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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • « Free Will Revisited | Main | Book Review: This Is My Body, by Thomas J. Davis »

    Conversation with Synergist on Free Will continued


    Texts in bold are comments made by the visitor.

    You said, "I agree with you that the "natural person" cannot come to God on his own, without God's help."

    So then, in your above statement we are finally agreed and have established that the natural man has no free will. The will and affections are in bondage to sin unless God does something. Apart from grace... Apart from the Holy Spirit, left to himself, man remains hopeless and cannot and will not come to Jesus Christ. "The sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” (2 Pet 2:22). So the real question is not whether the natural man has a free will or not, since that has already been established by what you affirmed above. Therefore, the real question which makes us differ is not really about the will at all, but about the nature of God's grace. Where we differ is that while you believe the grace of Jesus Christ is necessary, you do not believe that His grace is sufficient. That is, you do not affirm that Christ is sufficient to grant everything we need for salvation, including a new heart to believe. Instead you appear to believe that grace puts us in some kind of state in-between regeneracy and unregeneracy. Correct? Can you show me any Scripture which gives witness to this state which is not unregenerate but also not regenerate? I can see only two states of man after the fall in the Bible. Regenerate and unregenerate. I would be interested to see this third state you speak of. Grace is not a reward for faith, it is the result of it.

    Next you said, "When I read the Bible, I find numerous scriptures that are best summarized by Paul's recognition in 1 Timothy 2:3-4 that, "God our Savior ... desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." I read of people who are urged to repent, to choose life, to accept Christ and to be saved. To the Greeks who worshiped many gods and didn't know the true God, the apostle Paul reasoned about the Creator God and told them how "Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30). Countless scriptures state or imply that God's invitation is to *everyone*.

    With you, I affirm all of the above verses and emphasize them at least as much as you do when I proclaim the gospel to unbelievers. Indeed God commands all men everywhere to repent and believe the gospel. Just as God desires all men to wholeheartedly obey his other commandments, he likewise desires all men to obey the command to repent and believe the gospel. I wholeheartedly affirm this. As a missionary for 10 years I called my friends to repent and believe the gospel. I am not sure where you are going with this or how it supposedly contradicts anything I have said to you. It is wholly 100% our responsibility to obey God's command to believe. You are forgetting however, that even though we are responsible to do so it does not make we are morally able, apart from grace, which even you acknowledged above. Again we come back to where we really do differ - and that is in the nature of God's grace. Since we have established that man has no free will apart from some kind of grace, the real question comes down to what grace really does for us.

    You said, Not everyone will be saved, and we wonder why that is so. The gospels present the reason for it (most of the time, admittedly) as people failing to make a right decision. "Unless you repent you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3,5) is typical of many verses. Is there any point to warning people that they ought to repent, if they really can't?

    Of course people are not saved because fail to make the right decision and turn to Jesus Christ. That is because, by nature, they are hostile to Christ (Rom 8:7). In answer to your above question I must ask you a question: is there a point to God commanding us to obey the Ten Commandments perfectly, if we really can't? Or what about the commandments to love our neighbor and be holy and God is holy? These are all imperatives and tell us what we ought to do. What we can do and do do are always spoken of in the indicative in the Scripture. The purpose is clear why God does this - By the commands of God we become conscious of sin (Rom 3:19, 20). That is what Paul himself says is the purpose of the divine legislation. In other words, the purpose is not to show our ability, but our inability. Why? Obviously it is so we recognize that we are wholly dependent on God. You already acknowledge that a person cannot come to Christ apart from grace so we are half way there. What is the nature of that grace then. In John 3 Jesus says men love darkness and hate the light and will not come into the light. In other words their choice to reject Him is a moral choice. They find Jesus morally repugnant. They find hate for Him in their heart. But Jesus also makes clear that but those who come into the light do so because it has been wrought by God. A man must first be born again if he is to see and enter the kingdom of God, my gospel says..."born not of blood or the will of man or the will of the flesh but born of God" (John 1:13). These concepts are rampant through the scripture on just about every page. You see, we need to embrace the whole counsel of Scripture on this matter. Your view does not take the multitude of texts that show it is God who choose us that we may choose him into account. You only accept one half of the Bible.

    You said, God loves us all, unconditionally

    If this is true then why are some people in hell? Unconditional love means unconditional. He makes certain those he loves will be in heaven. You believe God's condition is faith. If we don't have faith then he casts us into hell. I fail to see how you can actually claim God's loves all unconditionally when you add this condition. Its like saying God's love is unconditional and then telling me that but he will throw us out if we don't run a marathon.

    To summarize, where we differ is that while you believe Jesus is necessary for salvation, you do not believe he is sufficient to save us to the uttermost. That is, he does not provide all we need for salivation including a new heart to believe. That part is ours to do, as you said above. Yes we are commanded to do it and it is our responsibility but we all fall short of it. Why one has faith and not the other to you is not Jesus but something else in your flesh. Jesus takes us 99% of the way but we must contribute the last bit to our salvation. So salvation is not all of Christ in your view, if you are consistent.

    Next you likened the sinner to a drowning man reaching out his hand to God. Here are a couple of things I like to say in response to this:

    If you liken the sinner to a drowning man reaching out his hand to God and claim that this needs no merit from which to boast, consider this: You appear to assume from this analogy that the drowning man (the sinner) believes he is drowning (believes he is a sinner) and is actually humble enough to recognize his own plight. But are there any sinners who are naturally willing to receive the humbling terms of the gospel? Isn't it grace itself that makes us humble? Isn't it grace that makes us recognize we need Christ to save us in the first place? So then, do you believe that some are saved and not others is because some are more humble by nature? They naturally recognize their wretched condition and need for Christ, apart from grace? If you say grace caused it in that person, then, I ask, why are not all saved?

    Further, your "drowning man" analogy, it is problematic for the following reason. What kind of parent would merely reach out His hand to save someone who was drowning and not offer further help if the child could not reach out to him? What kind of love it that? Your parent analogy sees his child in trouble and will only save him on condition that he has the capacity to swim through the waves and reach out and take hold of the father. The father will not, however, risk his life to actually MAKE SURE that the son does not drown, if he is unable or unwilling to reach out. His love does not act so it is an ineffectual love. His love depends completely on how the son responds. This means his love is conditional. Frankly, most people understand that the true love of a parent would "violate" their sons will if it meant it would save a child from drowning - because the parent knows better than the child what is good for him. His love is not weak-willed or ineffectual but he loves his children with a resolute will that gets accomplishes what His love dictates by actually saving his child, even by forfeiting his own life in the process. Again, is a father who MERELY reaches out his hand and does nothing more a loving father in any sense of the word?

    What about those people God did not save?, Jonathan Edwards once wisely said, "If damnation be justice, then mercy may choose its own object." By using "drowning in a lake" as an analogy, you are making it sound like our condition before God is innocuous. This logical fallacy is called an "appeal to pity" (ad misercordiam). Perhaps if our problem were only of a physical disability or of an innocent man drowning then of course we might be more inclined to make God out to be an ogre if He chose not to save him. But this is not how the Scripture describes the disposition of a sinner's heart. The Scripture says the unregenerate are rebels, hostile to God by nature (Rom 8:7). Realizing that analogies are imperfect, this drowning analogy still depends on pity for it to work at all but is actually imposing an alien presupposition on the Scripture that we were just helplessly, innocently in need and God is, therefore, obligated to reach out to save us, lest we drown. So according to this analogy the one condition we must meet if God is to love us is to reach out and take hold of His hand which He is also obligated to extend. Not only is this kind of love conditional but this love does nothing to help the helpless except call to him from afar. I hope you see the clear problem with this reasoning. God is in no way obligated to to cancel anyone's debt, but because He is loving and merciful He paid the debt for those He came to save and applied it to them according to His sovereign good pleasure (Eph 1:4, 5). To those who are his children, He will do whatever it takes to make sure they are delivered from the jaws of death.

    Posted by John on June 19, 2010 10:29 AM

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