Following the Trail of Free Moral Agency :: By Gene Lawley

Before time began, in the dark foreshadows of eternity, God created the heavens and the earth, “and the earth was without form and void” (Genesis 1:2). In Psalm 90:2, it says, “Before the mountains were brought forth or ever You had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.” In the first verse the earth was alone, without the “world,” but in the psalm, world was added. Apparently, the earth is just a planet, but the world added to it the inhabitants—plants, animals, creatures, people. We will consider later how this fits into the picture.

When God created the heavens, included were the angels and the hosts of heaven. At the top of the multitude of angels was one who decided he was going to be like God, not under His subjection. Ezekiel 28:1 and following, as if addressing the King of Tyre, the Lord gives the account of this top angel and how he rebelled and left his position as the head of the band of angels, taking with him one-third of all the angels. How could he do this? Apparently, this one who came to be called Satan, or Lucifer, was created with “free moral agency.”

Having that ability of choice, then, Satan turned from God, giving up his morality, and establishing his own “immoral agency” which has absolutely no morality whatever. It is filled with lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. This he did in opposition to God.

The intent of this rebel is also repeated in Isaiah 14:12-15: “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, you who weakened the nations, for you have said in your heart: ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.’ Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, to the lowest depths of the Pit.”

That term, “free moral agency,” is familiar to Bible students. The online dictionary, Wikipedia, describes a “free moral agent” as one who is “capable of acting with reference to right and wrong.”  So Satan was created with knowledge of right and wrong and the ability to act on that knowledge. And he did just that, becoming the very first to commit the unpardonable sin—complete rejection by and from God and obvious truth.

Perhaps God responded to Satan’s intent to be like God with the suggestion that he take this earth that was “without form and void” and see what he could do with it. No wonder, then, that it remained “without form and void,” for Satan can create nothing. He only counterfeits and duplicates what God has already done. Note what happened when Moses and Aaron went before Pharaoh, and Aaron threw down his rod. It became a serpent. Then the magicians threw down their rods, and they became serpents also. Aaron’s serpent swallowed those two, however (Exodus 7:9-12).

The truth of Satan’s empty promises, in contrast to those of Jesus, is displayed in John 10:10: “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” No wonder the earth was left “without form and void,” if that was the actual way things happened in the beginning. Satan is the thief.

Were Adam and Eve created with free moral agency? Yes, they were, as we see how they exercised their option of doing right or wrong when they ate of the forbidden fruit. What happened then? They lost their relationship with God, but He provided a blood-stained solution for their desperate need, as Genesis 3 reports the account.

In the secular world, agencies make an illustration that may make sense of this principle in spiritual matters. An insurance agency is owned by a company that offers insurance policies to consumers. They contract with an agent to represent them in contacting consumers. The agent is an independent agent having authority to represent and offer the owner-company’s product. Likewise, somewhat, God created “free moral agency” and owns that “product.” In creation, He gave it to Lucifer, who decided to create his own agency and offer “immoral agency” to all who follow him.

God’s agency seemed to take a fall when Adam and Eve rejected God’s “free moral agency” and immediately became agents of Satan’s “immoral agency” for all mankind. Their “product” became “immorality” and eternal death in opposition to God’s product, “morality” and eternal life. Thus, we have that spiritual warfare continuing on and on.

God, however, had already formed a better plan, as explained in this article. He would offer a redeeming plan that, once accepted, would permanently close the door to eternal death, the plan offered by Satan and his agents. He would pay the ultimate price for Satan’s agents and offer them an agency relationship that is part of His family as adopted children. 

Let’s follow the trail. What happens to those born of Adam’s lineage? They are born outside of God’s favor, spiritually dead in trespasses and sins and pointed to certain death, both physically and spiritually. Even a child unknowingly displays their condition as they exert their demands for selfish purposes. That presents a problem for all mankind, for all are descended from Adam.

“But God,” a prefix to the solution for all mankind—that was put in place also “before time began.” Titus 1:2 tells us that “in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began.” It came in the form of a gift, as clearly told in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” The plan worked out like this: “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Romans 5:18 further explains how it fits together with the universal problem of Adam’s sinful nature: “Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.”

Why was it in the form of a gift and not just readily applied to all mankind? It is because a gift must be received, accepted, by the one for whom it is meant. That is, in this case, the need for a person to exercise his moral agency of acting on the knowledge of right and wrong that is embedded in his conscience. God does not force Himself upon any person. The old idiom, “you can take a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink—but you can salt his oats” is how it works in God’s economy.

Romans 3:20 says, “By the law is the knowledge of sin,” and it is the law of God that is embedded in man’s conscience, the inherent knowledge of good and evil that works in man’s conscience to convict him of his sinfulness and the need for a Savior. We can see how this worked in the conversion of Saul of Tarsus in Acts 9:1-9. Jesus said to him, “Why do you persecute Me? It is hard to kick against the goads.” But man cannot exercise moral agency as a descendant of Adam, born so from birth. That is the bottom line regarding repentance, for no one can repent from being born of Adam’s heritage. Only by being born again can one enter the gate of heaven.

So how does God handle that major roadblock? He makes another gift available. Look at Ephesians 2:8-9 for that gift: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” It is the gift of faith.

John 6:29 puts it this way: “This is the work of God that you believe in Him whom He sent.” And Paul told the Philippian jailer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). A gift not accepted is of no value to the intended receiver; but to the one who does receive Christ, the gift has eternal life!

The summation of this topic is this: Beginning with the angels in heaven, God created beings with “free moral agency,” that ability to make right and wrong choices. Adam and Eve lost their created morality and took up the immorality of Satan’s “agency.” They became slaves to the dominion of sin, having the knowledge of good and evil, but controlled by evil. However, God’s plan from the beginning was to redeem mankind from that desperate situation, “Not by works of righteousness [which they could not do], but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).

Having been now restored to morality, the born-again believer is told, in Philippians 2:12b-13, “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” This is the bottom line of walking by faith and choosing to please God in all choices made along the way.

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