What is grace? The common definition today for grace would be "getting something that you do not deserve." But actually saving grace encompasses mercy within it so that it is really more than getting what you do not deserve but actually getting the opposite of what you deserve. A common illustration is that of a beggar coming to someone's door and they give him something to eat that he doesn't deserve. A better description would be that of a man breaking into a house in which the owner, upon catching him, not only feeds him but gives him money and clothes and sends him on his way. That would be a description of God's grace towards us even though it still falls short. This thief deserved to be put in jail, but the man acted in mercy. We must understand our position before God to really understand God's saving grace toward us.
We are living in an age in which man has been elevated and God has been dethroned in the minds of many. The world around us has denounced the biblical teaching that man is a fallen creature who is inherently evil due to the sin of the first man, Adam. This false concept, sadly to say, is even held by many so called evangelists. Even back in the time of Augustine, there were those in the church who denounced the depravity of man: One such man was Pelagius. He held to the view that man was born neutral and was not affected by the sin of Adam, believing that man's will was as free as Adam's will before the fall. This, of course, is contrary to the teaching of Scripture.
Later in church history, there arose those who held to the view commonly called Semi-Pelagianism. This system of thought asserts that man was not born neutral, but he is still not completely depraved. He is, in general, sick spiritually but not dead. Both of these views are very pervasive today in evangelical circles commonly called Arminianism. Even the modern altar call which is so widely used today was started by a preacher of the last century who was basically pelagian in his doctrine of the nature of man.
We believe that the scriptural view is the one held by Augustine, Luther, Calvin, the Puritans and most of the great preachers that the Lord was pleased to use in the past. That view is that man was so affected by the fall that his only hope of salvation is the free and sovereign grace God, or the necessity of grace.
What saith the Scripture about man, his will and his ability or lack of it to save himself? In order to rightly approach this, we must first ask the question: "What is the dominant faculty in man?" Humanism would say it is the will of man that governs him." The Scriptures teach the contrary, stating that the it is the heart of man that is the seat of his affections (Prov.4:21, Mark 7:21), and that man's will is not an independent faculty.
To further support this argument, let us look to the Lord, Jesus Christ: Was His Will free from His mind and emotions? Of course not! How about God, the Father? Even He is bound by His own nature since He cannot sin, for Scripture says that He cannot deny Himself. If man's will acted independent of his mind and emotions, he would be insane. This is the very thing behind the insanity plea in our courts today: a man claiming that he did not know why he committed that act of violence. This, of course, is not true; but if it were, then the man would be insane. If by "free will" we mean that man's will is free from his fallen nature, then no: man does not have a free will. But if we mean that man is free to act within the orbit of his nature: yes, then he is free. It is scriptural to say that man's will, itself, was not directly affected by the fall. It does have the same freedom that Adam's will had in the sense that it is free to choose what it desires. Where the effects of the fall are evident are in the faculties that the will is subservient to. It is the effect of the fall on man's understanding and affections that we want to examine in the light of Holy Writ.
First, we will see exactly what is the will of man. Then we will see how it is under the control of his other faculties. The will is the faculty of choice- the immediate cause of an action. But when the choice was made, the will was only the effect of the first cause. When a choice is made, there must of necessity be a rejection of something. Something caused the will to choose between two or more objects. What was the cause of this choice? The cause is the influence with the strongest motive and power. It can either be reason, conscience or the passion of our emotions. Whatever it is in any particular circumstance, it streams from the heart of man.
When we make the affirmation that the heart governs the man and not the will, we are making an important distinction. When you make a choice of something, which one do you choose? Is it not the one that is the most agreeable to you? The heart, the center of your being, is the source of the choice. That is why we need to focus our attention on the heart of man and how the fall has affected it if we are going to understand the true condition of fallen man.
What is the heart of man? When the Scripture speaks of man's heart as the core of his being, it is obviously not referring to his physical heart. When the Scriptures refer to the inner man, it could mean the mind, the emotions, the affections, and in some cases, even includes the conscience (i.e., in Mark 3:5, speaking of Jesus being "grieved by the hardness of their hearts"). When trying to determine what particular aspect is meant, the context of that portion of Scripture must be examined.
In Jeremiah 17:9 we read, "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it". The heart, in this context, would focus primarily on man's mind or understanding and his emotions. The statement that man's heart is deceitful would imply that his mind is deceitful in all it's reasoning power due to the fact that, in his natural state, he does not see God at work. This is due to his understanding being darkened, "being alienated from the life of God"(Eph.4:18). The Hebrew word for 'deceitful' carries the meaning of an obstacle, implying that the understanding of man is so twisted that he stumbles over his own reasoning power. The term "desperately wicked" focuses in on man's emotions because man's affections are set upon himself and his sinful passions have no love for God. Anyone denying that this is a picture of man in his natural state need only read Romans 3:10-18.
It is quite evident that this type of teaching that says man is inherently evil does not sit to well with the unregenerate; but nevertheless, it is the truth and it needs to be sounded forth. With the trend today moving in the direction of "new age" thinking which teaches that God lives in everybody, the alarm needs to be sounded.
A while back, there was a popular song called "The Greatest Love" which epitomized this "new age" thinking by stating that the greatest love we can have is for ourselves. This, of course, is the core of original sin: self love! Man's problem is not one of a lack of self-esteem but one of a selfish, self-centeredness. We read in Ephesians 5:29 that no one ever hated his own flesh.
One Scripture that is quoted quite often by those that would try to propound this philosophy is that Jesus told us to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are told that you can not love someone if you do not love yourself. But the Scripture says that man's problem is not that he does not love himself enough but that he doesn't love his neighbor AS HE LOVES HIMSELF!
In Luke 6:45 we see another passage referring to the heart of man where we read Jesus stating that the heart of man is an evil treasure. The word treasure implies an abundance. In the case of the unregenerate, it is an evil treasure of the heart that brings forth evil. This is not a easy doctrine for many to accept; but dear reader, it IS the Word of God.
We alluded to another passage about the inner man. Before that, it would be to our profit to examine if we want to better understand what the Scripture says about man's heart. In Ephesians 4, we read in verses 17-18 that the unregenerate walk in the "futility of their minds having the understanding darkened being alienated from the life of God...because of the hardness of their hearts". The connection between the darkened understanding and the hardened heart(conscience) being separated from the life of God gives a good description of the inner man which controls his "free will" when he makes a choice. These verses in Ephesians give us one of the best descriptions in Scripture of the nature of the unregenerate. It would do the child of God well to ponder these verses for it should bring about a joyful praise to our hearts to see from whence we came.
Now that we have seen a little of what the Scripture says in regards to the inner man, how does this affect man's will? Man's heart being evil and darkened will always and only choose what the heart desires and understands. In 1Corinthians 2:14 we read that 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"(emphasis added). Man's heart must be changed before he will chose anything spiritual.
It is a wonder that one need go any further than this verse to prove the utter inability of the natural man; nevertheless, it would again be profitable to examine two more verses to show the necessity of God working in the unregenerate in order for him to believe. The first is in Acts 16:14 where we read that the Lord opened the heart of Lydia "to respond to the things that Paul spoke". It was the work of God in free and sovereign grace that was the cause of the opening of Lydia's heart. How foolish it is then when we see preachers pleading with people to open their hearts. Dear reader, it is only God who can do it and he does it through the Word preached and the power of the Spirit.
The second Scripture which shows the power of God in salvation is 1Thessalonians 1:5. Paul says that he knows that the Thessalonians were God's elect because the gospel did not come to them in word only, (clearly implying that it comes to some in word only), but in "power and in the Spirit and in much conviction". It is quite clear from this text that the proof that a person is one of God's elect is that gospel is accompanied by the work of the Holy Spirit. You will notice that Paul does not say "when the gospel came in power and the Spirit, you co-operated with it". NO! Nothing even remotely suggesting that is implied. It is all the work of God.
First, to the unsaved, it is clearly teaching that they are helpless to earn their way to heaven and do anything Godward. If you, dear reader, are not in a saving union with the Lord Jesus Christ, cry out to God for the enabling of the Holy Spirit. You are not the master of your destiny; God holds the key.
Secondly, what does this mean to the Christian? First, it should ever put to rest any carnal means used to bring people to hear the gospel. Lost sinners do not need "Christian rock shows" and "Christian puppet shows" or anything else to arouse their interest. The unregenerate are lost, dead, blind sinners. If Christians would spend as much time on their knees before God as they do devising schemes to trick people into hearing the gospel, we would see great revival.
The second thing that this should say to the Christian is in relation to the content of our message. There are some who present the gospel as if the sinner was sick in bed and Christ was the medicine on the bed next to him. To be scriptural, we would have to say that the man in the bed is blind and can't see the medicine, deaf so he can't hear the nurse tell him the medicine is there, crippled so he can't reach for the medicine, and his disposition is one of hatred towards the doctor who prescribed the medicine. (Of course a more obvious picture would be that the man in the bed was dead; but for the sake of a comparative analogy, this one is much better.) That is a pretty pitiful and helpless condition isn't it? That is the whole point: It is not until a lost sinner comes to the point of utter despair that he sees the necessity of grace and will go out of himself and seek Christ.
Finally, this should bring us to humble submission and adoration before our God. When we see how bad we really were, then AND ONLY THEN will we appreciate the real value of the atoning work in Christ. It is like putting a sparkling diamond on a background of black cloth; the cloth will enhance the beauty of the diamond. The value of Christ's death will be seen more vividly when we see the real need for it in securing our salvation.