I'm finishing a doctoral class on a pastor and theologian named Jonathan Edwards. He has been so helpful to me in so many places, but one place in particular and with one picture in particular.
Reading the New Testament, it becomes pretty clear that people have intrinsic value, make real choices, and reap real consequences based on those choices. But it's equally clear that we're slaves to sin, have a fallen nature that is turned against God, and make sinful and damnable choices according to the inclination of our hearts. How can all of this be?
Edwards has helped me by putting all of this together in a picture that is wonderfully simple and makes so much sense.
He describes two different men who are locked in prison because of an offense. The prince comes after some time to free the men because he has forgiven them. To the first man he calls out, "You're free. Come out of the prison and live." But the man is still shackled to the wall, behind multiple closed doors, and guarded by watchmen. He never comes because he is unable to break free.
That's how we picture ourselves in some sense. Jesus comes to rescue us but we're shackled in sin, etc. So the role of Jesus is to open the doors and we'll come out. But that's not how Edwards (nor the Bible!) teaches we are. The first man described is a foil to set up the second man.
The second prisoner experiences the same call: "Come out of the prison and live!" The doors are opened. The guards are dismissed. The chains are loosed. But the man so despises the Prince, he stays inside. He has the ability to go free, but in another sense doesn't have the ability to go free (because of his hatred for the prince).
That second guy - that's us. We are naturally born bent away from God. We have the capacity to go free but not the desire to do so. We love our sin so much that we stay in the prison. Unless Christ, by the Holy Spirit, regenerates us and gives us a new heart to love Him, we will stay as such.
Here's the summary statement of Edwards on the will of man...
You can if you will - but you won't "until."
Theology on a Thursday? You bet.