Free will vs. predestination.
Arminianism vs. Calvinism.
Traditional vs. Reformed.
Although the differences are much more nuanced that one issue, each of these “conflicts” seek to answer the question of responsibility. Who is responsible for each part salvation? Conversely, who is responsible in condemnation?
Although they exist, a small minority of people within Christianity say that either A) God or B) man have absolutely no part when it comes to salvation. Yet most on either side of the debate rightly acknowledge that both God and people have a part in salvation and condemnation. This is a good thing to acknowledge, as it is Biblical!
While this discussion is wide-ranging on its own (not to mention all of the aforementioned nuances of each position listed above), the text of John 12 offers a good explanation when it comes to who is responsible when man rejects God.
Like Matthew, John includes a quotation from Isaiah 6 regarding God hardening the hearts of men. In the gospels, the context is the crowds to repeatedly witnessed Jesus’ teaching and signs only to reject His message. The gospels almost force us to ask: how and why could people spurn His gospel?
In just the immediate context, John unequivocally emphasizes that men rejected Jesus (37, 42). They choose to “not believe” and “not confess” Him. They are accountable for that. John has already established the groundwork for man’s moral condition: This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil (John 3:19). Those spoken of in John 12 were simply acting according to their sinful condition and their free sinful wills.
At the same time, God is in control. “He has blinded their eyes and He hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart” (12:40). God does not save some, but gives them over to their sin. Specifically to the Jews, this was a condemning edict on their rejection of the long-awaited messiah. Matthew’s presentation of this passage in relation to Jesus’ ministry offers information on the positive side of this truth. Jesus contrasts the unbelief with the gracious sight and hearing granted to His disciples (Matthew 13:12-16).
This both/and dichotomy is called compatibilism. God’s will is sovereign, and man exercises his own will. God has a perfect will that He employs to save, damn, and bring about all that He has ordained. Man makes choices according to his own will. Born in sin, loving the darkness rather than the Light, our choices and will are enslaved to sin. It is only by the grace of God that we can be regenerated, brought to life, and have our minds and wills transformed.
The truth of the Bible is clear: God is in control and man is held accountable for his own actions. As Christians, we must minister and live knowing that our words, thoughts, and actions matter. But as Christians, saved by grace and not works, we must grant that sovereignty belongs to God alone.