You may have heard of a series of books called Choose Your Own Adventure? In my younger years I loved these books as they empowered the reader with a sense of control, a hand in the final destiny of the main character. Not only did these stories take away the idea of a sealed fate but they added the excitement of freedom with often unknown consequences. Each chapter provided the reader with two options that would ultimately take the character down two very different paths with two very different ends.
If we consider the Christian life as a ‘choose your own adventure’ story we are confronted with a theological conundrum to wrestle with. We may even come across teachings that seem to exist in tension with one another. Sometimes the dots just refuse to be joined.
Consider the question of human free will. While we are free to make choices, our human will, or nature, is bound to incline away from God and his truth.
As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Rom 3:10-11)
If this is true, then the whole concept of choosing our own adventure is put into question. Or is it? Maybe the answer lies somewhere in between. The plot thickens.
Martin Luther argued this point strongly in his work titled, The Bondage of the Will. He insisted that human beings are not born with total freedom of the will. To understand where Luther is coming from, the inherent nature of sin must first be acknowledged. While individuals can obviously make certain choices such as whether to get out of bed each day, Luther suggested they are not and cannot be inclined towards Christ for salvation or even to accept the truth about who they are in relation to a Holy God. The freedom of a Christian is therefore completely dependent on the work of God through the gift of faith as the Holy Spirit breaks the shackles of an enslaved will.
The freedom of a Christian then, lies in the newly found ability to incline their will towards God and for the first time, turn outwards, away from the self and to the saving grace that comes from Christ alone. It is only at this point in the Christian life that ‘choosing your own adventure’ takes on a new meaning, a new possibility.
Interestingly the Scriptures often highlight the different paths we may travel in life. Unlike the ‘choose your own adventure’ stories, however, they often spoil the ending, highlighting the consequences that lie further down each path. Be warned, however, the Scriptures provide no glossy brochures supporting the ever-popular prosperity doctrine. The freedom of the Christian does not equate with worldly success, it does not exist to elevate us to ultimate health and wealth, but it does assure us that not all that glitters is gold.
When it comes to biblical advice on choosing the right path, consider the words of Christ himself:
Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only few find it. (Mt 7:13-14)
The path to life, it seems, is not a popular one. It can only be entered in the freedom gifted to the Christian, through the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit. While tensions remain in the life of the Christian, including the natural desire for what may lie on the broad road, we are encouraged to embrace the precious gift of freedom from this call back to slavery. Instead we are strengthened to walk the straight, narrow path that leads to life with Christ.
It seems, therefore, that true freedom, the only real free will experienced by a human being, is that of the person in Christ. For it is only in Christ that we are free to see things for what they really are, see ourselves for who we really are. Here, in the freedom of the Christian, we are comforted in the revelation of how our old story ultimately ends and the new one begins. The adventure that we freely choose is one with a guaranteed happy ending, securely sealed in spite of the poor choices we continue to make throughout our life journeys.
While we as free Christians must live with the consequences of our choices, we will always remain in God’s grace, forgiven, loved and free to serve him.
Who should separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8: 35, 38-39)