Summary: "In my flesh is no good thing," says Paul. Most of us have found this to be true from our experience. All will, eventually.
Let's deal with the subject of human Depravity, and in this discussion, its opposite, namely free will. So how can free will be the opposite of depravity? Remember we said above that the corruption of the human race extends to all areas of a person’s life, and one of those areas is the will. Calvinism declares that man’s will has been affected so negatively that it is no longer possible for him to choose God or even good. Left to his own devices, man will always, ultimately, choose his own flesh, his own way.
I will not quote Arminius or Calvin in any of these discussions. The Scriptures can speak for themselves. Where shall we start? Why not Romans? The apostle has much to say about all this.
7:18 is in the middle of a discussion, but it seems a great place to begin: “I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing.” That’s pretty plain. Sin has corrupted so badly that I can actually say that there is nothing good in me. This is a far cry from the “I’m OK, you’re OK” philosophy that inundates us today, finding its way into the church via high-sounding ideas like “self esteem” and “self worth”. Paul would have none of that because he had none of that! In his flesh was nothing good. Flesh only means human nature. Man before God enters. There’s nothing good there, folks! It’s a tainted view of God, in whose image we were made. Yes there are glimpses of the original, but Paul says corruption has set in.
Has this affected the will? Paul goes on: “To will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find.” So the “want-to” part of our will says yes, but the “do-it” part says no. In my dreams and wishes I am a good man. But in my efforts, I fall flat. I’m corrupt. And so are you. All of you.
The Arminians hold that the free will is not restricted and enslaved by the sinful nature. Paul says it is. I simply cannot be good. They say I can freely choose God any time I want. But the question is, why would I want, unless God has chosen me first, and come to me to advise me of the choice? Why would I want God if I am so full of self?
For me, the Spirit of God worked many ways. As I tell you about them, you will surely recall your own line of communications that brought you to Christ. Here the two camps come together. Here the grace of God is given its place in our testimony. We all start with, God did this and God did that. And this is the point. We, at first, were not seeking Him. He was seeking us. I will produce some accompanying Scriptures later.
First it was the woman across the street, mother of my childhood playmate. She saw the discouraged look I always had, and simply mentioned that I should “try God.” I followed her advice, tried God in an area of my life that was needy at the time, and God came through for me. I was not “officially” saved in those days, but in the mind of God this thing had been settled for aeons.
Then came invitations to church. A local church placed a bag of groceries on our step. I was taken in by that local church for many years, and learned the basics of the faith. Still not aware of the forgiveness of my sins in any dynamic way. Then fired from the ministry of that church for believing more than they had taught me. This led me into a wilderness of searching. But as in Jesus’ time in the wilderness, it was the Spirit of God who led me there. When the find came, I could never credit my search, but only the movement of the Spirit that caused the search. Then that wonderful night listening to the preacher, expecting nothing in particular. Suddenly a sorrow for sin arose from deep inside me. Many tears. Later, a joy, an assurance that God had heard and forgiven. More tears, of joy. Incredible joy.
You see how it works. Though we want to say it was that woman or that search or that preacher, we have our eyes opened to the great fisher of men who has caught another one of His chosen. I had nothing to do with it. I was caught, and loved it. This is the way of salvation. He initiates, He calls, He provides all along the way.
Arminians and Calvinists alike can enjoy this experience. I was an Arminian then and most of my life. It did not change my experience. Knowing the rest of the story now also does not change it, but causes me to enjoy it so much more.