A Scriptural Study Newsletter edited by Elder Vernon Johnson

How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!




Relationship Between Belief and New Birth

In this essay we will look at the relationship between belief and the new birth.

Most people today are taught and believe that you must hear and believe the gospel in order to be born again. In a cause/effect relationship, they think that "belief" is the "cause" and that the "new birth" is the "effect." This concept is to them supported by an erroneous belief in what John 3:16 teaches. In truth, the "new birth" is the "cause" and "belief" is the "effect" of the new birth.

When we are unsure what a person is teaching, it is best to go to him and let him explain what he is teaching. We will let John explain which comes first, belief or the new birth. For this we will consider several verses of scripture in the book of John as follows:

A. John 1:11 13...to them that believe on his name: which were born...of God." For the sake of brevity we didn't quote all the above passage, but please note–"believe" is in the present tense, while "were born" is in the past tense. Grammatically, therefore, the birth must precede the belief; i.e., they were born of God prior to believing.

B. John 3:36, "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life..." Again, "believeth" is present tense and "hath" is past tense.  Thus everlasting life (new birth) precedes belief.

C. John 5:24, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word and believeth on him that sent me hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life." Once again, "heareth" and "believeth" are present tense and "hath" is past tense. Hence, everlasting life comes before we can hear or believe.  Thus we must be born again prior to "hearing" or "believing." Hearing and believing are evidences of the new birth.

D. John 6:47, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life." You show me someone who believes on Jesus and I will show you someone who already has everlasting life.

E. John 8:43, 47, "Why do ye not understand my speech? Even because ye cannot hear my word." "He that is of God heareth God's words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God." Clearly, you must first be of God (born again) before you can hear God's words (gospel).

F. John 10:26 28, "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: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand." In this passage the sheep are those to whom Christ gives eternal life. Those who are not given eternal life do not believe. Only those who are given eternal life believe, thus belief is the evidence of the fact that God has given us eternal life (new birth).

G. John 12:37, 38, "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 hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?" It is not the miracles we see with our natural eyes that enable or entice us to believe, but it is the miracle performed within us (new birth) that enables or causes us to believe. God must first cause us to be born again (reveal his holy arm <strength> within us) and then we can "believe the report."

H. 1 John 5:1, "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God." Once again, "believeth" is in the present tense and "is born" is in the past tense, thus again showing us that the new birth precedes belief and in this case "belief that Jesus is the Christ."

Plainly it can be seen from the several verses quoted that John taught that the new birth comes before belief. Thus the question should be asked, "What then does John 3:16 teach?" One thing it teaches us is the eternal security of the believer. Believing doesn't cause us to get eternal life, but Christ died that we may have eternal life. Since eternal life (new birth) precedes believing, then I may conclude that any person that believes already has eternal life and that Christ died for them in order that they may have eternal life.

Justification by Works

One of the things we must always remind ourselves when studying the scriptures is that the scriptures never contradict themselves. While at times there appear to be contradictions, the problem is invariably in our understanding. If we rightly divide (make the proper application) the scriptures, they will perfectly harmonize.

One of the apparent contradictions (only apparent, not real) is found in the principle of justification by works. In Rom. 4:2-8 Paul writes, “For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God. For what saith the scriptures? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also describeth the blessedness of man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.” Thus Paul speaks of a justification by faith without works.

In contrast James writes in James 2:14-26 (please read) of a justification that requires both faith and works. Now if Paul and James were writing about the same justification then there would be a real contradiction and not an apparent contradiction.

When studying the subject of justification we are presented a view of how God views us in light of his justice, a view of how we see ourselves in light of God’s justice, and a view of how others see us in light of God’s justice. When we considered how God views us (the elect) in light of God’s justice we see that we are justified in the court room of God by grace thru the atoning blood of Christ. When we view ourselves in light of God’s justice in the court room of our heart and mind by faith we see ourselves justified in the atoning blood of Christ according to his covenant work. Next in the court room of men’s opinions they see us or we see them being justified by the “evidence” of a gracious work in their hearts “evidenced” by their works.

The evidence of Abraham’s faith was his works. The evidence of Rahab’s faith was her works. Paul wrote to the church of the Thessalonians in I Thes. 1:3, “Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Thus the evidence of faith is work, the evidence of love is labor, and the evidence of hope is patience. By this Paul knew they were of the elect of God (See I Thes. 1:4). Peter wrote in II Peter 1:10, “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things ye shall never fall.” Now to whom are we to make our calling and election sure? To God? No, he is the one who both chose us and called us. To ourselves and to others? Yes, by the evidence of our works we are justified (declared righteous) in the opinions of other children of God.

As an example of this Paul wrote in Phil. 4:3, “And I entreat thee also, true yoke fellow, help those women which labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellow laborers, whose names are in the book of life.” Did God open to Paul the book of life that he might see whose names are written therein? I don’t believe so, but Paul knew their names were written in the book of life for he hat been a witness of their labors (works) and thus concluded them to be spiritually born children of God. They were justified in Paul’s opinion by their works.

Foreknowledge of God

In studying the covenant of redemption recorded for us in Rom. 8:28 30 we are told of a people that God foreknew. This is a special and limited aspect of the foreknowledge of God. In future essays we will study at length this special aspect of God's foreknowledge. In this essay we want to consider a broad view of God's foreknowledge. David in writing about the depth of the knowledge of God declared in Ps. 139:6 "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it." Who can know or understand the depth or width or height of the knowledge of God. We as creatures cannot attain unto it.

Peter declared of Jesus in John 21:17, "Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest I love thee." His disciples said unto him in John 16:30, "Now are we sure that thou knowest all things..." Since God knows all things, then he knows all things past, present, and future. The depth of his knowledge boggle our finite minds. David said, "Thou knowest my down sittings and mine uprisings, thou understandest my thought afar off." Thus we are assured that God knows all about us in the very details of our lives. He knows when we sit down and when we rise up.  He even knows our thoughts before we even think them!

The statement of God's knowledge in Heb. 4:12, 13 causes us to fear and marvel all at the same time: "...and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do." The scriptures say that even the thought of foolishness is sin and since God discerns our thoughts and since he knows all about us and nothing can be hidden from him and since all our sins are brought to judgment before God therefore we are made to fear. However, God's foreknowledge is a comfort because when Christ died for our sins, he died for all of our sins. It is God's foreknowledge that enables him to know all of our sins, even before we were born, and laden them upon Jesus to redeem us from our sins.

Next, the foreknowledge of God assures us concerning the security of the physical universe in which we live: Heb. 1:3 reads in part, "...and upholding all things by the word of his power..." God's foreknowledge of all things works hand in hand with his upholding all things by the word of his power. God is never "surprised" or "blind sided" by anything.

The harmonic interactions of all the heavenly bodies is testimony of God's power and foreknowledge and assures that we won't be "wiped out" by a passing comet, for instance.

In addition, God's foreknowledge assures us of God's providential blessings and watch care in our lives. Since God knows all things, he knows all our circumstances of life and all about our environment.  Matt. 10:29, 30 declare this principle: "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And on of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered." He knows the things we need even before or if we ask him. His foreknowledge assures us that what we ask, he is able to provide.

Furthermore, when we are faced with trials or difficulties that seem beyond our ability to handle the fact that God's knowledge far exceeds ours and that his power is unlimited is a great comfort to us. Also God's foreknowledge is an assurance to us of our salvation and that God's promises will be fulfilled. The following verses testify these principles:

A. Acts 15:18 "Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world."

B. I Cor. 2:7 "But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory."

C. Isa. 46:10 "Declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure."

D. Acts 2:23, 24 "Him being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it."

E. Acts 4:27, 28 "For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed , both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, are gathered together, for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done." Yes, God knows all of his works and they all will be performed as God purposed. All of his promises are yea and amen. He has saved his people from their sins and their eternal destiny is secured and we are preserved in Christ Jesus. There will be no surprises, slip ups or failures because God knew all things before they ever come to pass. He will do all his pleasure.

Primitive Baptist