The Impassioned Prayer of Christ
Have you ever overheard someone praying for you? Whether it was a parent, a friend, or someone from church, it’s humbling to know what that person wants God to do in your life and what desires they are hoping God fulfills for you.
This prayer that Jesus is praying is part of an on-going prayer that starts at the beginning of chapter 17. Let’s keep in mind that Jesus is not giving a sermon here or even a to-do list for the church, as there was no church at that time. This is a prayer. And it is a prayer that allows the disciples to peek behind the curtain into the relationship between Father and Son. This allows the disciples to see the kind of things that the Trinity feels for the disciples and what their intentions are for them. And for us as well.
Let’s take a closer look at the impassioned prayer that Jesus prays for his disciples. A prayer that he prays within earshot of them. In the first few verses he prays for unity. After that, Jesus prays that they would see his glory, and lastly, he will pray about their intimacy with the Trinity.
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one — I in them and you in me — so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)
In this first section, we see Jesus not only praying for his disciples, but for us and for all those who will come after us. His prayer is for unity in the body of Christ. That just as he and the Father are one, we would be one with each other.
Jesus prays that we would be unified in a such a way that at last the whole world will know that Jesus is Lord. And that would be accomplished by the way that we are in union with each other. Is the fact that there are literally thousands of denominations in the Christian church an indictment against us for our lack of unity? Perhaps, if we focus on the differences. But what if we focus on our agreement in Jesus? Isn’t this what Jesus is praying for – our unity as brothers and sisters in Christ? Unfortunately, we do focus on so much other than our unity.
The body of Christ is often guilty of insisting that if you are a Christian, you will stop doing certain things. That is true. We stop hating other people, we stop worshipping idols. But some take this idea and turn it into legalistic specifics, that by your outward conformity to their standards you will either be qualified or disqualified from their fellowship. But that is not unity, that is uniformity. It’s vital to understand we don’t all have the same interpretations, or maturity in the Lord, or have the same giftings or callings.
Ultimately, uniformity trespasses over the relationship that each of us uniquely has with our Savior and Lord. It holds us to a standard that our Lord has not asked of us.
The church has never been, nor will ever be in complete agreement on this side of heaven. What Christ desires and prays for us is that we would be one in love. We are to be perfected in love, and that through this love a lost world will see Christ.
“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” (John 17:24)
In this verse we see Jesus praying that the disciples would be where he is and that they would see his glory. The same glory that Jesus had with the Father because of the love that the Father had for him. So, what exactly is glory? It seems to be one of those mysterious religious words that gets thrown around in sermons and worship songs.
In this passage, the Greek word for glory is doxa. This has to do with ascribing worth and value to something. It is giving an accurate assessment of an object or person. In this instance, (to give glory) it is to recognize, value and to have an accurate assessment of God’s character and nature. It is being in agreement with who, and how God is.
Have you ever been told something negative about someone you haven’t met? Did it color your opinion of them even before you met them? This happens often. Then when you finally meet that person, you found out that many, or most of those negative things you were told about them were not true.
Of utmost importance to God is that we have an accurate representation of him. That as we see him for all that he is, we couldn’t help but honor, esteem and respect him and his ways. And this is the God we see in Jesus. And in having seen love itself in personal form how can you not love in return? This is giving glory to God.
When we see Jesus, we have seen the Father. In fact, that is where our view of God needs to start – not from the Old Testament, but from the life of Christ. For no one has seen the Father except the Son. (John 6:46)
Jesus desires his disciples – which includes you and me – to see his glory and to be in agreement with God’s character and nature as seen in Christ Jesus. Also, to acknowledge his sovereign right to his creation. To entrust ourselves to him and to the life he desires to live in and through us.
“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (John 17:25-26)
In the last part of this impassioned prayer of Christ, Jesus affirms that he has made known the Father to his disciples. His desire was that they would share in the love relationship that exists within the Trinity.
Before the very foundation of the world, before humanity was even a gleam in the Father’s eyes, this relationship of unity, glory, and intimacy existed. This greatest of all loves is the foundation upon which creation itself exists and is held together. God is not looking for automatons to blindly follow orders though coercion and ultimatums; he woos our hearts to participate in what has always been on his heart since the beginning of time. His desire is to draw us into that intimacy.
Through the Holy Spirit, we experience an intimacy that transcends all of our human relationships. It is an inseparable relationship where the Spirit of Christ has taken up residence and promises to never leave us. There will never be a moment when the Spirit of God is not present in your life. God has made a way for us that we would never be without him.
When we are captivated by our intimate union with God, it becomes easier to love our brothers and sisters in the faith. And as we do, the lesser things of this life begin to fall away. It is here where we truly begin to glorify God in our practice of unity. And in turn, an unbelieving world can start believing in a God worthy of praise and worship.
In Hebrews 7:25 we are reminded that, “He always lives to intercede for them.” Could it be that Christ is still praying his impassioned prayer over us? That he is still praying that the church may be one, that we would see and share in his glory and to participate in the intimacy with Father, Son, and Spirit? Perhaps we should join him in praying for these things as well.
FREE WILL — Part 1
How Free is Man’s Will?
Deuteronomy 30:19-20 I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: 20 that thou mayest love the Lord thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days: that thou mayest dwell in the land which the Lord sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.
What is free will?
- the opportunity to make choices that genuinely affect their destiny
- the ability to do as one pleases (to do anything that one pleases)
Can man make choices?
- … Yes ,,, current state of affairs is result of choices … God created mankind in His own image, and that included the ability to choose.
Can man do as he pleases?
- … No … He can’t read minds … He can’t fly.
Why can’t man do as he pleases?
- His choices are limited … by nature … to what is in keeping with his nature. So man’s will is not as free as we might think because
Is man free to govern himself? Is man completely autonomous?
- … A third definition of free will is the ability to operate independently, not controlled by others or by outside forces.
- As mentioned earlier, the word “autonomous” is key in understanding libertarian free will. The word basically means “self-government.” It is derived from two Greek words, autos and nomos, which mean “a law unto oneself.” This is libertarian free will in a nutshell. We, as free moral agents, can make our own decisions and are not subject to the will or determination of another. In any given situation, let’s call it X, we can freely choose to do action A. Furthermore, if situation X presents itself again, we can freely choose not to do A (~A).
- The opposite of libertarian free will is called determinism, and determinism essentially denies free will altogether—our choices are determined and that’s that. In situation X, I will always choose to do action A, and in situation Y, I will choose to do ~A, etc. Instead of being autonomous beings, mankind is reduced to being automatons—beings who perform programmed responses to certain situations.
How does free will relate to salvation?
- Man is free to choose, BUT man is not free to do as he pleases … in the natural sense …
- Similarly, a man cannot choose to make himself righteous — his nature (which is limited, in the spiritual sense, as well) prevents him from canceling his guilt.
How can man ever choose what is good?
- It is only through the grace and power of God that free will truly becomes “free” in the sense of being able to choose salvation (John 15:16). It is the Holy Spirit who works in and through a person’s will to regenerate that person (John 1:12-13) and give him/her a new nature “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). Salvation is God’s work. At the same time, our motives, desires, and actions are voluntary, and we are rightly held responsible for them.
How does free will relate to our Christian living?
- This limitation does not mitigate our accountability. The Bible is clear that we not only have the ability to choose, we also have the responsibility to choose wisely. In the Old Testament, God chose a nation (Israel), but individuals within that nation still bore an obligation to choose obedience to God. And individuals outside of Israel were able to choose to believe and follow God as well (e.g., Ruth and Rahab).
- In the New Testament, sinners are commanded over and over to “repent” and “believe” (Matthew 3:2; 4:17; Acts 3:19; 1 John 3:23). Every call to repent is a call to choose. The command to believe assumes that the hearer can choose to obey the command.
- Jesus identified the problem of some unbelievers when He told them, “You refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:40). Clearly, they could have come if they wanted to; their problem was they chose not to. “A man reaps what he sows” (Galatians 6:7), and those who are outside of salvation are “without excuse” (Romans 1:20-21).
Why would God limit Man’s will? Why wouldn’t God give Man totally free will?
- The first thing to take into account regarding the biblical position of libertarian free will is what the Bible says about God. The Bible describes God as sovereign, and sovereignty designates control. But what exactly is the sphere of God’s sovereignty? Psalm 24:1 makes it plain: “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” What is the sphere of God’s sovereignty? Everything. God spoke the universe, and everything in it, into existence. As Creator, He has sovereignty over His creation. This is the image used in Romans 9 when Paul refers to the potter and his clay.
Does God have a will?
- From an article, Are There Two Wills in God?, on the desiringgod.org website …
- Affirming the will of God to save all, while also affirming the unconditional election of some, implies that there are at least “two wills” in God, or two ways of willing. It implies that God decrees one state of affairs while also willing and teaching that a different state of affairs should come to pass. This distinction in the way God wills has been expressed in various ways throughout the centuries. It is not a new contrivance. For example, theologians have spoken of sovereign will and moral will, efficient will and permissive will, secret will and revealed will, will of decree and will of command, decretive will and preceptive will, voluntas signi (will of sign) and voluntas beneplaciti (will of good pleasure), etc.
- I’m comfortable with the two highlighted ones … 1) what God has decided must happen and 2) what God allows to happen (even if He might not want it to happen).
How does free will fit in with God’s sovereignty?
- Can a human being, a creature, be autonomous if God is sovereign?
- The obvious conclusion is that total, unlimited free will is incompatible with the sovereignty of God. Consider the following passages …
- Psalm 135:6 “The LORD does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths.”
- Proverbs 16:9 “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps”
- Proverbs 19:21 Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.
- Isaiah 46:9-10 “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please”
- Isaiah 55:8-11 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
- . This does not paint a picture of man as an autonomous being, but rather as man operating within the confines of a sovereign God.
- We see a sovereign God declaring to us that He will accomplish all His purposes. The concept of unlimited free will leaves open the possibility that man can freely refuse to do God’s will, yet God says all His purposes will be accomplished (as in the case of Jonah and Saul).
- The following New Testament passages also show that God’s will supersedes Man’s will …
- Romans 8:29-30 “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”
- Ephesians 1:11-12 “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.”
- So it is quite clear that God is able to accomplish His purposes and that he will in fact do so. For this reason, the Calvinist reasons that it is arrogant that humans should think that we can override God’s purpose through our free will. And in this line of reasoning, they are correct.
- The real breakdown in the Calvinist argument happens, however, when it fails to acknowledge God’s stated purpose in the Scriptures. Consider the following:
- 2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
- 1 Timothy 2:1-6 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.
- John 3:16-17 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him .”
- John 12:47 If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.
As we prepare to wrap … a quote from the gotquestions.org website …
Man is not a “law unto himself.” Man is a creature in the Creator’s universe, and as such is subject to the will of the Creator. To suggest otherwise is to elevate man beyond his station and to bring God down to the level of the creature. Those who advocate libertarian free will may not come out and say this, but logically speaking, this is the conclusion that must be drawn. Consider a popular evangelistic slogan found in Christian gospel tracts: “God casts his vote for you, Satan casts his vote against you, but you have the deciding vote.” Is this how it works in salvation? Is God just one side of a cosmic struggle with Satan for the souls of men, who must resort to “campaign tactics” to sway voters to heaven? This view of God is an emasculated God who is desperately hoping mankind utilizes his free will to choose Him. Frankly, this is a somewhat pathetic view of God. If God wills to save someone, that person will be saved because God accomplishes all His purposes.
Now, we must be careful not to swing to the (equally) unbiblical view that God is the divine Puppet Master and we are merely His puppets. This is the view of hard determinism in which man is reduced to an automaton making robotic responses to situations. The Bible presents a third option between hard determinism and libertarian free will, and that is the view called compatibilism, or soft determinism. In this view, man makes real choices and will be held responsible by God for those choices. The choices that man makes emanate from his desires. God grants the creature a certain amount of freedom, but that freedom always operates within the boundaries of God’s sovereignty.
Now by embracing this view, we must avoid two errors. The first is to posit what is called “middle knowledge.” The doctrine of middle knowledge teaches that God created a world out of the infinite number of worlds He had available to Him to create, and God chose that particular world in which free creatures made the very decisions that accomplished His will. The second error to avoid is to think that God is somehow a cosmic manipulator setting up situations so that His creatures freely make the choices that accomplish His will.
There are two keys to understanding human will and how it relates to God’s sovereignty. The first is the fall. Prior to the fall, man could be said to have had a “free” will in that he was free to obey God or disobey God. After the fall, man’s will was corrupted by sin to the point where he fully lost the ability to willingly obey God. This doesn’t mean that man can’t outwardly obey God. Rather, man cannot perform any spiritual good that is acceptable to God or has any salvific merit. The Bible describes man’s will as “dead in transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1) or as “slaves to sin” (Romans 6:17). These phrases describe man as both unable and unwilling to submit to God’s sovereign authority; therefore, when man makes choices according to his desires, we must remember that man’s desires are depraved and corrupted and wholly rebellious toward God.
The second key in harmonizing man’s “free” will with God’s sovereignty is how God accomplishes His desires. When God ordains all things that come to pass (Psalm 33:11; Ephesians 1:11), He not only ordains the ends, but the means as well. God ordains that certain things will happen and He also ordains how they will happen. Human choices are one of the means by which God accomplishes His will. For proof of this point, look no further than the exodus. God tells Moses that He will harden Pharaoh’s heart so that God’s glory in the deliverance of Israel would be manifest through him (Exodus 4:21). However, as the narrative continues, we see that Pharaoh hardens his own heart (Exodus 8:15). God’s will and man’s will converge.
In conclusion, we must try to understand the effort to import libertarian free will into the Scriptures. The reasoning is usually to preserve human autonomy because it is seen as the key to moral responsibility. This is also done to preserve God’s justice. God cannot be seen as just if He would condemn those who cannot choose against their depraved wills. Yet in these attempts to preserve God’s justice and human responsibility, damage is done to the Scriptures. The Bible emphatically affirms human responsibility for sin and God’s justice, but it also clearly rejects libertarian free will. Scripture clearly affirms that 1) God is sovereign over all affairs, including the affairs of man; and 2) man is responsible for his rebellion against a holy God. The fact that we cannot completely harmonize these two biblical truths should not cause us to reject either one. Things seem impossible to us often simply because we do not have the mind of God. It is true that we can’t expect to understand the mind of God perfectly, as He reminds us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Nevertheless, our responsibility to God is to believe His Word, to obey Him, to trust Him and to submit to His will, whether we understand it or not.