Author(s)John Cheeseman
Date 10 April 2015

A common misunderstanding is that human beings have a ‘free will’. The argument often runs as follows:

‘God holds man responsible for his sin. Man cannot be held responsible for something he cannot refrain from doing. Therefore, man's will must be free to choose between sinning and not sinning; and hence to choose between accepting Christ or rejecting him.’

But this conclusion seems false for two reasons.

Firstly, Scripture denies it. Man's will, in its natural state, is in fact in bondage to sin (John 8:34-36). Anything that is in bondage cannot be free! Man is not free to turn to Christ. He cannot do so of his own volition (Romans 9:16; 1 Corinthians 2:14).

Secondly, ‘free will’ and human responsibility are not the same thing at all. The idea that man is responsible only for what he has the ability to perform is utterly false. Our sin in Adam (Romans 5:12-21) has rendered us unable to do good (Romans 8:7-8), yet the sinner is still held responsible to God in every respect. God commands us to give complete obedience to the moral law of the Ten Commandments. The fact that we cannot do so is patently obvious.

What then is the point of commanding sinners to repent, even though they cannot do so?

Very simply, it is when the sinner realises their awful condition, ‘fast bound in sin and nature's night’, and totally unable to lift a finger towards his salvation, that they may be enabled by the Holy Spirit to turn to Christ in repentance and faith. It is just as when Christ called Lazarus to come forth from the tomb. Lazarus was dead. He could not obey. Yet in that instant he was quickened by the power of God, and he came forth (John 11:43-44).

All this helps us to understand what Article 10 teaches:

The condition of Man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith, and calling upon God: Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will.