If the natural man has a free will to believe the gospel, then why does he need grace at all? If his will is naturally free then it would do away with the need for grace altogether ... he could simply come to Jesus Christ on his own, apart from grace. But the Bible teaches that it is precisely because man is in bondage to sin (2 Tim. 2:26; 1 Cor 2:14) that he needs Christ to set him free (John 8:34, 36) that he might indeed come to faith in Jesus (John 6:63, 65).
But lest anyone think the above is an attack on Arminianism, they would assume too much. It is meant to demonstrate the biblical truth that the natural man (the man without the Spirit) does not have a free will -- a slave to sin and corruption, something both Calvinists and Arminians agree upon. This statement is more directed toward the many semi-pelagian Christians out there who even deny the need for an Arminian-type prevenient grace - they actually exist in America in much greater numbers than Classic Arminians and thus the urgency to proclaim this message. I once had a discussion with Roger Olson (a Classic Arminian) a professor at Baylor who said he had many students who thought he was a closet Calvinist because of his belief in prevenient grace. So I propose that we stop debating about whether man has a free will or not. He doesn't and that has been established by the above. The debate is really more about what the Bible has to say about the nature and extent of God's regenerating/saving grace.
As much as they think it gets them off the hook, Arminnian prevenient grace really does not help Arminians escape this issue of free will and the ability of the natural man. Prevenient grace hides behind a mask in order to avoid the questions that dig a little deeper. For starters, prevenient grace elicits two major questions:
1) If the Bible only teaches two states of man (regenerate and unregenerate) how do Arminians account for the third "semi-regenerate"-like state they posit for those under the influence of prevenient grace? There is not any Biblical evidence for this third state ...
2) If a group of people are all granted prevenient grace, why does one person end up believing but not the others? Obviously it is not grace because they all had the same grace, so it was something found in themselves, springing forth from their unregenerated human nature. They would have to (at least partly) attribute their repenting and believing to their own wisdom, humility sound judgment and good sense and not to Christ alone.
The universal inability of Arminians to answer these simple and forthright questions demonstrates that it is a belief founded upon human philosophy, and thus, prevenient grace epically fails to meet even the most basic rule of biblical exegesis - something that you would expect from a legitimate doctrine. Instead it is built on faulty extrabiblical logic. And this is really quite a legitimate question considering Jesus himself often declares why some believe and not others (John 8: 47, 10:26 & 6: 65). The Bible seems to indicate this is why Paul declares, it is "because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 1 Cor 1:30.
So according to the Bible, even the very "wisdom" to believe is to be ascribed to Christ, not ourselves. God gets, not part of the glory, but all of the glory for providing everything we need for salvation, including the wisdom and new heart to believe. Arminians would have us believe that God only truly loves us if we first meet his condition -- making grace a reward for faith, a conditional love at best. But God of the Bible displays his love by coming for His sheep and making certain He carries them home. He is not going home without them. If they run off and are being attacked by wolves God does not first give them a condition (or hoop to jump through) before he will help them. No, he makes certain they are delivered from the wolf by fending it off delivering it from its teeth.
Some believe grace is not really a gift but gives man an opportunity to believe or not, but this scenario is about as likely as believing that shining a light into the eyes of a blind man will enable him to see, if he wants to. If the blind is not given new eyes, he will not see. And once he is given new eyes he already sees. Grace is grace because Jesus gives to us what we were unable to give to ourselves: eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to believe. (Deut 29:4; 30:6)
This is why a complete regeneration is a necessity for the unbeliever to 1) see the truth of his own sin, 2) repent of trusting in his own righteousness and 3) believe the gospel of Jesus Christ.
All impossible to understand unless the Spirit first renews the heart, opens blind eyes and unplugs deaf ears. He may understand what a passage says intellectually, but to see the truth beauty and excellency of it requires Spiritual re-birth (John 6:63; Deut 29:4, 30:6). As Augustine once said:
'Can we possibly, without utter absurdity, maintain that there first existed in anyone the good virtue of a good will, to entitle him to the removal of his heart of stone? How can we say this, when all the time this heart of stone itself signifies precisely a will of the hardest kind, a will that is absolutely inflexible against God? For if a good will comes first, there is obviously no longer a heart of stone.'
by John Hendryx