The Reformed Faith
Man's Totally Helpless Condition
by Loraine Boettner
As we read the works of various Arminian writers, it seems that their first and perhaps most serious error is that they do not give sufficient importance to the sinful rebellion and spiritual separation of the human race from God that occurred in the fall of Adam. Some neglect it altogether, while for others it seems to be a far away event that has little influence in the lives of people today. But unless we insist on the reality of that spiritual separation from God, and the totally disastrous effect that it had on the entire human race, we shall never be able properly to appreciate our real condition or our desperate need of a Redeemer.
Perhaps it will help us to realize more clearly what fallen man's condition really is if we compare it with that of the fallen angels. Angels were created before man, and each angel was placed on test as an individual, personal, moral being. This apparently was a pure test of obedience, as was that of Adam. Some of the angles stood their test, for reasons only fully known to God, and, as a result, were then confirmed in a state of perfect angelic holiness, and are now the elect angels in heaven (1Ti 5:21). But others fell and are now the demons that we read of in the Scriptures, the devil apparently being the one of highest rank among those who fell.
In Jude we read of "angels that kept not their own principality but left their proper habitation, he [God] hath kept in everlasting bonds under darkness unto the judgment of the great day" (Jud 1:6). And in II Peter we read that "God spared not angels when they sinned, but cast them down to hell, and committed them to pits of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment" (2Pe 2:4). The devil and the demons are totally alienated from God, totally given offer to sin, and without any hope of redemption. Their fate is described by Christ as that of being cast into "the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels: (Mat 25:41).
There is no redemption for fallen angles. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews says, "For verily not to angels doth he give help, but he giveth help to the seed of Abraham" (Heb 2:16). Their fate is fixed and certain. For men and for angels endless punishment is the penalty for endless sinning against God. Some would try to make God appear unjust as though He inflicts endless punishment for sins committed only in this life. But lost men and lost angels or demons are endlessly in rebellion against God, and they endlessly receive punishment for that rebellion.
But when God created man a moral creature, He proceeded on a different plan than He did with the angelic order. Instead of creating all men at one time and placing them on test individually, He created one man, with a physical body, from whom the entire human race would descend, and who, because of his union with all of those who would come after him, could be appointed as the legal or federal head and representative of the entire human race. If he stood the test, he and all of his descendants, his children, would be confirmed in holiness and established in a state of perpetual creaturely bliss as were the holy angels. But if he fell, as did the other angels, he and all his posterity would be subject to eternal punishment. It was as if God said, "This time, if sin is to enter, let it enter by one man, so that redemption also can be provided by one man."
Therefore Adam in his representative capacity was placed on a test of pure human obedience. The penalty of disobedience was clearly set before him: "And Jehovah God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat; but of the tree of knowledge of good and evil thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Gen 2:16-17).
Hence, the clearly declared penalty for sin was death - exactly the same penalty that had been inflicted on the angels who fell. As with angels, it was purely a test of whether or not man would be an obedient and appreciative subject in the kingdom of heaven. It was a perfectly fair, simple test, clearly set forth, very much in Adam's favor, for which he would have no excuse if he disobeyed.
But, tragedy of tragedies, Adam fell. And the entire human race fell representatively in him. The consequences of his sin are all comprehended under the term death, in its widest sense. It was primarily spiritual death, or separation from God, that had been threatened. Adam did not die physically until 930 years after he fell. But he was spiritually estranged from God and died spiritually the very instant that he sinned. And from that instant his life became an unceasing march to the grave. Man in this life has not gone as far in the ways of sin as have the devil and the demons, for he still receives many blessings through common grace, such as health, wealth, family and friends, the beauties of nature, and he still is surrounded with many restraining influences. But he is on his way. And if not checked, man would eventually become as totally evil as are the demons. In his fallen state he fears God, tries to flee from Him, and literally hates Him, as do the demons. If left to himself he would remain forever in that condition, because as it is written, "There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none that understandeth, There is none that seeketh after God" (Rom 3:10-11). Nothing, absolutely nothing, but a mighty supernatural act on the part of God can rescue him from that condition. Hence if he is to be rescued, God must take the initiative, must pay the penalty for him, must cleanse him from his guilt, and so reinstate him in holiness and righteousness.
And that is precisely what God does. He sovereignly picks a man up out of the kingdom of Satan, and places him in the kingdom of heaven. Those are the elect that are referred to some 25 times in the Scriptures: Mat 24:22: "For the elect's sake, whom he chose, he shortened those days" (at the destruction of Jerusalem). 1Th 1:4: "Knowing, brethren, beloved of God, your election." Rom 11:7: "The election obtained it, and the rest were hardened." Rom 8:33: "Who shall lay anything to charge of God's elect"; and many more.
The Bible tells us that God has rescued a multitude of the human race from the penalty of their sins. In order to perform that work, Christ, the second Person of the Trinity, took upon Himself human nature through the miracle of the virgin birth, and was born into the human race as any normal child is born. God thus became incarnate, became one of us. Jesus then lived a perfectly sinless life among men as the representative of His people, placed Himself before His own law, and suffered in His own Person the penalty that God had prescribed for sin. In His sinless life He kept perfectly the law of God that Adam had broken, and so earned perfect righteousness for His people and thereby earned for them the right to enter heaven. What He suffered, as a Person of infinite value and dignity, was a just equivalent of what His people would have suffered in an eternity in hell. In this manner He freed His people from the law of sin and death. And as the fruits of that redemptive work are applied to those who have been given to the Son by the Father, they are said to be regenerated by the Holy Spirit, that is, to be made alive spiritually, to be born again.
Paul expresses this broad truth when in the Epistle to the Romans he says:
"Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned ... But no as the trespass, so also is the free gift. For if by the trespass of the one many died, much more did the grace of God, and the gift of the one man, Jesus Christ, abound unto the many ... so then as through one trespass the judgment came unto all men to condemnation, even so through the one act of righteousness the free gift came unto all men to justification to life. For as through the one's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the one shall the many be made righteous" (Rom 5:12-19).
Unless one sees that contrast between the first and the second Adam, he will never understand the Christian system. And writing to the saints that were at Ephesus, Paul said, "And you did he make alive, when ye were dead through your trespasses and sins." And he goes on to say that we:
"...were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest, but God, being rich in mercy for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace have ye been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus: for by grace have ye been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, that no man should glory. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them." (Eph 2:1-10)
In Christian theology there are three separate and distinct acts of imputation. In the first place Adam's sin is imputed to all of us, his children, that is, judicially set to our account so that we are held responsible for it and suffer the consequences of it. This is commonly known as the doctrine of Original Sin. In the second place, and in precisely the same manner, our sin is imputed to Christ so that He suffers the consequences of it. And in the third place, Christ's righteousness is imputed to us and secures for us entrance into heaven. We are, of course, no more personally guilty of Adam's sin than Christ is personally guilty of our sin, or than we are personally meritorious because of His righteousness. In each case it is a judicial transaction. We receive salvation from Christ in precisely the same way that we receive condemnation and ruin from Adam. In each case the result follows because of the close official union which exists between the persons involved. To reject any one of these three steps is to reject an essential part of the Christian system.
Thus we see the strict parallel between Adam and Christ in the matter of salvation. In the above passages Paul piles one phrase upon another stressing the fact that we were not merely sick, or spiritually disinclined, but spiritually dead. Christ Himself said, "Except one be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (Joh 3:3). And again He said, "Why do ye not understand my speech: even because ye cannot hear my words" (Joh 8:43). The unregenerate man cannot see the kingdom of God, nor hear in any spiritually discerning way the words spoken concerning it, much less can he get into it. Had we been left to ourselves we, like the fallen angels, would never have turned to God.
A spiritually dead person can no more give himself spiritual life that a physically dead person can give himself physical live. That requires a supernatural act on the part of God. We get into the family of God in precisely the same way that we get into our human family, by being born into it. By that supernatural act God Himself, through His Holy Spirit, sovereignly takes us out of the kingdom of Satan and places us in His spiritual kingdom by a spiritual rebirth.
And having once been born onto the kingdom of God, we can never become unborn. Since it took a supernatural act to bring us into a state of spiritual life, it would take another such act to take us out of that state. Hence the absolute certainty that those who have been regenerated and who therefore have become truly Christian will never lose their salvation, but will providentially be kept by the power of God through all the trials and difficulties of this life and will be brought into the heavenly kingdom. "He that heareth my word, and believeth him that sent me, hath eternal life, and cometh not into judgment, but hath passed out of death into life" (John 5:24). "If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature" (2Co 5:17). "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who gave them unto me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand" (Joh 10:27-29). This is known as the doctrine of eternal security or the perseverance of the saints.
This gift of eternal live is not conferred upon all men, but only upon those whom God chooses. This does not mean that any who want to be saved are excluded, for the invitation is "He that will [KJV, whosoever will], let him take the water of life freely" (Rev 22:17). The fact is that a spiritually dead person cannot will to come. "No man can come unto me except the Father that sent me draw [literally, drags] him" (John 6:44). Only those who are quickened (make spiritually alive) by the Holy Spirit ever have that will or that desire. These in Scripture are called the elect. But in contrast with these, there is another group that we may call the non-elect. And concerning them Professor Floyd Hamilton has very appropriately written:
"All that God does is to let them alone and allow them to go their own way without interference. It is their nature to be evil, and God simply has foreordained to leave that nature unchanged. The picture often painted by opponents of Calvinism, of a cruel God refusing to save all who want to be saved, is a gross caricature. God saves all who want to be saved, but no one whose nature has not been changed wants to be saved."