By Zane C. Hodges
*This article was first published in the July-August 1993 issue of Grace in Focus.
In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.—2 Corinthians 4:4 (KJV)
Lordship salvation teachers often maintain that an unsaved man is like a corpse. According to them, he is spiritually incapable of even the slightest response to the gospel. And most certainly, he is incapable of faith. This means that God must give him faith by regenerating him. Thus, for many such teachers, regeneration does not result from faith, but faith results from regeneration.
This turns a lot of Biblical texts on their head. The NT consistently makes regeneration (= eternal salvation) depend on faith. Paul and Silas did not tell the Philippian jailor: “Be saved, and you will believe on the Lord Jesus Christ”! But they did tell him, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).
Of course, no doubt faith and regeneration are simultaneous from our finite point of view. But their logical sequence is clearly set forth in the NT. So Paul can speak of himself as “a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life” (1 Tim 1:16, italics added). The word “for” translates the Greek word eis, which can also be rendered “unto” (KJV), and which here carries its normal overtones of purpose (“with a view to”) or result (“resulting in”). Either sense would fit here. But the NT never states that regeneration is “for the purpose of” or “results in” faith!
The text quoted at the beginning of this article is taken from the old King James Version. (The NKJV handles the Greek somewhat awkwardly.) The statement Paul makes here is revealing. Evidently, Satan does not subscribe to the notion that man is inherently incapable of believing. He would be wasting his time blinding people if they were hopelessly blind! But, in recording this activity of the evil one, the apostle Paul reveals that he himself regards it as the reason why his gospel is “veiled to those who are perishing” (2 Cor 4:3).
With this perspective, Luke 8:12 agrees as well. There our Lord explains the activity of the “birds of the air” in His famous parable of the soils (see Luke 8:5ff.). He says: “Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved” (italics added). Here, too, it is clear that apart from what the devil does, these people might be expected to believe the gospel.
It is not Biblically correct to call faith itself the gift of God. Salvation is the gift of God (Eph 2:8-9), but the Bible never says that faith is.
What then is God’s role in the conversion of sinners blinded by Satan? The obvious answer is that God’s role is revelatory—which is to say, He allows His truth to break through to man’s heart in the same way that light penetrates the darkness. This divine action is beautifully stated by the apostle in 2 Cor 4:6, where he writes:
For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness [see Gen 1:3], who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (NKJV).
God is in the business of penetrating satanically-induced darkness. Whenever that happens, faith is awakened in man’s heart, and he is instantly born again. But this by no means excludes the fact that unsaved people, under the Spirit’s influence, often seek the truth (or may be frequently exposed to it) prior to the moment of faith. I will comment more on man’s role in conversion in the next issue of the GES newsletter.1
There is an obvious application for us. To the extent that human beings present the gospel falsely or in garbled form, they serve well the aims of Satan, who is actively blinding the minds of the unsaved. But to the extent that we give men the gospel in all its clarity and simplicity, we can become instruments whom God uses to focus His light on darkened human hearts.
And after all, isn’t that exactly what GES is all about?
Zane Hodges taught New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary for 27 years, authored over a dozen books, and was passionate about the grace of God.
1 We reprinted that article in the Sept-Oct 2022 issue of Grace in Focus magazine.