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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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  • « Psalm Eight: What Is Man, That You Are Mindful of Him? | Main | Conversation with Synergist on Free Will continued »

    Free Will Revisited

    Here are some ways to respond to persons who assert that the natural man has a free will to come to Christ or believe the gospel. Someone recently wrote to me "I believe our free will and power to choose is real and a God-given part of our nature."

    Response: One could only conclude from your assertions that you affirm that a natural person can come to faith in Jesus, apart from grace. That 'free-will' does not need the grace of God, but can do all things by its own power For as soon as you acknowledge the necessity of grace and the Holy Spirit, you thereby affirm fallen man has no free will. All the passages in the Holy Scriptures that mention assistance or grace are they that do away with "free-will", and these are countless...For grace is needed, and the help of grace is given, because "free-will" can do nothing when left to itself.

    Ask yourself, If man's will is free, what is it free from? Sin? If our will is free from sin what need is there at all for grace or the Holy Spirit? The very fact that we need the Holy Spirit proves once for all that man has no free will, if left to himself. In his natural state, apart from grace, he will not come to Christ. Rather his will and affections are in bondage to a corruption of nature. And that which is in bondage, by definition, is not free. We need Christ to set us free, or we have no hope. Are you really going to tell me that you can come to Christ with no help from grace? Our "chooser" is broken without grace. Free will is a concept completely foreign to the Holy Scripture. If you can find it there I will honestly change my position today, but it appears this is something you are bringing to the Text from the outside - your own presuppositions. Be honest with yourself and notice you provided no Scripture to back up your assertion, only declared it to be true because it only makes sense to you if we are created in God's image.

    So lets be sure our conclusions are exegetical (biblical), not philosophical. If you can show me (or yourself) from the Scripture that a person can come to faith APART from the Holy Spirit, then I encourage you to continue believing what you do, but if you cannot find it in the Text, don't just agree to disagree with me, consider carefully that your presuppositions may just be wrong - inherited from whatever tradition you may have been involved with. Are there really parts of us that are unaffected by the Fall? After Adam and Eve fell, the Scripture declares that we are in a natural state called "the flesh" which does not have the Holy Spirit. Take the time to carefully read 1 Cor chapter 2 which makes this plain. Only the Spirit gives life, the flesh counts for nothing (John 6:63)

    We agree 100% that we are all responsible to obey the command to believe the gospel. But what I believe your mistake is to equate responsibility with moral ability. Consider this. We are responsible to perfectly obey the 10 commandments. God declares that we are to be holy as he is holy ... that if we disobey the law at one point it is as if we disobey the whole law. Now, the law is your responsibility to obey. Does that mean you are morally able???. No ... of course not - that is why we need the gospel. ... We are no no more able to obey than a homeless man can pay off a billion dollar debt. If he squandered the money in Vegas that he borrowed from the bank, his inability to repay does not alleviate his responsibility. He is still responsible to repay. Likewise we owe a debt in Adam we cannot repay. Thus the need for Christ.

    Posted by John on June 17, 2010 12:44 PM

    Comments

    Good post today!

    I would only ask basis a couple of verses, one from Ephesians and one from Colossians, how does a dead person do anything for himself, dead or alive?


    Eph 2:5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)

    and


    Col 2:13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;

    The reality is I have been around for 56 plus years now and been apart of a few funerals; preached some, attended others.

    I am one hundred percent correct in believing now based on my experiences with dead people I am going to die sometime in the future; maybe today?

    I am convinced that when that day comes, all bets are off as to what I want done with my remains. My wishes may or may not happen as I have wished, willed and wanted for a multitude of "what if" scenarios that can be spun hereon so that my wishes are not met?

    I am convinced I am very much alive as I type this comment.

    I am now very much aware of being dead in sins yet alive in Christ.

    I am aware of this because I wasn't aware of it before I came alive to this awareness that I was dead in trespasses and sins and cut off from the Living God and am no longer cut off from the Living God!

    Now, I die daily! :)

    A day is coming when I will not die daily because I will be released from the bonds of this flesh life, "You have loosed my bonds.":::>

    Psa 116:15 Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.
    Psa 116:16 O LORD, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your maidservant. You have loosed my bonds.
    Psa 116:17 I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the LORD.

    I consider myself a Calvinist, but in coming to my current understanding I read quite a bit of Arminian writing as well. I realize you were addressing a specific statement here, but this statement isn't representative of "classical" Arminianism. A good Arminian also believes that no one can come to Christ apart from grace. It's in regards to the nature of that grace that they part ways from us (i.e. enabling grace vs. regenerating grace).

    I'm sure you know and agree with this. I just wanted to address this because I can see how someone might infer that your response was intended to refute Arminianism on the whole.

    Jeremy

    Indeed, and this is why it is so inconsistent for an Arminian. On the one hand, to say that prevenient grace is necessary and on the other, to assert man has free will. The very need for prevenient grace confirms that man has no free will, if left to himself.

    But ultimately the Arminians' prevenient grace is also self-contradictory. Because if you ask him why one person responds positively to that grace and not the other, it comes down to their choice. What makes men to differ is not Jesus Christ or His grace but the free will of the natural man. All men have prevenient grace, they say. So what makes men to differ in their response to the gospel has something to do with their flesh.

    So in my estimation, prevenient grace is just a smokescreen, to cover up the fact that they do not believe Jesus is sufficient. They believe Jesus is necessary, but not sufficient both in salvation and perseverance.

    Thanks for the great article, John.

    I remember having an extremely hard time accepting the Doctrines of Grace as a struggling young amateur theologian many years ago. (I'm still an amateur, but a little less wet behind the ears now lol). I once threw a book on Calvinism across the room in disgust, bellowing to my Reformed Wife that "I will NEVER accept this garbage!" It was the result of years of Free-Will teachings at my local Baptist church, as a boy through young adulthood. But the Lord worked hard on me, and eventually I realized that the sin of pride was keeping me from accepting the truth- that He chose me; I did not and could not, choose Him.

    The Lord showed me that I was proud of my "humility" in accepting Christ. After all, the rest of those lost people out there didn't believe in Him, but I and other Christians like me were smart enough to see the truth and "allow" Him into our lives. Such arrogance. Thanks be to God for opening my eyes to the truth, and letting me see that though I was dead (as in spiritually stone-cold; incapable of saving myself), He brought me back to life, new life in Him. "So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy." Rom 9:16

    Praise be to God.

    I see Compatibilism as the best choice that resolves God's determinism and our free will. Now if I understand man's free will correctly, he is only free to act according to his ability and unfortunately his ability is not capable of choosing God apart from his selfish pride because it is tainted by sin. He is in bondage to his sinful nature. Only through predestination/election could one be saved through the grace of God. Do I understand this correctly or can you help explain this idea of compatibilism and man's free will?

    Thanks, Mike

    Compatibilism (also known as soft determinism), is the belief that God's predetermination and meticulous providence is "compatible" with voluntary choice. In light of Scripture, human choices are believed to be exercised voluntarily but the desires and circumstances that bring about these choices about occur through divine determinism (see Acts 2:23 & 4:27-28). It should be noted that this position is no less deterministic than hard determinism - be clear that neither soft nor hard determinism believes man has a free will. Our choices are only our choices because they are voluntary, not coerced. We do not make choices contrary to our desires or natures.

    Compatibilism is directly contrary to libertarian free will. Therefore voluntary choice is not the freedom to choose otherwise, that is, without any influence, prior prejudice, inclination, or disposition. Voluntary does mean, however, the ability to choose what we want or desire most. The former view is known as contrary choice, the latter free agency. (Note: compatibilism denies that the will is free to choose otherwise, that is, free from the bondage of the corruption nature and denies that the will is free from God's eternal decree.

    Could you be a bit more specific on what you mean by grace. As far as I know all Christians believe we are saved by grace.

    One who believes in free will also believes in grace.

    Thanks

    Don

    Grace is the favor of God, getting what we do not deserve. The Person and work of Jesus Christ is the source of this grace.

    You are correct in saying that all Christians believe in grace. The difference is this. Synergists like Romans Catholics indeed believe Jesus Christ is necessary, but they do not believe He is sufficient to save to the uttermost.

    Some believe grace merely gives people an opportunity to save themselves. Others believe that the condition of human beings is so desperate that even the very ability to have faith in God itself is a gift of grace (John 6:65). They would affirm that grace is not a reward for faith but the cause of it. Some believe it is Jesus plus my faith. Others believe it is Jesus alone.

    Many who say they believe in free will also say they believe in grace but this is a contradiction. My purpose is to show this is inconsistent. As soon as you say man needs grace to believe the gospel, you are acknowledging that apart from this grace, his will is in complete bondage and will not come to Christ.

    Ask yourself, can you come to Christ apart from the work of the Holy Spirit? If your answer is no then you affirm that man has no free will.

    Would it be correct to say that God allows man to make choices, either turn to the right or the left, to do right or to do wrong, but man is not free from God’s determinism therefore he has no ability to reach beyond what God allows-therefore man has no free will apart from God? That if man is only free to do what God allows, then he really is not free? That man cannot chose to not sin because he is in bondage to sin, therefore he is not free? That even perceived free will is determined by what God allows, therefore he is in control of the events in your life but at the same time you are held accountable for your actions? So, in the end would you say that only God has absolute free will?

    Sorry for all the questions, but really I see this as a critical focal point of how you view theology and I want to make sure I get it right.

    Thanks, Mike

    May I bring a different look at this point. God created Adam and Eve in the garden. He choose to come to them daily walking and talking with them. God choose to have a relationship with His creation, but His creation which he designed with a free will, freely chose to disobey God. I see that I have done the same. Yes the only way I can have a relationship is through God grace, He choose to have a relationship with me, but I too have disobey and turned from Him. It is I who have sinned, and it is God who has saved.
    I know that I was born a sinner and it is only through God's Holy Spirit moving through my life that I can believe in Him, and at the age of 6 years old I asked him to be my Savior. He did as He promised and I am a child of God. Praise God He moves in the lives of little ones. I am now 41 in Christ and my life here on earth is blessed because of Him and at times messed up because of me, but yet He still is gracious.
    In Him
    Robin

    Mike,

    you asked,>>>>Would it be correct to say that God allows man to make choices, either turn to the right or the left, to do right or to do wrong.

    No, in light of the Scripture this would not be correct. While man is indeed responsible to do right, he does not have the freedom (from sins bondage) or moral ability to make that right choice. As Augustine said, "To will is of nature, but to will aright is of grace." Man's "chooser" is broken. His nature determines the choices he makes. i.e. A sow after washing always returns to its wallowing in the mire.

    Robin, Adam and Eve may have had a free will (that is, free from the bondage to sin) but that was completely lost as a result of the fall. All persons born into this world in the Bible are in "the flesh" and not in "the spirit" Those in the flesh cannot please God because all that does not come from faith is sin. Apart from grace we choose evil of necessity (not by coercion). Like you said, God's grace is required if we are to have hope.

    John,

    I can't speak for those in Romanism, but I certainly believe Christ saves to the uttermost. However, those are ones that have come to God.

    You say some believe this or some believe that. What do you believe in regards to grace?

    Correct me if I'm wrong , but it appears you believe in regenerating grace prior to faith.

    Thanks

    Thanks for the reply John, I really appreciate your help. I just had a thought about man groping in the darkness unable to find God or even know he is there until God calls him and regenerates him. Therefore the unregenerate man has no free will.

    What about revelation of God through nature and conscience? Perhaps man knows God exists but just cannot see him for who he is because of the darkness. Like putting a puzzle together in the darkness, just cannot be done unless God provides a little bit of light for us to see by.

    Mike

    Don

    We are all naturally self-righteous. But the grace applied by the Spirit alone humbles our hearts to see the righteousness of Christ. Humility is not drawn from our native resources.

    Do you believe that there are unregenerate people who are willing to accept the humbling terms of the gospel, apart from grace? Is Christ sufficient to save you, that is, provide everything you need to be saved, including a new heart to believe? Or is Christ only necessary? That is providing only the opportunity to be saved? Saving to the uttermost means that He gets the job done, making certain we are saved. He does not merely leave us to our unregenerate selves when we are in such mortal danger. When he sees us "drowning" He does not merely reach out his hand hoping we will reach out ours. We are beyond that. We can't swim. We are unconscious; totally dead to Christ (the reaching hand). Rather, true love jumps in the water to make certain we are safe. What loving parent would do otherwise? If God were to require us to do our part, then His love would be conditional.

    Mike H,

    Yes indeed God provides more than enough evidence in the creation such that all men are responsible to believe on Him. But unless God opens their eyes and turns their heart of stone to flesh, that information will damn them. Because left to themselves (without the Holy Spirit) men, by nature love darkness and hate the light (John 3:19, 20) and are hostile to Christ (Rom 8:7).

    John,

    Yes I believe there are unregenerated people who are willing to humble themselves and believe the gospel. In fact this is how all people are saved. Grace is what we receive by believing.

    However, everyone needs God's grace just to be alive. But that is not to be confused with saving grace.

    As far as the new heart, I believe it is something we receive when we become saved or regenerated. I don't believe we get a new heart and then believe or at least I can't find it in the Bible. If you can show it, I'd reconsider my position.

    Thanks

    Hi Don,

    Thanks for your post. It seems to me that the Bible is filled with references to the need for the Spirit working in hearts prior to faith.

    The first one that comes to mind is where Jesus Himself speaks about this very plainly in John chapter 6:63,65 & 37. He said, "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all" (v 63) ...And he said, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father." (v 65)& ... All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.(v37)

    These were all in the context of a conversation with some unbelieving Jews about faith in Christ. Jesus here speaks in syllogistic terms. Looking at the Text in question closer Jesus says that no one can believe in Him unless God grants it, and all to whom God grants it will believe...and this by the Spirit who ALONE gives life - the flesh counting for nothing. Nothing is not a little something. What is "the flesh"??? It is set in contrast to the Spirit (the Holy Spirit). So the flesh, the fallen, carnal, unregenerate man cannot come to faith in Christ except the Spirit quicken him.

    This Text has a universal positive (all) and a universal negative (no one). ALL that the Father gives to Christ will come... and NO ONE can come UNLESS the Father grants it. It leaves no room for a synergistic view of regeneration. The Spirit quickens (or regenerates) the flesh (the unregenerate nature) counts for nothing. Jesus says, no one can believe in Him unless God grants it. This means that the grace of God does not find men fit for salvation, but makes them so.

    I frankly can find no evidence in the Scripture anywhere which shows the contrary, that a person can believe the gospel apart from grace. Faith is never presented as product of our unregenerated human nature. The Text above says the flesh is "no help at all" and the context of the verse is clearly talking about faith.

    I would also encourage you to remember verses like "no one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit" It is the Spirit in us that cries ABBA Father.

    1 Cor 2:12 is also pretty plain. It says "no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, THAT WE MIGHT UNDERSTAND the things freely given us by God...The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. "

    Only those who have the Spirit can actually understand and see the truth, beauty and excellency of Christ. The natural man cannot understand the gospel until they have received the Spirit.

    Jesus echos Ezekiel in John 3 when he says, "unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God".. He is referencing Ezekiel who says, "I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules."

    Notice that the Spirit changing their heart and putting His Spirit into them is the direct cause of their obedience to God. Jesus reflecting on this passage in John 3 refers to it as being born again. No one comes to Christ while their heart is still stone, do they? The Spirit makes their heart of stone into a heart of flesh that they may have the humility to follow Christ.

    Another passage that quickly comes to mind is 1 Thess 1:4, 5 "For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.

    We can speak till we are blue in the face but unless the Spirit germinates the seed of the gospel it will remain dormant in the fallow ground of our heart. For the gospel to take root the Spirit must come to plow up the fallow ground. We are naturally blind and deaf and only the Spirit can open our eyes and ears.

    There are many more... but I think this should more the suffice to prove, beyond question, that regeneration precedes faith.

    Solus Christus
    John

    John,

    I agree the Bible mentions the working of the Holy Spirit on individuals prior to faith. The working of the Holy Spirit before faith should not be confused with His working after faith. The working before faith is to bring conviction(John 16:8-11), which hopefully will bring repentance and faith. The working of the Holy Spirit after faith gives regeneration.

    I will address all yours texts one at time. But to speed things up it appears you are infering one receives the Holy Spirit prior to faith as opposed to after faith. If this is your belief, could you offer scripture that supports your position.

    Thanks

    >>>>The working of the Holy Spirit before faith should not be confused with His working after faith.

    I couldn't agree more. Quickening/regeneration/born again is related but distinct to the Spirit's indwelling.

    The Scripture I provided are all clearly referring to what takes place prior to faith. Take the first one. John 6:63-65

    No one can believe in Jesus unless God grants it. You cannot get more prior to faith than that. (Vs 37) likewise says ALL that the Father gives to Jesus will believe in him. The giving of them to Jesus precedes and insures their belief in him.

    Look at the Texts I provided again. Just look at what they say plainly .

    I'll look at the texts again.

    Question, does regeneration precede or follow faith?

    Hi Don

    you asked >>>>Question, does regeneration precede or follow faith?

    According to Jesus and other authors in the Bible, regeneration causes faith in the same way heat is caused by fire or sight is caused by eyes.

    The passage I just posted for you, John 6:63, 65 & 37 all demonstrates that regeneration (God changing our heart of stone to a heart of flesh) causally precedes faith.

    The apostle John also says it quite plainly in 1 John 5:1:

    "Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God" 1 John 5:1

    The Greek makes clear that this is spoken of in the past tense with continuing action. Belief here is the result of being born again. Several other passages in 1 John likewise show actions being the result of being born again. When one takes into account that John says in 1 John 3:9a that “everyone who has been begotten by God does not do sin, because his seed abides in him” and then in 1 John 3:9b that “he is not able to sin, because he has been begotten [the word in 5:1] by God,” we definitely find a cause and effect relationship between God’s regenerating activity as the cause and the Christian’s not sinning as one effect of that regenerating activity. Belief is another (v 5:1)

    Couple more that come to mind...

    Acts 16:14, "A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul."

    "And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed." Acts 13:48

    John,

    Thanks for the answer. I do however believe you are incorrect.

    I believe the Bible clearly teaches Faith precedes Regeneration all time and everytime.

    I believe the Reformed doctrine of regeneration preceding faith is needed to establish their doctrines of "Total Inability" and "Irresistible Grace."

    With your permission I would like to establish the Biblical case that Faith precedes Regeneration.

    I realize this is your blog. Because I just came across this thread a few days ago, I don't know if you allow those who disagree to post.

    I'll abide by your wishes.

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