Can Dead Men Choose Christ?
Question: Since I have a free will, don’t I decide if I am going to become a Christian rather than being elected by God? Isn’t election an infringement on my free will?
Answer: Yes and no. On the one hand we are all free moral agents in that everyday when we wake up we make hundreds of choices. We choose to answer the alarm clock, to brush our teeth, to go to work, to play golf (I had to get that in there), etc. Everyday, I decide if I am going to gossip, flirt, tell dirty jokes, or drink myself into a stupor. On the other hand, the question of free will is a different matter. The essence of life’s most critical question is whether or not I am going to choose to believe the Gospel and be saved. Will I put my trust in Christ and in Christ alone for my salvation? Will I make THAT decision? This is where we must square off with the clear teaching of scripture.
We are certainly commanded in a variety of places throughout the word to make a choice about becoming a believer. But in many other parts of scripture we are clearly taught that the depravity of the human heart is such that we cannot make such a choice. Thus we are faced with a great dilemma. Consider this – man’s heart is depraved, spiritually devoid of any ability to make the very choice God commands us to make if we are to be saved. What kind of a God would He be if He demanded of us the impossible in order to be saved? Let me make a few points to help shape this discussion.
1. Man, like the angels, was created with a free will – free to do good, and free to do evil.
We call this the “Covenant of Works.” God said in essence to Adam and Eve, “Do this and live and do this and die.” God promised them that if they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (thus becoming humanists) they would die. But they lived for several hundred more years. So either God changed His mind or He meant another kind of death. You see, we die physically because we are dead spiritually. The next time you are in the shower check and see if you have a belly button. If you do, you are a part of the human race and as such you are in the loins of Adam. Romans 5 makes it clear that in Adam we have all died and in Christ we are all (that is the elect) made alive. This means we are BORN SPIRITUALLY DEAD. And no matter how much you command a dead body to respond it cannot since it is by nature dead. As humans we are in the loins of Adam and thus we are born spiritually dead.
Romans 5:12-19 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned– for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come. But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
(There are two races, the human race where Adam is the federal head, and the race of the elect where Christ is the federal head. Now, let’s not be confused. I will address this passage in a future blog).
2. When Adam fell, like the fallen angels, he lost the ability to choose salvation since he died in his trespasses.
There is no greater picture of this than the vision God gave to the prophet Ezekiel in the valley of the dry bones.
EZE 37:1-14 The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.'” So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.'” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet–a vast army. Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.'”
You will notice that the prophet was commanded to preach to dead bones. By nature these bones could not respond to that preaching. They were scattered and dead. There was no INNATE ability to respond. A dead corpse cannot respond unless the nature is changed, unless a miracle is worked from an external force to change the nature of death into one of life. It was only when the “breath entered them” (that is, the Holy Spirit) that the ability of the bones to respond and come together was given.
3. Thus, man’s will is in bondage, that is, free only in one direction, to do works that are insufficient for salvation.
ISA 64:6 All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
Notice it is all of us who are unclean, filthy, and shriveled up.
ROM 3:10-12 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
Notice how Paul emphasizes his point by saying over and over that there is no one who is righteous.
1CO 2:14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.
The man without the Spirit is another way of saying the unsaved. Notice it does not say that the unsaved WIILL not respond. It says that he CANNOT respond.
2CO 1:9 Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.
In Adam we have been sentenced to death. And if we rely on ourselves, that is, our so called free will, we would remain dead.
4. Therefore, the nature must be changed supernaturally, and that is the work of the Holy Spirit called regeneration.
JER 13:23 Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.
The Ethiopian is by NATURE black. No matter how much he is commanded to be white he cannot become white. The leopard is by nature spotted. IT cannot become a tiger. So we who are by nature evil cannot become holy. But, just as God can make a black man white or a leopard a tiger if He chose to do so, He can also take what is evil (my heart) and bring it to life.
JOH 3:3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
This is precisely what Jesus meant when He said to Nicodemous (John 3:3) “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” Sadly, for generations of Arminian dominance the American church has missed the meaning of these words. We have been taught that being born again is something WE DO. But it is not. This is an aorist tense, passive voice, imperative mood verb. Aorist means that it is a point action, a one-time event, once and for all, and never to be repeated again. It is passive meaning it is something that happens TO us and not BECAUSE of us. That is, there is an eternal force that MAKES us born again. It is imperative meaning we are commanded to become born again. To be “born again” means that the Holy Spirit (the external force) enters the human heart (the dry bones) and changes its nature so that it CAN respond to the Gospel. This is the miracle of regeneration. God brings a dead body (a deprave human heart) to life.
5. Only after one comes to faith in Christ do they truly possess a free will, that is, only then do their “works” become pleasing to God.
JOH 5:21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.
ROM 5:12-17 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned– for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come. But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many (defined above as “all”) died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many (defined below as “those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift…”)! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
So in summary this means that in order for us to CHOOSE Jesus our wills, which are as Luther said in “bondage,” must be regenerated by the Holy Spirit so that we might have the ability to respond to the Gospel. If that miracle of regeneration does not happen, NO ONE would EVER be saved. This is why we say that salvation is ALL of grace.
Written by: Charles F. Betters