Man is Not a Co-Operator in Coming to Salvation
If man’s depravity and inability were not total and he was able to respond to the call of the gospel before the work of regeneration, then we would have to conclude that his salvation was a cooperative venture — God provided it and man accepted it on his own. God does His part and man does his.
In human affairs this may sound plausible, but the Scriptures clearly tell us that this is impossible for man to do in the matter of his salvation. Paul reminds us in Romans 8:7, 8, “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (“flesh” here refers to the sinful nature of man in Adam).
Before man can come to repentance and faith and perform any work of thanksgiving acceptable in the sight of God, he must be born again by the Spirit of God. See John 3:3,5; Romans 12:1-3; and Heidelberg Catechism Q. 8. It is the Spirit of God who breathes life into our spiritually dead corpses and then He adopts us to be the sons of God. John points out we were “born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn. 1:13).
Apart from this life-giving power of God, all that a man hears in the gospel is foolishness to him (I Cor. 1:18, 23). That is understandable in the light of what we read in I Cor. 2:14, “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
The Importance of Understanding Man’s Sinful Nature
There may be some who say at this point, “What’s the difference what we believe with regard to this doctrine? Even Arminians say that Christ is their Savior, and they do believe in regeneration by the Holy Spirit.” These things may be true. But, if we look at the teachings of the Arminian closer, we will discover that if man is not totally depraved and helpless in the deadness of his sin, then he is not really saved by Christ alone at all. It is a cooperation between God and man — partly by grace and partly by works.
If man is good enough to will and choose salvation on his own, the Scriptures are wrong about his dead condition. And if his salvation is a cooperative venture — that is, God provides and man takes if he chooses — then we see a serious departure from the teaching of Ephesians 2:8 and 9 which teach us that “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Notice that it is “faith” which man cannot attain by himself. We may glory in the cross of Christ as a gift to us (Gal. 6:14), but we may not boast in salvation as though we had contributed to it even so much as to say we could accept it by ourselves. At times in the history of redemption God used men to carry out his purposes, but never does God ever require the help of sinful man to provide salvation!
The gift of salvation should be viewed somewhat differently than a common birthday gift. In our normal lives when we are given a gift, we are both able and look forward to receiving it. In our salvation, because there is a natural hatred between God and man, and a blindness which hides the gift, we neither desire it nor are we able even to receive it of ourselves. A vital part of the gift of our salvation is that God enables us to see the gift and believe.
Blog post content is taken from Rev. Paul Treick’s book, Faith of Our Fathers, Living Still: A Study of the Five Points of Calvinism, available for purchase. We post it here with the gracious permission of the author.
If you’d like to read the blog series from the beginning, start here.