which I simply must express. So as I did with Frozen before, I want to simply highlight a few themes and moments from Cinderella which I especially enjoyed or noticed. Hopefully you’ll all agree and enjoy.

“Have Courage and Be Kind”

I might as well start with the movie’s most explicit theme, namely the advice given to young Ella by her mother on her deathbed. She told her to promise to have courage and be kind. Ella takes this as her life motto and seems to truly stick to it. As to courage, she remains brave as her father continues his travels even after her mother’s passing. She hesitates not a moment to bless his wishes to find happiness with a new wife. And even when he finally passes away, she tries her best to keep living well among her stepfamily. As to kindness, she never stops for a moment. To her father, to her evil stepmother, to her obnoxious stepsisters, to the prince, and to her fairy godmother in beggar form she continues to show kindness even when in great personal despair.

Naturally, we have a lot to learn from this. For to have courage and be kind easily sums up Christian virtue. We are to endure all things, proclaim the name of Jesus, and even be willing to risk our lives for the Gospel of the Kingdom, so we must have courage. We are to love our neighbors and our enemies, bless those who curse us, give our worldly goods to those who have none, and by sharing the truth save others from eternal danger, so we must be kind. If we live by this advice given by Ella’s mother, what will we lack in doing good? Indeed, if most of us were even half as kind as Ella herself, we would be very different people and give our testimony of Christ much more credibility.

Who Am I?

There was also a quote that caught my ear near the end of the movie. As Ella descends from her attic to meet her prince, the narrator makes this point about her nerves: “This is perhaps the greatest risk any of us will ever take—to be seen as we truly are. Will we be enough as we really are?” And of course this is a real risk which we must reckon with in all our relationships. Will we abandon pretense, vanity, self-consciousness, and all other pride or fear so that we may truly love and be loved? Will we be actors or involve our real selves with others?

After this comment was made, Ella went down to see her prince, who was glad to have found her but wondered greatly who see was who appeared to him before dressed like a princess, vanished, and now stood before him a servant maid. What was her response to him? She says, “I have nothing. I am nothing, but who I am.” Finally she adds, “Will you take me as I am?” Naturally he agrees. What strikes me about this is how, for us who affirm the Gospel, it is radically our reality. We’ve come to Jesus having nothing and claiming nothing of ourselves. We must drop our disguises of self-righteousness and self-sufficiency and ask Him the all-important prayer, “Will you take me as I am?” And praise be to God that He promises to never turn away or cast out those who come to the Son! He will take us as we are.

Falling Headfirst into Love

An obvious major point of Cinderella is the romance of Ella and the prince. It was a pretty enjoyable development, in my opinion. The magic of their meetings in the forest and at the ball struck me as identifiable having myself only just left my teens. The movie called to memory the feeling before of meeting someone new, a hint of attraction involved, and getting to know a lovely stranger. It can feel like real magic, and seeing this onscreen is just altogether pleasant.

Of course, in the real world such experiences rarely lead to permanent, meaningful relationships. They tend to last briefly, and only a few grow into a lifetime of love. But they are not to be entirely spurned or written off for that reason. The very idea of these times is what makes them possible, regardless of where they end up, and when they happen the memories are worth it. And in some rare cases, such as I suggest the case of Ella and the prince, these events are enough to warrant further relationship and even marriage simply because they reveal quickly how worthy and good the people are.

As a final note on falling in love, when memories like this are looked at in retrospect, nostalgia is almost inevitable, and a pang of sadness that those days have ended. I’m a married man with a 9 month old baby now; I’ve already met my wife, gotten to know her, and fallen in love. Seems like a shame it will never happen again, right? But the truth is, as watching Cinderella reminded me, that these days do not have to be over, nor should they. The difference is the challenge and effort. Falling in love to begin with isn’t hard if you are willing, but to continue to learn about your beloved, to know them more, and to find every day more delight and reasons to love—that is hard and takes conscious effort. This is what the ideal of fairy tale love compels us to seek by confronting us with magic. As long as we long for that magic which Ella and her prince so embody, we have inspiration to keep working on knowing and loving our spouses every day.

Why Get Married?

As the prince spoke to his dying father, the issue of the reason for marriage came to my mind. The king gave in; he told his son to marry for love and not advantage. This was good, because it made for the happy ending. But was he right? Is this fairy tale teaching of marriage for love the right reason to get married? After all, that’s not what most people have historically believed and done. And while Ella is right when she says, “Just because it’s what’s done, doesn’t mean it’s what should be done,” were our ancestors actually wrong? They often married for many reasons besides love.

I do not believe it is wise to marry if because of love alone, at least in the sense of being in love. Contrary to popular belief, just because you love someone doesn’t actually mean you should marry them. Other things matter as well. Can you reasonably unite your two existing lives? Will you hurt other people in the process? Do you have goals and beliefs about your life and future which work together or which will conflict? And what about children? Surely reproduction is one of the most important reasons—though certainly not the only or necessarily the controlling reason—for marriage and sexuality. In all honesty, as well, when we hold to the traditional and Biblical teaching of sex as reserved for marriage, is there anything to gain from marriage besides sex and children which cannot be gained without marriage? All of these questions and considerations matter in the real world.

But I do not in saying all this dismiss love as a motivator. Instead of saying people should marry for love, with “for” meaning “because of,” I might suggest people should marry—at least in part—for love, with “for” meaning “in order to.” After all, when we are following the right path of waiting until marriage to become one in life, body, and habitation, how much can we really already love? Surely we do love, but not to perfection. There is much growth to remain, and is it not for the full potential of matured love and not the usually temporary and passionately-determined seeds of love that we should actually marry? This sounds correct to me.

The Cinderella Story

Finally, I want to address the actual plot of the movie. We all know the story. It is timelessly classic, and beloved.  Countless versions, spin-offs, and retellings have been made. So why is this story so enjoyable? Why does it receive so much attention? While I’m sure there are many reasons, I do offer one possible part. In the story of Cinderella we see redemption in Christ.

Trace out the plot and think of it. Though we were made by a good Father, before long we found ourselves the wretched servants of an unnatural parent, Satan. Even though as children of the Father we ought to have abundant life, we were miserable in dust and isolation. In one point very different from Ella, we ourselves were no less wicked than our stepfamily of evil. But all that changed. For the Son of the King found us, and in love He made us His bride, raising us from our pathetic existence in slavery to exalt us as royalty through Him. We are both Ella, the wronged servant, and her stepsisters, the ones wronging others, yet we were rescued by a worthy Prince, Jesus Himself, with a little supernatural help in the form of a fairy godmother the Holy Spirit. With this allegory so clear, it is no wonder that the story of Cinderella captures the hearts and minds of so many people. For all souls long for rescue by the Prince of Peace.

Blessed be the God who has done all this! Amen.

Every Eye Open If You Want to Get Saved

“Now none of this matters if you don’t already have a relationship with Jesus Christ,” the preacher says with a shift of tone. “Without Him, you can’t live an abundant life. So here’s what I want you to do. With eye head bowed and every eye closed, if you want to accept Jesus Christ into your heart tonight and be saved from your sins, please raise your hands. No one looking around; it’s just me. It’s okay if you’re shy, just raise your hand since everyone else has their eyes closed. Now repeat after me…”

Ever heard anything like this? I’m quite sure that you have. This is, in a way, the climax of most special Christian events. After music and shenanigans and finally a sermon, the preacher seeks for people who want to accept Jesus. Of course, sometimes making such a public statement is a bit embarrassing. Who wants to admit they need Jesus tonight? So, in the interest of making sure people aren’t scare off at the invitation of the Gospel, it is only natural that we would ask everyone to close their eyes and give potential converts their privacy to make this personal decision of faith. Right?

I think this is dangerous, actually. Despite the good intentions, I am confident that this method of encouraging people to convert actually has very harmful side effects. The main problem is the creation of false believers. In fact, this method of invitation does away with the very call of the Jesus in the Gospel in favor of a seeker-sensitive, pandering call. Where the Gospel demands self-sacrifice, asking everyone to close their eyes for potential believers protects them from any need to sacrifice at moment one.

See, the true conversion which results from genuine encounter with Jesus through the Holy Spirit and a yielding of the soul to His grace should never take timid form. The major verse about becoming a believer, Romans 10:9, says this: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” But where is the confession when the new believer is told he can come in secret, with no one else watching? Likewise, in Mark 8:38 Jesus promises this: “For whoever is ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” There are lots of verses with this same theme. If you would come to Christ, you are not given the option of doing it covertly.

altar-call-1

This requirement should be no shock, anyway. How can someone who is actually coming to know the grace of Jesus refuse to make it known that they love Him? All such refusals are sinful. When we pander to them, we are saying, “It’s okay to let your pride get in the way of your Savior.” The motivations for keeping quiet cannot be good. It may be you’re too proud to admit you’re still a sinner in need of grace. It may be people think you’re already saved and you’re scared to show them otherwise. Perhaps you simply fear what people will think about you if you become a follower of Jesus. But to all this, the Scripture says that “if we deny Him, He will also deny us.”

So what should we do? When we open the invitation, we must make it clear that the call to follow Jesus is not easy, and involves self-denial all the way through. Instead of “everyone will close their eyes for you,” we should tell them, “If you wish to follow Jesus, crucify your pride, take up your cross, and follow Him.” But what if this means fewer people raise their hands? What if less people decide to accept Jesus because of this? Then I daresay we have lost nothing. For if someone is clinging so much to their pride that they won’t even sacrifice an initial confession of faith, then surely that person is not actually being led by the Spirit of God to salvation! If the Spirit is working in them at all, they must be resisting that work. Making it easy will only encourage people to think they are saved, to think they’ve been secured and converted and will make it to the resurrection, even when they have no faith beyond mental facts. This is what Jesus showed us in His ministry. He did not provide an easy call, but time after time said controversial and scary things, sometimes apparently trying to get rid of anyone not serious about following Him.

Honestly, I think part of the problem may lie in the pride of people performing such events. Not all are like this, but there are many who love the numbers more than the fruit, even without realizing it. The more tally marks they can make for people who raised their hands to accept Jesus, the more impressive their events will seem. Easy invitations make for large numbers of “salvations” which in turn bring attention to the ministry doing these things. But we must be willing to sacrifice even the image of our works for God if we wish to do right in leading people to the truth.

The real danger here, by the way, is not only adding to our lists more saved people than there really are, but creating people who believe they are secure and saved when they are still in their sins, never more to worry about their spiritual state because of one misleading event.  Their chance at salvation in the future may be seriously hindered because they think they have already found the life in Jesus, even though they only accepted an easy and impotent form of the Gospel. It is like a cancer patient who dies before his time, all because an incompetent doctor told him that he was cured when he really wasn’t, so he stopped seeking treatment. May God never let this happen!

So what do I propose, again? Let’s tell people the truth: you must die to yourself if you wish to follow Christ. In the simplest and first way, just don’t pander to their self-consciousness by giving them a moment of secrecy to make their “confession.” Make them confess Christ publicly or not at all. This the example of Jesus. In fact, if I were to have it my way, I would yank open a baptismal at the invitation and tell people, “Sacrifice your pride and your dry clothes if you truly believe. Confess Christ as Lord, repent, and be baptized in the name of the Jesus for your forgiveness!” This kind of radical call will not only keep people from falsely and shallowly converting to their soul’s detriment, but may even embolden and inspire those who the Spirit is working in, giving them a concrete way to express their new faith. In this way, we together with our new brothers and sisters can honor Christ as those who need not be ashamed.

Jesus Is Still Human! (And Why It Matters)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He was lifted up and glorified, and then the Word was no longer flesh.

Huh?

I’ve heard it said by more than one person that Jesus is no longer human. Once He ascended, He went back to being all God. Even people who don’t say this is true still wonder why it wouldn’t be, or why it matters either way. But as far as I am concerned this is the result of serious theological negligence in common modern preaching. It is not enough to say that Jesus was completely God and completely human. We must also affirm that He remains the God-man forever and ever.

Of course, the immediate response for many of you will be, “Why should I believe this is true? Is this Biblical?” In fact, this is the clear teaching of Scripture. I’d go so far as to say the New Testament leaves open no possibility that Jesus ceased to be a human being after He ascended. To prove this beyond doubt, I will offer three kinds of arguments: a few proof texts, a theological explanation, and finally a summary of the ridiculous implications which would result from saying that Jesus is no longer human.

Proof Verses

There are many verses in the NT which require or imply that Jesus never stopped being human, and remains human right now. Examples:

For, there is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus.

1 Timothy 2:5

This verse tells us that there is one Mediator. Jesus in the present tense is the Mediator between God and humans. Yet what does the Scripture say here? This present Mediator is “the man Christ Jesus.” So in the present tense Jesus is a human Mediator.

And standing in the middle of the lampstands was someone like the Son of Man. He was wearing a long robe with a gold sash across his chest.

Revelation 1:13

John has this vision over 90 years after the Ascension, and here he identifies “someone like the Son of Man.” As the context makes abundantly clear, this phrase is part of the description of Jesus, who was known in His earthly life also as the Son of Man, a title which very much emphasizes His human nature. So if Jesus is no longer human, then why should He be called “someone like the Son of Man?” Unless you want bear on the word “like” as if that proves He is no longer actually the Son of Man, but such nonsense is easily ignored.

For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.

Acts 17:31

Again, after the Ascension, when the Apostles have been publicly preaching for some time, Jesus is referred to as the man God has appointed to judge the world. This judgment is still future, of course, so we would have to be stretching to absurdity to say, “He has set a day to judge the world with justice by the ex-man he has appointed, who is actually 100% God now…” This verse only makes sense if Jesus is still a human and will remain so at least until final judgment.

“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”

Acts 1:11

If Jesus is to return just like He ascended, does that not require that He returns in human form just as He left? So He must remain human at least for that. The only other option is to say that Jesus switched back to pure God, and later will become human one more time.

The Theological Argument: Jesus as Eternal High Priest, and the Guarantee of Resurrection

My next major argument involves Jesus’ role as our High Priest. While unfortunately most modern theology is laid out in a way that this ministry of Jesus becomes unimportant, the truth is that Jesus’ priestly mediation is essential to our salvation. Not only did He make atonement, but now He lives forever at the right hand of the Father actually exercising the reconciliation He achieved in God’s presence. Without this mediation, we could not be saved. The atonement would be one crucial and eternal step short of completion. Of course, if this seems strange, modern preaching/theological emphasis is to blame. A quick read through the book of Hebrews confirms what I am saying.

If this is true, as Hebrews tells us, then we must also note that Jesus’ priestly ministry is associated in the Scriptures exclusively with His human nature. In order to be our priest and make us holy before God, He had to become like us in every way, taking on our flesh and blood existence. Really, this is the entire point of Hebrews 2, not to mention 1 Timothy 2:5 which I cited above. The High Priest must be a human to minister to God for humans. And Jesus is our human High Priest.

The major point to note, then, is that Jesus’ priestly mediation before the Father is emphatically viewed as a present and eternal reality. Notice how often Hebrews calls Him a high priest forever. Then comes this important declaration:

But because Jesus lives forever, his priesthood lasts forever. Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf.

Hebrews 7:24-25

Here the author of Hebrews states clearly that Jesus’ role as High Priest mediating before God and humans will last forever. Yet, as I said before and as Hebrews 2 especially demonstrates, this priestly ministry is part of Jesus’ humanity. If He were not human, He would be no more eligible to our High Priest than an angel, or even a monkey. For the priest of humanity must Himself be a member of humanity. Again, all I am saying here is made clear in Hebrews.

I have a second important theological argument, though, despite that I think the first is proof enough of Jesus’ eternal humanity. This one is grounded in the Resurrection. Even a brief skimming of the New Testament is enough to show that our future bodily resurrection is based on and comes from Jesus’ own resurrected life. But this cannot be simply a one-time event that we then copy. If Jesus stopped being human, then He no longer has a resurrected and glorified human body. So in that case, how will we be raised if we cannot participate in a Savior who is still living resurrected human life?

Simply put, if Jesus’ resurrection body was only temporary before He ceased to be human, then how can the Bible say that He is the firstfruits/firstborn from the dead? Can He really be the pattern and base of our own future, eternal resurrection if He Himself was only raised to a body that lasted 40 days? Of course not! The Scriptures say that we will be resurrected like Jesus was, and that obviously does not mean into a temporary human existence.

The Ridiculous Problems If Jesus Isn’t Still Human

Finally, I will demonstrate that we run quickly into absurd results if we are willing to accept that Jesus stopped being human. For example, since the Bible clearly affirms that Jesus will return in human form just like when He left, then He would have to have a brand new human nature created for the second time if He no longer has the one He had when he left. Will the Word become flesh twice? Surely that’s nonsense. Jesus isn’t a transformer.

Another problem would be this: if Jesus is no longer human, then the human Jesus of Nazareth is dead. Remember, before Bethlehem there was no “Jesus,” there was simply the Son who existed eternally as the divine Word. The name “Jesus” applies to the human being who the Word become, the man from Nazareth. So if the Word unbecame flesh, then Jesus no longer exists, and only the Son in His original divine form does. The man Jesus would be dead, His body having vanished from all reality. In fact, He would be more dead that we could ever be! For we have not only a human body but a human soul. Jesus’ human soul is also part of His human nature. But our souls do not die, they continue to exist forever even when the body is dead. Yet if Jesus stopped being human, then even the human soul He had would have ceased to exist, meaning the man Jesus was ultimately even more mortal then we are, and this after His victorious resurrection!

Speaking of His resurrection, wouldn’t the Resurrection be a bit pointless if a mere 40 days later Jesus’ glorified and resurrected body would simply cease to exist? What’s going on here? “I sent me Son to die, then I raised His body from the dead, and then I made that body disappear from all reality.” Does this make any sense at all? By no means! If the body Jesus had after His resurrection was only temporary, then I dare to say His resurrection was no more than a divine prank and means nothing to our salvation!

As if all this were not enough, if the Word stopped being flesh—Jesus quit being human—then apparently Jesus was not truly 100% God and 100% human in one person. For besides the fact that humans live forever either in bliss or torment, and if Jesus stopped being human then He did not fulfill that, the Word merely shedding off His human nature after the Ascension would all but prove He never really held a human nature as a serious part of His person. Instead, Jesus’ human nature would seem to be more like clothes, easily donned and easily taken off when necessary. But this, of course, is rank heresy.

Conclusion

Hopefully by this point I’ve proved my case. If not, I am at a loss, for I believe the Scriptures tesify quite plainly about what I’ve said. Jesus did not merely spend 33 years out of all eternity as one of us. Once God committed Himself so dearly to humanity that He sent His one and only Son to become our saving Brother, the Word made an eternal and irrevocable dedication to be God as human as so that humans could forever meet Him as God. This is essential, for all Christ’s work from the moment He died depends on the permanence of His human nature. Praise God that He so loved the world He even made an eternal change in His divine life for us, sending the Son to be like us so that we could also be sons like Him! Amen.

An Experimental Framework for Justification

Justified. So we are as believers. We stand before God in some kind of right relationship. We know that this is done because of Jesus’ work for us. But the Bible can be a bit unclear on the details. As I mentioned in a recent post, both Catholic and Protestant views have strengths and weaknesses (though I obviously do land notably more Protestant myself), and I think the popular understandings of justification all miss at least a little something. My best insight was that justification does not have to have a completely uniform meaning. So I went to work trying to sort out what the Bible actually says about justification for my personal study, only to decide that what I came up with should become a blog post. Here, then, are the notes I made:

For now, I’m experimenting with a 3/4 distinction framework for understanding justification. At its most basic and common, justification involves rightness, a good standing in relation to God. This broader concept encompasses four subpoints, labeled J0-J3, all of which are to some degree bound up together. I do not expect to see all Scripture references to justification as falling neatly into these categories, for they necessarily will overlap, especially J0 and J1. The broad concepts are as follows:

J0: Ground zero justification. This is the finished work of Christ on our behalf as humanity. He lived, died, rose, and ascended to accomplish our rightness with God dramatically, forensically, and ontologically. He fulfilled the covenant for man so that man could be united with God. This justification is accomplished by Christ alone. It is a work of unilateral grace for our forgiveness and reconciliation, done once for all on behalf of all. By this justification we are saved.

J1: Initiation. This is the first subjective event of justification. It refers to the one event at which point an individual is reconciled to God through Christ, becoming righteous in Him before God and man. J1 can be subdivided into two moments.

J1.1: Union. The first moment of J1 justification is union with Christ, as the Spirit works to bring His life into us and make us one with Him. This ontological union is the fount of all our goodness, whether in the form of faith or works. It comes from the life of Christ we receive in union with Him. United with Christ also means that we share in His personal justification, appropriating the reality of J0.

J1.2: Declaration. The second moment of J1 justification is declaration, specifically God’s declaration that we are among His righteous ones (or in His righteous One). This declaration is made on the basis of faith, which is the firstfruits of J1.1 justification. Our faith becomes the first mark that we have become God’s children through Christ, and so we are declared as righteous.

J2: Identification. The second part of subjective justification, which continues throughout the life of the believer on earth, is identification. This is how God identifies who are His righteous ones (believers in Christ) before men, especially for the other righteous. Unlike in the OT, they are not identified by faithfulness to the Law, but by their faith and (unlike the prior dimensions of justification) their good deeds of love. Faith, however, remains the firstfruits, and both the believer’s faith and good works are still remembered to be the result of union with Christ, the personalized actualization of His life of faith/works.

J3: Final vindication. The third and final subjective part of justification, which occurs at final judgment, is our final vindication. This is the act whereby God gives His public verdict: righteous. This judgment is made in reference to the entire post-J1 life, though it is guaranteed by the J1 event. Because Christ grounds all of our faith and works through the Spirit, we will come out justified. This sentence is the last word on our eternal destiny, though it remains infallibly in accordance with the word God declares in J1.2.

 Following are my more in depth explanations of each point.

J0 Justification

J0 justification is the first and primary dimension of justification, though not necessarily the most discussed by the Biblical authors. Instead, it lies behind all parts of justification as their base and ground.

The essence of J0 justification is the finished work of Christ on our behalf. It is a work of free grace for our redemption (Rom. 3:24), causing our life by His own faithfulness to God (Rom. 3:26, Gal. 2:16) which counts also on our behalf, both anhypostatically an enhypostatically.

J0 justification is a work God began and indeed finished while we were yet ungodly sinners (Rom. 4:5, 5:8-10), before we had anything to offer God. It is completely gratuitous (Tit. 3:7), brought about solely by God’s salvific will toward mankind (1 Tim. 2:4, 4:10). We bring nothing to the table when it comes to this justifying righteousness, only God through Christ (Phil. 3:9).

While all of Christ’s person and life was directed towards our salvation, J0 justification centers primarily on the expiation of the Cross (Rom. 5:9) and the vindication of the Resurrection (Rom. 4:25). Because of what Jesus accomplished once-for-all as the high priest for all mankind (Heb. 9:28, 10:10), we are justified before God.

This justification consists of God’s stern, uncompromising judgment of human sin (Rom. 8:3) along with His gracious, saving acquittal of human sinners (Rom. 5:6-8, Zech. 3:4) in Jesus Himself. In this God saves the unrighteous through the vindication of His own righteousness (Rom. 3:4, cf Ps. 51:4).

J1 Justification

J1 justification refers to the initial salvation event in the believer’s life, when he goes from an unjustified sinner to a justified saint. This is considered the beginning of the life of faith, the conversion and spiritual birth. “Justification” is not, in fact, applicable to all the dimensions of this event, but only to two of them. These two dimensions are the component moments of the J1 justification event. (Moments, in this case, are meant to be taken in relation to logical, not temporal, order. The two moments of J1 justification are considered chronologically simultaneous but logically sequential.)

J1.1: Union

The first moment of J1 justification is union with Christ. When we hear the Gospel word in the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Thess. 1:5), God make us alive together with Christ (Eph. 2:5). The emphasis here is on with Christ, for at this moment we are incorporated into Christ and become one with Him through the Spirit. This event itself is not J1.1 justification, but what Paul refers to as our “call” (1 Cor. 1:26, Eph. 1:18, Eph. 4:4, 2 Tim. 1:9, 2 Pet. 1:10) and John as being “born again/from above” (John 3).

At our call/new birth when we become “in Christ,” we receive all of the spiritual benefits (Eph. 1:3) He has accomplished for us, including His J0 justification. What He achieved through His death and resurrection, we receive as well (Rom. 6:3-4). We become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21). In this way we participate in J0 justification, for as Christ has been justified (1 Tim. 3:16) in God’s righteousness (Rom. 1:17) we are justified by Him (Gal. 2:16-17).

J1.2: Declaration

The second moment of J1 justification I call “declaration,” in reference to God’s word of justification that we are righteous (or among His righteous, or in His righteous One). The very first effect of the union with Christ at the time of J1.1 justification is faith (1 Cor. 12:9, Gal. 5:22 KJV, Eph. 2:8, Phil. 1:29). When the Spirit gives us new life, part of which includes J1.1 justification, we exhibit faith as the firstfruits. Thus we believe, which the NT writers usually assume is the beginning of our personal salvation.

On the basis of this faith (as opposed to works of the Law, Rom. 3:20), publicly recognizing our new righteousness from Christ, God justifies us, that is, He declares us as righteous, which we now are indeed (Rom. 3:28, 3:30,4:5, 5:1, Gal. 2:16-17). Faith alone is the basis for this justification, because it is the initial result of J1.1 union. Once we go from being one of the sinners to being one of the righteous (1 Cor. 6:11, transfered from the power of darkness to the kingdom of the Son, cf. Col. 1:13), we exhibit faith as proof and so God justifies us (declares us to be those who are right with Him).

This declaration is itself somewhat paradoxical, for in declaring us as righteous in Christ God also exposes us all as utterly sinful in ourselves (Rom. 3:9-19). For only is we are bankrupt in ourselves do we have any need of transition, any need of atonement. Only the sick need a doctor (Luke 5:31). So in Christ we are made righteous along with the exposure of our utter sinfulness.

As an important qualifier, faith in this case does not merit justification of any kind; it is not a requirement of goodness which we must meet for God to reward us with a right standing with Himself. We are justified (declared as righteous) because faith demonstrates that we have been united with Christ.

J2 Justification

After J1 justification and until J3 justification, we experience J2 justification, which is primarily from God and before other people. J2 justification is not a making or setting right, as some other aspects of justification involve, but a recognition of righteousness. J2 follows from J1.1 in that it is God’s continual work of identifying us as righteous people in Christ.

For the Jews of Paul’s time, J2 justification occurred by faithfully adhering to the Jewish Law, especially in the defining rite of circumcision. How do you know who God’s people are? According to the Jews, you look to their circumcision and their faithfulness to the Law in general (this theme as a major target of Paul’s polemics can be seen throughout Romans and Galatians, see Rom. 2). This is justification by works of Law/Torah: God’s righteous people are identified by doing the Law.

Scripture teaches clearly that we cannot be justified in any way by doing the Law (Rom. 3:20, 3:28, 9:32, Gal. 2:16, 3:10). Whether we trust in the Law as the basis or as the proof of our righteous standing with God, we are left hopeless, because when the Law is our measure “everyone who does not continue doing everything written in the book of the law is cursed” (see Deut. 27:26). Therefore, as we said before, no one can be justified in any of these senses by Law (Gal. 3:11).

On the other hand, while faith is clearly the primary mark of God’s people (Hab. 2:4, Rom. 3:28, Rom. 4:5, 2 Cor. 8:7), the righteous do also show visible signs of their identity, namely good deeds of love (John 13:35, 1 Cor. 13:13,2 Cor. 8:7, Gal. 5:6, 22-23, Eph. 3:17, Col. 1:4, 1 Thess. 1:3, 1 Jn. 3:14), especially caring for those in need (Matt. 25:35-36, Luke 3:11, Jas. 2:15-16, 1 Jn. 3:17-18). These good deeds identify us as righteous (again, remembering that we are only righteous in union with Christ, and not on our own, see John 15:5, Gal. 2:20) before all people, both for the unity of believers (enabling us to fulfill injunctions such as Gal. 6:10) and for God’s glory among unbelievers (Matt. 5:16). In this way we are J2 justified, that is, our status as just before God is made known.

James clearly speaks the most strongly on this matter, for he says that any faith we claim to have is dead and useless, unable to save (even perform its role in J1.1 justification), without the accompanying good deeds (Jas. 2:14, 17, 20). A bare belief in the facts of the Gospel doesn’t prove we are in Christ any more than it proves demons are (Jas. 2:19). SinceJ2 justification deals with this-wordly identification of the righteous, James can proclaim that we are justified by faith and works (Jas. 2:21-26) without impinging on the unique and complete work of Christ for our J0 and J1 justification, and without contradicting Paul.

J3 Justification

On the day of judgment we receive J3 justification, our final vindication. Having been made right with God on the basis of Jesus’ objective work for mankind in J0 justification, having appropriated this subjectively in J1 justification, and having been identified throughout our lives as God’s people in J2 justification, we finally receive our public verdict from God and before all people: righteous.

Now, there are two points to make about J3 justification. Firstly, our justified verdict at final judgment is guaranteed at our J1 justification event (Rom. 14:4, 1 Cor. 1:8, Phil. 1:6, 2 Tim. 1:12). When God declares us as righteous, as His righteous people, in J1 justification, He promises that His last day verdict will match. Therefore we are eternally secure from the first (John 6:39-40, John 17:12, Rom. 8:29-39, 2 Cor. 4:14, Jude 1:24).

Secondly and almost paradoxically, the declaration of righteousness we receive at J3 justification is made with reference to (or, to use NT language, “according to”) our works (Matt. 16:27, 2 Cor. 11:15, 2 Tim. 4:14, 1 Pet. 1:17,Rev. 2:23, 20:12-13). While, again, it is clearly maintained that our works flow from Christ’s life in us and not any goodness we achieve on our own (Gal. 2:20, esp. KJV), it remains the case that God will give us a verdict recognizing what we do and say (Ps. 62:12, Ezek. 18:30, Matt. 12:37, Rom. 2:5-10, 2 Cor. 5:10). In a way, we could say that at the final judgment will be be judged not for our own deeds but for those of Jesus living in us!

The connection between the two points made here about J3 justification is found in the Holy Spirit bringing Christ’s own life into the believer. All believers have the Spirit (Rom. 8:9, 1 Cor. 3:16, Gal. 4:6, Eph. 1:13, 2 Tim. 1:14), and He is the one by whom we are united to Christ, for He is the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9, 1 Pet. 1:11). The Spirit, bringing Christ’s faithfulness into our lives personally, produces the fruit (Gal. 5:22-23) which fulfills the law of love (Rom. 13:10) to our vindication on judgment day (John 10:29, Rom. 14:4, Jude 1:24). So we can reiterate that our J3 justification is (1) assured at J1, (2) done according to our works, and (3) ultimately grounded in Christ’s life and work for us in J0.

[As an end note, I have drawn these thoughts from several disparate sources, namely classic Reformed theology, popular level Protestant apologetics, Martin Luther, Thomas Torrance, N. T. Wright, and some really cool blog which I don’t remember the name of. All working together seem to make better sense of the actual text of the Scriptures than anything I had heard before.]

How Serious Was Jesus About Anger?

Anger. It’s an emotion we all experience. Sometimes we just get mad; we start feeling hostile and upset towards people or things. This is just a part of life, or at least that is how it too often seems. People just get angry. No big deal, right?

Unfortunately for all of us, Jesus was pretty harsh on anger. Here’s what He said:

You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, “Do not murder,” and whoever murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. And whoever says to his brother, “Fool!” will be subject to the Sanhedrin. But whoever says, “You moron!” will be subject to hellfire. So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Reach a settlement quickly with your adversary while you’re on the way with him, or your adversary will hand you over to the judge, the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison. I assure you: You will never get out of there until you have paid the last penny!

Matthew 5:21-26

Here’s some pretty serious stuff. Jesus basically makes anger akin to murder. If you are angry with someone (some Bibles add “without a cause,” but the best texts do not include that phrase), you will be judged. If you callously insult someone, you will be judged even more severely. And if you furiously slander someone, you will be truly condemned.

Obviously, not all anger is sinful. There is a holy anger against sin, which God possesses and Jesus Himself exercised when He cleansed the Temple. This anger is not spiteful or hateful to individuals, but is in reality the reaction of authentic love to assaults on its beloved. We can sometimes share this kind of righteous indignation. But that’s beside the point.

The truth is that we spend too much time getting angry in a very unrighteous way. This is clearly and truly sin. When I get a sorry tip (which, just in case anyone would like to know, is anything under $3) on a delivery, and I get angry at the person, I have sinned and so must confess and repent. When you get cut off in traffic and want to curse at the person, you have sinned. The truth is that from many things, even really small ones, we feel a surge of anger that we don’t mind entertaining. Rarely do we resist or refuse to indulge in this hostile feeling. Most of the time we, if nothing else, at least fantasize about acting on it. This is evil of the purest (or most impure?) kind.

If you need further proof that Jesus is so serious about maintaining healthy and right relationships with other people, check out what He says about the sacrifice. He said that if you are offering a sacrifice to God (which took place only in Jerusalem), and you realize that you have a problem with someone, you must leave your gift sitting at the altar, exit the Temple, find the other person, and go make things right. Considering the audience lived days away from Jerusalem, as well, that’s a pretty big deal. We see here that Jesus would rather see you settle your disputes with others than go to church to worship.

He also mentions that if someone is taking action against you because you have wronged them, you had better reconcile with them as quickly as possible. Otherwise you will suffer the consequences, and that doesn’t just mean whatever punishment you are given by the judge. Remember, Jesus mentioned hellfire a few verses ago.

So we have to make a choice. When we are wronged and feel anger coming up, we must resist it. When we wrong someone and make them angry, we must be humble and seek reconciliation instead of getting angry in return. And under no circumstances ought we get angry for stupid reasons, even though probably the majority of the reasons that we get angry are stupid in the grand scheme of things. Finally, whenever we do get angry, we must not lash out in sin, or else things will be all the worse for us.

Basically, “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Augustine on Open Theism

Ever heard of open theism? If you haven’t, open theism is an umbrella term for a variety of doctrines of God which hold this in common: God does not have total foreknowledge of all future events. For most of my readers, I’m sure this an unfamiliar and very bizarre sounding position, but unfortunately open theism does have growing supports in groups which otherwise appear to be Evangelical. Major supporters include Clark Pinnock, Gregory Boyd, and John Sanders.

Here, I have no interest in providing my own arguments against open theism. There are plenty of those to go around already. Nor will I spend time explaining why open theism’s error is actually less Biblically obvious than many people assume. That can also be saved for later.

What I actually am interested in doing here is quoting Saint Augustine on this matter. I’ve recently begun reading (well, listening to) The City of God, and in the course of this work Augustine comes to refute the error of Cicero, a pagan philosopher who denied God’s foreknowledge to preserve human free will. Since this is almost exactly the project of modern open theists, I thought it would be worth sharing Augustine’s response. So without further ado, here’s the argument:

And this [refuting the Stoic concepts of prophecy, fate, and divination] he attempts to accomplish by denying that there is any knowledge of future things, and maintains with all his might that there is no such knowledge either in God or man, and that there is no prediction of events. Thus he both denies the foreknowledge of God, and attempts by vain arguments, and by opposing to himself certain oracles very easy to be refuted, to overthrow all prophecy, even such as is clearer than the light (though even these oracles are not refuted by him).

I should break for a moment to mention that, unlike Cicero, open theists do not rule out all prophecy. Some believe God can predict events with great precision like intelligent people but better, and others simply argue that, when God wishes, He can ensure that His will for the future is carried out, though at the expense of human accountability.

But, in refuting these conjectures of the mathematicians, his argument is triumphant, because truly these are such as destroy and refute themselves. Nevertheless, they are far more tolerable who assert the fatal influence of the stars than they who deny the foreknowledge of future events. For, to confess that God exists, and at the same time to deny that He has foreknowledge of future things, is the most manifest folly. This Cicero himself saw, and therefore to assert the doctrine embodied in the words of Scripture, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” That, however, he did not do in his own person, for he saw how odious and offensive such an opinion would be; and therefore, in his book on the nature of the gods, he makes Cotta dispute concerning this against the Stoics, and preferred to give his own opinion in favor of Lucilius Balbus, to whom he assigned the defence of the Stoical position, rather than in favor of Cotta, who maintained that no divinity exists. However, in his book on divination, he in his own person most openly opposes the doctrine of the prescience of future things. But all this he seems to do in order that he may not grant the doctrine of fate, and by so doing destroy free will. For he thinks that, the knowledge of future things being once conceded, fate follows as so necessary a consequence that it cannot be denied.

But, let these perplexing debatings and disputations of the philosophers go on as they may, we, in order that we may confess the most high and true God Himself, do confess His will, supreme power, and prescience. Neither let us be afraid lest, after all, we do not do by will that which we do by will, because He, whose foreknowledge is infallible, foreknew that we would do it. It was this which Cicero was afraid of, and therefore opposed foreknowledge. The Stoics also maintained that all things do not come to pass by necessity, although they contended that all things happen according to destiny. What is it, then, that Cicero feared in the prescience of future things? Doubtless it was this,—that if all future things have been foreknown, they will happen in the order in which they have been foreknown; and if they come to pass in this order, there is a certain order of things foreknown by God; and if a certain order of things, then a certain order of causes, for nothing can happen which is not preceded by some efficient cause. But if there is a certain order of causes according to which everything happens which does happen, then by fate, says he, all things happen which do happen. But if this be so, then is there nothing in our own power, and there is no such thing as freedom of will; and if we grant that, says he, the whole economy of human life is subverted. In vain are laws enacted. In vain are reproaches, praises, chidings, exhortations had recourse to; and there is no justice whatever in the appointment of rewards for the good, and punishments for the wicked. And that consequences so disgraceful, and absurd, and pernicious to humanity may not follow, Cicero chooses to reject the foreknowledge of future things, and shuts up the religious mind to this alternative, to make choice between two things, either that something is in our own power, or that there is foreknowledge,—both of which cannot be true; but if the one is affirmed, the other is thereby denied. He therefore, like a truly great and wise man, and one who consulted very much and very skillfully for the good of humanity, of those two chose the freedom of the will, to confirm which he denied the foreknowledge of future things; and thus, wishing to make men free he makes them sacrilegious.

But the religious mind chooses both, confesses both, and maintains both by the faith of piety. But how so? says Cicero; for the knowledge of future things being granted, there follows a chain of consequences which ends in this, that there can be nothing depending on our own free wills. And further, if there is anything depending on our wills, we must go backwards by the same steps of reasoning till we arrive at the conclusion that there is no foreknowledge of future things. For we go backwards through all the steps in the following order:—If there is free will, all things do not happen according to fate; if all things do not happen according to fate, there is not a certain order of causes; and if there is not a certain order of causes, neither is there a certain order of things foreknown by God,—for things cannot come to pass except they are preceded by efficient causes,—but, if there is no fixed and certain order of causes foreknown by God, all things cannot be said to happen according as He foreknew that they would happen. And further, if it is not true that all things happen just as they have been foreknown by Him, there is not, says he, in God any foreknowledge of future events.

I’ll point out here that Cicero’s argument, as presented by Augustine, is almost identical to that of open theists on a popular level, but also of many atheists. And must of its core actually parallels the standard arguments in favor of free will over a Calvinist-style determinism.

Now, against the sacrilegious and impious darings of reason, we assert both that God knows all things before they come to pass, and that we do by our free will whatsoever we know and feel to be done by us only because we will it. But that all things come to pass by fate, we do not say; nay we affirm that nothing comes to pass by fate; for we demonstrate that the name of fate, as it is wont to be used by those who speak of fate, meaning thereby the position of the stars at the time of each one’s conception or birth, is an unmeaning word, for astrology itself is a delusion. But an order of causes in which the highest efficiency is attributed to the will of God, we neither deny nor do we designate it by the name of fate, unless, perhaps, we may understand fate to mean that which is spoken, deriving it from fari, to speak; for we cannot deny that it is written in the sacred Scriptures, “God hath spoken once; these two things have I heard, that power belongeth unto God. Also unto Thee, O God, belongeth mercy: for Thou wilt render unto every man according to his works.” Now the expression, “Once hath He spoken,” is to be understood as meaning “immovably,” that is, unchangeably hath He spoken, inasmuch as He knows unchangeably all things which shall be, and all things which He will do. We might, then, use the word fate in the sense it bears when derived from fari, to speak, had it not already come to be understood in another sense, into which I am unwilling that the hearts of men should unconsciously slide. But it does not follow that, though there is for God a certain order of all causes, there must therefore be nothing depending on the free exercise of our own wills, for our wills themselves are included in that order of causes which is certain to God, and is embraced by His foreknowledge, for human wills are also causes of human actions; and He who foreknew all the causes of things would certainly among those causes not have been ignorant of our wills. For even that very concession which Cicero himself makes is enough to refute him in this argument. For what does it help him to say that nothing takes place without a cause, but that every cause is not fatal, there being a fortuitous cause, a natural cause, and a voluntary cause? It is sufficient that he confesses that whatever happens must be preceded by a cause.

So how does Augustine respond? He simply includes the freedom of the will as part of a causal chain to be foreknown by God. This doesn’t collapse all human choice into “fatal” determinism, but simply means that God can by His omniscience see through the entire course of human intentions and decisions as part of the cause-and-effect relationship which Cicero has already acknowledged exists even in a world with free will. Continuing:

For we say that those causes which are called fortuitous are not a mere name for the absence of causes, but are only latent, and we attribute them either to the will of the true God, or to that of spirits of some kind or other. And as to natural causes, we by no means separate them from the will of Him who is the author and framer of all nature. But now as to voluntary causes. They are referable either to God, or to angels, or to men, or to animals of whatever description, if indeed those instinctive movements of animals devoid of reason, by which, in accordance with their own nature, they seek or shun various things, are to be called wills. And when I speak of the wills of angels, I mean either the wills of good angels, whom we call the angels of God, or of the wicked angels, whom we call the angels of the devil, or demons. Also by the wills of men I mean the wills either of the good or of the wicked. And from this we conclude that there are no efficient causes of all things which come to pass unless voluntary causes, that is, such as belong to that nature which is the spirit of life. For the air or wind is called spirit, but, inasmuch as it is a body, it is not the spirit of life. The spirit of life, therefore, which quickens all things, and is the creator of every body, and of every created spirit, is God Himself, the uncreated spirit. In His supreme will resides the power which acts on the wills of all created spirits, helping the good, judging the evil, controlling all, granting power to some, not granting it to others. For, as He is the creator of all natures, so also is He the bestower of all powers, not of all wills; for wicked wills are not from Him, being contrary to nature, which is from Him. As to bodies, they are more subject to wills: some to our wills, by which I mean the wills of all living mortal creatures, but more to the wills of men than of beasts. But all of them are most of all subject to the will of God, to whom all wills also are subject, since they have no power except what He has bestowed upon them. The cause of things, therefore, which makes but is not made, is God; but all other causes both make and are made. Such are all created spirits, and especially the rational. Material causes, therefore, which may rather be said to be made than to make, are not to be reckoned among efficient causes, because they can only do what the wills of spirits do by them. How, then, does an order of causes which is certain to the foreknowledge of God necessitate that there should be nothing which is dependent on our wills, when our wills themselves have a very important place in the order of causes? Cicero, then, contends with those who call this order of causes fatal, or rather designate this order itself by the name of fate; to which we have an abhorrence, especially on account of the word, which men have become accustomed to understand as meaning what is not true. But, whereas he denies that the order of all causes is most certain, and perfectly clear to the prescience of God, we detest his opinion more than the Stoics do. For he either denies that God exists,—which, indeed, in an assumed personage, he has labored to do, in his book De Natura Deorum,—or if he confesses that He exists, but denies that He is prescient of future things, what is that but just “the fool saying in his heart there is no God?” For one who is not prescient of all future things is not God. Wherefore our wills also have just so much power as God willed and foreknew that they should have; and therefore whatever power they have, they have it within most certain limits; and whatever they are to do, they are most assuredly to do, for He whose foreknowledge is infallible foreknew that they would have the power to do it, and would do it. Wherefore, if I should choose to apply the name of fate to anything at all, I should rather say that fate belongs to the weaker of two parties, will to the stronger, who has the other in his power, than that the freedom of our will is excluded by that order of causes, which, by an unusual application of the word peculiar to themselves, the Stoics call Fate.

You’ll notice here that Augustine affirms God as the original Cause, Creator, and Sustainer of all things, even the human will, and even the wicked human will. Yet His creative power which gives the will existence and ability does not determine the characteristic shape or choices that will takes on. Instead, he explicitly states that “wicked wills are not from Him.”

In the following chapter, Augustine also goes on to ask whether necessity affects the freedom of the will. There he makes some interesting points about God’s freedom, but to finish up this post I want to quote one more short bit very relevant to this post.

It is not the case, therefore, that because God foreknew what would be in the power of our wills, there is for that reason nothing in the power of our wills. For he who foreknew this did not foreknow nothing. Moreover, if He who foreknew what would be in the power of our wills did not foreknow nothing, but something, assuredly, even though He did foreknow, there is something in the power of our wills. Therefore we are by no means compelled, either, retaining the prescience of God, to take away the freedom of the will, or, retaining the freedom of the will, to deny that He is prescient of future things, which is impious. But we embrace both. We faithfully and sincerely confess both. The former, that we may believe well; the latter, that we may live well. For he lives ill who does not believe well concerning God. Wherefore, be it far from us, in order to maintain our freedom, to deny the prescience of Him by whose help we are or shall be free.

St. Augustine, The City of God, chapters 9-10