No one seeks God?

There is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God.
-Romans 3:11

Fuller context:

as it is written:

There is no one righteous, not even one.
There is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away;
all alike have become worthless.
There is no one who does what is good,
not even one.
Their throat is an open grave;
they deceive with their tongues.
Vipers’ venom is under their lips.
Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.
Their feet are swift to shed blood;
ruin and wretchedness are in their paths,
and the path of peace they have not known.
There is no fear of God before their eyes.

Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are subject to the law, so that every mouth may be shut and the whole world may become subject to God’s judgment. For no one will be justified in his sight by the works of the law, because the knowledge of sin comes through the law.
-Romans 3:10-20

This passage is one of the most forceful in Scripture that deals with the total depravity of man. Total depravity does not mean that every person is as bad as he or she could be. It means that sin has affected every part of his or her being, and consequently there is nothing anyone can do to commend himself or herself to a holy God.

"Depravity means that man fails the test of pleasing God. He [sic] denotes his unmeritoriousness in God's sight. This failure is total in that (a) it affects all aspects of man's being, and (b) it affects all people."[Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology, pp. 218-19.]

The statement that "there is none who seeks after God" (v. 11) means that no one seeks God without God prompting him or her to do so (cf. John 6:44-46). No one seeks after God for His own sake. It does not mean that people are constitutionally incapable of seeking God. People can and should seek God (Acts 17:26-27), and they are responsible for not doing so.

"Paul's portrayal of the unrighteous person may seem overly pessimistic to many contemporaries. After all, do we not all know certain individuals who live rather exemplary lives apart from Christ? Certainly they do not fit the description just laid out. Although it may be true that many of our acquaintances are not as outwardly wicked as the litany would suggest, we must remember that they are also benefactors of a civilization deeply influenced by a pervasive Judeo-Christian ethic. Take away the beneficent influence of Christian social ethics and their social behavior would be considerably different."[Robert H. Mounce, Romans, p. 110.]

Roger Olson,  What's Wrong With Calvinism, 3-22-13:

Arminians agree that fallen humans are totally depraved in the sense Calvinism means—helpless to do anything truly good, pleasing to God, apart from grace. Arminians, however, believe in prevenient grace—that grace of God that heals the deadly wound of sin and frees the fallen sinner from the bondage of the will to sin and gives him or her ability to exercise a good will toward God. We do not know all the means of prevenient grace, but the preaching of the gospel is one. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” The gospel read or heard imparts prevenient grace so that the person is for the first time freed to repent and trust in God. In other words, Arminians do not  believe in “free will” but in “freed will.”

Where is prevenient grace in the Bible? Where is it not in the Bible? It is everywhere assumed, taken for granted, presupposed by Scripture. No one seeks after God and yet many do seek after God. That pattern of “don’t” but “do” is found everywhere in Scripture. It is explained by the concept of prevenient grace. Left to ourselves, apart from a special impartation of grace that convicts and calls, illumines and enables, we would never exercise a good will toward God. But with prevenient grace, we can and some of us do.

Arminians also believe in unconditional election, but we believe it is corporate election—God’s unconditional plan to have a people for himself: Israel and the church. Individual election is conditional. It requires faith which is both a gift of God and a response of the individual. Philippians 2:12-13: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling for God is at work in you….” (The text and subject of my sermon tomorrow morning) God provides all the ability, the seed of faith, and we freely accept it and use it to repent and trust in God alone. But once we do repent and trust, we see that it was God who made it possible in every way, so we cannot boast. And God foreknew that we would (or wouldn’t) repent and believe. That’s another dimension of God’s election in Arminian theology. Individual election, predestination, is conditional in that we must accept it. If we do, it turns out that God foreknew that we would (Romans 8:29: “Those whom he foreknew he did predestine….”)

One of Calvinism’s main arguments against Arminianism is that if Arminianism is true, God’s salvation is not all of grace. We earn it. Only if election to salvation is absolutely unconditional and grace irresistible, they argue, can it truly be the case that “by grace we are saved through faith.” Only then is salvation a sheer gift. This is, of course, untrue. Think of this analogy. If someone gives you a check for a thousand dollars that saves you from bankruptcy, and all you have to do is endorse the check and deposit it, did you earn part of the money? Was it any less a gift? Absolutely not. What if someone who received such a check that saved him or her from bankruptcy then boasted of having earned part of the gift? People would think him mad or ungrateful or both! A gift that must be freely received is no less a gift.

 Leighton Flowers, No One Seeks God?:

In Romans chapter 3:10-20 the apostle is seeking to prove that no one can attain righteousness by means of the law.  But in verse 21 he shifts to reveal a righteousness that can be obtained by means of grace through faith in Christ.

Calvinists seem to think that because mankind is unable to attain righteousness by means of the law that they must equally be unable to obtain righteousness by means of grace through faith in Christ. This, however, is never established anywhere in the pages of Scripture.

Tim Chaffey, Can People Seek God? Examining a Commonly Misused Bible Verse:

In his famous address at the Areopagus in Athens, Paul told the people that God spread man across the face of the earth and had determined their times and boundaries (almost certainly a reference to the Babel event of Genesis 11). Why did He do this? Acts 17:27 says that God divided them up “so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.” This isn’t some mere hypothetical that Paul is setting up. He said that God’s reason for dividing the people into nations was so that people might seek Him and find Him. So did this same individual (Paul) really think that not a single person could seek after God as he seems to have written to the Romans?

Jesus said that no one can come to the Him unless the Father first draws him (John 6:44).

However, some Christians claim that God must first regenerate the person before he could seek God. Their theology leads them to what I believe is an erroneous position. That is, if God has already regenerated the person, why does the person still need to seek God if he has already found Him? This strange notion is rooted in the Calvinist’s view of man’s total depravity and spiritual “deadness.” While I believe unregenerate man is depraved, possessing a sin nature and guilty of sinning against God, I believe Calvinists misinterpret what Paul meant when he spoke of those who were “dead in trespasses in sin” (Ephesians 2:1, 5). This will be the topic of an upcoming blog post, so let’s return to our main topic for now.3

Is it only those who are first regenerated that have the ability to seek God? I don’t believe so. While Jesus did say that the Father must first draw someone before they could come to Him, He also said that if He were lifted up from the earth (often believed to be a reference to His impending Crucifixion), He would draw all to Himself (John 12:32). The Apostle John stated that Jesus is “true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world” (John 1:9). I believe that God has given all people the ability to seek Him, and those who do will find Him.

Does this mean that a person saves himself because they sought God? Not at all! God initiated the process by drawing the person, Jesus died and rose to make salvation possible, and the Holy Spirit convicts the person of sin. The person who seeks God simply believes the message of the gospel, responding in faith to the Savior’s sacrificial death, burial, and Resurrection. And since we know that Paul went to great lengths to explain that faith is not a work, then we can state unequivocally that when a person places their faith in Christ’s atoning work that they are not in any way whatsoever performing a work to save themselves.

 Kirby Hopper, There Are None Righteous – Except For Everyone Who Is

“There is no one righteous, not even one,” is hyperbole meant for Israel. It’s not meant to be literal and applied to the whole human race. How do we know? There are at least nine things that lead us to this conclusion, the first three can be found right in the context, the other six are because of other things said elsewhere, even by Paul himself.

We can seek God, because God was seeking us, as in Jesus' words, "No one can come to the Son unless the Father draws him."  Prevenient grace is God's grace that precedes human decision.  God woos us, before we decide.  It is resistible, because of free will.  No one goes to hell, because God chose that destiny for them.  It is their choice.

These three hymns, by Charles Wesley, describe prevenient grace:

Come, Sinners, to the Gospel Feast

Come, sinners, to the gospel feast;
Let every soul be Jesus' guest;
Ye need not one be left behind,
For God hath bidden all mankind.

Sent by my Lord, on you I call;
The invitation is to all;
Come, all the world! come, sinner, thou!
All things in Christ are ready now.

Come, all ye souls by sin oppressed,
Ye restless wanderers after rest;
Ye poor, and maimed, and halt, and blind,
In Christ a hearty welcome find.

My message as from God receive;
Ye all may come to Christ and live;
O let His love your hearts constrain,
Nor suffer Him to die in vain.

See Him set forth before your eyes,
That precious, bleeding sacrifice!
His offered benefits embrace,
And freely now be saved by grace!

Sinners, Turn! Why Will You Die?

Sinners, turn! Why will you die?
God, your Maker, asks you why.
God, who did your being give,
Gave Himself, that you might live;
He the fatal cause demands,
Asks the work of His own hands.
Why, you thankless creatures, why
Will you cross His love, and die?

Sinners, turn! Why will you die?
God, your Savior, asks you why.
God, who did your souls retrieve,
Died Himself, that you might live.
Will you let Him die in vain?
Crucify your Lord again?
Why, you ransomed sinners, why
Will you slight His grace and die?

Sinners, turn! Why will you die?
God, the Spirit, asks you why;
He, who all your lives hath strove,
Wooed you to embrace His love—
Will you not His grace receive?
Will you still refuse to live?
Why, you long-sought sinners, why
Will you grieve your God, and die?

Let the beasts their breath resign,
Strangers to the life divine;
Who their God can never know,
Let their spirit downward go.
You for higher ends were born,
You may all to God return,
Dwell with Him above the sky;
Why will you forever die?

You, on whom His favor showers,
You, possessed of nobler powers,
You, of reason’s powers possessed,
You, with will and memory blessed,
You, with finer sense endued,
Creatures capable of God;
Noblest of His creatures, why,
Why will you forever die?

You, whom He ordained to be
Transcripts of the Trinity,
You, whom He in life doth hold,
You for whom Himself was sold,
You, on whom He still doth wait,
Whom He would again create;
Made by Him, and purchased, why,
Why will you forever die?

You, who own His record true,
You, His chosen people, you,
You, who call the Savior “Lord,”
You, who read His written Word,
You, who see the Gospel light,
Claim a crown in Jesus’ right;
Why will you, ye Christians, why,
Will the house of Israel die?

“Turn,” He cries, “ye sinners turn!”
By His life your God hath sworn
He would have you turn and live,
He would all the world receive.
He hath brought to all the race
Full salvation by His grace;
He hath not one soul passed by—
Why will you resolve to die?

Can ye doubt, if God is love,
If to all His mercies move?
Will ye not His Word receive?
Will ye not His oath believe?
See, the suffering God appears!
Jesus weeps! Believe His tears!
Mingled with His blood they cry,
“Why will you resolve to die?”

Dead, already dead within,
Spiritually dead in sin,
Dead to God while here you breathe,
Pant ye after second death?
Will you still in sin remain,
Greedy of eternal pain?
O you dying sinners, why,
Why will you forever die?

What could your Redeemer do
More than He hath done for you?
To procure your peace with God,
Could He more than shed His blood?
After all His waste of love,
All His drawings from above,
Why will you your Lord deny?
Why will you resolve to die?

“Turn,” He cries, “ye sinners, turn!”
By His life your God hath sworn
He would have you turn and live,
He would all the world receive.
If your death were His delight,
Would He ask, obtest,1 and cry,
Would He you to life invite?
Why will you resolve to die?

Sinners, turn, while God is near;
Dare not think Him insincere!
Now, ev’n now, your Savior stands—
All day long He spreads His hands,
Cries, “You will not happy be
If you will not come to Me—
Me, who life to none deny!
Why will you resolve to die?”

Can you doubt if God is love?
If to all His yearnings move?
Will you not His Word receive?
Will you not His oath believe?
See! the suff’ring God appears!
Jesus weeps! Believe His tears!
Mingled with His blood, they cry,
“Why will you resolve to die?”

Depth of mercy! can there be

Depth of mercy! Can there be
mercy still reserved for me?
Can my God His wrath forbear?
Me, the chief of sinners, spare?

I have long withstood His grace:
long provoked Him to His face;
would not hearken to His calls;
grieved Him by a thousand falls.

I my Master have denied,
I afresh have crucified,
oft profaned His hallowed name,
put Him to an open shame.

There for me the Savior stands,
shows His wounds and spreads His hands:
God is love! I know, I feel;
Jesus weeps, but loves me still!

Now incline me to repent! 
Let me now my fall lament! 
Now my foul revolt deplore! 
Weep, believe, and sin no more. 

I think this song also describes the wooing of God.  No sinner saves themselves by turning to God, but we turn to God and are saved.

Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, 
calling for you and for me; 
see, on the portals he's waiting and watching, 
watching for you and for me. 

Come home, come home; 
you who are weary come home; 
earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, 
calling, O sinner, come home! 

Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading, 
pleading for you and for me? 
Why should we linger and heed not his mercies, 
mercies for you and for me? [Refrain]

Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing, 
passing from you and from me; 
shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming, 
coming for you and for me. [Refrain]

O for the wonderful love he has promised, 
promised for you and for me! 
Though we have sinned, he has mercy and pardon, 
pardon for you and for me. [Refrain]