Is it really possible to choose against our strongest desire?
Advocates of “libertarian free-will” answer, Yes. Anyone can choose against any strong desire they may have in any context. A man may have a true and strong desire to watch porn, or commit adultery, but he can choose contrary to that desire. An alcoholic may have a deep desire to drink, but he can choose contrary to that desire and not drink etc, ad. Infintum.
Q. Are these types of answers truly accurate?
I say No, they are not. They are far too superficial and in fact, do not actually the question at all. The question was not can a person choose against a strong desire? But can a person choose against their strongest desire? And this, the afore-mentioned answer so common from advocates of “free will”, did not answer. Here is why:
In the first example, a person may indeed have a real strong desire to watch porn. Or to commit adultery. But if they do not act on it, there must be a reason why. Identify/define that reason and you will have what is in reality their strongest desire in that circumstance. So why does the person choose not to watch porn? Or any of the myriad of examples which could be cited? Perhaps it is a fear of being “caught”? If so, that fear is in reality a stronger consideration for them in the moment, than the temptation to watch. Or they are concerned they will offend God? Then that consideration is what is in the moment, their strongest desire. If a person is very tempted to commit adultery, but chooses not to do so, again, there must be a motive! Perhaps it is fear of their spouse finding out? Or financial ruin? Or concern for the sake of the children? Or the breakup of the family unit? Or what one’s friends may think if they find out? It may be loss of social status, influence, relationships. Or it may be a fear of personal guilt and shame – whatever the specific motive is in saying “No!” to that specific temptation, that then is in fact, the strongest desire, conviction, motivation in the heart in that circumstance! You see, it is only when the tempting desire itself, truly is the strongest desire or consideration in the heart, that a person caves in. This is precisely why David who did cave in with Bathsheba, afterwards cried out to God asking “Create in me a clean heart O God!…grant me willing spirit to sustain me” (Ps 51:10-13). When confronted by what was for him, truly overwhelming temptation, David now knew he needed “more” of that which only God could supply. Otherwise, his prayers to God here are irrelevant, trivial…and misleading!
Eve was deceived in her mind and desires: Jesus never was
Why did Eve eat the forbidden fruit? Because she saw that it was “good for food, pleasing to the eye, desirable to make one wise” (Gen 3:6). So for that reason, she ate. Paul adds that she was deceived (misled, led astray, confused) by the tempter (1 Tim 2:14). Why is the doctrine of “Impeccability Of Christ” (Jesus could not sin, not merely did not sin), so important to our faith? Because it addresses and answers this perfectly. While Jesus was indeed subjected to the process of temptation which He as man was required to endure, being externally tempted in all material ways as we are, the fact was, He said of satan that “he has nothing in Me” (Jn 14:30). Meaning, satan had nothing “in” Jesus’ heart which he could entice or allure. The same however, was not true of Adam…nor anyone of his offspring ever since. James tells us there is no temptation apart from genuine enticement – “Every man is tempted when by his own desires he is led astray” (Jas 1:14). Notice the word when here. For every one of us, temptation for us occurs when … So Satan knew that to for any attempt to tempt Jesus required he be able to appeal to some desire in Jesus by means of which, he could thereby try and deceive and lead Him astray. This was a futile attempt though…about as successful as a flea trying to sink an aircraft carrier!
This is why Jesus could not sin! He never had even the slightest inclination, let alone full desire to do anything but obey the Father. From birth to His death, satan could appeal to nothing “in” Jesus. Jesus’ prayer and agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, (so often misunderstood by those who either do not think to look at all the relevant information, or perhaps just ignore it?), was never over Jesus contemplating disobedience! When I hear that suggested by people who have no idea what they are talking about, I want to scream.
I could ask the Father…
Jesus told Peter plainly “Do you not think I could ask the Father and He would send Me 12 legions of angels? But then how would the scripture be fulfilled which said it must happen this way?!” (Matt 26:53-54).
So we see, it was never a consideration between sin or righteousness in Jesus’ mind. It was always only a profound consideration of two righteous options in front of Him: Save Himself, but not save us. Or save us by a different method…if possible. God the Father would never have honoured a sinful request so had Jesus so asked, it was still a righteous option. Of course, as He said to Peter, for the scripture to be fulfilled which said it “must happen…this way” , there was no way He was gonna ask for those angels! Jesus’ prayer in the garden was framed as an “IF … THEN …” In other words: Only if it was possible to still accomplish the Father’s plan by a different means, then let this particular cup pass from Him. But if not truly possible to accomplish the end apart from this specific means, then He was, as always fully submitted to the will of the Father.
Thus, Satan could appeal to nothing “in” Jesus…ever! This is because Satan had nothing “in” Jesus he could exploit, manipulate deceive, entice. Sure, satan could try…But could never be successful! Satan was and is not omniscient. So there is no reason to think he knew he could not be successful. He probably thought he could be. But Jesus was far more than Adam! Not merely created innocent, but born holy! Not merely man, but the God/Man!
Consider the following statements made about Jesus, both prophetically and from His own mouth and ask yourself whether they even remotely suggest that there was anything “in” Jesus which satan could perhaps entice? Or deceive?
* “I have come to do Your will O God” (Heb 10:7, 9).
* “You loved righteousness and hated iniquity” (Heb 1:9).
* “I always do what pleases Him” (Jn 8:29).
*”My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me” (Jn 4:24).
* “The holy one to be born to you shall be called the Son of God” (Lk 1:35).
Unless one were to suppose that the “love of righteousness” and “hatred of evil” which defined Jesus, was as transient, fleeting, fickle or weak – as our own so often is, rather than fixed, unalterable, permanent and resolute in Him, then this point is irrefutably made! And should you think the Lord Jesus Christ, the God/Man was in fact as morally, spiritually weak, fickle, feeble, frail, or inconsistent as you or I have been, then may God grant you repentance and understanding so that you cease from all blasphemy and honour Him and His Son rightly!
The real temptation was not just about food
But surely Jesus felt hunger, right? So He would have been tempted to eat after having fasted 40 days, right? Wrong. Though truly hungry, Jesus’ greatest desire/intention in His temptation was still as always the will of the Father. When He said His “food” was to do the Father’s will, He both understood and meant what He said! So while Jesus could feel genuine hunger pangs, that was not the real temptation. Jesus of course, knew this. The real temptation which Jesus saw through instantly, was to act independently outside of the will or timing of the Father. Since that was the real temptation, it had zero appeal to Jesus, even though He was truly hungry. Those who fail to grasp the real issues at stake in satan’s attempt to tempt Jesus, and who think mere food by itself was the temptation, miss the entire point! And invariably come to wrong and false conclusions as a result.
If you claim to be a believer in the God/Man, the Lord Jesus Christ, and you honestly think that He was truly “enticed” by the suggestion to fall down and worship satan, then may God have mercy on you!
Jesus never wanted a temporal, lessor kingdom as satan “offered”
But surely, Jesus wanted His glory in His kingdom, right? Yes. He did! He prayed to the Father saying, ‘Father, I want those You have given Me to be with Me to see My glory” (Jn 17:24). This desire, was in and of itself pure and righteous, and Jesus knew it was the will of His Father for that to occur…at the right time. Satan tried to entice Jesus with an offer of a kingdom. What Jesus also knew was that the temptation satan placed in front of Him, was of an infinitely lessor and quite temporary kingdom (compared to His glorious and eternal one – hardly an equal offer! Jesus knew that if accepted, such would destroy all chance of anyone else ever being with Him in glory to see His glory! Since He wanted His people to be with Him to see His glory, this attempt by satan, was once again, utterly futile.
The crown truly mattered to Jesus. But only in the context of the Father’s plan that Jesus by His atoning death and resurrection, redeem many “bringing many sons to glory”. Satan’s “offer” made that end-goal impossible. Jesus knew this, and thus, the temptation had zero appeal, allure, enticement for His absolutely resolute, holy heart. For Jesus wanted all the Father would give Him to be with Him and to see His glory! That consideration was infinitely greater in the heart of the Son of God and so, yet again, satan’s pathetic offer had as much chance of enticing Jesus as a flea has of sinking an aircraft carrier!
The HEART is the issue in sin and faith:
I. Scripture says “from the HEART proceed ALL the issues of life” (Prov 4:23)
– in biblical terminology, “the heart” of man refers to that moral/spiritual component of our nature which reasons/understands/feels.
Solomon tells us that “Everything we do flows from our heart” (Prov 4:23 NIV). Jesus affirmed that sin “proceeds forth from the heart” (Matt 15:18). Paul affirmed that it is “with the heart that man believes” (Rom 10:10).
II. What we understand about anything determines our choices regarding that thing.
Q. Why do I not want to eat a plate of live maggots?
A. Because the idea is utterly repugnant to my mind.
So only if a greater consideration overtakes my mind with sufficient persuasion, can I, or will I ever desire to and then choose to eat such! Now, this “greater consideration” might be fear of starvation, or monetary reward as in a reality show, or sense of personal accomplishment -just to prove to myself I could do it, etc. But whatever it is – that mental, cognitive UNDERSTANDING, PERSUASION, CONSIDERATION must override and subdue my natural feeling of repulsion which will normally dominate my choice in all other circumstances.
>The same is absolutely true of HOW lost sinners come to faith in Jesus Christ.
The “heart” of mankind is “desperately wicked and deceitful above all things”, God said (Jer 17:9). Since everything we do flows from our heart – our reason, understanding and desires, it is therefore, in my carefully reasoned opinion, beyond absurd for bible-believing Christians to argue that a sinner can “just choose” to overcome their own heart by their own power of free-will alone, and just thereby just choose to believe! It is also false. Being expressly denied by Jesus in Jn 6:44, 65!
Believing The Gospel Is NOT A Choice Between Two Bowls Of Cereal!
To believe the incredible claim, that in the person of Jesus Christ, God entered humanity as a real baby, virgin-born, lived a perfect moral life, suffered and physically died as a substitute on behalf of others, and by His suffering provided actual redemption (which is a satisfaction to the justice of God against sin, by forgiveness), literally and physically rose again as “Lord” and that salvation is found only by believing in Him; is far more than a mere “choice” folks! To describe it as such reveals sadly, only how shallow the understanding of the person making such a claim really is! True faith in the “Christ-event” is NOT to be discussed as if it is in reality no different than a choice to eat Corn Flakes or Cheerios for breakfast! As if the consideration pertaining to the gospel is as mundane and ultimately irrelevant as deciding whether to go to McDonalds or the Olive Garden for lunch! The way many talk, the “choice” to believe the gospel is as simple as any choice. How ridiculous! As if the consideration involved in the gospel and person of Jesus is no more or different than the option of truly believing in Buddha! Why don’t I believe in any other religious claim? Because I do believe in Jesus!
Ok, so could I simply choose to believe in Allah instead? Or Buddha? Or Vishnu? Or Thor? Or Zeus? Or Ra? Not a chance! Sure I could say I could, or pretend I do for any number of reasons. But the heart cannot truly believe what it does not have a “full conviction” is true! Those who say otherwise, cannot demonstrate their claim. Sure, they can argue it is so. But they cannot show that it is! But why do I believe in Jesus then? Ah, now there’s the question!
You see, while choice is involved to “receive” the gospel (receive being a New Testament synonym for believe), that is not and has never been the issue in question. THE only real issue at hand is why do some see in the gospel “the power of God for salvation” whereas most see mere “foolishness”? (1 Cor 1:21).
A Greater Consideration/Motive Precedes Choice To Embrace Christ
Thus, to overcome the natural inclination to disbelieve ANY fantastic claim (we are all as naturally skeptical at heart as Thomas was), therefore requires that a greater persuasion, influence, consideration is brought to the mind and heart…but brought with real conviction as to to truth! Otherwise we would be talking about only about an opinion one may have, not saving-faith. This is precisely what Paul wrote to the Thessalonians saying,
“knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you; for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thess 1:4-5).
How did Paul know these were “Loved and chosen BY God?”
Because the gospel did not come to them in “mere words only” (as if it was no different than Greek or Roman mythology or any fantastic science fiction claim). Rather, the gospel came to them “with power and full conviction”. Who supplied this power and conviction for them? There is no need to speculate. The text answers plainly, GOD did! Does God supply this same power and conviction to everyone?
An immediate and obvious contradiction to the text, as well as irreconcilable contradiction emerges if we say God does. How so?
Because if God provides the same power and full conviction to every person who hears the message of the cross, then there would be no need for Paul to suggest it was a significant thing that the gospel came to them that way, since it comes to everyone that way. In fact, the phrase “in word only“, would be irrelevant… IF the gospel came to none “in word only”, then pointing out that for a a few of them, it did not come that way to them, is again, irrelevant and misleading!
Common Assumptions Are Inconsistent With Truth:
Jesus plainly taught there are some who “hear the message of the kingdom and do NOT understand it” (Matt 13:19). He contrasted them with “those who hear the message of the kingdom and understand it” (Matt 13:23) – the latter only, of all people who hear the gospel, are said by Him to “bear fruit”. Since HE said there are some who do NOT understand the message when they hear it, is irrefutable proof that the gospel does NOT come to all alike in the same “power and full conviction” (as to its truthfulness and necessity)! It only comes to some that way. Matt 13:19, 23 is therefore, perfectly consistent with 1 Thess 1:4-5. Neither passage is consistent with the assumed and incorrect premise that the gospel comes to everyone without exception in the same powerful, conviction as it obviously comes to some. For Paul – that powerful conviction was the obvious indication of an even greater and necessary truth – it therefore God loved and chose them!
Thus, to “believe the gospel” and or do “good” – as defined BY God, requires that a radical change takes place in the very heart of fallen sinners. A change in their understanding and desires! This change and the effects of it, were specifically detailed by God in Eze 36:21-36. The effects of a new heart are a soft, tenderness to God, a loathing of sin, a grief over it and a desire to turn from it and be faithful to God.
New understanding and new desires are the result not the cause of the “new heart” God says HE gives (Jer 24:7).
This is what David asked God to “create in” him (Ps 51:10).
This is what David asked God to “give” him (Ps 86:11).
This is why David confessed “GOD is the strength of my heart” (Ps 73:26).
We who teach and emphasize the truth of sovereign-grace, DO NOT dispute that choices are involved both in accepting and rejecting the gospel. We however, DO DENY that in the positive, (to accept/receive the gospel), it is by our own wisdom, or will alone, that we have come to see in the gospel the power of God for salvation, whereas the majority see mere “foolishness”.
We therefore, do NOT boast of or in self for this. Rather, we humbly give thanks to God for it, since He granted it to us. When Paul saw evidence of faith and love displayed in people, he gave thanks to God for it!
“We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.” (2 Thess 1:3).
Self-boasters may still choose to boast of self where Paul gave credit to God, and do so to their own very real spiritual hurt. May God grant them repentance (2 Tim 2:24-26).
May God give light (Lk 24:45).
John M. Platanitis. April 14, 2017