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Amazing Grace - Part 9


Amazing Grace 9


Grace And Freewill

Jesus and the apostles both emphasized the grace and mercy of God (John 3:16; Titus 2:11), and they also stressed that man has a choice whether or not to accept God’s gracious offer of forgiveness (2 Corinthians 6:1 "We also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain"; Hebrews 10:26-29 "For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth….and has insulted the Spirit of grace?"). Added to this, Christians who lived after the days of the apostles, in the first 300 years of the early church, believed the same thing. Roger T. Forster and V. Paul Marston, made a very careful study of the Ante-Nicene (before 325 A.D.) Christian writers. They found, "The doctrine of free-will seems to have been universally accepted by the early church. Not a single church figure in the first 300 years rejected it, and most of them stated it clearly in works still extant. We find it taught by great leaders in places as different as Alexandria, Antioch, Athens, Carthage, Jerusalem, Lycia, Nicea, Rome, and Thessalonica. We find it taught by the leaders of all the main theological schools. The only ones to reject it were heretics like the Gnostics, Marcion, Valentinus, Manes (and the Manichees)"(God’s Strategy in Human History, p. 244).



Augustine lived from 354 to 430 A.D. In his early life, he was very immoral. When he was about 18 or 19 he left home to go to school where he lived with an African girl for a while, and had a child by her, although they were never married. But after a while Augustine became so disgusted with himself and the sinful life he was leading, that he began to turn his life around. As he did, he began to reason on why he had acted as he had. He had become interested in the doctrine of the Manichees (who rejected the free moral agency of man). He decided that it was because he was depraved from childhood that he had become so terribly immoral. He began to reason that the only possible way to get out of such a situation was for God to take him out of it. He concluded that a person so depraved and immoral as he had been must have had some sort of a miraculous operation in order to escape from that, and this led him to formulate his concept of grace. Before we move on to Augustine’s concept of grace as an enabling power, let us spend some time on this idea that man is totally depraved.

What Is Total Depravity?

During the Reformation, men like Martin Luther and John Calvin, simply went back and resurrected Augustine’s theology. This is why Augustine’s idea of total depravity is called one of the points of Calvinism. In their own words, here is what Calvinists believe when they say that man is totally depraved. The following quotations are from the book entitled, The Five Points of Calvinism, which is written by a proclaimed Calvinist, Edwin H. Palmer, who just happens to have been the Executive Secretary of the New International Version of the Bible (NIV). "The inability of man to do, understand, or even desire the good" (p. 14). "Not only is the non-Christian unable to do anything that is truly good, not only is he unable to understand the good, but, worse still, he is not even able to desire the good…But the pit of total depravity is that natural man does not even desire a good goal" (p. 16).

Arguments and Responses: The following passages are presented by Calvinists as proof that man is totally unable to make any progress toward God: 1. Genesis 6:5 "and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually": Yet this wasn’t an inborn or inherited condition. The two groups who intermarry in this chapter, both had freewill. Cain and his descendants were able to distinguish between right and wrong, they were able to understand good and evil (Genesis 4:6-7). The descendants of Seth were calling upon the name of the Lord in the previous chapters, (Genesis 4:26; 5:22,29). 2. Genesis 8:21 "the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth": The verse isn’t saying that man is born depraved, rather, "youth" begins the age of accountability, the age when we lose our innocence (Romans 7:9). After the flood mankind still has the same potential for good and evil, unfortunately many chose to live far below their potential for good and begin a life of rebellion in their youthful years. 3. Jeremiah 17:9 "The heart is more deceitful than all else": Yet nothing is said about our hearts/minds being depraved from birth. Rather, the context says that such deception happens when a man "turns away from the Lord" (17:5). Remember that God is talking about the people of Judah (17:1), that is, people who had been right with God, His covenant people. Why would God have Jeremiah preach to people, if these people couldn’t understand His message? It is significant, that Jeremiah tells these people who have deceitful hearts, to "Circumcise yourselves to the Lord and remove the foreskins of your heart" (4:4). They had allowed their hearts to become deceitful and in like manner, they could also allow themselves to become contrite, humble and honest. In fact Palmer argues, "Even after a person has become a Christian, and therefore knows better, it is dismaying how hypocritical, deceitful, and desperately wicked his heart is" (p. 13). But if this is true, then why does God exhort us to purify our hearts? Is God mocking us, has He given us an impossible task? 2 Corinthians 7:1 "let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit". Note that this cleansing process is accomplished by believing the promises found in Scripture,"Therefore having these promises" (7:1; 6:16-18). Be impressed with how much of this purifying process is placed on the shoulders of the individual: "You lay aside the old self…and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind" (Ephesians 4:22-23); "And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts" (Colossians 3:15); "Therefore, putting aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy and all slander" (1 Peter 2:1); "But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior" (1:15); "Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded" (James 4:8; see also James 1:21). Added to this, in the Parable of the Sower, we have four non-Christian hearts who hear the gospel, one doesn’t understand the message, but the other three do. And one of them is called, "an honest and good heart" (Luke 8:15). 4. Psalm 51:5 "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me": The irony in using this Psalm in the attempt to prove that man is totally depraved, is seen from the fact that this "sinner" understands the good and desires to do the good. He wants forgiveness (51:1-2,6-13), he understands the true depth of what he has done (51:4), he completely agrees with God’s verdict against him (51:4). Here is the picture of a sinner who is doing something which Calvinists argue that no sinner can do, i.e. desire salvation. In addition, remember, David has been right with God (51:11-12), but Calvinism also teaches that once you are saved you can never be lost. So why is David so worried about his salvation? Therefore, David isn’t saying that he was born a sinner, but he was born into a sinful environment. 5. John 6:44 "No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him" (also John 6:65): Palmer says, "Here is total depravity: man cannot choose Jesus. He cannot even take the first step to go to Jesus" (p. 16). Calvinists then argue that the "drawing" is a miraculous and mysterious drawing separate and apart from the gospel message. Yet, Jesus in the very next verse tells us how the Father draws people to Him. "Everyone who had heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me" (6:45). But I thought that sinners can’t understand what is good? So why is God preaching to them? In contrast, the Scriptures assert that sinners can understand the Word of God, "Hear and understand" (Matthew 15:10). And that the Word of God is a powerful message, which is able to penetrate the heart and convict the sinner of his or her sins(Acts 2:37; Mark 16:15; Romans 1:16; Hebrews 4:12-13; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). 6. John 3:Palmer here argues, "A baby never desires or decides to be born. He never contributes an iota toward his own birth. In the whole process from conception through birth, he is completely passive and totally unable to control his birth. In a similar fashion, the unbeliever cannot take one step toward his rebirth" (p. 17). In fact, he ridicules the idea that a sinner can desire to be born again and can believe on Christ without a miraculous intervention on the part of God. Note that one must be born of the Spirit (3:5). The question is what role does the Spirit play in the new birth, does He overwhelm the sinner? The Scriptures point out that they are the product of the Holy Spirit, both Old and New Testament Scriptures(2 Peter 1:20-21; Ephesians 3:3-5). Jesus said that the Holy Spirit will convict the world concerning sin ( John 16:8), and then immediately noted that the Holy Spirit would guide the apostles into all the truth (16:13). From this and other passages, we learn that the Holy Spirit’s role in the new birth is that He revealed the Scriptures, which convict hearts willing to be honest, resulting in a faith that moves one repent, confess and be baptized (Mark 16:15-16; 1 Peter 1:23; James 1:18; Romans 10:17). The following chart only further illustrates the above point:

Spirit Action Word of God

Nehemiah 9:30 Instructs 2 Timothy 3:16-17

John 16:8 Convicts Titus 1:9

John 3:5 Begets 1 Corinthians 4:15

John 6:63 Quickens Psalm 119:50

Titus 3:5 Saves James 1:21

1 Corinthians 6:11 Sanctifies John 17:17

Acts 9:31 Comforts 1 Thess. 4:18

Ephesians 5:18 Fills Colossians 3:16

Revelation 22:17 Calls 2 Thess. 2:14

Ephesians 3:16 Builds up Acts 20:32


  1. Ephesians 2:1 "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins": Palmer argues that the word "dead" proves that man is totally able to hear the gospel, understand it, or even believe, for a dead man cannot ask for help. "He is dead. He cannot even open his mouth. Nor does he have any desire to call a doctor to help him" (pp. 17-18). Such is a confused concept of death. Remember, death in Scripture is the idea of separation (James 2:26). Death is not a state of non-existence or unconsciousness. Cornelius, is an excellent example of a man who was lost and spiritually dead (Acts 11:14), yet he was very desirous of trying to have a good relationship with God (Acts 10:1-2). Before the Holy Spirit ever comes upon him (Acts 10:44), Cornelius is doing everything he can to save himself and his friends and family (Acts 10:31-33). 7. Acts 16:14 "And the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul". The argument is that it was only after the Lord miraculously operated on her heart, was Lydia even able to understand what Paul was preaching. But carefully note the first part of the verse and the context. She is listening to Paul beforethe Lord opens her heart. In addition, before she ever meets Paul she is showing a desire and interest in spiritual things. An unsaved Lydia, a woman who was a sinner, had assembled with other women on this day for the purpose of praying and worshipping God (16:13). Since God doesn’t play favorites (Acts 10:34), and desires all men and women to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4), it would follow that God tries to open the heart of everyone. And seeing that the gospel message is to be preached to all(Matthew 28:19), the gospel message then must be the means by which God attempts to open our hearts and minds. In fact, the gospel message is so clear and convicting, that one must deliberately ignore it, or fight against it, in order to walk away unconverted: "Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts" (Hebrews 3:7); "You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit" (Acts 7:51).