Fallen Man’s Ability to Obey God. The Bible teaches that fallen man is capable of responding to God’s call and is held accountable for failure to do so. We will examine this thesis in several parts. First will be an examination of the conversation between God and Cain in Genesis 4. Second, several passages throughout scripture that teach the opportunity and responsibility of sinners to respond to God’s call will be examined. Finally, the call of Jesus to “Repent” will be studied.
The Lord Speaks with Cain—Genesis 4:1-7. This is a very important passage in refuting the Calvinist position that man lost his ability to respond to God at the fall because it is recorded in the very next chapter after the record of the fall. The story is well known. The two first brothers brought their offerings and Abel’s offering was accepted while Cain’s offering was not. The event affirms that Cain has not lost the ability to decide his spiritual situation. Verse 7 says that if Cain does well he will be accepted; but if he does not, then the sin will be his responsibility. There is no hint here that Cain’s ability to decide his spiritual fate has been lost. Cain has not lost the human freedom to decide his own destiny. There is no hint here of any prior decision or manipulation on God’s part in the drama. It is a straight-forward account of human freedom and responsibility.
Individual Human Responsibility. A major weakness in the Calvinist scheme is found here. It is a basic teaching of scripture that individuals are held accountable for their sin. This is the basis for judgment in both human law courts and the divine court. This section will make the argument that man’s ability to choose good or evil is a fundamental doctrine of the scripture.
I have to ask with Abraham, “Will not the judge of the universe do right?” (Genesis 18:25) I know the Calvinist will be turning to Romans 9:20 to condemn me so I will answer the criticism now. Who do I think I am? I am a man created in the image of God with a God-given sense of justice. I believe God is just and will do right and what is right is to judge each sinner for the sin they have committed. I even have scripture to back up my position. Ezekiel said, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:20) The rest of that verse strikes down another false idea taught by the Roman Catholics and accepted by many Calvinists. That is the doctrine of “inherited guilt.” The next part of verse 20 says, “The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son…” The acceptance of this false doctrine led to the practice of infant baptism which our Baptist forefathers had to stand against.
In teaching us about judgment, Romans 14:12 makes it very clear that individuals are held accountable for their actions. That verse says, “So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” Individual responsibility is at the heart of the message of the Bible.
The Bible makes it just as clear that every person chooses to sin. Many scriptures clearly state that, “…all have sinned” (Romans 3:23) and “If we say that we have not sinner, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:10). I am certainly not advocating any kind of Armenian perfectionism. As the Baptist Faith and Message states, “…By his free choice man sinned against God and brought sin into the human race…whereby his posterity inherit a nature and an environment inclined toward sin.” Every person sins and is held accountable for that sin when they reach the age of accountability.
The call to repent. Is a response expected? Everyone seems to agree that a response is expected. Non-Calvinist Southern Baptists believe that the sinner has the responsibility to freely respond and therefore emphasize the “decision” and the invitation. Calvinists believe in regeneration before the repentance and as a result, the emphasis is missing on a public invitation. In other words, the person is saved first and repents afterward. The Calvinist camp is fond of reminding us that James P. Boyce was a Calvinist so I will quote him on this issue. Boyce writes, “Regeneration (as in infants) may exist without faith and repentance, but the latter cannot exist without the former. Therefore, regeneration precedes.” In the Calvinist way of thinking, the regeneration enables the repentance.
Acts 2:38 indicates a different order in the process. There we read, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The order is even clearer in Acts 16:31 as Paul replies to the question of the jailer concerning salvation. There we read, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…” Notice the future tense in “will be saved.” The jailer will be saved after his belief.
The Bible teaches the need for the individual to respond to the call to choose or the call to repent of sin. Joshua 24:15 places the choice directly before the person when Joshua says, “…choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.” It certainly does not sound like they are just to engage in self-examination to attempt to discover what God has already chosen for them. The conclusive text for me is the command of Jesus found in Mark 1:15 where we read, “The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the food news!” Both the words “repent” and “believe” are in the imperative. The speaker (Jesus) expected a response by the hearers (sinners). It is a distortion of the Word of God to read this as “Repent and believe if you have already been saved by the irresistible grace of God.” By the way, this verse settles the question of public invitations. Jesus did it and we should do it.
God is sovereign and man is responsible because he is free to accept or deny God’s will. It is not an attack on God’s sovereignty for God to grant limited freedom to mankind. Parents do it every day in their relationships with their children and God as the creator has the same privilege as a human parent. Out task is not to tell God how he must govern his creation, but to seek to discover the way he has already decided to govern. My understanding of the Bible is that God established limited freedom for mankind in matters of salvation. The result of this is human responsibility for individual sin.
 Boyce, James P. Abstract of Systematic Theology (Cape Coral: Founders Press, 2006 reprint), 381.