There is something healthy about returning to one’s roots. When it comes to evangelical Christianity, its roots are found in the soil of the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation.

John 3:16 and Man’s Ability to Choose God

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  • John 3:16 and Man’s Ability to Choose God

    It is ironic that in the same chapter, indeed in the same context, in which our Lord teaches the utter necessity of rebirth to even see the kingdom, let alone choose it, non-Reformed views find one of their main proof texts to argue that fallen man retains a small island of ability to choose Christ. It is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

    What does this famous verse teach about fallen man’s ability to choose Christ? The answer, simply, is nothing. The argument used by non-Reformed people is that the text teaches that everybody in the world has it in their power to accept or reject Christ. A careful look at the text reveals, however, that it teaches nothing of the kind. What the text teaches is that everyone who believes in Christ will be saved. Whoever does A (believes) will receive B (everlasting life). The text says nothing, absolutely nothing, about who will ever believe. It says nothing about fallen man’s natural moral ability. Reformed people and non-Reformed people both heartily agree that all who believe will be saved. They heartily disagree about who has the ability to believe.

    Some may reply, “All right. The text does not explicitly teach that fallen men have the ability to choose Christ without being reborn first, but it certainly implies that.” I am not willing to grant that the text even implies such a thing. However, even if it did it would make no difference in the debate. Why not? Our rule of interpreting Scripture is that implications drawn from the Scripture must always be subordinate to the explicit teaching of Scripture. We must never, never, never reverse this to subordinate the explicit teaching of Scripture to possible implications drawn from Scripture. This rule is shared by both Reformed and non-Reformed thinkers.

    If John 3:16 implied a universal natural human ability of fallen men to choose Christ, then that implication would be wiped out by Jesus’ explicit teaching to the contrary. We have already shown that Jesus explicitly and unambiguously taught that no man has the ability to come to him without God doing something to give him that ability, namely drawing him.

    Fallen man is flesh. In the flesh he can do nothing to please God. Paul declares, “The fleshly mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:7, 8).

    We ask, then, “Who are those who are ‘in the flesh’?” Paul goes on to declare: “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you” (Rom. 8:9). The crucial word here is if. What distinguishes those who are in the flesh from those who are not is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. No one who is not reborn is indwelt by God the Holy Spirit. People who are in the flesh have not been reborn. Unless they are first reborn, born of the Holy Spirit, they cannot be subject to the law of God. They cannot please God.

    God commands us to believe in Christ. He is pleased by those who choose Christ. If unregenerate people could choose Christ, then they could be subject to at least one of God’s commands and they could at least do something that is pleasing to God. If that is so, then the apostle has erred here in insisting that those who are in the flesh can neither be subject to God nor please him.

    We conclude that fallen man is still free to choose what he desires, but because his desires are only wicked he lacks the moral ability to come to Christ. As long as he remains in the flesh, unregenerate, he will never choose Christ. He cannot choose Christ precisely because he cannot act against his own will. He has no desire for Christ. He cannot choose what he does not desire. His fall is great. It is so great that only the effectual grace of God working in his heart can bring him to faith.

  • #2
    I agree with respect to John 3:16.
    So how do we side step the obvious accusation that God is responsible for both the faith of the saved and the damnation of the lost?
    He has required what people cannot provide.
    Comment>

    • #3
      Originally posted by atpollard View Post
      So how do we side step the obvious accusation that God is responsible for both the faith of the saved and the damnation of the lost?
      Hi atpollard,

      John 3:18 states man's responsibility and how great the sin of unbelievers!

      I believe you are stating a distortion of the double predestination argument. The Distortion of double predestination: God works in the same way and same manner with respect to the elect and to the reprobate. That is to say, from all eternity God decreed some to election and by divine initiative works faith in their hearts and brings them actively to salvation. By the same token, from all eternity God decrees some to sin and damnation and actively intervenes to work sin in their lives, bringing them to damnation by divine initiative.

      In sharp contrast, in the Reformed view God from all eternity decrees some to election and positively intervenes in their lives to work regeneration and faith by a monergistic work of grace. To the non-elect God withholds this monergistic work of grace, passing them by and leaving them to themselves. In no way does predestination relieve man of human responsibility.

      A lot of people that argue for double predestination relieve man of his responsibility, and in fact predestination rejects any autonomy concerning man's will, he/she is either a slave to sin or a slave of God by nature. Many people think of a regenerate nature as rather free, but only in the sense from sin is this true. Just look at the verses concerning such honorary titles by men that considered themselves slaves of God Romans 1:1; Romans 6:22 where Paul calls himself a servant of Jesus Christ or those set free from sin as slaves of God. There are also other issues with the double predestination arguments such as them being deterministic and fatalistic. I think one of the best verses that strikes a perfect balance between human responsibility and God's sovereignty is Philippians 2:12-13 - both verses should always be quoted together because they both state human responsibility and God's sovereignty or rather control.

      Originally posted by atpollard View Post
      He has required what people cannot provide.
      Right, to reject the necessity of Regeneration is to reject a large portion of John 3 when Jesus alluded to Ezekiel 36:25-27 in His conversation with Nicodemus earlier in the chapter. The Law demonstrates to us that we have fallen short, and concerning salvation all Glory belongs to God alone. Anything less waters down God's holiness, and/or attempts to merit God's grace. In short, I would agree with you or their statement as it is, God has required what people cannot provide as salvation is strictly monergistic, why else would man need Jesus Christ if they themselves could provide what is required by the Law or if righteousness could be found within themselves? I would think if anyone rejects man's sinful nature they would fall within the heresy of Pelagianism. If this be the case perhaps it might help out to research some of the classical Augustine vs Pelagian debates/arguments.

      If you would like to read more: Advanced Search -Christforums{%22keywords%22%3A%22double+predestination%22%2C%2 2title_only%22%3A1%2C%22sort%22%3A{%22relevance%22 %3A%22desc%22}%2C%22view%22%3A%22%22%2C%22exclude_ type%22%3A[%22vBForum_PrivateMessage%22]}&btnSubmit=&humanverify[input]=&humanverify[hash]=&humanverify[input]=&humanverify[hash]="]Double predestination[/URL]

      God bless,
      William
      Comment>

      • #4
        Originally posted by atpollard View Post
        I agree with respect to John 3:16.
        So how do we side step the obvious accusation that God is responsible for both the faith of the saved and the damnation of the lost?
        He has required what people cannot provide.
        Have you ever met an Atheist who wants to be saved? If he does want to be saved, why doesn't he just choose Christ? Who is stopping him from believing what he wants to believe? So, they have no complaint.

        I respect the traditional doctrine of Hell, but I don't believe in eternal torment. I'm an annihilationist. The dead and gone don't complain. If someone is lost because God didn't drag him kicking and screaming into Heaven, he has nothing to complain about, either now or later.
        Comment>

        • #5
          Let me try to take baby steps here.
          Frankly, I was never good at the theological shorthand (although I finally memorized the difference between Calvinism ans Arminianism).

          For me, theological truth is found from the confluence of three sources of information:
          1. Scripture - the Bible has proven far more reliable than not at 'telling it like it is'. That carries weight with me.
          2. Logic - sorry, but my innate wiring requires things to make sense. While God plays by what might be described as 'Canadian Football' Rules (i.e. They are clearly His rules and not the ones that I was taught growing up in the world), God's rules have a consistent internal logic to them. God may not be like us, but he is not a nutcase.
          3. Personal Experience - You don't switch from being a violent gang-member and an athiest to a 'bondi' like surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, 35 years of reading and studying the Bible, and eventually trying to pass it on to other men whose background is as messed up as mine was ... unless God shows up to teach you the reality of one or two theological truths.

          So for 35 years, I have found Truth (with a big 'T') where Scripture, Logic and Experience all agree.

          Preamble over, back on topic:
          To believe that people are no damn good, that God can and does reach down into some very dark pits and choose/elect/save those whom he chooses to save for reasons known only to God ... is supported by Scripture, makes sense based on the character of God and agrees with the empirical evidence from my life. So far, so good.

          Now we move from practical experience into the land of 'what if'.
          Can anyone be saved without God's irresistible call?
          Is there any ability in men to even recognize their need for God apart from his special grace that drew me to him?
          Arminians would say 'yes'.
          As far as my limited understanding goes, the Reformed/Calvinist answer is 'no'.

          So am I somewhat on track up to this point.
          It seems a good point to stop me if I have already jumped the tracks. ;)
          Comment>

          • #6
            William:
            I read the links on Double Predestination.
            Yeah, that's the direction that I was heading.

            Has God required a faith from the lost (to obtain salvation) that they are incapable of providing ... it just isn't in them (any more than it was in the saved before God placed it there).

            How can this be reconciled with God's desire that none should be lost?
            Comment>

            • #7
              Originally posted by atpollard View Post
              Can anyone be saved without God's irresistible call?
              Is there any ability in men to even recognize their need for God apart from his special grace that drew me to him?
              Arminians would say 'yes'.
              Even Arminians believe that God at least has to meet us halfway.
              Comment>

              • #8
                Originally posted by atpollard View Post
                Has God required a faith from the lost (to obtain salvation) that they are incapable of providing ... it just isn't in them (any more than it was in the saved before God placed it there).

                How can this be reconciled with God's desire that none should be lost?
                Hi atpollard,

                First I would like to begin by suggesting an article to read, a brief short article, but one that is essential to Reformed soteriology: What does "Rebirth", "Born Again", "Born from Above" or "Regeneration" Mean?

                And in answering your question which appears to allude to 1 Timothy 2:1-6 like 2 Peter 3:9 which refers to God's will of desire. God is ready to receive all to repentance, so that none may perish. Also, God desires that people should not murder, lie, steal, commit adultery or have other gods before Him (Ex 20), but He doesn’t decree that it should be done so. In 1 Timothy 2:1-6 the Reformed interpretation takes the position that the word “all” in this context means “all kinds of people,” not every single individual. Verse 11 says that salvation has been brought for all people, but considering the context we can safely say that it means “all kinds of people,” since in the previous verses he was talking about kinds of people (men, women, slaves, etc..). We can reasonably say that what Paul is saying through “all people” is “all kinds of people,” (as we understand that in our individualistic society) just as those kinds whom he mentioned in the passing verses. Further, verse 14 makes it clear that God has redeemed “us” and that Jesus has purified for Himself a people, not all people, but a people.

                Some also attempt to explain these passages through 3 different aspects of God's will: The first aspect is known as God’s decretive, sovereign, or hidden will. The second His preceptive or revealed will. The third aspect of God’s will that we see in the Bible is God’s permissive or perfect will. So how can we reconcile God's desire that none should be lost? Either God is powerless and cannot accomplish what he wills (Ephesians 1:11; Job 42:2), or another facet of God’s will describes God’s attitude and defines what is pleasing to Him. For example, while it is clear that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, it is also clear that He wills or decrees their death. This expression of God’s will is revealed in the many verses of Scripture which indicate what God does and does not take pleasure in. For example, in 1 Timothy 2:4 we see that God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” yet we know that God’s sovereign will is that “no one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:44).

                God bless,
                William
                Comment>

                • #9
                  Originally posted by Cornelius View Post

                  Even Arminians believe that God at least has to meet us halfway.
                  ... but can we take even a singe step without God?
                  If not, then are the lost 'lost' because God withheld the 'saving grace' that he used to specifically draw the 'elect'?

                  People will ask the hard questions and I want to have at least thought about the answers. ;)
                  Comment>

                  • #10
                    Originally posted by atpollard View Post
                    ... but can we take even a singe step without God?
                    If not, then are the lost 'lost' because God withheld the 'saving grace' that he used to specifically draw the 'elect'?
                    The natural man is spiritually dead. We aren't talking about Zombies here, but we are talking about man's ability to do something for himself in a state where he is dead in sin and trespasses. Man is not lost, he is spiritually dead. To say man is lost more closely aligns with Pelagianism where one argues that man is basically good, denying man's sin nature while claiming he just needs a bit of guidance or a good teacher.

                    Dead is dead. Unless regenerated there is no hope. No hope in himself or anywhere else, save Jesus Christ. But at the same time, man cannot blame anyone other than himself or deny responsibility for his own sins.

                    Originally posted by atpollard View Post
                    People will ask the hard questions and I want to have at least thought about the answers.
                    I can appreciate what you are doing. Getting into debates and articulating through your thoughts by posing tough questions will sharpen the edge of your sword - Proverbs 27:17.

                    God bless,
                    William
                    Comment>

                    • #11
                      Hi William,

                      To some extent, I am playing devil's advocate.

                      Personally, I have wrestled with this and been forced to conclude that God really does save whom he chooses to save, and God really did create some (perhaps even many) people destined for destruction. That is a hard pill to swallow. Let's at least be honest, it rubs against the fur of what I know of the character of God based on how he treated me. God has been good to me; better than I deserved. It is hard to imagine him creating people to be destroyed.

                      Yet, if I am honest, then I must admit that God has the right to save whomever he might choose to save for whatever reason it might please him to save them. That right goes with being God, the Creator. The flip side of that is that I must reluctantly conclude that God is obligated to save no one.
                      Last edited by atpollard; 12-30-2015, 07:50 PM.
                      Comment>

                      • #12
                        Originally posted by atpollard View Post
                        Hi William,

                        To some extent, I am playing devil's advocate.

                        Personally, I have wrestled with this and been forced to conclude that God really does save whom he chooses to save, and God really did create some (perhaps even many) people destined for destruction. That is a hard pill to swallow. Let's at least be honest, it rubs against the fur of what I know of the character of God based on how he treated me. God has been good to me; better than I deserved. It is hard to imagine him creating people to be destroyed.

                        Yet, if I am honest, then I must admit that God has the right to save whomever he might choose to save for whatever reason it might please him to save them. That right goes with being God, the Creator. The flip side of that is that I must reluctantly conclude that God is obligated to save no one.

                        Hey Atpollard!

                        I know this post is a bit older, but I wanted to throw my two cents in, if I may. When I first began learning about Reformed Theology (especially election), I thought it was heresy. I quite literally believed the Calvinists and everyone who was reformed was out to distort the Word of God and corrupt the church! ;)

                        But I remembered something I promised myself when I first was saved in 2010. I knew I grew up with bad theology, so I promised myself to always approach the Word of God with fresh eyes, as if I hadn't read it before, and take it for what it says. There are many verses to back up election, one of my personal favorites being Ephesians 1:3-5 which says "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,"

                        It's hard to go against things we've been taught in the past, but God's Word usurps our gut instincts. Really, when you think about it, you can look at it this way. Let's say you're in a car accident and someone hits you from behind. That person is 100% guilty. Even though there was clear damage done to the car, you forgive them and let them go on their way. They leave and someone else ends up hitting you again. You end up not letting this person go.

                        Both people were guilty. Both people deserved to be "punished" (or at least, held responsible for what they did to your car)...but you chose to forgive one and not forgive the other. It's not unfair. One received mercy. One didn't.

                        It's hard to explain in those terms, because we're human (and unlike God, our hearts always have hidden motives and intentions), but at the end of the day, every human being is guilty of sin. From someone who lied once in their live to a serial killer, we are all guilty. God, in mercy and grace, chooses some to save so that they may display His glory. We don't know who is chosen, so we display Christ to all, but some will come to Him and some won't.

                        And yes, God is obligated to save no one. In love, He chooses to save some, though. :)
                        Comment>

                        • #13
                          Originally posted by ChristinaChanel View Post
                          I knew I grew up with bad theology, so I promised myself to always approach the Word of God with fresh eyes, as if I hadn't read it before, and take it for what it says.
                          Hello Christina,

                          Your post is refreshing. I am often saddened by the reluctance people demonstrate when approached with sound doctrine. I am not suggesting that I am always right or that I am a good teacher, but when I share the gospel I expect another to follow the teachings of Scripture: Acts 17:11 - "Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so".

                          All I expect one to do is to examine whether the things being conveyed are true. By my observation, I notice many refuse to say, "I don't know" or "I will have to refrain from judgment until I research this or that". A lot of people tend to dig their heels in when approached with something contradictory to what they believe. Instead of viewing a doctrine with fresh eyes they tend to oppose it until totally convinced otherwise. As you probably have found out, this puts a tremendous drain on the person attempting to share the true Gospel. While after it is said and done and another is corrected, we have to wonder about the tole it had on the person sharing the truth, the others witnessing the debate or argument, and just why we as Christians are not more "edit-able" or teachable concerning the Scriptures.

                          Anyways, just thought to share my enjoyment as I read your post. Soli Deo Gloria!

                          God bless,
                          William
                          Comment>

                          • #14
                            Hello William,

                            You know, I've encountered much of the same thing, but what helps me is understand that God makes us all differently. Even before I was saved, I was pretty open to new ideas and ways of thought, so I guess you could say that carried over (somewhat) when God regenerated my heart. Even so, for me at least, it really just came from realizing that I could potentially be wrong!

                            Not too long ago, my niece asked me a question about demonic activity. I made the mistake of automatically answering her without researching it. I thought I knew the answer, but after seeking the real answer in God's Word, I realized I was wrong and had to go back and apologize to her. Though, that's a bit off topic, so I'll stray away from that for now.

                            Oh, and another good suggestion for you, Atpollard, would be to look up a Francis Chan sermon where he speaks about the time he witnessed (no pun intended) to Jehovah Witnesses. He's told the story a few times, so I'm not sure at the moment where to find the full sermon, but basically he talks about his experience with some Jehovah Witnesses that knocked on his door. He questioned them and asked them, if they were to look at their "Bible" objectively, could they come to the conclusion that Jesus is one of the angels (it escapes me which one now, but I believe they think He is Michael). We know they are wrong, but they whole heatedly believe they are right.

                            Then he says he began to question his own beliefs. Which ones were TRULY based on the Word of God and which ones had he believed were true just because he heard it from some pastor years ago? That sermon really helped me understand that many of the things I once thought could very well be incorrect, so everything needed to be proved by the Word of God first. :)
                            Comment>

                            • #15
                              Originally posted by ChristinaChanel View Post
                              You know, I've encountered much of the same thing, but what helps me is understand that God makes us all differently. Even before I was saved, I was pretty open to new ideas and ways of thought, so I guess you could say that carried over (somewhat) when God regenerated my heart. Even so, for me at least, it really just came from realizing that I could potentially be wrong!

                              Not too long ago, my niece asked me a question about demonic activity. I made the mistake of automatically answering her without researching it. I thought I knew the answer, but after seeking the real answer in God's Word, I realized I was wrong and had to go back and apologize to her. Though, that's a bit off topic, so I'll stray away from that for now.
                              Yes, I think our life experiences and resulting prejudices contribute to how we react or respond to Scripture. It is the role of the Holy Spirit to overcome our objections. And I believe it is crucial for a Christian to understand our life's experiences are a poor Judge when it comes to Scripture: Proverbs 3:5.

                              Thought you Christina, or anyone else reading this thread may enjoy this post I compiled: What does "Rebirth", "Born Again", "Born from Above" or "Regeneration" Mean?

                              Because, sometimes we speak theological terms presuming everyone understands what they mean.

                              God bless,
                              William
                              Comment>
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