By: Staci Stallings
Expanding upon what we’ve been talking about, namely the two trees in the Garden of Eden and what they can teach us, we look today at the concept of free will.
First, let’s review. In the Garden, there were two trees: The Tree of Life (Tree of God) and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Tree of Me). Adam and Eve chose to not rely on God by eating from the Tree of Me–my plans, my agenda, my strength, my effort. And so do we. This is the fundamental sin of mankind. It’s called Pride. I will do it myself. I do not need God.
When Adam and Eve committed this sin, God banished them from the Garden and set up a barrier so they could not get back to the Tree of Life. Jesus Christ came and died on a cross, which created a bridge across that barrier from us having to do it ourselves to being able to once again rely on the Providence of God. The bridge Jesus created became the crossbar of the cross and on that cross bar are: forgiveness, grace, mercy, and God’s love. These, in accord with Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself, save us from being doomed to a life of living on our own that is mortal and will die. To a life that is filled with joy and light and peace and happiness living once again as we were meant to, staying at the Tree of Life.
So where does “free will” fit into this?
Here is the picture I draw for my Sunday School Class:
Now a lot of people get free will wrong. They think it means, “God lets me do whatever I want.” To one extent that is true, God will let you do “whatever you want”–right or wrong, but the choice is simpler and more profound than that. You see, some people think that the whatever-I-want choice is between good things and bad things.
For example, “I can help my neighbor or I can go shoot someone.” Okay, now I’m hoping you know that one of those is “right” and one is “wrong.” But here’s the thing: You can do the right thing for the wrong reason… and STILL be wrong!
How? Well, let’s look at the story of the two men in the Temple. The one, the tax collector, had stolen from everyone. He was vilified and hated by many. He was seen as a cheat and a liar. Obviously setting him on the side of darkness and sin (the Tree of Me). The other man in the Temple LOOKED really good on the outside. He tithed. He prayed. He fasted. Oh, he looked really good. But the truth is that he too was on the side of sin (the Tree of Me).
See, what we miss is that the second tree is not the Tree of EVIL, as in, so as long as you’re not doing evil, you’re okay. No. It’s the Tree of the Knowledge of GOOD and Evil. That means that you could be doing GOOD things and still be stuck in the sin of pride.
How, so? That doesn’t make sense. Oh, yes, it does.
God doesn’t want us to do good things on our own effort. He doesn’t want us to do good things for Him and bring them to Him like some kind of bribe for letting us into His Kingdom. His Kingdom is not built on OUR effort. It’s build upon HIM. Not us.
What God wants is for us to cross that bridge of His Son, admit how fallen we are, be humble to know that all good things come from God and only God, and orient our whole life around just staying close to that Tree of Life, recognizing that we’re not the ones in charge and we’re not the ones doing the good things in our lives. God is.
Good for good sake is a trap. It will drain you of all energy running around trying to do all of these good things for God. It will bring you, eventually, to the point of giving up because you can’t do all good things on your own. It’s not possible. It will make you resent God and everyone else. If you try, you will feel defeated and worthless and like a failure, and nothing you do will feel like enough. Now I ask you, does that LOOK like what God wants for our lives? No. He says He wants us to be “at rest.” How can we possibly do that if we’re running around doing good things out of fear of God punishing us if we don’t? Answer: WE CAN’T.
Free will is literally the choice of which tree are you going to eat off of (live off of)? Are you going to try to go it on your own, trying to do enough good things and be good enough to try to convince God you deserve Heaven?
I’ll tell you what happened to the self-righteous man in the Temple who thought he was living right by doing all good things–he walked away unjustified by God! That’s scary. The man who thought he was doing all of these great things for God was NOT in fact living in God’s Kingdom. He was still an outcast. He just didn’t know it!
Look at the other man, the tax collector. He threw himself at God’s feet and begged for mercy and forgiveness. He knew he was a sinner. He knew he was nothing on his own, and God forgave him… and justified him in the sight of God. That means he walked in on one side of the barrier and because he stopped trying to do it all himself, recognized that he couldn’t, and begged for God to save him, he crossed that bridge and came out in God’s Kingdom!
Free will is the gift of choosing: Where are you going to live? In Heaven or in Hell? In light or in darkness? On God’s Provision or on your own devices?
Make that choice wisely for it will affect you at this moment and all the way to and through eternity!