Free Grace or Free Will
John Hendryx Responds to Visitor Struggling with Free Will Vs. Free Grace
visitor: I am struggling with the Calvinism vs. Free Will debate. Why, when one “flees to Christ” as you say is there not the possibility of NOT fleeing to Christ. Is there not a choice involved here? Fleeing to Christ is not a work is it? Turning to Christ is not a work is it? Why is choosing to believe in Christ considered a work by so many Calvinists? When I believed in Christ I gave Him ALL the glory as I then understood that NOTHING I can do would satisfy God. ONLY what Christ did saves me! But I must choose to believe, trust, follow, Flee to Him! Where am I going wrong?
response: Thanks for writing with your excellent question. This hits directly at the crux of the matter. Salvation by grace alone in Christ alone was the very issue of the Reformation that Martin Luther battled the most with Erasmus and the Roman Catholic Church in the Sixteenth Century.
What is this issue of the bondage of the will all about? It points to what the Bible says is the real condition of the natural man. If we set aside church traditions for a moment go through what the Bible asserts about fallen man it may be surprising to you. First we need to establish whether or not man has a free will, according to Scripture. But how do we do this?
The Text not only says that the natural man is a sinner, but that he does not have the Spirit of God. He is not born of the Spirit. Agreed? Jesus says, Flesh gives birth to flesh and the Spirit gives birth to spirit (John 3:3,6) and “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail.”” (John 6:63) & Paul says that “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor 2:14). We do not receive things we think are foolish and that we do not understand. The natural man does not have the mind of Christ so even if someone preaches to him until he is blue in the face, he will not respond to the gospel unless God grants belief and repentance (see John 6:65 & 2 Tim 2:25, Eph 2:8). The Bible indeed declares that no one can believe without a preacher but this is not enough by itself …. the seed of the gospel that is cast forth from the preacher must be germinated, so to speak, by the Holy Spirit, if a person is to come to Christ. Paul explains how he knows some were chosen of God. He says, “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” (1 Thess 1:4, 5) This is clear evidence the Spirit is necessary, not optional for a person to be made alive so he may come to Christ..without which man would remain naturally dead to the things of Christ.
The Holy Spirit is critical for salvation, so critical that without Him, no one would ever willingly submit to the humbling terms of the gospel, not one would come to Jesus Christ. Agreed? Or do you believe the Scripture teaches that a man can come to faith apart from the Holy Spirit? All true Christians affirm the necessity of the Holy Spirit. So from this very fact, we have established that man has no free will. Again, what is meant when we say no free will? We are not speaking of someone coercing us from the outside. No. It means that we are in bondage to a corruption of nature, out of which we cannot free ourselves BECAUSE WE DO NOT HAVE THE SPIRIT and hate God by nature (John 3:19). We cannot draw from our own resources to even lift a finger toward our own salvation. Jesus says in the Gospel of John to the Jews that only the Son can set them free, but they are now children of the Devil the father of lies, who lies because it is in his nature. In Romans 6 it reads that natural men are slaves to sin, and elsewhere that that Satan has taken men captive to do his will. If Christ is to set us free then it means we were not free and in bondage.
So it is important to ask, can a person, without the intervention of the Holy Spirit, believe the gospel? Does the natural person have the capacity to understand spiritual things? According to the above passages the answer is clearly no. ‘No one says “Jesus is Lord” apart from the Holy Spirit.’ So the unbeliever is void of the Spirit which is another way of saying that he has no free will. He may make voluntary choices but they are choices of necessity. In other words, he necessarily chooses sin, apart from grace. Nothing he does springs from a heart that loves God. His condition, if left to himself, is hopeless. God must intervene to illumine his mind, open blind eyes, unplug deaf ears, disarm his natural hostility, change our disposition and turn our heart of stone to a heart of flesh.
So if we can agree that a man will not come to Christ apart from the Holy Spirit, then we also agree and have established that the natural man has no free will. God must act if we are to do anything toward our redemption (See John 1:13).
Now that we have established this, lets take the other part of your great question.
>>>>Why, when one “flees to Christ” as you say is there not the possibility of NOT fleeing to Christ. Is there not a choice involved here? Fleeing to Christ is not a work is it? Turning to Christ is not a work is it? Why is choosing to believe in Christ considered a work by so many Calvinists?
Fleeing to Christ only becomes a work when we think we did this apart from God’s grace. If faith is a product of our unregenerate human nature then we could boast like this:
“Thank you Lord I am not like other men who do not have faith. When you granted grace to all men, others did not make use of it, BUT I DID.”
Apart from grace, what makes them to differ from other men then was their native ability to have faith. But the Scripture says the grace of God makes us differ from others, not something we had by nature that our neighbor did not. When we arrive in God’s presence we will not say, “Thank you God for everything, except my faith … I am here because I had the wisdom to believe.” No, we will say thank you Lord for your mercy that I even had the faith to believe. You deserve all the glory as I would have never come on my own.
Even when you think that the assistance of grace depends on your own humility and that it was not grace itself that made you humble then you no longer believe in ‘grace alone’ but that you came to Christ due to your own great humility. You are establishing a religion of grace PLUS your merit or wisdom or virtue, not Jesus alone. But when we recognize our faith in Christ is due to the fact that God has changed our heart so that we may see and understand his beauty and excellence, then we give all glory to God for all our salvation. Can you thank God for your faith? or is this the one thing that you can boast of contributing to the price of your salvation?
If all men have equal grace, as you seem to be suggesting, an important question to ask is why does one man believe the gospel and not another? Is one smarter, or have more natural sensitivity than others to spiritual things? Jesus says, My sheep hear my voice but some “do not believe BECAUSE [they] are not his sheep.” He does not say they are not his sheep because they do not believe (See John 10). So he reveals that the nature of the person determines the choice they will make. An unregenerate man will not exercise faith in a holy God. Jesus says a bad tree does not bear good fruit … but MAKE the tree good and its fruit will be good. …. The seed of the gospel which falls on our soil … Is this soil good by NATURE or by grace? God must first plow up the fallow ground of our hearts. To this Jesus says, “…every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up.” – Matt 15:13. That is why Jeremiah says that he will turn our heart of stone to a heart of flesh THAT we might obey. No one believes or obeys while his heart is still stone. A blind man cannot see unless given new eyes. Shining a light into a blind man’s eyes will not help him see. Nor will people respond to the word of God apart form the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.
The Scripture testifies that, “It is not the man who wills or runs but God who has mercy (Rom 9:16) John 1:13 says it is not the will of man that causes us to believe but the new birth.
If God extends His grace to all men, then why do some reject him? Is it grace that makes men to differ from one another, not some good will God see in us.
Some important verses to contemplate are:
Romans 8:30 which says, “those who were called were justified” According to this verse, I ask you, how many of those God called were justified? The answer to this question is why no one resists God’s call.
And Jesus himself said, “ALL that the Father gives to me WILL come to me…”(John 6:37) Not some, Jesus says, but ALL that God the Father gives the SON will believe on him. We believe that grace is invincible because this is what the Bible teaches … and without which no man would willingly come. When your child runs out in the street and a car is coming, do you wait to see what he will do with his free will, or do you run to scoop him out of danger. Love doesn’t just wring hands and hope but it gets the job done and, in God’s case saves the ones He came for. (See John 6:39). Jesus says he will lose NONE OF ALL THAT THE FATHER HAS GIVEN HIM – John 6:39