We are created to seek and find God
Our reformed friends often claim that we cannot seek God, repent or do good unless God monergistically “regenerates” us, which is a term that they unfortunately interpret as God making us see and enabling us (actually forcing us) to seek him and come to him. The Bible, however, explains that we are all created to seek and find God, and that he is not far away from any of us:
Acts 17:26 And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;27 That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:28 For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.29 Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but NOW COMMANDETH ALL MEN EVERY WHERE TO REPENT.
Every single man (all people) has been given the light, and if we receive him and believe in him, God will give us the power to become the sons of God. It does not say the other way around; that God gives light to some people and gives them power so that they can believe in him.
John 1:9 That was the true Light, WHICH LIGHTETH EVERY MAN THAT COMETH INTO THE WORLD.10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not.12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name
Each time an atheist decides to not sin, it is surely a good thing. There are loads of atheists every day who do many good deeds by being helpful to complete strangers without expecting anything in return. This does not mean they are saved, but it shows that we can all do good. Seeking God and repent are good things which bad people are requested to do, and they are created by God to do so. If a person does not repent, the blame must be on him and not on God.
1. The prodigal son
The prodigal son came to his senses while living in deep sin away from his Father. He made a good decision to repent for his sins and return to his Father. He went from being alive, to being dead (due to sin), to being alive again:
Luke 15: 24 For this my son WAS DEAD, and is ALIVE AGAIN; he WAS LOST, and IS FOUND. And they began to be merry.—30 But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.—32 It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was DEAD, and is ALIVE AGAIN AGAIN; and was LOST, and is FOUND.
The prodigal son was clearly dead while living with prostitutes (Luke 15:30). The below verse is a good description of his status and (unless he repented), his future would be corruption – which means spiritual death since it is contrasted with everlasting life:
Gal. 6:8 For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.
2. Rahab, the harlot
Rahab rescued the Joshua’s men, which was a good thing to do. It is quite possible that she decided to rescue these strangers because she was aware of their God who was the God of both heaven and earth – which would include herself. She wanted them to swear by this Lord to return her kindness and letting her and her family stay alive. James says that she was justified by works (she combined faith and good deeds):
Josh. 2:9 And she said unto the men, I know that the Lord hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you.10 For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed.11 And as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the Lord your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath.12 Now therefore, I pray you, swear unto me by the Lord, since I have shewed you kindness, that ye will also shew kindness unto my father’s house, and give me a true token:13 And that ye will save alive my father, and my mother, and my brethren, and my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death.
Josh. 6:17 And the city shall be accursed, even it, and all that are therein, to the Lord: only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all that are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent.
Ja 2:25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?
3. Barbarian islanders of Malta
Barbarian inhabitants of Malta showed much kindness to Paul and his companions, and showed this compassion for them due to troublesome rain and cold. These islanders were not “regenerated” because afterwards they thought that Paul was guilty of murder in his past and that he was justly bitten by a viper as a punishment for his past deeds (Acts 28:4).
Acts 28:1 And when they were escaped, then they knew that the island was called Melita.2 And the barbarous people shewed us no little kindness: for they kindled a fire, and received us every one, because of the present rain, and because of the cold.
4. Evil fathers
Also evil people can do good to the children (which surely is a good thing), and even give good gifts to them. It is definitely possible to find multiple atheists who are being nothing but kind to their children, and even towards relatives, friends as well as complete strangers. There are even non-believing soldiers at war who have even given their lives for other fighting men.
Luke 11:13 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?
Peter asks everyone to repent (that would be both good and bad). If they do so, they shall receive the gift of the holy Ghost. It is not the other way around; that God gives the holy Ghost to certain people and in that way they enabling them (and forcing them) to repent.
Acts 2:38 Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
6. Cornelius was not certainly not a bad person, but before he (and his family and friends) received the holy Spirit he had faith and did good
Cornelius with all his house feared God, and he gave much alms to people and constantly prayed to God. His urgent prayers, fasting and alms-giving were noticed by God who sent an angel to him in a vision. Prior to Peter’s visit to his house Cornelius had collected family members and friends who were all waiting for Peter’s arrival. Peter came and explained that he believed that Cornelius (and maybe his company too since Peter addressed them all) already knew the word of God – the gospel about Jesus Christ. “— Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:)37 That word, I say, ye know”. This means that they had faith, and consequently had good deeds to go with their faith (faith without works is dead) before any of them had received the holy Ghost.
Acts 10:1 There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band,2 A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway.3 He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius.4 And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God. 5 And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter:6 He lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do.—
22 And they said, Cornelius the centurion, a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews, was warned from God by an holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee.—24 And the morrow after they entered into Caesarea. And Cornelius waited for them, and he had called together his kinsmen and near friends.
30 And Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and, behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing,31 And said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God.32 Send therefore to Joppa, and call hither Simon, whose surname is Peter; he is lodged in the house of one Simon a tanner by the sea side: who, when he cometh, shall speak unto thee.33 Immediately therefore I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.34 Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:35 But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.36 The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all:)37 That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judaea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached;38 How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.— 43 To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.44 While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word.45 And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost.46 For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter,47 Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?
Unlike Cornelius Paul was not a humble person but rather a dangerous pharisee. He saw Jesus in a vision on the way to Damascus, and fortunately he was not disobedient to the call that the vision involved. He obeyed the Lord Jesus and visited Ananias who was a child of God. Not until three days after the vision was Paul filled with the holy Ghost, with Ananias as a tool.
Acts 9:17 And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.
Acts 26:19 Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision
I can also mention Lydia, who was already a God-fearing and worshipping woman when God opened he heart to attend the things spoken by Paul. (It does not say that God selected Lydia and opened her heart to believe.) She obviously already had the right mind and heart to hear and understand the deeper things of God presented by Paul. It is always a good choice to not be “a natural man”.
Acts 16:14 And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.
Acts 16:14 and a certain woman, by name Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, worshipping God, was hearing, whose heart the Lord did open to attend to the things spoken by Paul (YLT)
People can also do bad things even though they are fully capable, and expected, to do good.
God expected Cain to rule over sin and naturally understood that he was created with this capacity. Still, Cain slew his brother against God’s will. Cain was already a sinner before this time, since he did not react well do God’s rejection of his offering (which makes one wonder about the condition the fruit since God rejected it).
Gen. 4:4 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering:5 But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. And the Lord said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?7 If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.8 And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.
Do read my article about regeneration not preceding faith here.