Doubts about Autonomy – 5

Posted: December 30, 2012 by J in Mission, Theology

Clearly I have a lot of doubts on this subject! This is my last one.

It’s about rule and self-rule: in the Scriptures human rule and self-rule seem to be considered good things, rather than being the essence of sin. In fact, it seems that the human problem is that we are not ruling as we should be. And self-rule is our positive duty as believers in Jesus.

In Genesis 1 and in the garden of Eden God established us rulers over the creation:

Fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over it  Genesis 1:28

Now that’s an invitation to rule if ever I heard one.

Our trouble was that we let the snake call the shots instead of doing it ourselves. Like King Edward VII, we abdicated our throne and abandoned our responsibilities. That was our sin.

The story of salvation history is preoccupied with issues of leadership and kingship – the very area where we went wrong. There is always the hope that a proper man will come along who can rule again. David looks good for a while, but ultimately proves weak. Finally Jesus comes and proves himself trustworthy, and is promptly given the throne.

But luckily for us, he does not take the throne alone. He takes it for and with us. When Jesus begins to rule, humanity is restored to our rightful place in the creation: lord.

Currently we don’t look much like lords. But our future in Jesus is sure:

If we endure, we will also reign with him       2 Tim. 2:12

Rule is our destiny as humans. And that destiny is restored in Jesus.

But that restored rule is begun already, within ourselves.

Self-rule is a virtue prized by the apostles. The word is enkrateia, which is a combination of en + krateia. Krateia is rule. en means inward. So enkrateia is inward rule, or self-rule. Or autonomy.

This self-rule is one of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5). It is part of the gospel message Paul announced to governor Felix:

As Paul talked about righteousness, self–control and the judgment to come, Felix became afraid…     Acts 24:25

It seems even a pagan ruler needs to repent, not of his excessive autonomy, but of his lack of self-rule. This virtue is essential if we are to ‘get a crown that will last forever’ (1 Cor. 9:25).

This emphasis on regaining autonomy makes sense in the Bible’s story-line, in which we lost control of ourselves at the Fall and became enslaved to evil powers. There is no future for us unless we get that rule back. And in Christ, we do.

But self-rule is only the warm-up, the preparation for ruling the cosmos in and with Jesus.

“‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’      Luke 19:17


“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much.”   Luke 16:10

I’m going to stop describing the human fallen condition in terms of autonomy or self-rule. How about you?

  1. Ben Hudson says:

    I’m enjoying this Jono. It’s very Luther to talk about sin like this… ‘Bondage of the Will’ and all that.

    Here’s my question though:
    I guess the strength of emphasising the rebellion aspect of sin is that it’s an easy move from there to guilt and judgement as (some of the) the consequences of sin, and reconciliation/justification/peace with God as at the heart of the atonement. If we stop talking about the human fallen condition in terms of autonomy or self-rule, will we end up talking about Christus Victor, without talking much about the reconciling work of the cross?

  2. Jonathan says:

    Ben, I like the way your mind works. ‘Where will it lead?’ What effects will it have on our view of redemption? That’s theological thinking.

    Not sure if I’ve understood, but I’ll have a shot at answering.

    If you think in terms of the story of Israel, the 600 years before Jesus they were not on the whole rebellious – they were mainly demoralised and disintegrated, scattered across hostile lands – as a result of their former sins. For Israel in exile, to be reconciled to God meant being released from captivity and restored to their inheritance. It meant God no longer holding their sins against them.

    The model applies to us also. Enslaved by enemy powers because of our own sins, we cannot return to God. We along with Israel need God to relent, bring an end to the time of judgement, and send Jesus to bring in the time of his grace. We need him to release us and bring us back to God. There can be no reconciliation, no return from our exile, without victory over the forces that hold us captive.

    Part of that captivity is the delusion that makes us avoid God. This also needs to be broken so we can be reconciled.

    So an enslavement theology says that our guilt, hostility, distance from God, and general lostness all need to be dealt with, for us to have peace with God. And the cross does all that. But the shape is a bit different isn’t it.

  3. Ben Hudson says:

    thanks for the reply Jono.

    For my next questions:
    Were Israel’s ‘former sins’ acts of rebellion?


    Is enslavement better thought of as an effect or consequence of sin rather than being at the heart of it? How does enslavement account for the range of language in the scriptures to do with guilt, disobedience, transgression, law breaking etc etc.

    In saying that, I don’t disagree that enslavement is a, perhaps THE, big problem. Certainly it’s highlighted in the story of Israel as you say. And each person’s story will show the effects of sin in different ways. For many, sin is more clearly something they are victims of than guilty of.

    Does the prodigal son provide a helpful illustration? An initial act of defiance which leads to a helpless and desperate state?

    • Jonathan says:

      Great questions Ben. I’ll get back to most of them later, but Were Israel’s sins rebellion? Yes, of course, they were. And rebellion is part of the human story, no doubt. your comment about each person’s story being different, I think is spot on.

    • Jonathan says:

      Is enslavement better thought of as an effect or consequence of sin rather than being at the heart of it? How does enslavement account for the range of language in the scriptures to do with guilt, disobedience, transgression, law breaking etc etc.

      Tricky to answer that, Ben. Sin is so complex and messy. Think of Rom. 1:28ff:

      God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy…

      God gave them over – that’s the enslavement part. to do what ought not to be done…greed, envy etc – that’s the disobedience, law breaking and so on. They are they sins we become enslaved to. Not just enslaved to Satan, but to sin itself as a power.

      But then of course this is all the result of mankind turning away from God: ‘they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God’ etc. I take this to be a historical comment about our race, rather than every person’s individual story. The prodigal son, as you say: an initial rejection leading to misery and lostness. But true of us as a whole people.

      So enslavement both comes from sin and leads to sin. It is an effect of sin, but not just a byproduct. Sin is the act of handing ourselves over to dark lords. So enslavement I would say is pretty integral to the business of sinning. Pretty close to the heart of it.

      Best I can do, sorry!

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