Monday, June 11, 2012

Why Does Calvinism Matter? - Part 3: The Will of Christ

Other Posts in this Series:

Calvinism matters because only the Calvinist doctrine of the human will can account for Christ's perfect obedience on earth.

The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man and that His two natures are united in one person. The book of Hebrews begins its discussion of Christ in chapter 1 “from above,” that is, by teaching on Christ's divine nature, while Hebrews chapter 2 moves downward to His human nature. The Gospel of John follows a similar trajectory, moving “from above” with the eternal Word (logos) who is true God (Jn 1:1) to the union of the Word with a true human nature. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14).  

Each of Christ's two natures retains all of its own distinctive properties such that the two are not confused or mingled. Christ is, therefore, both eternal and temporal, infinite and finite, fully actualized and potential, all-powerful and weak, all-knowing and lacking in knowledge, all-present and located, unchangeable and changing. He is God and man.

This means Christ has two wills, a divine will and a human will. The ancient heresy of monotheletism (one-will-ism), condemned at the Sixth Ecumenical Council in 680 AD, taught that Jesus had only one will. But if Christ only had a divine will and His human nature did not also have a human will, then Christ was not truly divine and human, which means that He could not have willed to merit the law's blessing as our substitute. And, if Christ did not have a human will, then He cannot redeem our wills. The early church father, Gregory of Nazianzen, said “For that which He has not assumed He has not healed.” Christ had to assume a human will to redeem our wills. Scripture clearly teaches that Christ has two wills. John 6:38 says, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” This text teaches a distinction between Christ's own (human) will and the will of God the Father.

This, then, raises a question about the nature of Christ's human will.  

Did Christ have an “actual free will” with the "ability to choose between two options" as the signers of "A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation" would have us believe "God endows each person?"  Or was Christ's will necessarily determined to choose good over evil? Was it hypothetically possible for Christ to sin? Might Jesus have chosen other than what He did?  Did He have the "power of contrary choice?"  Why did Christ obey rather than disobey? Was it sheer luck/chance, or was His human will determined (necessitated) to perfect obedience by God, such that Christ's human nature was both free and responsible?

The Old Testament teaches that God caused or determined the obedience of Christ's human will. Psalm 22:9-10 says of Christ, “Yet You are He who took me from the womb; You made me trust You at my mother's breasts. On You was I cast from my birth, and from my mother's womb you have been my God.” God “made” Christ trust Him. God determined Christ's human will to trust Him and keep all of His commandments. The ancient prophet Isaiah declared that Christ would certainly obey God unto death (Isaiah 50:4-6; 52:13-53:12). Such certain prophecy would be impossible if God did not determine the obedience of Christ's human will. In Hebrews 10:7, Christ declares, “Then I said, 'Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God, as it is written of Me in the scroll of the book.”  How could it have been "written" that Christ would do God's will, if God did not render His obedience certain?  Yet even though God determined Christ's obedience, He was not compelled against His nature.  Christ says, "For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it up again.  No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord" (Jn 10:17-18).  Christ willingly obeyed and died for His people.  Thus, God eternally decreed the willing obedience of Christ's human nature.  His decree was inscripturated in Old Testament prophecy and then fulfilled in Christ's earthly life.

We have seen that Christ had a true human will and that His human will was divinely determined.  Though Christ's human will was determined, He was morally responsible for His actions such that He merited eternal life for all who believe in Him. This is the Calvinistic doctrine of “compatibilistic freedom,” which says divine determination is “compatible” with human freedom and responsibility. Calvinism matters because it is the only doctrine that can consistently support the perfect obedience of the Lord Jesus Christ, which was necessary for Christ to accomplish our justification and to merit the work of the Holy Spirit within us.

Work Cited: Jones, Mark. A Christian's Pocket Guide to Jesus Christ: An Introduction to Christology. Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus, 2012.

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