Does one become a believer by his own decision?

How did the dry bones in Ezekiel 37:1-10 arise to become “a great army”? How did Lazarus come out of the grave and hear Jesus’ command? Did they give life to themselves so they could respond to God’s call?

"Saint Augustine in His Study" by Sandro Boticelli, 1480 (click to enlarge)

My last poll had this question: “In his unregenerated state, can a person choose to become a Christian by his own will?” Here are the results: Yes, 11%; No, 85%; If he cooperates with the Holy Spirit, 4%.

This question is related to the doctrine of the extent of man’s sinfulness. The Bible says that all of the human race inherited Adam’s sinful nature (Rom 3:23, 5:18-19). And in this state, a person is unable (John 6:44, 65), and unwilling to come to God on his own because his will is a slave to sin (John 8:34, 44; Rom 6:16-17). Moreover, such a person is dead in sin (Eph 2:1) and is incapable of understanding the things of God
(Rom 3:10-12 and 1 Cor 2:14).

These Scriptures reject the belief of many that man is not dead in sin, but only seriously sick, so that he is able to respond positively to God on his own will (semi-Pelagianism). A classic example of this Arminian view is in a recent sermon preached by Franklin Graham in a Protestant church in North Korea. According to the Samaritan’s Purse Website, Graham used John 3:1-21 to preach to the congregation “how they can be born again through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.”

But how can a person have repentance and faith before he can be born again, when the Scriptures are plain in saying that these two things are gifts of God? (Matt 16:17; John 6:65; Acts 11:18, 13:48, 18:27; I Cor 3:6, 12:3; Eph 1:19, 2:8-9; Phil 1:29; II Tim 2:25; Heb 12:2; II Pet 1:1) How can a person come to Christ on his own “free will” in his unregenerated state, when he is unable and unwilling to come to God on his own because his will is a slave to sin? How can a spiritually dead person, incapable of understanding the things of God, come to God? How did the dry bones in Ezekiel 37:1-10 arise to become “a great army”? How did Lazarus come out of the grave and hear Jesus’ command? Did they give life to themselves so they could respond to God’s call? It is simply this: they were given new life first (regeneration, being “born again”), then they were able to respond to God’s call to faith and repentance. Regeneration precedes faith, not the other way around.

What many evangelicals do not know is that their belief in freewill salvation by cooperation with God (“God helps those who help themselves”) is what the Roman church affirms in the Canons of the Council of Trent:

  • Canon 4: If any one shall affirm, that man’s freewill, moved and excited by God, does not, by consenting, cooperate with God, the mover and exciter, so as to prepare and dispose itself for the attainment of justification; if moreover, anyone shall say, that the human will cannot refuse complying, if it pleases, but that it is inactive, and merely passive; let such an one be accursed.
  • Canon 9: If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be accursed.

Next poll: St Paul says speaking in tongues is a sign for: believers, unbelievers, both, or none of the above. Please, no peeking into your Bibles.

Related readings:
“Monergism versus Synergism” by Dr. R. C. Sproul
“How Did We Come to Faith?” by Dr. R. Scott Clark

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19 thoughts on “Does one become a believer by his own decision?”

  1. Mr. Medina is saying that the gospel is offered to everyone who hears the gospel preached. But the only reason why some people believe and others don’t is because only the elect are given new hearts by the Holy Spirit. Others do not respond because the Spirit does not work in them.

    We see this working of the Spirit in a person and the resulting response of belief in Acts 13:48: “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” Those who were elected believed, and those who were not did not believe. This verse is exactly the reverse of Arminianism, which says that faith comes before election.

    In Acts 16, Paul witnessed to a group of women in Philippi, one of them by the name of Lydia. Verse 14 says of her response, “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.” What caused her to believe: is it her own “free will”? No, it was the Holy Spirit who gave her a new heart first, then she believed. If the Spirit didn’t intervene in her life, she would never believe, because in her state of sinfulness, she is unwilling and unable to believe.

    Paul explains this condition of mankind, “The natural person does not accept [unwilling] the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand [unable] them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14).

  2. I’m simply replying to Mr. Medina’s respond . He was asking ” if the Gospel is offered to anyone” then why other’s repent and believe and other’s don’t.
    The Gospel is offered to all….to me .. all means all..no exception.  We decide if we want to accept the offer of salvation or not. yes , you can quote a lot of verses that seems to explain pre destination  but does the Bible contradict itself? I don’t think so…but that’s another topic and I won’t get into that. Thanks anyway.

  3. Raul, thank for a good discussion. Even though you won’t post comments anymore, I have one last reply.

    I don’t see the connection between predestination and not sinning after having been given “a new heart.” Unlike Finney and the Wesley brothers, the Bible never teaches that an elect person will never sin again after being saved. Peter addresses his first epistle to the “elect exiles,” then proceeds to exhort them to “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” (1 Pet 2:1). He also exhorts them “to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall” (2 Pet 1:10).

    Apparently, Peter knows that the believer is simultaneously saint and sinner.

  4. “Some people repent and believe while other’s don’t” doesn’t justify pre-destination to me..  If that’s the case, then why do Christians still sin after a new heart, a new life, a new beginning, and a regenerated heart? And we do sin,  the only assurance we have is Jesus promised us forgiveness.  This will be my last posting on this topic.  There are doctrines that I don’t agree but it won’t matter. Jesus promised me salvation if I believed in HIm and repent of my sins..which I did…many many years ago.

  5. Hi Mr. Raul, it is true that the promise of the gospel is available to everyone and to anyone who repents and believes. But why do some people repent and believe while others don’t? Only Reformed theology provides a consistent and Biblical answer. Man is dead in his sins, and unless God regenerates him, he cannot repent and believe. A good book dealing with this subject is J.I. Packer’s, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. In this book, Packer argues that there is no contradiction between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsiblity on the one hand, and His sovereignty and the necessity of evangelism on the other. Providentially, this book may be borrowed from Pastor Nollie’s library. Read it. Thanks.

  6. Hi Mr. Tanicala, you are attacking a strawman, not Calvinism at all. You are arguing as if God’s sovereignty in salvation negates man’s responsibility.  This is something every true Calvinist rejects. Suffice to say that your arguments are actually arguments not against Calvinism, but Hyper-Calvinism. One thing I noticed is that you did not really attack the substance of Pastor Nollie’s post: Whence do repentance and faith come? Are they produced by man’s unregenerated nature? Why do some sinners believe, and some don’t? Your objections actually boil down to the fact that Calvinism does not seem reasonable to you. It must therefore be wrong. I say, deal with the Biblical text. Reformed exegetes still have to see a refutation of the Reformed interpretations of texts like John 6 and 10, Romans 9-11, and Epehesians 1 among others. Your posts reveal a glaring absence of a proper treatment of the texts Pastor Nollie cited. My suggestion is that you read the Canons of Dort, analyze it, and understand what you are really attacking. Thanks.

  7. To Mr. Eusebio Tanicala, although I’m not convinced with pre destination, I’m also not agreeing with your logic. I haven’t seen Nollie’s posting about “not doing anything for salvation”…..you still have to repent and accept Jesus as your Lord. What he meant is salvation is by grace and not by works.  But to say that hell is a gift from God is crossing the line. It’s true…..you don’t have to do anything to go to hell bec. unless someone receives Jesus Christ, by default, that someone will go hell.

  8. I am still not convinced with this your explanation of pre destination, Nollie. You quoted John 6:44…I agree but then how do you explain John 6:40? ” For my Father’s will that is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day”?
    There are so many verses in the Bible that Jesus has said “whosever” and “anyone” who believes will be saved. Well, “anyone” is anyone… “whosever” is whosever. That means the offer is opened to everyone and not to those who were pre-selected.

  9. Mr. Tanicala,

    Suffice it to say that the big difference between Calvinists and Arminians is who gets the glory: God or man? God saves us, or man saves himself? Who is sovereign, God or man (with his “free will”)?

    You’re trying to solve the paradox of God’s sovereignty over good and evil and whether he is the author of sin or not, trying to figure out in a few sentences what countless sages over countless ages have asked.

    There’s so much material out there that you can read about this subject I won’t answer your comments except for your comment that man did not have to do anything to deserve eternal damnation. No, your analogy doesn’t apply; it doesn’t follow that because we don’t do anything for our salvation that we didn’t do anything to be punished. We did. Adam sinned, and all mankind was plunged into condemnation. This, in itself is beyond human logic. Why should we be condemned for Adam’s sin? But, then, why should we be saved by the work of Christ? All mankind would perish because of sin, if not for God’s mercy. Those who were elected receive mercy; those who were not receive justice.

    Your fallacious logic goes like this:

    Hell is evil.
    God created hell.
    Therefore, God is evil.

    It doesn’t work that way in Scriptures. Only human “logic” is capable of such a foolish conclusion. You could argue with everything you have against predestination, but it’s what the Bible teaches. You could argue all your life that snow is black, but it doesn’t change the truth that snow is white.

    You argue from your finite human logic and reasoning, while I argue from the infinite wisdom of God’s Word, which we’ll never fully understand in this present age (Deut 29:29).

    By the way, when I was an Arminian, I had the same “logic” and reasoning as you do now.

  10. In response to Nollie Malabuyo
    In Views on September 13, 2008 at 6:17 am

    In response to the question of another reader to the question: What must a person do to be saved? Mr. Nollie Malabuyo quickly commented:

    “Nothing. All salvation, from predestination, to calling, to justification, to glorification are done by God (Rom. 8:29-30). Our text says that even repentance is a gift of God (Acts 11:18). And we know that faith is itself a gift of God (Eph. 2:8-9). (’Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life’) This is because all mankind is dead (not sick) in sin and no one is able to respond to God’s call for faith and repentance (Rom.3:3-11), unless he is ‘born from above’ (John 3:3)”

    Granting that the above claim of Mr. Nollie is absolutely true, then logically speaking, we should also ask: What could a man do to be damned in hell? Following Mr. Nollie’s line of reasoning, it would be like this:

    “Nothing. All damnation, from predestination to judgement and condemnation are gifts of and done by God. Our text says that even the hardening of heart and non-repentance are gifts of God. ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted non-repentance that leads to death. This is because all mankind is dead in sin and no one is able to respond to God’s call for faith and repentance, because he is ‘unborn from above.’”

    Following Mr. Nollie’s line of reasoning, HELL, therefore, also is a gift of God. God has predestined the damned to be damned. And yet God is angry that the damned refuse to repent. In effect Mr. Nollie is saying that God is angry at Himself because He made the unrepentant impossible to repent. No one should blame the hell-bound souls for their unrepentance because God made them and predestined them to be unrepentant.

    Could you accept this kind of logic? I could not. This line of reasoning is faulty and makes God contradictory, makes God illogical, makes God cruel and takes away man’s freewill. And yet the Holy Spirit in guiding Moses said in Deut 30:19, “choose life…” and Joshua (2415) said, “Choose you this day whom you will serve…” –Eusebio Tanicala

  11. Damnation in hell a gift from God?
    In Features on September 14, 2008 at 5:41 am

    Our friend, Mr. Nollie Malabuyo, says that a person does nothing to be saved! Nollie does nothing! God does everything for him and for every saved person. Everything is a gift from God. A person does nothing. Life is a gift of God, the ability/willingness to believe is a gift of God. Ability/willingness to repent is a gift of God. Ability/willingness to confess is a gift of God. Obeying every requirement of God in living a godly life is a gift of God. So Nollie says. Obviously there is no free will in man.

    Predestination, he says, means that before the world was created, God had made a list in His mind of all the individuals whom He would give the, repentance and salvation. Whether a person likes it or not, God pushes him, God compels him, God forces him and no one could ever resist God’s will and grace.
    In like manner, a person does nothing to be damned, so Nollie’s logic would lead us to believe.

    Predestination means that before the world was created, God had listed in His mind those who will be damned in Hell. God created Hell. If God gives the gift of belief, then in the same manner God gives the gift of unbelief. If God gives the gift of repentance, then in the same line of logic God gives also the gift of non-repentance. If God gives the gift of confession, then in the same manner God also gives the gift of lack of confession. If God gives the gift of ability/willingness to live a godly life for those who are to be saved, then it follows also that God gives the gift of ability/willingness to live an ungodly life.

    If God is credited in moving and pushing a person to be saved in heaven because a person does NOTHING for his salvation, then it follows that God is credited for moving and pushing a person to be damned in HELL because a person does NOTHING for his damnation. If Heaven is a gift, it also follows that Hell is a gift. We are only following the line of reasoning of our friend. If he does not like the conclusion, then he should change his premises. He says that God predestined everybody.

    None could stand God’s indignation; none could endure God’s fierce anger. God’s fury is poured out like fire. See Nahum 1:6. At the Judgment Day (See Matt. 25:41-46) Christ will pronounce the curse on those who did not love and help the poor. Who made and predestined the ability of the cursed? God made and predestined them. And God is angry at those whom he predestined to be cursed. Is it logical? You answer for yourself.

    If Mr. Nollie were to pre-determine to draw an ugly painting and the ugliness is within his will and power to make it ugly and at the competition his painting is adjudged the “Ugliest Painting” and yet Mr. Nollie will rage with fierce anger and will burn his painting for being ugly, how do you judge the personality of Mr. Nollie? Perfect personality? Crazy? You answer for yourself. — Eusebio Tanicala

  12. Today is the anniversay of the tragedy we called “9/11”. I want to believe that a lot of those people trapped in the burning towers have accepted Jesus Christ during the last moments just like the thief in the cross with Jesus in Calvary. Wouldn’t that be “being a believer in their own decision”?

  13. Honorio, thanks for your input into the discussion. Yes, a person has to receive faith for salvation. But how can a person receive faith without receiving a new heart – regenerated – first? As I mentioned, regeneration comes before faith. A person who is spiritually dead, who is hostile to God, who doesn’t understand the things of God, is unable and unwilling to have faith in God.

    So you’re right that a Christian’s responsibility is to preach the gospel and to pray for the unsaved person. But regeneration is the work of the Holy Spirit. No gimmick or entertainment in a seeker-sensitive “worship” will be able to turn a “heart of stone” into a “heart of flesh.”

  14. Is it correct to interpret that man’s responsibility is to respond to God’s call since the bible says that faith in Christ is a gift from God, then as a gift the recepient must receive it wholeheartedly which I interpret is man’s duty. God is all knowing, all powerful and righteous and His decisions and judgement are perfect that is why we cannot question who He will offer the gift of salvation, and that is faith in God. We just trust in His goodness and mercy, and keep preaching the gospel to all.

  15. Raul, thanks for your question. In Romans 1:18-23, Paul is talking about natural revelation, that is, how God reveals himself to man through his creation (and through man’s conscience, Romans 2:14-15). Yes, this revelation is available to all mankind, “yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation” (Westminster Confession 1:1). Without special revelation, the Holy Scriptures, no one will know Christ. No one gets saved by natural revelation. On the contrary, because man’s mind is an “idol factory,” natural revelation actually leads him to idolatry, not to Christ. That is why people who never hear of Christ imagine or make all kinds of idols.

    This is further explained by Paul when he says that because of this revelation, all mankind know that God exists, but because of their rebellion, “they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (1:21). This is another way of explaining man’s total depravity: he will always remain in this hopeless state until the Spirit intervenes in his life by giving him a new heart. As Jesus says in John 6:65, “No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father” (cf John 6:44).

  16. I haven’t seen this poll before but I have a question regarding Roman 1:20: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities- his eternal power and divine nature- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse”. Going by that verse, any person from any part of the world should be able to recognized God. So, is it fair to say that anyone can accept Christ thru his own will?

  17. Aneida Alexander

    St Paul says speaking in tongues is a sign for (Closed Bibles please): Oh rats!! I had it backwards!! I’m the one “believers” vote. I try to comfort myself with “live and learn”, although, come to think of it, it might not be THAT big a comfort. Okay then, PTL for grace. Nollie, you are so much fun!! Blessings all – Aneida

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