The Inadequate Power of Human Will

The power of the human will is pretty awesome. We can read fresh stories of great accomplishments attributed to sheer will-power any day of the week. There is, however, at least one thing under heaven for which human will power is totally insufficient – becoming a child of God:

“Human will-power alone is not enough. Will-power is excellent and we should always be using it; but it is not enough. A desire to live a good life is not enough. Obviously we should all have that desire, but it will not guarantee success. So let me put it thus: Hold on to your principles of morality and ethics, use your willpower to the limit, pay great heed to every noble, uplifting desire that is in you; but realize that these things alone are not enough, that they will never bring you to the desired place. We have to realize that all our best is totally inadequate, that a spiritual battle must be fought in a spiritual manner.” – Martyn LLoyd-Jones

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” – The Apostle John (John 1:12-13)

“Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” – Jesus (John 3:3)

Nothing more need be said.

Unless a Man Is Born Again

Unless a man is born again. . . what? What exactly does a man need to be born again for? What is it that is impossible for a man do do, unless he is born again (regenerated)? John, Chapter 3, in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, has some answers for us.

“This man (Nicodemus) came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him (Nicodemus), “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” “- John  3:2-3

The first thing we notice in these two verses is that Nicodemus, in reference to Jusus’ miraculous signs, recognized that God was with Him. The Jewish religious leaders all knew that. The second thing we notice is that Jesus didn’t confirm that Nicodemus’ statement was true, but he took the conversation to a new level – the subject of needing to be ‘born again’ (regenerated). That must have been a novel concept to someone who, like other religious leaders of the time, believed that pleasing God, and thus salvation, was dependent on keeping the Law (the original Big Ten and many more).

Let’s take a closer look at several important words/terms in verse 3 in relation to the kingdom of God.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” “- John  3:3

Unless (if not, that is, unless) one is born (From a variation of to procreate (properly of the father, but by extension of the mother); figuratively to regenerate) again(from above; by analogy from the first; by implication anew) he cannot ( to be able or possible: – be able, can [do, + -not]) see(properly to see (literally or figuratively); by implication (in the perfect only) to know: – be aware, behold, (+ not tell)X consider, (have) known (-ledge), look (on), perceive, see, be sure, tell, understand, wist, wot. ) the kingdom of God.

Jesus further emphasized the ‘born again’ (regeneration) principle a couple of verses later:

“Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” ” – John 3:5-6

One ‘birth’ is completely of the flesh, and other ‘birth’ is completely from above. This can be problematic if one thinks that the spiritual rebirth is initiated by man’s decision. If you are reading this and it isn’t problematic or you, consider what Jesus said two chapters earlier in the book of John:

“But to all who did receive him (the Word make flesh, Jesus), who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” – John 1:12-13

It would appear from the text that no human action initiates our being born again (regenerated), neither a purely physical act, nor mental act of human decision.

When most of us believe that our rebirth in Christ happens after we make a strictly human decision to accept the gift of salvation, freely offered, this is definitely cause for a thoughtful pause, is it not? Could it be true that unless we have experienced a supernatural act of regeneration by God that we cannot even see, know, consider, or understand the gospel message?

What is the text of a few passages in John tell us, and what does it do to our doctrine of ‘how’ God saves men?

Before and after. . .

by Joseph Alleine (1634-1668)

“Before conversion man seeks to cover himself with his own fig-leaves, and to make himself whole by his duties.  He is apt to trust in himself, and set up his own righteousness, and to reckon his counters for gold, and not to submit to the righteousness of God.

But conversion changes his mind; now he counts his own righteousness as filthy rags. He casts it off, as a man would the venomous tatters of a nasty beggar.

Now he is brought to poverty of spirit, complains of and condemns himself,and all his inventory is “poor, and miserable, and wretched, and blind, and naked”.
He sees a world of iniquity in his holy things, and calls his once idolized righteousness but filth and loss; and would not for a thousand worlds be found in it.”

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Joseph Alleine (1634-1668), served as preacher and pastor of  St. Mary Magdalene Church  in Taunton, Somerset, UK, a Puritan stronghold.

His ministry in Taunton as preacher and pastor was very fruitful. Richard Baxter recalled Alleine’s “great ministerial skillfulness in the public explication and application of the Scriptures—so melting, so convincing, so powerful.” Alleine was also an excellent teacher, devoting much time to instructing his people, using the Shorter Catechism. He was a passionate evangelist. One contemporary wrote, “He was infinitely and insatiably greedy of the conversion of souls, wherein he had no small success.

It was his habit to devote the hours between four and eight o’clock in the mornings to private devotions. His wife recalled that he “would be much troubled if he heard smiths or other craftsmen at work at their trades, before he was at communion with God: saying to me often, ‘How this noise shames me! Doth not my Master deserve more than theirs?’ ”

Excerpt from Meet the Puritans
by Dr. Joel Beeke and Randall J. Pederson
Posted with permission on Monergism.com by Reformation Heritage Books