Does John 20:31 to prove that faith precedes regeneration?
I recently received the following question from a brother who is struggling with monergistic regeneration and the doctrines of grace.
Dear brother John.
Please pray for me. I feel so confused right now. So lost theologically. I feel like giving up in my pursuit of true, Biblical theology. My strength is just gone. I feel as though I'll never really know "the truth" concerning matters of the Gospel, salvation, etc. Once I began to see and passionately understand the doctrines of grace, I was looking to find some passages from the Geneva Bible, and randomly, I came across a website that attacked the doctrines of grace. Specifically they cited John 20:31 to prove that faith precedes regeneration. "believing you might have life." What are your thoughts on this verse?
Thanks for taking the time to share your struggles with me. I will remember to keep you in my prayers brother. Let's take a closer look at the text you mentioned:
"But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." - John 20:31
Justification & Eternal Life is granted by God to those who place our faith in Christ alone. All Christians affirm this truth. Calvinists, Arminians, Monergists and synergists. But does this single Text exclude the possibility that the Holy Spirit works to change our hearts prior to faith? To use an isolated text like this to try and prove that the Holy Spirit is not active in opening our eyes and ears to the gospel prior to faith is simply refusing to look at the entirety of revelation, especially when the full counsel of Scripture, in countless places, says otherwise. The Bible teaches that the word alone will not persuade people who are hostile to God by nature (Rom 8:7). For just one example of the necessity of the Spirit, have a look at 1 Thess 1:4,5:
"For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction."
1 Cor 2:12 also says
"We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us."
The Spirit is necessary to understand all Spiritual truth, including the gospel for the natural man cannot understand Spiritual truth. Only Spiritual man can understand the things of the Spirit. I would encourage you to read 1 Cor 2 carefully.
The website you found attacking the biblical doctrine of grace alone is really trying to prove too much. Would they demonstrate that the Spirit is totally inactive prior to faith? Why do we pray for God to save people if we believe He can do nothing about it except wait and hope the sinner believes the gospel on his own??? Don't we pray for lost souls because we believe God is capable of saving people and will hear our prayers and do something about it? Remember the gospel says:
"The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him." John 6:63-65
To explain this Text in other words, The Spirit quickens or regenerates, the flesh (or natural unregenerate man) counts for nothing. Now remember, nothing is not a little something. But Jesus says, some do not believe, this is why he told the unbelieving Jews that no one can believe in Him unless God grants it. Look at the context of this text. It takes into consideration all of the synergistic counter-attacks. It shows that man indeed must have faith, but faith is the work of the Holy Spirit who quickens us and apart from whom we can do nothing. No one will believe in Jesus Christ unless God grants it through the quickening work of the Spirit. So YES, God commands all men everywhere to repent and believe the gospel that they might have eternal life. But according to John 3:19, 20,(another passage on regeneration) men love darkness and hate the light and will not come into the light. But those who believe do so to reveal that it has been wrought by God. So God commands all to believe, but none come to Christ, apart from the grace of regeneration.
Faith is to regeneration as heat is to fire. They do not happen at different times but simultaneously ... yet we know that one causes the other. Similarly When one strikes a pool ball and it hits the other ball, the two actually strike one another at the same time, but it is actually the momentum of one which causes the other one to move. When a baby is born, he breathes. Likewise, when the Spirit regenerates us, we believe. It is part of the new nature to do so. And the Spirit does it in conjunction with the word, with preaching. The preaching of the word is like seed cast into the ground, but for the seed to take root, God must plow up the fallow ground of our hearts and like rain from heaven, he must geminate the seed with the Spirit. Without that we are hardened to the gospel and remain unfruitful. So all the glory goes to God alone in our salvation. We know that When we were yet sinners He saved us. When we were dead in our transgressions, He made us alive. (Eph 2:5). So is Christ our Savior or is he merely someone who helps us save ourselves? Is God's love for his people conditional, like the Arminian thinks?, that is, conditioned on whether he is able, of himself, to come up with the good will to believe. Where did his good will come from to begin with? Can he thank God for his good will? Or is did this come apart from God? If we think that we came up with good will apart from God, then we are trusting partly in ourselves. If there is something, even a little thing, that he cannot thank God for in his salvation, then he is still leaving room for boasting. The true gospel does not leave any such room. Even the very humility to believe the gospel is a gift of grace.
Hope this helps