11 February 2008

How Can We Be Held Responsible for Our Own Inability?

by Phil Johnson

before I went on a two-week hiatus, I started a series on the doctrine of total depravity, in which I proposed to deal with these questions:


Today we'll take up the second of those questions.

The Westminster confession states the doctrine of total depravity in these terms: "Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto" (Chap. IX, sect. iii).

Every element of that statement is crucial. Note exactly what kind of inability is described here. It is not an inability to do good things. It is an inability for "any spiritual good accompanying salvation." In other words, sinners have no ability to do spiritual good that merits God's favor or forgiveness. They are completely antagonistic to real righteousness. They are hopelessly in thrall to sin. They cannot save themselves or even make themselves fit for God's salvation. They have no appetite for spiritual truth, no ability to understand it. Therefore, they cannot possibly believe the truth or appropriate salvation for themselves by any means.

In John 8:44, Jesus told the Pharisees, "You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father." Their desires were corrupt, and it was a corruption that emanated from the nucleus of their very nature. Jesus said they were like the devil. He went on to say, "[The Devil] does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar, and the father of lies."

The implication is, You are in the same boat. He was telling those Pharisees, in effect, It is your nature to be evil. There is no way you could do otherwise. There is no way you can make yourself other than what you are. "Can the Ethiopian change his skin Or the leopard his spots? Then you also can do good who are accustomed to doing evil" (Jeremiah 13:23).

At this point, some readers will ask, "If this is so—if we are sinful by nature, totally unable to be any other way—how can a just God hold us responsible for that? It wouldn't be fair to command a paraplegic to run a marathon and then punish him because he was unable, would it?

But our inability isn't the inability of a paraplegic; it is an inability of the will. Our inability does not arise from a lack of physical, rational, or cognitive faculties. It arises from a wrong moral inclination—a will that is firmly set against the truth and has no inclination to will otherwise.

All our faculties—our minds, emotions, and wills—work just fine. That is, we can think and act and choose freely according to whatever our own desires and motives are. But that is precisely the problem: our desires and motives are the very thing sin has corrupted. Our desires are defective. So the will itself is therefore bent against righteousness. Our corruption is therefore a willful depravity. It is a moral defect, not the kind of inability that keeps a paraplegic from running a race.

Depravity inclines the will of a fallen sinner to love sin, so that God's righteousness becomes morally repugnant. The sinner is left unable to love Him, unable to choose obedience to His law. It is a moral defect, and therefore the sinner himself is morally culpable.

But isn't the human will free? In one sense it is, but in the sense normally meant by people who tend to make the most liberal use the expression "free will," the will is not free. It's in bondage to sin.

Our will is free to choose according to our desires, but it is not free to determine those desires. The will is free in the sense that our choices are not forced upon us or compelled by external pressure. But our will is not "free" in the sense of being sovereign over our moral nature. We cannot by an act of will change our character for the better. That is the whole point of Jeremiah 13:23: The sinner has exactly as much ability to turn his own heart to do good as a cheetah has to will his spots away.

In other words, depravity corrupts our heart and perverts all our appetites. It so inclines our nature that we love sin. Evil desires therefore govern the choices we make. Since we make those choices freely and with great delight, we are guilty for them.

So our inability is no excuse for our sinfulness. It is precisely the opposite. It is the very reason we are condemned. Sin flows from the very core of our souls. The heart of who we are is evil. We are "by nature children of wrath" (Ephesians 2:3). That is why we do evil things. Jesus said, "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man" (Mark 7:21-23).

In other words, we are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners. We were born sinful, and all our acts of sin proceed from that.

That brings up the third question, which we'll deal with next time.

Phil's signature

46 comments:

donsands said...

Good teaching. Very edifying.

Yet the Arminian would say, "It's still not fair, for the will, if so corrupted, can not freely accept God's gift of righteousness, and so God is not just even still."

In other words, though humans are sinful,-even their wills-, God has to have left the will able to choose between accepting the Gospel, or rejecting it, in order for God to be just.

In another way of saying it, "There's a neutral ground in man's will, so that he either accepts the Gospel, or rejects the Gospel, and this has nothing to do with goodness in the human will.

I think that would be a fair argument from the other camp.

S.J. Walker said...

Great Stuff Phil,

We dealt with this question in our Sunday School class a short while ago, along with other similar issues.


"But our will is not "free" in the sense of being sovereign over our moral nature." ~~Phil

There is nothing more repugnant to a man than slavery. But it is devastatingly disgusting to him, while he is still in it, to think that he cannot escape by his own power.

Thanks for this series Phil, I look forward to the next.

Welcome back.

The Doulos said...

A good summation here, Phil. This is a truth that it is difficult to articulate to those who would say otherwise, you have done well.

Gayla said...

Good morning, Phil.

It was an honor to meet you at the conference this weekend. There is so much to chew on from all the great teaching! I've blogged a little about it (pics included), and you can find my blog here:

Journey of the Heart

May God continue to bless you, your ministry, and that of John MacArthur as well. Thank you for being obedient to the call on your life in earnestly contending for the faith. You (both) certainly had a profound impact on me this weekend!

VcdeChagn said...

Two interesting things....

Depravity inclines the will of a fallen sinner to love sin, so that God's righteousness becomes morally repugnant. The sinner is left unable to love Him, unable to choose obedience to His law. It is a moral defect, and therefore the sinner himself is morally culpable.

This seems to be a bit of a straw man. You manage to knock down the idea of free will nicely. However, if our depravity is total, then how can we be morally culpable for an inherited depravity that we did not ourselves create?

In the paraplegic sense, his inability to walk is analogous to the moral defect we have. It is outside the moral agent's control

It is not an inability to do good things.

I would agree with your assessment of the Westminster Confession, but I disagree in the true scope of depravity. Any good that happens in the world happens as a result of God's common grace.

Apart from God's grace, I am Charles Manson or Adolph Hitler.

VcdeChagn said...

I like what MacArthur says about election....both God's will and the choice of man are both biblically affirmed..and that if you don't understand it, that's fine because you're not God. He finally calls it "divine tension."

Wanted to add this to my previous post, but couldn't find the reference. It's in one of his QandA's at about the 7:30 mark.

Johnny Dialectic said...

Donsands: "In other words, though humans are sinful,-even their wills-, God has to have left the will able to choose between accepting the Gospel, or rejecting it, in order for God to be just."

That's actually semi-Pelagianism, not classic Arminianism. Big difference!

Phil Johnson said...

Gayla:

Thanks. And thanks for the links and pictures.

VcdeChagn: ". . . straw man. You manage to knock down the idea of free will nicely. However, if our depravity is total, then how can we be morally culpable for an inherited depravity that we did not ourselves create?

Whether we "created" it or not is immaterial. Every one of us in our fallen state willingly gives consent to evil, shows our complicity with Adam in his sin, loves the sin, hates God, and rebels against His law (Romans 8:7-8). So of course we are culpable.

Any argument that we're not culpable for the bondage of our wills would require us to despise and regret every aspect of our fallenness from the beginning. That's not the way of sinners. They love their sin and revel in it and therefore prove their own culpability. Not one sinner will every have any grounds to plead before the throne of heavenly justice that he or she was made to do evil against his or her will. So God's condemnation of sinners is just.

centuri0n said...

[QUOTE]
But our inability isn't the inability of a paraplegic; it is an inability of the will. Our inability does not arise from a lack of physical, rational, or cognitive faculties. It arises from a wrong moral inclination—a will that is firmly set against the truth and has no inclination to will otherwise.
[/QUOTE]

Exactly. Perfect. This is the part the various detractors of this doctrine always fumble.

Welcome back. We didn't even move the furniture. much.

stratagem said...

I wonder why people have no problem with sending people to prison who have character defects they can't control, but bristle at the idea of God punishing people who have character defects they can't control?

VcdeChagn said...

Every one of us in our fallen state willingly gives consent to evil, shows our complicity with Adam in his sin, loves the sin, hates God, and rebels against His law (Romans 8:7-8). So of course we are culpable.

I guess my point remains the same. Culpability implies a choice, doesn't it?

If not, then what you say is true.

But if culpability implies a choice, we are incapable of choosing by our nature. "There is no way to make ourselves other than what we are." (loose quote)

I feel like it goes a bit too far and denies the "human choice" component that MacArthur discusses.

donsands said...

"That's actually semi-Pelagianism, not classic Arminianism. Big difference!"

Sorry about that chief. Thanks for catching my mistake.

Phil Johnson said...

VcdeChagn "I guess my point remains the same. Culpability implies a choice, doesn't it?

OK, but I've already explained that the bondage of the sinner's will doesn't leave him unable to "choose." It leaves him without any desire or inclination to choose rightly.

If you think MacArthur's remark entail a denial of the bondage of the human will or a denial that depravity is total, you haven't heard him correctly.

Daryl said...

If only the church would grasp this as fully as you have laid out Phil.
Without this we have no grounds on which to expect that God could credit Christ's righteousness to us (or our sin to Him), after all, neither He nor I actually did what was imputed (in both directions) at the cross.
Unless I can accept that I am actually guilty of Adam's sin, there is no final of salvation.

Jonathan Moorhead said...

Phil, I don't think evangelical Arminians will be satisfied with your answer, or any other for that matter. In particular, most distasteful is the Apostle Paul's answer to the question:

Rom. 9:18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.
Rom. 9:19 ¶ You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?”
Rom. 9:20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it?

I don't think we are expected to fully understand it, but to fully accept it. Btw, I like your discussion on the freedom of the will. There are reasons why Luther's will was in bondage, and Edwards' was free - yet they came to the same conclusions about depravity.

VcdeChagn said...

If you think MacArthur's remark entail a denial of the bondage of the human will or a denial that depravity is total, you haven't heard him correctly.

I'm pretty sure I heard him just fine.

But maybe not, so I'll transcribe it. Here is exactly what MacArthur said,

"If you deny the choice of man, where it says 'Whosoever will, let him come, taketh the water of life freely' Rev. 22 you can't deny either one. You leave 'em there, and if you try to harmonize them in the middle, you've destroyed both of them."

In my mind, you need to paint this part of the picture as well as our total inability (which I totally agree with, pun intended). Remember, the choice MacArthur points to here is a choice TOWARD God.

MacArthur contrasted the two points in his argument, and I think any understanding of one without the other is incomplete.

It's more than just total inability, there is also will on our side as well...how it all meshes together we don't know (because, as MacArthur says, we're not God).

Unfortunately I don't have a reference for this, but I transcribed it from a QandA that begins with him answering a question about 1 Peter 3:21. I would be glad to email you the mp3 so you can hear it for yourself if you can't find it. I think it's vol 22 but I'm not sure.

BTW, I do agree with you that we have no natural inclination to choose rightly....so I did not answer that part. If I said something that implied otherwise, my mistake.

Preson said...

"..and that if you don't understand it, that's fine because you're not God."
huh, sounds like MacArthur's embracing a little mystery. ;)

mark pierson said...

Here's the heart of the whole thing...

"They (sinners) are completely antagonistic to real righteousness. They are hopelessly in thrall to sin. They cannot save themselves or even make themselves fit for God's salvation. They have no appetite for spiritual truth, no ability to understand it. Therefore, they cannot possibly believe the truth or appropriate salvation for themselves by any means."

Phil summed it up nicely there.

Jerry said...

You are free to be what you are. You are not free to be something that you are not.

Rob Hughes said...

Will there ever be a person in hell one day who will be able to say to God, "I never knew it was wrong to lie, I never knew it was wrong to steal"? Of course not. All men are without excuse. All are born with the sin of Adam, but all are without excuse. (Rom. 1:20)

Ben said...

make room for the master, A.W. Pink, "The Sovereignty of God and Human Responsibility",

"Should some sinner (the Pinkster's words, not mine) here object, 'I cannot help being born into the world with a depraved heart, and therefore I am not responsible for my moral and spiritual ability which accrue from it (would ya get a load of that guy? - "which accrue from it" - HA!), the reply would be, Responsibility and Culpability lie in the indulgence of the depraved propensities (my preacher back at good ol' First Baptist never told me 'bout no "depraved propensities" - guess he was too busy "gittin' people saved"), the free indulgence, for God does not force any to sin. Men mighty pity me, but they certainly would not excuse me, if I give vent to a fury temper, and then sought to extenuate myself on the ground of having inherited that temper from my parents.

I think this is exactly what the good Dr. Phil is trying to tell us - the choosing equipment is working fine, it's just that we choose according to our depraved nature that loves sin. As the good Pink points out earlier in his excellent treatise, the will does not operate independently or in isolation, but moves with the most powerful force exercised upon it, and for the unregenerate sinner, the most powerful motivating force is sin, and the sinner's love for sin.

Sho nuff, Pink.

Ben

donsands said...

"That's actually semi-Pelagianism, not classic Arminianism. Big difference!"

Johnny D,

After thinking about it, don't you mean Pelagianism?

I know this thread doesn't want to go off topic here, but I thought semi-Pelagianism was Arminianism.

Cindy said...

No, not so edifying to me. I believe it, but I don't understand it at all, this just hasn't helped me. Please pray that my understanding will be opened, and I'll keep reading. I just want a hint of how this can be.

Hadassah said...

cindy, I'm with you. I believe it, I accept it, I just struggle with understanding it.

Psalm 131 calms me down when I get myself too twisted up over this issue.

S.J. Walker said...

ben,

thanks for the Pink quote. One of my favs.

A Lion Has Roared!

The Doulos said...

The whole tension between man's inability and God's accountability for me seems to come down to, as Phil has noted here, the will. The human will is, as Edwards defines it, "the mind choosing." And our mind will always choose according to our nature and desires. Therefore, since our nature is corrupt, our mind will always choose according to that depraved nature. It is free to do so, and free to choose in which way to sin and rebel against God. And therefore God holds us accountable for our willful choosing to reject Him. However, when God works in the heart of one of His elect to change that basic nature, from depraved to regenerate, the will again freely chooses to respond to the truth of the Gospel which the new nature is able to understand and receive. Therefore we do freely choose to trust in Christ, according to the new nature. When God does the work of regeneration in us, we respond in faith by choosing to believe the Gospel. And God again holds us accountable for that willful choice, in this case to trust Christ.

Do I fully understand all the details of how this works? No, as Dr. MacArthur notes, I am not God. Can I rationally understand the revelation that He has given in this? Yes, I can and I should seek to do so.

Cindy said...

Aaaah, calming indeed, thank you Hadassah.

Phil Johnson said...

Moorhead: "Phil, I don't think evangelical Arminians will be satisfied with your answer, or any other for that matter. "

Are you saying they can't simply will themselves to be satisfied?

I gave up trying to satisfy Arminians ages ago. I'm merely trying to explain some of the more obvious nuances of the bondage and the freedom of the will.

BTW, I just got back from Dallas. I was kind of hoping you'd show up at the conference.

VcdeChagn: "In my mind, you need to paint this part of the picture as well as our total inability (which I totally agree with, pun intended). Remember, the choice MacArthur points to here is a choice TOWARD God."

MacArthur is making the very same point I did: That Scripture commands us to submit to Christ and embrace Him by faith and therefore we are responsible to do so and worthy of condemnation when we don't. Yet we are morally disinclined and therefore unable to obey in the sheer power of our own unaided free will.

So (as MacArthur said) you cannot eliminate human choice and human responsibility—the way hyper-Calvinists are prone to do.

But likewise (as I said) you cannot deny the inability of the sinner to submit to Christ and love Him (Romans 8:7-8)—the way Arminians are prone to do.

Both things are true, and even though some people do have a hard time keeping both truths in view at the same time, there's no need to regard them as contradictory-yet-true (which would make truth itself nonsense). And no good will come out of trying to "reconcile" them by softening or eliminating one side or the other. That's all MacArthur meant.

In other words, when MacArthur warns about the dangers of "deny[ing] the choice of man," he is affirming human responsibility, not any notion of libertarian "free will." If you're suggesting he means the latter, you actually haven't "heard him just fine." If you're not suggesting that, I guess I'm still not sure what point you are trying to make.

Incidentally, if you want to understand John MacArthur's views as accurately as possible, a good way to do it is by leaning more heavily on his sermons and books than on an excerpt from a live, unscripted Q&A. The books and sermons are quite purposefully more thorough and carefully worded. The Q&A material is off the cuff, extemporaneous, and deliberately abbreviated.

Johnny Dialectic said...

"I gave up trying to satisfy Arminians ages ago. I'm merely trying to explain some of the more obvious nuances of the bondage and the freedom of the will."

Unfortunately, Phil, there seems to be more than a little "unnuanced" lumping of Arminianism going on. In this very meta we have it conflated with semi-Pelagianism. You've read Olson, so you know about that mistake. Just as you don't like there to be a confusion of hyper and moderate Calvinism, so not all Arminians come in one flavor.

However, I'm not sanguine about the sloppy theology that comes from my side of the fence.

KM said...

Ok. I haven’t responded here in a really long time because frankly I’m a little intimidated by some of you as far as theological knowledge goes. But, I have a question regarding the following paragraph so if someone would like to respond to it without calling me a sin lover or “sighing” at me (that’s really rude) it would be helpful.

“In other words, depravity corrupts our heart and perverts all our appetites. It so inclines our nature that we love sin. Evil desires therefore govern the choices we make. Since we make those choices freely and with great delight, we are guilty for them.”

Isn’t it true that we can only know love because of God’s grace given to us to do so? (since this lesson discusses, quite nicely, how we are fully depraved) If so, how can I love sin? I can only serve my sinful nature; I can’t love anything without God right?

I get the idea that what you’re saying is that we “love” the sinful activities we participate in, otherwise we wouldn’t do them (i.e. an adulterer loves the activity of sexual or emotional intimacy with people who aren’t his/her spouse). But, isn’t the illusion of what we think we’re getting from that sinful activity what we desire? Alcoholics continue to want to get smashed out of a desire to feel a feeling they have stored up in their memory. But no matter how much is consumed the alcoholic will not find that feeling, and chances are that feeling isn’t real but instead something romanticized.

If my desire is for something that’s really an illusion how am I choosing “freely and with great delight?” Haven’t I really just been tricked like Eve, and am I not really in need of eyes that see (grace) so that I can realize that and repent. I guess I don’t see where the “free choice” and “delight” come into the picture and it seems like it would be hard to be forgiving or merciful or even love anyone at all from that kind of perspective.

I'm in total agreement about our depravity and all the other points made in this teaching. It's just this one thing I'm questioning.

DJP said...

Frank - We didn't even move the furniture. much.

Correct.

"Moving" and "mayonnaise stains" are totally different things.

Mike Riccardi said...

Km,

Seems to me that saying a sinner loves his sin is something the Bible does indeed put forth.

"But he who sins against me injures himself; All those who hate me love death." -- Prov 8:36

Thus says the LORD to this people, "Even so they have loved to wander; they have not kept their feet in check." -- Jer 14:10

This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. -- John 3:19

Craig Bennett said...

Phil,

I have some trouble with your use of the story where Jesus tells them they are the sons of the devil, to make your case.

The obvious one is that that there are many more who do come to Jesus believing in him, asking his help.

Also Jesus tells the father of the demonised boy that all things are possible to those who believe. The boys father said an interesting thing.

I do believe, help me with my unbelief.

I agree though that we are all sinful and born that way. It's the Holy Spirits job to convict us of that fact, of the truth of Christ and the judgment of the devil.

I think there are better passages you could use than the one you did.

SolaMeanie said...

Jonathan,

As a former Arminian who used to struggle with Romans 9, I can honestly testify that I have grown to love it, especially the part you quoted about God's creation "answering back" to Him.

I rather liken it to the child who demands an answer from the parent in a surly tone of voice, complete with plenty of chin-jutting and stomping. At that point, the parent has to cease trying to explain and give the young miscreant a solid cuff upside the head. "Lose the attitude and lose it now! When you're ready to listen with a little humility, then we'll talk."

It settled a whole lot of questions for me to realize that, as Creator, God has the absolute right to do as He wills with His creation, including us. The miracle isn't that He saves some of us. The miracle is that He saves ANY of us. I don't know why He chose me. I am just thankful that He did and I am content to trust Him for what I don't understand. After all, "who is man to offer complaint in view of his sins?"

KM said...

Thanks Mike.

But Paul said: (Rom 7:22-25) For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man (23) but I see a different law in the members of my body waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. (24) Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? (25) Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.

When he says that with his mind he is serving God while with his flesh the law of sin, and when he calls himself a wretched man, and when he says he’s a prisoner and that there’s a war waging within him he’s definitely not giving me the impression he has any love for his sin.

And in Rom 7:9 he said that when the commandment came sin became alive and he died. So again, although I do believe those verses you provided are true, I still do not see how a dead person can love anything. Since I can neither live nor love without God and also considering that Jesus said I can’t serve 2 masters I don’t see how I can love yet reflect that love toward my sin.

VcdeChagn said...

I guess I'm still not sure what point you are trying to make.

Merely the point that sovereign election (strong, pervasive Biblical doctrine) should be presented equally with "the choice of man" (strong, persuasive Biblical doctrine).

I feel like the "choice" piece got slighted in the post. That's all. Nothing you said was incorrect, as far as I can tell.

Both things are true, and even though some people do have a hard time keeping both truths in view at the same time, there's no need to regard them as contradictory-yet-true

I disagree. "In Every major doctrine is an apparent paradox." 100% God, 100% man. The book of Romans written fully by Paul and fully by the Holy Spirit...election falls into that same category. There is a certain amount of tension in holding to these beliefs.


Incidentally, if you want to understand John MacArthur's views as accurately as possible, a good way to do it is by leaning more heavily on his sermons and books than on an excerpt from a live, unscripted Q&A. The books and sermons are quite purposefully more thorough and carefully worded. The Q&A material is off the cuff, extemporaneous, and deliberately abbreviated.


You're right, and I have listened to and read a lot of MacArthur's stuff (most of it edited by you, I would guess). However, I could not find the pdf I was looking for (TheDoctrineofElectionPart1.pdf) until after this all got rolling.

In tne end, it says the same thing he said in the QandA anyway.

Strong Tower said...

The obvious one is that that there are many more who do come to Jesus believing in him, asking his help.

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

I agree though that we are all sinful and born that way. It's the Holy Spirits job to convict us of that fact, of the truth of Christ and the judgment of the devil.

And Jesus answered this also: Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word...Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.

It is not just a matter of the HS convicting. One must have been conceived from above, John 3.

The question cannot be answered as to the motivation for coming to him for healing, from what was said. And the issue is responsibility for our inability. Surely Christ holds these men in John 8 accountable for their inability. It is who they are, who we are, that makes us accountable. It is who he is who has made us accountable. For he made us in his image, accountable. These men though refuse that accountability, but who are they to speak back to their maker? They want nothing to to with the accountability that they claim is theirs by calling God their father.

We are responsible and the first claim of the reprobate is irresponsibility. In reality, claiming to be not responsible for what God has made us to be, is a sign if the unregenerate. John 3:20-21 sheds light on this. The works we do have been wrought in God. One adultress wipes her mouth and says I have done nothing wrong, another flees to Christ and is saved. What makes the difference? God. The unregenerate say, then how can he hold us accountable seeing that no one resists his will. The apostle simply says, who are you to speak back to him who has made you? Jesus says, he who is believing has eternal life, and he who does not is condemned already. And, God has made them both. To say otherwise is to disbelieve, as with the men to whom Jesus said, you are of your father the devil. If you believe you are, then there is hope. But if you believe that God has not made you to be children of your father the devil, it is because you have not known the Father.

Mike Riccardi said...

Km,

Romans 7:14-25 describes the experience of a mature believer, not an unbeliever. That's why you don't get a picture of Paul loving his sin.

I think sometimes we fall into these little errors by glorifying this or that fruit. In this case, it's love. It's plain that dead unbelievers love their sin from those three passages I quoted earlier, as well as many others that I haven't. It's also plain that love for evil is not virtuous.

Jesus speaks the same way about worship in John 4 with the woman at the well. He tells her that she doesn't worship in Spirit and Truth, and that's the kind of worship that comes from the children of God. Now, there's no reason to think that worshiping not in Spirit and Truth -- or worshiping in flesh and error -- is virtuous simply because we think of worship as a virtuous, Spirit-wrought fruit of grace only possibly evident in believers. Jesus is saying that flesh-and-error worship is not really worship at all. But in doing that He still uses the word.

Paul does the same thing in Acts 17, telling the Athenians that their commitment to all sorts of deities is in ignorance. He calls that worship, but by no means is certifying it as legitimate.

Again, Jesus says that we, though being evil, still give good gifts to our children. But can we really? All our righteous deeds are as filthy rags. What good can we give? Really, we can't if we understand our human nature. But again, this is the way God speaks. Certainly unbelievers can do nothing at all in regards to their standing before God. They are totally unable to please Him in any respect -- in part or in whole. But they do do things of consequence. To suggest otherwise violates these passages.

Phil Johnson said...

VcdeChagn: "I disagree. 'In Every major doctrine is an apparent paradox.' 100% God, 100% man. The book of Romans written fully by Paul and fully by the Holy Spirit...election falls into that same category. There is a certain amount of tension in holding to these beliefs.

An "apparent paradox" is not a contradiction. The fact that you equate the two is the heart of the problem here. Read MacArthur's discussion of paradox, contradiction, and tension in his book Reckless Faith.

It's one thing to acknowledge we can't easily explain every difficulty or fully comprehend every aspect of the relationships between two contrasting truths. But to imagine that two truths could be actually contradictory is to reduce the notion of truth itself to nonsense.

Spurgeon also had something to say about that issue, and I once blogged about it here.

See also this short article, which I wrote some 15 years ago, long before I was blogging.

VcdeChagn said...

The fact that you equate the two is the heart of the problem here. Read MacArthur's discussion of paradox, contradiction, and tension in his book Reckless Faith.

Thanks for recommending a book that's out of print :). Fortunately I can get used copies through Amazon.

And you're right, I pretty much see the three as the same..from a human perspective. I'll order a couple of copies from Amazon and see what they say.

This quote from Spurgeon in your blog post explains it pretty well, though...

These two truths, I do not believe, can ever be welded into one upon any human anvil, but one they shall be in eternity: they are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the mind that shall pursue them farthest, will never discover that they converge; but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring.

Johnny Dialectic said...

VcdeChagn: Calvinists like Grudem, Piper and Packer do use the word "antinomy", and do mean "apparent" contradiction, but not "actual" contradiction. Palmer puts it this way: "Since both sets of truths are in the Bible, they must be accepted; and man must resign himself to the fact that he cannot understand God and His ways." (Palmer, p. 51).

Sisterlisa said...

Keep Preachin' Brother!

Robert said...

Phil your comments about depravity are a bit confusing. I am familiar with the calvinist conception of depravity as well as the biblical proof texts used to support the calvinist view. But this is the first time that I have seen a calvinist seriously argue that we are responsible for our own depravity. You realize that this is surprising and try to bolster it by appealing to Edwards’ distinction concerning moral inability:

“At this point, some readers will ask, "If this is so—if we are sinful by nature, totally unable to be any other way—how can a just God hold us responsible for that? It wouldn't be fair to command a paraplegic to run a marathon and then punish him because he was unable, would it?”

The paraplegic does not have the physical capacity to run a marathon. I believe that God holds us responsible for what we do: so if it is our action then we are responsible for it. But we would not hold the paraplegic responsible for his disability if it resulted from say an action by his mother (e.g., his mother dropped him intentionally upon his head while a baby and severed the spinal cord resulting in paralysis) an action he did not bring about himself. Similarly, Adam and Eve may have brought about depravity upon the human race (like the mother intentionally dropping the child they are responsible for their actions which resulted in depravity) but we did not bring it about ourselves. So I do not agree with you that a just God holds us responsible for **that**. He holds us responsible for our own sins, but not for the action of bringing depravity upon the human race.

In further explaining your view you wrote:

”But our inability isn't the inability of a paraplegic; it is an inability of the will. Our inability does not arise from a lack of physical, rational, or cognitive faculties. It arises from a wrong moral inclination—a will that is firmly set against the truth and has no inclination to will otherwise.”

So you claim that we have the capacity to do certain things (e.g. we have the physical and mental capacity to say: Jesus please save me from my sins . . .”) nevertheless we are incapable of willing ourselves to express those words (i.e. because we have moral inability).

And this inability is caused by depravity. Presumably you would claim that this “wrong moral inclination” is something we were born with, not something we acquired by our own actions?

If we were born with it, then how did we bring it about?

And if we were born with it, and did not bring it about ourselves, then how can we be held responsible for it?

You also err in the following words:


”All our faculties—our minds, emotions, and wills—work just fine. That is, we can think and act and choose freely according to whatever our own desires and motives are. But that is precisely the problem: our desires and motives are the very thing sin has corrupted. Our desires are defective. So the will itself is therefore bent against righteousness. Our corruption is therefore a willful depravity. It is a moral defect, not the kind of inability that keeps a paraplegic from running a race.”

I would suggest otherwise, that our faculties – our minds, emotions, and wills – **do not** “work just fine”. But instead every aspect of our being is negatively affected by sin (both the sins of Adam and Eve resulting in depravity, and our own personally chosen sins). You then suggest that it is our desires and motives that sin has corrupted and so are defective. But the problem is not primarily our desires, the problem is **us**, our heart (which includes the mind, emotion, will) is the problem. And our desires do not necessitate our actions (contra Edwards). If our desires necessitated our actions then as believers since we presumably have good desires and motives, if these things necessitated our actions we would never sin. It is the **person** who is the problem, as it is the **person** who decides what desires he/she will act upon, his/her desires do not cause his actions, he/she does so.

I also disagree with your claim that our depravity is a “willful depravity” (now if you want to claim that we act willfully from our depraved condition that would be one thing; but to claim that we willed our own condition of depravity is just false). None of us willed to have depravity; we were born with it (I was suffering from depravity before I had a self concept, before I was even capable of doing my own intentional actions). Just as the paraplegic whose mother intentionally caused the harm at his birth, is not responsible for his condition, neither are we (“For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners”, Rom. 5:19, depravity resulted not from our own intentional action but from Adam’s intentional action which made us sinners). We are responsible for our own actions (cf. Ezekiel 18), and none of us willingly caused our own depravity (though all of us suffer from it because of Adam’s doing).

Robert

Phil Johnson said...

Robert: "He holds us responsible for our own sins, but not for the action of bringing depravity upon the human race."

Well, exactly. But, then, I didn't suggest that God holds us responsible for "bringing depravity upon the human race." I was explaining how we are responsible for doing evil even though we have no ability to do good. And although this idea is only hinted at in the title but not developed in the post itself, we're also responsible in some degree for exacerbating our own inability, because we tend to suppress the truth, harden our hearts, and sear our own consciences.

No one is suggesting, however, that we are individually to blame for introducing sin and corruption into the human race. Scripture is very clear that Adam is to blame for that. No one in this thread or the post suggested otherwise. If you thought that, no wonder you found the post confusing.

But (and this was my point) in order to sustain the claim that we're helpless victims of Adam's misdeed, we'd have to be unwilling participants in the rebellion against God Adam started. We'd have to hate the sin, guilt, and corruption we were born into. But we love sin, we willingly participate in it for the sheer pleasure of evil, we deliberately oppose God, and we show in countless ways our complicity with Adam's misdeed. Hence, to suggest that we ought to be free from condemnation because we were born fallen through no fault of our own would be fatuous. That was the point, and as I re-read the post, it seems clear enough.

Robert: "You also err in the following words:"

Actually, I think you erred in the reading of them. Your objection is answered by the second sentence you quoted, which clearly explains what I meant by saying our human faculties function "just fine": viz., "we can think and act and choose freely according to whatever our own desires and motives are"—which is not to deny the noetic effects of sin, but to stress that we sin by choice and not by external compulsion or against our wills.

Your actual point, it seems, is saved for later in your comment:

Robert: "It is the **person** who is the problem, as it is the **person** who decides what desires he/she will act upon, his/her desires do not cause his actions, he/she does so."

I certainly agree that the whole person is fallen. But I'm not sure what you gain by setting the "person" apart from his or her faculties like that, or why you reject Edwards's view of the will without actually answering his careful arguments—but until you make some reasonable attempt to explain how the will does choose, I'm going to give Edwards's definitive work rather more weight than a comment like this on an already-spent thread, OK?

Robert said...

Thanks for your clarifications Phil. It appears that we hold similar conceptions of depravity and believe that sin has affected every aspect of our being, so things are not “working just fine.” There remain some disagreements however.

“I was explaining how we are responsible for doing evil even though we have no ability to do good.”

I disagree with you here, as nonbelievers it is not that they(we when we were in that condition) are **incapable** of doing any good action (e.g. firefighters saving people **is** a good action, Cornelius doing alms, etc. etc.) but that our good actions are **incapable of justifying us before God** (i.e., our works cannot justify us, we do not accomplish justification before God by anything that we do, including any good works we might do as nonbelievers).

”Your objection is answered by the second sentence you quoted, which clearly explains what I meant by saying our human faculties function "just fine": viz., "we can think and act and choose freely according to whatever our own desires and motives are"—which is not to deny the noetic effects of sin, but to stress that we sin by choice and not by external compulsion or against our wills.”

We do “sin by choice and not by external compulsion or against our wills” **if** we have free will and use it to choose wrongly. However, if our every action is predetermined, then we do not choose to sin freely, we are constrained to sin by God’s predetermination and bringing to pass of every event which occurs.
“Coercion” is being “forced” to do something against your will (e.g. a gunman points a gun to the bank manager’s head and tells him to open the vault and give him the money is coercion and against his will).

On the other hand, if an external agent, predetermined and completely controlled another person so that the second person did exactly what the first person wanted done (and could not do anything other than what the first person wanted him to do), then the person would not be acting freely but under constraint. He would be doing exactly what he wants to do, and yet it would be impossible for him to do otherwise (so he would not have free will). He would choose to do exactly what the other person wanted him to do (e.g. another person controls the bank manager’s mind, desires, brain, everything about him, and he constrains the manager to choose to take money out of the vault and give it to him outside the bank).

Calvinism properly understood does not lead to coercion of our wills, but it does lead to constraint of our every action. And if our every action is constrained, so that we only do what we are predetermined to do, then we do not act freely and the one who constrains our actions is responsible for everything that we do (cf. as one calvinist puts it: he chooses our choices for us).

You also wrote:

“But I'm not sure what you gain by setting the "person" apart from his or her faculties like that, or why you reject Edwards's view of the will without actually answering his careful arguments—but until you make some reasonable attempt to explain how the will does choose, I'm going to give Edwards's definitive work rather more weight than a comment like this on an already-spent thread, OK?”

First, regarding Edwards’ “definitive work”. It is both passé (except for a few calvinists who like to bring out his points, especially his moral inability versus physical ability distinction) and largely ignored. Most people ignore his work as it is outdated and does not contribute much to present discussions on free will and determinism. His work also attacked a lot of straw men so it is irrelevant to the discussions of free will today.

Second, I can get into reasons for rejecting Edwards’ work on the will, but that may not be appropriate here or relevant to the present thread. Third, I can provide a reasonable explanation as to how we make choices. I can easily do so, but again, I really do not think that you are interested.

Robert

Phil Johnson said...

Robert: "I disagree with you here, as nonbelievers it is not that they(we when we were in that condition) are **incapable** of doing any good action (e.g. firefighters saving people **is** a good action, Cornelius doing alms, etc. etc.) but that our good actions are **incapable of justifying us before God** (i.e., our works cannot justify us, we do not accomplish justification before God by anything that we do, including any good works we might do as nonbelievers)."

Yeah, yeah. I know. I already explained all that in the post itself (see above). So again, it seems you don't really disagree with me as much as you seem to want to be disagreeable.

Robert: "We do 'sin by choice and not by external compulsion or against our wills' **if** we have free will and use it to choose wrongly. However, if our every action is predetermined, then we do not choose to sin freely, we are constrained to sin by God’s predetermination and bringing to pass of every event which occurs."

That's where we do indeed disagree. You seem to have redefined both "free will" and "constraint" in a way that would suit hyper-Calvinists and Arminians just fine, but is patently contrary to what mainstream Calvinists have always affirmed (and bent over backward to make clear). The WCF and every major Calvinist treatise I know (not to mention Scripture itself) denies that God's sovereignty in predestination eliminates the liberty or contingency of second causes, does any violence to the will of the creature, or makes God the author of sin. (see WCF III.1).

No wonder you think Edwards was out to lunch.

Robert: "First, regarding Edwards’ 'definitive work'. It is both passé (except for a few calvinists who like to bring out his points, especially his moral inability versus physical ability distinction) and largely ignored. Most people ignore his work as it is outdated and does not contribute much to present discussions on free will and determinism. His work also attacked a lot of straw men so it is irrelevant to the discussions of free will today."

Yikes. I hope you understand that the antiquity of a work doesn't automatically "outdate" it or render it "passé." Neither does the fact that the work is "ignored" by secular academics. Show me where anyone has answered Edwards with one-tenth the meticulous care he employs in outlining the logic of his arguments and I'll read it. But you'll have to forgive me if I'm unwilling to dismiss Edwards based on a drive-by blog-comment.