Sovereignty, Responsibility, Moral Inability: Problem Solved by John Hendryx
The purpose of this short essay is to respond openly to the occassional emails I receive from persons who seem to think that the sovereignty of God in salvation and human responsibility to obey the gospel is a conundrum, a mystery. But, in the Bible, a mystery is something that has not been revealed to us, that is, the secret things of God which have hidden from our sight, but those things that God reveals in the Scripture are for us and our children forever. (Deut 29:29) We believe this issue is one of those things that has indeed been revealed in Scripture. In fact it is a great deal simpler than many people think.
Imagine a venture capitalist lends $1 billion to a businessman who has, in the past, proved himself by building great companies, and has now presented a great idea for a new company. The VC transfers the money into the bank of the man ... but on impulse the man decides to take the $1 billion he borrowed from the VC and go to Las Vegas for a week of wild living. He squanders it all including his own money and comes home empty handed, with no money of his own in the bank. Now the question is, does this person still have the responsibility to pay back the money ? Yes. But is he capable to pay back the money? No. Which means that he is both responsible and unable to repay the money at the same time. In other words, inability does not in any way negate responsibility. This is because it is a moral inability, not a physical inability. This happened as a result of poor decision-making. Take note that this is just like our condition in Adam. We are fallen in him and are in bondage to the corruption of nature. We are fully responsible to repay the debt owed to God for our rebellion, yet we are utterly impotent to do so. So here we see once for all how simple this issue is. That is why salvation is by GRACE ALONE. God is sovereign and determines those whom he will save according to his sovereign good pleasure. Man is impotent yet also responsible. It is the grace of God and grace alone that makes us to differ from those who refuse to believe... Augustine once said,â€...not those who are elected because they have believed, but who are elected that they may believe."
CH Spurgeon likewise once said....
"...Any one who believes that man's will is entirely free, and that he can be saved by it, does not believe the fall... did you ever meet a Christian man who said, "I came to Christ without the power of the Spirit?" If you ever did meet such a man, you need have no hesitation in saying, "My dear sir, I quite believe it-and I believe you went away again without the power of the Spirit, and that you know nothing about the matter, and are in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity." (Spurgeon's Sermon, Free Will - A Slave)
Now, letâ€™s make a Scriptural case for exactly the same concepts (above) that the natural man, left to himself without the Holy Spirit, is both morally impotent to believe/obey the gospel and yet is also responsible to obey, and yet only the grace of God can free us to believe and obey.
One of the main purposes of the Law of God is to strip us of all self-sufficiency and autonomy. Consider that God has given man His Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 as well as a host of Jesus' commandments to us in Matthew 5-7 in the Sermon on the Mount. Can you or anyone obey the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount? No, not a chance. If God were to scrutinize your life gazing into every detail of your thoughts and life and compare it to what He has revealed to us none of us would stand for a moment. Obeying Godâ€™s Law is required of you, yet you have woefully fallen short and justly deserve the wrath of God, as do I. If you are able to obey the commandments, then what need have you of a Savior like Jesus? If not ... that is, if you are not able to obey the commandments perfectly, then you would have to agree that what God requires of man in his law, does not mean he has the ability to keep it. In fact, God has the total opposite in mind. He gives us His law to reveal our impotence. That is the purpose of divine legislation as stated by the Apostle Paul at Romans 3:19, 20:
â€œNow we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.â€
In this Text is the concept of responsibility (since the whole world is accountable to Him) AND the concept of inability (in that we are impotent to obey God commands) in one and the same Scripture text. He says through the Law we become aware of our sin. Not that we now have set before us the way to salvation in the Law, since we fail the test. Inability, therefore, does not alleviate us of responsibility.
And this verse in Romans comes at the end of a long explanation by Paul of man's condition. That is that Jews and Gentiles are ALL under sin... that there are none who can keep the Law.
IN fact ANY TIME someone claims to me that the command of God proves the natural man has free will or that we have the moral ability to obey it, I simply point to this above verse (Rom 3:19, 20) which claims that the purpose of the Law is to strip us of all hope in ourselves.
To go deeper, the beginning of Romans asserts that all men â€œ by their unrighteousness suppress the truth ." (Rom 1:18 ) and as Paul builds his case that both Jew and Gentile are hopelessly in bondage to sin he makes a huge claim:
"None is righteous, no, not one;
11no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one."
He couldn't have been clearer that all men without exception are in rebellion against God, hostile to God, LOVES DARKNESS AND HATE THE LIGHT and will not come into the light (John 3:19, 20). No one seeks God of their own desires and ability. Left to themselves, men would never seek Christ as He has revealed himself. Like the Romans passage above, the First Epistle to John even says that the command of God is to believe in his Son Jesus Christ. This command itself is too hard for us apart from grace according to the passage just cited in Romans. (Also see Romans 8:7). In fact, nothing is more difficult, nothing that our pride resists more than the command to believe on Christ, for the command itself strips us of any and all hope we have to save ourselves. Natural man is wholly disinclined and hostile to such a pride humbling move as to trust in Christ. This is so hard that it requires a supernatural work of grace in the heart to disarm our natural hostility, illumine our darkened understanding and open our blind eyes.
In John chapter 6 Jesus tells the Jews, that he is speaking with, that the work of God is to believe in Him whom God the Father has sent. That Jesus is the true bread from heaven and â€œwhoever comes to Him shall not hunger and who ever believes on him shall not thirst.â€ â€œComing to Himâ€ and â€œbelieving on Himâ€ here means the same thing as it does elsewhere in the Bible. He asserts that only those who believe on Him will live. The will of the Father (vs. 40) is that everyone who looks on the Son and believes has eternal life. (Here we clearly have manâ€™s responsibility) But in the same discussion with the Jews, Jesus also declares manâ€™s inability to believe, â€œâ€¦but no one will come to me unless God grants itâ€ (John 6:65). Remember that â€œcome to Meâ€ and â€œbelieve in Meâ€ are synonymous.
Can a person come to faith APART from God opening their heart? (Acts 13:49 , 16:14)
Jesus in this passage says no. Letâ€™s have a clear look at what Jesus tells the unbelieving Jews:
â€œâ€¦is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail.â€ (6:63)
â€And he said, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father." ( 6:65)
â€œAll that the Father gives me will come to me , and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.â€ ( 6:37 )
Please take the time to meditate on these passages carefully because it reveals a very important truth. This is a syllogism in fact. In the context of unbelief in John 6:64 Jesus issues a UNIVERSAL NEGATIVE â€œ... no one can come to me UNLESS God grants it. As you recall "come to Jesus" is spoken of all over Scripture as a synonym of believing on him. So, in other words, no one can believe on Jesus UNLESS God grants it. Only the Spirit gives life (6:63). But in John 6:37 (the same dialogue) Jesus also issues a UNIVERSAL POSITIVE. He says â€œAll that the Father gives to me WILL COME TO MEâ€
So if you put these two verses together it says, no one will believe unless God grants it, and ALL to whom God grants it will believe. Jesus is making sure that no one thinks that anything apart from grace is what saves them. That even the very desire for faith that we have is a gift of God. This is profoundly important.
Then at the end of John chapter six many of those who previously were with Jesus left because his teaching was too hard and only the twelve were left. Peter confesses belief however, and Jesus responds, â€œâ€¦have I not chosen you?â€ But what is so hard that everyone leaves? Hard because the gospel of grace alone strips man of his pride. It forces him to see his own impotence to contribute anything or even lift a finger toward his own salvation. But those who do believe the gospel we can know that God has and is doing a work of grace in them.
We agree with the Scripture that man has no free will to believe the gospel apart from grace. His will and affections are in bondage to sin until the Spirit does a work of grace in him to set him free. Can a man believe the gospel apart from grace? The Scripture continually witnesses that the Spirit has a clear role for "no one says 'Jesus is Lord' apart from the Holy Spirit."