FREE WILL AND GOD’S WILL
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
March 26, 2017
12 While he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 13 And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him. 14 And he charged him to tell no one, but “go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” 15 But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. 16 But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.
— Luke 5:12-16, ESV
Here is one of many Gospel show-downs, an event where Jesus goes one-on-one with someone else. Sometimes it is a devil, most times it is a human being. Sometimes it is an enemy of the gospel, often it is a friend. Rarely it is someone trying to help Jesus, almost always it is Jesus who helps someone else.
Contrary to the modern proverb, God does not help those who help themselves. Televangelists help those who help them by sending them money. Revivalists help those who help themselves by taking that first step so God can take the rest and they can take the credit. But Scripture reveals a God who helps those who are in no way able to help themselves, people who are bankrupt, diseased, and dying.
Here Jesus helps a man with a crisis for which there was no cure. Leprosy’s cause was identified in the nineteenth century, virtually eradicated in the twentieth century, but it was a clear and present danger in the first century. This man was “full of leprosy,” which suggests he had it for a long time, it had spread all over his body, and he was about to die.
On the surface, this story seems to present one man, feeble though he was, exercising his free will to come to Jesus. This in turn prompted Jesus to exert His free will to heal the man. Everybody has free will, or so says modern theology. Look under the skin in this story, however, and you will see a more accurate picture of human nature and a deeper, much more satisfying look at God.
Free Will Involves Control
Free will is the ability to control outcomes in an unfettered, unrestrained, and undeterred way. It means the freedom to have one’s will done, to do as one pleases to do any time in any way without answering to anybody. It is the chief attribute ascribed to man by popular culture and modern theology. And, it is an absolute mirage.
This man did not have free will, he had leprosy. Had his will been free, he would have freely willed not to have leprosy, but he was stuck with it, until he met Jesus. Before this divine encounter, circumstances and chance beyond his control had sentenced him to this lonely and life-taking condition.
This man did not control his circumstances, where he was born and raised, his blood type and skin type, and other factors determined for him by parentage and genetics. We mere mortals do not have free will to change any and every thing about ourselves that we do not like. Therefore, this man was a product of circumstances beyond his control.
Chance also was a factor in his demise. Leprosy was a cruel numbers game in Jesus’ day. A certain number of people had it, so a certain number of other people were going to get it. While advanced leprosy was easy to spot, like our man here, those in the early stages of the disease showed no signs on their skin. Chance encounters with such highly contagious people, exchanges of blood, sweat, tears, or saliva gave one a chance of getting it, too.
Such circumstances and chances were beyond this man’s will to control; therefore, it cannot be said that he had free will. But what about God’s will, is it free to control where a person is born, their general appearance and health, even the contracting of a disease? An affirmative answer is comforting and frightening. Yes, God is sovereign, provident, controlling all things by His own free will. This would have to mean, then, that God willed this man to have leprosy.
No way, you might say! Remember the man born blind in the famous ninth chapter of the Gospel of John? The cause of his blindness was not circumstantial nor chance, it was so that the glory of God could be show to him and in him. Such was the case with the leper, for without leprosy he would have never met Jesus.
Free Will Involves Choice
Even minds swollen with sovereign grace must readily admit that this man made a personal choice to come to Jesus and plop himself down at the Lord’s feet. He made a free and willing choice to do so, indeed, but this is still not free will. There is a subtle but strong difference.
Free will would enable me to fly, but I do not because I cannot. I can, however, make a free and willing choice to purchase a ticket and get on an airplane and fly across the country. Free will would make me look like George Clooney, but I look like me. I could choose plastic surgery, but I’m afraid such a free choice would not much improve much upon my absence of free will.
Notice what this leper chose to do, and not to do. He did not choose to hide his leprosy and hope no one would notice, infecting other people along the way. He did not choose to rename his leprosy something trendy and champion it as a new human right. Rather he chose to acknowledge his leprosy, bring it to Jesus, and beg not for his, but God’s will to be done in deliverance.
Plants don’t freely choose, they strive to survive. Animals do not freely choose, they are bound by instincts. People, made in God’s image, make choices with consequences. You can choose to hear or ignore the word of God and the gospel. You can choose to lean on pride or confess your sin. You can choose to love, follow, and obey the Lord. Please do! But if and when you do, please understand why and do not give the credit to your own free will.
Do you know why a person loves Jesus? Because Jesus loved them first (ref. 1 John 4:19). Do you know why a person chooses to follow Jesus? Because Jesus first chose them to follow Him (ref. John 15:16). Do you know why, on a sunny Sunday in January of 1982, I chose to repent and believe the gospel? Because God, in His infinite and ultimate free will, chose me before He created the world (ref. Ephesians 1:4).
Free Will is God’s Will
I often say that every miracle in the Gospels is a parable of the gospel. This man had leprosy, like we all have sin. This man did indeed make a choice to confess his leprosy to the Lord, call upon His name, and ask God to will that he be healed, and he was. I confidently expect that when he walked away, he honored the Lord’s command to obey the Bible and go to church. He was saved because of the circumstance of leprosy, the chance encounter with Jesus, and the choice Jesus made to freely and willingly heal him.
You can say he was saved by free will, as long as you define free will as God’s will. Only God can make decisions and carry them out in a free, unfettered, unhindered, unstoppable way. God chose where and when He would be born of the virgin Mary. God chose when and where to begin His early ministry in Galilee. And God chose to be at that very city on that very spot when the leper walked by. And God’s will saved the man. “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.”
God is free to be at all places at all times, which is omnipresence. God is free to know all things at all times, which is omniscience. God is free to do whatever He wants to do, whenever He wants to do it, by whatever means He deems necessary, which is omnipotence. Such sovereignty belongs only to God.
Free will is God’s grace because no man can buy it, earn it, or attain it by religion or works. God freely gives grace to all, the common grace of life, truth, beauty, and sustenance. God freely but rarely gives the grace of miracles to people through prayers of faith, and somethings through no prayer or no faith at all. God can do such things whenever He wants, because He is free. And for those whom God has chosen from before creation, certain persons for divine reasons known only to Him, God freely gives saving grace that grants repentance and faith unto salvation.
Free will is God’s mercy because it breaks into our sickness and sin and erases what we have earned and replaces it with what God gives. No one deserves to be saved and none can save themselves by their own free will. Acknowledgement of such bankruptcy, however, can open the floodgates of God’s mercy poured out upon sinners.
Free will is God’s salvation, and God’s alone. Yet wonderfully, God gives it to everyone who sincerely asks for it, almost as if it were our choice, not His. But it is His choice to save by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Those of us who choose to follow Him will never be alone. For we have a saving, everlasting relationship with God, without leprosy.
Look to Jesus Christ, and you will find He is already looking at you. Love the Lord, for He first loved you. Choose to follow the Lord, for His choice for you enables you to do so. Through up your hands, like a leper, and declare yourself unclean, defiled by sin. God’s grace, mercy, and salvation will make you clean. Then, join in with the church and make your life an offering to the Lord, just as He has commanded you.
“Lord, now indeed I find
Thy power and thine alone,
Can change the leper’s spots
And melt the heart of stone,
Jesus paid it all,
All to him I owe,
Sin had left this crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.”
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Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org