January 28, 2021

Will of man, Will of God – and Legalism

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First I intended to write down what John Piper said while commenting on Desiring God Radio. But then I went over to Kim’s and found a post on legalism, which gave me an idea to actually combine Piper’s commentary with my own conclusions. Transcript first.

When God wants something to happen in my life, He doesn’t say: ‘your choices don’t matter’; He says: ‘I will now influence your choices’.

Question: John, some people’s response to God’s sovereignty in Romans 9 is *fatalism*. If God’s going to do what God’s going to do, our choices mean nothing, so we can just go about our business, and if God’s going to get our attention, He’ll do so. Where do you find fault in that thinking?

John Piper: God doesn’t exercise His sovereignty around human will, but through human will. If God wills that a nail go through this 2×4 into another 2×4, and hold this wall in place, He wills that you hit it with a hammer. He doesn’t say: ‘Nail, enter!’, and it just kind of sinks. Rather, He says in His sovereign providence, ‘Carpenter, bang the nail!.’ And the nail goes in, and God’s will is accomplished.

So, take prayer, or evangelism as corresponding to the hammer and the carpenter. Does God will that my children come to faith? I hope He does. But He won’t will it around my will or their will. He influences me, in His sovereignty, to teach my children the Word of God. He influences me in His sovereignty to pray for my children. He influences them to read their Bible and to comply with my requirement that they go to church. And in bringing about His total sovereign control over the outcomes of our lives, He doesn’t do it in spite of what we’re thinking or in spite of what we’re willing – He does it through what we’re thinking and what we’re willing – He influences what we think and what we will; so we’re folded in into a drama.

It’s not a fatalism that says, ‘Oh, our thinking and our choosing doesn’t matter’, as though God has some track He can run along while our thinking and our willing are off to the side. Rather, the track runs right through my will and right through my thinking, and He inclines my heart.

When God wants something to happen in my life, He doesn’t say, ‘your choices don’t matter.’ He says, ‘I will now influence your choices.’ And so, we pray.
I mean, the psalmists model for us how to pray: ‘Incline my heart to Your Testimonies.’

What does that mean? It means: ‘I’m not right now inclining or desiring, or choosing Your Testimonies!’, and so he cries out, ‘God, exercise Your sovereign influence over my will and make me want to read the Bible!’ and so God doesn’t fatalistically do a run around my will, He rather works in and under my will, so that I am freely, freely choosing to do what He wants me to do.

Now what I think legalism is or is not, according to the above, is this: it is impossible to do Father’s will this way and sidetrack to the legalistic path. As long as you follow this underlying will of God, the one that influences your own willing and thinking, you follow the commandment of love. The problem starts when you rebel against this gift of influence and try to take your own track, when there is a battle of wills in you, and when you no longer work out of will, but out of duty and in spiritual solitude – when you yourself separate your will from the will of God.

I do not know if this makes sense, but it certainly made sense when I was thinking about it. So, what do you think?

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2 thoughts on “Will of man, Will of God – and Legalism

  1. This is an interesting concept. Sounds to me like John Piper and I would get along great.

    Though I do have some issues with this statement “As long as you follow this underlying will of God, the one that influences your own willing and thinking, you follow the commandment of love.”

    I think that can be easily misunderstood. People can easily interpret that to mean that “whatever I will, it must be what God willed or influenced me to will”. I think it would be prudent to state it another way.

    God’s will is revealed in His written Word, and when your will lines up with that, and when it doesn’t but you ask the Lord to make it so, then you are walking in His will. But if you are actively pursuing interests (wills) that are not what God has prescribed in His written Word, or are actively pursuing what He has said is to be avoided, then you are NOT being influenced by His sovereign will, but by the lust of your own flesh.

    Nice post, I might go read the rest of John Piper’s interview!

    Thanks MIN,

    Mrs. Meg Logan

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