Can Men Respond Positively to God on Their Own Free-will?

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. –Romans 8:7-8

This passage is a very simple truth that nullifies man’s boasting. We are born enslaved to our sin (Romans 5:12) and are totally incompetent to please God in anything we can do. In our fleshly nature, we hate God. Consider what Paul says again in 1 Corinthians 2:14:

 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.

You’ve probably rarely heard anyone quote this verse at a modern-day revival meeting, yet, Paul doubtless rips the carpet out from under the synergist. Typical of synergist pastors, they may say, “God has done all he can, he is just waiting for you to accept Him as Lord and Savior.” This may make for preaching that tickles the ears of sinners, but Scripture paints a different story.  Man cannot accept God because, in his natural state, he is corrupt. The natural man cannot do anything that is pleasing to God. The very thought of the biblical God is the most repulsive thing to a sinful human heart–a dead heart (Eph 2:1).

What, then, is needed in order for this dead man to be brought to life? What needs to be changed in the natural man’s heart and mind in order for him to come to God?

According to 1 Cor 2:10-11, a work of the Holy Spirit is in order.

…these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except for the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.

Paul stated a few verse above that rather than give the Corinthians the wisdom of this age, he would much rather preach Christ to them. That the message of the gospel is the wisdom of God–that men must place there hope in the power of God to save, and it is this gospel that the Spirit revealed to Paul. Challenging the philosophers of his day, Paul asks, “who can know the things of God?” This question demands the only possible answer, that no one can. The Spirit of God must reveal these things. Man cannot come to a knowledge of the truth apart from the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. Unless God regenerates the heart of a sinful man and renews his mind by the gospel, he will remain dead in trespasses and sins.

Thus, when the Arminian declares that they can respond to God, it is merely a theological and semantic sleight of hand. All men are capable of responding to God. I do not deny this. I see people respond to God every day. More often than not, it’s with the middle finger. By nature, men can only reject the goodness of God and suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18-23). Men cannot of their own free-will respond to God in faith and repentance. It goes against everything in the natural man’s mind according to 1 Cor 2:14 Romans 8:7-8.

  …for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. —Phil 2:13

If it is God who works in us both to will and to do according to His good pleasure, the question must be asked, is saving faith and repentance pleasing to God? The obvious answer, of course, is yes. Think this through, if saving faith and repentance are pleasing to God and God works in us to will and to do according to His good pleasure, then who is it that is working to bring saving faith and repentance in our lives? The only logical answer is God. The Bible leaves no other option and can’t be any more clear according to Romans 8:7-8:

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

Jesus asserts,”No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day,” (John 6:44). Notice that there is no disclaimer in John 6:44 that says, “only applicable if you choose God back.” No, the Father gives to the Son an elect people that He draws by the Spirit, and the Son gives these same elect people eternal life. Salvation is a work of the Trinity.

If this truth seems discouraging, let me say that it shouldn’t be. However, you should realize your insignificance and that your salvation was not your own doing for the very purpose that you not become boastful (Eph 2:8-9). If God were to give you the ability to choose, then it would be you that had the final say in your salvation. If God gave all of us the final choice, we would all be in Hell. The essential truth is that if God does not intervene and save us by His power against our natural desire to rebel against Him then no one would be saved.

God must violate our free will in order to save us. This is not a violation in the same way a rapist would violate another person (Arminian’s like to try to poison the well of God’s grace with this false accusation). Rather, it is a violation of our cold, dead slumber in the grave. When Jesus calls a dead man to come forth, he comes forth. Lazarus did not have the capacity to resist God’s call to life–and neither do we.

God alone is the King who sits in the heavens and does as he pleases. He alone is the one who grants repentance. He alone is the one who elected some as vessels of wrath and other vessels of mercy.

To quote Jonathon Edwards, “Man has only brought to his salvation the sin which makes it necessary.”

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… –Ezekial 36:26

Rob Nelsen
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Rob Nelsen
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