NOTE: Dr. Michael Brown’s book and response to the hyper-grace movement will be released January 7th:
I ran across two remarkable podcasts recently. The first is from a month ago at Bethel in Redding and is the testimony of a former Muslim lady who converted to Christianity and the incredible miracles that have happened in her life: here.
The second is James Goll speaking at Grace Center in Franklin, Tennessee, where he shares some incredible experiences that have happened to him over the last year, including the very morning he spoke (Sept 1): here.
The first sounds like a story read straight from the pages of the Bible, while the second mentions experiences that even James had never heard of anybody experiencing before.
It truly makes it seem like we’ve entered through a door we haven’t been through before. James calls it the “Shaking and the Glory”, indicating that this new period will not just be of miracles, but also of increased difficulties.
I’ve recently read a few books (like this one: The Tell-Tale Brain) on how our brain works and it seems our brains function at multiple levels. While our eyes optically see a full image, that image has too much information to process, so one part of brain reduces the image into a subset of more useful information (e.g., just the edges of what is seen), which is then passed up to the next stage which likewise reduces the information further into only the information that is the most important. Some of this information will be handled subconsciously, other parts will be sent on up to our conscious level. Interestingly, this is not a one-way process. At each level, the higher level part of the brain may send commands back down telling the lower level to adjust its processing because something has been noticed that needs further clarity. Again, much of this feedback happens at subconscious levels.
For example, I went on a hike the other day where I saw three rattlesnakes in a row. Suddenly, every rock and bit of dirt that even vaguely resembled a rattlesnake became noticeable. Why? Because part of my brain reacted to the real snakes and made an appeal to the lower processing parts to start sending up anything that might be a snake! Some part of me didn’t want to leave it my standard image processing to catch a potential snake out there. It raised the threat level and changed how my brain was functioning.
The thing is, this wasn’t even conscious. I didn’t consciously choose to be more watchful. My emotional side of me interacted with other parts of my brain to just make it happen.
In other words, your brain is continually making all kinds of choices on your behalf without you even being aware of it. But, your conscious level can at any point override those choices. In fact, it is our conscious brain that in large measure “programs” the lower parts to behave the way they do.
Now it seems that some neuroscientists believe that there is no free will. Why? Because in some experiments your subconscious brain makes choices for you before your conscious part is even aware that a choice needs to be made. They flash questions to a person, and the person reacts by pressing a button to give an answer before the conscious part of the brain is active. Think about that. It’s as if you have no control.
But you do. Yes, for things that are unimportant to us, we do hand off a lot of decision making to the quicker parts of our subconscious brain. That helps us survive. But this handoff is not to a separate and unconnected entity. It is our brain that we have programmed through the multitude of choices and judgments we have made every day of our entire lives. Not only did we play a direct role in how our brain functions at the lower levels, but we can also override that programming whenever we really want to. If I want to wake up at a given time. If I really want to. I will. My brain knows I want something and it will do what I want.
But consider how complex this feedback mechanism of our brain is. One part of us wants something, like that piece of pie sitting on the table. It was designed by nature, our upbringing and our previous choices to crave that sweet delicious piece of pie. And yet another part of us knows that we need to watch our calories. And still another part is telling us that perhaps this is the last piece and wouldn’t it be nice to leave it for someone else.
One part is sending feedback down saying to please pipe more of that beautiful smell in. Another part is instructing our gastric juices to start flowing for the delight that is about to be consumed. Another part is pulling up memories from the last time we blew it and overate and how that made us feel. Still another part is remembering the hurt feelings of the other person when they realized we ate the last piece.
The point is that ultimately, some part of us has to make the final choice. Will we eat that piece of pie or not.
Now perhaps that final decision maker is just the top level conscious part of our brain. Or perhaps it is the real us, i.e., our soul. Does it matter? Clearly, each of us has only a single final decision maker. The only question is whether that is a natural part of our brains, or whether it is something beyond our physical brain.
This gets even more complicated because some of the top physicists in the world believe that our brain actually works at the quantum level and can therefore tap into other dimensions. While there are many conflicting theories on quantum mechanics and what is really going on at that level, it is clear things don’t follow Newtonian physical laws at that level. In fact, one of the most established aspects of quantum mechanics has to do with uncertainty. We only know probabilities at that level and cannot say precisely what is happening.
Here is Sir Roger Penrose on his belief of the quantum nature of consciousness:
The point here is that our classical understanding of cause and effect and determinism may be quite erroneous. We simply don’t know how consciousness is ultimately achieved, nor do we know (scientifically that is) if our brains are connected beyond themselves, either at some quantum level or at a spiritual level.
But when you have a sense of awe or a moment of inspiration, what is that? Is that simply our brain resonating with emotional feelings, or are we connecting to something greater than ourselves?
Some people used to wear the wrist band that said “WWJD” to remind themselves not just to make their own choices, but to consider what Jesus would do, to help them decide what is truly the best choice to make. My belief is that when we choose to do something right, when we choose to do what Jesus would do, that we sense His approval. This is feedback once again, though not from one part of our brain to another. This is feedback from God to our souls.
So what does our free will make us free from? Well, we are free from no real choices. We are free to choose a different path than the one that was programmed into us either by our DNA or by our parents. We are free to eat that piece of pie or not.
And even when our bodies are controlled, like being in a prison, we are still free to believe. We are free to connect with God. We are free to forgive and to love. Or not. For while man may try to control us, God has chosen not to control our wills.
Ultimately, our free will is our freedom to believe in Him or not. If we had no choice in that, then we wouldn’t be free.
At least that’s my take on free will. What do you believe?
I have previously written on 1 Cor 13:7 (see here), but for my daughter’s recent wedding, I rewrote my thoughts on love and spoke this as a toast at their reception:
1 Cor 13:7 Love bears all, believes all, hopes all endures all.
Bears all – to roof over, to cover, protect and preserve, to even suffer and endure for – patiently and in quietness. Love does not gripe or complain.
Believes all – to believe in a person, to think and be persuaded they are true, to have confidence in them, to entrust and commit to them. Love does not despair or dwell on what may go wrong.
Hopes all – joyful and confident expectation, full trust. Love does not presume disappointment.
Endures all – to remain, to hold on, to stick it out, to persevere even under trials and misfortunes, to calmly and bravely endure all. Love does flee. It does not run away. It does not give up.
Love does this because there is a precious someone we will do anything to protect, someone special who we insist on seeing the good in, someone we choose to have confidence in and enjoy doing so, someone who we will stick with and hold on to no matter what.
Love forever protects, forever believes in, forever trusts, forever perseveres with.
This is love.
Wildflowers from my hike this last weekend. See more photos from my hike here.
I previously wrote about the grace movement and one of the scriptures that they talk about is John 16:8-11. Phil Drysdale has an article on the subject:
To quote him:
“…not only will the Holy Spirit never convict you of your sins, He actually convicts you of your righteousness! Verse ten [of John 16] outlines who will be convicted of their righteousness – believers, followers of Jesus. So the Holy Spirit convicts unbelievers of their sinful nature and convinces believers of their new righteous nature, that they are new creations AND convicts Satan of his judgment.”
You can see how they get this because they basically say the verses in John outlines three groups of people that the Holy Spirit convicts:
John 16:8 And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:
John 16:9 of sin, because they do not believe in Me;
John 16:10 of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more;
John 16:11 of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
When it comes to the righteousness part, since the word “convict” is rather harsh, they change the word to mean “convince”, as in the Holy Spirit will convince believers of their righteousness. But when I look up the word convict in Strongs, it says it means things like, “to find fault with, to correct, to reprehend severely, to chide, to admonish, to reprove, to call to account, to refute with a suggestion of shame, to expose”. I don’t see how you can convert that to say it really means “to convince”. And moreover, verse 8 applies the word equally to all three categories. So if it means “convince” for the righteousness part, then it must also mean merely “convince” when it comes to the world’s sin.
But what does the word “world” refer to anyway? Is it indicating that ALL these verses apply only to non-believers. Or is it a expansive term that encompasses all categories, from un-believers to believers to the “ruler of this word” (Satan)? The grace teachers are clearly using the expansive sense, because then they can apply the righteousness part to believers. But the righteousness part could just as well mean that the Holy Spirit will convict un-believers not only of their sin, but also of what righteousness they should be doing.
Note, that Dr. Michael Brown points out that the same Greek word for “convict” in John 16:8 is also used in Rev 3:19, “As many as I love, I rebuke [convict] and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.” This is followed in verse 22 by, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”, which shows us that the Holy Spirit is the one who is doing this convicting. So the idea that the Holy Spirit will never convict us of our sin seems a bit off to me.
Looking at this a bit closer I notice two Greek words “kai peri” are used in verse 8 in front of each of the three words sin, righteousness and judgment. I’m no Greek scholar, but Strongs says peri means “about, concerning, on account of, because of”. In other words, verse 8 literally reads more like:
John 16:8 And when He has come, He will convict the world on account of sin, and on account of righteousness, and on account of judgment:
This makes the meaning of this verse a little clearer to me. The world is convicted on account of its sin, and on account of God’s righteousness (and their lack thereof), and on account of the fact that the kingdom of this world will be judged.
Thus, I would tend to agree with the side that says that all three parts of these verses are talking about the world, not just the conviction of sin part.
Except that I also look at this from a kingdom perspective. Every day we decide what kingdom we will walk in. When we walk in God’s kingdom, then we walk in His righteousness and are not judged. When we walk in the world’s kingdom. Well, I fail to see how a Holy God, by His mere existence, cannot help but to convict us.
The grace teachers say we are not convicted of sin because we believe in Him. But I tend to see that many Christians are fairly lukewarm in their belief. The word “believe” in verse 9 (pisteuo) means putting your trust in God, and even having fidelity towards Him. It does not mean believing in Him and yet doing our own thing.
But one last thing. Why does verse 10 mention “because I go to My Father and you see Me no more”? For me, this ties back to the overall context of this chapter, where Jesus is preparing His disciples for what things will be like when He is gone. Verses 2 says, “They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service”. Clearly Jesus wants his disciples ready for when this time comes, for in verse 1 He says, “These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble”.
And why would they stumble? Well if they began to think that they were the ones in error, the ones in fact in sin. But this is then why the Holy Spirit’s coming is so important. The Holy Spirit will not only be their Helper, He will also put everything into true perspective. When He comes, it will become clear to the disciples that it is the world and not them who is error. Why? Because they believed and the world did not. The Holy Spirit will also make it clear that Jesus was righteous. Why? Because the world nailed Him to a cross, but the coming of the Holy Spirit proves that Jesus has gone to be with the Father. And it will become clear to the disciples that it is the ruler of this world who is judged (perhaps even Caiaphas the high priest specifically) and not them.
In other words, Jesus is saying that when the Holy Spirit comes, He will expose who is truly in error. It is the world who is in sin for not believing in Jesus, it is also in error for not seeing Jesus’ righteousness, and it will be judged because as the ruler of the world it is the one who is responsible (for what was done to Jesus and in the future for what will be done to the disciples).
Thus, you could say that the Holy Spirit is the living word of God, sharper than any two-edged sword, dividing between joints and marrow, showing who is really in sin, who is really righteous, and who will be judged.
To me, that is what these verses mean. What do you think?
Amazing view from my hike on the Incinerator Ridge Trail this weekend: