Do we have a choice?
Unregenerate humans are free to do that what they want to do, but all they want to do is sin. Jesus stands forth in the gospel and cries out “Believe upon Me, trust Me, come to Me, receive Me.” Yet, the natural human response is refusal.
Our blind eyes do not see Him as lovely and good. Our deaf ears do not hear the sweetness and grace of His call. Our minds misinterpret His words. Our hearts love to hate Him. All we have known and loved is darkness, and, thus, we fear the light. The chains of our own choosing constrain us from coming to Him.
If only we would believe, we would be saved (John 3:16), and yet we refuse to do so (John 3:19-20). This understanding illuminates the importance of regeneration (John 3:3-5).
Only a regenerate heart will respond correctly. Only a regenerate heart will believe. Only a regenerate heart will find Christ lovely and good. 1
We do indeed have a choice and are free to choose as we wish, but the reality of our depravity reveals that we all choose poorly. Not one fallen man in a trillion will trust God unless God first overcomes his natural resistance This God mercifully and graciously does for the elect. 2
Is this unfair?
If all man has known is sin and if it is universally inherited from Adam, how can one be considered culpable for sin? By nature man cannot not sin. If he cannot do otherwise, how can God judge him and hold him responsible?
Jonathan Edwards provided a helpful approach to answering this in his distinction between natural and moral inability. According to Edwards, natural inability would be like a man who has been knocked unconscious and tied to a chair. He cannot stand up and should not be held responsible for not doing so since he is prevented from standing up by virtue of the ropes which bind him. Though he wants/wills to stand, he cannot do so.
This is not the type of inability that we possess. We possess a moral inability. Though we are truly bound, our bondage is a result of our own desires.
We are responsible because we have willfully rebelled. We reject Christ not because we are restrained by rope, but because we are hindered by our hatred of God. We are shackled only by our own selfish loves.
Some people might object that they were born this way and did not elect Adam to be man’s representative (Romans 5:12-21) in the garden. They did not eat the fruit and thus should not be subject to fallen futility or the consequent judgment. Yet, with every sin we commit, we evidence the justice of God’s decree by casting our vote for Adam’s sin.
By virtue of our ongoing rebellion, we demonstrate that we accept our allegiance to our Adamic head and fully merit the forfeiture of the degree and type of freedom that mankind once possessed. We are not simply third or fourth generation children born into a slavery inherited from our forefathers. We are prisoners of a war in which we were and continue to be willing combatants.
1 The Gospel of John is a great book to walk through to see the tyranny of the flesh to which we are all naturally enslaved. Not only do we have the above discussion from chapter 3 but also the discriminatory drawing of the Father (John 6:44-65), the selectivity of His sheep (John 10:27) and the relationship between belonging and believing (John 10:26).
2 See “How Does an Unbeliever Believe?” for more on the process of God overcoming human resistance by the act of regeneration.