Can a person do good without God allowing him to do so?


We were talking about God and grace and all that good jazz. We had a discussion about whether God is responsible for every good act done in the world. I disagreed with the statement because that would mean every good thing done would be credited to God.

I am confused. Can someone do good without the influence of God? The Bible does talk about evil people, like us, at times do good things. I am just confused when they said it's the grace of God. He provides the chance to do good.

So even if it's just helping an old lady across the street out of pure motives, they said it's only because of God's "common Grace" that it could be even done, and it's the Spirit working on the person, or something to the sort. It just didn't sound right and the conversation ended after we talked about whether children are born with sin. I left early because of my ride and I wanted to go (I was tired). Weirdly enough, after I left they came to the conclusion children don't inherit sin. But this isn't about just anything good in the world is from God. Someone quoted James 1:17, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning."

It was late so I said I would get back to them on it because I never thought about it much. It doesn't sound right. Maybe I am wrong, who knows. But I was wondering what your opinion is on whether everything good thing done by God, He gives the opportunity to do good, but if God doesn't give the opportunity to do good, then it can't happen. They were saying good is good so therefore all good things come from God.


James' statement, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning" (James 1:17) returns to the earlier statement to form a contrast, "Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone" (James 1:13).

The topic is not the good that we do (at least not directly) but how we should see the good that is done for us. When evil tempts us, James instructs us not to blame God because evil cannot influence God nor does God give evil to people. Evil has a different source, which feeds off our own desires and leads us to death. Instead, God is the ultimate source of all the good that comes our way, and all the things that work out just perfectly.

What is not stated here, in James, is how God delivers His gifts. Your friends made assumptions that are not found in James. The reason why it sets wrong is that their conclusion removes all responsibility from man. What they concluded is that man is totally depraved or totally unable to do any good (the first point in John Calvin's teachings). The Bible teaches that we all end up sinning (Romans 3:9-23), but it doesn't teach that we could not help ourselves or that we were unable to do what was right. If fact, take a look at Romans 3:12, "They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one." Think for a moment about the first phrase, from what do all men turn aside from? Obviously the implication is that people turn aside from doing good. But if people are totally depraved, then turning aside from depravity would mean doing good! That means people are good at some point and then leave good for sin. Paul says this again a little bit later, "I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died" (Romans 7:9). There was a point in Paul's life when he was alive. It occurred when he didn't know the Law. But when he became conscious of right and wrong, he died. When in a person's life is he not conscious of the law? It would be during childhood. "Moreover your little ones and your children, who you say will be victims, who today have no knowledge of good and evil, they shall go in there; to them I will give it, and they shall possess it" (Deuteronomy 1:39).

God's gift comes from His teachings. "Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust" (II Peter 1:2-4). Peter addresses how God gave us His gifts (His grace). It comes through the knowledge of God and what is given is all things pertaining to life and godliness. These gifts and the knowledge that generated them lead us to even greater gifts, that of eternal life and escape from sin.

God is perfectly good. "This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin" (I John 1:5-7). God's nature, then, defines for us what is right and what is wrong.

As an example. We know that God is love and that the reason we know about love is that God has loved us. "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. ... We love Him because He first loved us" (I John 4:7-10, 19). How do we know what love is or how to express it to another? We learned it from God who first loved us. We see perfect love in the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf and, thus, we have the goal set before us. Therefore it is proper to say that when anyone loves another, they are reflecting back the love that God first gave to us. It is not that God made a person love another, but that God is ultimately the source who instructed the "lover" in how to love another. Thus, it is proper to say that when my wife loves me, I can thank God for His gift of her in my life and the love that we have for one another because she and I learned it from Him.

It is interesting that your friends correctly concluded that sin isn't inherited because Calvin concluded that inherited sins were the best explanation of why men could not do good without God's direct intervention. Going back to Romans 3:12, we see a point that Calvin could not see. "They have all turned aside" (Romans 3:12). Who did the turning? Who is responsible for turning aside? Obviously it is every person, all of them and not God. A similar point is made in Ecclesiastes 7:29, "Truly, this only I have found: that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes." Man is made righteous, but they (all of them as Paul points out) sought a different path.

In Calvin's view of the world, God is totally sovereign. Every detail of the entire existence of the world was mapped out before the world began. Every decision was decided in advance. If men had any input, then according to Calvin that would take away from the sovereignty of God. It is kind of sad because Calvin missed the truth entirely. What makes a great ruler or leader? One aspect is that he is able to get what he wants to be done accomplished despite any opposition. God is the Ruler of this universe because He always gets what He desires done. "Remember the former things of old, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure,' calling a bird of prey from the east, the man who executes My counsel, from a far country. Indeed I have spoken it; I will also bring it to pass. I have purposed it; I will also do it" (Isaiah 46:9-11). Notice the last sentence. God knows what He wants and He has the power to make it happen. This doesn't remove free-will. It states that God accomplishes His goal despite opposition and people choosing as they would.

Even wicked people do good things once in a while. It doesn't make them any better as a result because they continue to sin. But notice what Paul states in II Timothy 3:13, "But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived." If men were totally unable to do good without the aid of God, then how could they get worse?

Or consider the problem Cornelius causes to this line of thinking. Cornelius was not saved until the end of Acts 10. But before that he is described as being a righteous man, "a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always" (Acts 10:2). That is God's description of the man. Therefore, prior to being saved, Cornelius was able to do good.

The Gentiles, though lost in sin and being with God's law, still managed to do good at times. "For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves" (Romans 2:14). Paul uses that fact to prove that God is just in holding them accountable for their sins. It wasn't a matter that they could not do right; they did do righteous deeds even without having the law. Since they proved able to do good, God is just in holding them responsible when they did wrong as well. The Gentiles were not lost because they had no choice; they were lost because they made the wrong choices.

When the claim is made that a person cannot do good unless God gives him the ability to do good, then the responsibility is no longer with the individual but with God. A thief could say he wasn't responsible for robbing the store because God didn't give him the ability to respect his neighbor's property. This line of think insinuates that God is not just because He holds people responsible for choices they supposedly could not make, and He rewards people for doing right when they supposedly had no choice in the matter but to do what God commanded.

"But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who "will render to each one according to his deeds": eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness -- indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God" (Romans 2:5-11).

Who chooses to do good or bad? It is man. Who has the right to hold a man responsible for his choices? It is God because God is impartial. But as soon as a person claims that good cannot be done unless God allows it, he contradicts Romans 2:11 by implying that God is partial because it becomes God's choice as to who does good and who cannot do good because it was withheld.

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