The Christian Call to War on Autonomy
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.
He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God. . . ~ Genesis 3:1-5 (bold emphasis added)
Any decent whodunnit will feature an inquisitive protagonist asking all of the important questions: Who? What? When? Where? And Why?
Why was the diamond stolen, the baby kidnapped, or the car blown up?
Why was the pie poisoned, the store robbed, or the race rigged?
From Sherlock Holmes to Perry Mason, the question of motive is always a primary line of inquiry and investigation.
Where the motive of man’s rebellion against and denial of God is concerned, Scripture is plain: Man rejects God’s authority in pursuit of his own autonomy.
Why does man deny the God he knows to be God?
Because he so desires the facade of autonomy over the reality of God’s sovereignty that he will warp, twist, and contort himself to the point that he literally abandons truth and squints his eyes in feigned denial of anything (or any One) standing in the way of his pursuit of personal lordship over his own life.
This he does in inexorable emulation of Adam before him. By virtue of his sinful nature in freely chosen action, he inevitably and quite happily trots down a path seasoned with appealing echoes of the serpent’s promise in Eden: “Dismiss the one true God…disobey the one true God…pursue instead your own godhood on your own terms, and ‘you will be like God’”(Genesis 3:5).
The lie of disavowing knowledge of God is the prerequisite for man’s delusional pursuit of autonomy.
Just as the original lie in Eden produced immediate and terminal dysfunctionality in the relationship between the person of Adam and the person of God, so too has every self-serving denial of God since produced the same for every descendant of Adam.
This is how Hell comes to be populated with personal image-bearers of the one true and personal God, and this is why we lovingly confront Precious Snowflake Syndrome with the supernatural Gospel of Jesus Christ. (To understand Precious Snowflake Syndrome as referenced here, please read The Alpha of Apologetics…and Everything Else.)
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SNOWFLAKE
How you are fallen from heaven,
O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
you who laid the nations low!
You said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
in the far reaches of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.’ ~ Isaiah 14:12-14 (bold emphasis added)
Each of us when left to our inherent Precious Snowflakiness will actively and relentlessly seek to exalt ourselves as the lord or god of our own lives. We may or may not say it that way and we may or may not or see it that way, but this truth is the clear testimony of Scripture. Until and unless we are liberated from self-absorption and self-exaltation through the supernatural intervention of God, we will happily, proudly, and confidently go about the business of rebellion. That’s just what fallen folks do. All of them.
The reason for this inclination toward self-centeredness is hereditary at two levels. First, we are sons and daughters of Adam. Among other things, this means that we share in Adam’s sinful, fallen nature. Adam’s sin of rebellion was born of his prideful desire to be the lord of his own life. Adam’s sin was the pursuit of autonomy.
It is the desired autonomy (rebellion) of the human heart that paints all actions inspired by it as sinful. And here again, by all actions we mean all actions, including, but not limited to: Reading, writing, thinking, dancing, baking cookies, and…well…any otherwise lawful and “good” thing that a person might do. Even the “plowing of the field” by the wicked, unrepentant man is sin (Proverbs 21:4 KJV).
And why is it sin?
Because it is separated from the Person of Christ through the pursuit of autonomy.
The pursuit of autonomy, which is by definition the rejection of the lordship of the Person of Christ in favor of the lordship of one’s self, inherently and completely corrupts anything to which it is attached. Everything done in a spirit of autonomy is sin.
This universally destructive desire for autonomy leads nicely into our consideration of the second manner in which we have inherited our sinful nature and desires. The very notion of autonomy was first planted in us – into our very nature – by the spiritual father of autonomy himself: Satan.
The father of rebellion against the authority of God is described again and again in Scripture as the father of those who join in his wicked pursuit of pride-fueled, self-exalting autonomy.
Scripture is very hard and very clear where the nature of all unrepentant rebels is concerned. If the term “Precious Snowflake” sounds a bit snarky, harsh, or edgy, and you fear that speaking of those who pursue self over God in such a manner crosses the line of propriety, try using, or at least contemplating, some of these biblical tags:
- Slave to sin (Romans 6:17).
- Hater of God (Romans 1:30).
- Hater of Christ (John 15:18-20).
- Hater of Christians (Matthew 10:22).
- Child of wrath (Ephesians 2:3).
- Child of the devil (1 John 3:10).
Remember first and always as you read and (hopefully) re-read the above list: This was me before He saved me. Each and every one of these terrible, brutal, and utterly true descriptions of all unrepentant unbelievers once applied just as completely to us as they now do to anyone else. We were slaves to sin, and not in the sense you may be thinking. We loved our bondage. We loved our chains. We loved our sin and we hated holiness. That’s how utterly enslaved we were, and would still be, were it not for the grace of God saving us while we still hated Him.
People understandably love and are encouraged to “write in their name” where the promises of God are presented in Scripture, so that passages like Romans 8:28 might be taken more personally.
This can be a good thing and a source of encouragement for the true believer, but our selective application of this “write your name in” approach is very telling. We aren’t very much inclined to “write names” into the passages that describe the condition of all unbelievers ever born, and we are especially hesitant to make personal application of what the Bible proclaims as truth regarding unbelievers that we like or follow or otherwise adore. This denial of the clearly revealed truth of human nature stifles our Gospel presentation and warps our worldview from something biblical into something worldly. From that secularized, autonomy enabling position, we help the father of lies and his lie of autonomy to populate Hell with the souls of the lost.
Thus, the nature and purpose of the devil is realized in his children and is accommodated even by many within the professing church. In our aversion to Scriptural truth regarding the nature of man, we enable the expansion of the very hell that we have been called and equipped to destroy (Matthew 16:17-19).
The Gospel cannot be credibly, coherently proclaimed where the nature of man is soft-peddled or denied.
We hated God. We hated Christ. We hated Christians. We were children of wrath. We were children of the devil.
And as we were, the lost are now.
If we love our Lord, and if we love the lost, we will not shrink from these brutal, essential truths. If we love our Lord and we love the lost, we will proclaim the vivid, detailed, and challenging truth of John 8: 34-45, which reads:
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”
They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.
John, known to many as “The Apostle of Love”, is supposed to be the “warm and gentle” one of the bunch, yet it is clear from the above passage that his understanding of what is loving has little in common with the contemporary understanding (or self-serving redefinition) of the term. “The Apostle of Love” also said the following in 1 John 3:8-10:
The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.
Are we seeing the picture here? Are we even willing to see it?
If so on either count, it is only so by the grace of God. Remember: Everything is a gift.
The picture of humanity’s default nature as painted by John is as vivid as the beautiful portrait he was inspired to craft of the Lord Himself in his Gospel. John passionately portrayed the Person of Christ as the exclusive source of every good thing, and, as such, the necessary Person to whom all other persons must submit in order to have access to any good thing. These truths are at the core of Christianity’s beauty and autonomy’s horror.
When a man, any man, persists in autonomy, he does so willfully and with specific awareness of the one true God he aims to displace. This is the clear truth revealed in Romans 1. Holding that truth about man’s knowledge of God in one hand, the truth about the nature of autonomy in the other, and bringing the two together in their biblical context will help us to understand many important things, including:
- Autonomy is the personal rejection of the Person of Christ.
- As such, the desire for autonomy makes every subsequent pursuit sinful.
- Hell is the ultimate, and proper, destination for all who are driven by the desire for autonomy.
When we understand that all who seek to live autonomously are personally rejecting the God that they know, that their autonomous lives can only produce sinful actions, and that we were once as they are now until He saved us through His Gospel, we are in a much better place to appreciate, adore, and proclaim that Gospel – and happily so, no matter the cost in this quickly passing world.
Remember: Before a Precious Snowflake can be saved, it must be convicted and led to repent, which is almost always preceded by being offended. Deeply offended. Only the Gospel can inspire those things, as nobody should know better than believers, all of whom are themselves former ‘flakes saved by grace.
This post is a slightly modified excerpt from The Beginning of Knowledge: Christ as Truth in Apologetics, which I published late in 2013 as an introduction to Christ-centered apologetics. (An edited and revised version should be available soon.)
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© 2014 Scott Alan Buss – All Rights Reserved.