Inability vs Unwillingness
Updated: Jan 29
"How is this requirement, to "make to yourself a new heart," consistent with the often repeated declarations of the Bible, that a new heart is the gift and work of God. The Bible ascribes conversion, or a new heart, to four different agencies. Oftentimes it is ascribed to the Spirit of God. And if you consult the Scriptures, you will find it still more frequently ascribed to the truth; as, "Of his own will begat he us by the word of truth"--"The truth shall make you free"--"Sanctify them through thy truth"--"The law of God is perfect, converting the soul." It is sometimes ascribed to the preacher, or to him who presents the truth; "He that winneth souls is wise:" Paul says, "I have begotten you through the Gospel"--"He that converteth a sinner from the error of his ways, shall save a soul from death, and hide a multitude of sins." Sometimes it is spoken of as the work of the sinner himself; thus the apostle says, "Ye have purified yourselves by obeying the truth;" "I thought on my ways," says the Psalmist, "and turned unto the Lord." Again he says, "When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart replied, Thy face, Lord, will I seek." Now the question is, Are all these declarations of Scripture consistent with each other? They are all true; they all mean just as they say; nor is there any real disagreement between them. There is a sense in which conversion is the work of God. There is a sense in which it is the effect of truth. There is a sense in which the preacher does it. And it is also the appropriate work of the sinner himself."
Charles Finney (From his sermon - Sinners Bound to Change their Own Hearts)
Theology has a way of blinding people to the truth. That's right. Many people have been errantly indoctrinated and ultimately destroyed through the power of theology. People are interested in divine things, whether they will admit it or not, but too often, the information they receive is not true to reason, not true to life, nor is it true to the scriptures. Why should that be surprising? Satan is prowling around looking for people to devour, and what better way for him to do this than by promoting false ideas about God? The tactic of creating martyrs does not hinder his schemes; in fact, it often has the opposite effect. It is more effective for him to pose as an angel of light, or a minister of the truth, using religious terminology while leading people down the path to destruction. When I was preparing messages on a regular basis, I would look to commentaries for explanations and material, but the more I did, the more confused I became. I was genuine in my reverence toward God, but looking back, I realize how little I knew, and how much I was lacking. I suppose that many who call themselves Christians are content with theological ideas that are inconsistent or incoherent, but I thank God for continuously influencing my mind toward his beautiful, simple truths.
People speak of the new birth in many different ways. Some say that it is the work of God upon a passive recipient, as if the person has no part to play in the event whatsoever. Others claim that a person’s volition is indeed involved, but something happens to him when he is born again, in the sense that he is granted new abilities and the inevitable desire to follow God. Still others claim that the new birth gives people a spiritual capacity that they did not have before, but what they do with it is inconsequential. Without going into the implications of all of these statements, each of these views led to scriptural and logical inconsistencies that were difficult for me to deal with. As I was completing my degree in Criminal Justice, I came across the teachings of Charles Finney, and the biblical framework known as Moral Government Theology (MGT). The only label I am interested in is “Christian”, but I will not hesitate to say that the biblical interpretations of MGT changed my life. While there are many proponents of MGT, the three that have impacted my mind the most have been Charles Finney, Harry Conn and Michael Saia. I personally know people that view the Bible through the MGT paradigm, and I have thoroughly enjoyed my conversations with them.
My confusion in years past led to questions similar to these and more: Is God waiting on us to come to a mental dependence on a soteriological fact for salvation, as some claim? Why would God command us to repent, if we have to wait for him to give us the special ability to do so first? If the new birth results in a change of heart, and inevitably “makes” us want to obey God, why do so many people fail to obey God who claim to be Christians? The way Finney describes conversion in his sermons and writings took away all of my confusion. The new birth does not consist of the Lord creating within us new abilities or new faculties, it is the beginning of the right use of our abilities and faculties that God has already given us. The change of heart that the Bible commands IS the new birth. Man is born with the spiritual ability to know and obey the Lord. A lost person is not incapable of obeying the Lord, he is unwilling. When a person, under the influence of the Spirit of God, yields to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, he is saved. We do not need a constitutional change in order to be able to do what God commands us to do, we need willing hearts.