by J.W. Hendryx
Since we ourselves cannot fulfil the demands of the Law, God requires faith in the crucified and risen Christ for eternal life. But is this requirement of faith any easier for us than the requirement to obey the commandments? No, even this demand is too hard us ... because the natural man is spiritually blind to God's beauty and by nature hostile toward God, as the Scripture affirms (Rom 8:7,1 Cor 2:14). No one, left to themselves, will exercise faith in Christ ... that is, no one will naturally understand and love the gospel, thereby trusting in Christ unless God does something. APART from the mercificul work of the Holy Spirit our hearts remain hard. So then, we must ask an important question:
Does God Himself grant the very faith He requires of us? More specifically, does He grant the change of heart necessary, the spiritual eyes and ears to see and hear that we might believe? Does He give His Holy Spirit that we might understand, see the truth, beauty and goodness of Christ and so believe? Or is God's love for his people conditional, that is, conditioned upon the natural response of each man? If so, what makes us to differ from others? Jesus Christ alone or something else?
Our authority for the answer to this must come from Scripture. So what does Jesus teach about this? Does He Himself teach that the requirement of faith is something we come up with on our own or does it constitute a gift? Lets find out.
In the gospel of John chapter 6 Jesus is speaking with unbelieving Jews and several times repeats that all those who believe shall have life but each time follows up with a devastating blow to the ego of man. He teaches that although they need to believe in Him to have life, he also says, however, that no one will believe unless God grants it, leaving no room for human will. In the last of these instances Jesus says:
"It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe. ... And he said, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father." (John 6:63-65)
Jesus in is saying you either have faith in me or you do not and you cannot have life without
it, and you do not believe. This is why I told you that no one can believe unless God grants it. It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all..." Note, Jesus does not say the flesh helps a little, but leaves no such room. Instead he says, the flesh is no help at all. No help for what we ask? No help for giving life. Only the Spirit quickens, Jesus says, and some do not believe, that is WHY no one can come to Me unless God grants it. This connects God granting faith with the Spirit giving life or quickening. In other words, unless God grants us faith though the quickening work of the Spirit, no one will ever exercise faith in Christ. No one can believe in Christ unless the Spirit first gives life (regenerates, quickens). So we can only conclude from this passage that Jesus plainly teaches that regeneration precedes faith.
And if there still be any doubt in your mind that it may mean something else, go back to verse 37 where Jesus closes the loop. He not only teaches that no one can exercise faith in Him unless God grants it, but in verse 37 teaches that ALL who the Father grants this faith will believe. So placed together verse 65 and 37 teach that no one believes unless God grants it and all to whom God grants it will believe. This syllogism closes all possibilities of human ability.
So what does this mean on a practical basis. Some have said, if we teach this man might despair. To this we should answer "EXACTLY!" That is the whole point. Man must despair of his own efforts, desires, will before he can enter the kingdom. Until man realizes his utter spiritual bankruptcy, he is still in his sins. Jesus did not come for the righteous but sinners, for the sick, not the healthy. Unless you are able to see your impotence and complete need of Jesus Christ then you are still trying to justify yourself. May the Lord grant us all eyes to see and ears to hear. This is Jesus message and until we get this, our understanding of the gospel is anemic. Someone might ask, well then how can God still blame us? Answer: For the same reason a person who has a huge debt they cannot repay, and yet, is required to repay it. Our inability does not make God lower his standard nor does our moral inability alleviate us of responsibility to believe. God is not unjust and he either gives us justice for our sin or mercy in Jesus Christ who bore the wrath of God in our stead. Thanks be to God for His mercy to ill-deserving sinners in Jesus Christ.
"God knoweth we have nothing of ourselves, therefore in the covenant of grace he requireth no more than he giveth, and giveth what he requireth, and accepteth what he giveth."
- Richard Sibbes