Jesus Teaches that Regeneration Precedes Faith

by John Hendryx


"All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out." (John 6:37)

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:44)

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. 64But 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)


According to Scripture, all people are born dead in sin (Eph 2:1). This simply means that, as a result of the Fall, people are born without the Holy Spirit and therefore, (left to themselves and being spiritually dead) are hostile to Christ (Rom. 8:7) and unable to understand to spiritual things (1 Cor 1:21). It does not mean they can do (or think) nothing in their fallen state, but it means they can do nothing spiritual or redemptive ... that they will always think God's word is foolish (1 Cor 2:14) until the Holy Spirit, who comes from the outside, works grace in their hearts (Ezek 11:19-20). The natural man may be alive to carnal things, but he is dead to spiritual things. So to the question: can any person come to faith in Christ apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, both the Arminian and the Calvinist would definitively answer "no".

The Arminian asserts that this work of the Holy Spirit (this "prevenient grace" that temporarily gives the power of free choice) is ultimately resistible by the fallen sinner. Arminian's affirm that man, apart from grace, hates the light and will not come into the light. And because of this, the Spirit grants them a kind of post-regenerate - pre-conversion state where he is, for a time, lifted out of his moral depravity and given the opportunity to receive or reject the free offer of Christ in the gospel. To be a just God, most Arminians reason, God must give all people an equal opportunity to choose whether to believe or not. And this opportunity is granted, they claim, through prevenient grace. As most Arminians will admit, however, this "semi-regenerate" state is logically, rather than exegetically deduced. On the other hand, the Calvinist is convinced that the Bible teaches that regenerative grace itself opens our blind eyes, unplugs our deaf ears and gives us a new heart (Ezek 36:26, John 6:63) making God's call effectual, infallibly bringing the sinner to faith in Jesus Christ.

Arminian synergists assert that prevenient grace resolves the problem of human boasting since God initiates with grace. But in reality this sleight of hand does not resolve the problem at all and only begs the question. For if God gives this prevenient grace to everybody, we must ask: why do some respond positively to Christ and not others? What makes them to differ? Jesus Christ or something else? The problem of boasting is not removed, for if God gives grace to everybody and only some believe, then the heart that believes still thinks that it made the wiser decision by improving on grace while others did not. The person affirming prevenient grace still must ultimately attribute his repenting and believing to his own wisdom, prudence, sound judgment, or good sense. So in the Arminian belief system, they are not willing to confront the obvious question of why some believe and not others? The only answer I have ever heard to this question in all my years debating this was "because some believed". But, this avoids the question, because I did not ask them what they did, but why they did it? And the "why" seems to be a question that Jesus goes out of his way to answer. (John 8:46-47 & John 10:26)

There are many texts which affirm beyond doubt that regeneration is indeed monergistic ... that the implanting of the new heart is what gives rise to understanding, love of Christ and faith. One of the most important discussions in the Bible about this is where Jesus was speaking to some fellow Jews who did not believe in him (John 6:64) . He said to them:

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” ( 6:37) ”

"No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. (John 6:44)

"… no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father." ( 6:65)

The reason I bring these three verses to your attention is because, they are spoken in the same context (John 6) and in this long discussion with Jesus and the Jews about faith these three verses are essentially speaking of the same issue. In fact they share more than one thing in common. They all use the phrase "come to me" and they each make a universal declaration ("no one" or "all"). When read in context the phrase "come to me" is spoken in the same breath as the word "faith". It is a synonym. Likewise the phrase "draws him" is used in parallel with the phrase "gives me" or "granted him". Our Lord declares that "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. (John 6:44) and "All that the Father gives me [draws to Me] will come to me." (John 6:37). In other words, the passage simply states that no one will trust in or have faith in Jesus unless God grants it (John 6:65), and ALL to whom God grants (or gives/draws to Jesus) will believe. Not some of them, but all of them. This universal positive and universal negative means that we are forced to conclude that all that God draws to Jesus infallibly come to faith in him.

Just to demonstrate that "come to me" is identical to "faith" see that just prior to verse 37 Jesus says, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.” Here we observe that Jesus uses the phrase “believe in me” and “come to me” interchangeably. Even more clear is that the context of John 6:63-65 forces us to understand "come to me" to mean "believe in me" or "have faith in me". In verse 64 Jesus says, "But there are some of you who do not believe " For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him.  65And He was saying, "For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father."

If we place these statements all together, (understanding that "come to me" and "believe in me" are synonymous), then the magnitude of the Jesus' words become evident, for it allows for no synergistic interpretation. And what does this have to do with regeneration? Well in verse 6:63 Jesus directly alludes to it: "It is the Spirit that quickens [gives life, regenerates]... No one will believe in Me unless God grants it... and ALL to whom God grants it will believe”. Jesus is making sure that no one thinks that anything apart from Jesus is what saves them. That even the very new heart we need to understand spiritual truth, love Jesus and believe is itself a gift of God. This text leaves no room for any other interpretation. This is profoundly important because it creates the inescapable conclusion that the quickening grace of God is invincible. This is why just prior to saying “no one can come to me UNLESS God grants it”, Jesus says, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail.” This means that it is the Spirit who raises our dead spirits to life, makes us born from above John 3:3, 6. The flesh, that is, our sinful nature, cannot regenerate itself and can do no redemptive good of itself, including believe the gospel until quickened by the Holy Spirit.

Faith, Jesus is saying, is not a product of our unregenerate human natures; It is, rather, the product of new life that only He can give us through the quickening work of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit alone who, uniting us to Christ, gives life to our dead souls that we may believe. Jesus is affirming the same truth to Nicodemus in John 3, using the same type of language. In verse 6 Jesus tells him, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” And unless one is born of the Spirit he can neither see nor enter the kingdom of God. Jesus never gives Nicodemus an imperative (command) to be born again, but instead, tells him what must happen to him for eternal life to be a reality. Belief springs from a change of nature, for the old man considers the gospel foolish and thus cannot comprehend it (1 Cor 2:14).

This does away completely also with the Arminian argument where they point to John 10, where Jesus says "when I am lifted up I will draw all men to myself". While we already demonstrated that "draw him" (v. 44) is parallel with "gives me" (v. 37) because it is spoken in the same context with multiple parallelisms so we concluded that ALL the Father gives (draws to) Christ come to him. But the Arminain must reach outside of this passage (out of context) to a completely different situation where Greeks approach Jesus. There is no indication that Jesus is referring to the same issue. In fact, when read in context, Jesus is telling them that he is fulfilling the promise to Abraham that he would become a father of many nations. Not only Jews but gentiles will be included, so Jesus is establishing that He will draw (not all men without exception) but all men without distinction (Jews and Gentiles). He is announcing that his coming coincides with the expansion of God's kingdom to include Gentiles, in large measure.

On a side note, it is interesting to note that the passage on regeneration in John 6:63-65 is one of the most explicitly Trinitarian passages in all of Scripture. It speaks of this work as the powerful, supernatural work of the Triune God. The Father grants faith in Christ the redeemer (John 6:65), through the quickening of the Holy Spirit by means of the spoken word (John 6:63). So the Spirit is the Agent and the word is the instrument used to germinate spiritual life in us, apart from which, no one would believe (V.65).

I have often heard preachers say to people, “all you need to do is believe,” as if this were the easiest thing in the world, but the natural man is unwilling to submit to the gospels' humbling terms. It is a massive affront to our pride to believe that we have no hope save in Jesus alone. J.I. Packer once wisely said, "Sinners cannot obey the gospel, any more than the law, without renewal of heart." We see this at work in this passage when, at the end of John chapter six many of those who previously were with Jesus left because his teaching was too hard, and only the twelve were left. Peter confesses belief however, and Jesus says to him, “…have I not chosen you?” But what is so hard about this passage that everyone else leaves Jesus? It is hard because the gospel of grace alone strips man of all hope that he could have to contribute something, be it ever so small, to his own salvation. Never underestimate the reality of our sinful nature deceiving us this way. The gospel forces us to see our own spiritual impotence and bankruptcy in contributing anything, or even lifting a finger toward our own salvation. But of those who do believe the gospel, we can know with certainty that the Holy Spirit has quickened them and is doing a work of grace in them. Trusting Christ is the immediate result of the new birth, not the cause of it, as John notes in his first epistle:

“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God” (1 John 5:1)

It is also important to further understand that Jesus “will never cast out [those the Father has given Him].” (John 6:37). According to Jesus, those whom He draws are the same as those he will raise up at the last day (John 6:44). This is important because those who reject the perseverance of the saints, believing that Christ does not preserve us to the end, are in effect saying that we must somehow maintain our own justification before God. This is to believe that Jesus’ atonement for us is not sufficient for salvation.

This passage (John 6) is one of the most forceful passages in all of Scripture relating to the invincibility of saving grace. The grace of the Holy Spirit in regeneration is not only sufficient but efficient, unfailingly bringing about God’s desired result. We may resist the gospel when hearing the outward call and even resist stirrings of the Holy Spirit, but no one resists the inward quickening and call of God (Rom 8:30; 1 Cor 1:22-24). In the Old Testament sometimes God would discipline Israel by telling them their crops would fail even though they labored to sow seed. This is proof that all that we do in this world, such as planting crops, requires the prior blessing of God if it is to be fruitful.

Similarly Paul uses an agricultural metaphor when speaking of casting the seed of the gospel. He says, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” This means that people need to hear the gospel in order to be saved, but we can preach till we are blue in the face and nothing will take root unless the Holy Spirit sovereignly applies that word to the heart that one might hear.

To use some biblical imagery, we cast the seed of the gospel indiscriminately because the Holy Spirit alone can “germinate” the word unto life in Christ. The fallow ground of our hearts must first be plowed up by God, for the soil of our heart is not good by nature, but only by grace. The seed will not find good soil until God makes it so. For Ezekiel the prophet says:

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezekiel 36:25-27)

Notice that this passage demonstrates that in order for obedience to take place the Lord must first cleanse our hearts, put a new spirit in us and remove our hardened uncircumcised heart. No one believes and obeys while their heart is still stone. Our blind eyes must be opened, our deaf ears unstopped, and our corrupt nature supernaturally changed by the Holy Spirit, before we can begin to have any good thoughts about Christ. The Bible likens the new birth, or regeneration, to the first creation (2 Cor. 5:17). God let light shine into what was darkness. And God breathed life into lifeless man and then man, because of the new principle of life now within him, breathed and walked. Likewise regeneration can be likened to God's first breath in man, and faith, to Adam's first breath. The former is monergistic and the later, while it springs from the principle of grace that now exists within, is participatory. Both the creation and the maintaining are all of grace, but only God's breathing life into us (ex nihilo) is monergistic (that is, it is the work of God alone). When God brings forth something out of nothing, it is monergistic, but when we breathe (or have faith) as a result of God's act, we are now participating, so by definition this is not monergistic, but all springs forth from God's initial monergistic act of giving life from nothing.

"Regeneration is the fountain; sanctification is the river." - J. Sidlow Baxter

"...since you have been born again [by the agency of the Spirit], not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God [instrument]" 1 Peter 1:23



Important note: Some who oppose the biblical teaching on monergistic regeneration will argue that this cannot be true because no one can be regenerate and not saved. If regeneration precedes faith, they reason, then there is a time, be it ever so short, where one is regenerate but does not yet believe. But this is to misunderstand what regeneration precedes faith actually means. It does not temporally precede faith but rather causally. What do I mean? An example would be one pool ball striking another. Does one ball temporally strike the other first. No they both hit one another simultaneously ... YET the one which rolls has causal priority. The same could be said of heat and fire. Likewise when God, the Holy Spirit, through the preaching of the word, opens our heart to the gospel and gives us new eyes to see the beauty, truth and excellency of Christ, our response is immediate.

"No sooner is the soul quickened, than it at once discovers its lost estate, is horrified thereat, looks for a refuge, and believing Christ to be a suitable one, flies to him and reposes in him."
-C.H. Spurgeon

"Faith in the living God and his Son Jesus Christ is always the result of the new birth, and can never exist except in the regenerate. Whoever has faith is a saved man."
C.H. Spurgeon


For More on this Subject
Monergistic Regeneration - Part I by Dr. Art Azurdia III (On Effectual Calling)
Monergistic Regeneration - Part II by Dr. Art Azurdia III (On Regeneration)

A Short Response to the Arminian Doctrine of Prevenient Grace
J.W. Hendryx