Chapter Three: Free Will and Faith

Free Will and Faith

The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.  And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” [Genesis 2:15-17]

“This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”[Deuteronomy 30:19]

“A man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.” [Galatians 2:16]

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” [Hebrews 11:1]

“Keep the faith”

“Trust me”

You’ve heard these phrase before. They are almost throw away lines. We use them without much thought, like “Have a nice trip.” “Take care.” I like one from my other mother tongue, Spanish. “Vaya con Dios.” Go with God.[1] It may be a throw away, but at least it puts God into the picture. It has been shortened, of course, to “adios,” which even John Wayne threw around in his Westerns.

“Adeeeoosss partner,” Wayne growled as he pulled his reins in, turned his trusty horse to the West, and galloped off into the sunset.

All these service phrases–especially those such as “keep the faith” and “trust me”–are sometimes called aphorisms or adages, defined in my Webster’s as a “short, concise statement of a principle.” They summarize a principle. We invoke the principle with our spoken word.

“Keep the faith.” What faith are we speaking of? We are speaking of faith in God’s word in this chapter. By this we mean something more as well. Not only do we have faith, or trust in God’s word, but we learn to put faith to work on our behalf.

This is something that we have to practice, just as an athlete prepares himself for the Olympics. Let’s follow this metaphor a bit, for the Apostle Paul uses it to illustrate the point as well. One trains for any task, whether it be an athletic event, or, let’s say, flying an airplane. The more we train, the more we run, the more we throw the javelin, the more we take off and land the airplane, the better we get. In aviation, this is called proficiency training. In athletics, it is call training and conditioning. In the former, your survival may be at stake. In the latter, the prize at the end of the competition will go to the one who has trained the most–all other factors being the same.

And so it is with faith. One has to practice using it. The more and more you employ it, the more and more faith will work and work well for you. It is a simple principle. But, it is one that–like good habits versus bad habits–has to be acquired and consciously practiced.

“Okay” by now you should be thinking. “I have faith in God.” Now, how is this going to work for me? What does he mean, live my faith, practice my faith?

My washing machine went belly up on me last night, spewing water all over the kitchen floor.

My wife/husband has a nasty habit of criticizing my best efforts.

My child talked back to me this morning.

My boss gave me a lousy, perfunctory job to do last week and I hate it, and I hate the job as well.

My stocks dropped through the floor of the stock market last month and I saw my retirement income dip by a half. There goes the condo at the beach, the chalet in the mountains.

My health insurance went up again last month. I can’t pay for it and my apartment and all the bills on my salary.

Rumor has it that the plant will be closing. They’re moving the jobs overseas. Where will I go? What will I do?

How is my faith going to pay the plumber to fix the washing machine, or God forbid, having to buy a new machine?

Where is my aged father going to live, now that he has Alzheimer’s? How will I take care of him? My siblings should share in this, but they are a selfish lot. I have enough saved for myself and my family, but now with my father…

Are these enough problems, of the rich and poor, high and low, to give us the picture of real world problems? We could add some others that not only deliver body blows, but leave us psychologically shell-shocked; try betrayal in a marriage. A divorce that sickens you physically as you look at failure square in the eye.

Where do you turn to? Let me suggest that we already know, because I don’t think you would have picked up this book without having a gut feeling. We turn to God. And we draw from God the will and the strength to overcome. We are not simply survivors, for God leads us to emerge at the other end whole and safe in his will.

The key to the strength we draw from God is faith. Remember, a key opens a door. Our faith opens the door to let God into our lives. God heals us, God replenishes us. God will take care of the washing machine and your dad with Alzheimer’s. But we have to reach up to God. How do we do this?

First of all, we have to CHOOSE to reach up to God. We do have a choice, you know. At the core of this simple statement are some deep theological debates on the nature of free will and personal responsibility. Let’s wade into some of this, but with our “pedant interpreters” on to bring the message into clear and comprehensible English, for the debates bring to light some elementary truths that we need to understand and apply in our Christian lives.

“She made me do it,” Adam sullenly responded to God’s question. “Did you eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge also?”

I am going to take some liberties here with the story of Adam and Eve. Rather than repeat the entire story verbatim, let’s take some literary license and play with it a bit.

You all know the basic story. God created man. But he needed a companion. So God created woman and the two lived quite happily in a pleasant garden called Eden. The garden was filled with an abundance of plants and trees. One, however, was forbidden to Adam and Eve.

“You have the world before you, it is all yours,” God told them.

“Hmmmm, very nice,” said Eve, picking off a ripe fig and nibbling on it as she watched Adam talk with God. Adam and Eve were a handsome couple and were totally oblivious to their nudity. If a movie were to be made of Creation, one wonders how the concept of innocence might be transferred to the screen. Certainly Adam would be played by a hunk, and Eve by a lady with curves, and we all would be wondering, “geez, why don’t they get together, you know?”

“Oh?” Adam raised an eyebrow as he listened to God’s admonition.

You mustn’t eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil said God.

“Sounds good to me,” Adam said as he wandered off to a corner of the Garden to name some new animals that God had created earlier that day. That was one of Adam’s jobs which he enjoyed. Everything, in fact, God created or commanded was for man’s enjoyment.

Eve was brushing her long hair, looking into a mirror and smiling at her flawless countenance when the serpent approached her. It was the craftiest of God’s creatures. It was temptation. It presented Man with her first choice.

“Did God really say  ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?'” the serpent asked with a slight lisp.

Eve looked away from the mirror to the serpent. He wasn’t her favorite creature. Always nosing around asking questions.

“No, he didn’t say that,” Eve responded, turning back to the mirror. Maybe he’ll go away.

Well, what DID he say? the serpent persisted.

He said we may eat fruit from all the trees in the garden.

All the trees?

Well, he did say something about not eating the fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden.

Well, well, clucked the serpent, as much as one could cluck with a slight hiss. Why mustn’t you eat that fruit?

If you do Eve said, you will die.

How silly!

Think so? Eve responded, mildly curious as to why God had given them such a rule here in Eden where everything was created for man’s enjoyment.

You won’t die my dear. No, no, in fact, when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.

Here dear the serpent said, gently pushing Eve toward the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It’s really a lovely fruit. And it was. A beautiful apple tree, loaded with the reddest Mackintosh apples, each one shiny and as Eve discovered, crisp and juicy to the bite.

Yes, this is nice isn’t it? she said.

Hmmmm, the serpent hissed/hummed contentedly as he watched Eve offer an equally beautiful apple to Adam.

Here Adam. Have a taste. This is really a delicious fruit.

And Adam took a bite because Eve gave it to him. They were, after all, one flesh. They loved each other with great trust and passion.

A rustle in the trees startled the first man and woman. Was it God?

We must cover ourselves they thought. We’re naked! So they hid in some trees away from God.

Where are you guys? asked God.

Well, ah, we’re hiding.

Why on earth?

We’re naked and we were afraid.

Afraid of what? asked God. Geez, he sounds just like the serpent thought Eve. Questions, questions, questions.

Well, Adam hesitated, we didn’t want you to see us. You see, we’re, ah, we’re embarrassed.

Did you eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil? God asked.

His tone sounded quite firm.

Ah, yes, hesitated Adam. But she made me do it.

Huh? thought Eve.

Eve MADE you do it? God repeated.

Well, not exactly made me do it God. She said it was ok. And, you know, she’s my companion and mate. I trusted her.

“Trust?” God echoed. These two have really done it he thought.

Hey, Eve chimed in, it was the lousy serpent. He said it was ok, and I ate.

God stabbed the staff he always carried hard into the ground. Eden shook. So did Adam and Eve.

“Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals!” God thundered at the serpent.

“You will crawl on your bellyand you will eat dust all the days of your life.”

Hmmm, this isn’t good Eve thought as she hid behind Adam. God was really mad. But, thankfully, it was only that vile snake getting it.

“And I will put enmity,” God continued, “between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

I never liked that nasty snake anyhow Eve said to Adam as she peeked around him at God.

Adam stood dumbstruck. What’s happening here? And we’ve all been there. What happened here? What did I do? What did I say? A second ago everything was just fine. Now some sort of disaster has struck.

Just as Eve was beginning to feel ok again, although she still was hiding from God’s eyes behind Adam, God made it clear that there were consequences to disobedience.

“I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children.Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

Pain? Eve thought. What’s that? It doesn’t sound good. And Adam will rule over me? She felt Adam trembling under the onslaught of God’s words. Adam will rule over me?! Heck, he’s about to collapse in fear. A hunk to be sure, but kind of puny right now.

Then God turned to Adam.

“Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, `You must not eat of it,’ Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

There you have it. Original sin. Before Adam and Eve could think, God threw them out of Eden, lest they eat from the Tree of Life and live forever. Adam lay with Eve and she became pregnant with their first son Cain. The rest, as they say, is history. It is, of course, not that simple. But, for our purposes in this chapter on free will and faith, there is nothing intrinsically complicated in the story we just retold. Adam and Eve, tempted by the serpent to be sure, made a choice to disobey God. When they did, they were banished from Eden and sent to work the lower forty so to speak, amid briars, thorns, drought, pests, and other maladies of the farm.  Sin also brought them death.

So, all in all, we would have to say that it was a pretty bad choice made by Adam and Eve. Pestilence, pain, toil, and death, to name but a few of the afflictions.

Let’s go back a moment and review what happened immediately after Adam and Eve realized they had transgressed.

“The woman you put here with me,” Adam addressed God,  “she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

God turned to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

“The serpent deceived me,” Eve shot back, “and I ate.”

How often have you blamed circumstances for your fortune? Too often we look beyond ourselves for the answer to why things happen the way they do. Rather than turning inwardly, and searching ourselves for the cause, we look beyond ourselves. We blame our parents, our teachers, our siblings, our superiors, our subordinates, our social, racial, economic, or national circumstances for our condition. In Adam’s case, he blamed Eve. And Eve tried to lay it on the serpent who was the devil very thinly disguised.

“I did wrong” are three of the hardest words for most of us to say, followed by “I am sorry” and “please forgive me.”

At the most elementary level, a child will say, “it broke,” and shrug off the fact that he knocked over mother’s favorite vase which exploded into a thousand tiny particles of porcelain over the floor. How easily we transfer blame!

“She made me do it!” Adam exclaimed. Or, we could update it a bit. “It was entrapment God!” The serpent and Eve set me up!

Let’s ratchet up this discussion a bit. I have laid heavy emphasis on personal responsibility and free will, but there is another side as we all know. God is omnipotent, all powerful, and the author of our destiny. If He determines from where we come, where we are, and where we go, then where indeed does free will fit in? Do we really have a choice? Or is it all predetermined by God?

Christians have been preoccupied with this question of theological determinism since the very inception of Christianity.[2] St. Augustine, perhaps the greatest Christian writer since the apostles, wrote a seminal work On the Free Choice of the Will and another, shorter treatise, On Grace and Free Will, where he proved through Scripture that man was indeed endowed with free will. “Now He has revealed to us, through His Holy Scriptures, that there is in a man a free choice of will.”

Furthermore, in wonderful logic, St. Augustine stated that “There is, to

begin with, the fact that God’s precepts themselves would be of no use to a man unless he had free choice of will, so that by performing them he might obtain the promised rewards.” Augustine is careful to distinguish between grace and works as ways to obtain the “promised rewards,” but we need not detain ourselves too long on this issue–of immense importance in our Christian walk–at this moment. Chapter Eight below on grace and works deals with that subject. Right now let’s focus on free will.

Curiously, the phrase “free will” does not occur in the Bible. But the principle is absolutely crucial to understand, and, equally important, to practice in our Christian walk. As Augustine put it, of what use would God have given us choices if he had not also endowed us with free will to determine which one to choose?

Indeed, we KNOW in our gut that we have free will because we are faced with decisions every day of our lives. Even cartoon characters are faced with choices. I remember one of the early Jim Henson movies featuring the Muppets. Dancing down the highway, Kermit the Frog suddenly comes to a fork in the road. In the wonderful wacky world of Kermit and Miss Piggy, the fork is quite literally a fork sticking in the ground, but the road also divides and Kermit must choose: to the left or the right? Moving right along, let’s follow Augustine’s argument on free will. His analysis is crystal clear; his choice of Scripture no less revealing for its clarity and lack of ambiguity; and, although written in the fourth century A.D., it is startling modern.

In the following passage, Augustine begins with temptation, its origins, and how we deal with it. Temptation is, of course, at the root of many choices we have to make. He then proceeds to analyze how man attempts to pass the buck, or the blame, to God. But God is not the source of evil. The choice is man’s. Caution, I used an old translation of Augustine which preserves the Scriptural passages in the old language of the King James Version of the Bible. It reverberates with tradition so I left it that way. Below the passage I have rewritten it with a modern, New International Version, translation.

There are, however, persons who attempt to find excuse for themselves even from God. The Apostle James says to such: “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any man. But every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then, when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” Solomon, too, in his book of Proverbs, has this

answer for such as wish to find an excuse for themselves from God Himself: “The folly of a man spoils his ways; but he blames God in his heart.” And in the book of Ecclesiasticus we read: “Say not thou, It is through the Lord that I fell away; for thou oughtest not to do the things that He hateth: nor do thou say, He hath caused me to err; for He hath no need of the sinful man. The Lord hateth all abomination, and they that fear God love it not. He Himself made man from the beginning, and left him in the hand of His counsel. If thou be willing, thou shalt keep His commandments, and perform true fidelity. He hath set fire and water before thee: stretch forth thine hand unto whether thou wilt. Before man is life and death, and whichsoever pleaseth him shall be given to him.” Observe how very plainly is set before our view the free choice of the human will.

There are, however, persons who attempt to find excuse for themselves even from God. The Apostle James says to such. “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” Solomon, too, in his book of Proverbs, has this

answer for such as wish to find an excuse for themselves from God Himself: : “The folly of a man spoils his ways; but he blames God in his heart.” [need to find Book of Ecclesiasticus online and insert the NIV or some similar, modern translation here]

God has set fire and water before us, before man is the choice of life or death. We are not puppets on a string, being manipulated by a divine being who already has determined our future, although we will return to the subject of predestination in a moment. We are endowed with the capacity to do as we please, and, to be a Christian, is to actively choose God. Observe how very plainly is set before our view the free choice of the human will St. Augustine writes. Indeed.

So if it is so plainly established, what is this business of predestination and God’s omniscient nature which knows everything, our past, our present, and, presumably, our future? Again, curiously, neither the word “predestination,” like the phrase “free will,” occurs in the Bible. But some of the hottest debates in Christendom over the past two thousand years have centered on the issue, dividing people, dividing and fragmenting the Church into a kaleidescope of sometimes warring factions.

Indeed, in the revolutionary sixteenth century when the Protestant Reformation split the Church wide open, one of the great Protestant reformers, John Calvin, devoted immense attention to predestination, and to the subject of how to determine who were among the “elect.” After all, this WAS the major issue of the Reformation: how to determine what was a Godly life and, ultimately, how to recognize God’s will and make proper decisions. At stake was your eternal life, not to be taken lightly then, nor I would argue, today either! Other Church fathers, among them St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, and Jonathan Edwards, also wrote on free will and predestination. But, how can free will and predestination be compatible if they argue for two apparently diametrically opposed ways to know God? As Robert Kane observed in his book on free will, “More than a few Western theologians…believed that God’s power, omnicience, and providence would be unacceptably compromised if one attributed to humans an ultimate control over their choices and actions such as the notion of free will required.”[3]

But we KNOW from Scripture that God endowed man with free will. St. Augustine proved it beyond doubt. Other passages are equally clear.

This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him [Deuteronomy 30:19-20]

Choose life so that you and your children may live. The verb “choose” is unequivocal. But so is the omnipotence of God. As the apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans,

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. [Romans 8: 29-30]

The arguments for and against predestination are often subtle and complex. John Milton, in Paradise Lost “has the angels themselves debating about predestination and free will–wondering how they could have freely chosen to serve or reject God, given that God had made them what they were and had foreknowledge of what they would do. The angels who debated this issue, Milton tells us, were in ‘Endless Mazes lost,’ (not a comforting thought for us mortals).”[4] If the angels were lost on the issue, where are we? Did God really mean for us to be SO puzzled over his will? I think not.

The most elegant answer came from Calvin himself. After all is said and done, it is a mystery that man will simply never penetrate on this earth. God is both omniscient and He gave us free will. God saves us by his freely given gift of Grace, regardless of whether we merit it or not. In this fashion, God is certainly omnipotent. This principle, by the way, undermined the authority of the Church in the sixteenth century and–explained by Martin Luther–created the basis for the Protestant Reformation. We shall return to Grace in Chapter Eight, “On Grace and Good Works, or How do I Reach up to God and How Does God Reach Down to Me?”

So, God reaches down to us by freely-given Grace (a form of predestination), and we choose to accept it or turn away from it by exercise of our free will. Let’s assume we have chosen to accept God. My guess is you have or you wouldn’t have gotten this far in the book![5] Now, how do we make it work? We are not Christian hermits, ethereal beings detached from the world we inhabit. We want practical, useful advice. The answer to “now, how do I make it work” is faith.

If the key to our salvation is made by a free will choice to accept Jesus Christ, then after we open the door we need help in making our Christian journey where ever it will take us. What is faith?

The apostle Paul wrote quite clearly that “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” [Hebrews 11:1] He then illustrated the principle with many examples of faithful people, perhaps the most dramatic act of faith being made by the great patriarch Abraham. When asked by God to sacrifice his only son Isaac, Abraham prepared to do. The story is in Genesis, beginning in the 22nd chapter. I can think of no other moment in the Bible so dramatic, with the exception of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

All of us who are fathers relate to Abraham. And, if we have sons, Abraham’s test moves even closer to our hearts. I don’t mean to diminish or demean the relationships between fathers and daughters (I have two who I cherish as much as my son), mothers and sons or daughters. They are all equally endowed with bonds of love and tenderness. And, furthermore, we who are parents are in a way fathers of all children. I cannot see a small child, boy or girl, and not be reminded of my own, now grown and gone perhaps, but still there etched in my heart as babies and small children. Let’s read the story of Abraham and Isaac before I descend too much into sentimentality! For it is a story of an absolute and fearless faith in God.

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

GE 22:2 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”

GE 22:3 Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

GE 22:6 Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

GE 22:8 Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

GE 22:9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

GE 22:12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

One has to be immune from sensibility not to be moved deeply by the story. And, inevitably, I ask myself, as you should ask yourself, “do I have the faith of an Abraham?” Would I take my son to the altar, bind him, and lift the knife to plunge into his young breast, the son of my life? Indeed, would not most of us plead with God to allow us to exchange places with our sons?

These are questions we are not likely to be called upon so dramatically to answer by God.  But yes, we WILL be tested by God to assure our fidelity to His word. We pass the test by invoking our faith in God. In effect, we exercise our free will to choose the Godly path every time we come to the fork in the road. Then, after making the right choice (listen to your conscience closely if you are in some doubt), we place our faith in God’s word which is both admonition and promise. We trust that God’s word is true and we live by that truth.

What are we saying here? One of the goals of this book is to clarify and simplify some essential ways to live as Christians. There is a temptation (not satanic, but simply a natural failing) to delve so deeply into theological principles and controversies that one looses sight of the marvelously simple teachings of Jesus. After all, Jesus himself said that, “anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” [Mark 10:14] We must have the FAITH OF A LITTLE CHILD, which, as we all know, is simple, straightforward, and unflinching. It is not chastened by experience, corrupted by cynicism with the way the world really works, twisted by doubt into but a pale reflection of what true faith is.

We have to have faith in something of course. In the big picture, it is God, or in Jesus Christ, his son. But we need something to live by, something more tangible, and that tangible manifestation of God is his word given to us as Scripture, the Bible. And, here we slowly close the circle to this chapter, returning to a consideration of the nature of faith that we began with several pages above.

If we have faith in God and Jesus Christ, then we have faith in their promise, and their promise to us is made and kept alive for us in Scripture. That promise is clearly given in verses 7 and 8 of chapter 8, the Book of Matthew:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”

The promise is repeated throughout the Bible. Jesus will provide for you; you need but to ask and HAVE FAITH in His promise that he will respond to you. But there is a second part to the promise, equally important to the promise that Jesus will respond to your needs–made in prayer–for health, for peace, for prosperity, for love, for whatever you ask. The second promise is freely given by Jesus. It is the promise of forgiveness of sin, redemption, and eternal life with God. It is made often, but with absolute clarity in the sixteenth verse of the third chapter of the Gospel of John.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

You simply have to accept Jesus into your life. Then you put your faith to work.

But you have to practice that faith. Returning to the simple metaphor of piloting an airplane, you have to practice to, one, maintain your proficiency, and two, to get better. If you don’t practice, you will quickly loose your confidence and your proficiency. It is the same with faith. You need to practice it every day. You need to believe that every prayer you pray will be answered.

But it can’t be a “foxhole” conversion as they say in the military. That little phrase refers to being in a near death experience–under enemy fire in a foxhole for example–and reaching out to God in desperation as a last measure. He may indeed save you. That’s not for me to say. But most of us aren’t in foxholes, or in a deadly situation at home or work or in war, very often. We desire help in restoring love in a family, we need financial guidance, we need help in directing our lives toward some goal or end that we may not even know of, we want someone to love us, we want help in not hating someone else, we want to be assured that there is meaning to life, that it is not an aimless existence with nothing at the end. And if we are rich and powerful, and have it all, then we really are in need for Jesus, for, as Luke wrote, “from everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” [Luke 12:48]

To recapitulate, we have free will to make decisions, both good and bad. We ARE responsible for our actions. Once we have made a Christian decision, once we have reached up to God through our faith, He will respond through his grace.[6] Jesus wishes you to be joyful, to be productive, to be happy, to be loving, to walk in his footsteps. We need but to read His word to recognize his promise.

Fine, you say. But I’ve got some pretty common problems that you don’t seem to have addressed yet. Yes, I understand faith, grace, redemption, practice, practice, practice, but what about this hankering I’ve got for someone else? I really CRAVE this person and I WANT to have her. And, I think she wants me! It will make us deliriously happy to be together. And, of course, Jesus wants all his children to be happy. So, let’s get together and make everyone happy! Melody and me. We’ll make music together. But will it harmonize with God’s promise? Some sex will, and some sex won’t. Let’s tackle this together in the next chapter, for I’m not so old yet not to still feel some powerful urges, but, equally important, to remember the yearnings of adolescence and young adulthood when one’s hormones raged almost out of control.

[1] For those curious, I moved to Peru at the age of 2 1/2 with my parents and was reared in Lima until the age of nine. I have since returned often in my work to Latin America. My mother was Chilean-born.

[2] For this brief discussion on free will and theological determinism, I used Robert Kane’s excellent, The Significance of Free Will (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 7, and a wonderful website maintained by the Electronic Bible Society: “these are English translations of some of the Church Fathers, drawn from the 38-volume Schaff edition. They were made available to the Internet through the efforts of the Electronic Bible Society. Most of them remain to be proofread and polished, but we’re working on it. These works can also be downloaded from or from

[3] Kane, The Significance of Free Will, p. 7.

[4] Kane, The Significance of Free Will, p. 7.

[5] If you haven’t accepted Jesus Christ into your life as Lord and Savior, then you can do so right now. Simply confess it with your words, for, as know from earlier chapters, there is power in your word, and you will have made the most important, life-changing decision in your life. It’s that simple, and it’s that powerful.

[6] Some theologians will perhaps find this order not in keeping with their interpretation of Scripture, arguing for grace preceding faith. The fine-tuning, hair-splitting arguments of theology are not part of this book although I do recognize their validity in defining the evolution and definition of Christianity.

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