by Hadley Robinson
The major tangle in discussing this issue is that it is rarely discussed from solely a Biblical perspective. There are many a priori positions taken which become a part of the mix and are not recognized. Specifically, the widespread and popular worldview known as religious humanism (RH).
Renaissance humanists believed that the liberal arts (art, music, grammar, rhetoric, oratory, history, poetry, using classical texts, and the studies of all of the above) should be practiced at all levels of "richness". They approve of self, human worth, and individual dignity. They hold the belief that everything in life has a determinate nature but man's privilege is to be able to choose his own nature. – Wikipedia
The Wikipedia site above also has the quote below from Erasmus, an early 15th century scholar who had important influence on the Reformation, including the translation of the Bible into English:
If people who live agreeably are Epicureans, none are more truly Epicurean than the righteous and godly.
Erasmus was a humanist and, naturally, was a Semi-Pelagian. God has not called us, the redeemed, to suffer as a result of our obedience to Christ – He has called us to be happy and enjoy the good things of life. Does this sound familiar? We can observe this theme throughout the so-called gospels presented by the contemporary mass-marketers of what they think is the Christian faith. Humanists find limitations of Man's will, such as the effects of sin, revolting. This is true to this day. The humanist wrongly believes that we choose our own way. This is the incipient heresy in humanism and those who teach and believe it: Man is not intractably and completely affected by the Fall. There remains this speck of good which seeks after God. But the Scriptures do not teach this.
Overall, RH is not a Biblical worldview even though it may contain Biblical elements. It is apparent, as well, that Semi-Pelagian views are also incorporated in this worldview It is widely popular, even among the heathen, and it is thoroughly entrenched in American Protestantism. There is not a church in the United States where RH does not have strong influence. Similarly, the Prophets in Israel saw the influence of Baal and Molech among His people. It was not an unnatural thing in the eyes of the people for Jeroboam to make two golden calves, call them "The LORD", and set up their temple worship.
Just as Elijah had to debate the devoted followers of Baal at Carmel, so must we debate the false brothers whose first god is Man and doctrine humanism. We find RH in the church usually dressed up in Christian symbols and language which sometimes makes it hard to recognize. The theologian Francis Schaeffer sounded the warning many years ago but it has largely gone unheeded.
We do not have Biblical Christians debating "free will" in the Church but we have false and compromised Christians advocating humanism. It is not some innocent in-house debate but it is a confrontation with the promoters of falsehood that are right in among us. Are they Christians? Some are. But in the end the fruit of their teaching is a compromised gospel that fills the churches with false brothers. In particular, those whose first god is themselves and have not repented of their sin. They, like Erasmus, believe that God wants them to be happy rather than to be obedient.
If one filters through the founding documents of our nation, one can see the influence of RH everywhere, especially in such documents as the Declaration of Independence. For example, "All men are created equal..." No, they are not equal from a Christian worldview. Some are destined to be kings (e.g. Hazael 2Ki. 8:12-14), some Prophets, and some are destined to destruction as Pharaoh (Rom. 9). The fruit of this view is that everyone is largely the same. We see this in the elevation of women to offices in the Church that should belong exclusively to a man - the glory of the woman (1Cor. 11:7).
Consequently, we are forced to endure women as leaders and the divorced and immoral as elders and bishops. This is to say nothing of large swaths of the church that elect unrepentant homosexuals to high office, including the office of bishop.
There is also the cult of those who relish the breaking down of social barrier and custom. In this manner, the Muslims are largely correct: We are the Great Satan as we promote sexual perversion and abortion as some caricature of "freedom" – about all that is left of anything we have to offer the world. Such "freedom" is viewed among many abroad as mere social anarchy and rebellion.
The effects of RH on American evangelicalism are significant.
When the topic becomes the "free will" of man, it is often assumed that all men want to do "good" (if they receive some help) and will choose "the good" if they are able – implicit assumptions that are not from the Bible but from RH. So then, when a Biblical Christian comes along and states the sound doctrine that all men are lost and do not seek after God, even a little, it all sounds unfair and how could God be unfair? (Or, how could those religious zealots who wrote in the Bible be correct about the true nature of God?)
But let's look at what they Bible says about the man who has not been regenerated by the Holy Spirit.
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. - Ephesians 2:1-3 (see also Col. 2:13; Rom. 3:10-12; Ezek. 16; 37)
The Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin. - Galatians 3:22
What is it to be "dead?" Sort-of-dead? No, it means dead – without life – any life. Ezekiel describes Israel as fallen bones in the desert (Ez. 37). How can they save themselves in any way? Can the abandoned infant wallowing in its blood on the side of the road save itself (Ez. 16)? The natural man happily goes along with what his nature freely dictates: Sin galore. He loves what he is. He does not want to seek after or please God as that would merely frustrate his plans. Why should he serve or obey some God? In this way, he freely serves his sinful nature with his whole heart.
The natural man is not autonomous. He cannot sit down and think clearly about whether to sin or not to sin, as the option in his nature to not sin does not exist. It is much like Max, my dog: No matter what I do, he will always like to eat cheese. If he did not, it would be unnatural for him as a dog. Max is not forced to like cheese, he simply likes it at all times. If he could think, it would be ridiculous for him to ponder, "I don't like cheese" when he, in fact, loves it.
So is the unconverted man. He freely sins with his whole heart. But does the Creator make the man sin? Not at all. Instead we must recognize, as R. C. Sproul puts it, "God works out His sovereignty – His supreme freedom – in, by, and through the real choices of His creatures, but in such a way that His creatures are not forced to act." In other words, God knows perfectly how men without conversion – without grace – will act. Does God have more than just pre-knowledge of how men will act? Absolutely – He predestines them, as well.
He predestined how the wicked Pharaoh of Egypt would act towards Moses and the Hebrews. The life of this leader was filled with rebellion against the obvious, so deep was the fatal wound of sin in his heart. When we read of it, we wonder: How could he go on and resist after each miracle? It is frightening in one sense in that we are most blessed ourselves to not be allowed to reap the full measure of our own sinful nature.
Is God unfair? Again the answer is "No" as He, through Christ and His Church, shows mercy and grace to a few in this world irrespective of any goodness they might have done, their position in the world, or their wealth.
The question is not does man have "free will" but is he saved? The saved man has real choices he must make, just as Joseph of Egypt had a real choice whether to sleep with his master's wife. He made the right and godly choice and God knew He would make such a good choice. Was Joseph a robot? Again, "No". He exercised a truly free will and made a real choice but God was sovereign at all times. It is, as Sproul and others note, a mystery.
Even if we are convinced that the natural man acts freely according to his nature, we, as Adam's offspring, are still repulsed by the concept of grace. How is it that God, then, chooses to effectively save some but not all? This is the greater mystery. Can we accuse God for this reason? How is it possible to say that He is anything but fair, truthful, and gracious all the while? Grace means something received that is not deserved and is not the conversion of a man utterly undeserved? Josef Stalin did not receive grace – should we complain? Would it have not been grace for him to have been killed as a nursing infant? No doubt, many have been so removed from the world before they could hypnotize the masses – as has recently happened here.
Looking at the terrible mess men have made of the earth by exercising their natural habits, the case can be made that God would be just and right to condemn the entire mess and make it like it had never existed while taking the spirits of deceased men and chain them forever to a place of torment. As Creator, is this not His prerogative? The natural man does not need the Judge to condemn him – he condemns himself. As various Christians, including C. S. Lewis, have written the natural man would not want to be in God's presence forever even if he had the choice. It is an odious and repulsive thought to the unconverted sinner.
While we look at the natural man and see him tragically bound, he sees himself in no such way. On the other hand, he treasures and relishes his freedom to be the sinful creature he is in all its infamy.
Only the Humanist can argue that Christians teach some notion of the bondage of the human will and "...how utterly unfair it is and if that is the God of the Bible, away with Him and the Christian." This type of thinking is nothing new and was present among the Athenians when Paul gave his address on Mars Hill (Acts 17).
Again, as Sproul comments, human wills do actually function, but they are subject to the real supreme authority of God. Therefore, they are, at best, secondary causal agents.
We see men acting as secondary causal agents throughout Scripture. It is most dramatically shown in the high priest's statements and actions during Jesus last days:
Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, "You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish." He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. So from that day on they plotted to take his life. - John 11:49-53
It is not just limited to Bible times. God's Hand works inexorably; His plans are irrevocable even today. We see it in the rise of tyrants, in the clamor of the masses when they elevate one or another to supreme power, in the slaughter of the innocent in the womb. Men think they can abandon the wives of their youth without consequence but the payment of some money. Worship of the false god of humanism leads down a slippery road into a bottomless pit – there is no climbing out.
When King Josiah was told by the Prophetess Huldah that his righteousness, though exceeded by no other, could not save Jerusalem from destruction, did he change how he ruled? Was his only comfort that he would not see it in his day? Probably. Huldah's words were tough. Not only would Jerusalem be destroyed but Josiah's own descendants would be either killed or hauled off to Babylon and made into eunuchs.
Likewise, our comfort today might only be that our presence here might be all that stands between our nation and a holocaust of some kind. There is a famine of the Word of God in the U. S. and the lights are getting dimmer.
Unlike the unsaved man, we are not slaves to sin – we have real choices. Unlike us, God sees the entire past and future as one and the same. He is the creator of time and is above it. We use terms like "predestination" and "election" because the timeline is real to us and such constructions help us navigate through life.