Recently, several folks at PRBC have asked questions regarding the place of the human will in God’s plan of salvation. Good questions, all. So I’ve decided to sit down and try and write out (very briefly) what I believe the Bible teaches about our wills. To begin, let me issue two disclaimers…
1. This question is not one on which Christians should fight or divide. Wonderful, godly believers may be found on both sides of the issue. The gospel is always about Jesus first! Proper understanding of these things will, however, enrich our faith.
2. Though I will argue below that mankind does not possess a totally free will, I am not arguing that one need not choose Jesus. The necessity for a decision of faith is one of the clearest teachings of the Bible. The question I am trying to answer is not whether we must believe, but why we believe.
Got it? OK then. What does the Bible say about the role mankind’s will in God’s plan of salvation? All italics are mine.
Romans 9.16—Salvation “does not depend on the man who wills, or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” John 6.44.—“No one may come to me unless the Father who sent me draws Him.” James 1.18—“In the exercise of His [God’s] will, He brought us forth by the word of truth.” John 1.12-13—As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God…who were born, not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
That seems pretty clear doesn’t it? Salvation is not according to man’s will, but God’s. So what does the Bible teach about man’s will? Well, let me give you a few more verses. Ephesians 2.1--“You were dead in your trespasses and sins.” Dead—incapable of doing anything spiritually worthwhile. Romans 5.6—“We were…helpless.” That doesn’t sound like somebody who has the inate ability to choose God does it? 2 Timothy 2.26—we were “held captive by [the devil] to do his will. “Dead”… "helpless”… "captive.” That doesn’t sound like a group of folks who have the innate ability to come to God does it? It sounds like a group of people who are incapable and even unwilling to come to God! After all, it is our sins that make us dead (Ephesians 2.1)! So if God left the decision of salvation up to the free will of man, no one would be saved because no one would ever choose Jesus! Yet the Bible makes it clear that we must choose Jesus.
So how in the world can a helpless, spiritually dead person ever choose Jesus and enter the kingdom of God? Jesus answers in John 3—“You must be born again”! Listen to John 3.3—“unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” And how do we enter the kingdom of God? John 3.16—by “believ[ing] in Him [Jesus].” Do you follow the logic there? We enter God’s kingdom by choosing to believe in Jesus (3.16). But in order to see, choose, and enter, we must have been born again (3.3). It is only when we have been born again—or “made alive” (Ephesians 2.4)—that we are given the gift of faith (Ephesians 2.8)! It is only when we have been born again that our wills are made free and we are able to choose to “believe in Him”! So salvation is not a mere human decision. Salvation is a supernatural work of God!
And who was ever born of his own will? No one (John 1.13)! So it is true that salvation really “does not depend on the man who wills…but on God who has mercy” (Romans 9.16). And why did God design it this way? “So that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2.9)—unless they are boasting about Jesus! And that is the goal of the gospel—not that we would congratulate ourselves for a decision well-made…but that we would boast in Jesus for saving us in spite of ourselves!