Doctrine of Man (Part 16)

December 30, 2013     Time: 00:42:41

Last time I gave a defense of the traditional doctrine of original sin, and promised before we moved on in our outline to the next section we would give opportunity for discussion of what was said.

You will remember I argued that the key passage in Romans 5 could indeed be reasonably interpreted in terms of all men’s culpability and solidarity with Adam in his fall and that we can understand this in terms of Adam serving as our representative or proxy before God. And that no one could complain about being misrepresented by Adam before God because it’s possible that God knew that if any of us were in the same position as Adam we would have done exactly the same thing.

Then I went on to argue that we should not think that infant baptism is something that removes the guilt and stain of original sin. This has negative consequences for the church when people take infant baptism to be coincidental with spirit baptism and regeneration because I think that leads to a church which is filled with people who, rather than making a personal decision to trust in Christ as believers, are trusting in a decision that was made for them by their parents in baptizing them as infants.


Question: I think you pointed out that there is several parallels between Adam and our infection with sin because of Adam’s fall and with Christ, through the one man, being forgiven. Right? There are parallels between those two things. It seems like we are infected by Adam’s fall without any choice of our own, without really having to do anything to be infected. It seems like, if it were purely parallel, we ought to be forgiven without having to do anything. Maybe it is not perfectly parallel? How would you say that?

Answer: That would be my response – it isn’t perfectly parallel. With regard to Christ’s redemption, although his substitutionary atonement is sufficient for the redemption of all mankind (in other words, I disagree with those who say Christ died only for the elect and that the non-elect do not have their sins covered by Christ’s blood), it seems to me that nevertheless that redemption needs to be applied. So while Christ has accomplished a death that is sufficient for the salvation of all persons, nevertheless persons do need to respond to that and appropriate it personally. In that sense it would be different from Adam’s sin. It seems to me that in regard to Adam’s sin we are born into that situation. Although we do ratify it by our choices as we choose individually to sin, still we carry that sin nature already from birth. So I do think that it isn’t perfectly parallel.

Question: When you were presenting all of the different views, I think Pelagius did bring out a very reasonable perspective where he pretty much put the major responsibility in man’s free will. As 2 Peter stated, his divine power has given us everything we needed and it’s just for us to add upon faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, and perseverance, and all that we need to add to it. So I thought that was reasonable. Can you expand on that?

Answer: Yes. OK, you are referring to 2 Peter 1:3: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.” I think the difference between Pelagius and what I think 2 Peter is affirming is that Pelagius would say that that power that is sufficient for living the godly life is given to us apart from Christ.[1] It is given to us in nature; it is in virtue of being created by God as human beings that we have this power to live a godly life. Whereas I feel confident that what Peter is saying is spoken to Christians. He says that God has given us this power through the knowledge of him who has called us – that is, I think, through Christ. So he is writing to people who are redeemed here and says as believers you have the power in Christ to resist sin and live a virtuous life. However, with regard to your point about freedom of the will, that is the subject for this morning’s lesson and there I am going to be inclined to agree with you that we do want to affirm with Pelagius and others that human beings have freedom with respect to sin and salvation. So we’ll hold off on that until we get to the lesson.

Question: I did a little research on this – about Pelagianism – because I always took it for granted that it was condemned at some council. Well, actually, I found out that it was condemned as a heresy at something called a Second Council of Orange in 529 AD. Interestingly, that was not an ecumenical council. It was more like a regional council that was later affirmed by the Pope, but this was never adopted by the Eastern church as you had mentioned a few weeks ago. There are 25 canons here, I’m not going to read the whole thing but I’ll just read the intro. From Canon 1,

If anyone denies that it is the whole man, that is, both body and soul, that was “changed for the worse” through the offense of Adam’s sin, but believes that the freedom of the soul remains unimpaired and that only the body is subject to corruption, he is deceived by the error of Pelagius and contradicts the scripture which says, “The soul that sins shall die” (Ezek. 18:20); and, “Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are the slaves of the one whom you obey?” (Rom. 6:126); and, “For whatever overcomes a man, to that he is enslaved” (2 Pet. 2:19).

So it has Scripture proofs. But it is very clear that they are condemning Pelagianism and affirming Augustine’s view.

Answer: Yes, that is really interesting in that they are affirming what we talked about with respect to the total depravity of man. It is not just the body or the physical that is corrupted but the soul is also corrupted according to the Council of Orange. So that is a good reminder. Thank you for doing that research.

Question: It seems like Augustine’s, or to the modern Reformed, interpretation of Romans hinges really on two verses in this passage. There is 5:12 and, of course, 5:18. It sort of summarizes the latter portion of this. On 5:12, I just wanted to make a quick comment. As Fitzmyer says,

The vb. hemarton should not be understood as “have sinned collectively” or as “have sinned in Adam,” because they would be additions to Paul’s text. The vb. refers to personal, actual sins of individual human beings, as Pauline usage elsewhere suggests (2:12; 3:23; 5:14,16; 1 Cor. 6:18; 7:28, 36; 8:12; 15:34), as the context demands (vv 16, 20), and as Greek Fathers understood it.[2]

He gives a huge list of references there. It means “have actually, individually, sinned.” There is no imputation or reckoning or anything of that in the direct meaning of that verse.

Answer: Yes. Right. Last week I suggested that the traditional doctrine doesn’t in fact hinge upon verse 12 even though this was the verse to which Augustine appealed. I think you are right about that. But rather the later verses seem to me to be reasonably interpreted in terms of a condemnation that follows one man’s trespass.

Followup: The later verses are summarized in 18 which says, “so just as through one trespass, condemnation came upon all and through one act of uprightness, justification and life came to all human beings.” Notice that the two are parallel.[3] They are parallel in the same way as Romans 5:12, Adam and Christ. You cannot separate the two – have a mythical Adam and a real Christ. In the same way, however the condemnation came, the justification came, there cannot be any breaking of the parallel. So, if it says that everyone is reckoned sinful, therefore everyone is universally saved. I don’t see how you can possibly interpret 5:18 in terms of original sin without also interpreting it in terms of universal salvation. And this is not lost on universalists.

Answer: Right. This is the same point that someone was asking about, really. Is it perfectly parallel? And I think taken in isolation, if you read them as perfectly parallel, it would sound like universalism. But we know Paul didn’t, in fact, think that all persons are saved. The redemption that is universally wrought by Christ needs to be applied and appropriated, and therefore not all are saved. And so I would just say that Paul himself, by thinking that certain persons are not saved, doesn’t think that they are perfectly parallel in that sense.

Followup: So wouldn’t it also follow therefore that not all are condemned either in that sense; or at least through Adam’s sin.

Answer: Well, that is a reasonable interpretation. As I said, I don’t think we can be dogmatic here on this. But, it seems to me also reasonable to take it in the traditional way and one might think that that would lead logically to a sort of universalism, but then we know later from what Paul says that that is not true – he regards certain persons as lost just by what Christ has done for dying for the sins of the whole world.

Followup: Alright, and Robert Jewett’s comment that “The primary goal of the passage is not to set forth a doctrine of Adam’s sin, but to demonstrate . . . the overflowing dominion of grace in the ‘life’ of all believers.”[4] Is that . . . ?

Answer: Yes, that is a sort of comment that I don’t think is helpful to the debate. It is very easy to say that the main point is something else but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t subsidiary points or implications. I think the better one is the first one that you made – that is, if you press this for really tight parallelism, it would seem to imply universalism. That might lead you then to say, wait a minute, when he says the condemnation following one trespass, that doesn’t mean that everybody is fallen and culpable for Adam’s sin. It would mean something looser than that – that maybe sin came into the world through Adam, and all men eventually sinned, and therefore in that sense they are condemned. I think it’s not an unreasonable view. I think this is one of those areas of Christian doctrine where we need to be charitable and recognize the viability of a multiplicity of interpretations. But given the commitment of the historic Protestant Reformation and Catholic confessions to the doctrine of original sin, I am interested in seeing what sort of a defense of that can be mounted.

Followup: Out of this, could you also interpret it in such a way as to say through one man came the opportunity or ability to be condemned because we are mortalized, we are put in this awful world, we have this ability that maybe Adam in that state didn’t have or through Christ the ability to be saved also came to all men. We keep the parallel that maybe we can both equally.

Answer: Yes, that would be an option.

Freedom of the Will

Let’s press on to today’s subject which is freedom of the will. Let’s look at some of the biblical data pertinent to the question of freedom of the will. The question we are asking here is: do we have the freedom, given our fallenness and sinfulness, to respond to God’s grace? Or are we simply passive and all of the initiative and efficaciousness of salvation comes from the divine side and human beings do not have freedom.

Biblical Data

Let’s look at some passages in the New Testament that speak to this subject.

Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God — not because of works, lest any man should boast.”

Romans 9:6-25 is a very key passage.[5] Romans 9:6-25 says,

But it is not as though the word of God had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his descendants; but “Through Isaac shall your descendants be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are reckoned as descendants. For this is what the promise said, “About this time I will return and Sarah shall have a son.” And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad, in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call, she was told, “The elder will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So it depends not upon man’s will or exertion, but upon God’s mercy. For the scripture says to Pharaoh, “I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy upon whomever he wills, and he hardens the heart of whomever he wills.

You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, a man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me thus?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for beauty and another for menial use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the vessels of wrath made for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for the vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea,

“Those who were not my people
I will call ‘my people,’
and her who was not beloved
I will call ‘my beloved.’”

Then in chapter 10:6-13,

But the righteousness based on faith says, Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?” (that is, to bring Christ down) or “Who will descend into the abyss?” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach); because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved. The scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and bestows his riches upon all who call upon him. For, “every one who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Finally, Galatians 3:6-9 says[6],

Thus Abraham “believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” So you see that it is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are men of faith are blessed with Abraham who had faith.

That is the scriptural data that we’ll want to look at with respect to this question of freedom of the will and the appropriation of God’s grace.

Attempts to Systematize the Data

Reformation: Bondage of the Will

This is Reformation Sunday, so it’s very appropriate that we should look at what the Reformers had to say about this question of the freedom of the will. What the Reformers held to was the bondage of the will. Infected with original sin, fallen man is incapable of freely choosing for God and appropriating his grace. So Luther, for example, held that human beings are, as he put it, free in things below but bound in things above. That is to say, Luther was willing to grant that human beings have freedom of the will with respect to earthly affairs, for example, the decision to go buy cottage cheese at Publix rather than Trader Joe’s. You have that freedom to make such a decision. But, when it comes to things above (that is to say, spiritual matters), there man’s sinfulness has bound his will so that man is not free to choose for God and to appropriate his grace. Rather, this must come entirely from God’s side. It is God who elects and chooses and saves whom he will.

Calvin was even more stringent in his view of the bondage of the will. Calvin would not even allow freedom in things below. For Calvin, in virtue of God’s sovereignty and providence, everything is determined by God. So Calvin emphasized the doctrines of total depravity – that every aspect of the human person is fallen and infected with sin. Remember that doesn’t mean that each person is as bad as he could possibly be, but it does mean that every aspect of the human person is fallen and corrupted by sin; totally depraved in that sense. From which it follows that unconditional election must obtain. That is to say, God does not choose based upon how he sees you believe or he sees how you would respond to the offer of the Gospel. You have no ability, being totally depraved, to respond to the offer of the Gospel. Preaching the Gospel to you is like preaching to a dead man because you are dead in your sins. So God must unconditionally elect to save those whom he wills, and he simply passes over those whom he does not elect or choose to save, and they are damned as a result. Following on total depravity and unconditional election will be God’s irresistible grace. Given that the grace is coming from God alone and that God is omnipotent, God’s grace is irresistible by human beings. You do not have the freedom to respond to God’s grace, but neither do you have the freedom to resist it either because it is God who unconditionally has elected to save you. Therefore, if that is his sovereign decree, you will be saved, and his grace will ineluctably, inevitably achieve its effect in you. So it is totally from the side of God that salvation occurs.

So it was in that sense that the Reformers interpreted the doctrine of sola gratia. It is not simply that we are saved through no merit of our own but by God’s undeserved favor.[7] But it is even more than that. It is an irresistible grace that you have no power to harden yourself against. There is nothing about you that would cause God to elect you or choose you, but he simply sovereignly chooses to save whom he wills, and he gives his irresistible grace to those persons, and as a result they are saved. So there is no freedom of the will with respect to salvation.

Catholic (Council of Trent): Freedom of the Will

In contrast to this is the Roman Catholic view that was enunciated at the Council of Trent following the Protestant Reformation. The Council of Trent was held between the years 1545 and 1563 – over a long period of time and many sessions. It was, as it were, the Catholic response to the Reformation. It epitomized the doctrines and teaching of the Catholic Counter-Reformation in response to the Reformers’ doctrine. The doctrine promulgated at Trent affirms freedom of the will in contrast to the Reformers. According to Trent, the process of salvation has several steps, or stages as it were, in which God and human beings each plays his part.

1. God’s prevenient grace. This first step is from God’s side. Against Pelagius the Council of Trent held that you do not approach God saying “Oh, God, I am searching for you. I want you. I feel this vacuum in my heart, a God-shaped vacuum. I am seeking you.” And God responds. No, no. God’s grace comes first – it is prevenient. God’s grace first seeks you out, the sinful, fallen, corrupted, natural man who does not seek the things of the spirit of God. So the first step comes entirely from the divine side. It is God’s initiative in salvation to seek out sinful persons.

2. Preparation of the heart for the receiving of God’s grace. This comes from the human side. This now is the human response to God’s prevenient grace which is drawing you to himself. So this is where freedom of the will enters in. It is not as though the bestowal of God’s grace is a totally unilateral process. It does require some sort of human response.

3. Back to God – and this is justification. Here, in response to the human preparation, God infuses his grace into the individual believer. So first God, then human response, and now God again with his justifying grace.

4. Then we go back to the human response: filled with God’s grace – in the power of God’s grace – human beings are then enabled to perform good works which God’s grace works in you.

5. The merit of these good works that you perform then win your salvation. So the final step is eternal life in which through the merit of the good works that God’s grace has enabled you to perform you now go into eternal life and find heaven.

So you can see that the Catholic doctrine is a blend of both divine and human factors in salvation.[8] God’s prevenient grace, his justifying you, his giving eternal life, but the human factor is involved in the response of the heart to God’s grace and then in performing good works through God’s grace in you, the power of God’s grace working out these good works that then merit the eternal life that God gives you.


Question: Where does Arminianism fit in with this? Because he kind of has this same concept.

Answer: Where does Arminianism fit into this? Jacob Arminius was a Dutch theologian who disagreed with the Reformers about the bondage of the will and God’s irresistible grace. In fact, according to the church historian Richard Muller, it was through Jacob Arminius that Molinism entered into Protestant theology.[9] What is Molinism? Molinism is the theological alternative developed by a Jesuit theologian named Louis Molina in the late 1500s in which he wanted to affirm a doctrine of grace that would affirm God’s sovereignty and authority and ultimacy but without denial of the human will. He thought that the Protestant Reformers erred in making man a puppet, and therefore we want to affirm along with divine sovereignty a strong robust doctrine of libertarian free will. Arminius is basically a Protestant Molinist.

What did Molina think? Molina’s doctrine was that God’s grace is (here I am going to use some technical terminology) not intrinsically efficacious, it is extrinsically efficacious. What did he mean by that? What he means by that is that grace, when God gives it, does not inevitably achieve its result. It is not irresistible in the way that Calvin thought. Rather, grace is extrinsically efficacious, that is to say, it will achieve its intended result when it meets with an appropriate response of the human will. So God’s grace is sufficient for salvation but it is extrinsically efficacious – it requires a human response in order to bring about its effect. Molina believed that God in his knowledge knew exactly which gifts of grace would be most effective in winning a free human response. So he knew, for example, that if you were, say, born into a non-Christian family with an alcoholic father and that you were to hear the Gospel from a high school student during this time of great despair and you were to read the New Testament that was given to you by the Gideons then you would respond freely to his grace and become a Christian. So God puts you in exactly those situations and gives you those gifts of grace.

So Molina’s doctrine is that you have a combination of God’s sovereignty with genuine human freedom through his knowledge of how any human being would respond to God’s grace if it were given. That is basically Arminius’ view as well. So this is a view that is quite different from these two polar opposites that I’ve outlined here. I sketched the extremes rather than some mediating position.

Is that clear? I hope it is. Go back and look at what we said about Molinism when we talked about divine providence and God’s omniscience because for Molina predestination and election are simply the doctrine of divine providence applied to matters of salvation. Just as God providentially rules the world through his knowledge of how people would freely react in different circumstances, so he predestines and elects people by knowing how they would freely respond to various gifts of his grace that he might give them.[10] So he can win the free response of creatures by according them gifts of grace and circumstances to which he knew they would freely respond. So they are free, it is not deterministic in contrast to the Calvinists and Lutherans, but on the other hand it isn’t necessarily saying that there is any kind of merit in what you do to win salvation. It gives you a very strong doctrine of sovereignty but also human freedom.

Question: I don’t want to take us off into the doctrine of election too much but suffice it to say I believe that some people choose Christ on their own and some have it chosen for them. I think God zaps some people, as you put it one time, and other people choose on their own. I think there are two groups and two ways you can get to heaven. We won’t argue that at this point but if you believe that, as I do, then you have to ask yourself the question: what about those who, of their own volition, accept God? God has nothing to do with it, he doesn’t override them. They accept it. Why do they? Are they more noble than other people? Are they better than other people? Well, it turns out, apparently, they are. I would direct you to the Luke account of the Parable of the Sower, especially to verse 15. What it is is 8:15. Over the years since I’ve been wrestling with election, this just went off like a hand grenade one day when I saw this. There are three accounts of this – the other two synoptic Gospels don’t have it, so maybe that is one reason I overlooked it. These are the words of Christ and he describes the seed that fell on the “good soil.” I have an NIV: “But the seed on the good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” I would like to point out that the word “noble” is the word “kalos”, strong 2570, which means “inherently good.” The word here translated “good” in the NIV is “agathy,” strong 18, which means “benevolent, able to externalize its qualities.” First of all, this shoots down the idea that all men are 100% bad, which you’ve already said that’s not true. According to Christ that is not true. Now the question arises – now we are getting about as deep into theology as you can get – the question now arises, why are these people’s hearts good and noble? Is this just a genetic property? Circumstance? A spiritual circumstance? Did God have anything to do with it? I must say I don’t know exactly why but I want to throw these out. Anybody considering these, I think you might want to look at these passages.

Answer: Thank you for bringing that up. This is a parable that sits very uncomfortably with the Reformed doctrine, doesn’t it? Because here, as you say, Christ regards those who respond and persevere as being those who correspond to the good soil. This is the good soil on which the Word of God falls, and then they respond in an appropriate way. We will talk some more about this when we get to an evaluation of this but I think you are quite right to at least bring this passage up for our thinking because it will need to be factored in.

Question: Mine is simpler – my comment. I would say when the question came up on where Arminianism fits in, the Arminian wouldn’t hold to the merit of good works. I would think that would be the lynch pin there.

Answer: Certainly not, but neither would the Reformed. The Arminian doesn’t differ from the Reformed or Lutheran in rejecting number 4. So the question, I think, that was being asked is where does the Arminian differ from the Lutheran and the Reformed view, and it would be with respect to the bondage of the will.

Question: It seems to me that Calvin’s view about unconditional election, irresistible grace, limited atonement, and double predestination is very difficult to square with two sets of teachings among others in the New Testament.[11] One, that God is not partial to people. I understand that to mean God treats all people equally. And secondly, Jesus says in John 12 if he is raised up he will draw all men to himself. How did Calvin square his beliefs with those teachings?

Answer: I don’t know what he would say about those passages in particular. You’d have to look at his commentaries to see if he addresses those verses in particular, and I don’t know. But the Reformed theologian would affirm that God freely is partial to the elect. He chooses to elect some out of the mass of condemned people to save, and then he passes over the rest leaving them to be condemned. So there just definitely is a sovereign partiality that cannot be explained. It is simply God’s freedom to save whom he wants.

Followup: A final comment. Acts 10, Galatians 2, Ephesians 6 all say God is not partial. He is impartial. He treats people equally. It is hard to reconcile that.

Answer: Yeah. Well, at least I’m thinking of passages like in James where I think it is talking about not showing partiality based upon a person’s social standing or his riches as opposed to being poor. Maybe in that sense God isn’t partial in preferring to choose say the rich and the well-regarded to be his children. But on the Reformed view it is just undeniable that there would be partiality in the sense that God freely elects to save some out of the mass of condemned people and passes over the others to receive their just desserts. So I guess the question is going to be does that really square well with these scriptures that you’ve raised.

Our concern here is not so much with the doctrine of salvation. We will talk about that later. So we will get back to some of these questions that are mentioned but we do want to evaluate the question of at least man’s freedom in this process. So that is the issue we will address when we meet together next time.[12]


[1] 5:14

[2] Joseph A. Fitzmeyer, Romans: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Anchor Bible, Vol. 33; New York: Doubleday, 1993), p. 417.

[3] 10:08

[4] Robert Jewett, Romans (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), p. 370.

[5] 15:16

[6] 20:00

[7] 25:09

[8] 30:05

[9] See Richard A. Muller, God, Creation, and Providence in the Thought of Jacob Arminius: Sources and Directions of Scholastic Protestantism in the Era of Early Orthodoxy (Baker Pub Group, 1991).

[10] 35:13

[11] 40:03

[12] Total Running Time: 42:41 (Copyright © 2013 William Lane Craig)