The notion that God is held captive and cannot draw a man unto himself because of the unwillingness of the human is left wanting when one considers the nature of God and man’s relationship towards him. Some say that God is held captive, or rather, he stands and waits for a man to come to him. It is as if God is portrayed as a loving partner who stands outside unable to ultimately woo, and pines away as the unwilling human subject refuses to come. Some say God brings men into a state that makes them “savable” but that salvation is contingent upon man’s “freely choosing” to so come to him. In a sense, God stands at the door knocking but is subject to man’s will.
God does not beg men to come to him. Jesus did not die to make men “savable”. Free will assumes that man would actually want to come to God. The witness of the bible is that man is unwilling and unable. Unless God draws him, raises him and empowers him, man cannot and will not come to him. Our “choosing” of God is wholly and completely contingent and dependent upon his working in us. In fact, even after we come to Christ all of our good works and deeds are wholly contingent upon his continued working in us. Our fallen will is not free in any way, shape, or form.
The reason men do not come to God is not because of some deficiency in their wills. The reason men do not come to God is a two-fold. Satan and blindness, one effecting the other. Satan blinds. The picture that the bible presents of the human will is one that is shut off from God. The human will is not free – it is in darkness, there is no light. It cannot “choose” light because there is no light in it to choose.
The whole premise of free-will is undermined in the one fact that they completely ignore. One can only choose what one has the option of choosing. Free-will proponents state that the will is free to choose between light and darkness when light is brought into the understanding. But the scriptures does not present any such condition as this, of one being free to choose light or to choose darkness. There are none who have light streaming into themselves but refuse to choose it. Instead, light strikes them but they are blind to it – THEY CANNOT SEE IT. This is where free-will proponents often fail. It is not as though when someone has the gospel presented to them that they now have the option of “freely” choosing the gospel. Certainly they may assent to it by nature, as one may clearly see that 2+2=4.
There must be a distinction between the natural faculties of man and the spiritual faculties of man. Light comes in the form of truth and truth may be apprehended by the natural faculties (i.e., reason) but the spiritual faculties remain blind. Although a man’s natural understanding may be able to understand and even accept as true the bare factual agreement between the truths of scripture, this does not in turn mean that such a man has been wrought upon by the Holy Spirit. Though with the natural faculties a man can put together propositions and truths, the spiritual reality is completely hidden to them. A man, through reason alone, may come to affirm the truth of Christianity – as did many Pharisees in the time of Jesus. But Jesus knew that something deeper must occur in the life of a human in order for salvation to occur.
Merely affirming propositions and truths because of their external coherence is not an efficient condition for salvation. It may be clear from miracles the power and even nature of a person. Jesus’ statements are consistent with the reality He presented – He claims divine origin and his works (miracles) attest to that. Therefore it is consistent logically to “believe” in Jesus. This was exactly the case that Jesus encountered in John 2:23-25. Many “believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing”. The external condition is sufficient for logical belief, but the internal condition was lacking in this instance for genuine spiritual belief.
The spirit of a unregenerated man can no more assent to the truth of Christ and cherish it’s beauty than a blind man can delight in the light of the sun. His logical faculties may affirm a truth, as was the case in John 2:23, but his spirit has not been so wrought upon by the “new birth” (that is described in the immediately following passage) in order to open his spiritual faculties to receive the truth. (Noting the logical structure of this section of scripture is consistent with what I am presenting: John is presenting here that though man may through external reason assent to the truth of Christ, as Nicodemus was wrestling with, no man may “see the kingdom of God unless he is born from above” [John 3:3].)
The spiritual faculties of the human truly operate through the natural faculties. That is to say, the spirit cannot see but through the mind and the eyes, and so the mind must see through the hearing of the word so that the spirit may receive light. But it is absolutely necessary that the man be “born from above (or born again)” in order for him to spiritually receive the light that has streamed into his mind. The will can act upon the external information but ultimately such acting on that information will prove deficient and insufficient if it is not met with the internal working of the Holy Spirit on our spirit/heart. But here we reach the center of what it means for the will to not be free. The spiritual faculties cannot and will not choose God. The unregenerate will is totally and completely adverse to the gospel. It hates the light, it does not come to it (John 3:20). There is no indifference about the unregenerate spiritual faculties. The spiritual faculties are dead, and completely opposed to God. There is no way that a dead spirit can in any way shape or form bring itself to make any choice whatsoever about the truth of the gospel. God must make a man new – GOD MUST SAVE THE MAN – the man must be reborn – the man must be given new life, whether or not he wants it. And this is GRACE – that God so works to renew a sinner to make him new so that he can believe in the gospel and trust in Christ. This is the whole of the attestation of the scriptures. In fact, one of the greatest summary statements in the entire New Testament is 1 John 4:10 – “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” When we see this in conjunction with Paul, who says in Romans 5:8, 10 – “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us… For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”
The crucial thing that we must reckon with is that GOD MAKES US NEW. And he does when we are his enemies. God makes a person his child when that person HATES God, when he is God’s ENEMY. This is the radical thing that anyone who believes in free-will must reckon with. No man stands, when hearing the gospel preached, as a free-hearing, freely choosing subject. No man is indifferent when he is listening to the gospel. It is not that God’s grace so works on a man’s will that it “woos” or “enraptures” him with the beauty and love of the gospel. Beauty is useless to a dead man. The unregenerate man hates the gospel, no matter how beautifully, eloquently, ratioinally, or powerfully it is presented. UNLESS GOD MAKES THE MAN NEW, that man stands no chance whatsoever in front of the gospel. Paul clearly attests to this in 1 Corinthians 2:1-16
And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.6 Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. 7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—
10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 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. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
14 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. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
A “savable” state turns out to be a useless state. Even if man were in a “savable” state, he still wouldn’t choose God because his spirit is dead to God. It’s not that God changes the will, it’s that God changes the man. And this is at the very centerpiece of salvation (this is why Calvinists are so adamant about fighting for this truth). God doesn’t even bother with the will, he knows that the problem is much, much deeper. God comes in upon his enemy and say, “You’re mine” and makes him new. It is only when that man is “born again (born from above)” that he can respond. And in that very moment that the man is made alive, he sees the light of the gospel and immediately flies to Christ as Savior, because it is only now, after God has made him alive, that he sees a bloody savior as beautiful.
But there is even more. Above, I said that an unregenerate man may assent to the truth of Scripture while not actually being regenerated. If the spirit (or the heart) of a man has not been truly regenerated, then the actions of that man, which come forth from the center of the being, will ultimately bear witness to whether there has been a renewal of the heart/spirit or not. If a man has not the working of the Spirit by new-birth upon his spirit, then he stands no chance of actually manifesting true, lasting fruit. This is why scripture is incessant upon arguing that we will be judged by our works. God can judge according to works because works are a clear indicator of the internal working of the Spirit (effecting the new-birth). Though God ultimately sees into the heart, a “good heart produces good fruit and a bad heart produces bad fruit”.
It becomes apparent that to say that a man stands as a free agent between light and darkness, between God and Satan, is utterly absurd. Man stands in death on their own, and unless God, by his own sovereign will chooses to awaken that man, then that man will carry himself “freely” to hell. His heart, being evil, does what it desires, and unless God so awakens his spirit, then his will is held captive to the will of Satan and his doom is sealed. This is why salvation by God is so radical in Scripture. Such texts as Ephesians 2:1-10 bear witness to this – “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses and sins, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved… For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this not of your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
One may ask, “what then are we to make then of the appeals and commands of scripture? They only seem to make sense when our will is free.” My reply is that the commands are appeals to the nature that is already wrought within by God. The commands of Scripture are consistent because the only “free” man is a believer. They are free in one sense to follow their sinful desires, though this is ultimately bondage. But they are free to follow God – they have been liberated from darkness and they have been given spiritual eyes to see the spiritual light of God. Their spiritual faculties have been given life so that they can see and respond to the light that they were created to see. When the command comes, the spirit responds. The command reaches down, through the natural understanding and mind (they are not bypassed), into the heart and spirit of a man and there draws out what God has given, namely, New Life. This is why, ultimately, the good works that believers do are said to have been wrought by God and are contingent upon his gracious working in them. The spirit of man only so comes to and labors for God as God draws him, without exception. The response to commands is contingent upon what God has wrought.
We can see then that the response that some give that men freely choose between God and sin, God and Satan, God and death, is without scriptural support and without rational support. This is crucial for how we understand salvation because how we approach the unsaved will depend in large part in how we see that God saves men. If a simple verbal confession is the standard by which we make for who is a believer and not, then a person who takes a free-will position has got all the evidence he needs. He gives the person a card to sign, stating the date of their confession and sends them on their jolly way, affirming them in their new confession. But the person who believes that there is no such thing as “free-will” realizes that there is a world to be done after one confesses Christ. Confessions can be mimicked and emulated. Though a confession of Christ is a sufficient place for a fellow believer to rejoice with another, such a believer does not rest there. This is consistent with the presentation that we see in Paul in his struggle with the Galatians – “my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” Paul clearly demonstrates that an initial confession of faith on its own is not enough – Christ must be formed. Until Christ is formed in them, Paul refuses to rest in their cases, or at least to call them mature. Though they are professing believers, their behavior is contrary to the gospel. Paul uses the term “childbirth” because he cannot confidently say that what has been given birth is genuine faith, genuine believers. He is therefore in anguish. Paul is not so naive to take the Galatians at their word when they profess that they are believers, at least not after sufficient time has passed and they are living contrary to their profession. Someone who believes that the will is not free sees that faith can be mimicked, and professions can be made without genuine support behind them. It is ultimately the life that bears fruit that demonstrates that they have been truly wrought upon by God.
Faith is always presented in the bible as persevering. Just read Hebrews 10-12 and Revelation 1-6 for a clear demonstration. Jesus never stops when someone says “I Believe!” He always pushes them further – he says, “Continue!” for it is only those “who endure to the end that will be saved” because only those who have been born of God will demonstrate a true and living faith. Once the Holy Spirit has regenerated a soul it can never be undone.
God is not subject to our wills. Our wills are subject to his working. If God does not operate in a salvific way in our lives of raising us from the dead and giving us the desire to follow him, then we remain dead. But if God, by His Holy Spirit, regenerates us, there is nothing that can undo such a work, and those whom God has given new birth never turn away. This is not contingent upon whether we choose him or not. Those whom God regenerates choose him – there is no question, but their choosing is predicated on God’s renewal. But those whom God regenerate continue to the end. Though Christians may fail and may fail miserably (just look at the life of King David – he slept with his neighbors wife and then murdered the guy so he wouldn’t be found out), our continuance is not dependent ultimately on our willing. We are not “free”, we depend upon God to work and to will for his good pleasure. Our hope is not that we have enough strength to choose – our hope is that God is gracious and has mercy upon us, even when we are running from him.