A necessary condition for justification is faith. Right? And faith involves an active embracing, and trusting in Christ-and in Christ alone. In that sense it involves some action of the will. It involves some step of embracing Christ. Now we’re not saying-Luther isn’t saying, Augustine isn’t saying-that the human will is not involved in salvation. When I have faith in Christ, I am the one who is trusting, I am the one who is believing, I am the one who is choosing him, and I am choosing him freely. That’s not an issue. We all agree on that.
The question is, What has to happen before that person will choose Christ, will embrace Christ? When I say I have to embrace Christ in order to be saved-I have to have faith in order to be saved, I have to ask the next question: How do I get the faith? Can I choose to believe out of my dead, sinful nature? Or must I be spiritually raised from the dead and be given eyes to see and a heart to respond positively before I ever will respond positively? What Reformed theology says, what Augustine was saying, is that we are by nature spiritually dead. God can offer us salvation until kingdom come-but he does more than offer it.
He resurrects our souls from the dead. He does a divine and supernatural work in us called regeneration. He quickens us, and every mother knows that “quickening” is the sense of the presence of life in the womb. It is the Holy Spirit who changes the disposition of our souls, which prior to this work has no desire for Christ. We’re still choosing. When we’re dead in sin, we’re still alive to sin, and we’re making choices all the time. But the choices are always according to what we want. That’s what freedom is. That’s why Augustine, in a confusing way, said that man still has a liberium arbitrium; he still has a free will. But what he lacks is libertas (liberty); he’s still free to do what he wants. That’s his condemnation. We still choose sin because that’s what we want.
The freedom we lack is the ability, in and of ourselves, to change our hearts that are enslaved to these wicked desires; only God can surgically repair that captivity. In other words, we are in bondage to our own desires, which are wicked, until God changes the disposition of our hearts. Once he does that, he is releasing the will from its prison. And we’re no longer now in bondage. Now we have the desire for Christ, and we freely choose Christ, but not until God-and only God-liberates us.