Brian Abasciano, “What Do You Mean that Human Beings Cannot Do Good Apart from God’s Grace?

, posted by SEA

I received some questions in relation to these statements concerning total depravity in my FACTS article:

“We cannot even believe the gospel on our own (John 6:44). If anyone is to be saved, God must take the initiative.” Here are the questions (reworded some to make them clearer) and my answers:

Q.1. Does this mean, human beings can’t do/choose good moral things by himself/herself?

Q.2 If so how about non-Christians who are living good moral lives?

A1 & 2. The statement about doing good has to do with that which is fully good, fully pleasing to the Lord. Something can only be fully pleasing to the Lord if it is not only externally right, but also internally right from the proper motives, trust in the Lord and love of him. So while unbelievers may do many relatively good things, they cannot do anything that is good in the sense of fully pleasing to the Lord. The word “fully” is important in that formulation. Surely God takes some pleasure in an unbeliever being faithful to his wife, looking out for his child’s best interest, helping the needy, etc. But if those things are not done for the Lord, then they are not fully pleasing to him. In other words, they do not meet God’s standard for good/righteoues/holy/godly action. Human beings can choose to do things that are relatively good on their own as creatures made in the image of God but in whom that image has been distorted. But human beings cannot choose to do that which is good in the sense of fully pleasing to the Lord apart from his help. The statement denies that we can do good that merits favor from God or that saves us.

Q.3 If God must take the initiative, when does God give the knowledge/wisdom to be able to believe the gospel? When has man lost free will and when does man start getting the free will to be able to make the choice to accept Jesus?

A3. I think I mostly addressed these questions in the FACTS article. So I will quote the relevant part in this answer and intermingle further comments with this specific question in mind. Arminians differ among themselves about some of the details of how God’s prevenient grace works, probably because Scripture itself does not give a detailed description. Some Arminians believe that God continually enables all people to believe at all times as a benefit of the atonement. So for them, that would mean people are free from birth or at least from when they become morally accountable for their actions. Others believe that God only bestows the ability to believe in Christ to people at select times according to his good pleasure and wisdom. One version of this would be that God bestows his prevenient grace whenever the gospel is preached. Others might restrict it more to only when someone hears the gospel and God chooses that gospel presentation to bestow prevenient grace. Still others believe—and this is my view–that prevenient grace generally accompanies any of God’s specific movements toward people, rendering them able to respond positively to such movements as God would have them. But all Arminians agree that people are incapable of believing in Jesus apart from the intervention of God’s grace and that God does bestow his grace that draws toward salvation on all morally responsible people.

As for when man has lost free will to trust the Lord, that would be at the Fall, and from birth after the Fall except in the opinion of those who think God continually gives prevenient grace at all times since the cross.