Paul Washer on “Regeneration” and the Power of the Gospel

You must listen to this message.  May we realize the impotence of human wisdom, clever strategies, rhetorical eloquence, and any manipulative technique.  They cannot bring the dead man or woman to life.  Only the intervention of God’s Spirit can cause new birth.

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Eat the Flesh and Drink the Blood of Jesus

In John 6, the Jews are shocked by a statement Jesus made: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.  This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:51).  The Jews argued, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (6:52). 

The Jews misunderstood Jesus’ teaching by taking his words to mean literal flesh and blood.  But context corrects a literal understanding of Jesus’ words.  Earlier, in 6:47, Jesus had said, “He who believes has everlasting life.”  This is a parallel idea with 6:54: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.”  If you believe in Jesus, you have everlasting life; if you eat his flesh and drink his blood, you have eternal life.  Eating and drinking in 6:54 is parallel (and thus equal to) believing in 6:47. 

Augustine rightly said, “Believe, and you have eaten.”  Jesus spoke of “eating his flesh” because, on the previous day, he had fed thousands of people with loaves and fish (John 6:1-15).  The crowds ate earthly bread, and Jesus was now teaching about “eating” heavenly bread.  Jesus was the heavenly bread (6:33, 35).  And to believe in Jesus is to eat him. 

There is much at stake in how we understand Jesus’ statement about eating his flesh and drinking his blood.  For example, Roman Catholicism teaches that the elements of communion turn into the actual flesh and blood of the Lord when they are consumed.  Jesus, in their view, is literally eaten and sacrificed each time Catholics take communion. 

A literal interpretation of Jesus’ words is truly problematic, though.  It ignores the clear parallel with 6:47 (which spoke of “believing” to get eternal life), the context of eating bread (found in John 6:1-15), and the fact that Jesus was calling people to eat him then, before the cross even happened (if one could eat Jesus’ flesh before Jesus actually died, then something other than literal eating is meant). 

To take Jesus’ words literally (and thus believe that participating in communion is eating the actual flesh and blood of Jesus) is to follow the Jews’ misunderstanding in 6:52!  Think of it: the Jews misunderstood Jesus by thinking he meant literal flesh and blood.  So, if we build a doctrine of communion on a literal interpretation of Jesus’ words, we are building that doctrine on the Jews’ misunderstanding!  Resacrificing Christ through eating the elements of communion is a horrendous thought anyway.  Jesus was sacrificed once, for all, and no other sacrifice is needed (Heb 10:11-14). 

In the end, the issue Jesus confronts us with is this: “Do you believe in me?  Have you eaten my flesh and drank my blood?  Have you partaken of the True Bread from Heaven and received eternal life?”  Let’s close with Augustine’s quote: “Believe, and you have eaten.”

The Greater Weight of Glory

Paul said, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” 

2 questions strike me from this verse: (1) what are the “present sufferings,” and (2) what is “the glory that will be revealed in us”? 

First, identifying the “present sufferings” is quite easy from the context.  First of all, the word for “sufferings” does not denote any particular kind of suffering, but rather suffering in general.  Later in Romans 8, Paul asks whether hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword can separate us from Christ’s love for us.  “Present sufferings” includes anything endured as a Christian in this life–spiritual, emotional, or physical trials.  Everyone suffers, in different areas and in different degrees.  The “present” nature of the sufferings is probably related to Paul’s view of God’s kingdom as an already-inaugurated-but-not-yet-consummated reality.  Though the victory of Christ impacts believers in this world, the “present age” is still one of suffering.  Christians get sick, get hurt, and die. 

Second, the “glory that will be revealed in us” has a particular location “in us.”  So whatever this future glory is, it has to do with us.  But I think the coming “glory” is identified later in Romans 8.  In 8:19-22, Paul talks about the groanings of creation itself for redemption, as creation waits for the sons of God “to be revealed” (8:19).  That is more “revealed” language.  How will the sons of God be revealed to creation?  “We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (8:23).  What believers wait for is what creation is waiting for.  For, when believers are raised, the transformation of all creation follows. 

In Romans 8:17, Paul previously connected “suffering” and “glory”: “if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”  The “glory” of Christ in which believers share is glorification, the transformation of our bodies and the conformance of our character to the likeness of Jesus.  Also, “Those he justified, he also glorified” (Rom 8:30c).  Our future glorification is certain.  A parallel text is Philippians 3:10-11: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”  Paul connects “suffering” with the “resurrection from the dead.”  Paul gladly suffers in the present, in view of the future “glory” of the bodily resurrection. 

Let’s put all this together.  Believers endure “present sufferings” in the body right now.  Physical and emotional frustrations and trials dominate the realm of “this present age.”  BUT!  There is coming a day when the effects of sin are abolished and eradicated.  At the resurrection, Christians will “share” in the “glory” of Christ when they are raised and glorified. 

In the meantime, any sufferings Christian face are worth it.  Every broken bone, every loss of vision, every amputated limb, every crippled leg, every crooked back, every deformed hand, every arthritic disease, every loss of blood, every cut, every bruise, every clotted artery, every weak heart, every failed organ…When you weigh all the “present sufferings” on a scale with the “glory that will be revealed in us” (the resurrected body), every suffering is worth it.  That’s how gloriously bright and amazingly hopeful the believer’s future is.  And that perspective gives us sufficient hope for this day’s trouble.

The Father Must Draw, Or No One Can Come to Jesus

Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.” 

The last phrase in the verse isn’t the perplexing part.  After all, the future resurrection of believers at the coming of Christ is fully embraced by orthodox Christians (see 6:39, 40; 1 Cor 15:22-23). 

But the first part of the verse needs reflection.  Many Christians, in recalling their conversion experience, think to themselves, “I came to Christ.”  And, yes, they did.  But why did they come?  (By the way, “coming to Christ” is equivalent to “believing in Christ” in John 6:35).  Did one day the gospel truth just happened to dawn on them?  Were they in the right place at the right time, with the right evangelist speaking, sitting on the right pew beside the right people?  Are there days when an unregenerate sinner thinks to himself, “I think coming to Christ would be a good idea today…”?  How does it happen? 

Jesus teaches that no one can come to him unless the Father draws the person.  This means that salvation is entirely–from beginning to end, that is–the work of God’s grace.  Jesus speaks of divine initiative in 6:44.  The words “no one” mean…well, no one.  Everyone is unable to come to Christ, no exceptions.  Let’s think of it this way: being from a Christian family, having Christian friends, going to a Bible-preaching church, listening to Christian music, wearing Christian t-shirts, or watching Christian movies–none of these things increases the odds of someone coming to know Christ. 

In fact, it isn’t about the “odds” at all.  Being from a Christian family, for instance, is circumstantial.  And if circumstances increased the chances of someone coming to Christ, then we could help people come to Christ by creating the right environment, introducing unbelievers to the right people, or inviting them to the right places.  But God hasn’t left his salvation-plan to “odds” and “chance.”  If you look at some contemporary evangelism strategies, however, it appears many people believe that lost people coming to Christ is increased by engineering circumstances…But that is another blog for another time. 

Jesus explains what he means by the Father’s “drawing” work: “It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’  Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me” (6:45).  The Father draws unbelievers to Christ by opening spiritually deaf ears.  God instructs the heart of a person to come to him.  And everyone the Father teaches come to Christ.  This means that, since everyone does not come to Christ, not everyone receives the Father’s heart-instruction. 

“But,” you might object, “can’t someone come to Christ on their own, whenever they want?”  No, not unless the Father draws (6:44).  Apart from Christ, there is a moral and spiritual inability that exists within all mankind.  Jesus says that “no one can come,” unless the Father does a drawing work. 

Now, here’s another question: if the Father draws an unbeliever by opening his/her spiritual ears and instructing his/her heart, does that unbeliever have to come, or can the unbeliever ultimately resist God’s drawing work?  Well, Jesus said, “Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me” (6:45).  So, no, an unbeliever who is being drawn by God cannot ultimately resist God’s drawing work.  God overcomes the resistance of the will (6:65). 

Finally, I think John 6:44-45 has an important connection with John 6:37: “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.”  Those that are given by the Father to the Son are God’s elect, sinners chosen before the foundation of the world for salvation and for the glory of God (Eph 1:4-6).  Whenever God’s chosen people come to Christ, it is because the Father draws them by opening their spiritually-deaf ears to listen to him and to come to Christ. 

Think of it this way: All those that are given to the Son will be drawn to the Son, and they will come to the Son with spiritually-open ears.  God’s saving work of grace is irresistible when God draws a person.  Until that moment of irresistible drawing grace, the sinner resists God’s grace vehemently.  The sinner’s will is opposed to God, and the sinner rejects Christ.  Christ is boring, the cross is ugly, and the gospel is ridiculous.  But!  When God speaks to the unbeliever’s heart (6:45), the drawing work has begun (6:44), and God’s draw is ultimately irresistible (“All that the Father gives me will come to me,” 6:37).  God has never failed at saving anyone. 

If you are a Christian, how did you “come” to Christ or “believe” in him?  You came because, before the foundation of the world, the Father gave you to the Son, drew you through inward instruction at an appointed time in your life, and you saw what you had never seen before: the wonder and majesty and glory of the Lord Jesus.  Nothing was ever left to chance, and the “odds” never mattered at all.  No one will ever come to Christ unless the Father does a sovereign drawing work.

Seeing the Hand of God at the Zoo

My wife Stacie and I recently made a trip to the Dallas zoo.  It occurred to me that any zoo reminds Christians of several important truths:

(1) God has created living creatures according to their kinds (Genesis 1:24-25).  There are hippos, lions, deer, snakes, spiders, turtles, giraffes, monkeys, bears, tigers, birds, and so many more. 

(2) God oversees the goings-on in his creation.  God asked Job, “Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?  Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn?  Do you count the months till they bear?  Do you know the time they give birth?” (Job 39:1-2).  Also to Job, “Do you give the horse his strength or clothe his neck with a flowing mane?” (39:19).  And, “Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom and spread his wings toward the south?” (39:26).  The vast variety of animals testifies to God’s power and wisdom. 

(3) Man is not an animal.  “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (Genesis 1:26).  Man is not an animal on par with the creatures of the earth.  God created man in his own image, and he gave man dominion over the living creatures.  God made man–not animals–in his image. 

Next time you are at a zoo, I hope you will think of the above truths.  And, parents, a zoo is a great place to teach your children things about God.  Remember that God made the animals according to their kinds, his creative work testifies to his power and wisdom, and God gave man dominion over the animals.  One final note: as I walked around the Dallas zoo and beheld the animals from the smallest to the largest, I thought Evolution truly is ridiculous.

Young, Restless, Reformed, by Collin Hansen

In Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists, Collin Hansen makes quite a journey indeed.  His book rests on the observation that there is a resurgence of Calvinism among younger Christians.  In seven chapters, Hansen traces the hot-spots of this resurgence in America, focusing on the most current sources of Reformed theology. 

Chapter 1 discusses the Passion conferences and Louie Giglio.  Chapter 2 takes us to Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, pastored by John Piper.  Chapter 3 surveys the legacy of Jonathan Edwards at Yale University in New Haven.  Chapter 4 focuses on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.  Chapter 5 visits Covenant Life Church, formerly pastored by C. J. Mahaney but currently pastored by Joshua Harris.  Chapter 6 discusses the New Attitude Conference in Louisville, headed by Joshua Harris.  Chapter 7 takes us to Seattle to Mars Hill Church, pastored by Mark Driscoll. 

With endorsements by Tim Challies, Jerry Bridges, D. A. Carson, and Douglas Sweeney, this book is worth your time.  Hansen writes with brevity and wit as he explores the current interest in–and controversy of–Calvinism.

Examples of Escalation in Acts 1–7

There is a theme of escalation in the opening chapters of Acts 1–7.  Here are three examples that stand out clearly:

(1) Escalation in Arrests: Peter and John are arrested (4:3); all the apostles are arrested (5:18); all the apostles are rearrested (5:26)

(2) Persecution against the Apostles: the authorities arrest Peter and John (4:3), the authorities warn Peter and John (4:18, 21), the authorities oppose all the apostles (5:18), the authorities want to put them to death but do not (5:33), the authorities flog them (5:40), the authorities kill Stephen (7:57-58). 

(3) The Response of “the People”: the people favor the apostles (2:47), the people’s favor pressure the authorities (4:21), the people highly regard the apostles (5:13), the people’s pressure keep the authorities from using force against the apostles (5:26), but the people turn against Stephen (6:12).  In Acts 2, then, the people still favor the apostles.  But by the time Stephen dies in Acts 7, the people have turned against him.  

Through elements of escalation, Luke shows continuity between the stories in Acts, as well as the growing opposition against the gospel and its proponents.  Escalation also presses to a climax, which comes in Acts 7 with the death of Stephen, the first recorded Christian martyr.