Where and how do you draw the line between actions which are good and actions which are bad when we discuss the "free" decisions of people?

I suspect the answer to this question is simply that an action is good insofar as it has right motives and a good objective, and a person can only act for a good objective with right motives if God gives him the special grace to do so. Anything less than these properly motivated good acts might be within sinful man's power, depending on how 'good' or bad this sinful person's character really is. (Not everyone is equally bad, obviously. No one, however, is truly good without God's grace.)

Of course, this means that I need to revise slightly my answer to your regress objection. Reconsider the Jane and Sam case. Jane is converted after hearing Sam proclaim the Gospel. Now, suppose Jane wanted to hear Sam proclaim the Gospel because she wanted to be as happy as he is. If her interest in happiness was improperly motivated (say, not for the glory of God), then her action was still a sin. It wasn't praiseworthy in any strict sense. This is something within her power, but isn't something 'good' that contributes to her salvation. When God saves her, he saves her despite her sinful approach to Sam.

Now, there is still an appropriate sense of God leading her to Sam. After all, God decreed even her free sinful acts in some way that is compatible with her freedom. (I'll try to avoid possible world talk again! smile ). But it is also appropriate for her to repent of the sinful motives that she had even when approaching Sam. Consequently, both of these prayers would be valid:

1. "God, thank You for saving me despite my sinful motives even when approaching Sam. I didn't merit this favor, but I thank You for it," and,
2. "God, thank You for mercifully guiding me to hear Sam's proclamation of the Gospel."

Both of these are valid prayers because both of them are true, depending on what part of God's ways one is focusing on.

I hope this was clear enough. I wrote it quickly.


"He that hath light thoughts of sin, never had great thoughts of God." ...John Owen