Let’s start with what everyone agrees on: Man was created perfect. Man chose to sin. Man is now sinful and imperfect, cannot in his sinful state come into a perfect heaven before a holy God, and deserves eternal separation from God in Hell.
Here’s the disagreement:
- A Is there any good left in man?
- B Can man desire God?
- C Can man, without God’s direct intervention, having saving faith?
A. Is There Any Good Left In Man?
I’d say yes. There is good in man. Man was made “in God’s image,” and sin scarred that and twisted that, but man still has some of that good that God placed in him. Man has a conscience, which is good, but he may choose to ignore.
Even the most obvious sinners showed virtues: If a murderer killed someone carefully or diligently worked to kill many, he showed carefulness or diligence, both of which God designed as “good.”
Man is valuable, as taught in all of Jesus’ stories, his parables. In the story of the lost sheep, that one last sheep, though disobedient, had value enough to justify the shepherd leaving the 99 and seeking diligently after that one.
This value is from whatever part of “God’s image” that we still have, for God does not go to such trouble to rescue animals, which were not made in His image. Therefore, although we are imperfect, we have good and value left in us from whatever God made us, originally, to be.
We are desired by God. To say that is not boastful, because whatever good we are comes from He who made us. If we have intelligence of beauty, we know that God gets the credit.
We must have some good if God desires us so wholeheartedly!
"Therefore, behold, I will allure her, Will bring her into the wilderness, And speak comfort to her.
I will give her her vineyards from there, And the Valley of Achor as a door of hope; She shall sing there, As in the days of her youth, As in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt.
'And it shall be, in that day,' says the Lord, 'That you will call Me "My Husband," And no longer call Me "My Master,"'"Hosea 2:14–16
We may be sinful and imperfect, but we still, even after the fall, are “fearfully and wonderfully made!”
"I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well."Psalm 139:14
Those who oppose this position will be sure to point out this verse to me:
"For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, nothing good dwells."Romans 7:18
"The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?"Jeremiah 17:9
Here is my answer to them: First of all, I agree wholeheartedly with Jer. 17:9. The heart is wicked and deceitful, but it is a heart, which is made in the image of God and the beasts of the field do not have. Our heart, though wicked, was originally designed by God, and even now after the fall is called “fearfully and wonderful made.”
We are entirely imperfect, but there remains good in us. Not that we can save ourselves with that good, but that the good that remains in us points toward the most amazing creator: God.
The verse that says “in my flesh, nothing good dwells” may seem to say that there is nothing good in us, but think for a moment. What is meant by flesh? We as Christians are told to live according the spirit, and not according to the flesh. Does that mean that we are to no longer use our bodies, mind, will, or emotions? Of course not.
It means that we are to no longer listen to our old twisted sinful unregenerated spiritual man: the “old man” that Paul talks about in Romans 6. We were spiritually dead, which means that our spirit is where the sin nature dwells.
When we were regenerated and given spiritual life, we have a new spirit: a true spirit which is always alive and with God. The flesh, then, that “old man” of sin that Paul talks about, is our old sinful and dead spirit. that has nothing good in it. Nothing at all. When we die and go to heaven, we will be free from it forever.
"O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?"Romans 7:24
That may have confused you, but let me recap: In your flesh is nothing good. That means that your old nature, which is that part of you that still haunts you and tempts you to do evil, has nothing good in it.
There still is good in the rest of you: In your conscience, mind, will, emotions, body, and in your heart: all of which were designed “fearfully and wonderfully” by God.
B. Can Man Desire God?
I say yes. Man cannot save himself from sin or reconcile Himself to God, we know that, but there is nothing to say that a man cannot want God.
"There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God."Romans 3:11
Man cannot properly understand God, or even seek God, no, but he can desire God.
"Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God,
nor indeed can be."Romans 8:7
The unsaved man cannot submit himself to the law of God, and thus be at enmity with God, but he could wish! Many cannot win the lottery, but they wish.
"For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness."Romans 6:20
Yes, man is naturally enslaved to sin. But a slave can wish to be freed. I mean, that’s why I got saved. I was enslaved to stealing—I wanted out! I could not have freed myself, but I could desire freedom.
"Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You."Psalm 73:25
Yes. Man can desire God. Those who disagree sometimes tell quote to me this verse:
And then they ask me: How can a dead man want anything? Well, when you think of death, maybe what comes to your mind is a limp body that can no nothing."And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins."Ephesians 2:1
Perhaps “inability” best described what you think of, but this is not the scriptural meaning of “death.” Death is separation.
Man spiritually died when his spirit was separation from God, we die physically when our bodies are separated from our spirit, and the final death is when a person is separated physically and spiritually from God eternally. The idea that death means inability is a pagan concept, which comes perhaps from a person who sees another person drop dead, and notices that the dead guy is no longer able to move or so anything. From a biblical point of view, however, that death was merely the separation of body and soul. Dead men can desire things. Remember for a moment Lazarus and the rich man: they both died, and after that the rich man was asking Abraham for stuff:
“Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’"Luke 16:27-28
"But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear."Isaiah 59:2
C. Can Man, Without God’s Direct Intervention, Have Saving Faith?
People will babble on and on about saving faith and how it is imputed to us by God and is morally good. But what is faith? Is it actually good? When asked what faith is, many people will recite this:
"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."Hebrews 11:1
That tells us what faith acts as, or what it’s used for. Faith is used as evidence. Faith is used as a foundation for hope. But what is it made out of? As far as I can tell, faith is a belief and a choice. That’s why faith without works, which is a choice, is not faith at all. According to James, “even the demons believe.” True faith is defined in terms of a belief and a choice:
"That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved."Romans 10:9
Believe plus a choice to confess. A belief and a choice. That what faith is. One kid once described faith as “choosing to believe what you know ain’t so.”
But no, faith is something that happens everyday. I have faith, that when I click “publish post,” this message will posted so that you can read it, and so I choose to spend a lot of time recording my thoughts. The people at the grocery store believe that the money I gave them is not fake, and so they choose to accept it in exchange for merchandise.
Even people who hurt other people have faith. My sister believes that if she kicks my knee hard enough, I will experience pain, and so she chooses to kick me. All this is faith, and what’s so “morally good” about it?
What determines whether the faith is good is what that faith is in. If I have faith that my airsoft gun is empty, and choose to point it at my brother and pull the trigger as a joke, but the gun is not empty, then that faith was bad.
On the other hand, if I believe that the airsoft gun is loaded, and chooses not to shoot my 6-year-old brother, then that faith is good. Faith, in and of itself, is not helpful or unhelpful, morally good or morally bad.
Anyone can have faith, and everyone has faith in something. Faith in Christ as Savior is helpful and good only because what the faith is in, Christ, is good. We can come up with faith in Christ or faith in anything else.
When I got saved, it was selfish—nothing “morally good” about it. I was in trouble, I was raised to believe that God could save me (belief) and I choose to ask Him to help me (save me) because I couldn’t get out myself!
That’s the same act that is done by a crook who gets arrested and then, having faith that his friend has enough money to bail him out, chooses to call his friend and ask for help. When a crook does that, we call it selfish or irresponsible.
When someone asks God for help for the same reason, people call it “morally good.” This is illogical, and has no scriptural basis. We can have faith in God. Anyone can have faith in God, and anyone can repent. God commands everyone to repent.
"Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked,
but now commands all men everywhere to repent."Acts 17:30
And we know that whenever God gives a command, He gives the ability to follow that command. God commanded Moses to lead the Jews out of Egypt, which seems impossible, but God made a way. Christ commanded Lazarus to come forth from the grace, which also would be impossible, but God made a way. God does not give any command, but makes a way for us to do it; a way for us to avoid disobeying Him.
Some, reading this opinion of mine, will say that I believe in works-based salvation, that man can save himself, or that it means that man is in control, rather than God. I can assure you that nothing is further from the truth."No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it."1 Corinthians 10:13
Man can do good, sure; man can repent, sure; man can desire God, sure; man can have faith in God, sure; but none of that can make someone good enough to go to heaven.
The blood of Christ saves, and it is only because God is gracious enough to offer that to us that any of this even makes a difference! God is in charge. God is one who determines who He wants to save, and it is He that saves us. Monergism. He determines who to save, conditionally, because He has every right to be picky.