Monday, March 7, 2011

Part 3: Responsibilty and Inability are Not Two Sides of the Same Coin

Okay, so we've finally made it! It took three posts but we're finally getting around to the nitty gritty of the question that we've been considering over the last couple of weeks: If God commands all men to obey does He indeed give them the ability to obey?

It is evident that failure to comply in obedience to God in any fashion is sin. And there are basically two types of sin: sins of commission (those sins that are committed in a volitional way or unintentionally) and sins of omission (those sins that we fail to comply with, either out of apathy or lack of knowledge). Up to this point we have mainly dealt with the basis of God's judgment and the response of man to that judgment. We have not yet attempted to ascertain the will and volition of man's capability or inability to obey. That will be the focus of this post.

There are two things that need to be determined in order to answer the question of whether God indeed grants the ability for all men to obey. These two things are (1) the desire of man to obey and (2) the volition (or power)of man to obey. We have looked briefly at the first but we will examine further this concept of what man's true desire is.

Man's Desire to Obey

We are told throughout Scripture of man's depraved nature. He not only chooses to disobey God he willingly and at many times gleefully breaks His high and holy commands. Even from the book of Genesis we see his depravity in full motion.

Gen 3:8—And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden

From the breaking of the very first command we see that man's natural response was to run and hide. Adam and his wife did not desire to fall down and repent of their sin, their natural inclination was fear. Today, it is the same. Man fears that which is perfectly holy and he will by any means necessary hide himself from that Awesome Presence (Hos 10:8, Re 6:16).

Going even further in Genesis we once again run into the natural inclinations of man.

Gen 6:5—The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (emphasis are mine).

It is interesting indeed the Hebrew word used for 'continually.' It is actually made up of two separate words, כּל (kol) meaning 'all' and יוֹם (yom) meaning 'day,' literally "all the days." Further, the imperfect tense suggests that the wickedness was not brought to its completion, hence God's decision to eradicate humankind from the face of the earth. One may be quite sure that if it had not been for God's covenant with Noah (Gen 9:8-17) He would have certainly destroyed the earth many more times over.

Re 9:20-21--The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.

John records for us the plagues that God brings upon these men and women for their guilt, yet they refuse to repent even after all the judgments that God brings upon them.

This Scripture flies in the face of those who seemingly would love to believe that Reformed Theology makes God a bully because the poor innocent sinners are crying out to be saved from their in and yet God refused to "elect" them so that they can be saved. As seen in the Scriptures above, people refuse to repent because they do not wish to repent; not because God will not allow them to repent!

The last thing that needs to be discussed is whether or not man has the ability to repent of his own initiative.

Man's Ability to Respond

Joh 6:61-65—But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, "Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 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.) And he said, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father." (Emphasis are mine)

The end of John 6 finds Jesus giving a discourse to the five thousand that had followed Him the day after He had fed them the fish and loaves. Jesus begins His sermon by rebuking them for seeking Him, not because of the miracle itself which pointed to His Messiahship, but because of the temporal food and the "wow" of the sign (vv. 26-27). I would like to exposit this passage using three very simple, unbiased questions:
  1. How does Jesus respond? He explains that they do not believe because a person cannot come to Him (i.e., repent, believe, follow, confess, etc) unless it has been granted or enabled by the Father. His statement is clear and concise. He does not mean that a person comes to Him first and then receives faith. The person comes after it has been granted by the Father. Another interesting characteristic of this verb 'given' is the tense, which is a perfect participle. The perfect tense indicates that an action has taken place in the past with a result that continues to the present time of the writer. Also noteworthy is the periphrastic construction of the clause. A periphrastic is simply a 'roundabout way of saying something."1 A periphrastic construction is a way of expressing a finite verbal idea.
  2. How does the audience respond? Their response comes in verse 66: From that time on many of His disciples left and followed Him no more. Why were they so offended at what Jesus had said? Because they had not a heart to undertand or eyes to see or ears to hear (Deut 29:4). The idea that they could not come to God on their own terms offended them and because of this they decided to leave the Bread of Life and seek their own life.
  3. What did Jesus mean? Instead of launching into a long-winded defense of my own views I will let commentators from both sides of the argument present their cases
    Except it be given him of the Father (ean mh h dedomenon autwi ek tou patro). Condition of third class with ean mh and periphrastic perfect passive subjunctive of didwmi. Precisely the same point as in verse Luke 44 where we have elkush instead of h dedomenon. The impulse to faith comes from God. Jesus does not expect all to believe and seems to imply that Judas did not truly believe. (Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament)

    6:65 Unless it be given - And it is given to those only who will receive it on God's own terms. (Wesley Notes on the Entire Bible)

    Therefore said I, &c.--that is, "That was why I spoke to you of the necessity of divine teaching which some of you are strangers to."
    except it were given him--plainly showing that by the Father's "drawing" ( John 6:44 ) was meant an internal and efficacious operation, for in recalling the statement here He says, it must be "given to a man to come" to Christ. (Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible-Jamesion, Fausset, Brown)

    Afterwards, in reply to those who murmured at this fundamental truth, the Lord appeals to His ascension. He had come down from heaven-this was His doctrine; He would ascend thither again. Material flesh profited nothing. It was the Spirit who gave life, by realising in the soul the mighty truth of that which Christ was, and of His death. But He returns to that which He had told them before; in order to come to Him thus revealed in truth, they must be led of the Father. (Darby - Synopsis of the New Testament)

    that no man can come to me, except it be given him of my Father;
    which is the same, as to be drawn by the Father; for faith in Christ is the gift of God, and coming to him, is owing to efficacious grace, and is not the produce of man's power and freewill (Gill - Exposition of the Bible)
As per above, every commentator agrees that man is incapable of coming to Christ of his own initiative. Synergism explains this by something called Previenent Grace, which in essence states that man still chooses according to his free will but only after God has "awakened" his spiritual awareness. But if man needs any assistance in order to make a decision then it cannot be true free will for without that assistance the creature would not have changed. In its most basic form, Previenent Grace still upholds the Doctrine of Total Inability as well as Irresistible Grace. How so? It is total, for man could not have come on his own, and it is irresistible because man would not have come on his own. Conclusion In the Garden of Eden God made Adam and Eve upright. He gave them the ability to choose to obey or disobey. When Adam fell his posterity lost that ability. Scripture testifies from Genesis to Revelation of man's natural response to God's calling of holiness: we are unwilling, resistant, terrified, ,


  1. Ekklessia Boy; I think that Judas really did believe in Jesus, but Jesus did not want to save him because he was a son of the devil (a son of perdition), so Jesus commanded him to go and betray Him so that the Scripture might be fulfilled.
    Judas is a very good example for the doctrine of election.

    Also; I have read your post, "Between the Garden and Paradise; a Parallel of Two Trees."
    Please grant me a comment to that.
    I don"t think that Adam and Eve were TOTALLY DEPRAVED because of disobedience.
    Disobedience does not equal Total Depravity.
    If you would have a son and he was disobedient in one thing or so, you surely would not consider him to be a Totally Depraved kid because he disobeyed you.

  2. Paul,

    Thanks for the comment. No, I don't believe Judas had saving faith otherwise he would not be the son of perdition. A lot of people "believe" in Jesus but believing and saving faith are two different things (cf, Jas 2:19.

    To answer your second objection: Total Depravity does not indicate total moral corruption (i.e., being as bad as one can be) but rather a total inability in in word, thought, or desire, or deed to seek out the righteousness of God without the initiative of the Holy Spirit (cf, Joh 6:37, 44, 65).

    Thanks again for the interaction.

  3. Thanks Steven.
    Concerning Judas; I don't think that faith is the catalyst for salvation but rather sonship.
    Judas was a son of the devil; therefore there was no salvation for him regardless of faith.

    Comment to (Total Depravity);
    Total Depravity I understand to be really totally depraved and totally morally corrupt to the extent that no one could ever outdo their depravity.

    Because a son is disobedient, that does not make him,' unable in word, thought, desire and deed' to seek your forgiveness. (Remember that a son is created in the father's image.)

  4. Paul,

    Thanks again for your comment. Scripture is clear that no one seeks God on their own initiative (Rom 3:10-13, Joh 6:37). Total Depravity (or called many times, Total Inability) is inherent in man as per the verses above. A person cannot seek God's forgiveness unless enabled by the Father (Joh 6:65).