If two sinners hear the same gospel message preached, why does one repent (Acts 5:31, Acts 11:18) and believe unto salvation, and the other perish in his unbelief? (1 Pet. 2:8, Lk. 13:5) Is it because one has more insight (Romans 3:11-12), is more intelligent, is more righteous, is wiser (1 Cor. 1:18, 26-31) or more inclined towards God than the other? (Rom. 8:7-8, 1 Cor. 2:14). Or to put it another way: is the difference caused by man, or is there another reason? (1 Cor. 4:7) We have good news: the Bible explains why. Many may be surprised at the answer, or even horrified, but we must believe God’s word (II Tim. 3:16-17, Isa. 8:20), not our opinions or emotions. (Jer. 17:9)
The Bible teaches that before regeneration (John 1:13, John 3:3, Jam. 1:18), that is before the new birth, man has no will to do good, or to come to Christ. (John 6:44, 65). He has a will, but it is a fallen will, and it actively and consistently wills evil and only evil. (Gen. 6:5) All men have lost, as a result of the Fall, (Psa. 51:5, 58:3, Rom. 5:12) all will that is pleasing to God (Rom. 8:8). The reason so many go wrong here is because they confuse the nature of man (Adam and Eve) in the Garden of Eden with man’s nature today. The two are radically different. Many evangelicals today do not believe that man is born corrupt, and depraved on account of original sin. It is ignorance of this truth that causes many people to think that because Adam and Eve could choose between good and evil, sinners can today.
As a result of the Fall man wants to please himself, and even if he does something which in itself seems to constitute outward obedience to the commandments, it is not a good work in God’s sight, because it is not done in faith (Rom. 14:23, Tit. 1:15-16), nor done to the glory of God. Man is in bondage to sin (John 8:34), and his will, emotions, heart, indeed all faculties of his being (Isa. 1:6) are included in that. Therefore the Bible talks about man being spiritually dead. (Eph. 2:1, Col. 2:13) There is nothing outside the almighty power of God which can overcome this enmity to righteousness (John 3:19-20). God works a will to come to Christ in some, His elect, while leaving others to perish in their stubbornness and sin.
Man is free to choose whatever he desires, but since he is by nature fallen, his desires are always evil (John 8:44, Eph. 2:3), so he is not forced against his will to be wicked. (Jam. 1:13-15) He acts in accordance with his own nature (Jer. 13:23), and he enjoys sinning, like a pig enjoys mud (Job 15:16). In conversion God gives a sinner a new heart (Eze. 11:19) so that his new nature does not sin (I John 3:9). However, the old nature of the sinner remains in the regenerated child of God. This leads to a conflict between the two natures (Rom. 7:15-25; Gal. 5:17). While the flesh (the old nature) desires sin, the Christian according to his new nature desires above all things to be with Christ and to please Him (Phil. 3:8-9). God gives the heart, man does not give himself a new heart. Therefore God gets the glory (Phil. 2:13, Gal. 6:14).
Man, of course, has a will. The Reformed do not view men as robots without wills or as blocks of wood or stone. Having a will does not mean that the will is free. Man is not forced against his will to sin (Jam. 1:13-15). His wicked nature and his wicked heart desire evil and hate good. Left to himself he could NEVER choose Christ. The wicked see no comeliness in Christ. They do not desire Him. They despise Him. A sinner must have his eyes and his heart opened (Acts 16:14), his understanding enlightened, faith must be granted to him (Philippians 1:29, John 6:65) or he will perish. God grants faith unto some (Matt. 11:27, Mark 4:11-12) whom He chose before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4-5, Acts 13:48, 2 Thes. 2:13). None deserve this gift, and God “will have mercy on whom He will have mercy” (Rom. 9:15). God’s will alone is free. He chooses whom He will save. He is the awesome God (Dan. 4:35, Psa. 115:3, 135:6).
Unregenerate man has no will to do, or choose, or desire good, and since God is the fountain of all goodness, he has no desire to come to God or to His Son Jesus Christ. That some come and others do not must have a reason outside of man: the answer is that God gives the gift of faith to some and not to others (Eph. 2:8, Phil. 1:29). Since no man deserves this from God, God cannot be accused of being unfair (Rom. 11:35-36, Matt. 20:15-16).
“For who maketh thee to differ from another? And what hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now if they didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (I Cor. 4:7). People who believe that God has done everything to provide salvation for everybody, and that then He leaves the outcome open to the freewill of man (not realizing that if God did so, none would be saved) are really guilty of pride. They take the credit for believing. They believe that they have made themselves to differ from others. Not the love of God (which they say is for everybody), nor the blood of Christ (which they say was shed for all), nor the work of the Spirit (for they say the Spirit is striving to call everybody), but man’s freewill makes the difference in the final analysis between heaven and hell. Such a doctrine is blasphemy and a false gospel. “For it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” (Rom. 9:16).