Gospel Power: The Sufficiency Of The Gospel In Enabling The Lost | Part Two

June 22, 2016

Leighton Flowers | Professor of Theology
Dallas, TX

**This article was previously posted by Leighton Flowers on his website www.soteriology101.com and is used by permission.

Leighton is: teaching pastor in his local church, an adjunct Professor of Theology, and the Youth Evangelism Director for Texas Baptists.

Learn more about Leighton, HERE.
Follow @soteriology101 on Twitter HERE.
Follow him on Facebook HERE

Click HERE for Part One.

Would William conclude that the means God chose to reveal these otherwise mysterious truths is insufficient?  Paul specifically says, “In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ.” So, why would one assume that God’s grace and power given to the apostles to reveal the MYSTERY OF CHRIST (the “DEEP THINGS OF THE SPIRIT”) isn’t sufficiently understandable or believable?

I think the mistake Calvinists (and some Arminians like William) have made in their interpretation of passages such as 1 Cor. 2 is to assume the mystery of Christ (things hidden in the Spirit of God) cannot be understood even AFTER they are revealed by the means of inspiration (i.e. the Gospel revelation).  William has mistakenly conflated the hidden mysteries of the Spirit with the Gospel itself, rather than understanding that the Gospel IS THE MEANS by which the Spirit is revealing otherwise mysterious and unknown truths for the first time in human history through divinely appointed apostles. Micah and William may disagree with me on this point, which is fine, but I’ve not seen evidence that they have actually engaged with me over these differing interpretations.

Second, neither Calvinist nor Arminian suggests that God, for some unknown reason, decided to punish all of us for the sin of Adam by making us all innately incapable of responding willingly to His own word. God did not “make us innately incapable of responding willingly” to the Gospel: we are born innately incapable of responding willingly to the Gospel apart from the inner work of the Holy Spirit. This is part of what being “dead in sins” entails. (Eph. 2:1)

As pointed out before, William does not take the needed time to define what is meant by “we are unable by nature” in relation to “we are unable by God’s decision.” We, as Christian theists, do not believe in mother nature, so to say that something is “natural” is to say that is it designed or at least permitted by God. Does William believe that God punished mankind by making them unable to respond willingly to His own revelation?  When God was explaining the curse of labor pains and toiling the soil, did He forget to mention the worse of all the curses, “You now are morally incapable of responding willingly to my appeals or commands?”

If this innate moral inability is not a punishment decided directly by God, then does William believe it is a “natural consequence” that God permitted? If so, could God have prevented mankind from losing that ability by NOT permitting it? If not, why not? And if He could have prevented mankind from losing this ability, then why simply give back what he permitted for them to lose in the first place? Why not simply stop them from losing the ability to begin with? Also, who decided, if not God, that the inspired revelation wouldn’t be sufficient apart from an extra work of enabling grace? Couldn’t God have revealed truth in such a way that it would have been sufficient to enable a response without doing some other prior work?

Now, I might be willing to live with the mystery of this quandary if I clearly saw that scripture afforded this mystery. In my estimation, however, there is no biblical indication that mankind lost their moral ability to respond willingly to God’s own revelation due to the fall.  Mankind cannot, however, understand deep spiritual mysteries hidden in mind of God unless God sends clear revelation, like the gospel (Rm. 10:14; Eph. 3:1-11).

One is dead to the spiritual realities involving God, His Son, His Spirit and His word. We are unable by nature. We are born sinners. God does not punish all of us for the sin of Adam by making us all sinners. We are naturally born sinners. We are sinners by nature. (Rom. 3:23) We are born unbelievers. God does not punish all of us for the sin of Adam by making us all unbelievers. We are unbelievers by nature. (John 3:18)

How does proof that we are all born sinners by nature also prove that we are incapable of admitting that fact when confronted by the Holy Spirit wrought truth of God?  It’s one thing to be become completely in bondage to sin because of your rebellion. It is a whole other thing to be born in bondage and completely incapable of admitting that you’re in bondage and accepting help to escape when it is offered by a loving Creator.

Even if the matter were as Leighton has outlined above, would God be unjust in punishing us in such fashion, given that He Himself subjected nature to entropy because of the sin of one man (cf. Rom. 8:20)?

Only if I were to affirm inherited guilt would this be an issue for me, which I do not.  No one is condemned for the sin of Adam except Adam. We will each be judge for our own choices and actions in light of God’s revelation (John 12:47-49). Nothing stands between anyone and their reconciliation with God save only their own unbelief.

Often these same individuals will insist that an enabling, in whatever manner conceivable, is a gratuitous doctrine. People are capable, in and of themselves, to freely respond to the Good News of salvation by grace through faith in Christ. All that is required is that a person hear the Gospel. If that is true then there is no need for such individuals to insist that the Gospel enables the person to believe in Christ. Some, inconsistently, still do.

I had to read this argument several times to follow William’s meaning. I finally realized that William is once again conflating man’s inability to understand/accept hidden spiritual mysteries with his belief that man is born unable to understand/accept the Gospel itself. On our view, the gospel is necessary to understand otherwise unknown and mysterious truths which have been hidden for generations.  As Paul says in Romans 10:14,

“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?

The apostles were just now being sent to proclaim these deep hidden spiritual truths, which they could not have believed unless someone told them. The inability here isn’t an innate incapacity to understand/accept clearly revealed truth. It’s an inability to believe in something unknown or unrevealed.

St Paul teaches that, with regard to the Jewish people, their minds are hardened; even to this very day a veil remains unlifted over their minds (2 Cor. 3:14), by which veil they are incapable of freely trusting in Christ. He continues teaching that the Gospel is veiled by the Devil, who has “blinded the minds of the unbelieving” (2 Cor. 4:3), by which blinding an inherent inability is rendered as a reality. Therefore an enabling by God must be performed if anyone is to freely trust in Christ.

Notice the order William presumes in 2 Cor. 3:14, but keep reading in verse 15 and 16:

“Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.”

William, along with Calvinists, simply get the order incorrect by insisting that God removes the veil so as to enable one to turn to the Lord, when the text clearly indicates that it is by turning to the Lord (and His clear revelation brought by inspiration) that one may understand so as to have the veil (the misapplication of God’s law) removed.

Can mere words of the Gospel cause a person to no longer be hostile toward God apart from the inner working of the Holy Spirit?

Leave a Comment:

All fields with “*” are required

 characters available

Jim P

Dr. Flowers,

I’m not sure I completely follow your work here but I would encourage you to read a work on the interpretation of Romans 8:16.

This is the link: https://bible.org/seriespage/2-witness-spirit-romans-816-interpretation-and-implications

It addresses the place of the Spirit’s work in convincing. It is a very insightful work.

Hope it helps.

Roland Peer

This is key. If unsaved people are ontologically capable of responding to the Spirit’s convicting ministries, then unconditional election is dead in the water.

Some times, an inductive example helps. Acts 11:14 makes it clear that Cornelius was saved during Peter’s preaching. Yet before he feared God, prayed to God, and God answered his prayer. This must be reconciled with 1 Cor 2:14, Ephesians 2, etc.

With 1 Cor 2:14, either the natural man refers to either 1: a saved or unsaved person who doesn’t respond to God, or 2: the things of the spirit of God don’t include pre-regeneration ministries such as the Gospel message and conviction of sins and need for a savior. Neither demands the Calvinist framework.

With Ephesians 2:1, being dead in sins cannot refer to being unresponsive to God’s drawing.

Or else you have a contradiction in Scripture with pre-regenerate Cornelius.

Andrew Barker

Leighton: I do appreciate all the work which goes in to answering these questions, but sometimes I feel that we need to challenge the very nature of the question itself. Just where in scripture does is say that the work or function of the Gospel is to ‘enable’. I can see support for the Gospel prompting among other things conviction of sin, etc, but not enabling the lost.

Leave a Comment:

All fields with “*” are required

 characters available