Paul Derengowski, ThM
This article is about spiritual death and its effects upon the human will. It is perhaps a paper that should not need to be written, given the number of times the subject has been addressed in the past. Nevertheless, since fallen man continues to ignore what God has said about man’s condition prior to spiritual regeneration and assumes himself to be much better off than he actually is, the subject is revisited again.
Many humans believe themselves to be free to make certain choices that in reality only the living can make. How could mankind be responsible to God for his actions otherwise? Besides, what about all the biblical references where degenerate man chooses to accept God’s invitation to be “born again”?
It will be argued that because of spiritual death’s presence in everyone’s lives, due to the ancestral relationship stemming all the way back to Adam, no one’s is absolutely free, but are in bondage to sin and death; and until God regenerates the spirit in man, he is left to only make decisions consistent with a disposition characterized as “dead” (Eph. 2:1; Col. 2:13; cf. Matt. 8:22).
Also, that humanity is already responsible to God regardless of its subscription to a fictitious “free will” that is allegedly the linchpin that God must subordinate himself to in order to judge fairly when it comes to guilt or innocence. And finally, whatever proof-texting is done to support the idea is purely that, with a blatant disregard of context.
The form this paper will take will be first to define and discuss briefly what the human will was prior to the fall of man into sin, and then the effects that sin had upon man, ultimately resulting in his separation and communion with God.
Many have assumed down through human history that sin’s effect upon humanity was not as bad as some have argued, and that mankind is not as bad off as to have completely lost the ability to choose the things of God.
The Bible makes it clear, though, that sin not only left man with a completely different attitude toward God, but that that attitude led to his death, both spiritually and physically, just as God warned.
Second, a brief look at the development of the idea of free will, will be examined. Many well-meaning, well-intentioned Christians assume that they derive the concept of free will from the Bible, but as will be shown the idea is completely missing from the Bible, particularly as it pertains to the spiritually dead.
Instead it is of pagan origin, rooted in the faulty idea of human autonomy, which has crept into Christian thought through a variety of means starting with biblical neglect.
Moreover, not only will the history of “free will” be examined, some of the more popular references will be looked at as well to show the contextual abuse they have undergone in order to serve a pre-textual ideology.
Third, some falsely assume that because God imposes His will upon human beings that that somehow removes human responsibility for its actions; God, in turn, becomes a tyrannical dictator pulling the strings of the puppets He has created.
A rebuttal will be offered to show that in order for God to be God, He has a perfect right as the sovereign Creator of the universe to do as He wills and that His will cannot be circumvented; that in order for fallen man to make truly “free will” decisions, God must intervene in his behalf and bring him to life, lest man remain in his state of spiritual decease, making decisions consistent with the deceased, until physical death occurs, whereby he is sealed in his spiritually dead condition for eternity.
So without further introduction let us take a look at what the human will is, both prior to the fall and then afterward. Hopefully by the end of this paper the minds of some will be changed to see that apart from the grace of God to loose man from his natural states of sinfulness and deadness, he cannot do anything of himself.
Moreover, that the next time one reads Jesus’ words, “If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed” (Jn. 8:36), one will stop and reflect upon the antithesis of his words and realize that prior to being let “free indeed,” one is spiritually dead in bondage to sin, indeed!
Human Will: Before and After
No one can be sure exactly how long the first humans, Adam and Eve, lived in a state of innocence prior to the serpent’s arrival to tempt them in the Garden of Eden. All that is know is that prior to the fall into sin they both enjoyed God’s presence and were able to exercise their wills to obey God in the things that he commanded them, without hindrance, even though the details are scant as to what exactly they were doing between verse 25 of Chapter 2 and verse one in Chapter 3 when the serpent showed up. One is left to assume that they were tilling the ground, keeping the Garden, and enjoying each others company in a blissful setting commensurate with how God meant it to be.
In Chapter 3 mankind’s decision-making took a drastic change for the worse. No longer would man desire to be in God’s presence, much less see and do things God’s way, after both Adam and Eve succumbed to the temptations of the serpent to act on their own to deviate away from the express command of God. Believing that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil “was good for food” and a “delight to the eyes” and something that “was desirable to make [them] wise,” they knowingly and willfully chose to agree that God had not said, that they would not die for their actions, that they would become like God, knowing good from evil, and ate of the fruit. Immediately they found the opposite to be true, though, and instead of running to God for forgiveness and redemption, they ran and hid from God. Mankind has been doing the same thing ever since, namely running and hiding.
Amid all the inconsistencies that sin has caused in human behavior, man has alienated himself from his Creator and often brazenly demonstrates that he does not care to the contrary. He wills to have nothing to do with God, except in ways demonstrative of his alienation, by the propping up of spiritual and material idols. For shortly after God found Adam and Eve hiding “among the trees of the garden,” and after creating their own religious system of fig leaf redemption, God forgave and redeemed them, only to see their progeny engage in such debauched behavior to the degree that “the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth” (Gen. 6:6). Man’s will had become so corrupted that not only was his wickedness deemed by God to be “great,” but “that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). 1
The English translation “continually” could also be rendered “every day” from the Hebrew כָּל־הַיּוֹם. Eventually such wickedness would result in God destroying the human race with the exception of Noah and his family in Genesis 7. Nevertheless, even after God took that drastic measure, He would still declare, “The intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” Noah would become drunk, and his progeny would act on its baser nature, with his son engaging in what some have assumed was homosexual behavior with his father! 2
In Chapter 11 one sees the final act of God’s dealing with humanity’s universal sinfulness as it fosters an idolatrous ecumenical gathering at the Tower of Babel. God confounds their gathering and their ability to communicate with one another, and then he chooses to deal with mankind through the tribe of Israel and the person of Abraham, rather than universally as he had previously, while human decisions and behavior continued to proceed from bad to worse.
When one turns to the New Testament human will and nature is pronounced to be as perverse and incorrigible as is anything found in the Old Testament. Jesus would teach that within man’s nature (i.e. the heart) are produced “evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness” (Mk. 7:21-23). While describing the importance of the eye’s clarity in association with light and the body Jesus would comment, “if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!” (Matt. 6:23). Later Paul would argue that the Ephesian believers were at one time “dead in trespasses and sins” and then go on to catalog a list of characteristics and behaviors consistent with that deadness, starting with a futile mind and ending with immoral sensuality and greediness (Eph. 2:1; 4:17-19). Whitcomb candidly sums up mankind’s dire nature and incapability of willfully changing apart from supernatural intervention when he wrote,
But is the human “mind” not capable of detaching itself from the so-called “heart” and of drawing its own conclusions about God independent of the downward direction of the fallen nature? The answer is no. Christ explained the unbreakable relationship between the mind and the heart: “out of the heart come evil thoughts” (Matt 15:19; cf. Mark 7:21). He later asked His disciples: “why do doubts arise in your hearts?” (Luke 24:38). The Scriptures offer no hope of bringing about a fundamental change in a man’s thinking about God apart from a profound change in his “heart,” the moral/spiritual center of his personal being. This is a basic reality that no Christian apologist can afford to ignore. 3
The point is that prior to the fall of man into sin he was a completely different character than after the fall. Although he still possessed the image of God, sin’s influence turned him from an innocent and obedient creature who was spiritually alive and in communion with God into a cunning and inherently self-serving, spiritually dead being who needed regeneration from the effects of sin before he would ever even desire to seek for God (Rom. 3:11). Man’s will after the fall, in other words, now only sought that which was consistent within the realm of the deceased, and until the God of the living bore him into His kingdom by a mysterious and miraculous work of His Spirit, man would not only not be unaware of his dire condition, he would never see God’s kingdom either. It is a stark contrast to the non-biblical and paganistically influenced idea that despite mankind’s fall into sin he is still capable of reaching out to God and co-opting his own salvation. Yet, if such a notion is non-biblical and pagan, just where did it get its impetus?
Free Will Where?
Space precludes an exhaustive discussion of the historical development of the concept of free will. Some Christians, though, assume that the concept itself has its derivation in the Bible, but the reality is they are incorrect. 4 Adam and Eve were the first humans to enjoy what might be termed “free will,” but that freedom was restricted by God’s prohibition to abstain from eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Therefore, in reality, at no time has any human possessed absolute free will, nor could they, given the contingency that all humans share in relying upon their Creator for their existence. In fact, the only being that could possess absolute free will would be none other than God himself, given that he is infinitely self-sufficient in his existence and that he answers to no one for the decisions that he makes whether in reference to himself or his creation.
Therefore, since the concept of free will is not found within the pages of the Bible, when, where, and who was its first exponent? Although Augustine’s debate with the British ascetic and heretic Pelagius garnered much attention early on whenever the freewill subject arose in either philosophical or religious discussions—more will be said on him in a moment—according to David Sedley, the “Epicureans were the first explicit defenders of free will, although we lack the details of their positive explanation of it.” 5 This is because the 300 rolls that Epicurus authored are no longer extant. But even though his writings have forever disappeared, we can still know through the contemporary writings of others what Epicurus believed and taught which would lead to the idea that human beings are “free” in their decision-making. One author, Diogenes Laertius, observed that Epicurus, even though he espoused a belief in “God,” argued for a subjective basis for choices made, and that no one, nor anything, could impact or influence those choices one way or the other. Moreover, all decisions were co-equal, since they were sensationally derived, with no one particular decision overruling or convicting another of error. 6 Also, Epicurus devised a theory that advocated the idea that since all things were constituted of randomly colliding atoms (“the swerve”) that could not be determined, then all sentient creatures were equally free in whatever decisions they made, since (1) all sentient creatures are made up of atoms, and (2) their decisions would be randomly arrived at as well. The theory, however, was not developed primarily with explicating the physical workings of the universe, even though Epicurus had an interest in physics. Instead, as Clark points out, “The motivation” behind adjusting Democritus’ mechanistic explanation of atomistic movement was “mainly ethical…Mechanism means fate. Indeterminism allows us to follow our pleasure. Therefore, the world must be composed of particles that inexplicably swerve at no fixed time and in no fixed direction.” 7 To conclude otherwise was to concede that atomic movement, and hence human decision-making, was designed with a purpose, which in turn, undermined the whole free will position.
Epicurus’ approach to “free will,” though, was only typical of the type of Greek thought being espoused during his day, and something that would later be seen in nineteenth century hedonistic thought. According to DeWitt,
In Greek philosophy it was customary to think of freedom as consisting in the liberty to make a choice between doing and not doing a given thing. This practice was followed by Epicurus, but he developed as to give them a vogue in both popular and professional thought that was parallel and equal to the prominence gained by preachers and publicists for “will” and “will power” during the nineteenth century. Where the modern man says “I will” or “I will not,” the Greek said “I choose” or “I avoid.” 8
It should be mentioned that although Epicurus was hedonistic and relied on the philosophy that promoted pleasure over pain as the means to determine ultimate meaning in life, he did not advocate unbridled immorality as one of the elements to arrive at pleasure. “By pleasure we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul. It is not an unbroken succession of drinking-bouts and of revelry, not sexual love, not the enjoyment of the fish and other delicacies of a luxurious table, which produce a pleasant life; it is sober reasoning, searching out the grounds of every choice and avoidance, and banishing those beliefs through which the greatest tumults take possession of the soul.” 9 Such discriminating thought, though, is inherently self-refuting and inconsistent, especially when Epicurus’ underlying foundation upon which he built his ethic was the capricious movement of the atomic realm. Yet, Epicurus was only the fountainhead that would open the floodgate of subsequent capricious “free will” thinkers such as Pelagius and Charles G. Finney, who we now turn our attention.
Pelagius is the person that has influenced freewill thought both in and out of the Christian church more than most, even though he remains one of the most overlooked, if not ignored in the sense of his overall contribution. Pelagius taught that not only was mankind not as bad off after Adam’s fall into sin as what the Bible asserted that he was, namely “dead in trespasses and sins,” but that humanity had the inherent capability of following and obeying God’s commands perfectly. In other words, sin did not have the drastic effect upon the human constitution that biblical writers, teachers, and preachers have claimed for millennia, since there was no original sin that carried over from Adam’s indiscretion. That because all men currently possess the same nature that Adam did prior to the fall, then they also possess the same untainted will that Adam did as well, meaning that there is no need for saving grace, since there was nothing to be saved from. As Cunningham points out while describing Pelagius’ philosophical outlook, “there is no occasion for, and really no meaning in, a Saviour, an atonement, a Holy Spirit. No evil has befallen our race, and there is no occasion for a remedy, especially for such a remedy as the Bible has been generally regarded as unfolding.” 10 While some may balk over the connection between the current attitude of freewill taught and advocated in many modern churches and Pelagius’ heresy, clearly the connection is there, although in a more subtle way. The person who would practically apply Pelagius’ doctrine in an actual setting and then influence the contemporary Christian approach to evangelism more than any, starting in the nineteenth century, was none other than Charles Grandison Finney.
Charles Finney is considered by some to be America’s greatest revivalist during the antebellum years of the United States. Aside from the intensity of his piercing eyes and communicative skills as a charismatic preacher Finney utilized and propagated the ideas of “natural ability” and the “anxious bench” which served to promote the freewill doctrine and human ability, which is still with the modern church today in theory and practice. In the former instance Finney believed, just like Pelagius did, that man was capable of obeying God’s command out of obligation and ability. God would not have commanded mankind otherwise if he did not have within his nature the capability of obeying His commands. In a modification of Jonathan Edwards’ understanding of freewill, who did not believe that man was inherently capable of obeying God until his dead soul was regenerated by God, Finney would argue,
This ability is called a natural ability, because it belongs to man as a moral agent, in such a sense that without it he could not be a proper subject of command, of reward or punishment. That it, without this liberty or ability he could not be a moral agent, and a proper subject of moral government. He must then either possess this power in himself as essential to his own nature, or must possess power, or be able to avail himself of power to will in every instance in accordance with moral obligation. Whatever he can do, he can only do by willing; he must therefore either possess the power in himself directly to will as God commands, or he must be able by willing it to avail himself of power, and to make himself willing. If he has power by nature to will directly as God requires, or by willing to avail himself of power so to will, he is naturally free and able to obey the commandments of God. Then let it be borne in mind, that natural ability, about which so much has been said, is nothing more nor less than the freedom or liberty of the will of a moral agent. No man knows what he says or whereof he affirms, who holds to the one and denies the other, for they are truly and properly identical. 11
The place where Finney’s “natural ability” or liberty of the will played itself out by practical application was his creation of what came to be known as the “anxious bench.” The anxious bench was utilized at the conclusion of a revival meeting when Finney would invite or compel sinners to come to the front of the meeting to either confess sin or accept Jesus as one’s savior. According to Noll, “It was one of the ‘new measures,’ along with the ‘protracted meeting’ (or nightly gatherings for several weeks) for which Finney’s evangelism was famous…The anxious bench led to the modern evangelistic practice of coming to the front at the end of a religious service to indicate a desire for salvation.” 12 Although seemingly practical, the reality is that the anxious bench or ecclesiastical invitation has no biblical precedent, which only makes sense since the concepts of “natural ability,” liberty of the will, or simply human autonomy, have no biblical precedent either. In fact, when confronted by the fact that such measures essentially coerced sinners into a confession relied too much upon man’s actions to save himself, rather than God doing it for him, Finney’s reply was pragmatic: “it worked.” 13
Therefore, free will’s origin is rooted in pre-Christian Hellenistic thought starting with Epicurus and has extended itself to the present in most Christian churches in the form of the invitation. Excluded from this discussion, which would have simply added more evidence to the charge, were Thomas Aquinas, James Arminius, Billy Graham, and Clark Pinnock, all of which have been instrumental in promoting either a Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian view of man, which says that he is not as dead as the Bible says that he is. But why? What are the neo-Pelagians seeing in the Bible which would lead them to falsely assume that man is alive and willing to accept the things of God? Let us take a look at a small sampling of references to try and discover an answer to the question.
Freewill Passages in the Bible?
Typically those who refer to the Bible in their effort to defend the free will of the deceased do so on the basis of what they see as human choice, a universal application of the atonement of Christ, or simply that in order for mankind to be morally responsible for his actions God must enable him to obey or provide him an unbridled free will, otherwise God is not being just or fair. In other words, how can God condemn anyone for being disobedient to his commandments without them being given a fair opportunity through an act of their free will to either obey or disobey?
One referential example sometimes used to support the argument for free choice is found in Joshua 24:15. After Joshua has led the nation of Israel into the Promised Land and wiped out most of its wicked inhabitants, he charges the Israelites to “choose for yourselves today who you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Later in verse 24 we read of the people’s choice when they declare, “We will serve the Lord our God and we will obey His voice.” Some have taken this to mean that Yahweh has left the choice of Israel’s salvific identity in its hands, and then by extrapolation has done the same thing with those choosing later to become Christians. Such a conclusion, however, is clearly unwarranted, as the writer is not talking about salvific identification, but idol-free, tribal service. In other words, Yahweh was already talking to His own chosen people, but they were not acting like it. Israel was still clinging to some of the foreign deities it had brought with it from Egypt or perhaps while traversing the Transjordan (v. 15). Those idols were obviously noticeable enough to Joshua that he wanted Israel to abandon them if Israel truly wanted to serve God without all the hindrances associated with idolatry. To choose to the contrary would lead to dire consequences. He would tell them, “If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you after He has done good to you” (v. 21). Their immediate choice was to abandon the idols and serve Yahweh, even though as Israel’s history demonstrated, such a choice was long on desire and short on commitment, as it continued its idolatrous ways later, until it was finally swept away into both Assyrian and Babylonian captivities.
When one turns to the subject of universal salvation or atonement, one verse that is frequently cited as proof for the viewpoint is John 3:16. In it Jesus not only declares that God loved the whole world, but that whoever believes in Jesus would garner eternal life. According to Terry Miethe, “The idea that the death of Christ was designed to include all humankind but is applied only to those who accept it, believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior, is referred to as the ‘unlimited’ or ‘general’ atonement,” to which he goes on to cite John 3:16, et al, to make his case. 14 To Miethe and others that support universalism, “world” means everyone and “whoever believes” means it is left up to the degenerate to decide his destiny. Of course, Miethe leaves himself enough room to wiggle by claiming that universalism does not mean that everyone will necessarily be saved, and that because not everyone is going to believe.
At this point one must ask, “If a sinner’s sin is atoned for, and yet he does not believe, is it not going to be unjust and ‘unfair’ for God to go ahead and send a forgiven sinner to hell?” If so, then the whole concept of universalism is pointless, given that God would have already determined their destiny apart from anything the sinner decided. The sinner would actually be a saint, and it would be an abject contradiction to send a saint to hell. If not, then Jesus’ atonement for sin never really accomplished the mission for which he was sent to earth and that was to pay the sin debt of mankind. God’s righteousness was not appeased and no one could be absolutely sure just what it would take to appease Him, since even the death of His Son and shedding of His blood to atone for sin still only led to the banishment to hell of some for whom he atoned.
Second, Jesus follows his declaration in John 3:16 with the equally forceful statement that “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Since the word for belief is the same one also translated as “faith” (i.e. pistis or pistein), one needs to ask, “Just where does faith come from? Can a spiritually degenerate person muster enough faith to cooperate in his own salvation?” Because that is exactly what is going to be necessary if one follows Miethe’s universalistic assumption to its logical end. Conversely, if salvation is of the Lord, and it requires spiritual regeneration that the sinner cannot perform in himself, then the whole God atoned for everyone and eventually left it up to degenerate sinners to decide for themselves whether they even wanted to be a part God’s “plan,” while God waited in the wings for them to make up their degenerate minds, falls apart like a house of cards.
Finally, several biblical passages are cited by those restating Pelagius’ philosophy, who thought that man was morally and spiritually capable of fulfilling whatever responsibility God might command. Grant Osborne, for example, sees human responsibility in the Prologue to John’s Gospel, specifically in verses 11 and 12. To him “every person is enlightened and drawn toward the life that is in the Logos,” yet it is up to every person to decide whether to cooperate with God or not. Those who do are saved; those who don’t are damned. It’s their choice. Again, God merely sits by and waits, even though Osborne wants everyone to believe that God is sovereign in his waiting. There are at least a couple of flaws in such thinking, though. First, just because every man might be “enlightened” in no way means that that light is regenerative. As Robertson points out, “The Quakers appeal to this phrase for their belief that to every man there is given an inner light that is a sufficient guide, the Quaker’s text it is called. But it may only mean that all the real light that men receive comes from Christ, not necessarily that each one receives a special revelation.” 15 Robertson’s observation is consistent with the apostle Paul’s who wrote that God had revealed Himself to the whole of creation in a general sense (Rom. 1:18-20), except in John’s gospel that revelation is attributed to the Word, or Jesus Christ.
Second, throughout John’s gospel God is not at the mercy of the sinner and his plans, but the sinner is at the mercy of God and His plans. In relation to verses 11 and 12 John makes it perfectly clear in verse 13 that when men are spiritually born, they are born according to God’s will, not theirs. In John 3:8 Jesus informs the reader that everyone who is “born again” is born of the Spirit, and that that bearing is as mysterious as trying to discern the source and end of the wind blowing. In John 6:44 we are told that no one comes to the Father unless God draws him. According to John 8:36 it is Jesus that sets the sinner free, and until such time the sinner is a “slave to sin.” Finally, in John 15:16 Jesus reminds his disciples that “You did not choose Me, but I chose you…” So, while Mr. Osborne would like everyone to think that the sinner somehow cooperates with God in the redemptive process, when the rest of Scripture is viewed in its context, it is quite clear that he does nothing, because he can’t. It is with this in mind that we now examine more closely just why man cannot cooperate, collaborate, or contribute to his own salvation.
Spiritual deadness has been a part of the human condition almost from the inception of humanity. God told Adam in the Garden of Eden, in prophetic and emphatic fashion, when speaking about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.” Later the serpent would counter God’s statement with “You surely shall not die!” Instead, “your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good from evil,” emphasis included because of the previous discussion above, and because so many today continue to subscribe to Satan’s lie concerning the human will and the lack sin’s effect upon it. It is not that talk about sin and death are not a part of the religious language of contemporary Judaism and Christianity, for they have been and will continue to be, at least until a full implementation of the serpent’s rebuttal is put into place, and then they will be done away with. 16 It is that like the chasm which existed in Hades between Paradise and those in torment (Lk. 16:26), there is such a divide in some people’s thinking that they believe that sin’s effects upon the will have not been as drastic so as to cause absolute spiritual death of the person and the cutting off of that person’s desire for anything relative to the person of God. When Adam and Eve sinned, they died, spiritually and then physically! “No longer did Adam and Eve enjoy the immediate presence of God; rather, they were banished from the garden.” 17 The death sentence has since been passed on to every human, mainly because all humans (with the exclusion of Jesus) have sinned (1 Kg. 8:46; 2 Chr. 6:36; Rom. 3:23; James 3:2), and because all are born dead (Ps. 51:1-5; 58:3), then there is no possibility of the deceased communicating with God until He moves in their lives to regenerate them.
The apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesian Christians re-emphasizes the deceased nature of all humans by bluntly telling them that prior to being “made alive” by the gracious act of God that they “were dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). 18 In other words, the Ephesians were walking zombies, completely oblivious to the things of God, except for in a general way (see above), and paradoxically living out their dead lives in the realm of totally offending God and His law. Their lives consisted of being led about by the prince of the power of the air and participating in the lusts of the flesh and the mind to the degree where they were by nature children of God’s wrath. Paul would state elsewhere that the degenerate not only suppressed the truth that God revealed (Rom. 1:18), but that God had given them over to depraved minds (Rom. 1:28) which could not understand the things of God (1 Cor. 2:14), and then the god of this world exacerbated their depravity by blinding their minds to the gospel (2 Cor. 4:4). Paul would also argue that the spiritually dead were God’s enemies (Rom. 5:10), and John would assert that such practitioners of sin were children of the devil (1 Jn. 3:8). Elsewhere Jesus would allude to the dead as those who were not fully committed to following him. His command to the living was to leave the burial of the dead to the dead and come and follow him (Matt. 8:22). Also the apostle John was allowed to see a vision of the final judgment of the dead in the Book of Revelation where they stood before God to be judged one last time. While some had already been dead both physically and spiritually for some time, having been resurrected from hell to stand before God, it is clear from the context that others were dead and had not yet physically died. After a final perusal through the books of works and the Book of Life, the latter of which the dead person’s names were absent, they were all cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:11-15). Clearly, the plight of the spiritually deceased is not one of a lively contemplation upon the things of God, nor the rosy picture often painted by those who think that all man has to do is choose God and voila! Everything will be okay. No, the spiritually deceased are in a condition of dire need of supernatural intervention, and the longer “the new gospel” 19 which centers itself in man is preached, the more God and His word is mocked, the church fools itself, and a lie is perpetrated upon the lost. 20
Harold Hoehner, in reference to Ephesians 2:1, comments that “‘being dead’ shows the state or condition before God took action. The present participle of the verb ‘to be’ denotes the action that occurred before the main verb in verses 5-6, ‘representing the imperfect,’ and thus shows their ongoing condition as dead before God’s gracious act of making them alive.” 21 If what Paul said is true, and there is no reason to believe that he is not telling the truth, and Hoehner’s analysis is equally valid, then the effects on the human will, particularly as they relate to the spiritual things of God, and humankind deciding favorably in those spiritual things, should be devastating to say the least. They should be devastating in terms of ability to relate to God and they should be devastating to those who might argue along with Pelagius that there is some vestige of life remaining in the deceased whereby he could respond to God’s call if he only willed it. Clearly the dead cannot relate to the living, in and of themselves, yet that is exactly what the freewill exponents are saying if they continue to ignore passages like Ephesians 2:1-5. Yet, why is there still any question? By and large because biblical exegesis and evidence is not the issue; human sin rooted in the same deception going back to the Garden is the issue. It has dressed itself up in different language and more sophisticated argumentation, but the whole freewill versus spiritual deadness due to sin revolves around the serpentine strategy to get man to believe that he is a god and that since he is autonomous, he will never die. So, what is the solution?
God Is The Potter
“It is not the reality of the will that is in question,” writes R. K. McGregor Wright, in a book with a rather facetious title, “but its independence from the rest of our fallen nature and its capacity to choose autonomously against God’s eternal purposes.” 22 In other words, there is no argument whether humankind has a will or not. The real argument is whether that will can be exercised independent of God’s. Obviously humans make all kinds of decisions everyday, but do those extend beyond the boundaries of the mundane and the dead, whereby decisions consistent with the living can be made, or has sin, leading to death, completely nullified that capacity? Throughout this paper is has been argued that the sinner has lost any capacity to will unto God.
The decision to answer whether or not “God is in control” of all things is an interesting paradox in many Christian churches. Typically if the question is asked “Is God in control of all things?” a resounding “Yes!” is heard. From that affirmation the preacher or teacher goes on to preach or teach to the delight of the listeners that despite the persecution of fellow Christians around the world or the cancer that is eating a relative alive in hospice care that everything is going to be okay because “God is in control.” Yet, in many of those same congregations, when it comes to matters of eternal destiny and salvation, the preaching and teaching is done in such a manner as to leave one to wonder if God is even present, let alone in control. It is the sinner’s decision to open his or her heart and let Jesus in, since he stands at the door and knocks. For if the sinner does not open the door, then Jesus is incapable or lacks the capacity to open the door on his own, even though just prior to his ascension into heaven he was walking through doors and walls to commune with his disciples. It is a blatant contradiction in church life that could be easily rectified, but the infusion of the false doctrine of human autonomy has become so pervasive that bad habits in thought and praxis have been created over time, and bad habits are hard to break.
Nevertheless, the Bible is quite clear that God is in absolute control. From the creation of the heavens and the earth through the mere spoken word (Gen. 1) to the falling to the ground of the tiny sparrow (Matt. 10:29); from the choosing of Abraham to be the father of a mighty nation (Gen. 18:19) to the formation of our inner being while still in our mother’s wombs (Ps. 139:13-16); from the changing of times and seasons (Dan. 2:21) to the numbering of our days of life on earth (Heb. 9:27); from the establishment of governments (Rom. 13:1) to the taking down of kings (Dan. 2:21); from the predestining of some to salvation (Eph. 1:4) to the completion of their salvation come that day (2 Tim. 1:12). All of this is and much, much more points to the fact that God is sovereign or in control of His universe, from the greatest act to the minutest detail; nothing escapes His attention. God is the potter and His creation is the clay. “Calling a bird of prey from the east, The Man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it” (Isa. 46:11), declares the Lord.
This paper has briefly attempted to show two things: the origin of the idea of free will and the absolute incoherence of such an idea when examined in light Scripture and sound reason. Mankind has never been absolutely free, simply because he is a contingent being. It is only through the influence of humanistic thinking, particularly Hellenistic, that man assumes he is free, but the Bible makes it quite clear that not only is he accountable to his Creator, and his enslavement to sin until his Creator sets him free keeps him in bondage.
Therefore, the conclusion to the matter is simply to acknowledge that God has the perfect right to do with His creation, including the direction of the wills of men, for the express purpose of glorifying Himself. To those who would argue to the contrary, or charge God with unjustness or unfairness, must then answer the same questions God asked of Job, when Job similarly charged God with indiscretion concerning his seemingly hopeless condition: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding, Who sets its measurements, since you know? Or who stretched the line on it? On what were its bases sunk? Or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4-7).
Now, if Job was left speechless at the end of God’s interrogation, how much more should those be who are “dead in trespasses and sins” or those who pretend to speak of God’s sovereignty in one breath, only to turn around and deny it in the next when talking about man’s so-called “free will” to decide on that which Jesus has deemed to be mysterious (Jn. 3:8)? Again, it is not reality of the will that is in question, but who ultimately is in charge of steering the will, and to what end. That is the question. To those subscribing to the idea of freewill and that the answer is each individual person, then the sole end is ultimately the glorification of man, with God anxiously waiting on the sideline to get in on a piece of man’s action. Conversely, to those subscribing to the idea of God’s sovereignty and that the answer is God, then the sole end is ultimately the glorification of God, and man helplessly waiting on the sideline for God to be a part of God’s action. May the reader now resolve in his own mind to exercise his will and decide just who he will glorify, and why. Soli deo gloria.
- B. Otzen, reflecting on the Hebrew word yetzer, translated “intent,” notes that “Reflecting such passages as Gen. 6:5 or 8:21, the noun can have the meaning ‘purpose’ or the like, almost always in the context of human sinfulness.” G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, 15 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, ), 6:265. Greg Nichols argued that amid God’s grief in Genesis 6:5 that, “In God’s holy sight, wicked men do nothing morally good. Everything they think, feel, purpose, say, and do is wicked and evil. Day after day, month after month, year after year, he sustains and provides for creatures who cause him to feel incessant moral revulsion.” Gregory G. Nichols, “The Emotivity of God,” Reformed Baptist Journal 1-2 (Jl 2004): 124. ↩
- Bergsma and Hahn list no fewer than nine contemporary scholars who argue that paternal incest took place between Ham and Noah, and that others such as Hermann Gunkel and Robert Gagnon believe that the Genesis narrative is too explicit for it to be talking only about a passive voyeurism. To them, “to see the nakedness of the father”… “is an idiom for sexual intercourse.” John Sietze Bergsma and Scott Walker Hahn, “Noah’s Nakedness and the Curse On Canaan,” Journal of Biblical Literature 124-1 (Spring 2005), 29. ↩
- John C. Whitcomb, Jr., “Contemporary Apologetics and the Christian Faith: Part I: Human Limitations in Apologetics,” Bibiotheca Sacra 534 (Apr-Jun 1977): 105. ↩
- In Paul’s letter Philemon, the New American Standard Bible (NASB) and the English Standard Version (ESV) both translate the Greek word hekousion as “free will.” The term appears only once and carries the connotation of voluntariness or simple willingness. Schrenk sees hekousion as associated with the Greek term qelw and nuanced to mean ‘maturely weighed,’ ‘resolute,’ ‘self-constraining,’ or ‘free resolve.’ TDNT, 3:46. Given the context of Philemon the idea of hekousion is more in line with the idea of ‘mature attitude’ than what is often seen from free will proponents, where God is left wondering what the human is going to decide before He can act. ↩
- Robert Audi, The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), s.v. “Epicureanism.” Porter noted that none of the three hundred volumes of Epicurus’ writing are extant, and that what does exist are seen only in quotations from others. Stanley E. Porter, “The Argument of Romans 5: Can a Rhetorical Question Make a Difference?” Journal of Biblical Literature 110:4 (Winter 1991): 677, n. 16. ↩
- Diogenes Laertius: Lives of Eminent Philosophers, trans. By R. D. Hicks, 2 vols. (London: William Heinemann, 1925), 2: 561. ↩
- Gordon H. Clark, Thales to Dewey, 3rd ed. (The Trinity Foundation, 1997), 149. ↩
- Norman Wentworth DeWitt, Epicurus and His Philosophy (Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1954), 173. ↩
- Diogenes Laertius, 2:657. ↩
- William Cunningham, Historical Theology, 2 vols. (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, reprint 1994), 1:330. ↩
- Charles G. Finney, Finney’s Systematic Theology (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1994), 307. ↩
- Mark A. Noll, A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992), 176. ↩
- Ibid. David Wells argues that Finney’s contrived method has blossomed into a contemporary “emasculation of the gospel,” as television preachers, both on and off the air, use various emotively driven marketing techniques to peddle their wares. Those with the right kind of public savvy succeed, while others wither away and die. A point of poignancy is made when Wells remarks, “What is marketable, however, is only seldom what is doctrinal.” One would be hard-pressed to agree more. David F. Wells, “The Debate over the Atonement in 19th-Century America,” Bibliotheca Sacra 145:577 (Jan. 1988): 8. ↩
- Clark H. Pinnock, The Grace of God and the Will of Man (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1989), s.v. “The Universal Power of the Atonement” by Terry L. Miethe, 78. ↩
- Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 6 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1932), 5:9. ↩
- Dr. Karl Menninger noted the disappearance of sin years ago when he wrote his book Whatever Became of Sin? “The very word ‘sin,’” he contended, “which seems to have disappeared, was a proud word. It was once a strong world, an ominous and serious word. It described a central point in every civilized human being’s life plan and life style. But the word went away. It has almost disappeared—the word, along with the notion. Why? Doesn’t anyone sin anymore? Doesn’t anyone believe in sin?” New York: Hawthorn, 1974, 14. ↩
- Daniel L. Akin, A Theology for the Church (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2007), s.v. “Humans Sinfulness” by R. Stanton Norman, 470. ↩
- He shares the same grim message with the Colossians as well (Col. 2:13). ↩
- This is the designation that J. I. Packer gave to those propagating the freewill mantra in his “Introductory Essay”to John Owen’s book The Death of Death in the death of Christ. In no uncertain terms Packer writes, “if we go to the root of the matter, we shall find that these perplexities [the practice of evangelism, the teaching of holiness, the building up of the local church life, and the pastor’s dealing with souls and the exercise of discipline] are all ultimately due to our having lost our grip on the biblical gospel. Without realising [sic] it, we have during the past century bartered that gospel for a substitute product which, though it looks similar enough in points of detail, is as a whole a decidedly different thing. Hence our troubles; for the substitute product does not answer the ends for which the authentic gospel has in the past days proved itself so mighty. The new gospel conspicuously fails to produce deep reverence, deep repentance, deep humility, a spirit of worship, a concern for the church. Why? We would suggest that the reason lies in its own character and content. It fails to make men God-centered in their thoughts and God-fearing in their hearts because this is not primarily what it is trying to do. One way of stating the difference between it and the old gospel is to say that it is too exclusively concerned to be ‘helpful’ to man—to bring peace, comfort, happiness, satisfaction—and too little to concerned to glorify God.” Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2007 reprint, 1-2. In my humble opinion, I could not agree more. ↩
- In Clark Pinnock’s book The Grace of God and the Will of Man not one of the fifteen scholars who contributed articles to the book mention anything about spiritual deadness of the sinner. In fact, not one scholar even references Ephesians 2:1-5, which is amazing, given from verses six to ten, which deal with salvation by grace through faith, there are ten points of commentary made. Clearly there is an imbalance here. Could it be that spiritual death of the sinner is one subject which completely unravels the whole freewill argument and it is being avoided? ↩
- Harold H. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 307. ↩
- R. K. McGregor Wright, No Place for Sovereignty: What’s Wrong with Freewill Theism (Downers Grove: Inter Varsity, 1996), 112. ↩