By Tyson Thorne

March 7, 2019

LordsPrayer01 Large

Jesus taught us pray thusly:

Our Father in heaven,
may your name be honored,
may your kingdom come,
may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts, as we ourselves have forgiven our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

There are so many sermon's and articles that could be written concerning the content of this prayer, and will be I'm sure. I'm adding this to the pile. There are at least three, possibly four distinct entities mentioned in this prayer that are common themes not only throughout Matthew's gospel but the entire Bible. Notice the progression, from heaven through earth to hell in the development of the "wills". First, there is the will of the father, in asking for daily bread our will is exposed, in forgiving others the will of our new nature comes to the fore, and then there is the "will" of sin and the "will" of the devil. Whether it be God's will, our fallen (sinful) will, our redeemed intentions as children of God, or an evil spirit, it would seem there is very little in our life that isn’t attempting to exert control over us.

Author and Professor R.C. Sproul in a pamphlet entitled “Does God Control Everything?” explains the concept of Concurrence. The word simply means several actions happening at the same time. In our discussion this is a helpful concept, for we can see that there is a concurrence of wills that attempt to act in our lives. There is the will of dark spirits, which is to defame God; there is the will of God, which is to bring all things into alignment with his holiness; there is also the will of man, which is tainted by sin and therefore a complex mess of wanting to please one’s self or others. All these wills exist concurrently, but only one has the divine ability to assure its ends.

In discussions with Christian friends the topic of man’s will has come up over and over. Do we have free will? There are generally two camps in Christian circles which coincide with the two possible answers. I have argued, and continue to do so, that man has never had free will because man’s will is always under duress by the wills defined in the "All Father" prayer. If we are not being influenced by God or by unclean spirits then we are being influenced by a sin nature that works to control us. The apostle Paul argued (Romans 6.15-.23) that we are all slaves, either to righteousness or to sin. A slave might will to be something else, but there is nothing he can do about his desire so his will is ineffectual and irrelevant.

While I believe this notion is ultimately true, it isn’t practical. If man is a slave to any number of forces then he is not responsible for any of his choices and therefore undeserving of God’s judgment. When confronted with his sinful choice Adam blamed his wife, Eve in turn blamed the serpent, and so we could argue “the devil made me do it” and it would be a valid defense. Yet that is not the case, God holds us responsible for our choices and the only way he can do so is if we are able to make choices of our own. Sometimes we make choices God himself would deem “good” while other times we make choices that are at least selfish and at times downright evil, but it is we who make those choices. So on some level our will must be free to make decisions.

I can hear my Arminian friends cheering already, but there is more to this discussion. Before we came to Jesus we were indeed slaves to sin. That is to say that our choices were always self-serving on some level. In this state we are worthy of God’s judgment, vessels of his wrath as it were (Romans 9.14-.29). At some point, practically speaking, we accepted a new master; we put our trust in God alone for both this life and the one to come. We did so because we found God trustworthy; we found God trustworthy because of a truth I mentioned a moment ago: only God’s will has the divine ability to assure its ends.

The subject of man’s will is fraught with peril because it has and does change throughout the course of our life on this planet. In the beginning, before the fall of man, Adam and Eve were inclined toward righteousness. This means that their will was for those things that drew them into relationship with God. After the fall their will was inclined toward rebellion from God. Unregenerate man inherits this bent of the will toward rebellion and error and is powerless to resist it, unless he submits to Jesus. Regenerate man has a unique position; still inclined to rebellion due to the sin nature, we are empowered by God’s Spirit in us to choose otherwise. The more we choose truth over error, righteousness over sinfulness, love over apathy our will changes from one bent toward rebellion to one inclined toward righteousness. All of this may seem complex but at least it is straightforward. Where it gets uncomfortable is when our will is directly interfered with.

Exodus 9.12 tells us that God deliberately hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Had God not done so, Pharaoh may have released the Hebrews after the sixth plague and the other four would not have been necessary. To some this may seem preferable. Why go through all the rest of the plagues, the loss of life and even the death of the firstborn sons of the Egyptians? We are told in Exodus 11.9, “Pharaoh will not listen to you, so that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.” Understand that Pharaoh had been doing things his way long enough. God had a message to communicate and he wasn’t going to allow Pharaoh to interrupt that message by caving in early. Without all 10 plagues there would be no Passover event, no Passover feast and no foreshadow of the coming Messiah.

Another difficult passage is found in 2 Thessalonians chapter two. Paul is discussing the end times and specifically the arrival of the Man of Lawlessness. Verse 11 of that chapter reads “Consequently God sends on them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false.” Does this passage mean that God deliberately deceives people so they will follow the Man of Lawlessness? I examined this passage carefully and was confused as to why the Greek word planas was translated as “delusion” in every English translation I reviewed. The Greek word literally means “wander”, as someone who is lost wanders not knowing which way to go. I believe a better translation is “Due to this, God bids (and it is carried out by his power) that the people will no longer have the capacity to discern truth from error resulting in their believing the lie.” I admit the difference is subtle but I think important. In the accepted translation God is involved in an elaborate deception external to the individual with the intent to manipulate them into believing a lie, and this is uncharacteristic of God. In my translation God is intervening internally, removing an ability that he gave us to begin with. It is not unlike confusing the language at Babble, or giving the apostles the ability to speak a language they did not know. God gives abilities and takes them away at his discretion. Either way, God is performing an act that impacts man’s will.

And now that I’ve angered both Calvinist and Arminian theologians, its time to get back to Matthew 6 and the Lord's prayer. These four themes mentioned in the Lord's prayer, God's will, our will — both sinful and regenerate — and the will of our adversary (the devil) are woven into the fabric of the Gospels. Take the temptation of Jesus, for example. Jesus wrestles with the will of the devil, his fathers will and his own reflecting the prayer he taught his followers to pray. When John steps out of the boat to go to Jesus on the water, he struggles with what is right (God's will to meet him on the surface of the lake and his own righteous will to meet Jesus there) which were in conflict with his sin (doubt and lack of focus). Judas, too, wrestled with what he knew he should do, but instead bowed to the will of sin and the devil and betrayed the Christ. This theme of the battle of wills will one day cease. There will be a day when sin will have no influence, the devil will be locked away, and our's and God's wills align. But until then, keep praying the Lord's Prayer.

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