In his work Theology is for Proclamation, Lutheran theologian Gerhard Forde (pronounced fur-dy) offers an insightful perspective on the impact of the fall of man in Adam on our wills. In so doing, he explains why man, apart from the working of the Spirit of God on his soul, always insists on having free choice in matters of salvation.
Because of the direction the word “fall” implies, we tend to think of our fall in Adam only in a downward direction. Yet Forde reminds us of what Adam was doing when he fell to the temptation of Satan:
The fall is really not what the word implies at all. It is not (Note: I would add the word “only” here) a downward plunge to some lower level in the great chain of being, some lower rung on the ladder of morality and freedom. Rather, it is an upward rebellion, an invasion of the realm of things “above,” the usurping of divine prerogative.
Man’s great problem, simply stated, is that he wants to be God. Forde uses the term “upward fall” to describe this rebellion.
As such, man, who was created in the image of God to reflect His glory, has now directed his constitution in the completely opposite direction. Instead of glorifying God, his will is bent toward being his own god and reflecting his own glory. Yet, unwittingly, in so doing man is actually giving service to the evil one.
What one “loses” in such a “fall” is faith and trust in God. One becomes, as stated previously, bound against God, indeed, a bondservant of Satan. The image is not lost, but turned to its opposite. One now images not God but the divine adversary.
So every time man speaks of having a will free to choose divine things or not, that person is not exhibiting the freedom of the will but rather his will’s bondage to sin.
The will will will what it will! But it is always bound to something or perhaps captivated by something.
That “something” man’s will is bound or captivated by is man’s own thirst to be God. So the very nature of the upward fall means man cannot in himself acknowledge God’s sovereignty because he wills it not.
We will never admit to not having free choice in things above. We cannot bear the idea that only God has free choice; we must claim it, seek it, usurp it for ourselves. So we seek to be gods.
Note then how this necessarily means that, because of man’s fallen essence, he then will always naturally resist the concept of predestination.
When we come up against the eternal, immutable, impassible God and we hear in addition that this God elects (saves and damns) we simply cannot allow it. We must say to such a God, “God, I don’t know what you are up to so I must take my destiny in my own hands. I think it would be safer that way!”
So perhaps the next time we encounter anyone combating the truth of God’s election, rather than arguing the matter we can instead use it as an apologetic foil to encourage greater reflection on Jesus. For the one doing so may be a hardened sinner apart from Christ and still in rebellion, or a professing but confused Christian still exhibiting remnants of his Adamic nature. Either way, pointing them to the cross is the answer. I love how Forde puts it so succinctly.
We are on the way up, seeking to be gods; God is on the way down, becoming human…Therefore Jesus must be preached as the absolute crisis, the bitter end, of us as would-be Gods.