(from a transcript of a sermon preached on 3/8/09 at Sovereign Redeemer Assembly)
Please turn in your Bibles to Romans chapter 9. The last time we were here, we went over verse 15, which puts forth the truth that God has mercy on whomever he wants, and He pities whomever he wants. But what about the argument that God, before the foundation of the world, looked down through time and saw who would believe in Christ and decided to show mercy and pity on them? Or how about any scheme in which God has mercy on or pity on or love for someone based on what they do? Well, we've already seen that God's predestinating love is not based on anything the person does or is foreseen to do or is enabled to do. But just to make it so clear that there is no room for misinterpretation, Paul writes in the next sentence a crucial and fundamental bedrock of the Christian view of God's sovereignty and man's will. This is one of those verses that I hope all of you will memorize and will think about and refer to and will use in your witnessing. It absolutely smashes the idol of free-will into fine powder and blows it away, so there's nothing left of it. Look at these words in Romans 9, verse 16:
Romans 9:(16) So, then, [it is] not of the [one] willing, nor of the [one] running, but of the [One] showing mercy, of God.
Wow. Do you get the power of that statement? Let me read it again:
Romans 9:(16) So, then, [it is] not of the [one] willing, nor of the [one] running, but of the [One] showing mercy, of God.
You might think, "Well, of course. Since God loved Jacob from before the foundation of the world, since He loved Jacob before Jacob had done anything good or bad, then Jacob's favor with God had nothing to do with Jacob's works." And that is true, and verse 16 just confirms that. But do you realize that almost all of professing Christianity would say they agree with your statement but then stand in direct opposition to verse 16? Do you realize that Romans 9:16 is one of the distinguishing marks of true Christianity? Do you realize that Romans 9:16 exposes most of professing Christianity as false? Some of you who have grown up under the preaching of the true gospel and have not been exposed a lot to free-willism may not see the big deal of this verse. But the more you find out about what most professing Christians believe, the more you will see the big deal of this verse.
Most people who profess to be Christians believe that every fallen, unsaved man has free will to choose good or evil, free will to choose to believe in the true God or to believe in a false god, free will to choose to believe in Christ or reject Christ, free will to choose to believe the true gospel or a false gospel, free will to choose their own destiny. Some will say that this is with the so-called "assisting grace of God" or some form of resistible grace, while others think it is just inherent in natural man without grace. But it doesn't matter. Although there are other things called "free will" in theology and philosophy, we're going to focus on this kind of free will, because it is this kind of free will that is being addressed in Romans 9:16.
Before I go into what the Bible says about the will of the unregenerate, I want to quote from some of the more well-known free-willers throughout history, so you can get a sense of free-will theology.
Pelagius lived in the 4th and 5th centuries. He wrote the following: "Yet we do not defend the good of nature to such an extent that we claim that it cannot do evil, since we undoubtedly declare also that it is capable of good and evil; we merely try to protect it from an unjust charge, so that we may not seem to be forced to do evil through a fault of our nature, when, in fact, we do neither good nor evil without the exercise of our will and always have the freedom to do one of the two, being always able to do either. ... Our most excellent Creator wished us to be able to do either but actually to do only one, that is, good, which he also commanded, giving us the capacity to do evil only so that we might do his will by exercising our own. That being so, this very capacity to do evil is also good - good, I say, because it makes the good part better by making it voluntary and independent, not bound by necessity but free to decide for itself. ... Moreover, the Lord of Justice wished man to be free to act and not under compulsion; it was for this reason that 'he left him free to make his own decisions' and set before him life and death, good and evil, and he shall be given whatever pleases him. ... [in the] books of both Testaments ... all good, as well as evil, is described as voluntary."
Bernard of Clairvaux lived in the 11th and 12th centuries.. In his treatise on Free Will and Grace, he wrote the following: "What, then, you ask, does free will do? I reply with brevity, it saves. ... No one, except God, is able to bestow salvation; and nothing, except free will, is capable of receiving it." This was later quoted favorably by Arminius.
Thomas Aquinas lived in the 13th century. In his Summa Theologica, he wrote the following: "Man has free will: otherwise counsels, exhortations, commands, prohibitions, rewards, and punishments would be in vain. ... And foreasmuch a man is rational is it necessary that man have a free-will."
Desiderius Erasmus lived in the 15th and 16th centuries. In his famous treatise on freedom of the will, gave the following definition of "free will": "Moreover, I conceive of 'free will' in this context as a power of the human will by which a man may apply himself to those things that lead to eternal salvation, or turn away from the same." He then went on to say the following: "If it is not in the power of every man to keep what is commanded, all the exhortations in Scriptures, and all the promises, threats, expostulations, reproofs, adjurations, blessings, curses and hosts of precepts, are of necessity useless. ... It would be ridiculous to say to a man standing where two roads met: 'You see two roads; go by which you will,' when only one of them was open. ... [I]t would be just like saying to a man who was so bound that he could only stretch out his arm to his left, 'Behold, thou hast excellent wine on thy right, and poison on thy left; on which thou wilt, stretch forth thy hand.' ... What is the point of exhorting those who have no measure of power of their own? It is like saying to someone bound in chains: 'Move over here.' ... How can a charge of despising the commandment be brought where there is no free will? How does God invite to repentance, if He is the author of impenitence? How is condemnation just, when it is the judge who compels to evil-doing? ... If there is no freedom of will, what place is there for merit? If there is no place for merit, what place is there for reward? To what will it be ascribed, if a man is justified without merit?"
Jacobus Arminius lived in the 16th and 17th centuries. He wrote the following in his Works: "Faith is a condition required by God to be performed by him who shall be saved, before it is a means of obtaining that salvation. Since God will not bestow salvation on any one, except him who believes, man is on this account incited to be willing to believe, because he knows that his chief good is placed in salvation. Man, therefore, tries, by faith, as the means, to attain to salvation as the end; because he knows that he cannot possibly obtain salvation except through that means. And this knowledge he does not acquire except through the declaration of the divine Will, by which God requires faith from those who wish to be saved, that is, by which he places faith as a condition in the object, that is, in the person to be saved. ... I abhor it [divine determination] as conducing to multiplied blasphemies. For I consider it impossible for any art or sophistry to prevent this dogma concerning 'such a previous determination' from producing the following consequences: First. It makes God the author of sin, and man to be exempt from blame. Secondly. It constitutes God as the real, proper and only sinner: because when there is a fixed law which forbids this act, and when there is such 'a fore-determination' as makes it 'impossible for this act not to be committed,' it follows as a natural consequence, that it is God himself who transgresses the law, since he is the person who performs this deed against the law. For though this be immediately perpetrated be the creature, yet, with regard to it, the creature cannot have any consideration of sin; because this act was unavoidable on the part of man, after such 'fore-determination' had been fixed. Thirdly. Because, according to this dogma, God needed sinful man and his sin, for the illustration of his justice and mercy. Fourthly. And, from its terms, sin is no longer sin. ... 'The saving grace of God' may be understood either as primary or secondary, as preceding or subsequent, as operating or co-operating, as that which knocks or opens or enters in. ... Let the word 'unregenerate' be taken for a man who is now in the act of the new birth, though he be not yet actually born again; let 'the pleasure' which God feels be taken for an initial act; let the impulsive cause be understood to refer to the final reception of the sinner into favor; and let secondary, subsequent, co-operating and entering grace be substituted for 'saving grace;' and it will instantly be manifest, that we speak what is right when we say: 'Serious sorrow on account of sin is so far pleasing to God, that by it, according to the multitude of his mercies, he is moved to bestow grace on a man who is a sinner.' ... Does it cease to be a pure gift, because the beggar extends his hand to receive it? ... That I may in one word intimate what they must prove, such a transformation they effect when they represent 'the sufficient and efficacious grace, which is necessary to salvation, to be irresistible,' or as acting with such potency that it cannot be resisted by any free creature. ... Sin is the transgression of the law; therefore, God will be the author of sin, if He cause any man to transgress the law. This is done by denying or taking away what is necessary for fulfilling the law, or by impelling men to sin. ... But if this 'determination' denote the decree of God by which He resolved that the will should become depraved, and that man should commit sin, then it follows from this that God is the author of sin. ... God may require this [faith in Christ] since he has determined to bestow on man sufficient grace by which he may believe. Perhaps, therefore, the question may be thus corrected: 'Can God, now, in his own right, demand from fallen man faith in Christ, which he cannot have of himself, though God neither bestows on him, nor is ready to bestow, sufficient grace by which he may believe?' This question will be answered by a direct negative. God cannot by any right demand from fallen man faith in Christ, which he cannot have of himself, except God has either bestowed, or is ready to bestow, sufficient grace by which he may believe if he will."
John Wesley lived in the 18th century. He wrote the following in his Works: "Men are as free in believing or not believing as if he [God] did not know it at all. Indeed, if man were not free, he could not be held accountable either for his thoughts, words, or actions. If he were not free, he would not be capable either of reward or punishment; he would be incapable either of virtue or vice, of being either morally good or bad. ... Were human liberty taken away, men would be as incapable of virtue as stones. Therefore, (with reverence be it spoken,) the Almighty himself cannot do this thing. ... Herein appears the depth of the wisdom of God, in his adorable providence; in governing men, so as not to destroy either their understanding, will, or liberty. He commands all things, both in heaven and earth, to assist man in attaining the end of his being, in working out his own salvation, so far as it can be done without compulsion, without over-ruling his liberty. ... And although I have not an absolute power over my own mind, because of the corruption of my own nature; yet, through the grace of God assisting me, I have a power to choose and do good as well as evil. I am free to choose whom I will serve; and if I choose the better part, to continue therein even unto death. ... The God of love is willing to save all the souls that he has made. ... But he will not force them to accept it; he leaves them in the hands of their own counsel ... If you ask, 'Why then are not all men saved?' the whole law and the testimony answer, First, Not because of any decree of God ... Whatever be the cause of their perishing, it cannot be his will, if the oracles of God are true ... God would save them, but they will not be saved ... How is it more for the glory of God to save man irresistibly, than to save him as a free agent, by such grace as he may either concur with or resist? ... I shall not now dispute (which might yet be done,) whether salvation by irresistible grace, (which indeed makes man a mere machine, and, consequently, no more rewardable and punishable,) whether, I say, salvation by irresistible grace, considered apart from its consequences, manifest the glory of God more or less than salvation by grace which may be resisted."
Charles Finney lived in the 18th and 19th centuries. In his Systematic Theology, he wrote the following: "The human will is free, therefore men have power or ability to do all their duty. The moral government of God everywhere assumes and implies the liberty of the human will, and the natural ability of men to obey God. Every command, every threatening, every expostulation and denunciation in the Bible implies and assumes this. ... The human mind necessarily assumes the freedom of the human will as a first truth. ... We should not so much as think of moral obligation, either as it respects ourselves or others, unless we assumed the liberty of the human will. In all our judgments respecting our own moral character and that of others, we always and necessarily assume the liberty of the human will, or natural ability to obey God. ... The very ideas of right and wrong, of the praiseworthiness, and blameworthiness of human beings, imply the assumption, on the part of those who have these ideas, of the universal freedom of the human will, or of the natural ability of men as moral agents to obey God. Were not this assumption in the mind, it were impossible from its own nature and laws that it should affirm moral obligation, right or wrong, praiseworthiness or blameworthiness of men. ... The school whose views I am examining, maintain, that this inability is founded in the first sin in Adam. His first sin plunged himself and his posterity, descending from him by a natural law, into a total inability to render any obedience to God. ... But if this inability is sinful, it is important to inquire, Whose sin is it? Who is to blame for it? Why to be sure, we are told that it is the sin of him upon whom it is thus entailed by the natural law of descent from parent to child without his knowledge or consent. This sinfulness of nature, entirely irrespective of, and previous to any actual transgression, renders its possessor worthy of and exposed to the wrath and curse of God for ever. ... Does the Bible hold us responsible for impossibilities? Does it require of us what we cannot do by willing to do it? ... Does reason hold us responsible for impossibilities, or affirm our obligation to do, or be, what is impossible for us to do and be? No indeed! Reason never did and never can condemn us for our nature, and hold us worthy of the wrath and curse of God for possessing it. Nothing is more shocking and revolting to reason, than such assumptions as are made by the philosophy in question. ... But is it not true, as is affirmed, that men instinctively and necessarily affirm their obligation to be able to obey God, while they at the same time affirm that they are not able? I answer, no. They affirm themselves to be under obligation simply, and only, because deeply in their inward being lies the assumption that they are able to comply with the requirements of God. They are conscious of ability to will, and of power to control their outward life directly, and the states of the intellect and of their sensibility, either directly or indirectly, by willing. Upon this consciousness they found the affirmation of obligation, and of praise-worthiness and blame-worthiness in respect to these acts and states of mind. But for the consciousness of ability, no affirmation of moral obligation, or of praise-worthiness or blame-worthiness, were possible. ... [H]e requires them to lay hold on his strength, or to avail themselves of his grace, as the condition of being what he requires them to be. With strict propriety, it cannot be said that in this, or in any case, he requires directly any more than we are able directly to do. He requires us to lay hold upon his strength. This we have power to do. ... The direct requirement is to believe, or to lay hold upon his strength, or to receive the Holy Spirit, or Christ, who stands at the door, and knocks, and waits for admission."
Now for a couple people who are still alive. The first set of quotes is from Max Lucado, a popular professing Christian author. Here's the first quote: "God is an inviting God. ... In fact, it seems his favorite word is come. Who can come? Whoever wishes. Jesus gives the invitation. 'Here I am! I stand at the door and knock.' ... The choice is up to us. Isn't it incredible that God leaves the choice to us? Think about it. There are many things in life we can't choose. We can't, for example, choose the weather. We can't control the economy. But we can choose where to spend eternity. The big choice, God leaves to us. The critical decision is ours. ... What are you doing with his invitation?" By the way, that quote was found in a literature rack of a PCA church. Here's the second quote from Lucados' book entitled When Christ Comes: "How could a loving God send people to hell? That's a commonly asked question. The question itself reveals a couple of misconceptions. First, God does not send people to hell. He simply honors their choice. Hell is the ultimate expression of God's high regard for the dignity of man. He has never forced us to choose him, even when that means we would choose hell. As C.S. Lewis stated, 'There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done" and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done." All that are in hell choose it.' In another book Lewis said it this way: 'I willingly believe the damned are, in one sense, successful rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.' No, God does not 'send' people to hell. Nor does he send 'people' to hell. That is the second misconception. The word people is neutral, implying innocence. Nowhere does Scripture teach that innocent people are condemned. People do not go to hell. Sinners do. The rebellious do. The self-centered do. So how could a loving God send people to hell? He doesn't. He simply honors the choice of sinners."
And the last set of quotes is from the most famous evangelist of all time, Billy Graham. Quote number one: "Because of man's free will, it is obvious by the very definition of things that man can deny the will of God and frustrate His benevolent plans." Quote number two: "Unfortunately, God has no power over the will of man. That is to say, He cannot save a person against his will, but at the same time He is not willing that any should perish. He has made it possible for all men to be saved, but the Bible indicates that salvation depends on man's willingness to be saved. It would be a kind of tyranny if God saved people against their will." Quote number three: "Christ will not compel you. He doesn't force His way into anybody's life. He stands at your heart's door and asks you to open the door. You can say no to Christ. You can shake your fist at Him if you want to and there's nothing He can do about it, because He gave you a will of your own. ... It's a matter of personal choice." Quote number four: "Don't pray for these people who have come forward. You may have prayed for them before, and that is good. You can pray for them later on, and that will be good too. But right now prayer is useless, for not even God can help them. They must accept Christ of their own free will, all by themselves, and God has no power over the will of man."
Do you see how the concept of "free will" fits in with universal atonement? In the false gospel of universal atonement, Jesus Christ died for everyone without exception. Thus, it CANNOT be the work of Jesus Christ that makes the difference between salvation and damnation, since Jesus Christ did the same thing for those in heaven as he did for those in hell. What, then, makes the difference? Well, according to the universal atonement advocates, what makes the difference is the sinner's CHOICE. It is the sinner's WILL that makes the ultimate difference. It only makes sense. If Jesus Christ did the same thing for everybody, yet everybody doesn't go to heaven, it must be something the sinner CHOOSES to do, whether he does it by himself or is aided by the so-called "grace" of God, that makes the difference.
Thus far the words of men. Now let's go to the Bible to see what GOD says about the will of the unregenerate. Let's first turn to Psalm 14 and read verses 1 though 3:
Psalm 14: (1) The fool has said in his heart, [There is] no God! They acted corruptly; they did hatefully in deeds; there is none doing good. (2) Jehovah looked down from Heaven on the sons of mankind, to see if there were any discerning [and] seeking God: (3) they [have] all turned aside; together they have become filthy; [there is] none doing good, not even one!
What does this say about all unregenerate people without exception? First, they all say in their hearts that there is no God. Now, of course, the objection comes up that there are many unregenerate people who believe in God. And I reply, do any unregenerate people believe in the true and living God of the Bible? The answer is NO, NOT A SINGLE unregenerate person believes in the true and living God of the Bible, and EVERY SINGLE unregenerate person says in his heart that the God of the Bible does not exist. What else do we see about all unregenerate people without exception? We see that all of their deeds are corrupt and hateful. None of them do good, not a single one. Another objection comes up here, which is that there are many unregenerate people who are kind and moral and do good things. Turn to Matthew 7:16-18:
Matthew 7: (16) From their fruits you shall know them. Do they gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles? (17) So every good tree produces good fruits, but the corrupt tree produces evil fruits. (18) A good tree cannot produce evil fruits, nor a corrupt tree produce good fruits.
We're concentrating on the bad tree here. Verse 17 says that a corrupt tree produces evil fruits. Okay, but it doesn't say that a corrupt tree produces ONLY evil fruits, does it? How dare we infer that when Jesus says that a corrupt tree produces evil fruits, it means EXCLUSIVELY evil fruits! But, of course, just to eliminate all such nonsense, Jesus says in the next verse that a corrupt tree CANNOT produce good fruits. Can it be more clear? Not only does it produce evil fruits, it CANNOT produce good fruits. So what about those unbelievers who are kind and moral and do good things? Well, their kindness and morality and worldly good is nothing but wickedness. Turn over to Proverbs 12:10:
Proverbs 12: (10) The righteous knows the life of his animal, but the mercies of the wicked [are] cruel.
Even when the unbeliever does so-called goodness to others, it is actually cruelty in God's sight! We can say with confidence that NOTHING the unbelievers do is good and that EVERYTHING unbelievers do is corrupt, hateful, wicked, and evil.
Back to Psalm 14. Starting with verse 2, we see that that there is not a single unbeliever who is discerning. They cannot tell the difference between good and evil. Then we see that there is not a single unbeliever who seeks God. What? Not a single unbeliever who seeks God? That's right. But what about all those unbelieving seekers out there? Not a single one of them is seeking the true and living God. They're seeking, alright, but they're not seeking God. In verse 3, we see that all unbelievers without exception have turned aside and have become filthy. They have turned away from the true and living God and are all filthy, dirty, a stench in God's nostrils. And finally, the Psalmist reiterates that none of them do good, not even one.
Let's turn to John 3:19-20:
John 3: (19) And this is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness more than the Light, for their works were evil. (20) For everyone practicing wickedness hates the Light, and does not come to the Light, that his works may not be exposed.
These verses show that all unbelievers without exception love darkness more than light and in fact hate the light. Their works are evil, and they practice wickedness. Now over to Romans 8:5-8:
Romans 8: (5) For the ones that are according to flesh mind the things of the flesh. And the ones according to Spirit [mind] the things of the Spirit. (6) For the mind of the flesh [is] death, but the mind of the Spirit [is] life and peace; (7) because the mind of the flesh [is] enmity towards God; for it is not being subjected to the Law of God, for neither can it [be]. (8) And those being in the flesh are not able to please God.
These verses show that all unbelievers without exception mind the things of the flesh, are at enmity with God, and are not subjected to God's law. But look at what else it says about the unbelievers' ABILITY: they CANNOT be subjected to God's law, and they CANNOT please God. Not only ARE they not subjected to God's law and ARE they not pleasing to God, they CANNOT be subjected to God's law, and they CANNOT please God. They are UNABLE to do these things. Now back to John, chapter 6, verse 44:
John 6: (44) No one is able to come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up in the last day.
No one is ABLE to come to Christ, unless God drags him to Christ. And, by the way, everyone who is dragged to Christ will be saved. No one can resist God's grace. We've gone over this before. Now over to Hebrews 11:6:
Hebrews 11: (6) But without faith [it is] impossible to please [God]. For it is right [that] the [one] drawing near to God should believe that He is, and [that] He becomes a rewarder to the [ones] seeking Him out.
Here's another verse about ability. All unbelievers without exception CANNOT please God. It is IMPOSSIBLE. So do their prayers please God? Do their works of morality please God? Does their worldly good please God? Turn to Proverbs 15:8:
Proverbs 15: (8) The sacrifice of the wicked [is] a hateful thing to Jehovah, but the prayer of the upright [is] His delight.
Even the religious things, including worship and prayer, of the wicked, are abominations to God. There are NONE who do good, not even ONE. Not only DO they not do any good, they CANNOT do any good. It is IMPOSSIBLE for them to do any good. Look over at Jeremiah 13:23:
Jeremiah 13: (23) Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? [Then] you also may do good who are accustomed to doing evil.
An unbeliever is as able to do good as an Ethiopian is able to change his skin or a leopard is able to change his spots. Now to Romans 7:5:
Romans 7: (5) For when we were in the flesh, the passions of sin were working in our members through the Law for the bearing of fruit unto death.
The only thing that unbelievers can do, which is the only thing that we who are believers could do when we were unbelievers, was to bear fruit unto death. Even the works of the Law were fruit unto death and dead works, as Hebrews 9:14 says. Ephesians 2:1-3 also shows our former state. Let's turn over there:
Ephesians 2: (1) and you being dead in deviations and sins, (2) in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit now working in the sons of disobedience, (3) among whom we also all conducted ourselves in times past in the lusts of our flesh, doing the things willed of the flesh and of the understanding, and were by nature the children of wrath, even as the rest.
What does this say about us, before we were saved? We were DEAD in trespasses and in sins. Now when it says we were DEAD, does that mean that we didn't breathe, or that our heart wasn't beating, or that our brain wasn't working? Well, we can see from verses 2 and 3 that it doesn't mean that, because it says that we were DOING THINGS. So when we talk about unbelievers being DEAD, we don't mean that they don't do anything. This is a certain kind of death. As verse 1 says, it is a kind of death that is in TRESPASSES and SINS. We were dead IN OUR SINS. Colossians 2:13 says that we were dead in the offenses and the uncircumcision of our flesh. Romans 6:17 and 20 says that we were SLAVES of sin. So we were DEAD in sin and SLAVES to sin. This means that everything we did was evil, and we COULD NOT do ANYTHING good. We couldn't even understand the difference between good and evil. In the second part of Romans 6:20, it says that we were "free as to righteousness." This means that when we were slaves to sin, we were WITHOUT righteousness. We did not have a righteousness that answered the demands of God's law and justice. Colossians 1:21 says that we were alienated and hostile in our minds by evil works. And these things are still true of every unbeliever without exception.
Now let's turn to 2 Corinthians 4:3-4:
2 Corinthians 4: (3) But also if our gospel is being hidden, it has been hidden in those being lost, (4) in whom the god of this age has blinded the thoughts of the unbelieving, [so that] the brightness of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God, [should] not dawn on them.
The thoughts of every unbeliever without exception are blinded. And now to another passage that talks about the mind and thoughts of unbelievers - Ephesians 4:18:
Ephesians 4: (18) having been darkened in the intellect, being alienated [from] the life of God through the ignorance which is in them because of the hardness of their heart,
Every unbeliever without exception has been darkened in his intellect and is estranged from the life of God through his ignorance because of the blindness of his heart. Every unbeliever is ignorant of the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel, no matter how much religious zeal he has, as Romans 10:1-4 says.
And finally, let's turn to 1 Co 2:14. As we read this, let's think of what this says about the ABILITY of every unbeliever, every natural man:
1 Corinthians 2: (14) But a natural man does not receive the things of [the] Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he is not able to know [them], because they are spiritually discerned.
What does this say about the ABILITY of every unbeliever? He is NOT ABLE to know the things of the Spirit of God, because he has no UNDERSTANDING of spiritual things. Spiritual things are FOOLISHNESS to him.
Now, after having read all these passages, let's go back to the original question. Do unbelievers have free will? Do they have the ability to choose between good and evil, to desire to do good, to want to believe in the true God? Do they have the ability to choose to come to Christ, to desire to believe the true gospel? Absolutely not. Every natural descendant of Adam is completely polluted with hatred of the true and living God, and all of the natural man's thoughts, words, and deeds - even his kindness, morality, and religion -- are dead works, evil deeds, and fruit unto death. Every natural descendent of Adam is spiritually dead, having no spiritual understanding, a lover of darkness rather than light, a slave of sin, unable and unwilling to obey God and come to Jesus Christ for salvation.
Let's go back to our text, which is Romans 9:16:
Romans 9:(16) So, then, [it is] not of the [one] willing, nor of the [one] running, but of the [One] showing mercy, of God.
Some of you might be wondering about the difference between "willing" and "running" in this verse. Well, the Greek word for "to will" means "to determine, to choose, to prefer, to be inclined to, to be disposed toward." It involves THINKING. And what does it mean "to run"? We all know what running is, right? It is an ACTION. So what God is saying here through Paul is that favor with God, including salvation, does not depend on a person's THOUGHTS - specifically wanting or willing or choosing good or to come to Christ - or a person's ACTIONS - specifically doing good works. After all, all of unregenerate man's thoughts and actions are wicked and hateful to God, and unregenerate man has no ability to do anything differently. So OF COURSE it can't have anything to do with man's willing or running! Yet all throughout the world today, most of what is being preached is that favor with God, including salvation, DOES have to do with willing and/or running. Free-will is the idol to which most church-goers are bowing today. And, as I've said many times before, whatever you think makes the difference between salvation and damnation is what you boast in and glory in. And millions of people are boasting in and glorying in themselves and their free wills today. And NOT A SINGLE ONE OF THESE PEOPLE is saved. Their wills remain bound in sin, and they only will and work out sin.
Let's look at the last part of the verse. If favor with God, including salvation, has nothing to do with what man wills or works out, then what does it have to do with? If God's love for Jacob had nothing to do with Jacob's willing or running, then what made him to differ from Esau, whom God hated? Did Jacob's thoughts put him in God's favor? Did Jacob's behavior put him in God's favor? Did God look down through time to see if Jacob would love Him, and then God chose to love Jacob back? No - as 1 John 4:10 and 19 says, "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son [to be] a propitiation relating to our sins. ... We love Him because He first loved us." Not the other way around. Favor with God does is not due to men's willing or men's actions - it has solely to do with God who shows mercy on whomever he wants to show mercy. God's mercy is totally unmerited and is unreactive. God doesn't show mercy in response to those who are willing or those who are running. Natural man's willing and running are just dead works and fruit unto death. They cannot come to God, obey God, or please God. It is ALL of God, and NONE of man. To close, let's read John 1:12-l3:
John 1: (12) But as many as received Him, to them He gave authority to become children of God, to the ones believing into His name, (13) who were born not of blood, nor of [the] will of [the] flesh, nor of [the] will of man, but [were born] of God.