Introduction: The nature of the problem dictates whether or not there will be a solution, and if so, what that solution will be. Among evangelical Christians, the nature of the "problem" of salvation can be described in two basic ways. Either man is sick in his sin, needing to take the medicine, or he is dead in his sin, needed to be resurrected. Our purpose here is to examine which is the Bible's teaching on this subject.
Free Agents: Because all men are free agents they are free to do as they please. But because they are sinners, what they please to do is sin.
For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man (Mark 7:21-23).
As creatures, men are free to do as they please. As sinners, men are not free to do right.
Spiritual Death: The Bible expressly describes the unregenerate condition as being one of death. This does not mean that unbelievers are dead in every respect -- but with regard to spiritual things, they certainly are.
And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others (Eph. 2:1-3).
Spiritual Slavery: Another picture that excludes "free will" with regard to salvation is the picture of slavery. Dead men do not walk out of the grave, and slaves do not walk away from their masters.
For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness (Rom. 6:20).
No Autonomous Seekers: We all know that people do not become Christians unless they seek the Lord. The debate between Christians therefore is not over whether we seek the Lord. It is over why we seek the Lord, if we do. Men, left to themselves, will not seek God. And this is what the Bible explicitly teaches.
As it is written: "There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one" (Rom. 3:10-12).
How many are unrighteous? All. How many seek a way out of their unrighteousness? None.
Hostility of Mind: This point is also seen in the Bible's description of the minds of unbelievers. They are seen as hostile to God.
Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Rom. 8:7-8; cf. 1 Cor. 2:14).
Who Then Can Be Saved? The problem with all this is that it leaves us without hope of salvation, right? No, it leaves us without hope of salvation from man. What is impossible for men is possible for God.
No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day (John 6:44).
And He said, "Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father" (John 6:65).
If the Father does not do the drawing, if the Father does not give it, a man cannot come. But does this mean that no one ever comes? No -- it means that everyone who comes has been drawn by God.
All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out (John 6:37).
What man cannot do with any success, God can do with no failure. And what is that? The resurrection of the dead.