After the fall, man was still man. He can be said to be a “free moral agent” in the sense that he can still make choices, but they will be completely self-centered. Man did not become a puppet, without any responsibility for his actions. He is responsible to God for them.
Regarding man’s will, the Canons of Dort teach: “But as man by the fall did not cease to be a creature endowed with understanding and will, nor did sin which pervaded the whole race of mankind deprive him of the human nature, but brought upon him depravity and spiritual death; so also this grace of regeneration does not treat men as senseless stocks and blocks, nor take away their will and its properties, or do violence thereto; but it spiritually quickens, heals, corrects, and at the same time sweetly and powerfully bends it, that where carnal rebellion and resistance formerly prevailed, a ready and sincere spiritual obedience begins to reign; in which the true and spiritual restoration and freedom of our will consist” (Third and Fourth Heads of Doctrine, Art. 16).
In the end, it can be said, everyone will get just what they wanted. The unbeliever, who hates God, wants to stay as far from God as possible. He will get his wish in hell. And the believer is not taken to heaven against his will, but he desires that perfect fellowship with God more than anything else. This is because the effect of regeneration is to give him a new will — one that believes the gospel, and seeks to glorify God. It is God working in us which causes us “to will and do his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).
A Deadly Serious Matter
The Reformed faith takes sin as seriously as the Scriptures describe it. Man is so dead that unless God breathes into him the breath of life (Jn. 3), he will continue in that present state of condemnation everlastingly! “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God” (Jn. 3:18-21).
Some might object that in the Reformed church we talk about sin too much. I hope it is not too much, but I hope it is sufficient to tell unbelievers where they are without true faith — under the curse of God. And I hope it is sufficiently taught in order to acquaint believers with the sin and hell they have been redeemed from, so that they might truly be everlastingly thankful to God for His free gift. Our total depravity requires the totality of God’s love in Jesus Christ. We say that all glory should go to God for our salvation. This can only happen if our entire salvation was really, totally the gracious work of our sovereign God.
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. It is posted with the gracious permission of the author.
If you’d like to read the blog series from the beginning, start here.