Christians are divided on a fundamental question about the will of man and the will of God. Calvinists believe that no one can will themselves to be saved, yet once God saves them, He will keep them saved. The Arminian view says people can choose to believe and also change that choice. They say no one will go to heaven against their will.
I believe that both are right and both are wrong — particularly if they leave the power of God out of the equation. Here is what Jesus said on this matter (italics mine) . . .
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. (John 6:35–47)
Fortner answers the issue well. He says of course people are free to do anything they want — as long as they have the ability to do it. However, our actions are limited by our nature. For example, I am free to swim to Hawaii, but my nature is unable. A colored man may desire to change the shade of his skin, but he has no ability to do so. We have free will but this is not absolutely free; it is limited by human nature.
Here is the kicker: because we are by nature fallen, guilty, sinful and depraved beings without life towards God or any interest in Him, we have no ability or desire to believe in Jesus Christ.
As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10–12)
Jesus said, “Yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:40).
That is, in our natural condition, we have no desire to come to Christ, which is why Jesus could say, “No man can come to me.” It is against our sinful nature. We do not want to, nor do we have the ability.
As Fortner says, I was spiritually dead so in regard to the things of Christ, I had no free will. Yet to be saved, I had to come to Christ in faith and surrender to Him as Lord. How could that decision happen in a person whose nature was totally against it, going my own way and rejecting the way of the Lord?
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9)
The grace of God came and granted me the gift of faith, creating in me a new nature. He did this with irresistible grace and power, and grace makes people willing to come and able to come to Christ. Grace even sees to it that we do come.
Jesus, Your Word gives me these words, “Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise.” (Jeremiah 17:14). What I could not do, You did for me. You came into my life and changed who I am, and with that You changed my eternal destiny. What I cannot do even still, You do in me by the power of the Holy Spirit and because of grace. Nothing from You is earned or deserved; everything is by grace through faith and faith is possible because “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) This morning I woke up singing “Amazing Grace” and it certainly is!