Thursday, August 25, 2011

I have good news for you!

There is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. (Rom. 3:11)

Some have used this verse, a quotation from the Psalms, to teach that unregenerate men are incapable of exercising saving faith in Jesus. However, when the verse is read in context, it becomes clear, I believe, that this interpretation is incorrect. Consider the structure of Paul’s argument in Romans.

The first section of Paul’s argument is from 1:18 to 3:20 and opens with these words: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness and ungodliness of men.” In this section, Paul begins by setting up God’s standard, claiming that “the doers of the law will be justified” (2:13). He then proceeds to argue that all men, both Jews and Gentiles, have violated God’s law. By the end, Paul has established that “by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified” (3:20). It is here that Psalm 14:1-3 and Psalm 53:2-3 are quoted; they are quoted as evidence for Paul’s assertion that all men have violated God’s law. They are not quoted as evidence that all men are incapable of faith.

The second section of Paul’s argument is from 3:21 to 8:39 and opens with these words: “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed…even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe” (3:21-22). In this section, Paul argues that “a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law” (3:28). 

Now for some reason, Paul seems to think that this is a big deal.  He seems to consider it very significant that God has made justification available through faith and not through works. He speaks as if this is somehow gospel, or "good news," for sinful men. But if unregenerate men are just as incapable of exercising faith in Christ as they are of keeping God’s law, how is 3:21-22 good news? It is like calling out to a man who has fallen down into a deep pit and saying, “Listen, chap, I know you can’t jump out of this hole, but I have good news for you! If you simply fly, you can escape!”  That is not good news.
Let us be very clear: if we were left to ourselves, none of us would be saved. But we have not been left to ourselves. “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). We did not seek God, but God was seeking us. Jesus jumped down into the pit and is offering to lift us out. Now that is good news!


Keith said...

I remember you presenting this argument to me when I was in CA. I was baffled at why you assume that because the gospel is good news for sinners, it must be accessible (via faith) to sinners apart from regeneration. No such thing can be deduced from the text; you read it in because you assume that since men are commanded to believe the gospel, they must be able to accept it. It is the classic "ought implies can" assumption that has no scriptural basis, and forms the basis for every Arminian cry of "Injustice!" toward a sovereign redeemer.

The real question, the one I have never heard you answer, is this:
If my will is enslaved to sin, such that sin and NOT God is what I desire, why would I ever desire to exercise faith in one who would save me from my sin?

The moment I realized the gravity of my depravity and realized there was nothing in me that would ever desire Christ apart from some divine act, it all made sense. Of course, that divine act is regeneration.

Your analogy of a man in a pit really isn't helpful because it doesn't address the will properly. Does the man in the pit *want* to leave the pit? You seem to think he does. But scripture doesn't teach that men want to be saved and can't be saved, it teaches that men don't want be saved. Some, that God has chosen, will be saved because God takes out their heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh such that they will repent and believe the gospel.

Men are not enslaved to sin despite their wills, they are enslaved to sin because of their wills. If God sent men to Hell in the former case, He would be unjust, just as it would be unjust to send a man to Hell for not climbing out of the pit he *wanted* to climb out of. But men love the pit and nothing will change that love outside of an act of God. That is total depravity. And that is why regeneration precedes faith. To argue that regeneration precedes faith necessarily denies total depravity and necessarily affirms that men have some desire for Christ inside them. Did they desire Christ because they were more intelligent than the unbeliever? More wise? More moral? More righteous? Please tell me. Regardless, it is something to boast in.

Moreover, if men choose God before He chooses them, God is no longer the sole author of salvation. Yet Hebrews calls God the author and finisher of our faith. Not a co-author. The author. Then Arminian runs up and says, "No! No! I let God author my salvation! I asked him to write that 'book'! I 'commissioned' him to do that work in my life!" So much for soli deo gloria!

Keith said...

In the second to last paragraph I wrote: To argue that regeneration precedes faith necessarily denies total depravity and necessarily affirms that men have some desire for Christ inside them.

I meant to write "To argue that faith precedes regeneration..."

Murray Vasser said...

Hi Keith,

"If my will is enslaved to sin, such that sin and NOT God is what I desire, why would I ever desire to exercise faith in one who would save me from my sin?"

In Acts 16:31 the Philippian jailor asked Paul, "What must I do to be saved?" Evidently, he desired to be saved. How do you explain this? Was he regenerate?

Keith said...

Murray, everyone wants to be saved in some sense. Not everyone wants to be saved by Christ.

Joel Osteen has the biggest church in America. I am sure that everyone in his church wants to be "saved". But do they want to be saved by Christ's gospel or by Joel Osteen's gospel?

If the jailer desired to be saved by Christ then yes obviously he was regenerated. Or would you like to explain to me where that little spark of goodness came from within his soul that inclined him to choose to be saved from that which he supposedly loves (sin)?

Murray Vasser said...

So are you conceding that unregenerate people may desire salvation from sin, they just will not desire salvation by Christ from sin?

Keith said...


Keith said...

What do you mean "conceding"? Is there any doubt that Muslims and Catholics and Mormons believe in sin and want to be saved from it in some way?

Murray Vasser said...

Well, you said yourself, "If my will is enslaved to sin, such that sin and NOT God is what I desire, why would I ever desire to exercise faith in one who would save me from my sin?"

By referencing the Philippian jailor, I was trying to prove the point that unregenerate people do indeed desire to be saved from sin. So you seem to agree with me now. You say that men can desire salvation from sin, but you have modified your view to say that, though men can desire salvation from sin, they can't desire to be saved from their sin by Jesus. Am I representing your view correctly?

Keith said...

Murray, not only are you not representing my view correctly but I am amazed that you think you might be representing my view correctly. In my original question, when I said "the one", I was referring to Jesus Christ. Why would you think I was talking about anyone else?

The point of my question is to get you to admit the latent Pelagianism of your position. Men choose according to their nature. Man's nature is either completely inclined evil, all the time and without fail, or it isn't. If it is NOT, meaning that there is some inclination toward believing the gospel apart from any regenerative work of God, then please explain to me why Paul says that man has absolutely no room to boast in his salvation.