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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