Christianity, Spiritual Life

On the power and perils of free-will

You probably have a lot of excuses. I do. Sometimes science gives evidence to support them. Especially when it allegedly contradicts free will. But you do have free-will. This means that your character is your fault and you have to deal with it.

Origen, an ancient theologian, thought that since God had offered the grace of the gospel to all, every Christian must take responsibility for his entire spiritual state. For him, purity is essential to God’s nature, but it is only coincidental to human nature and must be attained and maintained consciously.

Now it is certain that by the dragon is understood the devil himself. If then they are called opposing powers, and are said to have been once without stain, while spotless purity exists in the essential being of none save the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but is an accidental quality in every created thing; and since that which is accidental may also fall away, and since those opposite powers once were spotless, and were once among those which still remain unstained, it is evident from all this that no one is pure either by essence or nature, and that no one was by nature polluted. And the consequence of this is, that it lies within ourselves and in our own actions to possess either happiness or holiness; or by sloth and negligence to fall from happiness into wickedness and ruin, to such a degree that, through too great proficiency, so to speak, in wickedness (if a man be guilty of so great neglect), he may descend even to that state in which he will be changed into what is called an “opposing power.”[1]

On the other hand, of course, Origen would also say that we cannot take credit for personal moral/spiritual purity because it is from God’s grace.

His point of view is similar to that of St. Peter. Peter tells us that God gave us everything we need for life and godliness so that we might partake of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:3-4). Peter then says that the only Christian way to live to add all of the virtues to our faith (2 Peter 1:5-8). Peter goes on to tell us that  some false teachers who have left the faith, even denied the Lord who bought them (2:1). In other words, they rejected his atonement for their sins. By so-doing, he says, they have become worse than they were before they knew Christ (2:19-22).

Free will is too weak alone to help us attain to God’s glory, this is why it must be enabled by his grace. But if it is used to deny God’s grace, there are few depths of depravity to which it cannot plumb.


[1] Origen, “De Principiis,” in Fathers of the Third Century: Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. Frederick Crombie, vol. 4, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 259–260.

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