God commands everyone to repent and turn to Christ in response to the gospel, but man does not have the ability to do so. This article outlines the proper view of the doctrine of the inability of man, to promote a right response to the proclamation of the gospel.

Source: The Banner of Truth (NRC), 1987. 2 pages.

But...I’m Not Able!

A Familiar Answer to the Proclamation of the Gospel🔗

"Seek ye the Lord while He may be found" (Is. 55:6); "Let the wicked forsake his way" (Is. 55:7); "God commandeth man everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30); "And this is His commandment that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 3:23). These Bible texts could be multiplied with many more which essentially convey the same truth, namely, that God in His Word clearly urges and commands sinners to do something in relation to the salvation of their soul, such as seek­ing, forsaking sin, repenting, and believing. Jesus Himself began His public ministry with this unmistakable state­ment, But ... I’m Not Able!"Repent ye and believe the gospel" (Mark 1:15). When those who were pricked in their hearts on the day of Pentecost cried out to Peter in holy despair, "What shall we do?", his an­swer was, "Repent" (Acts 2:37-38), and when the jailor asked Paul and Silas, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?", they promptly answered, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:30,31).

All the texts I have just quoted from the Word of God have a common message, the message Paul proclaimed wherever he preached, which he summarized to the elders of Ephesus in his farewell to them: "Repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21). Yet it is possible that your vocal or silent response to this clear message of God's Word is, that you are not able to seek, repent, and believe. Such an answer is based on your conviction that man has lost all spiritual ability as a result of our fall. This is unquestionably taught in Scripture, as for instance in Jeremiah 13:23, where it is stated, "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?" Then may ye also do good that are accustomed to do evil. This text alone is sufficient evidence that the doc­trine of man's spiritual inability is the express teaching of Scripture.

The crucial question I wish to ask you, however, is, "How do you interpret this doctrine, and what motivates you to refer to your inability when the gospel is preached?" Does the realization of your inability cause you to cry to God for His enabling grace, or do the clear commands and proclamations of the gospel result in a cold, emotionless reply that you cannot do anything of yourself? It is the latter answer which deeply concerns me, as such an answer is not the result of the teaching of the Holy Spirit, but is the subtle expression of the enmity of our fallen heart toward God, instigated by Satan's distortion of the doctrine of man's inability.

Satan's Lie About Your Inability🔗

As you know, Satan tempted Adam to sin by distorting God's Word. His approach is still the same today, which is also true in relation to the doctrine of man's inability.

Satan understood very well that the intimate, spiritual relationship between God and Adam in Paradise was to the supreme glory of God and the supreme happiness of man. He therefore temp­ted man to rebel against God, But ... I’m Not Able!which resulted in the breaking of this wondrous relationship. However, Satan also thoroughly understands that in the gospel God reveals the way whereby this relationship can be restored in Christ. This restoration he wants to prevent at all costs. Satan works overtime to discourage and prevent sinners from seeking God. To accomplish this, he has found a distortion of the doctrine of man's inability to be a very useful tool. As an "orthodox" devil he instructs sinners, especially those of Reformed persuasion, that since they are not able to convert themselves, they are helpless victims of circumstances, and therefore are under no obligation to respond to God's call to repentance. If God does not give the grace of repentance, so he persuades, you cannot help it if you remain unconverted. It is a gift, and if God does not give you that gift, there is nothing you can do.

How readily our unbelieving hearts grasp this false way of excusing ourselves! How suitable it is to our carnal mind, which is enmity against God, for it enables me to piously and subtlety blame God for my unconverted state. It gives me license to live as the world does, while occasionally performing some religious duties to appease my conscience and maintain my status as a respectable church member. Such an interpretation of the doctrine of man's inability keeps me from my knees, keeps my eyes dry, keeps the Bible closed, allows me to sleep well at home as well as in church, and may even allow me to skip church if the service conflicts with my plans. How Satan rejoices in such an interpretation of this doctrine, for it successfully keeps sinners from seeking God and His irresistible grace, which perfectly suits his cause, namely, the damnation of souls!

The Truth About Your Inability🔗

How obvious it ought to be that God did not convey the doctrine of man's inability in His Word to give man a ready excuse for his unconverted state or to discourage sinners from seeking Him. How entirely contrary to His nature this would be! Scripture does the contrary. Rather than describing man as a helpless victim, Scripture describes man as a determined rebel. This is so precisely stated in Romans 8:7, where the Bible tells us that, "the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." Do you notice that the Holy Spirit first of all points to man's unwillingness to surrender to God, and secondly to his inability? Why? As a result of our fall, our will has become so totally corrupt and opposed to God, that it is impossible for our fallen will to surrender to God. Our inability is therefore a manifestation of our enmity towards God and consequently is utterly inexcusable. This makes us fully responsible for our unconverted state.

Since, however, God has not changed as a result of man's fall, He has an absolute right to demand from His creatures what we can no longer perform due to our depraved will. As Creator He has a right to demand that we obey Him, seek Him, believe in Him, and honor Him. As Creator He has a right to call me to repentance and as a needy sinner to believe in His Son Jesus Christ, who is the express image of His Person. Therefore He is entirely just in condemning me for not repenting and believing, as this is first and foremost the result of the fact that by nature I will not come to God through Christ! (See John 5:40)

However, not only does God right­fully demand repentance and faith but it is also His delight to call sinners to repentance and faith. For this reason He also gives what He demands, namely, the grace to repent and believe. The realization of our inability must therefore drive us out to the throne of grace, to beseech the God of grace to make us willing in the day of His power. This is the goal the Holy Spirit pursues in convicting sinners of their inability. Instead of indifference, there will then be a painful awareness of my inability which will result in deep spiritual anxiety, causing me to cry out to God, But ... I’m Not Able!"Draw me and I shall run after Thee; turn Thou me, and I shall be turned!"

My dear young friend, may this also be your prayer, and may the reality of your inability drive you out to the God, who swears by His very own existence, "Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God and there is none else. I have sworn by Myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return" (Is. 45:22, 23).

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