Arminian Today

A Jesus-Centered Arminian Blog

Why Total Inability Must Be Studied Before Evangelism

God is love.  God is forgiving.  God is good.  God is merciful.  God wants the best for us.  These are all arguments I have heard from people when out preaching the gospel when I confront them with the reality of their sins and the fact that they will stand before a holy God and give an account for their lives (Romans 14:12; Hebrews 9:27).  Sinners believe that since God is love (1 John 4:8) and since God is good and kind, they will be allowed (despite their sins and rebellion against Him) into His heaven.  I have shown sinners through the Law that they are lost and dead in their sins (Romans 3:19-20; Ephesians 2:1-3) and yet they still think they will go to heaven because they have heard that God is love and therefore He will ignore their sins and give them eternal life.

The fact is that God is loving and kind and Paul the Apostle said that this is meant to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4).  God is indeed love as 1 John 4:8 states but we must remember that He is also just.  Exodus 34:6-7 reads:

6 The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

Psalm 33:5 says that God loves righteousness and justice.  The Bible says in 1 John 3:7 tells us that whoever practices righteousness is righteous.  It is not enough to claim that we are righteous in Christ by imputation but ignore the fact that we are to be righteous practically.  Scripture is clear that we are to pursue holiness (Hebrews 12:14) and to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16).  This holiness comes both by our standing in Christ Jesus (Hebrews 10:10, 14) and in our walking in the Spirit as His grace enables us (Galatians 5:16-17).  Scripture is clear that a disciple can forsake their sins by God’s grace (Titus 2:11-12; cf. 1 Corinthian 10:13).  I admit that I am not able to overcome sin by my power but only by the grace of God (Romans 6:1-14).

When preparing to do evangelism, I believe that one doctrine that is key that we must place in the hearts of disciples is the doctrine of total inability.  Sinners are unable to be saved apart from the work of God (Ephesians 2:4-5).  Sinners love their sins and do not seek God (Romans 3:10-18).  Sinners hate God and want to serve their flesh and not the truth (Romans 1:18-32).

Arminius wrote that the fall of man brought the domination of sin into our beings.  He wrote:

But man was not so confirmed in this state of innocence, as to be incapable of being moved, by the representation presented to him of some good, (whether it was of an inferior kind and relating to this animal life, or of a superior-kind and relating to spiritual life,) inordinately and unlawfully to look upon it and to desire it, and of his own spontaneous as well as free motion, and through a preposterous desire for that good, to decline from the obedience which had been prescribed to him. Nay, having turned away from the light of his own mind and his chief good, which is God, or, at least, having turned towards that chief good not in the manner in which he ought to have done, and besides having turned in mind and heart towards an inferior good, he transgressed the command given to him for life. By this foul deed, he precipitated himself from that noble and elevated condition into a state of the deepest infelicity, which is Under The Dominion of Sin. For “to whom any one yields himself a servant to obey,” (Rom. vi, 16,) and “of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage,” and is his regularly assigned slave. (2 Pet. ii, 19.)

Arminius then went on to write about the free will of mankind by showing that our will is warped by sin:

In this state, the free will of man towards the true good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and weakened; but it is also imprisoned, destroyed, and lost. And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace. For Christ has said, “Without me ye can do nothing.” St. Augustine, after having diligently meditated upon each word in this passage, speaks thus: “Christ does not say, without me ye can do but Little; neither does He say, without me ye can do any Arduous Thing, nor without me ye can do it with difficulty. But he says, without me ye can do Nothing! Nor does he say, without me ye cannot complete any thing; but without me ye can do Nothing.” That this may be made more manifestly to appear, we will separately consider the mind, the affections or will, and the capability, as contra-distinguished from them, as well as the life itself of an unregenerate man.

Anyone then who would claim either that Arminius believed in a pelagian view of free will or that Arminianism is focused on free will would be wrong since Arminius believed that the fall brought corruption to the human race.  Further, anyone claiming to be an Arminian and would deny that we are total unable to come to Christ apart from His grace would not be a true Arminian.  Arminius clearly taught that sinners are incapable of saving themselves or even repenting apart from enabling grace.

However, Arminius was clear that God’s grace enabled sinner’s will to be freed to believe the gospel.  Just as Calvinists would not argue that God forces people to be saved against their wills but He makes them willing to believe, Arminius taught that God’s grace enables sinners to believe and be saved.  He wrote:

“What then, you ask, does free will do? I reply with brevity, it saves. Take away FREE WILL, and nothing will be left to be saved. Take away GRACE, and nothing will be left as the source of salvation. This work [of salvation] cannot be effected without two parties — one, from whom it may come: the other, to whom or in whom it may be wrought. God is the author of salvation. Free will is only capable of being saved. No one, except God, is able to bestow salvation; and nothing, except free will, is capable of receiving it.”

Arminius was absolutely correct here.  Were it not for the grace of God, none could be saved.  Were it not for free will, none could truly receive this gift of salvation.  In fact, salvation could not be called a gift if the willing person is not willing to either receive or reject the offer of eternal life (Romans 6:23; 2 Corinthians 6:1-2).

Arminius taught that the grace of God is what enables us to be saved.  This is lengthy but worth reading from Arminius on grace:

In reference to Divine Grace, I believe, 1. It is a gratuitous affection by which God is kindly affected towards a miserable sinner, and according to which he, in the first place, gives his Son, “that whosoever believers in him might have eternal life,” and, afterwards, he justifies him in Christ Jesus and for his sake, and adopts him into the right of sons, unto salvation. 2. It is an infusion (both into the human understanding and into the will and affections,) of all those gifts of the Holy Spirit which appertain to the regeneration and renewing of man — such as faith, hope, charity, &c.; for, without these gracious gifts, man is not sufficient to think, will, or do any thing that is good. 3. It is that perpetual assistance and continued aid of the Holy Spirit, according to which He acts upon and excites to good the man who has been already renewed, by infusing into him salutary cogitations, and by inspiring him with good desires, that he may thus actually will whatever is good; and according to which God may then will and work together with man, that man may perform whatever he wills.

In this manner, I ascribe to grace the commencement, the continuance and the consummation of all good, and to such an extent do I carry its influence, that a man, though already regenerate, can neither conceive, will, nor do any good at all, nor resist any evil temptation, without this preventing and exciting, this following and co-operating grace. From this statement it will clearly appear, that I by no means do injustice to grace, by attributing, as it is reported of me, too much to man’s free-will. For the whole controversy reduces itself to the solution of this question, “is the grace of God a certain irresistible force?” That is, the controversy does not relate to those actions or operations which may be ascribed to grace, (for I acknowledge and inculcate as many of these actions or operations as any man ever did,) but it relates solely to the mode of operation, whether it be irresistible or not. With respect to which, I believe, according to the scriptures, that many persons resist the Holy Spirit and reject the grace that is offered.

Grace is what enables us to be saved.  God’s grace was fully revealed in His Son (John 1:17; Titus 2:11).  God’s grace now reaches out to lost sinners through the preaching of the gospel (Romans 10:14-17).  The gospel is a gospel of grace.  The gospel points to the reality that while we are unable to save ourselves (Isaiah 64:6), God’s grace was revealed in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthian 15:1-4).  The gospel focuses on the reality of Christ dying to take away our sins (Galatians 1:4).

We must show people that they are incapable of saving themselves.  Their sins condemn them.  The only perfect one is the Lord Jesus (1 Peter 2:22).  Jesus alone is able to save us by His grace (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).  In fact, Jesus is the only way to God because of sin (John 14:6).  The Bible is clear in 1 Timothy 2:5-6 that there is one God and one mediator between a holy God and sinful humanity, Jesus Christ the righteous one.  1 John 2:2 says that He is propitiation before a holy God.  In other words, Jesus turns away the wrath of God against sin.  He is the sinners only hope.

By showing sinners (and disciples) that we are unable to come to Christ apart from His grace and that we are dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1-3), we are teaching people the truth that God alone saves.  John 1:12-13 is absolutely clear on this issue as is John 6:44, 66.  We see this truth also in the conversion of Lydia in Acts 16:14-15.  The Lord opens the hearts of sinners when the gospel is preached.  When sinners believe the gospel (by His grace), He saves sinners by His grace (Romans 1:16-17; 3:22-24; 10:4, 9-10; 1 Corinthians 1:21; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14).

I pray that we would not give in to the spirit of this age that wants to paint humanity as good and upright and capable of saving themselves.  I pray that our evangelism does not come across as an appeal from a desperate God who is just sitting there waiting for sinners to make the first step toward Him.  We must preach the gospel biblically and accurately as this glorifies God and truly saves the lost.

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