I have, as I’m sure you have too, thought and even agonized over why some of my loved ones seem so disinterested in the gospel. No matter what I say or do, they seem so…in bondage. This is a very personal issue for all of us.
In our opening segment we looked at scriptural foundation for the doctrine of sin. We looked at the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden, and the inspired interpretation in Romans 5. We noted that the original sin of Adam transferred to us both guilt and a radically corrupt nature. We next noted two areas of inability: we are unable to do any good, and we are unable to seek God for salvation. Most importantly, I tried to stress that one’s view of sin has a radical view on how they will understand grace. Do you believe in Grace ALONE? If so, then you may need to do some reassessing to see if your view of sin is consistent with sola gratia or inconsistent, or even contrary to it. We all are inconsistent in some areas but I think we would all want to do all we could to avoid inconsistency in this most vital area. Grace is everything to a Christian. I was raised Roman Catholic and I am disturbed that the common view of initial response to gospel or salvation amongst evangelicals sounds very similar to Rome: cooperating with grace.
Who saves whom? Does God save sinners—is it 100% of grace? Or does God save, with our help—90 % God and 10% us? Is the initial salvation process totally from God, or a mixture of God and us? Sanctification is undoubtedly cooperative effort but we’re speaking of initial stage of saving work.
So, not with a desire to win an argument, but to accent grace, I need to show again how sinful sin is—especially in the area of our inability to believe, without divine intervention-or regeneration. That is, regeneration precedes faith. Have you ever heard that? It marks the difference between two distinct views of how God saves. You will note that this is the reverse of how contemporary evangelical preachers present the salvation process: you first believe in order to be regenerated. But the bible teaches that God must first regenerate us in order for us to believe. If we truly believe man is dead in sin, it HAS to be that way.
Are we merely near-sighted or are we blind? Are we are gravely ill or dead in sin? Are we employees of sin or slaves of it? Are we hard of hearing or stone-cold deaf? Are we seeking God or fleeing Him? To cast ourselves 100% of the mercy and grace of God, to blast away any remains of pride, we must see how dreadfully lost we are outside of Christ.
Let us examine just the gospel of John and see how consistently and persistently he presents such a bleak picture of mans moral inability to seek salvation. I’m going through this step by step so if you have questions they may be answered in future segments. My focus—salvation is from God, grace alone!
12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.(John 1:13-14) Here we clearly see the confluence of human responsibility and divine initiative. WE receive…WE believe…but the causal factor lying behind that receiving and believing was/is the supernatural act of God—the will of God that brought that decision about. It could not be clearer. God’s will supersedes yours. Divine causality of our belief by regeneration preceding faith. Without divine initiative we could not believe.
Btw in 1:9 Arminian theology misuses this verse to support unbiblical notion of prevenient grace. Does Paul say in Romans 3:21 “But now, God has expressed His prevenient grace…? The notion is antithetical to grace, and I shall return to it.
3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born againb he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.c 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘Youd must be born again.’ 8 The winde blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Born again/regeneration required before seeing kingdom. Jesus is speaking of the necessity of being born again to even ‘see’ the kingdom, not to mention enter into it..which He does mention in v 5!
37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. (6:37) Jesus asserts that the Father gives as a gift (see John 10) some people to Jesus, and these people will come to Him…and He will never cast them out. How many of those that Father has given the Son will come to Him savingly? All of them! But who is it that comes to Jesus for salvation? All those the Father has given Him.
s. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. Notice first that this is a universal negative—NO ONE can come to Me. Perhaps we had same English teacher. In class: can I sharpen my pencil? I’m sure you can! May/Can…Can implies ability. So Jesus is talking about inability. But notice there is a conditional clause—unless Father draws him. Same Greek word is used in James 2:6; Acts 16:19 for ‘drag’ Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? doubt it means ‘woo or persuade’
19 But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. Same word for ‘dragged’ is what is used here, and I doubt it means ‘woo or persuade’
Kittlels Theological Dictionary defines this word :”to compel by irresistible authority”
64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” Again, we are told by Jesus that nobody CAN come to Him unless that (ability) is granted to him by Father. This was said in adversarial situation and Jesus was explaining, what he said elsewhere you do not believe me bc you are not My sheep.
Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slaveb to sin. (8:34) Enslavement to sin due to their nature.
26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. (10:26)
Notice that Jesus does not say that they are not His sheep because they do not believe, but they do not believe BECAUSE they are not His sheep, or elect. Again, He is inferring inability because of their condition.
So, our main point in this segment is that people are by nature unable to come to God and be saved. No amount of persuasion, eloquence or compassionate pleading can awaken a spiritual corpse from the dead.
Picture a corpse lying on the ground. Would any amount of pleading or forcefulness cause the corpse to rise from the dead? That is most accurate analogy to Eph. 2:1—dead in sin. Only God can breathe life into a valley of dry bones.
Or Lazarus. Did he in any way cooperate in his resurrection? Of course not.
The obvious question that arises is: how can God hold someone accountable for something they are unable to do? Or, put another way, if God commands something then does that not imply the ability to be able to do it? And what of man and free will? And most importantly, how does a non-Christian become saved if they are unable to?
I have labored this point of mans utter inability to come to God or believe in Him for one reason: to highlight GRACE. God does the saving—He has to do the saving if man is this lost…this enslaved…this dead. There is no island of righteousness where a person can lean on to extend a hand to reach out for saving life presearver. They are on bottom of pool drowned.
Seems bleak but this should lead one to life of intense prayer, realizing that this is truly impossible from human perspective. Pleading with God and God does use us to bring about
My Arminian brothers and sisters appeal to ‘prevenient grace’ but in this scenario nobody would reply to a general summons.
Arminian view-man cannot be saved apart from God’s grace., but fallen man must cooperate and assent to God’s grace before God will save him. Prior to regeneration, man has the power to accept or reject the grace that could save him.
Augustinian or biblical view—man is totally dependent on the grace of God for his initial response to gospel.
Arguments against prevenient grace.
It is nowhere stated explicitly in bible. John 1:9 does not teach it. THE PURPOSE OF THE VERSE IS TO SAY THAT THE COMING OF THE TRUE LIGHT EXPOSES AND REVEALS WHERE PEOPLE ARE IN THEIR RELATIONSHIP TO GOD.
1. As exceedingly important as this issue is, it should be splashed all over NT. It is not seen anywhere. Proof texts are out of context eisogesis.
2. Romans 3:8ff rejects prevenient grace. Note in 3:21 Paul does not say: “But God in His prevenient grace…” In 1:18 all of mankind is under God’s curse and wrath for rejecting the Father, which prevenient grace says it is extended to ALL people.
3. Why do some respond and others do not? Why do some make use of prevenient grace and others do not?
4. Are they more righteous, smarter, wiser, more humble, more teachable, more….? Any answer would give grounds for boasting.
5. Is not faith a gift from God? Eph. 2:1-10; Phil. 1:29; 2 Peter 1:1 2 Tim 2:24-26; Acts 5:31; 11:18
6. Suspends work of God on will of man
7. Grace becomes ‘penultimate’ cause of salvation…ultimate cause is our reply.
BY R. C. SPROUL
As the name suggests, prevenient grace is grace that "comes before" something. It is normally defined as a work that God does for everybody. He gives all people enough grace to respond to Jesus. That is, it is enough grace to make it possible for people to choose Christ. Those who cooperate with assent to this grace are "elect." Those who refuse to cooperate with this grace are lost.
The strength of this view is that it recognizes that fallen man's spiritual condition is severe enough that it requires God's grace to save him. The weakness of the position may be seen in two ways. If this prevenient grace is merely external to man, then it fails in the same manner that the medicine and the life preserver analogies fail. What good is prevenient grace if offered outwardly to spiritually dead creatures?
On the other hand, if prevenient grace refers to something that God does within the heart of fallen man, then we must ask why it is not always effectual. Why is it that some fallen creatures choose to cooperate with prevenient grace and others choose not to? Doesn't everyone get the same amount?
Think of it this way, in personal terms. If you are a Christian you are surely aware of other people who are not Christians. Why is it that you have chosen Christ and they have not? Why did you say yes to prevenient grace while they said no? Was it because you were more righteous than they were? If so, then indeed you have something in which to boast. Was that greater righteousness something you achieved on your own or was it the gift of God? If it was something you achieved, then at the bottom line your salvation depends on your own righteousness. If the righteousness was a gift, then why didn't God give the same gift to everybody?
Perhaps it wasn't because you were more righteous. Perhaps it was because you are more intelligent. Why are you more intelligent? Because you study more (which really means you are more righteous)? Or are you more intelligent because God gave you a gift of intelligence he withheld from others?
To be sure, most Christians who hold to the prevenient grace view would shrink from such answers. They see the implied arrogance in them. Rather they are more likely to say, "No, I chose Christ because I recognized my desperate need for him."
That certainly sounds more humble. But I must press the question. Why did you recognize your desperate need for Christ while your neighbor didn't? Was it because you were more righteous than your neighbor, or more intelligent? (or more humble or broken?)
The $64,000 question for advocates of prevenient grace is why some people cooperate with it and others' don't. How we answer that will reveal how gracious we believe our salvation really is.
The $64,000 question is, "Does the Bible teach such a doctrine of prevenient grace? If so, where?"
We conclude that our salvation is of the Lord. He is the One who regenerates us. Those whom he regenerates come to Christ. Without regeneration no one will ever come to Christ. With regeneration no one will ever reject him. God's saving grace effects what he intends to effect by it. (Chosen by God).
Mark Hunnemann is the author of Seeing Ghosts Through God's Eyes: A Worldview Analysis of Earthbound Spirits. It's also available in eBook format.