“Enabled to Believe?”

I need help understanding a concept I have encountered quite a few times lately. It is the idea that all sinners are given the ability to believe. No one seems to know exactly when this enabling occurred or occurs for all sinners. No one seems to be able to point to a Scripture verse that indicates that such an enabling occurs. Even if one should concede that John 12:32 refers to the drawing to every individual without exception to Christ, which, of course, I do not, there are still several unanswered questions that render this an untenable position. One would assume, since this drawing is mentioned in connection with Jesus’ crucifixion, that it would be related in some way to the news of that crucifixion. The problem with that idea is that not everyone has heard the gospel. How can a person be drawn to a Savior about whom he has never heard? One could argue that the drawing about which Jesus spoke occurs whenever the gospel is proclaimed, but that would make it less than universal. Additionally, Jesus had already made it clear that it is the Father who draws, and that EVERYONE who thus hears and learns from the Father comes to him [Jesus] (Jn. 6:45).

If this “enablement to believe” occurs when sinners are born, why do the biblical writers consistently describe sinners universally as recalcitrantly entrenched in their resolve to continue in their hostility against God? Where in Scripture do we find an example of a person who clearly has been enabled to believe the gospel, but continues in his rebellion against God and in his unbelief? If such an enablement is a reality, why do we not find it described in any theological passage in the New Testament Scriptures?

Perhaps I have misunderstood what these folks are saying, but it appears to me that “enablement to believe” would involve the removal of all the obstacles that keep sinners from saving faith. If this enablement is universal, then all the obstacles to saving faith must be removed from everyone without exception. What are the obstacles that must be [or must have been] removed from the life of every sinner?

1. Sinners don’t seek after God (Psa. 14:2-3). Like our first parents, we run and hide from God rather than running to him and seeking his mercy, we run from him. One would assume that “enablement to believe” would reverse this pattern and cause all without exception to seek God diligently.

2. Sinners suppress God’s truth wherever we are confronted with it (Rom. 1:18). We love darkness rather than the light. We hate the light and will not come to the light (see-John 3:19-20). One would assume that “enablement to believe” would have to reverse this prevalent tendency among sinners so that all would love truth and light wherever we encountered it and hate error and darkness wherever it presented itself.

3. Sinners don’t want to come to Jesus that we might have life (See- John 5:40). In this chapter Jesus presented four barricades to faith. People don’t believe because they don’t have God’s love remaining in them [sinners don’t love God] (v. 42), People prefer the honor that comes from other people more than they value God’s approval (v. 44), People don’t believe the Scriptures (vv. 46-47). The ultimate reality is that sinners don’t believe because they don’t want to believe.
When Jesus and the biblical writers tell us that sinners cannot come to Jesus, they do not mean that sinners have somehow been mentally, emotionally and volitionally incapacitated so that they cannot reason, feel, or choose. Sinners are not stocks and stones who have no will at all. They make decisions every day. Instead, they mean sinners cannot come to Jesus simply because they have no desire to do so. They cannot come because they will not come. A person cannot choose that for which he has absolutely no desire and to which he is absolutely averse.
One would have to assume that “enablement to believe” would have to involve the complete reversal of the sinner’s desires. Such a sinner would have to become a lover of God, seek his approval above all others, believe his Word, and desire to come to Jesus that he might have life.

4. Sinners in a state of nature regard the gospel as foolishness (1 Cor. 1:18) and do not welcome the things of the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:14). This is a great barrier to faith. “Enablement to believe” would have to involve a change in this attitude. Everyone who is thus enabled would have to begin to regard the gospel as God’s wisdom and begin to welcome the truths received by God’s Spirit.

5. Sinners in a state of nature are spiritually dead toward God (Eph. 2:1), and having their understanding darkened are alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them. They are described as being past feeling (See Eph. 4:17-19).

One would assume that “enablement to believe” would have to involve resurrection from this spiritual death and a reversal of the entire condition Paul describes in this passage.

6. Sinners are hostile toward God (Rom. 8:7). “Enablement to believe” would have to involve a radical reversal of this hostility.

I could continue, but I think the reader probably gets the picture by now. My question is where do the biblical writers give the slightest indication that God enables every sinner to believe by accomplishing such reversals in them? The obvious answer to anyone who has an ear to hear and a heart to understand is that God does effect such a reversal in the hearts of those who are effectually called by the gospel. There are several metaphors that biblical writers employ to describe the enablement we are discussing. For example, this change [usually referred to as “regeneration”] is called “new birth”[birth from above], “circumcision of the heart,” “resurrection,” “creation, “ “baptism,” “deliverance from the prison,” “heart transplant” etc. In not one of these is the subject active. He is always acted on.

John clearly tells us that “those who received him” (John 1:12) were “born of God.” Being born of God was clearly the cause of faith.

Finally, consider the term born/begotten of God in John’s first Epistle. It is unclear whether John intended to represent God’s work of grace in the sinner’s heart as begetting this new life or giving birth to it. In either case, it is clear John intended his readers to understand this work of God as initiating all that is righteous and holy in the believer’s life. He uses the term in the following verses; 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18. In each case, He uses the perfect tense of the verb, a tense whose action occurred in the past with results continuing into the present. In each case, John represents this act of begetting/birthing as causing present actions or characteristics in the believer’s life. In none of these cases would it be reasonable to conclude the present actions or characteristics in the believer’s life in any way caused this begetting or birthing experience. Consider the following chart that shows these tenses in terms of cause and effect. In each case the cause is that these are “born of God.” In every case the effect follows being born of God. Those who are born of God–

2:29 practice righteousness
3:9 do not practice sin cannot go on sinning
4:7 love
5:4 overcome the world
5:18 keep themselves and the wicked one does not touch them.

There is one verse we did not list in this cause/effect chart. I deliberately omitted it because I want you first to consider the relationship between having been born of God and the effects of God’s work carefully. Is there any question in your mind that in all these effects, being “born of God” was the preceding cause? Now I want you to consider the identical grammatical construction in 1 John 5:1. John wrote, “Everyone who is believing that Jesus is the Christ, has been born of God. . . .” Based on the pattern we observed in the above chart, can anyone reasonably argue that faith is an act that moves God to regenerate a sinner? Is it not clear instead that being born of God is the antecedent cause of a believer’s faith?

In the absence of biblical texts that give the slightest indication that God enables all sinners to believe, the proponents of this view often retreat to the “mystery” defense. “We don’t have a shred of Scripture to support our view because it is a ‘mystery.” Of course, this is true but not in the sense they mean it. It is true in the sense that we would never have known it apart from divine revelation. But, the answer to the question, “Why do some believe while others remain obdurate?” is clearly revealed in the Scriptures. Consider just one passage that gives us the answer to this “mystery.”

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). The same God who spoke and the universe came into being, speaks again through the gospel and brings the new creation into being. There is no evidence whatsoever that God produces this new creation in every sinner. When he enables sinners to believe, they believe.

7 Responses to ““Enabled to Believe?””

  1. June 27, 2013 at 1:33 am

    I dare say the reason many folk say none sensible things such as all people can believe is because they are natural people and do not comprehend spiritual things OR they are babes in Christ who have not been strengthened to eat meat and are yet satisfied with watered down milk.

    I have a good friend who is a life long Episcopalian. I introduced him to a book on the doctrines of grace a couple years back. He searched it out and is now unable to keep from telling people about the saving grace of Christ that raises spiritually dead men to new life. I told him I think all Christians are born again as Arminians because we can only see with eyes of flesh. But as we examine the Scriptures, we see what God did before time that caused us to saved. He writes about the 5 Solas, the TULIP, and is reading Jerome Zanchius’ Absolute Predestination. This is a brother who has left watered down milk behind and is chomping on beef!

  2. June 27, 2013 at 11:09 am

    Excellent summary of the plight of the ‘natural’ man. I might have to borrow it. I have no idea how many times I’ve suggested to those who think we have the natural ability to choose Christ that they investigate the ‘natural’ man in the Bible.

    • June 27, 2013 at 12:45 pm

      Nature is clearly the problem. Nothing short of a radical change of nature will remedy the sinner’s plight.

      • June 27, 2013 at 1:58 pm

        A lot of discussions/debates/arguments would vanish if we just read what the Bible says in plain language about fallen men and just believe it, whether we like it or not. Keep plugging away, my friend!

      • June 27, 2013 at 2:26 pm

        I always appreciate your encouragement. One thing I have noticed about the posts of most who comment negatively about our views is that they seldom make accurate exegetical comments about actual passages of Scripture. Their personal likes and dislikes appear to be their standard of authority.

      • June 27, 2013 at 2:35 pm

        Exactly. I’ve been visiting a blog called Spiritual Sounding Board that turns everything into something to do with physical/emotional/spiritual abuse.
        Every attempt to stay on topic or get to biblical analysis has failed.

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