In John chapter 6, Jesus says something that's rather shocking. No one has the ability to come to me, he says. Now let me ask this question. Does man, in and of himself, according to Jesus, have the ability to come to Jesus?
No. How do you react when you hear that, that no one has the ability to come to Jesus? Dr. R.C. Sproul is going to explain as we continue his series, Chosen by God. But before we get to his message today, I'm joined here in the studio by Dr. Stephen Nichols, who is the president of Reformation Bible College and the author of Dr. Sproul's biography. Steve, I know you have a funny story related to Dr. Sproul's book, Chosen by God. Would you share that with us?
I do, and I'd be glad to. So I was taking a friend of mine to meet R.C. and introduced him, set it up.
They had time together. And so my friend shakes his hand, meets him, and says to R.C., you know, the first time I met you, I read you, and it was chosen by God. And then he says, and the first time I read that book, I got so angry, I threw it against the wall.
Actually, R.C. said, you're not the first one to tell me that. But, you know, Lee, that actually points to something. And it points to what especially this lecture is about. And when we talk about man's radical fallenness, we're talking about a doctrine that's been held for centuries, total depravity, from the time the Reformers goes back to Augustine before that, and it goes to Paul before that.
But it's also a doctrine that it seems like in every age, it's met with resistance, if not outright rejection. We like to think of ourselves as good, or at least capable of good. And what this reminds us of is we're not.
And so we know R.C. was very helpful in teaching us who God is. He was also helpful in teaching us who we are. And we need to see ourselves as fallen, or we will never understand what Christ was doing on the cross, and we'll never cry out for it unless we see our need.
Thank you, Steve, for sharing that with us. And with that in mind, let's join Dr. Sproul for his message titled, Man's Radical Fallenness. In our last session in our study of predestination, we looked at the concept of free will. And at the end of that lecture I set forth some ideas that were originally presented by Jonathan Edwards and also by St. Augustine, some references to Luther and to John Calvin. But as much respect as we may or may not have for these great teachers in the history of the church, I think we would all recognize that none of them individually and all of them collectively are to be regarded as infallible teaching authorities. And so we need to go to the next step as we examine the whole question of man's moral ability or lack of it and listen to what our Lord Himself teaches, because though we may be prone to disagree with Augustine or Luther or Calvin or any other great teacher, far be it from us to stand in opposition to the teaching of Christ Himself. So in this session I want us to give some attention now to some very crucial statements that Jesus made regarding man's ability or the lack of it. I'll turn our attention first of all to the sixth chapter of John's gospel where Jesus says in verse 65, and He was saying, For this reason I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it is given to him by the Father. Now let's look at that verse.
No one can come to Me unless it is given to him by the Father. The first two words in this statement, no one, or some translations read no man, no person, no one. That statement, if we apply the categories of logic to this and the laws of immediate inference and so on, we see that this statement is what we call a universal negative. That is to say it is all-inclusive.
What Jesus is saying is without exception there is no human being who, whatever it is He's going to say about them, that is can come to Him unless it is given to Him by the Father. So this is an absolute, it's a negative absolute, and we have to understand that. Now the next word is also crucial to our understanding. It is the word can.
No one can. Now the word can, or at least the word that is used here in the Greek text is less ambitious and ambiguous than the word can is in our language because in our language the word can is often mistaken for what other word? May. That's right.
We've all been corrected. I remember when we were children and going to school and we'd put our hands up and say, Teacher, can I sharpen my pencil? And she would always say, I'm sure you can, and you also may. And she would then take that opportunity to teach us that lesson that seems so difficult for us to learn of the difference between the word may, which suggests permission, and the word can. The word can has to do with ability. So what this verse is saying is that to say that no man can is to say that no one has the ability to do something. If I say no one can run thirty miles an hour, that means no one has the ability to run thirty miles an hour, or three hundred miles an hour.
I don't know how fast people can run. Alright, now what is it that no one has the ability to do that Jesus is talking about here? No one has the ability to come to me, He says.
Now, let me ask this question. Does man, in and of himself, according to Jesus, have the ability to come to Jesus? No. Do some men have the ability to come to Jesus in and of themselves?
No. No man can come to Jesus, no man can come to me unless. Now we see a clause that follows that we call an exceptive clause, unless introduces an exception. And unless points to what we call in philosophy a necessary condition. Now what is a necessary condition? A prerequisite, something that has to happen before something else can possibly happen.
That's what a prerequisite is. And so Jesus is saying that there is a necessary condition that must be met before anyone can come to Him. Now what does He identify in this verse as the necessary condition for anyone to be able to come to Him? Unless the Father gives it to Him. Or other translations, unless it is granted by the Father. Another translation reads, unless the Father enables Him. Now those words don't all mean the same thing. To grant means to give permission. To give means to give a gift. And to enable means to empower.
All right? So there is a certain ambiguity here about what that necessary condition is. And there's another question that is still hanging out here, and that is if a necessary condition is provided, now we're not talking about coming to Jesus in any situation. If a necessary condition is provided in a situation, does a necessary condition guarantee that the result you want will in fact take place? Now that's why we make a distinction between necessary conditions and sufficient conditions. A sufficient condition is a condition that if it is met guarantees the result.
It suffices. So all of this verse's teaching is that in terms of man's natural ability, none of us has the ability in and of ourselves to come to Christ unless God does something. We're still not sure exactly what it is that God does. And we're still not sure that if God does it, it will guarantee that people will come. All we know is that whatever it is that God does is a necessary condition, a prerequisite.
Okay? Now the classical Arminian approach to this or semi-Pelagian approach to this is that nobody can come to Jesus unless the Father entices Him or woos Him. Again, that's usually tied into some notion of prevenient grace or the influence of the Holy Spirit to woo and to entice. And the word draw here is interpreted to mean to woo or to attract, just as honey draws bees and lights draw moths. But the idea is that the drawing that God does is still resistible. And those who respond to the enticement, those who respond to being wooed are then redeemed according to Arminianism, and those who do not respond to being drawn are subsequently lost. The Augustinian interpretation of the verse is that the word to draw means more than simply to entice or to woo. Now let's see how this Greek word is used elsewhere in the New Testament. If we would turn our Bibles here to James chapter 2, verse 6, we will find this same Greek word used in the New Testament. I shall read the verse. But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? I'm going to ask you to guess which word is used in this verse that is exactly the same Greek word that is translated by the word draw in John 6.
Does anybody have a guess? Drag. Now let's supply the semi-Pelagian interpretation. But you have dishonored the poor man.
Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally woo you into court? Okay. Let's look at another one. Let's look at let's look at Acts chapter 16, verse 19, which I will read. But when her master saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. Can you guess again which word in this text is the same Greek word? Again, it's the word dragged.
Again, substitute entice or woo. They seized Paul and Silas and wooed them into the marketplace before the authorities. This text clearly indicates an act of force in dragging Paul and Silas into the marketplace. That would make you wonder why it is that the translators use the word draw rather than the word drag.
And I can only guess, and I'll try to guess in a moment, but first let me just go further. Whenever we have doubt as to the precise meaning of a word in the Scriptures, the first thing we do is we go to the Greek. But then after we go to the Greek, we're still dependent upon the science of linguistics and lexicography in order to have an understanding of the meaning of that term at the time it was used in the writing of the documents.
I think it's safe to say that in the academic world, the most highly respected linguistic and lexicographical source that the church has ever had for the meaning of Greek words is Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. In Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, the word that is being translated draw here in this text is defined by Kittel as meaning to compel by irresistible superiority. I might add that the framers of the dictionary were anything but Calvinistic, but they recognize that the classical, that is the meaning in the Greek language of this verb, is to compel. The force of this verb is the force of divine compulsion. And if that is true, then I would say that verse and that verse alone is sufficient to end the debate forever with respect to man's ability or lack of it to incline himself to choose to choose Jesus Christ because Jesus himself says that no man can do it unless the Father compels him to do it. And that is pure Augustinianism only stated much earlier than Saint Augustine. But if that isn't sufficient with respect to man's ability, let's look earlier in chapter 3 of John's Gospel where John describes the encounter that Jesus has with the Pharisee, the theologian Nicodemus, in which he says in verse 3, Jesus answered and said to him, Truly, truly I say to you, unless, what does that word indicate?
What's coming? A necessary condition. Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Now what has to happen, according to Jesus, before a person can see the kingdom of God? He has to be born again. So regeneration precedes seeing the kingdom of God. Is that a legitimate interpretation of this passage? In fact, nobody can see it at all unless they are first, what? Born again, regenerate.
All right. Now he goes on to say, Nicodemus is puzzled. How can a man be born when he is old? He can't enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born, can he? Jesus said, Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. So regeneration is a prerequisite for entering and seeing the kingdom of God. Semipelagians have people choosing Christ before they are regenerate. Semipelagians have people in their human nature cooperating with prevenient grace, responding to this wooing and enticing and attracting of God the Holy Spirit, when the Holy Spirit is not yet in them, having regenerated them. So the bottom line is, the Arminian position has people who are not yet born again seeing and choosing the King of the kingdom of God.
Boggles the mind, doesn't it? That's why the axiom of Augustinian theology is this. Regeneration precedes faith. Regeneration is seen as a necessary condition for faith, even as Paul elsewhere teaches in Ephesians 2 when he says that while we were dead in sin and trespasses, God has quickened us, that is made us alive in Christ, okay, when we were dead, and then tells us that therefore it is by grace you are saved through faith, and that is not of yourselves but is the gift of God. And so we see faith is the gift of God that is the result of the Spirit's work of regeneration within us, that God Himself supplies the necessary condition to come to Jesus.
That's why it is sola gratia, by grace alone, that we are saved. Now, Jesus says, that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you that you must be born again. Jesus said, why should this surprise you?
You're a theologian, Nicodemus. Don't you understand the fundamental point of man's fallen nature, that that which is born of the flesh is flesh? And elsewhere He tells us that the flesh profits what? Nothing. But if we believe that God entices us to Christ and all we have to do in the flesh prior to our regeneration is cooperate or assent to that, if we can, in fact, cooperate and assent to prevenient grace, to the end that we enter into the kingdom of God and are redeemed forever, and we're doing that while we're still in the flesh, then I ask you, what would the flesh profit?
Not just something, everything. You're eternal salvation. Now, Paul speaks about this himself in chapter 8, verse 7 of the book of Romans. Let's start at verse 5. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace. Because the mind set on the flesh is hostile towards God, for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do it. Now here the apostle tells us something about man's moral inability in the flesh. He says that man in his fallen state in the flesh is hostile to the law of God, and he does not obey the law of God.
He is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed, what, can he be? So that fallen man, the apostle is saying here, is he not, cannot obey the law of God. And those who are in the flesh cannot please God. I might add to you that if God only wooed us to Christ and left it to us to make the final decision, I can't think of anything that would please God more than that we would respond positively to that enticement and to that wooing. But the apostle here tells us that in the flesh there's nothing that man can do to please God.
But now here is the crushing point, verse 9. However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit. How do we know if somebody is in the flesh or in the Spirit? You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit. The next word is crucial. If, what does if indicate?
A necessary condition, that's right. If indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now, how many regenerate people have the Spirit of God dwelling in them?
All of them. Okay? So if you are regenerate, then you are no longer in the flesh. If you are in the flesh, you are not regenerate.
Is that clear? So when He speaks about those in the flesh, He is speaking of unregenerate people. And it's unregenerate people who cannot please God, who cannot obey God, who cannot do or be subject to God, who experience this dreadful situation of moral inability about which we have been speaking. But if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you, but if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to him. He goes on to say, however, if anyone does have the Spirit of Christ, then he does belong to Christ. And so that the crucial prerequisite for salvation is a work of the Holy Spirit that is the necessary condition, the prerequisite for faith to be present. That's why we insist that the first step of our justification, that which quickens us from spiritual death and makes us, and enables us to come to Jesus at all, is the gracious work of God the Holy Spirit, and is never the fruit of the flesh. In Ephesians chapter 2, Paul didn't say that we are asleep. He didn't say we are comatose.
No, he said that we are dead in our sins and trespasses. We will never seek God apart from the Holy Spirit's work. We're glad you've joined us for Renewing Your Mind on this Wednesday as we continue Dr.
R.C. 's role series, Chosen by God. This classic teaching on the doctrine of predestination is one of our most requested series, because it deals with a topic that is widely misunderstood in the church. We'd like to help you continue your study. Contact us and request all six messages on two DVDs when you give a donation of any amount to Ligonier Ministries.
You can do that online at renewingyourmind.org, or you can call us at 800-435-4343. Dr. Stephen Nichols remains here in the studio with me. And Steve, before the lesson today, you mentioned that your friend had read R.C. 's book, Chosen by God, and wanted to throw it against the wall. But the truth of the matter is that R.C. would have thrown that book against the wall when he first heard about this doctrine, right?
You're absolutely right, Lee. In fact, you know, he's converted his freshman year in college, and it's really a couple of years till he can fully embrace the doctrine of election and predestination and what we come to call the beloved Tulip, the doctrines of grace. He struggled with those doctrines, and he struggled with this doctrine in particular. And that underlines why we're studying this doctrine this week. Dr. Nichols, thank you for being with us today. And tomorrow, Dr. Sproul will address a question that always seems to come up when we talk about election. Does God create unbelief? I hope you'll join us Friday for Renewing Your Mind.
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