Does Jesus Teach Monergistic Regeneration?
by John Hendryx
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 texts is where Jesus was speaking to some fellow Jews who did not believe in him (John 6:64) . He said to them:
“… no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” ( 6:65) and just a few verses earlier said “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” ( 6:37) ”
Notice in both texts the universals “No one” and “all” have in common the phrase “come to me” and, as we will see in this context, this phrase is referring to belief in Jesus. 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.” Scholars and biblical commentators agree that in context Jesus is speaking here about faith. 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. Any other conclusion is simply dishonest. With this behind us the passage can now be understood to be saying that no one can “believe in Jesus” unless God grants it. So it is important to note that here in the context of unbelief (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 “…UNLESS God grants it” through the Spirit, who “gives life” or “quickens” (6:63) no one will believe. Even more astounding, in John 6:37 (a few verses earlier) Jesus likewise issues a UNIVERSAL POSITIVE to the same Jews together with the phrase “come to me”. He says, “All [not some] that the Father gives to me WILL COME TO ME”.
If we place these two statements together, (understanding that “come to me” and “believe in me” are synonomous), then the magnitude of the Jesus’ words become evident, for it allows for no synergistic interpretation: “It is the Spirit that quickens … 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 Jesus 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 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 (“the flesh counts for nothing”); 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).
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, “It’s easy, all you need to do is believe,” 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 workat the end of John chapter 6 when many of those who previously were with Jesus left because his teaching was too hard, and only the twelve were left. When Jesus said rich people were about as likely to get into heaven as a camel through the eye of a needle, the apostles questioned whether anyone could be saved. Jesus answered, “… what is impossible with man is possible with God.” Faith and repentance is impossible with man. Peter confesses belief however, and Jesus responds, “…have I not chosen you?” But why is this discussion in John 6 is so hard 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). 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 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
“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.”
“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.”
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)
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 fire and heat or 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 and strikes the other has causal priority. Likewise when God, the Holy Spirit, through the preaching of the word, gives us a new heart which loves Christ and new eyes to see him, our response is immediate.
Note about Arminian Prevenient Grace: 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) are hostile to Christ and unable to understand to spiritual things (1 Cor 1:21). It does not mean they can do (or think) nothing in their state of common grace, 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.
Now, what may come as a surprise to many is that even the most hardened Arminian believes this. Semi-pelagians do not believe this, of course, but Classic Arminians along with Calvinists believe, with the Scripture, in the necessity of some kind of prevenient grace prior to belief. And it is important that we make this distinction so we do not misrepresent anyone’s views. 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”.
So how do these two understandings of the Bible differ? and does it matter?
The Arminian asserts that this prevenient grace is ultimately resistible. Arminian prevenient grace affirms that man in indeed dead in sin unless the Spirit grants the type of grace that places them in a kind of post-regenerate – pre-conversion state so they can choose whether to believe or not. A logically deduced, rather than biblical, position, even by their own reckoning. On the other hand, the Calvinist is convinced that the Bible teaches that regenerative grace itself gives new life making it effectual, infallibly bringing the sinner to faith in 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 (with this grace) respond positively to Christ and not others? What makes them to differ since both have grace? 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 must draw from its own resources, apart from grace. Because of this it still thinks that it made a morally wise or good choice by improving on prevenient grace, while others did not. So in the Arminian belief system, faith springing from the heart of the unregenerate man is what makes him to differ from other men, not grace, since all had grace.
These arguments in themselves should cause serious doubt as to the validity of Arminian prevenient grace but more importantly (I think you would agree) is that Jesus himself considers this an important question. I trust you believe that what really matters in the end on this matter is which position is Biblical and which position Jesus himself held, right?. And I believe we demonstrated this above.