Considering all the ways in which our fall into sin has affected us, we would have to say that one of the most damaging impacts of our transgression is on our ability to make choices. Since the fall, we have been unable to choose to please the Lord apart from His sovereign intervention. This is no teaching that is hidden in Scripture, but it is reflected in the words of Jesus Himself. For example, in today’s passage, He tells us explicitly that we cannot come to Him for salvation until we are drawn by the Father (John 6:44). Being dead in sin, we must be given the gifts of faith and repentance in order to fulfill the command to repent and trust in the Savior (Acts 17:30; Eph. 2:1–10). These gifts are not given to everyone (Acts 13:48; Rom. 9:15).
To be sure, this has not been a popular view in church history. Arguments over whether we are free to trust in Christ apart from His sovereign work go at least as far back as the fifth century AD. In that era, the British monk Pelagius denied original sin, believing that Adam’s sin did not have a permanent effect on humanity. At worst, Adam was merely a bad example, and human beings can in and of themselves obey the Lord. After Adam, we retain the freedom to choose what is good. Augustine of Hippo countered Pelagius, emphasizing Paul’s teaching that all people (except Jesus) are born in Adam and are wholly inclined against God (Rom. 5:12–21).
Augustine never denied human freedom, for He believed that human beings are always free to act in a manner consistent with their natures. Men and women make free choices according to their desires within the situations they find themselves. We, as human beings, choose the option we like best or, at least, what we find the least objectionable, even if what we choose, all things considered, is not what we would choose in an “ideal world.” But the real issue is not whether we make free choices according to our natures; rather, the issue is the kind of nature we have. Apart from the Spirit’s work, all of us have a nature that desires only evil (John 3:1–14). We freely decide to disobey God because that is the only thing we want to do (Rom. 3:9–18).
Outside of Christ, our transgression of God’s law is inevitable, for no part of us wants to obey the Lord (Deut. 31:29). We are stuck unless Jesus, by His Spirit, changes our hearts, granting us faith unto salvation (John 3:1–21).