Resurrection, Not Human Potential
Today, I wanted to begin a series on the Resurrection, and hoped others on the blog would also post some of their own thoughts on it since we are close to Easter. Originally I was going to start with a posting on the physical resurrection and its relation to history, and how this historic event itself sets Christianity apart from all other religions, who either speculate or believe in mysticism. But since I was having a discussion with a visitor about our spiritual resurrection (regeneration) I wanted to post some of the questions posed to me on free will, human potential, and the difference between monergistic and synergistic regeneration (i.e. spiritual resurrection).
In response to our belief that salvation is by "grace alone" a visitor who embraces synergism questioned me about how faith, then, related at all to salvation:
Visitor: What is faith to you? And what do you make of Godâ€™s repeated references to faith and belief in the context of salvation? And is your interpretation one which makes faith and belief meaningful? A word should
not be interpreted to be redundant or without meaningâ€”I think this would apply especially when speaking of Godâ€™s inerrant and holy word.
I affirm with the Bible, together with those in the Reformation tradition, that God freely offers/commands unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in Him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life His Holy Spirit (who Jesus sends), to disarm their natural hostility, to open and soften their hearts to the gospel that they may be willing, and able to believe. The grace of faith, whereby the elect are effectually enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word. (WCF) The preacher casts forth the seed of the gospel and it falls on dormant soil. Our naturally hardened hearts will reject the gospel unless and until the Holy Spirit plows up the fallow ground, and germinates the seed of the gospel through regeneration. Faith is not produced by an unregenerate heart. Jesus says, "come to me", but he also says "...no one can come to me" How do we reconcile this? Because the next word is UNLESS God grants it. Spirit gives birth to spirit. (John 6:63-65)
Council of Orange CANON 6 in the sixth century said.
If anyone says that God has mercy upon us when, apart from his grace, we believe, will, desire, strive, labor, pray, watch, study, seek, ask, or knock, but does not confess that it is by the infusion and inspiration of the Holy Spirit within us that we have the faith, the will, or the strength to do all these things as we ought; or if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10).
Visitor: I suppose I have a higher view of human nature (and its potential in Christ) than you do. [the visitor asked this of me in the context of a discussion of their belief in a "free will"]:
Unregenerate people need spiritual resurrection, not improvement. Paul, in Philippians, defines the 'true circumcision' as having no confidence in the flesh.
A biblical discussion of the "free will" issue is not related to our human natures' potential in Christ, it is specifically a discussion about what his potential is without Christ and the Holy Spirit. What moral choices can unregenerate people make? Can unregenerate people believe the gospel? Consider the four-fold state of man. (1) Before the fall, (2 ) after the fall, (3) after regeneration and (4) when we are glorified. Discussion of free will traditionally has been related to the condition of the will of those without Christ (after the fall), as it should be. Do they have a free will or are their wills in bondage to a corruption of nature? The question comes down to this and I hope you prayerfully consider the biblical answer to it in your own heart:
Is faith produced by our unregenerated human nature?
Visitor:I can cite far more [instances of free will] where it appears that man is simply making up his own mind (hereâ€™s a few from the first few chapters of Mark: 1:16 (Jesus said â€œfollow meâ€ and they followed); 1:20; 1:45 (Jesus said â€œsay nothingâ€ and the healed leper spoke freely); 2:12 (Jesus said â€œarise, take up your bedâ€ and the man rose and took up his bed); 2:14; 3:5 (Jesus said â€œstretch out your handâ€ and the man did so).
Response: These passages you cite are quite irrelevant to a biblical discussion of free will. Biblically when we say man has no free will, we are speaking specifically that he is in bondage to a corruption of nature. "Bondage" is a word we use to express a total lack of freedom. That he is not free to believe the gospel apart from the Holy Spirit. This only applies to unregenerate persons. It is the condition of man apart from the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. His will is in bondage to sin ... that means BY necessity he always chooses to reject Christ unless the Spirit acts to illumine his mind and change the disposition of his heart, quicken him etc... We are not speaking about volition in everyday affairs, though these also are driven by necessity by who we are. We all agree that people can choose what they desire volitionally but this merely affirms that man has a will. Biblically speaking Satan has taken unregenerate persons captive to do his will (2 Tim 2:25), that is why the passage says that God may grant them repentance so they may escape his snare. We do not escape his snare by willing it. We do not believe so God will free us, we are freed therefore we believe. We are given the mind of Christ that we may believe, we do not believe without the mind of Christ. Paul in 1 Cor 2 says, "we have received, not the spirit ofthe world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God."
The Scripture allows that man has will and that it is self-determined, so that if he does anything evil, it should be his responsibility to to his own voluntary choosing. We do not believe in coercion and force, because this contradicts the nature of the will and cannot coexist with it. We deny that choice is free, because through manâ€™s innate wickedness it is of necessity driven to what is evil and cannot seek anything but evil. Here we can deduce what a great difference there is between necessity and coercion. For we do not say that man is dragged unwillingly into sinning, but that because his will is corrupt he is held captive under the yoke of sin and therefore of necessity will in an evil way. For where there is bondage, there is necessity. But it makes a great difference whether the bondage is voluntary or coerced. We locate the necessity to sin precisely in corruption of the will, from which follows that it is self-determined. (Calvin)
Even you have admitted that a person cannot believe the gospel without some intervention of the Holy Spirit. Why is that? What is man without the Holy Spirit? He, of necessity, thinks of the gospel and spiritual things as foolish and cannot understand them (1 Cor 2:14). He must be spiritually regenerate before having spiritual thoughts. But you think that God's grace is to unbelievers is something less than regeneration. So how can unregenerate people have spiritual thoughts?
We affirm with the Bible that an unspiritual man cannot believe the gospel because he cannot understand or believe in the beauty and excellency of Christ. His very nature makes this a moral impossibility. Jesus says some do not believe BECAUSE they are not his sheep. (John 10:27)
Visitor claims: that I misrepresent synergism when I "suggest that [they] believe that it is man alone rather than the cooperation of man with God [that saves him].
Again, do unregenerate persons have the moral capacity to believe the gospel?
Since all men have a general "enabling grace" in the synergistic system, and this grace falls short of regeneration ... then why do persons respond differently, in their still "unregenerate" state, to the gospel?. Why is one person's natural hostility disarmed and not the other? What makes the two persons who hear the gospel to differ? Is it man's will alone, or grace, in your belief system that makes them to differ? ... for all men have the same grace according to you ... so it was something independent and autonomous from God and His grace that ultimately produced faith in one person and not the other. So there is indeed an element of human monergism there in all so-called synergistic belief systems.
Lets envision a real life example: if God gives the same grace to two unsaved men who hear the gospel, one believes and not the other, what makes the two persons to differ? Grace? A little more grace? no not to you. If not then the answer and boast of salvation is ultimately in man. But what principle is found in the one who believed and not the other? Was he born with more gifts to understand these things? Was he more spiritual sensitive in his natural state than other natural men. How can an unspiritual man be spiritual at all? In your system it is not grace which makes them to differ since both have grace, and if not grace than it is MAN WHO ALONE DETERMINES Who is SAVED based on whether you allow God to save you or not. This again, leaves room for boasting (subconsciously or not) where any synergist could consistently pray like this:
"thank you Lord I am not like other men who do not have faith, when you gave grace to all, my neighbor did not make use of it, BUT I DID."
Such boasting us just under the surface of those who think that their faith, not grace, is what made then differ from others. Can you thank God for your faith? Or do you still thank yourself?
On the other hand, all persons on this blog affirm that our regeneration or quickening in Christ is by Christ alone, not by some work of cooperation between man and God to bring about salvation. It is a spiritual resurrection from spiritual death. And this is the historic position and basis for the Reformation. Far from saying this boastfully, it is rather for the very purpose that man will not boast. It is hard to hear because deep down man wants to contribute something to his salvation, be it ever so small. But the teaching of grace alone puts all hope in self to death. The Spirit gives us life that we may believe, crying "ABBA father." The unregenerate do not and cannot make this cry in their hearts, they do not see the excellency of Christ and any belief that falls short of God first renewing us, quickening us to life, is a belief fallen man is not dead in sin, does not hate God but has some potential in him. But unregenerate man has no potential. He does not need to be improved but made totally new. He needs to be reborn. To affirm, as you do that unregenerate man can believe the gospel while still unregenerate is to say that he only needs improvement because he is already able to do spiritual things.
The very humility to believe, was is either God's grace or self? If of God then why don't all men have it? See there is some aspect which you contribute apart from grace.
1 John 1:5 the Apostle Paul clearly teaches that Regeneration precedes faith: "Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God" ...The verb tense make's john's intention unmistakable: Every one who goes on believing [present, continuous action] that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God [perfect, completed action with abiding effects]. " Faith is the evidence of new birth, not the cause of it."
On the other hand, a synergist cannot thank God for his faith. He can thank God for all other things but this is the one thing which he can boast. Christ did many things for him, but this small part of the price of redemption was the synergists' own doing, that he can boast over his neighbor. We were saved "by grace through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God" It is his gift so that no one can boast.
To show this is more commonly assumed, Paul actually thanks God for the very faith of the Thessalonians. How can he thank God unless even the faith itself was a gift:
"For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe."
He thanks God that they actually accepted God's word. Why, because it was His doing. "Therefore, it is by His doing that you are in Christ Jesus." (1 Cor. 1:30)
Closely observe 1 Cor. 1:22-24 --- it states the gospel is preached to all but only those called by God believe: "For indeed Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God."
Both Jews and Gentiles disbelieve the gospel for various reasons, but those who are called come to know Christ.
Visitor: But, as I said, John 3 does explain the â€œhowâ€ [of regeneration]
Response: I disagree ....The Gospel of John, including John 3, many times explains that the new birth is an act of God alone ...born of God.
"That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." (John 3:6) verse 20 also says those who believe in Christ do so because it was wrought of God (worked by God) i.e. God did a work of grace in them.in fact, Whenever "born again" is used in the Bible it is never once spoken of in the imperative (a command or something we must do). It is something God does.
Likewise 1:13 of the same gospel says faith (from verse 12) is not the result of man's will --- "who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:13)
Later in the same gospel Jesus explains that no one believes the gospel unless God grants it because "...the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; .(John 6:63-65)
Visitor: The point Iâ€™m making is that the monergistic view and the synergistic view both find support in Scripture.
Response: The dictionary definition of monergism is as follows: "In theol., The doctrine that the Holy Spirit is the only efficient agent in regeneration - that the human will possesses no inclination to holiness until regenerated, and therefore cannot cooperate in regeneration."
So in light of the meaning of monergism, there is not one instance in Scripture which says that our faith is what causes regeneration, or that it precedes regeneration. If you can show any instance of the synergistic assertion that faith precedes regeneration I will embrace your belief that both positions are supported. But as it is you have not provided me with any. It would be like saying that the Scripture supports a view that a person can believe the gospel without the Holy Spirit changing his heart.
Visitor: It is ridiculous for one side to suggest that they glorify God more based on their understanding of this matter. That itself is pride.
It is not a matter of sides ---. This is not some peripheral matter. Either we are saved by grace alone or we are not? That is what is at stake here. No need for ad hominem arguments about pride for the issue comes down to whether we believe in a grace that saves by itself or one that does not and merely gives all men an opportunity. This is profoundly important. The degree that we misrepresent God ,to that same degree we commit idolatry. I cannot not stand by idle when the synergist view (totally unsupported by Scripture) that man can think good thoughts about Christ before regenerate is promoted. We are all guilty of our idolatries at some level, and I pray the Lord continue to remove the wickedness from my own heart, but your belief that an unspiritual man can think spiritual thoughts and do spiritual acts is a profound misapprehension of the gospel. If you want to speak of pride, it is the belief that we can come up with faith on our own without God granting it to us, that faith is the product of our unregenerate human nature. As long as you believe we believe before we are regenerate, then part of your salvation is attributed to self and, not only robs God of glory, but has no biblical support.
John Owen once said it rightly, â€œTo say that we are able by our own efforts to think good thoughts or give God spiritual obedience before we are spiritually regenerate is to overthrow the gospel and the faith of the universal church in all ages.â€
Thank you Lord that salvation is by grace alone in Christ alone, that even the very humility and desire to believe is by your grace. All glory to God alone for our salvation...