Are Man’s Ability and Responsibility Coextensive?

Christianity is rational despite the fact that the mass majority of unbelievers consider it to be irrational. However, there are forms of Christianity whose proponents attempt to understand Man’s ability vs. his responsibility only via human reason. The correct way for Christians to view God, His ways, His Sovereignty, Man, Man’s depravity, and Man’s responsibility is to reason biblically. Here is an example. If our reason is exclusively extra-biblical then we say that Man’s ability and responsibility are coextensive. They must match up exactly. If not, then the supposition is irrational. This makes sense and is reasonable if our reasoning is extra-biblical, but is it right?

Are Man’s ability and responsibility coextensive?

One group looks at the question and says, "Yes! We know that all men are held responsible to repent and believe because we find that in the Bible. Therefore, we must conclude that Men have the ability in themselves to repent and believe."

However, the Bible does not teach that. Those who hold this position teach the lost that they have within them the spiritual ability to repent and believe.

Another group looks at the question and says, "Yes! We know that, in and of themselves, Men are without spiritual ability to repent and believe because we find that in the Bible. Therefore, we must conclude that the lost are not under any obligation to repent and believe the gospel."

However, the Bible is very clear that everyone is commanded to believe and repent.

Calvinism, on the other hand, looks at the question and says, "No! What looks reasonable is often not biblical. This supposition is wrong because it violates what scripture teaches. From the Bible we learn that fallen man is without spiritual ability and that he is obligated to repent and believe. It is only by the powerful, regenerating work of the Holy Spirit that man is given the ability to obey God in repentance and belief.”

The first two examples seem reasonable responses to the supposition until we submit it to what the Bible says. The Bible also tells us that God’s ways are not our ways. So why would we insist that God must work along the lines of Human Reason?

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4 thoughts on “Are Man’s Ability and Responsibility Coextensive?

  1. This is probably a fundamental misunderstanding of the Calvinistic doctrine on my part, but I have to ask the question anyway. If man’s ability to repent is non-existent, then why is there such an emphasis on repentance in scripture for salvation? It would seem that if all have the responsibility to repent, then all should be given the ability to repent, right? Why then so few? Why demand the action of repentance, then only give a select few the ability to fulfill the demand?

    “Ask Questions. Demand Answers.”


  2. Nathan,

    I understand the perplexity. Please forgive me if I don’t explain this completely. Your supposition matches the supposition of the first group I mentioned. It is based upon another supposition that God must operate or do things within the scope of parameters that do not violate our conception of fairness. Fairness is really not what we want from God is it? I don’t. I want Grace and Mercy. Also, who says there are only a few who are selected? Not me. Lastly, I’m not God. I don’t know why He does things contrary to how we reason they should be done. However, I do know that He is sovereign and His ways are not our ways and are far above us and our understanding.

    Should we give the gospel to everyone? Absolutely! Will they all believe? No. Why? The Bible is very clear on this, Only those God grants the ability to believe will believe and repent. I would dearly love for everyone to be saved, but it’s not up to me. All I can do is tell everyone the good news who will hear.

    Your last question is no fun to answer brother. “Why demand the action of repentance, then only give a select few the ability to fulfill the demand?” The criteria God used is laid out in Ephesians 1. It was according to the purpose of His will for His glory. He is glorified when His people believe and repent and He is glorified when the reprobate don’t. However, you and I both know of cases where reprobate people were delivered and saved. However, I also know of cases where people who seemed to be good Christians for many years fell away and proved they were never part of the body of Christ by their apostasy.

    My Reformed Theology, my way of understanding it at least, closely follows that of Charles Spurgeon. He was Reformed, but probably one of the most evangelical oriented theologians we have ever seen. That is the right approach I think. Let’s just share the gospel, in it’s entirety, with everyone. Trust that God will save His people and be content in that. I am not a “high Calvinist.” Some would call that Hyper-Calvinism. It takes away the responsibility of people to believe and repent. No thank you! That is disobedience to the great commission and not biblical reasoning.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff


  3. Amen, Mike! It is half truths that these two groups put forth…poison. I think it was on Old Truth where I read how they make poision. They take a lot of something the animal likes to eat and put just enough poison to kill it…I think it was 90/10 ratio.


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