Previously we looked at what Calvinist’s believe regarding Total Inability. Here is what I believe.
I am in basic agreement with Calvinists that there is no good work by which a person may earn or merit eternal life from God. Though there is much good that unregenerate people do, none of it is meritorious before God. He recognizes their good work and can even praise them for it, but these works in no way help them earn eternal life.
Humans do not contribute the tiniest bit to the free gift of eternal life. The free gift of eternal life is given completely by God’s grace.
If eternal life is by grace alone, then there is nothing—absolutely nothing!—we can do to earn, keep, or prove God’s free gift of eternal life.
Eternal life is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone.
We are not able to save ourselves or reform ourselves or do anything to produce or secure eternal life for ourselves.
We are able to believe
But our complete inability to contribute to our eternal life is quite different from our inability to receive the free gift of eternal life by faith. Believing in Jesus for eternal life is the polar opposite of trying to gain, keep, or prove eternal life by our own good works. As such, there is no boasting in faith or merit to faith.
If someone freely offered $1 million to a homeless person—or even to another millionaire—it would be ludicrous to say that the recipient of that gift somehow earned the $1 million because they received it with gratitude and joy. Imagine if there was a reword ceremony for this generous gift, and as the giver wrote out the check for $1 million, the receiver said, “I deserve this $1 million because when it was offered to me, I said yes. I earned this money!” The idea is preposterous.
There is no merit or effort of any sort involved in receiving a free gift.
It is not meritorious to receive a free gift
Some might say that there is merit or effort involved in understanding that a free gift is being offered. In the case of the offer of eternal life, some argue that unbelievers are unable to even understand their condition of being unregenerate sinners, or understand their need of eternal life as a free gift from God, and so while the reception of the free gift of eternal life by faith might not be meritorious, the “work” of understanding the need for that free gift is meritorious.
Returning once again to the analogy of the free gift of the $1 million, the Calvinist would say that when the person is offered the $1 million, they either cannot even understand what is being offered, or they deny that they even need it.
In terms of eternal life, before a person can believe in Jesus, they first need to understand that there is a God, that God is righteous, that we are unrighteous, and that God offers His righteousness to those who will believe in Jesus for it. Many people must also understand that Jesus is God incarnate, lived a sinless life, died on the cross, and rose again from the dead. It is these sorts of truths that a Calvinist says an unregenerate person is unable to understand and believe on their own.
And I would agree.But thankfully, God has not left us on our own.
We cannot take the first step
He has sent Jesus Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6).
He has sent the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8). He has given us Scripture, by which we can learn more about God’s ways in history and the revelation of Himself in Jesus Christ. He has given us other believers, who may share the truth of the Gospel with us. He has given us creation, which is a visual testimony of His character and power. He has given us a conscience, wisdom, reason, feelings, and desires, all of which may lead us to the truth. God may even use angels, visions, and dreams to impress upon someone the necessity and importance of believing in Jesus for eternal life.
Based on what the Scripture teaches, it seems that all of the things God has given to humanity are sufficient to persuade and convince a person to believe in Jesus for eternal life. While I may disagree that regeneration precedes faith, I wholeheartedly defend the truth that revelation precedes faith.
People are able to believe because God has revealed Himself to humanity in numerous ways. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God (Rom 10:17). And the Word of God comes, not just through the pages of Scripture, but through the self-revelation of God in all its forms.
God enables people to believe because He has reveals Himself to them. The following discussions of free will, sin, faith, and regeneration will explain this in more detail.
What are your thoughts about total inability? Are people able to believe in Jesus for eternal life? Or must God first regenerate people so that they can believe?If you want to read more about Calvinism, check out other posts in this blog series: Words of Calvinism and the Word of God.
Hi Jeremy, good post! I find that I agree with you and probably have for some time even though I haven’t put it quite that way before. You have put simply what I have wrestled with. I’ve been reading your posts for a few weeks now and going through some older posts and am glad that I have. I’ve noticed that you have wrestled with the idea of questioning a lot of things, and so have I for the simple fact that I don’t want to be blasphemous and to be quite frank with you dread ever the word “heretic!” screamed at me. Kinda like in the old movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers when Donald Sutherlands character the end of the movie points to the guy on the street and makes that awful screaming noise “outing” the last known human! Thanks again and God bless!
Jeremy Myers says
Thanks for reading, William! As you read, feel free to ask questions.
As for the charge of heretic, if you are a pastor or in some sort of leadership position, you probably want to avoid rocking the boat too much. I have much more freedom to think and write now that my paycheck is not dependent upon my theology.
Yeah, I agree it is a gift, I sometimes find myself thinking that I have to work for it, but only because we have to work at most everything in this world, we work for money, and in this world, it is very performance based. I sometimes forget that God does not operate that way.
I have to remind myself that Jesus hung on that cross for me and he took upon himself my sins. I did not earn that, it is a gift from God!
Jeremy Myers says
Yes! The gift of God is what God did for us through Jesus on the cross. Excellent way of putting it.
Tony Vance says
Your summary of ‘total inability’ is spot according to this Arminian (haha). But seriously, I have never understood anyone’s claim of receiving Christ is somehow ‘works’. Great series!
Jeremy Myers says
Thanks, Tony! I admit I have not read hardly any Arminianism theology. So I am not sure what they would say.
Good morning from Tennessee, Jeremy. This line: “We are able to save ourselves or reform ourselves or do anything to produce or secure eternal life for ourselves…” there should be a “not” between the “are” and “able,” right? Thank you for your posts!
Jeremy Myers says
Right! Thanks for catching that. Wow! What a typo.
Thanks for your teaching on Calvinism and the inablility of man. I agree with you wholeheartedly that God has provided everything to mankind in grace, we just have to respond in faith that Jesus offers eternal to all who believe in Him for it, based on who He is and His substitionary death for us. Man can indeed believe through His Word, Romans 10:17.
Jeremy Myers says
Thank you for reading, Lesley. I know that many people encounter Calvinism in their churches and in books they read, and many wonder if it is really what the Bible teaches. I hope this series of posts will help people see that there is an alternative way to understand the Bible.
Well, I never thought that Calvinists actually believed that regeneration precedes faith. One thing that I do notice with Calvinist preachers is that they interpret the Word of God in such a way that perfectly suits their own theology.
I do believe that carnal people have no ability to choose God in their own sinful state, nor they have a desire to please Him because they are naturally opposed to everything He is and stands for. They can only choose God as a result of God revealing Himself to them through either one of the means mentioned in your post. So they need the Holy Spirit to convict them of their own sinful state in light of God’s holiness and righteousness standard.
The bottom line is that people have a free will to make choices. It’s true that they cannot make godly choices within their own human nature due to the sinful nature they have. However, it’s possible for them to make godly choices upon being convicted, which is a process by which the Holy Spirit enables sinful people to truly grasp how wicked and corrupt they are in the sight of God.
They need to be enlightened or woken up to the consciousness of God. But after being convicted by the Spirit of God, it’s up to them to make a decision whether or not they want to accept Christ. God will do His part through the Holy Spirit, so sinner is liable to do their part after being convicted. The truth is that whatever God wants to do in people’s lives, it’s done through people’s willingness to submit themselves to Him because they have a free will.
I don’t believe that God has to somehow highjack people’s free will in order to force them to choose Him. And I don’t believe that they have to be regenerated first before they exercise faith in Christ due to their total depravity state.
CR Shelton says
I’ve been reading also for several weeks and started digging into Calvinism vs. Arminianism because a young, fired up, interim pastor at my church told me I couldn’t use a song I wanted to introduce to the church by house fires. Here’s a link to the lyrics :
He said it was bad theology. And I asked why, telling him it was based on a verse in Revelation (3:20) and he said it was because that verse is misread and that the song was promoting a heretical Armenian theology rather than the Calvinist theology that was more accurate. He said that a dead person cannot open the door, how could he, he’s dead. But I said, maybe so, but the verse says Jesus is knocking and that if someone hears, listens and opens the door, then Jesus will come into feast with them. No no, I was told, it’s impossible for someone spiritually dead to open the door (essentially exactly what you’ve been explaining calvinists say). It’s as if Jesus actually kicks the door in and brings that person to life and then eats with them. Now that made me think. How does Jesus choose people? Is it based on anything at all or is it completely random? It didn’t sit well with me. How can God be just if He precondemns peopel to be permantly apart from Him and never actually gave them the choice to know him? How could not try to put the proverbial paddles to their chest and at least give em a few shocks and still be loving to all His creation?
I started my research then and that led me to your site after studying some John Wesley and Methodist writings. I appreciate your effort into digging for the truth and your knowledge of scripture and context. I admit I was also more comfortable with your credentials having been to Ozark Christian College (a cousin feeder of DTS and hey, one of my favorite teachers graduated from DTS, Dr. Tony Evans). And I live in Chicago and know Moody well by now. Half our pastors/teachers are from there or Trinity or Wheaton. Thank you for putting so much thought and effort into this stuff. It is making a difference. I have already had conversations about this issue and feel more confident that I can back up what I am thinking and feeling with scripture and resources.
One further thing. Calvinism almost, if it doesn’t fully, makes the good things about humanity, like our emotions, ability to reason, desire for adventure, knowledge, and accomplishment to name several desires as impediments to knowing truths about and coming to believe in Him, (or wait, they can’t anyway with Him doing it for them) or they don’t matter at all and only contribute to the non-regenerate having some semblance of a life spent “well” even if they don’t get to be a part of the kingdom of heaven. And worse than that, they aren’t lauded as good qualities (talents) that should be shrewdly used by believers to further the work of the kingdom. (but how can I further the work of the kingdom if God is the one causing people to have faith?) it’s so confusing I’m sure this idea I’m spinning here must be confusing. Hope you get what I mean.
Jeremy Myers says
Thanks for the comment. I definitely agree with your statement there that some forms of Calvinism seem to discredit the good and godly gifts of emotions and adventure. I definitely respect the logical nature of Calvinism, but I think it contains a few logical fallacies at the beginning which leads them off into dangerous waters.
As for the song based on Revelation 3:20, I get what your pastor was saying (and disagree with him about the meaning of the word “dead”), but I think that Revelation 3:20 is an invitation to Christians to have fellowship with Jesus … rather than an invitation to non-Christians to believe in Jesus for eternal life.
Here are some links that might help:
Michael Ganovski says
Good morning Jeremy, I am just coming across some of your writings and blogs on various points of Calvinism. While you and I may disagree slightly here and there on some interpretation and application, ( I have wrestled with NT Wright back-and-forth over the years on some of his interpretations ), what I do sense it is a non-hostile non-argumentative spirit, from you – a spirit seeking biblical understanding and truth and I appreciate how you present at least the small sampling that I have read this morning. I think that God loves to watch his children strive and wrestle to s k Him as we “work out our salvation“.
I am not a Calvinist. I do not agree with Total Depravity or inability to believe in God. In this article you define Total Inability differently then it is usually presented. All Christians, Calvinists or not agree that we cannot earn or merit salvation. We receive salvation as a free gift through faith. Total Depravity is usually presented as inability to believe in God, not inability to earn or merit salvation. I do not believe that anybody is unable to believe in God. That is why I disagree with Calvinist Total Depravity.
Biblical and reasonable explanation that I have the ability to understand and respond to – the scriptures indeed have the ability to make one wise unto salvation, the gospel is still good news.