The Sinfulness of Man

Adam Harwood, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Theology/McFarland Chair of Theology
Director of the Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry
Editor, Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Southern Baptists affirm that Adam’s single act of disobedience in the Garden was an egregious rebellion against a holy God. His judgment against sin is visible throughout the Old Testament atonement motif, culminates at the Cross of Christ, and will be fully realized at the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. Questions concerning Article 2 of the Traditional Statement (TS) are justified because one’s doctrine of sin informs one’s doctrine of salvation. Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). Jesus came to die in order to offer Himself as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). Any rejection of our lost and sinful condition is a rejection of His stated mission. The TS affirms both man’s lost condition and God’s gracious provision of salvation by grace through faith in Christ (Eph 2:8–9) as the only way by which people may be saved from their hopeless and helpless condition.

Of the ten articles, the strongest objections to the TS have centered on Article 2, entitled “The Sinfulness of Man.” Specifically, the article denies both incapacitated will and inherited guilt. Rather than address the points on which there is agreement, this chapter will focus on those points of disagreement. Because Article 8 in the TS addresses free will, this chapter will deal briefly with incapacitated will and at length with inherited guilt.

Does Article 2 Affirm That People Can Resist God’s Saving Grace?
Yes. After providing two qualifications, Article 2 affirms that people can resist God’s saving grace. First, Article 2 affirms that “no sinner is remotely capable of achieving salvation through his own effort.” Second, it denies “that any sinner is saved apart from a free response to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the Gospel.” With those qualifications stated explicitly, Article 2 declares, “We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will.” Chapter 8 deals with free will in greater detail. In summary, Article 2 denies the Calvinistic view that sinners are unable to repent and confess faith in Christ until they are first regenerated by God. Instead, the TS affirms that people who are saved by grace alone are called and enabled to exert their will by placing their faith or trust in Christ alone.

The Bible describes the sinful and lost condition of humanity (John 3:36; Rom 3:9–20). The Bible also declares that God loves the world (John 3:16), Christ died for the sins of the world (John 1:29; 1 John 2:2), and all people in every place are called to repent (Mark 6:12; Acts 2:38; 17:30). Will God hold people accountable for failing to do what they are unable to do? If God calls all people to repent and there are open invitations for people to respond in faith to Christ, then it follows that people are able to repent and place faith in Christ.[1]

The denial of an incapacitated will in Article 2 is a denial of Calvinism’s doctrine of irresistible grace, also known as monergism. Roger Olson rejects irresistible grace but explains the view is biblically and logically necessary if one accepts total depravity, unconditional election, and limited atonement. Olson writes,

As for logic, the argument is that because people are totally depraved and dead in trespasses and sins, unless God elects him or her, the person will never respond to the internal calling of the Holy Spirit. So, the Holy Spirit has to change the person inwardly in an effectual manner, which is regeneration. Then the born again person desires to come to Christ, in which case he or she is given repentance and faith (conversion) and justification (forgiveness and imputation of Christ’s righteousness). This process is called “monergistic grace” or just “monergism.”[2]

Steve Lemke denies the doctrine of irresistible grace, or monergism. While rejecting any idea that any person “can achieve salvation apart from God,” he identifies the theological debate as “whether humans have any role at all in accepting or receiving their own salvation.” Calvinists explain that God does not violate a lost person’s will but changes their will through regeneration so they are drawn to Christ. Compatabilism is the Calvinist view that a lost person’s will is irresistibly changed through regeneration so they now desire Christ. Lemke explains that compatibilism is not a solution because there is no opportunity for a person to choose otherwise.

Lemke presents a robust argument from Scripture that God’s saving grace is resistible. Jesus lamented over Jerusalem; He wanted to gather them to Himself but they “were not willing” (Matt 23:37 HCSB). The rich young ruler appears unwilling to follow Jesus’ instructions about inheriting eternal life (Luke 18:18–23). Other examples of resistible grace in the parables of Jesus include the two sons (Matt 21:28–32), the vineyard (Matt 21:33–44), and the soils (Matt 13:1–23).

Lemke also notes the “all-inclusive invitations” in Scripture. He writes, “The key issue, then, is whether salvation is genuinely open to all persons or merely just to a few who receive irresistible grace.” He notes God’s desire for the salvation of all people (Matt 18:14; 1 Tim 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 John 2:2) and traces all-inclusive invitations throughout the Bible (Joel 2:32; Matt 7:24; 10:32–33; 11:6; 11:28; 12:50; Luke 9:23–24; John 1:7; 3:15–16; 4:13–14; 6:40; 6:51; 7:17; 7:37; 8:51; 11:26; 12:46; Acts 2:21; 10:43; Rom 9:33; 10:11; 1 John 2:23; 4:15; 5:1; Rev 3:20; 22:17).[3]

Richard Swinburne, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oxford, writes:

“My assessment of the Christian theological tradition is that all Christian theologians of the first four centuries believed in human free will in the libertarian sense, as did all subsequent Eastern Orthodox theologians, and most Western Catholic traditions from Duns Scotus (in the fourteenth century) onwards.”[4]

Likewise, the TS resists monergism and affirms libertarian free will.

Does Article 2 Deny That People Inherit Adam’s Guilt?
Yes. Article 2 makes two particular claims regarding …


[1]Calvinists distinguish between natural and moral inability. For more on this internal discussion, see works of Jonathan Edwards, Andrew Fuller, A. A. Hodge, and William Shedd.

[2]Roger E. Olson, Against Calvinism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 156.

[3] Steve W. Lemke, “A Biblical and Theological Critique of Irresistible Grace,” Whosoever Will: A Biblical- Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism, ed. David L. Allen and Steve W. Lemke (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 109–62.

[4]Richard Swinburne, Providence and the Problem of Evil (New York: Clarendon, 1998), 35. This claim is explored in Christopher J. Eppling, “A Study of the Patristic Doctrine of Free Will,” Unpublished Th.M. Thesis, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2009.
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SBCToday reprinted with permission this excerpt from the NOBTS Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry.
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