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Voluntary Slaves

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
August 16, 2022 12:01 am

Voluntary Slaves

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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August 16, 2022 12:01 am

While our wills remain chained to sin in our fallen state, we will never turn to the Lord unless He first shatters our bonds in regeneration. Today, R.C. Sproul explains John Calvin's biblical reflections on the freedom of the will.

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What did Jesus mean when He said, no man can come to Me unless the Father draws him? He's certainly not talking about the lack of ability for somebody to walk down the street and walk up to Jesus as He's lecturing and teaching and healing the sick. When He talks about come to Me means that coming to Him savingly. No one can embrace Him as the Son of God by His natural ability.

We're featuring Dr. R.C. Sproul's series, Willing to Believe, the controversy over free will. The disagreement through the ages has boiled down to this, does God choose us or do we choose Him? There are strong feelings on both sides of this debate, and today on Renewing Your Mind, Dr. Sproul will explain the view held by Luther and Calvin. When we get to the role that John Calvin has played historically, theologically in this whole question of human freedom and original sin, we get to the name of the theologian who is most closely associated in the public thinking of denying the doctrine of free will in light of Calvin's view of election and predestination. Let me say a couple of things about that before we actually explore Calvin's views. In the first place, Calvin, like Luther, was devoted to the study of St. Augustine. And if you would read the works of Calvin, you would see that the person that Calvin quotes or cites more often than any other theologian in history is Augustine himself. And I think it is accurate and safe to say that there is nothing in Calvin's view of election or on his view of free will and original sin that wasn't first in Augustine and second in Luther. Now that may surprise people because the Lutheran church, for example, differs sharply from Calvinists on their view of election, and that's chiefly due to the change within Lutheranism that came shortly after Luther's death when Luther's chief lieutenant, Philip Melanchthon, modified Luther's views on these matters. But it may come as a surprise to you that Luther wrote more on the subject than Calvin did. And if any two theologians were on the same page on an issue, these two were. So, Calvin gets the rap, but Calvin really was just an echo of Luther when it comes to these issues of free will and divine sovereignty. But be that as it may, we are still left with the impression that Calvin is the architect of this view. And some of the reason for that is in the popular phrase that we have, the acronym TULIP, which is supposed to summarize the five points of Calvinism, and I'm not going to go over all of them, but the first two are the ones that are most relevant to our discussions here.

The first one, the T, stands for total depravity. Now, what is meant by Calvin and Calvinism with regard to the doctrine of total depravity is not that man in his fallenness is as wicked as he possibly could be. It does not mean that he could be. It does not mean utter depravity. If you can conceive, for example, of the most evil person you've ever known of, say somebody like Adolf Hitler, as wicked as Hitler was, you can still conceive of his being even worse than he was.

It might be hard to conceive of his being worse than he was, but it's possible he could have killed even more people shamelessly than he actually did. But rather, what total depravity means in the Calvinistic scheme of things is that the depravity that comes as a result of the fall infects the totality of human existence, that our fallenness penetrates the whole person, the total person. It affects our bodies.

It affects our hearts. It affects our bodies, and it affects our will so that in our depravity we are so fallen and prone to sin that we are left in the state of moral inability, meaning not that we are incapable of being moral creatures. We are moral creatures because Calvin insisted that the will was not lost by the fall. And following Augustine, Calvin even argued that the fallen man has a free will insofar as that the fallen person still has the ability to make choices and still has the ability to choose what they want. Not only that, Calvin even goes a step further and says that in our corruption and in our fallenness, we are still capable of achieving what Calvin calls civil or civic virtue, namely that there are all kinds of things on the horizontal level of human interaction where fallen people can do good things to and for each other.

A person who is unregenerate, for example, can be very industrious rather than rather than lazy, can be brave rather than cowardly, can be honest rather than a thief, can be chaste rather than being licentious in this horizontal level of living. In fact, Calvin would even go so far as to say that unconverted people can in some respects be altruistic in their ethical behavior at an earthly level and on an earthly plane. But when Calvin speaks of the corruption of the will and the corruption of the soul, he restricts that corruption to the vertical dimension, to whether fallen man has any desire or inclination to do the things of God.

It is the spiritual dimension in which man finds himself morally incapable of the proper motivation and behavior. So that's what Calvin is stressing when he talks about moral inability, the inability of the soul in its fallen condition to turn, change, incline itself, or direct itself to the things of God. Now, the second point that's so much in dispute in the Calvinistic system which is related to this is his doctrine of election, which is popularized in this acrostic by the term unconditional election. And in quick and simple terms, what that means or seeks to comprehend is the idea that when God elects certain people to salvation, He doesn't do it on the basis of His prior knowledge of those individuals meeting conditions. That is, as some people regard election, they say that God looks down through the corridor of time, and He knows in advance who will respond positively to Christ and who will reject Christ. And on the basis of that foreknowledge or prescience, God makes His decision. That is, He elects people, but He elects them conditionally.

He will only elect somebody whom He knows will give the proper response, that is somebody who will meet the necessary condition to be included. Calvin argues for unconditional election, meaning that God's decision is not based on the foreseen behavioral patterns, actions, or choices of human beings. Because, as Calvin would argue, if God looked through the corridors of time to see who would respond positively to the gospel, that the only people that God would see would be people who would not respond positively to the gospel, because Calvin was convinced that no one left to themselves would ever respond positively to the gospel because they are in this bondage to sin. What Calvin says is this, that regeneration is a necessary requirement for a person to be liberated from the bondage to sin. And he suggests the mind cannot discern spiritual things without the illumination of the Holy Spirit, so the flesh or the fallen nature of man will not incline itself to God without first receiving the grace of regeneration.

And Calvin, like Luther before him, paid close attention to what we are taught in the New Testament, particularly in John's gospel and in Paul's letter to the Ephesians. We recall that Jesus, in His discussion with the Pharisees, said that that which is born of the flesh is flesh, is flesh, that we are born in this flesh condition of fallenness. And He added to that this observation, and the flesh profits nothing. In the flesh dwells no good thing, and apart from the work of the Holy Spirit we have no profit with respect to the things of God. And Luther, in answer to Erasmus, has said that when Jesus says the flesh profits nothing, He did not mean by the term nothing a little something. He meant that the flesh is utterly and completely incapable of moving or directing itself toward God.

And so Calvin also spends a lot of time dealing with the texts of the New Testament that are involved here. And he says that man is unable to free himself from his spiritual bondage by exerting his will of flesh. Here's what he says, quote, when the will is enchained as the slave of sin, it cannot make a movement toward goodness, far less steadily pursue it. For every such movement is the first step in that conversion to God, which in Scripture is entirely ascribed to divine grace. However, there remains a will which both inclines and hastens on with the strongest affection toward sin. Man, when placed under this bondage, was deprived not of will but of soundness of will.

Now, notice that distinction. Calvin is saying that in the fall we didn't lose the faculty of choosing. Just as we didn't lose our minds, we still have minds and we still can think. We don't think soundly with respect to the things of God because our foolish minds are darkened, given over to sin. We have minds of flesh.

We have what the Bible calls reprobate minds, and our minds are at enmity with God, and by nature we don't want to have God in our thinking. So the mind has been seriously affected by the fall, but it has not been destroyed. We still have minds. We still have a faculty of thinking.

We still can add two and two and come up with four. And with respect to this aspect of the fall, just as Calvin talked about the civic righteousness or civic virtue that we still can perform apart from regeneration, he also talks about the intellectual achievements that we can have without divine illumination that comes through the Holy Spirit. He says, for example, that some of the greatest craftsmen, some of the greatest literary geniuses, some of the most talented and gifted people in history have been non-Christian, unregenerate people who have been extraordinarily bright and extraordinarily capable, again, on the earthly plane. But with respect to the things of God, the mind of fallen man is darkened and will not apprehend the beauty of God unless the Holy Spirit opens His mind to them.

As Paul tells us in Corinthians, that these spiritual things of God are spiritually discerned, and no one knows them save the Spirit of God, who then reveals them to us. Well, in similar manner, Calvin makes the distinction not only between having a mind as opposed to having a sound manner of thinking, so he said, under the fall we were deprived not of will, but of soundness of will. Moreover, Calvin goes on, when I say that the will is deprived of liberty, is led or dragged by necessity to evil, it is strange that any should deem this expression harsh, seeing there is no absurdity in it, and it is not at variance with pious use. It does, however, offend those who do not know how to distinguish between necessity and compulsion.

Does that sound familiar? First place, he says that we in our fallenness are not deprived of will, but of liberty. Remember the distinction that Augustine made between a free will and liberty. The free will is intact, the liberty is lost. And now he makes a distinction between necessity and compulsion.

Where did you last hear that? Again, that was the very distinction that Luther made in his debate with Erasmus. So, again, in working with the Scripture, Calvin, in looking at the text of Scripture, particularly with respect to John chapter 6, verse 44, where Jesus declares that no one can come to Him unless He is drawn by the Father, Calvin writes these words, quote, to come to Christ, being here used metaphorically for believing, the evangelist, in order to carry out the metaphor in the opposite clause, says that those persons are, quote, drawn whose understandings God enlightens and whose hearts He bends and forms to the obedience of Christ. We ought not to be drawn to Christ. We ought not to wonder if many refuse to embrace the gospel because no man will ever of himself be able to come to Christ.

Now, that's the cardinal point. No one will ever of himself be able to come to Christ. Now, you recall that in John chapter 6 when Jesus is teaching this and which caused quite a negative reaction from His hearers to the extent that some left Him and wouldn't come back to be with Him, Jesus made the observation, no man can, and I've looked at this before, can come to Me unless.

Now, He says this twice. On the one hand, He says, unless it is given to Him of the Father, or the other time He says, unless the Father draws Him. Again, I remind you that the phrase no man is what we call a universal negative proposition. It includes everybody within the category of humanity, or in this case, negatively.

It excludes all people from something, that there is something that nobody is included in the doing. And He talks about Jesus says no man can. We know the difference between can and may.

He's had the same third-grade teacher I did, can I go to the restroom? I'm sure that you can. That question is may you. May has to do with permission. Can has to do with power or with ability. And Jesus is saying no man can, which means no man has the ability, no man has the power to do something. Now, what is this power that we all lack?

What is this ability that no one has? Well, according to Jesus, no one has the power or ability to come to Him. Now, He's certainly not talking about the lack of ability for somebody to walk down the street and walk up to Jesus as He's lecturing and teaching and healing the sick.

Anybody had the power to walk down the street to come and see Him. When He talks about come to Me, obviously, as Calvin is indicating, and as every commentator agrees on, means that coming to Him savingly, no one can embrace Him as the Son of God by His natural ability. The word unless indicates the presence of a necessary condition, a sine qua non.

Something has to take place before the desired effect can follow. And Jesus is saying nobody can come to Me unless, what? Unless it's given to Him or, in the other passage, unless the Father draws Him.

Here's how Calvin deals with this text. To come to Christ, as I mentioned, we ought not to wonder if many refuse to embrace the gospel and so on, because no man will ever of himself be able to come to Christ, but God must first approach Him by His Spirit, and hence it follows that all are not drawn, but that God bestows this grace on those whom He has elected. True, as to this kind of drawing, it is not violent so as to compel men by external force, but it still is the powerful impulse of the Holy Spirit who makes men willing who formerly were unwilling and reluctant. It is a false and profane assertion, therefore, that none are drawn save those who are willing to be drawn, as if man himself made himself obedient to God by his own efforts. For the willingness with which men follow God is what they already have from God Himself, who has formed their hearts to obey Him. So, what Calvin is saying here is that those who are drawn are not simply those who are willing to be drawn, but no one will come unless they are first drawn.

Now, what the word drawn means in the New Testament becomes a matter of enormous controversy later on with the writings and the work of Arminius, because in his teaching and in subsequent generations of Arminians, the text of drawing people has to do with God's inviting, enticing, offering, persuading, luring. And so the idea there is no one can come to Jesus unless God first entices or attracts Him in some way, assists Him in some way. Whereas for Calvin, he understands the meaning of the verb to draw there in John's gospel, for God to do more than externally incite or encourage or invite, but rather for God to work internally in the heart and soul of that person to make someone willing to come who previously and if left to themselves would not be willing. And when God does this work, according to Calvin, that person in fact becomes willing. And where they were formally reluctant and because of their lack of desire for Christ would never come to Christ and never turn to Christ, now God changes their hearts, changes their disposition, so they willingly come. Now, for Arminius, as we will see, he would say, yes, God has to draw. God has to be gracious. God has to do something, and some will come willingly, but some will not come willingly. And then the whole controversy boils down to the question, as we will see, of whether God's grace is resistible, the grace of regeneration. They all agree grace is necessary. They disagree as to whether we have the power within ourselves to resist it or to incline ourselves towards it, and that we will explore in our future sessions. John Calvin wrote, When the will is enchained as the slave of sin, it cannot make a movement towards goodness, far less steadily pursue it. We are pleased to feature Dr.

R.C. 's Prole series, Willing to Believe, this week here on Renewing Your Mind. It's important to understand the relationship between free will and the sovereignty of God. And beyond that, we need to know the effects of the fall in our lives. Dr. Sproul's series is an invaluable resource that will help you work through these issues. We'll send you the twelve lectures from this series on three DVDs when you contact us today with a donation of any amount. There are a couple of ways you can reach us.

One is by phone at 800-435-4343, or you can make your request online at This series contains more than we're able to share with you this week, so I hope you'll contact us and request all twelve messages, more than four hours of teaching. We'll add the videos to your online learning library, plus you'll have access to the study guide there as well. We do hope to hear from you.

Again, our phone number is 800-435-4343, and our online address is Ligonier Ministries is committed to making biblical truth accessible to as many people as possible. And when it comes to difficult doctrinal issues like the one we're studying this week, we want to provide you with many study resources. Table Talk magazine has been a trusted provider of sound biblical teaching for more than 40 years, and with your subscription you can search a large archive of past articles.

Learn more and subscribe at Well, before we close today, let me pose this question to you. Is grace cooperative? In other words, is our participation necessary? A man named Arminius certainly thought so. His writing sparked a controversy in the Church that continues to this day, and that will be R.C. 's focus tomorrow here on Renewing Your Mind. I hope you'll make plans to join us.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-10 13:10:53 / 2023-03-10 13:19:07 / 8

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