Sunday, August 12, 2012

Can Anyone Become A Christian?

Modern American individualism has so infected the Christian gospel in American culture that one can find very little in that gospel that resembles the actual gospel revealed and proclaimed in Scripture. According to the American account of Christianity, anyone can simply choose to become a Christian by a simple act of the will. In America, you “decide” to become a Christian very much the same way you decide to become, well, a democrat or a republican, a Muslim, or a Buddhist. You just make up your mind that this is what you are going to be and you be “it,” whatever “it” is. This mentality has grown significantly in the Christian community over the years. However, is this version of Christianity the same as the version presented in Scripture?

Is becoming a Christian within the control of the individual? It is simply a matter of examining the claims of the Christian worldview and making a determination as to whether or not this religion, the Christian religion is actually the one, true religion worth joining? To answer this question, we need to turn to Scripture and we will begin with a few teachings of Jesus Himself on what it takes to become a Christian.

ἀλλʼ εἰσὶν ἐξ ὑμῶν τινες οἳ οὐ πιστεύουσιν. διὰ τοῦτο εἴρηκα ὑμῖν ὅτι οὐδεὶς δύναται ἐλθεῖν πρός με ἐὰν μὴ ᾖ δεδομένον αὐτῷ ἐκ τοῦ πατρός.

Here in John 6:64-64 Jesus says, there are some who do not believe in Him. Literally, “but from you some there are ones who do not believe.” For whatever reason, many Christians miss what Jesus is saying in these two verses. He is explaining why there are people who do not believe the gospel. The answer is there for all to see, or, for all who are willing to place their prized theological commitments aside to see. What is that reason, you ask? Jesus said, “for this reason, I said to you that no one is able to come to me unless it has been given to him from the Father.” Let me state it plainly: The reason people do not believe is because they are not able to believe and the reason they are not able to believe is obvious; that ability has not been given to them from the Father. Jesus is giving the reason for unbelief: it is the default state of the individual. Men are born with the default state of not being able to believe or do anything that is pleasing to God. Jesus is also referring back to something He said previously.

οὐδεὶς δύναται ἐλθεῖν πρός με ἐὰν μὴ ὁ πατὴρ ὁ πέμψας με ἑλκύσῃ αὐτόν, κἀγὼ ἀναστήσω αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ ἐσχάτῃ ἡμέρᾳ.

Literally, Jesus said, “No one is able to come to me unless the Father who sent me drags him, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Here in John 6:44, we see what Jesus was referencing in John 6:64-65. Men do not have the universal ability to choose to believe the gospel. After all, there were some among this audience who believed and others who did not. Jesus was explaining why there are some who do not believe in the previous verse and giving us a lesson in why some do believe in this verse. He goes on to say in verse 45 that “All the ones hearing and learning from the Father come to me.” In other words, this idea that people hear and actually learn, or get it, understand it, and still reject it contradicts Jesus’ teaching on the subject. Jesus said everyone who actually learns, comes to me. The word means simply to come to understand something. Hence, in order to come to Christ, we must first understand the gospel at least. How does one acquire an understanding of the gospel? Well, in John 8:43 and 47 Jesus tell us that men are not able to understand His words because they are of their Father the devil. Jesus asked the rhetorical question, “why can’t you understand my words? It is because you are not able to hear them?” He then says the reason they are not able to hear them is because they are not of God.

The Greek word δύναμαι means to possess capability (whether because of personal or external factors) for experiencing or doing something, can, am able, be capable.[1]

Kittel says, “to be able,” with specific reference to the subjective spiritual or moral attitude which either makes able or not.[2]

The word appears over 200 times in the NT and is well attested. Moreover, it appears over 300 times in the LXX (Greek translation of the OT). In 175 of those occurrences, it is used to translate the Hebrew word, יכל, transliterated, lk’.

The meaning is really the same: to be able, to do a thing, whether ability be physical, moral, constitutional, or dependent on external authority.[3]

It really quite simple, the Jews who refused to hear Christ, who rejected Christ, did so because they were not able to hear him and to accept Him. This immediately offends the senses of most people, and it especially offends the senses of unregenerate Americans. It even offends most people who claim to know Christ and who see themselves as being firmly within the Christian group. That’s quite alright. It offended the people when Jesus first taught it as well. That response is not at all surprising. In fact, it is reassuring because it is an indication that the teaching is accurate.

Before we continue traversing backwards in John 6, I think it worth our time to take a quick look at a story in Acts that actually gives a glimpse into how one actually is enabled to believe in Christ and experience the mystery of conversion.

A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.[4]

Lydia was listening to the things Paul was preaching. Now, as this was taking place, the Lord opened her heart to respond to the gospel. Unless the Lord opens the heart, people will not respond to the preaching of Christ because they think it is absurd. It is foolishness to the Greek and a stumbling block to the Jew. The American is no better off. What does America think about the true gospel? What do most American “Christians” think about the gospel? They think it is like joining a club or signing up for volunteer work of some kind. This is not biblical Christianity and it is time for the Christian group to do the very hard work of repenting for not doing more to address this confusion and be willing to practice excommunication and shunning.

Back in John 6, we have two more things to cover. The first one is the Greek word ἑλκύω means to move an object from one area to another in a pulling motion, draw, with implication that the object being moved is incapable of propelling itself, or in the case of person is unwilling to do so voluntarily, in either case with implication of exertion on the part of the mover.[5]

When we see the word draw in modern English, we think about being attracted or allured to something. Hence, when we read this text, the modern American mind thinks Jesus meant what we mean when we use the word draw. However, Jesus’ meaning was far more intense than most modern readers realize. This is a powerful word that means to actually move an object, not try to move an object. We read the text like this: I will draw men and they will cooperate and move toward me. Many even believe that Jesus will draw people and ultimately they will not come. They see this as some kind of wooing as it is termed by some evangelical preachers today. According to them, God woos people into coming to Christ. That meaning is foreign to the concept of this word, not to mention the teaching of Scripture. The word appears six times in the NT. One other time it is translated draw, in John 12:32 where Jesus said He would draw all to Him if He is lifted up on the cross. The other four times it is used, the object that is being drawn always moves. It is not the attempt to move an object to something. It is not the act of trying to persuade someone or manipulate an object. It is the efficacious moving of something from one place to another every single time. I will move them to me. The verse actually says the Father will move men to me. In other words, No man can come to me, unless my Father who sent me, moves him to me.

In John 6:36 Jesus said to the Jews, “I said to you that you have seen me and you do not believe.” What Jesus says next is critically important to understanding the perspective John conveys. After telling the Jews that they do not believe, Jesus says, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to me I will certainly not cast out.” The relation between these two verses is significant. Jesus says that you do not believe Me, but all that the Father gives to Me will come to Me. In other words, once more we see the implication of ability and divine activity as the reason for belief and unbelief. The reason you don’t believe is because My Father has not given you to Me. All the ones He gives to Me, will believe. What is necessary to become a Christian? You must be one that the Father has given to the Son. If that is the case, the Lord will open the heart, the person will believe as did Lydia, and conversion will take place.

John 1:12-13 makes it crystal clear that people don’t just decide to become a Christian. The Christian conversion is far more profound than a simple act of human will as a result of human predication. John says that to those who received Christ (like Lydia did), to them He gave the right to become children of God, to the ones believing in his name, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of man, but of God. John says these people who received Him were born of God. This flow indicates that being born of God came first, as it did with Lydia, and then men receive Christ, believing in His name. In other words, the antecedent to Christian conversion is the new birth. You must be born again! We cannot be born again ourselves as an act of the will or the intellect. We cannot decide to be born again or will it into being. It is a gracious act of God our Father. When it happens to you, you will know because your disposition toward God, yourself, others, and sin will experience a profound change.

[1] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early
 Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 261-62.
[2]vol. 2, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley and Gerhard Friedrich, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964-), 284.
[3] Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, electronic ed. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 2000), 407.
[4] New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ac 16:14.
[5] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 318.

1 comment:

  1. Ed Dingess hits the nail on the head, unfortunately I often hear from true born again people, "souls are at stake." Well not according to Scripture, all the Father gives to His Son, will indeed come to Him. All who come to the Son are gifts from the Father, as John MacArthur once preached at John MacArthur’s preaching on election at Essential Truths of the Christian Faith.

    God is Sovereign and man is not and when it comes to the new birth, just as it is in natural birth, God is Sovereign and we are simply there.


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