“I Give You Freedom”

A few days ago, a friend on Facebook introduced me to the song “I Give You Freedom,” as sung by the Joy Quartet of Pensacola Christian College. Before I continue any further, let me just say that it seems (at least from this) that the Joy Quartet seem to adore God with a sincere heart, and are indeed very talented singers (they certainly sing better than I do!). It was just the content and presentation of the song caused me to raise an eyebrow and led to make a post for what I thought would be good discussion. This post shouldn’t be seen as a personal attack against them or questioning their salvation.

Here is the video itself:

Perhaps what first shocked me in this video was what the sister said at the beginning of the video:

Our God is so great, and He is so gracious, that He gives us freedom to make our own choices, and then we become responsible for those choices.

This, of course, is the classic “God is so powerful He gives you the option to say no” soteriology. However, there is a very real danger here: the belief that man is completely free to decide whether or not to follow God, and afterward is completely responsible for that decision, is the same teaching as the heresy known as Pelagianism. To summarize Pelagianism briefly:

At this point we have touched the central and formative principle of Pelagianism. It lies in the assumption of the plenary ability of man; his ability to do all that righteousness can demand, – to work out not only his salvation, but also his own perfection. This is the core of the whole theory… [B.B. Warfield, Introductory Essay on Augustin and the Pelagian Controversy, I]

Whether or not the sister intended it to come across this way (most likely she didn’t), this is how this extreme mode of synergism appears. It at the very least comes across as semi-Pelagianism, which taught that the beginning of faith was not God’s gift, but a complete act of man’s complete free will (as opposed to, say, the teaching of prevenient grace by Arminians).

Any way, the lyrics of the song itself are as follows:

I set the boundries of the ocean vast,
Carved out the mountains from the distant past,
Moulded a man from the miry clay,
Breathed in him life, but he went astray.

I hold the waters in My mighty hand
Spread out the heavens with a single span,
Make all creation tremble at My voice,
But My own sons come to Me by choice.

I own the cattle on a thousand hills,
I write the music for the whippoorwills,
Control the planets with their rocks and rills,
But give you freedom to use your own will.

Even the oxen knows the master’s stall,
And sheep will recognize the shepherd’s call
I could demand your love – I own you twice,
But only willing love is worth the price!

I own the cattle on a thousand hills,
I write the music for the whippoorwills,
Control the planets with their rocks and rills,
But give you freedom to use your own will.

And if you want Me to, I’ll make you whole,
I’ll only do it tho’ if you say so.
I’ll never force you, for I love you so,
I give you freedom – Is it “yes” or “no”?

I’d like to now review the lyrics, bit by bit, and examine what is said.

I set the boundries of the ocean vast,
Carved out the mountains from the distant past,
Moulded a man from the miry clay,
Breathed in him life, but he went astray.

This is very true – God made man, and man went astray. Yet what was the result of that going astray? Did Adam just present a bad example for men to follow, and they need Jesus as a better example? Did man become only kind of depraved, but still capable of rejecting or receiving God? What was the state of this fallen man?

Scripture is very clear on the state of fallen man. It teaches that “every intent of the thoughts” of man’s heart is “only evil continually” (Gen 6:5). It teaches that “there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins” (Ecc 7:20). It teaches that “there is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God” (Rom 3:10-11). It teaches that before coming to faith, Christians were “by nature children of wrath, even as the rest” (Eph 2:3). Christ Himself taught: “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). He likewise that: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him…” (John 6:44); and “…no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father” (John 6:65).

The state of man is one of constant sin and transgression against God. On top of that, it is one wherein man is constantly in rebellion against God, and wants nothing to do with the true God of scripture. He might seek after false gods or a false concept of God to fulfill a “spiritual need,” but in regards to the true God with whom salvation can be found, there is absolutely no desire.

I hold the waters in My mighty hand
Spread out the heavens with a single span,
Make all creation tremble at My voice,
But My own sons come to Me by choice.

Do we become sons of God solely by our own independent choice? That is, a complete, absolutely free choice from our own will? Many jump to John 1:12, which reads: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” Aha! the person says, it says “as many received Him” – that means they have to make a free choice!

They forget, however, that John 1:12 is merely half a sentence, and that John continues on in the next verse to say: “…who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” John makes the distinction clear: they were not born of blood (in other words, they weren’t saved simply for being Jews); they weren’t born of the flesh (in other words, by their own works), and they weren’t born of the will of man (in other words, a libertarian, semi-Pelagian free will), but rather they were born of God. Their regeneration, which led to their acceptance of Christ, was itself the will of God.

Might I also point out that the line “My own sons come to Me by choice” makes it seem as if our status as God’s sons is a complete unilateral action from the part of man. However, scripture clearly teaches otherwise:

He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. [Eph 1:5-6]

We become sons not by applying for it like we do a job – we come through it by adoption. Does an orphan choose who his adoptive parents will be? Of course not. In like manner, it is said that God predestined us to adoption as sons, and did so through Jesus Christ. God does not swing open the door of His home and say whoever comes in can be a son – God actively adopts His sons.

I own the cattle on a thousand hills,
I write the music for the whippoorwills,
Control the planets with their rocks and rills,
But give you freedom to use your own will.

As we’ve already established that when man fell, man fell completely. It was not a matter of a small mistake. Adam did not make a boo-boo like a kid spilling milk – he transgressed against the one true God. Mankind followed suit, as Seth and all his descendants were not in image and likeness of God, but rather the image and likeness of Adam (Gen 5:3). Mankind, until regeneration, is a slave to sin (John 8:34; Rom 6:17-18).

If we confess that man, before regeneration, is a slave to sin, then we have to ask what he will use that free will of his to do? To put it another way: a brick is capable of going up or down, but if you hold a brick out, say, “You have free will to go up and down”, and then let go, chances are, because of the force of gravity, the brick will fall down. In like manner, whether or not man is told to repent or blaspheme, without the work of the Spirit, man will always choose to blaspheme due to the force of sin.

Even the oxen knows the master’s stall,
And sheep will recognize the shepherd’s call
I could demand your love – I own you twice,
But only willing love is worth the price!

The mention of an ox knowing their master’s call is a reference to the first chapter of the book of Isaiah, where God laments: “An ox knows its owner, and a donkey its master’s manger, but Israel does not know, My people do not understand” (Isa 1:3). God is highlighting the sad state of affairs among his people at this time. It is during this that, many verses later, Isaiah himself says: “Unless the LORD of hosts had left us a few survivors, we would be like Sodom, we would be like Gomorrah” (Isa 1:9). Note that in the midst of all this sin, it is said that “the LORD of hosts” has “left us a few survivors.” God has actively done something – He has kept a chosen remnant among the people, just as He did during the days of Elijah.

Note too, the lyric “I could demand your love.” It is the presupposition by many synergists that if man’s coming to Christ is not completely by his autonomous will, then it must be by a tyrannical compulsion. The fallacy in this presumption, however, is that they presume irresistible grace lacks regeneration – in their mind, if the man opposes God before irresistible grace, he will still be opposing God after irresistible grace. This, however, is not the case. Christ said that no man can come to Him unless the Father who sent Him draws the man (John 6:44), and likewise that all given to Him by the Father will come to Him (John 6:37). When a man is drawn by God’s grace, it not only compels him to come to Him, but it regenerates him, making him want to come. Irresistible grace is not God putting a gun to someone’s head and saying, “You better love me, or else!” It’s God transforming the sinner’s heart into a repentant’s heart and bringing him into the fold.

And if you want Me to, I’ll make you whole,
I’ll only do it tho’ if you say so.
I’ll never force you, for I love you so,
I give you freedom – Is it “yes” or “no”?

This part of the song made me wince upon first hearing. This is a completely semi-Pelagian soteriology. The idea that God has this great plan of salvation but essentially is just leaving it on the table and crossing his arms and waiting for man to just come up and take it…that just simply isn’t scriptural, nor is it logical, given what we know scripture teaches about the condition of man.

Might I also ask…what are we really glorifying here? Are we glorifying God, or something we particularly want from God? Are we glorifying God for His supposed granting of freedom, or are we glorifying our belief that we have the freedom to say yes or no, and thus determine our own salvation? Is the glorification here really one of God…or one of man? This is all something that I believe is worth contemplating in our review of what we uphold to be orthodox theology.

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