I am not a proponent of any discussion concerning the subject, “free-will.” The term itself is vague and ambiguous in and of itself. The whole idea that men are “free” to will what they choose, is in and of itself a losing argument even outside the field of theology. A man cannot of his own accord, choose to fly. He cannot step off a 20 story rooftop and “will” to land safely on the ground. He will land.
The truth is, when God created man, He gave him the choice to choose. Man did not have a choice in that matter. Life itself is the result of the decisions we make that are themselves a response to everything that takes place round us. Those who argue against “free-will” in the theological arena are correct when they say, “man is a slave to his nature and is not ‘free’ to choose outside that nature.” That is an accurate statement, where our physical nature is concerned. It is not necessarily accurate where our spiritual nature is concerned. We have physical limitations and we have mental imitations. We are not omniscient so our choices are limited to our experience and our ability to assimilate information that is both available to us and understood by us. We can have accurate information available to us but we have to be able to understand how that information can help us to accurately make the best choice.
One has to recognize that even the task of “making the best choice” is relative. In this sense, the whole concept of “free-will” is both possible and impossible. We are not free to choose what we “will” or want to choose. We are only free to choose within the limits of the options we have at the time. For example, we cannot walk into a bank and freely will to take out any amount of money we want. We are free to choose to take out any amount of money that we have access to. We can withdraw money we have in an account at the bank or we may borrow more money and we may even choose to take what is not ours by robbing the bank. All of those choices may be valid choices and each of those choices carries with them certain consequences.
This illustration should accurately settle the whole notion of “free-will” where salvation or conversion is concerned. An individual walks into a bank to leave with some money. That is a “free-will” decision or better yet, a choice one makes. That choice in and of itself is really a response to some outside influence or more accurately, a number of outside influences. First of all, there is the influence of economics that makes money a necessity and then there is the social influence that necessitates the need to get money. If money was not a medium of exchange there would be no need for banks to exist and there would be no need to acquire money.
For example, cigarettes are not as valuable as money. Now, many choose to purchase cigarettes and then decide to smoke them. If one were to ask the question, “Which would you choose, a pack of cigarettes or $100” most would choose the $100. Here is the fallacy of “free-will.” Our choices are limited to our sphere of influence. We are only free to choose from among the choices we have to choose from and our ability to accurately assimilate information related to those choices. Let me explain what I mean. Is there ever a circumstance where choosing a pack of cigarettes is the better choice over choosing $100? Most would answer, “no.” In almost every circumstance, that would be the correct choice. However, if that $100 was in confederate money, the choice to accept the pack of cigarettes could be the better option. The problem with “free-will” is men are limited in their choices. Men not only have the ability to choose but he also has the responsibility to choose and then there is the need to make the best choice given the options he has as he understands them.
Here is another consideration. Our choices are responsive and relative. Is it ever bad to accept a $1000 gift? Some would conclude, “no.” While it is true that a $1000 gift would be universally accepted as being a good thing, that choice would be bad if it disqualified that person from receiving a $100,000 gift. This is where temptation comes into play. It is not that temptation necessarily offers us bad options, temptation always robs us of what God has in store for us and so the choice to choose to submit and succumb to temptation is always the wrong choice. When that which is good robs us of that which is the best, a good choice can be a bad choice. There are consequences to our choices. The consequences of our choices yesterday can have a lot to do with the choices we are forced to make today. For example, if we went into the bank yesterday and withdrew all our money and spent it at a casino, it is obvious that the choices we have to make today are heavily dependent on what happened yesterday! If we took out a loan and took that money to a casino, the consequences of those choices are probably going to be life changing! It is one thing to spend all the money one has in the bank, it is another to throw away all the money one gets from a loan that has future long term obligations tied to it. If one robs that bank, he may or may not even have the option of getting to a casino and the consequences of that choice is most certainly going to be life changing.
So, while we are indeed free to choose, we are not free from the consequences of those choices. So in that sense, we do not exercise “free-will” but we do have “free-will”” when it comes to the choices we are confronted with, given the options we are free” to choose from.
If it is true that men were created to respond, it would be difficult to argue that he is not response-able. To attempt to argue that man is not response able in a world that is response driven is like trying to argue that one can defy gravity if he chooses to do so. If one defines life itself as the result of the responses one makes in every single decision he makes, then it would be accurate to say that he is response able and responsible for every single decision he makes and every decision has the potentiality to impact some or even every future decision.
Here is an example of what I mean. An individual makes the decision to get into an automobile and drive to the bank to make a withdrawal to go to the casino. His cell phone rings and he reaches for that phone and in the split second he takes his eyes off the road, a car pulls out of a side street and there is an accident that leaves the driver paralyzed for life. One decision that would have been fine in 9,999 cases out of 10,000 changes one’s options to choose for life. The same thing could be said of a decision to stop at a convenience store and in the check-out process, you tell the cashier to take the $2 in change and give you a power-ball ticket that could be worth millions and that ticket is a winner! In most cases purchasing a power ball ticket is absolutely a waste of money. It is in almost every case an irresponsible decision. The odds of being struck by lightning a dozen times is probably better than winning the powerball but someone does win and the consequences of that choice are life changing just like the choice to pick up a cell phone can dramatically change one’s life.
It is also interesting to note the choices one makes and the consequences of those choices are varied as well. The person who wins the powerball would seem to be on top of the world. However, statistics show that winning huge sums of money has proven to cost entire families dearly. On the other end of the spectrum, there are testimonies of individuals who have made poor choices that landed them in jail or prison, that ended up helping them come to Christ because they attended a bible study because that was better than sitting in a jail cell all alone. Now, most of us would certainly choose to win the lottery than go to prison. However, we do not have the benefit of hindsight. If we knew that winning the lottery would cost us the life of our children to drug abuse, we might choose not to purchase that lottery ticket and if going to prison brought us to a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus and impacted our eternal destination, we might look at that differently as well.
Life is nothing more than a series of choices we all make one right after the other. Decisions and choices are as essential to life as our heartbeat and the necessity of oxygen molecules to be taken into our lungs and delivered to our cells. One is no more important than the other nor is either any less important.
To attempt to argue that this is not true of conversion on any level is an interesting endeavor in and of itself. Logically, it makes no sense whatsoever that God would create man and give him life that is in its essence the sum total of the decisions he makes and then attempt to argue that the single most important decision in his life, is not his to make but God’s. It can be argued that the whole purpose of a man’s life is to get his soul to heaven. Since man is both response-able and responsible for every single decision he is confronted with in his life and his life itself becomes the sum of the decisions he makes, it would seem strange to attempt to argue that God would take that most important decision from him.
If God is a God of love as the Bible contends, there has to be the possibility of rejection where mankind is concerned; it is humanly impossible for love to exist without the option of rejecting love offered. That is true in our relationships one to another and it is true in our response to God’s initiatives of love toward us. God loves us unconditionally; our love to Him is everything but unconditional and that is certainly true of our love one to one another. To argue a Calvinist position of love, one would have the ability to walk into a room and simply walk over to a person and say, “you are going to marry me today and we will live happily ever after.”
Life does not work that way here and it does not work that way where our eternity is concerned. God has taken the initiative in redemption by sending His Son to die on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin and through the initiative of revelation He has made the way of salvation plain and simple enough for anyone to understand it and through His initiative in reconciliation the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin and convinces us of His love for us so that we will in turn respond to those initiatives in repentance and find forgiveness or rejection resulting in our damnation. The choice to repent is ours, not God’s. The initiatives are his and the results are His but the choice is ours.
Pastor Hadley writes, “We are only free to choose from among the choices we have to choose from and our ability to accurately assimilate information related to those choices.”
A great distinction. We know that only God has absolute free will. This is because God is omniscient, has infinite understanding of all things, and is able to make perfectly wise decisions. We humans have limited knowledge, even less understanding of what we know, and do not generally make wise decisions. Whatever “freedom” we are able to exercise in making choices is relative. Then, there are the influences of a sin nature and the imperfect people around us whom we may rely on for advice and direction not to mention that Satan is out there looking to destroy people. The Bible accurately describes lost people being blind and being led by sinful desires – and free.
On the only issue where free will really matters, Pastor Hadley writes, “The choice to repent is ours, not God’s. The initiatives are his and the results are His but the choice is ours.”
Is this true? The key ingredient in this is faith and people are not born with faith. Neither are people automatically indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Faith is a gift conveyed by God to people through the preaching of the gospel. There can be no repentance, no desire for Christ until a person hears the gospel and receives faith. On exercising faith to believe, believers are then indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit, people cannot manifest the fruit of the Spirit – Love, joy, peace… Lost people can only produce the works of the flesh – the corruption of the Spirit’s fruit and include hate, evil thoughts, war… Ephesians 2 tells us that the lost are spiritually dead – they have no faith and do not have the Spirit dwelling within them. They are free to do evil but only Christ can make them truly free.
Still, a good start to address a subject where many have misconceptions. Thank you Pastor Hadley.
Thanks for the best exchange I think we have exchanged to date! I say that with a smile and a grateful heart. Your response I am afraid is one that is focused on one sentence and not the context the sentence is framed by. The primary focus of the OP is life itself is the sum total of the decisions we make and those decisions are ours to make and that includes the most important decision we have to make and that being our response to God’s salvific initiatives in redemption, revelation and reconciliation.
Now to your response specifically. You write, that people are not born with faith nor are they indwelt with the Holy Spirit. “There can be no repentance, no desire for Christ until a person hears the gospel and receives faith.” I understand exactly what you mean here but let me ask you a question: hearing the gospel has to be secondary to the gift of faith (or more specifically regeneration) because until one is regenerated the gospel has no power to do ANYTHING. The gospel in the reformed position is powerless to save the unregenerate.
I like what you say when you wrote, “On exercising faith to believe, believers are then indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit, people cannot manifest the fruit of the Spirit – Love, joy, peace… Lost people can only produce the works of the flesh – the corruption of the Spirit’s fruit and include hate, evil thoughts, war… ” I agree 1000%.
Here is a problem I have with the statement you made with respect to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and no repentance until one “receives the gift of faith.” Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God… so faith is a response to God’s initiative in revelation and repentance itself is a response to the reconciliatory work of the Holy Spirit in the convicting one of sin and convincing one of Christ’s provisions and promises in salvation.
I believe the two positions you espouse here are in actually in conflict with one another and the latter is correct while the former is not.
Pastor Hadley writes, “faith is a response to God’s initiative in revelation and repentance itself is a response to the reconciliatory work of the Holy Spirit in the convicting one of sin and convincing one of Christ’s provisions and promises in salvation.”
I say that “belief” is a response to God’s initiative in revelation and is made possible by faith – faith is conveyed to a person hearing the gospel. The gospel gives a person hope and faith is the assurance of those things hoped for – a hope that is focused on Christ. Hebrews 11 describes actions people took consequent to faith.
Assuming that the Holy Spirit works in concert with the preaching of the gospel, it’s conviction and convincing also comes through the gospel (which encompasses the entire Scriptures) as it is preached. So, two things are happening during the preaching of the gospel – faith is being conveyed to a person and the person finds himself under conviction by the Holy Spirit. The outcome – one believes by faith and acts on that belief by repenting. I don’t see a conflict between receiving faith and the work of the Spirit.
A critical point you make is “The primary focus of the OP is life itself is the sum total of the decisions we make and those decisions are ours to make and that includes the most important decision we have to make and that being our response to God’s salvific initiatives in redemption, revelation and reconciliation.”
My point is that a response to God’s salvific initiatives is not possible to a person until a person hears the gospel preached (in whatever form) and receives faith. The freedom of choice exercised by the unsaved is limited to works of the flesh until the person hears the gospel, believes, and is now protected by the Holy Spirit – resulting in specific actions: repentance and the fruit of the Spirit.
Without the preaching of the gospel, can anyone be saved? I don’t think they can.
I will not disagree with ANYTHING you just wrote. Answer a question for me. This is a huge problem I have with reformed theology.
Look at what you wrote… “My point is that a response to God’s salvific initiatives is not possible to a person until a person hears the gospel preached (in whatever form) and receives faith. The freedom of choice exercised by the unsaved is limited to works of the flesh until the person hears the gospel, believes, and is now protected by the Holy Spirit – resulting in specific actions: repentance and the fruit of the Spirit.
Without the preaching of the gospel, can anyone be saved? I don’t think they can.”
Notice the phrase, “until a person hears the gospel preached (in whatever form) AND receives faith.”
Calvinism makes a much different distinction. Until one is regenerated, there is no hearing the gospel… the unregenerate is spiritually dead and is a slave to his sinful nature and CANNOT do anything to please God… his eyes are blind; his ears deaf; his heart dead. In this position, the gospel is powerless to save; if regeneration does not take place then the gospel does NOTHING… it cannot be the catalyst for faith In my position, it absolutely is… but that is completely inconsistent with the tenets of RT.
Pastor Hadley writes, “if regeneration does not take place then the gospel does NOTHING… it cannot be the catalyst for faith In my position, it absolutely is… but that is completely inconsistent with the tenets of RT.”
Given Romans 10, we know that without the preaching of the gospel, there can be no faith. The issue then becomes: Is the preaching of the gospel necessary and sufficient to convey faith or is it necessary but not sufficient by itself to do so? If the gospel is both necessary and sufficient to convey faith to all those who hear the gospel, then all who hear the gospel would be saved. Even you, I think, might agree that everyone to whom you preach the gospel does not become saved – that would indicate that the gospel is necessary to faith but not sufficient, by itself, to produce faith – and then salvation.
Reformers are not alone in saying that the Holy Spirit works in concert with, and through, the preaching of the gospel to effect change in the unsaved. This would include regeneration, conveying faith, convicting of sin, repentance and other things. The disagreement is over the order in which these things happen.
You asked… “Is the preaching of the gospel necessary and sufficient to convey faith” in my opinion that is absolutely true. The thing you are failing to comment on is the objection I raise concerning regeneration and the efficacy of the gospel being preached to the unregenerate. According to the tenets of RT… the gospel is not effective UNTIL regeneration takes place. That is the essence of my point.
Ours is more than a disagreement in the order.. the order as posited by RT clearly makes your position problematic… so in my estimation, you cannot hold to what you have just written and be consistent with the reformed system. I am not saying that reformed do not believe what you have written is true… what I am saying is that this approach is inconsistent with what RT actually says.
Thanks for the interaction.
Pastor Hadley writes, “The thing you are failing to comment on is the objection I raise concerning regeneration and the efficacy of the gospel being preached to the unregenerate. According to the tenets of RT… the gospel is not effective UNTIL regeneration takes place.”
In Ephesians 2, we read, “…by grace you have been saved through faith;” The “grace” extended to God’s elect (however, they come to be the elect) consists of many things. From ch 1, we see that “God chose us in Christ,” “God predestined [His elect] to adoption as sons,” and from Romans 4, “Christ was delivered up because of our transgressions,” and “Christ was raised because of our justification.” There are other things – regeneration, new birth, etc – that God did by grace identified elsewhere.
The only part given to the person is to respond to God’s grace in faith and even this faith is given to the person by the grace of God. As defined in Hebrews 11, this faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen:” and this hope is in Christ. You argue, “it makes no sense whatsoever that God would create man and give him life that is in its essence the sum total of the decisions he makes and then attempt to argue that the single most important decision in his life, is not his to make but God’s.” Yet that most important decision depends on the “faith” given to the person by God. If that faith truly is “assurance,” then there can only be one outcome where God gives a person faith – that person accepts the salvation God offers to him.
You say, “it would seem strange to attempt to argue that God would take that most important decision from him,” yet a person does not even have that decision to make unless God gives him faith and the assurance encompassed by faith allows for only one decision – acceptance of salvation in Christ. To choose otherwise leads us to the conclusion that the person has not been given faith. So, with the preaching of the gospel, we find relatively few people who ever respond positively at any given time. Thus, it seems that God chooses when and where to convey faith to people with His spirit working through the preaching of the gospel to bring specific people to salvation.
So, does free will mean anything to a person not given faith? And if a person receives faith, has he not also received the ability to discern truth and does not that truth truly set him free. A person who is truly free will certainly freely choose salvation.
If a person has been set free, isn’t that freedom basically regeneration – the conversion from slavery to freedom?
You still do not address the main contention concerning regeneration and the efficacy of the gospel being preached to the unregenerate. According to the tenets of RT… the gospel is not effective UNTIL regeneration takes place.”
Listen whether or not you want to acknowledge it or not, my point is crystal clear; according to your theological position or the position you claim to hold, the gospel is POWERLESS to save the unregenerate. Apart from regeneration, the gospel falls on deaf ears, blinded eyes, a depraved mind and a stone cold heart that is dead. The unregenerate can no more respond to the gospel than a dead corpse can sneeze.
All this that you wrote may sound good but your contention that faith is a gift from God that enables a person to repent and believe is a philosophical position that is not Scripturally sustainable and is at best a conclusion drawn from a series of tenets that set up that conclusion.
Your concluding statements are equally applicable for the person who repents and by faith believes that God is everything that His Word says He is and that He will do everything His Word says He will do. For me, regeneration is the goal of the salvific process and for you it is the beginning… so in both cases regeneration is the conversion from slavery to freedom.
So back to my original point of contention; can the gospel save the unregenerate?
Do not feel bad… I have asked this question hundreds of times and no one else has bothered to answer it either.
Pastor Hadley writes, “the position you claim to hold, the gospel is POWERLESS to save the unregenerate…The unregenerate can no more respond to the gospel than a dead corpse can sneeze.”
The preaching of the gospel is necessary to salvation but cannot produce salvation by itself. Something is going on that contributes to salvation. For example, the Holy Spirit will be convicting the person of sin. Acts 16 refers to God opening the heart of Lydia to respond to the things spoken by Paul. In 1 Thessalonians 1, Paul says, “our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction;” Such verses indicate – even if viewed as anecdotal evidence – that the preaching of the gospel, by itself, is not able to bring the unregenerate (i.e., the unsaved) to salvation. Thus, people pray to God to “open the eyes” or “soften the heart” of loved ones so that the preaching of the gospel might have its full effect. You then ask, “So back to my original point of contention; can the gospel save the unregenerate?” I still say, No. I see the Scriptures describing a lot of activity by God, the Holy Spirit, in conjunction with the preaching of the gospel toward the end of bringing the unsaved to salvation.
Then, “your contention that faith is a gift from God that enables a person to repent and believe is a philosophical position that is not Scripturally sustainable and is at best a conclusion drawn from a series of tenets that set up that conclusion.”
My point is that a person cannot be saved apart from God giving the person faith. Faith is necessary to any movement by the unsaved toward salvation. I think a person is moved to repentance by the conviction of the Holy Spirit. However, no one repents without a purpose – that purpose is provided by faith. The unsaved can repent or believe without having faith, but in doing so, they would not be saved – they would only be doing that which they see as advantageous to them in a carnal sense.
If the gospel were able to save apart from any other activity by God, then no one should be praying for God to work in lost people – they should be praying specifically for God to give power to the preaching of the gospel.
Still to be resolved is to define regeneration and discover its role in the salvation of a person.
I do appreciate the dialogue. Sometimes I think people are guilty of reading something and thinking of a response as opposed to actually thinking ABOUT what they are reading. This seems to be the case where your responses are concerned.
Look at what you wrote… You then ask, “So back to my original point of contention; can the gospel save the unregenerate?” I still say, No. I see the Scriptures describing a lot of activity by God, the Holy Spirit, in conjunction with the preaching of the gospel toward the end of bringing the unsaved to salvation.
I wholeheartedly agree with the statement you made about the activity of God and the Holy Spirit… 110%… however my point is that this is totally inconsistent with the foundational position RT posits… listen you know the issue with respect to TD/TI… there is no activity in the RT framework of neither God nor the HS in the heart of the unregenerate… none… the first step in the salvific process in the calvinist system is clearly regeneration… it is a monergist work of God in the human heart that gives him new life that repents and exercises believing faith… it is like the eyes of blind person being opened and he can see.
My point is that UNTIL regeneration takes place… all this activity you claim is happening is moot even if IT is happening in the calvinist system.
So if you really believe what you are saying, my point is that yo CANNOT hold to a RT position because it is totally inconsistent with the tenets of the system you say you hold to.
Your paragraph on faith’s role is not even worth commenting on. It is horribly skewed by your calvinistic thinking. “Faith is necessary to any movement by the unsaved toward salvation. I think a person is moved to repentance by the conviction of the Holy Spirit.” The first statement is errant and the second accurate… but understand something… the convicting work of the HS in the RT system is useless unless and until God first regenerates that individual… even you SHOULD be able to understand that. I believe the convicting work of the HS is essential to repentance… but that convicting work is not efficacious and you do not believe it is either… since your own statement earlier is that there is “all kind of activity going on by God..” listen that is WHOLLY inconsistent with the calvinist position… God cannot be actively doing anything until He regenerates an individual and if someone tries to argue God is “working on the human heart” to regenerate him… that is problematic as well…
Are you at least seeing my point here?
And no one is advocating anyone or anything thing (gospel or otherwise) other than God is capable of saving… that is a horrible retort to this conversation.
Thanks Pastor Hadley!
Up until a couple of months ago I had never put much thought into election or predestination. So when a co-worker started talking to me about Calvinism and he is Reformed. I started listening and wholesomely agreeing with total depravity. Then I realized that Mr RC Sproul failed to say in his lesson on YouTube for total depravity was that they believe we are so depraved we can’t respond to the gospel. That God has to respond for us. The cornerstone of all of scripture is the good news of Christ and you are telling me that all of the choices recorded in the Bible to follow God or reject him are not our own?!? Don’t look at a couple of scripture verses and re write the meaning and purpose of the whole Bible. The reconciliation of all mankind with the father is the goal. Only some will be reconciled but praise God we are not puppets and truly love or reject him.
Any Calvinist should check out the origin of the tenants with Augustine. The most early church father to spread the pagan deterministic Theology that is from his background before he was a believer.