God, our Creator, has created all of us with the awesome responsibility of the Freedom to Choose. The abilities and knowledge we inherit from God at our birth allow us to choose the Good, but has also left us with the ability to choose what is evil. It is in recognizing what is evil, and avoiding or repenting of it, then actively choosing the Good that we are considered Righteous by God.
In the Hebrew Bibles, and as taught by Jesus, God repeatedly tells us to "choose" and "obey" and that we will be judged according to our choices.
God, through Moses, said that His Law was “not too hard” so that we “could do it.” (Deut. 30:14) And God expected us to obey his moral commands, as Jesus repeated consistently. Jesus said that no one else would be charged with our disobedience, and no other would be responsible for our actions except ourselves.
In the very beginning of the Hebrew Bible, we learn in the story of Adam and Eve how men were entrusted with a Freedom of Choice. The story portrays God as giving Adam and Eve the choice of not eating from a tree of knowledge and remaining in a Garden of innocence forever, or eating from it and eventually dying, and leaving to make his own way in the world.
They chose to leave, and were told by God to "Be fruitful and multiply." This choice, and that of Eve, affected no one but them. And note that Adam and Eve - created in God's image (Gen. 1:27) - were created to be perfect by God, they lived in a perfect world, yet were able to disobey God. It was God's design that humans have choice.
Sin cannot be inherited. Here's how we know: God told Adam's son, Cain (just one generation after Adam!) that he COULD avoid sin, and MUST do so to avoid punishment (Gen. 4:7.)
God didn’t respect Cain and his offering, "So Cain was very angry, and the expression on his face fell. And Yahweh said to Cain, "Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door. It desires you, but you must rule over it." (Gen. 4:5b-8)
If he was morally able to freely choose to do Good, and "rule over" his temptation, so may we!
Only Cain was affected by his subsequent evil choice. The Bible teaches us that sins are acts, not THINGS. Sins are what we commit or avoid, not a thing we inherit, biologically.
This is why Ezekiel records: "The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself." (Ezek. 18:19)
Just after the Exodus out of Egypt, Joshua told the Israelites to serve Yahweh their God, "in sincerity and in truth," and to "choose this day whom you will serve," (Joshua 24:14-15) Clearly, Joshua believed they could choose to faithfully serve God in sincerity and in truth.
The prophet Isaiah also clearly agreed with God that human beings were capable of choosing to, "reject the wrong and choose the right." (7:15)
Psalm 24 notes who may stand before God: "The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god." This strongly affirms our ability to obey God and seek to be righteous. If we cannot do these things, then literally no one would ever stand in God's presence. But that's not what the Bible teaches.
Psalm 25-27 are even more personal, with King David saying that he has (following repentance) led a clean life by choosing the righteous path. He had earlier written: "Yahweh dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me." (Psalm 18:20)
Jesus had high hopes for our moral abilities, and taught that we are to be, "perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect." (Matt. 5:48)
This same teacher - this human being chosen by God - said that he did all things that pleased God (John 8:29.)
He also said that we must follow him, doing ALL that he had done. (John 13:15; 14:12) Based on these teachings, we definitely have the ability to do great good, if we choose to do it.
Choosing to do what's right can be hard sometimes, but that does not diminish our ability to do the good.
We have this God-given ability to seek Godliness, and we can become Godly and complete – not by ourselves without God or without God’s chosen example, but with God's ongoing help and with the example of Jesus always before us.
As we have seen here, it is NOT our inherited destiny to be "unable to not sin," and that we are not born so depraved that we may not choose what is good, and seek to do it. The scriptures teach that we may indeed choose NOT to sin.
Ecclesiasticus records the clearest statement of our freedom to choose, saying: "If you choose, you can keep the commandments, and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice. He has placed before you fire and water; stretch out your hand for whichever you choose. Before each person are life and death, and whichever one chooses will be given. For great is the wisdom of the Lord; He is mighty in power and sees everything; His eyes are on those who fear Him, and He knows every human action. He has not commanded anyone to be wicked, and He has not given anyone permission to sin." (15:15-20)
It is God’s choice – His GRACE alone – whether we shall live with Him eternally. But it is up to us whether WE CHOOSE to seek this gift, and God says we demonstrate this choice by our actions.
We are called to commit our lives to obedience to God's chosen Son, Jesus, the Anointed Prophet of God, and submit to humbly walk with him, relying, as he taught, on God's grace and forgiveness and growing into the Righteous Perfection that God knows we are capable of achieving.
And while sin may be waiting by the door for us, seeking to master us, we are assured that we may indeed defeat – and master – sinful temptations.
This is amazingly good news, because it shows that our Creator knows us, and trusts us with the ability to act and choose to obey Him freely!
Through the teachings of Jesus, God shows us that He is a parent Who allows His children to make mistakes, repent, and turn back to doing what is right.
We should thank God, our Creator in Whose image we were created, for trusting us to make our own choices, and let’s pledge to always take that awesome responsibility seriously in all that we do in this new year.