The New Birth: Not the Consequence of Human Faith

by John Hendryx

According to Scripture, all persons have a knowledge of God (Rom 1:21), but not all persons know Him in the same way. Some people know Him as a friend, but others know Him only as an enemy. These are, by nature, hostile in mind toward Christ, suppressing the truth in unrighteousness (Rom 1:18), because they love darkness and hate the light (John 3:19, 20). The question I want to put before you to contemplate today is this: why is it that some persons see the beauty and excellence of Christ, knowing Him as a friend, while others find Jesus and his promises of grace so repulsive, remaining His enemy? What is it that makes people to differ in their response to the promises of the gospel?

The purpose of this short essay is to show from Scripture a discussion Jesus had in his time on earth, where he unequivocally asserts that it is grace alone that makes persons to differ in their response to the gospel: whether they believe it, or reject it. And to drive this point home we will show how Jesus insists that UNLESS God grants His invincible grace no one would ever believe the gospel ... yet ALL persons to whom he grants this same grace will believe unto eternal life.

If you have not considered Jesus' discourse to the Jews in John 6, I would encourage you to take the time to reflect on it today. We find out that, when speaking to the Jews, Jesus uses a syllogism that leaves no room for human boasting. Defined simply, a syllogism is a logical formula consisting of two premises and a conclusion which follows of necessity from them. It is a combination of two judgments infallibly necessitating a third judgment as a consequence of their mutual relation. A simple example of a syllogism is: If all humans are sinners, and all Greeks are humans, then all Greeks are sinners.

You ask, but what does this have to do with Jesus?

In John chapter 6, in the context of Jesus’ calling the Jews to believe the gospel about Himself and their resulting unbelief in Him, He presents them with the following two simple yet profound statements, which, when applied together necessitate the conclusion that saving grace is always both invincible and indelible. He claims that those whom, in due season, the Spirit regenerates will infallibly believe the gospel. Grace and faith, therefore, are not the same thing, and when it comes down to why some have faith and not others, Jesus emphatically comes down on the side of grace. What I call “the Jesus syllogism”, where He authoritatively communicates this truth, should end all arguments about this issue. it can be found in the midst of his discourse with the Jews in John 6:37 & John 6:65 where He says:

“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 it is granted him by the Father." ( 6:65)

To give context to these texts, just prior to verse 37 he 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. The context of John 6:63-65 forces us to understand "come to me" to mean "believe in me" or "have faith in me". Scholars and biblical commentators would agree that in context Jesus is speaking about faith. In fact this is usually the case with the phrase "come to me" throughout Scripture. But the meaning can usually be found simply by seeing the context in which it was spoken. In this case, when Jesus says "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father," the context is faith. So the passage is now understood to be saying that no one can believe in Jesus unless God grants it. With this in mind, in the context of unbelief in John 6:64, Jesus issues a UNIVERSAL NEGATIVE: “... no one can come to me UNLESS God grants it. Since the phrase "come to Me" is spoken of as a synonym of believing on him, in John 6:65 Jesus is telling us that “no one can believe on Him UNLESS God grants it" through the Spirit, who "gives life" or "quickens" (6:63). But in John 6:37 (the same passage) Jesus likewise issues a UNIVERSAL POSITIVE with the same grammatical construct or phrase "come to me". He says, “All that the Father gives to me WILL COME TO ME”.

So if we observe what Jesus explicitly teaches concerning who will believe (by putting these two passages/concepts together), He says, “No one will believe in Me unless God grants it, and ALL to whom God grants it will believe”. Jesus, using a syllogism, is making sure that no one thinks that anything apart from grace is what saves them. That even the very desire for faith and the new heart we need to understand spiritual truth and love Jesus 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 quickens, 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.

How do I know this is what it means? Because the entire context on both sides of this verse is Jesus speaking of the Jews' unbelief. Jesus is exposing their unbelief and claiming that He is sovereign even over the granting of faith. Faith, He 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. It is the Spirit alone who, uniting us to Christ, can give 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).

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 (John 6:65), the redeemer, 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 responds, “…have I not chosen you?” But what is so hard about this 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 you 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). 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 is a borderline heretical view akin to what Roman Catholics believe, because it makes maintenance of justification/salvation the work of man and not Christ.

To conclude, Jesus tells us that all those whom God gives to the Son will believe in the Son and no one will believe in the Son whom God does not grant to do so. I bring this passage up to you because it 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 simply 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 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


For More on this subject please listen to the following MP3s:
Monergistic Regeneration - Part I by Dr. Art Azurdia III (On Effectual Calling)
Monergistic Regeneration - Part II by Dr. Art Azurdia III (On Regeneration)