A lot has been written about man’s ability to respond to God’s salvific initiative in revelation and reconciliation. Romans 1:16 tells us that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation to those who believe. On the surface, that verse sounds simple. When an individual is confronted with the gospel message, those words are life to those who repent and by faith place their trust in the perfect promises of God. While most will give a hearty amen that last statement, some will quickly qualify the “those who believe.” The qualifier that some will suggest is that those who believe are those who God has given the ability to believe and they are the only ones who WILL believe.
At the heart of this matter is man’s sin nature. I suppose the question could be asked, “is man a sinner because he sins or does he sin because he is a sinner” I believe the correct answer to that question is “yes.” Both are equally true. The next question focuses on the extent of this sin nature and man’s ability to respond to God. Total depravity seeks to answer this question by saying man is enslaved to this sin nature and is dead in his sin and is therefore incapable of making any decision that glorifies God and can ONLY sin. On the surface, this statement seems to make sense. Obviously no one can on their own make any decision that will glorify God apart from His Divine initiative. At the heart of the issue is, what does the Scripture mean when it declares an individual “dead in his trespass and sin?” Can a lost person respond to the gospel in repentance and believing faith or does God have to change this sinful nature FIRST and give him new life so that he THEN can repent?
I want to approach this argument from a different perspective. I believe the best answer to this question may well be found in a discussion of the remedy. I believe the incarnation may hold the key to understanding the ramifications of sin in our hearts. In the incarnation, God became flesh and dwelt among us. The question is this; was Jesus 100% man AND 100% God? Once again I believe the correct answer is YES. Both are true. Now, which “nature” controlled Jesus? Was Jesus’ Divine nature in control of every decision He made or was His human nature in control? I suggest that the answer here again is “yes”. Hebrews 4:15 tells us that Jesus “was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” If one attempts to argue that Jesus’ Divine nature controlled every decision He made then His humanity was of no consequence and He could not have been “tempted in all points AS WE ARE yet without sin.” Jesus had the responsibility to “choose” just as all men do.
Consider the following passage: “8 though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8) Jesus was obedient in every decision He made. His humanity was 100% subjected to God’s Divine will and purpose for His life. One must understand that BOTH natures are submissive to the other. Jesus’ Divine nature was submissive to His human nature just as His human nature was submissive to His Divine nature. Some might ask, “How can that be?” I believe the best answer is that it perfectly pictures the relationship that God created in the Garden of Eden where humanity is in perfect harmony with God’s Divinity. Today, conversation is focused on God’s sovereignty and it is difficult to talk about God’s sovereignty being subject to man’s choice. However, if that conversation is framed around God’s Divine nature and His Divine will relative to man’s choice to choose and the consequences of those choices, the conversation takes on a whole different perspective.
Could Jesus have sinned? Some will argue that the answer to this question is “no.” I believe Jesus COULD have sinned and chosen to submit to temptation. Otherwise, I find it extremely difficult to imagine Him being tempted in all points AS WE ARE and the resulting statement being made, “yet without sin.” The point of this statement is that Jesus WAS tempted, which means there was the potential for submission but He did not submit and fail. Jesus’ choices were in perfect harmony with His Divinity and His Divinity was in perfect harmony with His humanity.
In Philippians 2, we read the following, “5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” Clearly, Jesus CHOSE to go to the cross. He was “obedient to the point of death.” He COULD have chosen to do otherwise. I argue that this is the significance of the Gethsemane experience where Jesus prayer, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me but nevertheless, let Your will be done.”
Two things stand out in this exchange. The first is that Jesus could have chosen to do something other than what He did. Why did Jesus appear to shrink from going to the cross? Some will argue that in His humanity, He did not want to die. Perhaps that reflects an element of the agony He experienced. I also believe the significance of Him going out to the disciples who were asleep carries a key to understanding the dilemma He faced and that agony He was forced to consider. Perhaps Jesus was being tempted once again, much like the temptation following the 40 days of fasting when He began His public ministry. Here Satan appealed to His pride; “Jesus I know you are going TO THE CROSS; You cannot do it today. Look at Your disciples, they are asleep and if You go today, Your death will be in vain and the church will never get off the ground and I will win.” I believe the real agony of Gethsemane was more of timing than anything. “God I know I am going to go to the cross; I just do not see how I can do it NOW.” Nevertheless, not My will but your will be done.”
This is I believe an important concept to understand. If Jesus’ Divinity was subject to His humanity as well as His humanity subject to His Divinity, then it provides for a much different perspective to frame the foundation for a discussion concerning the relationship that exists detailing our humanity and His Divinity. If one sees God initiative in revelation and reconciliation as one aspect of His Divine will and our response in obedience to His will as the other side then the whole discussion may well take on a new perspective.
Was Jesus’ life a synergistic balance of both natures or was it more monergistic in nature? I believe it was the former and because He lives to make intercession for us, that same synergistic balance is what God looks for in us and as such His Divine will is subject to our human wills as our human wills becomes subject to His Divine will, our lives take on new meaning and purpose as He is able to do in us, with us and for us more than we can as or hope for in Christ Jesus.