For Holy Spirit Unassisted Regeneration
The “Will Not/Cannot” Defense
The “How Dead Is Dead?” Defense
The “What Did You Do Before You Were You?” Defense
Elder Jeff Winfrey, Pastor
Dawson Springs Primitive Baptist Church
101 East Walnut Street
Dawson Springs, KY 42408
The Fundamental Misunderstanding
The failure to recognize the extent of the depravity of fallen man is the fundamental error that probably leads to the most misunderstanding concerning the Bible’s teachings on salvation. In spite of clear scriptural teaching to the contrary, most people give the unregenerate sinner more credit than the Bible gives him, in that most believe that the unborn again sinner can initiate his eternal salvation by his own free will and ability. Yet God’s word consistently maintains that sinful man is totally impotent by his own free will and ability to recover himself from the fallen state he is in by nature. It does not matter whether it is the initial phase, the final phase, or any phase in between, the scriptures uphold the complete lack of cooperation on the part of the sinner (or assistance from the sinner) in his own eternal salvation. Furthermore, the Bible defends this position by using two practical, easy-to-be-understood lines of reasoning. The first line of defense is the “will not” and the “cannot” approach of describing unregenerate man. The second line of defense is the series of analogies that describe the act of regeneration.
Outline of the “Will Not” Defense
Natural man has no will to come to God (He has no “want to”)
- The reprobate natural man is a hater of God
Rom 1:30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
- The carnal mind is at enmity toward God
Rom 8:7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.
- A man under sin has no fear of God
Rom 3:18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.
- God is not in the thoughts of a wicked man
Psa 10:4 The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts.
- Spiritual things are foolishness to the natural man
1Co 2:14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
- The unregenerate man will not come
Joh 5:40 And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.
Discussion of the “Will Not” Defense
The line of reasoning is simple, yet profound. The assertion is that fallen natural men are unwilling to come to God, and the reason for the claim is that they simply do not want to. In a very real sense, depraved men have free wills, but their wills will always follow their natures. They are free to make their own choices, but their choices are always subject to what they are by nature. A wolf has a wolf’s nature. He follows his nature—He kills. Sometimes he kills because he is hungry, but sometimes he kills just because he is a wolf. Like wolves, natural men have natural natures that they will naturally follow. Moreover, according to the scriptures the problem with the natures of natural men is that their natures are such that they are haters of God, their carnal minds are at enmity against God, and there is no fear of God before their eyes.
As we consider these insights that are given in God’s Bible concerning the way that the unregenerate man thinks, important questions should come into our minds. Will a man who hates God willfully choose to come to the God that he hates? Will a man who is free to choose ever choose to come to the God that he considers to be his enemy? What would ever motivate a man with these feelings toward God to seek out the God for whom he has no fear or reverence? It is agreeable to logical reasoning that a man with this kind of thinking would never according to his willful pleasure desire the presence of God.
As we pursue this still further we find these words. The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts. (Psalms 10:4) God knows the minds of wicked men, and He declares in His word that the wicked, because of pride, will not seek after God. Not only will he not seek after God, God is not in all his thoughts. It is no wonder that the wicked man does not fear God. He never thinks about God. God is not in all his thoughts. God’s word describes a mind that will not seek God, or fear God, or even think about God. Will this man with this mind ever choose God?
So the natural man does not fear God. He does not respect God. He does not reverence God. He does not seek God. God is not in all of his thoughts. Moreover, if you force the issue by introducing the thought of God to his mind, you will find that the problem is more than a lack of interest in God. The real problem is a deep hatred of God and a carnal enmity against God. If you could see into that mind, you would find that the very thought of God is a terrible thought. The possibility of an all-powerful God is a horrifying idea to an unregenerate mind. A wicked man does not wish to think of a God that has the mighty power to destroy. Again the question, will this man voluntarily choose to come to God?
The teachings concerning fallen humanity continue. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14) The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God. If you attempt to teach the natural man the things of the Spirit of God, the things of God’s book, the things of Christianity, he will have no part of it. If you present to a natural man Christ on a cross, he will scoff at the whole idea. He will not receive any such things. Such things are foolishness to him. Anything about God is foolishness. Any concepts concerning the things of the Spirit of God are absurd. What could motivate such a character to choose something so utterly ridiculous to his way of thinking?
Assuming that the mind of natural man functions in the way that God’s word describes, then it becomes obvious that the natural mind must surely be a very foolish mind. If a man’s natural mind were as wise as he thought it to be, it surely would function differently. Just from a logical and reasonable standpoint a mind would be most foolish to hate the God of the Bible. It is a very foolish mind that would not fear the God that could speak the irreverent being into oblivion. It is a foolish mind that would have thoughts of hate toward a God with the power to instantly destroy. It is not in the mind’s best interest to act in such a way, yet in its lack of wisdom the natural mind innately hates the God it should reasonably worship. The Bible declares that the natural man thinks that spiritual things are foolishness, but the real truth is that the fallen mind of natural man is perhaps the most foolish thing of all.
In similar fashion, it is a mind without feeling and reasoning that would hate a God of so much love as the real God of the Bible. How could a reasonable mind hate the God who would send His Son to die for sinners? Natural man, who is so proud of his great and wonderful mind, actually possesses a most foolish and unreasonable mind. The nature of fallen man is such that he cannot discern wisdom from foolishness. He will not choose survival over destruction. He will not choose God over hell. His mind is such that he loves to hate the God of love.
So the natural man’s mind is foolish, even unreasonably foolish, concerning the things of God. A reasonable mind should come to terms with God, but the natural mind will not. It insists on hating God. It remains at enmity against God. It refuses to fear God. It will not even think about God. Why would a reasonable man not come to his senses? How can an otherwise intelligent mind be so warped? Again God’s word gives us further insight.
The natural man thinks the way he does because he has been deceived, and it is dreadful to know that he has even deceived himself into this unreasonable state of mind. His depraved heart has deceived his depraved mind, for concerning fallen man, God’s word says: The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9) Natural man’s heart is as depraved as his mind, and the hard heart even deceives the foolish mind into its continual unreasonable thinking. The heart’s deep-seated feelings of hatred have so influenced the foolish mind, as to cause it to continually function in a most unreasonable fashion. Have you never seen a man so full of hate and rage that he cannot think straight? Well so it is with unregenerate man concerning God! So we come to the same questions. Will the man with this full-of-rage heart and this foolish deceived mind ever choose to come to God?
Fallen man’s heart is so deceitful and so wicked that it cannot even know its own nature. Men are very good at hiding their sins from each other and even from themselves. When carnal man examines himself he does not see the depth of the problem. He does not see himself as he really is. He does not see what God sees. The God who does see the minds and the hearts has declared the true makeup of the vile nature in unregenerate man. But natural man continues to invent his psychology, and to concoct his philosophies, and to argue against the truth of his depravity. With his foolish and deceived mind he continues to refuse to admit his vileness, and with his inventiveness he continues to deceive even himself. But God is not fooled. God looks into the mind and the heart and sees things as they truly are.
So it is a foolish and a deceived mind that would be at enmity against a being with as much power as God has. And it is a foolish and a deceived mind that hates a being with as much love as God has. Both God’s power to destroy and His love to save should be enough motivation to cause a person in his right mind to seek a peaceful relationship with that God. But instead, the carnal mind chooses to be an enemy to the Almighty God of love. Surely a man with a mind like this is going to need a lot of help if he is to be saved even from himself!
We now come to a final and very enlightening statement concerning unregenerate man’s unwillingness to choose God. Jesus said, And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life. (John 5:40) This is a very straightforward statement. These words are not hard to understand, though they may be hard to accept. What Jesus said with these words was that the minds of these natural men were so against God, that these doomed men would not come to Jesus. Furthermore, it was not just that they would not come to Jesus. He said that they would not come to Him, even that they might have life. They were unwilling to come to Him, even if it meant that they might live forever.
Surely these are words with great impact. How dreadful the condition of a natural man must be! To consider the warped thinking that exists in the mind of a hell bound sinner is almost unbelievable. What a picture of the extent of depravity! Just think of one who could hate Jesus so much that he would refuse to come to Him for eternal life. According to God’s word this is the exact state of mind of every individual in his natural way of thinking. This is man’s case according to his fallen nature. This is God’s description of fallen men in a fallen world. This is the natural state of humanity. This is where we are, who we are, and how we think according to our innate nature.
Fallen man has a free will. The problem with fallen man is not the lack of a free will. Fallen man’s problem is the lack of a willing will. His will is free to come. It is just not willing to come. The reason for the unwillingness in the fallen will is the depravity in the fallen nature. The problem in fallen man goes deeper than an unwilling will. At the root of fallen man’s fallen will lies the driving force of his fallen nature. Though it is sad, it is yet true, that the fallen will is more than willing to continue to operate in total harmony with its compelling fallen nature. So man’s fallen nature forcefully warps his fallen will, and man’s fallen will willingly follows his fallen nature. Natural man will not come to Jesus, because he does not have any will within his very nature to come to Jesus. Natural man will not come to Jesus because he does not have any nature in his very will to come to Jesus. Nothing in man’s fallen nature can move the deep-seated “will not” to say, “I will.”
Now this is what God’s word declares about man’s will. Concerning man’s will, God’s word comes to the conclusion that man’s will is really a “will not”. Will man ever choose the God that God Himself says man will not choose? If man of his own will does choose God then God is a liar, for Jesus has declared of fallen man that he will not come. The scriptures are clear that unregenerate man will not ever choose God. The depravity in sinful man is such that man will never choose to come to God, not even that he might have eternal life.
So it is seen from scriptures that no carnal man is going to choose to come to God. No depraved man with an attitude toward God like the Bible describes will ever choose to come to Christ. The fallen nature of man is such that it always leads the sinner to hate and reject God. The carnal mind of man will not make the choice of eternal life with Christ. If God does not choose this vile man and change him from what he is by nature, he will ever be a hater of God. Moreover, God is the only one in the universe who can change this vile nature in man, and the only way God will change the nature is if He, according to His sovereign will, chooses to.
So since man will not choose to come to God, it is apparent that if the relationship is established, then God must choose to establish it. Moreover, beyond choosing to establish the relationship with man in general, God must choose which men in particular He is going to initiate this relationship with. The act of God’s choosing which sinners He would come to is the act of election. Salvation could not have been accomplished if God had not chosen to save, and men are so vile by nature that salvation could never occur if God had not chosen particular unwilling men to come to with salvation. So due to man’s unwillingness to choose God, God had to choose men if any were to be saved.
Outline of the “Cannot” Defense
Natural man has no ability to come to God. (He has no “can do”)
- A natural man cannot know spiritual things
1Co 2:14 But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
- A natural man cannot see
Joh 3:3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
- A natural man cannot enter
Joh 3:5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
- A natural man cannot understand
Rom 3:11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.
- A natural man cannot hear
Joh 8:43 Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word.
- A natural man cannot believe
Joh 10:24 Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.
Joh 10:25 Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me.
Joh 10:26 But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you.
Joh 10:27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:
- A natural man cannot be converted
Joh 12:40 He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.
- A natural man cannot please God
Heb 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.
- A natural man cannot cease from sin
2Pe 2:14 Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin…
- A natural man cannot be subject to God
Rom 8:7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.
- A natural “cannot” cannot become a spiritual “can”
Jer 13:23 Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.
- An unregenerate man cannot come to Christ
Joh 6:44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.
Discussion of the “Cannot” Defense
According to the Bible the problem with natural man goes beyond a lack of willingness to come. The problem is even greater than a fallen will that is compelled to follow a fallen nature, for the Bible in many places plainly declares that natural man simply cannot come to God. So past a “will not” come in fallen man, there is even a “cannot” come in fallen man. Thus even if a fallen nature were to suddenly release a fallen will, the problem with fallen man still remains. According to the scriptures he yet would have no ability in his fallen state to come to God.
So even if you in error imagine that man might want to do that which he by nature considers to be foolishness, or if you really believe that man would choose to befriend the one he so hates, or if you still think that man would decide to dwell with a perceived enemy, or if you deny that Jesus said that man will not come, then there is still an insurmountable problem with the idea of natural man coming to God. For besides being unwilling to come, the Bible says that unregenerate man is unable to come to God. Therefore even if fallen man were to find the “want to” and against his very nature will to do what he will not do, the scriptures still declare that he cannot do it. Fallen man cannot come, because the fallen nature has no ability to function in the spiritual realm.
We have seen that the fallen nature has much power in the realm of nature, even the power to overpower the will. Yet the fallen nature has no power in the realm of the spirit, not even the power to come to God. Thus the root of the problem with natural man lies in his very nature. The real source of the problem in fallen man is a fallen nature that results in a complete unwillingness to come to God and a total lack of ability to come to God. Unregenerate man does not come to God, because he will not come to God. Furthermore, unregenerate man does not come to God, because he cannot come to God. In proof of these things let us go to several places in God’s word where it declares that an unregenerate man cannot come to God.
The first reason why carnal man cannot come to God is because a natural man cannot know God. The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness to him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14) We have previously used this verse to show the unwillingness of man to pursue what he thinks of as foolishness, but now let us look at more than what man will not do. Let us look at the verse and see what man cannot do. The verse is referring to a man in his natural state, a man without the Spirit of God in his heart, an unborn again man. The verse declares that this natural man cannot know spiritual things concerning God.
In other words, a man must be made to be a spiritual creature before he can know spiritual things. Without the Spirit of God in a man he cannot know the real God, he cannot know things about the real God, and he cannot discern or understand spiritual things concerning the real God. So prior to God’s life giving work in regeneration, a man cannot know any thing concerning God. Thus we can begin to see that the problem goes beyond a man not being willing to receive spiritual things because of the perceived foolishness of such things. Beyond an unwillingness to receive, there is an inability to truly know the things of the real God who is a Spirit, unless the individual has the real Spirit of that real God in him.
Thus it is not just that a man will not come to that which he sees as foolishness. Truly the difficulty goes far beyond a problem of will. There is an overwhelming inability in the natural man that prevents him from coming to God. The natural man cannot come to the God of heaven, because he cannot know Him to come to Him. If natural man cannot know God, how can he be able to come to that which he cannot know? He may come to something he has imagined in his mind. He may come to something someone has carved out of stone. He may come to some philosophy. Yet he cannot come to the true God, because he cannot know the true God to come to Him. There is no strength or ability in man that can enable him to approach unto the God that he cannot know.
A second reason why natural man cannot come to God is found in the direct teachings of Jesus. He plainly taught that a natural man is unable to come to God’s kingdom, because he cannot see God’s kingdom to come to it. Jesus said these words: Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (John 3:3) The statement is a simple one. Jesus’ words teach that a natural man, prior to or without the new birth, cannot see the kingdom of God. The unborn again man has no visual image of God’s kingdom in his mind. He has no awareness or understanding of such a thing. He cannot see it to even know that it exists unless he has previously received the new birth. Without the new birth a man has no faith, which is a fruit of the Spirit, to allow him to visualize spiritual things. So an unregenerate, unborn again, natural man cannot see the kingdom of God, and it is only reasonable that a man cannot come to that which he has no awareness of.
For our third statement concerning man’s lack of ability to come to God we drop down two verses from the above and find the words: Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (John 3:5) With these words Jesus further emphasized His point that man cannot come on his own. He made it perfectly clear that without the new birth a man cannot enter into this kingdom that he is unable to see. This second statement on the heels of the first seems to be a very reasonable statement. It stands to reason that a man cannot consciously choose to enter into that which he has no consciousness of.
It is also logical to assume that if a man has no awareness of a kingdom, he would likewise have no awareness of the King that rules in that kingdom. Thus if a man cannot enter the kingdom, then he likewise cannot approach unto its King who dwells in that place. So it is certain from Jesus’ statements that a man without the new birth cannot see or enter into the kingdom of God, and it is reasonable to assume that a man without the new birth cannot see or come into the presence of the God of that kingdom.
Thus far from the passage in Corinthians we have learned that the natural man cannot come to the God that he cannot know, and from Jesus’ words we have learned that the unborn again man cannot see and cannot enter the kingdom where that God is. Paul and Jesus were teaching the same concepts. The natural man that Paul speaks of and the unborn again man that Jesus speaks of are one in the same. Moreover, this natural, unborn again man has the problem of not knowing spiritual things, not seeing spiritual things, and not being able to enter into the habitat of spiritual things. Furthermore, as long as this man remains a natural, unborn again man he will continue to be unable to know, to see, and to enter. The only cure for these inabilities is to have the Spirit of God on the inside of the man. Unless this natural, unborn again man has the Spirit of God on the inside he can never choose to come to the God he cannot know. He can never choose to come to the kingdom of God that he cannot see. He can never choose to enter the kingdom of God that he does not know about and cannot see.
So the only hope that this natural, unborn again man has is that God would choose to come to him, and this is exactly what happens at the new birth. Since a natural man has no ability to choose the God he cannot know, and since unborn again man has no ability to see or enter the kingdom of God; it is God that must do the choosing. At the new birth the Holy Spirit moves as He pleases. It is God who chooses to move into a man at the new birth. Moreover, since no man will or can choose God, it is of necessity that God also choose the particular man that He will move into at the new birth.
The evidence that natural man cannot come to God of his own ability continues with a fourth passage from God’s word. There is none righteous, no not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. (Romans 3:10-11) These are very straightforward statements concerning the condition of every human being in his fallen state of carnality. There is none that is righteous. There is none that understands. There is none that seeks after God. Why does no carnal man seek after God? Again the answer lies in the lack of understanding in carnal man. We have previously seen that man in his natural state cannot know God and cannot see God. Here we see that he has no understanding about God. So this is just one more place where the scriptures reinforce the same repeated truth. No natural man (without the new birth) ever comes seeking after God, because in his unrighteous fallen condition he cannot understand God, he cannot know God, and he cannot see God.
In our sequence of Bible truths concerning the teaching that man by nature cannot come to God we now come to a fifth passage in God’s word. In this passage Jesus first asked this question. Why do ye not understand my speech? He then gave the answer to His own question. Even because you cannot hear my word. (John 8:43) The problem in this case was not that these men had put their hands over their ears in a rebellious refusal to hear. Jesus did not tell them that they were unwilling to listen to Him. He did not tell them that they were not paying any attention to Him. He said to them, “you cannot hear my word.” So their problem surpassed a reluctance to hear or a refusal to listen. Jesus plainly stated that they could not hear.
Now these men with natural ears had heard the words of Jesus. They were not naturally deaf. Yet Jesus was absolutely correct when He said that they did not understand His speech, because they could not hear His word. Well, how could it be true that they could hear His every word and still could not hear His word? With natural ears they heard His whole speech, but spiritually they understood nothing He said. They had ears to hear natural things, but they had no spiritual ears by which to hear spiritual things. So there was a real sense in which they could not hear His words, and the reason that they had no ability to hear and understand spiritual things was because they had no spiritual life. They had not been born again. They had never become spiritual creatures with spiritual ears to hear and understand spiritual things. They did not have hearing ears for heaven’s words. They were unable to hear Jesus’ teachings in the true spiritual sense in which He spoke the words. So beyond a refusal to listen, these people had no ability to understand. Beyond reluctance to hear, these people could not hear. Beyond unwilling, they were unable. So thus far we have natural men who cannot know, cannot see, cannot enter, cannot understand, and cannot hear. Oh, the chances of these men being able to come to God seem to grow less and less!
For our sixth reason why natural men cannot come to God, let us consider the following words. Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long does thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly. Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me. But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:24-27)
In this passage a group of unbelieving Jews surrounded Jesus and started a conversation by asking a most bizarre question. How long dost thou make us to doubt? What an absurd accusation! They accused Jesus of making them to doubt in Jesus. They readily acknowledged their unbelief in Jesus, but then blamed Jesus for their unbelief. In unexplainable thinking they charged Jesus with being the source of their problem, in that He was in some way making them to doubt in Him. Their accusation was so ridiculous that it might on the surface have appeared to be almost amusing, but there was truly nothing amusing about the charge that they made against Jesus. Their allegation was most serious, for in their allegation they claimed that God was the cause of their sin. They claimed that if they were guilty of the sin of unbelief, then Jesus Christ was in some way the one who had made them commit the sin. Their defense for their unbelief was that God had made them to doubt. This was a most serious allegation that Jesus flatly denied.
Jesus answered them, I told you… Oh, just think of all the wonderful things he had told them. They had heard teachings from the man of whom some said, Never man spake like this man. (John 7: 46) Jesus Christ, even the Word of God, had spoken most convincing words to them. Far from making them to doubt, His words were the most convincing words that had ever been spoken. Their unbelief was in no way due to any insufficiency in His message. Yet there must have been something insufficient, for they believed not His teachings.
Jesus further defends Himself by reminding them of the works that they had seen. He said to them, The works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me. Jesus Christ, even God in their presence, had shown to them the works of God. He had raised the dead, caused the blind to see, made the deaf to hear and the lame to walk. All these works bore witness of Him. It sure seems strange that the man who had done all these miracles would be charged with causing them not to believe. Everything that Jesus did would have caused anyone with a reasonable mind to believe. Yet they blamed Him for making them to doubt.
They had seen the works of God and had heard the words of God. They had seen God in action and had heard the words from the Word. Jesus had told them who He was and proved His authenticity by His miracles. He had done nothing to make them to doubt. Instead He had done many things that left them without excuse concerning their unbelief. Yet after all this undeniable evidence that Jesus was who He said he was, He said of them, But ye believe not. It is hard to imagine what could have prevented them from believing in Him. It is difficult to fathom why they did not believe in Him. Just by natural evidence it seems that they would have had no choice but to believe in Him. Yet they believed not.
It was in no way Jesus’ fault that they did not believe. He gave them every reason to believe in Him and left them with no excuse not to believe in Him. Man’s unbelief in God is never God’s fault. The Bible declares that the observable creation is enough evidence of the real God to leave any man inexcusable who does not acknowledge the Godhead. How much more were these men without excuse! They had been in the physical presence of the miracle-working, glorious-speaking Jesus. They had much evidence to believe and no excuse not to believe. Yet they believed not.
What was their problem? Why did they not believe? Their unbelief was because of what they were not. Jesus stated that they did not believe because they were not of His sheep. Jesus’ people are often referred to as His sheep. The scriptures declare that Jesus shall save His people from their sins. Yet these people that Jesus spoke to in this place were not a part of His people. They were not of His sheep. They were not of His shall-be-saved people. They had never been given the new birth. So since the new birth always precedes the ability to see and believe, they were unable to believe. According to their nature spiritual things were foolishness to them. They were doubters of spiritual things, not because Jesus made them to doubt. They doubted because in their fallen nature they could not believe.
So then, who can believe? And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. (Acts 13:48) The ones who believed were the ones who had been ordained to eternal life. The elect of God believed, because it had been given to them to believe. The sheep believed because they belonged to Christ, and He had given them the ability to believe. The ability to believe is God’s gift to His people. Faith is a gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8) The ability to believe is given to the sheep at the new birth. People do not believe and then get the Spirit in the new birth. They receive the new birth, and then they can believe. Faith is the fruit of the Spirit of God that is received at the time of the new birth. (Galatians 5:22) The Bible declares that it is given unto God’s people to believe. (Philippians 1:29) Moreover, the Bible further declares that the exceeding greatness of the working of God’s power toward one that now believes is according to the same power that God worked when He raised Christ from the dead. (Ephesians 1:19-20) The one who is dead to the realm of spiritual things must be given life by the power of God before he can believe. So unless God first gives the ability to believe, the scriptures are clear that a man cannot believe. Those ordained to eternal life believed. Born again sheep believed. The sheep that had been born again and had been given spiritual life believed. Yet these men that Jesus addressed could not believe, because they were not among the elect sheep and had not received the gift of faith.
As we continue to our seventh consideration of man’s inability to come to God, we find another passage that speaks of those who cannot believe. Yet in addition to being unable to believe, these were unable to be converted.
But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him: that the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them. (Jn 12:37-40)
Here again is this amazing thought that though Jesus had done such phenomenal things, they still did not believe. This passage occurs right after the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. It is truly hard to believe that they did not believe, but they did not believe. God’s word says that they did not believe. Though He had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on Him. What foolish minds natural men have!
Isaiah asked the question, Lord, who hath believed our report? Who has believed the good news of the gospel? Who believes the story of Jesus Christ? Isaiah then asked a second question: And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? Much truth can be seen in this second question, in that it seems that it is the answer to the first question. The ones to whom God reveals Himself are the ones who believe. The ones who are born of God and taught of God are the ones who can believe. The ones who have the gift of faith, that fruit of the Spirit that comes with being born again, are the ones who can believe.
Yet after speaking of the ones who do believe, the passage plainly speaks of some who could not believe: Therefore they could not believe. At first it said that they did not believe: But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him. But then it said: Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart. How were their eyes blinded and their hearts hardened that they could not believe? It seems that Jesus in their midst had an almost unexplainable effect. Instead of being led to belief by the wonders of Jesus, it seems that their already blind eyes became even blinder, and their already hard hearts became even harder. Jesus’ miracles did not open the eyes or soften the hearts of these unregenerate men. Instead of being brought to worship, these natural men were incited to even more deeply despise the God that they by nature already hated. As Pharaoh’s heart was hardened by the miracles of God, so it is with these men. It appears that the same wonders of Christ, which prick the hearts of His children, further harden the hearts of His enemies. How depraved is that!
Even beyond the idea that these haters of God could not believe, the passage further states that they could not be converted where they might believe. He hath blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts that they should not see with their eyes nor understand with their heart and be converted and I should heal them. Without the divine intervention of God by the life giving new birth, they were unbelievers and unchangeable unbelievers. So here we have one more item that is added to our list of things that natural man cannot do. Natural man cannot know, cannot see, cannot enter, cannot understand, cannot hear, cannot believe and cannot be converted. Do you suppose there is any way such a character as this can come to God? It sure seems like an open and shut case that he cannot come. But there is further evidence to present.
For an eighth point, we can yet see another “cannot” from God’s word that leaves man in a very difficult case. The Bible declares: But without faith it is impossible to please him. (Hebrews 11:6) In other words, without belief in God, man cannot please God. At first this may not seem like such a problem. If it takes belief in God to please God, then a man needs to simply believe in God, and as a result of that belief God will be pleased with that man. Many have even turned this proposal into God’s plan for eternal salvation. Since failure to keep God’s law has greatly displeased God, many people conclude that the one thing that would now please God is belief in His Son. So they base man’s eternal salvation upon natural man believing in Jesus and thereby pleasing God. They seem to think that a man-initiated belief will please God to the extent that He will give the new birth to any that please Him in this fashion.
Now it is true that faith pleases God, and those who say that faith is something that pleases God are absolutely correct. The Bible clearly states this to be the case, but you need to remember that the above-proposed plan of salvation requires a natural man to please God with his faith. Yet it has already been repeatedly shown from God’s word that natural man cannot believe in God. The condition of natural man is a condition of unbelief, and even a condition of being in a state where he cannot believe. So we have a seemingly unsolvable problem. According to the proposed plan, man has to believe in God in order to please God. Yet according to the scriptures, man cannot believe in God in order to please God. So if it is impossible to please God without faith, and if a natural man is without faith, then a “without-faith” natural man cannot please God.
Yet in spite of the clear Bible teachings many will still proclaim that faith in Christ is the secret to man’s coming to God. Even in the face of the teachings that man cannot know, cannot see, cannot enter, cannot understand, cannot hear, cannot believe, and cannot be converted, many will still declare that faith is the first-move factor that allows one to come to God and please Him. Let us hear the scriptures and not our man-devised schemes whereby we claim to be able to do that which the Bible labels as impossible.
For our ninth “cannot” we will look at the following: Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin. (2 Peter 2:14) Many scriptures speak of the sinfulness of fallen man. Paul declared that there is none righteous and that there is none that doeth good. (Romans 10-12) James declared, for whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. (James 2:10) John declared, if we say that we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8) Thus if anyone thinks that the way to come to God is to become sinless, they are up against these and many other passages that declare the sinfulness of man. And not only is the sinfulness of man declared, the depth of the problem is that man cannot cease from sin.
For a tenth “cannot” we go to the following: Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. (Romans 8:7) As Peter declared that the natural man cannot cease from sin, Paul here declared that the carnal mind cannot be subject to God’s laws. This is just one more in the long list of inabilities that pertain to the unregenerate man and his depraved way of thinking.
At least these ten places in scripture declare that in various and sundry ways unregenerate man lacks the ability to come to God. Natural man cannot know, cannot see, cannot enter, cannot understand, cannot hear, cannot believe, cannot be converted, cannot please God, cannot cease from sin, and cannot be subject to the law of God.
And just in case you think that the natural man might do something to change all his “cannots”, let us yet go to an eleventh place and find one more thing that natural man cannot do. A “cannot” cannot become a “can”. Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil. (Jeremiah 13:23) By nature you are what you are. I am what I am. Man is what man is. Just as the Ethiopian is what he is, so natural man is what he is. Just as the leopard is what it is, so natural man is what he is. Natural man that is so accustomed to do evil cannot do good. A “cannot-do-good” man does not have in his nature what it takes to be a “can-do-good” man. There is none that doeth good, no not one. Those who are accustomed to doing evil cannot do good. Carnal man cannot do good, and he cannot change the “cannot-do-good” that is within him. He is what he is, and cannot change his case.
But perhaps more powerful than any of these truths is yet a twelfth statement, a direct statement by Jesus concerning the issue. So finally be reminded of the words of Christ. No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him. (John 6:44) This is a very simple and straightforward statement of truth. It is not that this truth is hard to understand. It is just hard to swallow. The idea that natural man will not come to God is difficult to accept. And the statement that man cannot come to God is equally hard to accept. Yet the truth is simple. Jesus said: No man can come to me. So our list is such that natural man cannot know, cannot see, cannot enter, cannot understand, cannot hear, cannot believe, cannot be converted, cannot please God, cannot cease from sin, cannot be subject to the law of God, cannot become a “can”, and cannot come to Christ.
Now let us sum up the condition of natural man. His mind is alienated against God. He generally refuses to have any thoughts concerning God. He has no fear of God, and if you push him into telling the truth he confesses that he is a hater of God. Things of God are foolishness to him. He has no will or desire to come to Christ that he might have life. So he will not come because of his mindset in the natural realm. Yet if for some unexplainable reason this man were to will to do what he would never do, and if he were to decide to come to Christ, then he still cannot come. He cannot come because the natural man cannot know, cannot see, cannot enter, cannot understand, cannot hear, cannot believe, cannot be converted, cannot please God, cannot cease from sin, cannot be subject to the law of God, cannot become a “can” and as Jesus plainly said cannot come. Thus the natural man is what he is, and he cannot change from what he is. This is the condition of fallen man.
So natural man will not come, and he cannot come, and he is stuck right where he is. What makes it seem even worse is that natural man does not care that he is stuck in a condition without God. It suits his nature just fine to be without the God that he hates. Now then, let me ask you something as we think about the proposal that many throw out at some point in their plan. Considering what we have learned from the Bible about natural man, do you really think that there are any in their natural mind that come to God? Some preachers will say that all you have to do is to take that first step. They preach that all you have to do is to make that initial response in the direction of God. Please do not misunderstand me. I think it would be good if a natural man were to take a step toward God. I think it would be good if carnal man were to reach out to God. It would obviously be a good thing if fallen man would do that, but the scriptures say that there is none that doeth good, no, not one. (Romans 3:12) Indeed it would be good if unrighteous man would approach unto God, but the words say that there is none that does good. So man does not do that good thing of coming to God. There is none that does that good thing of initiating a relationship with God.
Now at this point you might ask me if I think that nobody has ever come to Christ. I am not saying that nobody has ever come to Christ. What I am saying is that nobody has ever come to Christ unless the Father first drew that particular “nobody” to Christ. Oh there are plenty that have come. Countless multitudes have come to Christ. There are many who have heard. There are many who have seen. There are many who have entered. There are many who know Christ. There are many who at least to a point understand spiritual things. There are many who can and do believe. There are many who have been converted. There are many worshippers who please God with their faith. There are many who have been changed from what they were by nature. Yet there is not one who has made the change according to his innate abilities. There is not any who has come being led by his natural will. There is not a single one who of his nature has had the “want to” or the “can do” necessary to come to Christ. There has never been a “will not” who suddenly said, “I will”. There has never been a “cannot” who abruptly mustered up what it would have taken to become a “can”.
So since man cannot and will not come, if there is any action taken, God must be the one to take the action. No man can come of his own ability or will, but the Father can draw any one He chooses. The access to Jesus is not denied. It is just limited by the will and the power of the Father. Anyone that ever comes must come by the will and choice of God, and anyone that ever comes must come by the drawing power that comes from God. Man does not choose God. God chooses man.
None could, and none would, and none did. But God could, and God would, and God did. God decided to save according to His sovereign will and pleasure. God chose people to save according to His election. God paid for the chosen through the redemption that is by the blood of Christ. God applied the spiritual life by regeneration in the new birth. God will finally deliver the whole chosen family to glory at the last day. Every step in the plan is essential for salvation, and the entire plan is to the praise of the glory of his grace.
Outline of Three Analogies of the Act of Regeneration
Regeneration is likened unto:
- Being born—Can a man cause his own birth?
Joh 3:3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
Joh 3:8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
- Raising the dead—Can a dead man raise himself?
Eph 2:1 And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;
Joh 5:25 Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.
- A new creature—Can the uncreated create itself?
Eph 4:24 And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
Eph 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
The “How Dead Is Dead?” Defense
As we continue to talk about the condition of depraved unregenerate man, we come to the very important question, “How dead is dead?” And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins. (Ephesians 2:1) Before the new birth man is dead to the things of the spiritual realm. He is not dead to natural things. He sees, hears, speaks, moves, acts and reacts to natural things. Instead, he is dead to spiritual things. In the spiritual realm he has no ability to see, hear, act or react. He is dead to the things of God. Yes the condition of natural man is described in God’s word as a condition of deadness to spiritual things. So it is truly no wonder that a natural man cannot do spiritual things, and it is very much within reason that a natural man will not do spiritual things. Dead men do not do. Dead men do not will to do. Dead men have no “want to”. Dead men cannot do. Dead men have no “can do”. Before God comes and quickens (gives life to), the Bible declares a natural man to be dead to the spiritual realm. I ask again, “How dead is dead?”
Let us look at another verse that talks about being raised from spiritual deadness. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. (John 5:25) This is not the voice of Jesus at the end of time. Jesus talks about that three verses later when He says: Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice. (John 5:28)
In the words, The hour is coming, and now is, we see an ongoing process. We see something Jesus was doing then and something He is still doing. In this continuing process Jesus is not raising the natural dead. He is raising the spiritually dead. Moreover, those spiritually dead hear the voice of the Son of God. Not the voice of the preacher—Not the sound of the gospel. They hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live. By the words of Jesus the ones Jesus speaks to are raised from spiritual death. By the voice of the Son of God they are given spiritual life. Man cannot do this of himself. Man cannot do this for himself. Man cannot help do this for himself. I ask again, “How dead is dead?”
Look at the wonder of this miracle of the resurrection from spiritual death in the following words: And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead. (Ephesians 1:19-20) Take a look at the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe. What power does it take to turn an unbeliever into a believer? What is the exceeding greatness of the power required for this task? It is equivalent to the working of God’s mighty power. Well how much mighty power of God does it take? It is according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead. The same working of God’s mighty power that He worked in raising Christ from the dead is required to raise any child of His from spiritual deadness. Do you really believe man can help in his own resurrection? Do you really believe man has the power to recover himself from the fallen state he is in by nature? Do you believe dead people can help raise themselves from the dead? I ask again, “How dead is dead?”
So it is not surprising that natural man cannot come to Christ. To come to Christ is a spiritual action, and the natural man is dead to spiritual things. It is no wonder that natural man will not come to Christ. To have the will to do something in the spiritual realm would first require spiritual life. Likewise it is no shock that the natural man cannot see, or believe, or know, or understand, or be converted. All these things would have to be done by one who was alive, and the natural man is dead in trespasses and sins. He is dead to spiritual things. In his deadness natural man has no capacity to function in the spiritual realm. He cannot do spiritual things. He cannot think spiritual thoughts. He cannot take spiritual actions. He cannot make spiritual choices. He is totally nonfunctional in things pertaining to the Spirit.
Well how can one quit being dead and become alive? Now that is a hard question. It is even an impossible question. How dead is dead? Dead men cannot decide to become alive. They cannot take any action by which they would bring themselves from a state of death to a state of life. They cannot think a life-giving thought. Yet what the dead man cannot do, the living God can do. The verse in Ephesians says that God has quickened men who were dead. To quicken is to make alive. Only God can bring the dead to life. Only God can quicken the dead.
Now when God quickens, the dead become alive. And once alive much “can do” and “want to” begins to surface that never was possible before. But remember that before the life giving quickening that comes from God, the condition of man was the condition of spiritual deadness. And in that deadness natural man does not want anything in the realm that he is dead to. He does not see anything in the realm that he is dead to. He does not come desiring anything in the realm he is dead to. He cannot; he will not; he thinks not; he does not. And why is this the case? Because dead is dead!
The “What Did You Do Before You Were You?” Defense
Along the same lines another question might be asked, “How non-existent is creation before it is created?” In addition to using the analogy of quickening the dead or resurrecting to life that which was dead to the spiritual realm, the Bible describes the giving of spiritual life to a sinner as a work of God that causes the sinner to become a new creature. The giving of spiritual life is said to be the making of a new creature. The worked upon individual is described as being a new creature. This new creature is said to be God’s workmanship created unto good works. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)
How much do you suppose Adam could do before he was created? How much did he know before he existed? How much did he think? How much did he see? How far did he come? How much “want to” did he have before he was? Now think about a spiritual man who is described as having been created in Christ Jesus. That newly regenerated spiritual man has suddenly been brought into existence as a spiritual creature. He is a new being in a new realm of existence. As Adam was God’s workmanship in the natural realm, this regenerated man is God’s workmanship in the spiritual realm. The Bible describes him as a newly created spiritual being. But how much do you suppose he could have done in the spiritual realm before he was created into that realm? How much did he know in that realm before he existed in that realm? How much did he think in the thoughts of that realm before he was made to be in that realm? How much did he see in that realm before he was in that realm? How far did he spiritually come before he was spiritually created? How much spiritual “want to” did he have before he was created to be a spiritual creature? Before a creature is created, he is not. He does not exist. And in his non-existence he is not, he does not, he thinks not, he will not and he cannot. A creature is non-existent and is totally nonfunctional until it is created. As this is true in the natural, it surely is true in the spiritual.
Both the previous analogy of a quickening of the dead and the present analogy of a new creature show the passiveness of the human recipient in the matter. As there is no natural will or action in the state of natural deadness, there is no spiritual will or action in the state of spiritual deadness. And as there is no natural will or action in a pre-creation non-existence, so there is no spiritual will or action in the pre-spiritual-creation state of non-existence prior to being created as a spiritual creature in Christ Jesus.
Prior to becoming alive to a realm, or being created in a realm, a person can have no thoughts or actions in that realm. In the state of deadness or in the state of non-existence, no thoughts or actions are possible. First you are quickened to life by the power of God; then you can think, see, hear, believe, come and worship. First you come into a state of existence by the power of God; then you think, see, hear, come and worship. First God gives spiritual life; then spiritual action follows. The analogies of a resurrection of the dead and a creation of something from nothing are both perfect analogies for the purpose of teaching that there is no “want to” or “can do” or “coming to” in the realm of spiritual things until the natural individual has been given spiritual life.
Furthermore concerning the same subject, the Bible describes the event of an individual receiving spiritual life as a new birth. I ask you in your mind to think back to your natural birth, though none of us truly have any recollection of the event. What did you do before you were born? Were you a deep thinker prior to your birth? Did you cooperate in anybody’s plans? Did you agree to any propositions? Did you give your okay to your own birth? Did you have a vote in the matter? Did you come asking to be born? Could you have refused to be born at the time you were born?
Referencing the new birth Jesus said that except you are born again, you cannot see. That statement is really not difficult to understand. It is truly a very reasonable statement. Surely Jesus had things in the right order. It only makes sense that birth precedes sight. Yet there are many who seem to think that the sequence is to see the things of God and then be born again. Naturally speaking you did not see before you were born. You began to see after you were born. In the spiritual realm it is exactly the same. Whether natural or spiritual, except you are already born you cannot see.
Which comes first, life or sight? Naturally did you first see and then become alive? No, you first had life, and through being alive you were able to see. It is the same spiritually. Except you first are born again, you cannot see. Except you first have life, you cannot do the things that come with having life. First you have life; then you see, and think, and understand, and do. First you have life; then you live your life in the realm that you have it in. This is true in the natural realm with natural life, and it is equally true in the spiritual realm with spiritual life. In either realm you did not do the things that pertain to life before you had life. You did not come to have life by asking for it. You did not cooperate in some plan in order to be born. You did not cause your new birth. You did not okay your new birth. You could not have prevented your new birth. As in the natural, so it is in the spiritual. You were born naturally because of the actions of your earthly father, who existed prior to you and acted in a way that brought you to be born. You were likewise born spiritually because of an action of your heavenly Father, who existed prior to you and acted in a way that brought you to be born. Moreover, in any realm of life being alive precedes any “want to” or “can do” or “coming to”. Please pause and ponder this rather strange, but simple question: “What did you do, before you were you?”
In all three scriptural analogies the lesson is the same. Prior to the time when God gives spiritual life to the individual, there is no ability or desire within that individual that would allow him to perform in the spiritual realm. There is no ability within the natural man that would allow one who is dead to spiritual things or nonexistent to the spiritual realm to be able to function in any way in that realm. There is no will in the natural man that would motivate him to think in the spiritual sphere and desire things in this area. Before God comes to a natural man and gives him spiritual life, the condition of man is a condition of deadness and a condition of non-existence. He is in the condition of “will not”, “cannot”, “do not”, and “come not” as far as spiritual things are concerned.
So since man cannot and will not come, if there is any action taken, God must be the one to take the action. No man can come of his own ability or will, but the Father can draw any one He chooses. The access to Jesus is not denied. It is just limited by the will and the power of the Father. Anyone that ever comes must come by the will and choice of God. Anyone that ever comes must come by the drawing power that comes from God. Anyone that comes must come by the new birth, which comes by the will and power of God. There has yet to be a man who ever chose to be born, whether naturally or spiritually. Somebody higher than the one born made choices that brought about his natural birth. As it is with the natural, so it is with the spiritual. In the spiritual birth somebody higher than the spiritually born man made choices that brought about the spiritual birth. Man does not choose God. God chooses man.
We Believe in Holy Spirit Unassisted Regeneration
We as Primitive Baptists truly believe in Holy Spirit unassisted regeneration, because the scriptures leave no other option. The undeniable Bible teachings concerning the total impotency of sinful man by his own free will and ability to recover himself from the fallen state he is in by nature leave no other option for salvation other than Holy Spirit unassisted regeneration.
It seems that we are perhaps alone in these beliefs. I know of no other group of people that claim man’s total impotence to even aid in his own new birth. I know of no other people who declare the complete absence of any willingness or ability to come to God. Some have said that the secret to understanding salvation by sovereign grace is to understand the depravity of fallen man. We as Primitive Baptist truly proclaim that natural man is in a hopeless and a helpless state. The only hope for the sinners that the Bible describes is sovereign grace. No “ifs”, “ands” or “buts” are involved. God does not save you, if you will do so and so. God does not do His part, and you do such and such. We do not say that we believe in sovereign grace, but man has to do something or other. We believe in sovereign grace—period. Fallen man is dead to the things of God. And I ask you again, “How dead is dead?”
These ideas are very humbling to man’s ego, but they are very honoring to the God of grace. Let us never rob God of His glory by taking credit for coming to Him while we were dead. Yet on the other hand, let us not rob God of His glory by refusing to come to Him once He has given us life. Once we by God’s grace have received the new birth, once we have been raised from a state of spiritual deadness and have been given spiritual life, once God has come and drawn us to Jesus, may we come to Him. May we draw near to Him. May we submit to Him. May we say, “Lord, what will you have me to do?” Then may we follow where He leads in order to praise Him for what He has done for us, in order to say thank you for His sovereign grace.