INTRODUCTION – The Arminian interprets “whosoever will” to mean that anyone can get saved at any time. Arminianism presupposes that it is within the power of a person to savingly believe if he will only use that power. But, the Scriptural study of depravity reveals that what man does, wills, desires and understands is inseparable from what he is. One cannot separate a man’s decision from all else he is and does. There is no such thing as an isolated act of God-pleasing faith rising up out of the quagmire of corruption, darkness and enmity.
This all leads to a key question. “ Must a person believe in order to be born again, or must he be born again in order to believe?” “Does faith precede or follow regeneration?” The answer to that question affects one’s whole understanding of the Gospel message. What do the Scriptures teach?
THERE ARE BUT TWO KINDS OF PEOPLE
- There are those born of the flesh (lost) and those born of the Spirit (saved) John 3:3-8.
- The natural man (lost) and the spiritual man (saved) 1 Cor. 2:14-15.
- People are either like an evil tree (lost) or like a good tree (saved) Luke 6:43-45.
- There are people who walk according to the flesh (lost) or who walk according to the Spirit (saved) Romans 8:5-8.
THERE ARE BUT TWO KINDS OF FRUIT
- A person’s nature determines what kind of fruit he will produce (Lu. 6:43-44).
- A person must become a “good tree” before he can believe and obey the Lord.
- Those in the flesh are totally incapable of pleasing the Lord (Rom. 8:5).
QUESTION: “If a natural man cannot even exercise faith and repentance in order to change into a spiritual man, how can he ever be changed? How is one born again?”
THE NEW BIRTH IS FROM GOD
Scripture does not attribute the cause of the new birth to us, the Bible unequivocally assigns it to God (John 5:21).
THE SCRIPTURES SUPPLY THREE ANALOGIES FOR REGENERATION
- Resurrection – John 5:21; Eph. 2:1-6
- Birth – John 3:1-9; 1 Pet. 1:23
- Creation – 2 Cor. 4:6; 5:17; Eph. 2:10
In each case, the object is passive – dead body, babe and the thing created.
IT IS THE NEW BIRTH THAT PRODUCES FAITH AND REPENTANCE
If indeed the new birth comes before faith, then a Christian’s faith and repentance are ultimately produced by the Lord. (If faith precedes the new birth, then ultimately faith and repentance rise out of the natural man). What do the Scriptures say?
- The new birth precedes a person’s entering into the kingdom of God (Jn. 3:3-5).
- The source of the new birth is “from above” (Greek), not from within man (Jn. 3:7).
- Only those born of the Spirit can respond to God. Jesus likens the operation of the Spirit (in regeneration) to the wind. The wind is sovereign, it goes where it wills, we do not control it. The wind is invisible, and we only see its effects (so also the work of the Spirit in regeneration).
Jesus admonished Nicodemus, a teacher of Israel, who should have known of the New Covenant promise found in Ezekiel 36:25-27. Jesus came to fulfill the New Covenant.
CONTRARY TO ALL OTHER RELIGIONS, THE GOSPEL IS OF GRACE
- The gospel of grace is characterized by a free offer (whosoever thirsts, is guilt-laden, is weary etc.).
- Come obtain salvation without money and without cost (Is. 55:1).
- The gospel of grace is characterized by the universality of the offer (not restricted to an ethnic group or to a sacred geographical region). “The gospel is to be preached to every creature.”
- The gospel of grace is an offering of eternal salvation conditioned upon faith and repentance(not upon human merit, works, alms or reformation). Romans 10:13; Hebrews 11:6; John 3;16; Revelation 22:17
THE SCRIPTURES TEACH THAT THE OFFER IS UNIVERSAL AND THAT HUMAN INABILITY IS UNIVERSAL
- The most common error concerning the gospel is to assume that the freeness of the offer is meant to be a measure of human ability.
- “Whosoever will” is not intended to teach universal ability.
- The 14 point universal indictment of Romans 3:10-18 dispels the notion of ability.
THE SON OF GOD GIVES THE ABILITY TO RESPOND TO THE GOSPEL
- The gospel of sovereign grace is to be preached to the dead wills of sinful men. Human depravity cannot frustrate God’s gracious purposes.
- The exalted Son of God lives and He gives life to whom He wishes. He gives the ability to respond to the gospel (Matt. 11:27; John 17:2).
- Jesus has been given the authority to save everyone that the Father has given Him (John 6:39; 17:2).
THERE ARE TWO KINDS OF CALLS, OUTWARD AND INWARD
- The outward or external call is God’s summons to all unbelievers to come to Christ. This outward call is what Jesus had in mind when He said, “many are called.” Matthew 22:14.
- Paul also gave this outward call when he preached on Mars Hill (Acts 17:30).
- The outward call can be rejected and is frequently rejected (Acts 17:32).
- The inward call describes the inward drawing of the unbeliever to Christ. It is effectual and is carried out by the Holy Spirit (Heb. 3:1).
- The inward call is only directed to some non-Christians (“but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:14).
- Paul testifies that he experienced this inward call (see Galatians 1:15,16).
- Every person who is saved experiences this inward holy calling (2 Timothy 1:9; Jude 1). The inward call is not an outward, verbal call but is an inner spiritual call. It is the work of God’s Spirit in the hearts of people.
THE INWARD CALL IS GOD’S IRRESISTIBLE DRAWING OF A LOST PERSON TO CHRIST
- Jesus testified that those who come, do so because they are drawn (John 6:44,65).
- No one is able to resist this drawing. Every N.T. use of this Greek word for draw (helkuo), refers to an irresistible drawing or dragging (John 21:6,11; 18:10; James 2;6; Acts 16:19,21).
- The hearing of Scripture is necessary in order for the inward call to be given (Rom. 10:14; James 1:18).
EVERYONE WHO IS INWARDLY CALLED BY GOD’S SPIRIT COMES TO JESUS AND IS JUSTIFIED
- No one wants to come (the gospel way, by faith and repentance) unless he is drawn!
- When God’s Spirit works in a person’s heart, He opens the heart so that the person naturally wants to come (note Lydia, the seller of purple, Acts 16:14). The inward call did not force her to believe against her will. “The Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.” She was freed from her bondage to sin so that she could believe. Her response was a work of God. Her heart was closed to the gospel prior to God’s opening of her heart.
THE SCRIPTURES DISTINGUISH BETWEEN A SPURIOUS FAITH AND A FAITH PRODUCED BY THE POWER OF GOD
- Scripture speaks of a kind of faith that cannot save (John 2:23-25; James 2:14-20,26;Matt. 7:21-23). Those with a spurious faith may assent to the facts of the gospel, but not demonstrate the changed life that accompanies repentance.
- When the gospel is believed unto salvation, it is because of the Holy Spirit’s power (1 Thess. 1:5, James 1:17,18; Eph. 1:19-21; Col. 2:13).
SAVING FAITH IS A GRACE GIFT FROM THE LORD
- It is God’s gift to us, not our gift to Him (Phil. 1:29).
- It is not our faith that raised us spiritually, it the spiritual resurrection of the new birth that caused our faith! (See Ephesians 2:1-3; 8-10).
- God’s gift is faith. The gospel of grace comes bringing the very divine power we lack (Romans 5:6; Ps. 110:3).
- The gift of faith is a sovereign grant (Acts 13:44-48).
- The gift of repentance is always given with the gift of faith (Acts 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:24-26).
FOR REVIEW AND DISCUSSION
Regeneration (the new birth) cannot be commanded or caused by man. Name some common religious errors that depict the church acting as it has the power to produce the new birth. In what way do these errors resemble the error of the Galatian church?
The new birth is not a process, it is instantaneous (note the conversion of the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus) (Jonathan Edwards, The Rational Biblical Theology of J.E., vol. 3, by John H. Gerstner).
God grants the new birth only in connection with powerful conviction of sin (John 16:8-11; Acts 2:37; Luke 18:13).
Union with God can only be effected by God Himself. Only God can unite Himself to man (Gerstner, vol. 3, p. 160).
The Holy Spirit produces the change of regeneration. His indwelling and operations and life-giving work are the sum of the blessings Christ purchased for His people (Ibid., p. 163).
Natural man is destitute of spiritual sense and of spiritual perception. He has no concept of the excellency of divine truth and he has no heart affection for God. An entirely new principle must be planted in him in order for him to choose God. For depravity, guilt, moral defilement and inability cannot will the improvement of its own depravity! (Ibid., p. 188).
Before man chooses God, there must be the implanting of a nature that loves the divine and supernatural light.
The new birth produces faith in Christ alone. There must be a reception of Christ with the faculties of the soul. True salvation is never a hope that is distributed over personal reform and religious acts.
In the Scriptures, the same things are represented from God as from us. God is said to convert, men are said to convert or turn. God makes a new heart, we are commanded to make a new heart. God circumcises the heart, we are commanded to circumcise our hearts (Ibid., p. 178).
The moral inability of man is not an excuse to avoid seeking God in His Word. Scripture declares that these are the terms of God bestowing mercy. The command is to seek with all the heart. Don’t expect to obtain salvation without seeking it! (Is. 55; Luke 16:16) (Ibid., p. 122ff.).