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The chicken or egg issue
- Jacob Ninan
Which comes first, the chicken which produces the egg, or the egg from which the chicken comes? This is a philosophical debate into which those who have time can look into. But it is imperative for us to look into the issue of what comes first, our faith or God's work of regeneration in us.
Many Christians believe that God's regeneration of the human heart (spirit) comes first. This proceeds from their assumption that if people are 'dead in sin' (Ep.2:1) they don't have the ability to have faith in God, and so they have to be born again as a result of God's work of grace in their lives before they can believe. So, according to this teaching, a man gets born again and only then he believes in the gospel. But this needs twisting several passages in the Bible.
The whole thing pivots around the understanding of 'dead in sin'. God told Adam and Eve that if they ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil they would die (Ge.2:16,17). That did happen when they ate that fruit. But we don't see them die physically till hundreds of years later. But what we do see is that they died spiritually, got disconnected from God, began to feel guilty and afraid of God (Ge.3:8). The death that sin produced was this alienation from God. As descendants of this couple, we are all born in sin (Ps.51:5), cut off from a relational knowledge of God and fellowship with Him.
But it is not that we are born totally depraved with absolutely no ability to know God. We are born with a conscience that gives us a sense of right and wrong (Ro.2:15). There is a seeking after God that comes up even among the most pagan tribes (Ro.10:2), even though a lot of people suppress such thoughts in favour of seeking things for themselves. But what we can see is a potential for each man or woman to get to know God if only they could find Him and respond to Him in the right way.
Then comes the presentation of the gospel. We hear about our sinful condition before God and the future consequence of that, and also about the love of God that has prepared salvation on the basis of unmerited favour (grace). As the Holy Spirit hovers over our confused and distorted mind (Ge.1:2), and our eyes behold the truth about ourselves and the love of God, we begin to repent over our sins and to put our trust in God. We receive this offer of salvation by faith, thankfully and joyfully. Immediately God justifies us (declares us righteous because of our faith), and accepts us as His children. On the other hand, many hear the gospel but choose to reject it.
There is a mysterious working together of God and man in this process; it is not entirely of God. It is a free gift of God; man cannot earn it by any means. At the same time, this gift can be received and enjoyed by man only through faith. This faith is man's response to the offer from God, and is not a means to earn the gift. But if a man does not respond in repentance and faith, he cannot receive this offer of salvation.