I’ve been exploring the relationship between regeneration and faith. Does regeneration automatically issue in faith, or can there be impediments to faith despite a regenerate heart?
Mind you, I think regeneration inevitably issues in faith, for that’s the goal of regeneration. But it’s a question of timing.
Take the familiar case of the disciples. One of the recurrent themes in the Gospels is their defective faith. They chronically doubt or outright disbelieve what Jesus tells them. It’s only in light of Easter that they come to exercise robust faith in Christ. And, in a sense, that’s more a case of walking by sight rather than faith. They believe what they see.
On an analogous note is the crisis of faith which John the Baptist suffered in prison (Mt 11:2-6). At that point he was having second thoughts about the claims of Christ.
Of course, that’s easy to explain. He was lonely and afraid. Depressed. Not in his right mind.
Still, he did not, at this juncture, have a credible profession of faith (as the saying goes).
Or take Jeremiah’s complaint that God deceived him (Jer 20:7). His sense of betrayal reflects a false belief about God.
Again, this is easy to explain. He’s been ostracized for proclaiming a deeply unpopular message. So he’s discouraged. Feeling hopeless and alone.
In each case it’s reasonable to assume that the individuals in question were saved or regenerate. Yet that didn’t automatically resort in the formation of proper religious beliefs. Countervailing circumstances succeeded in temporarily blocking or repressing faith. Faithless rather than faithful. And I don’t mean behavior. I mean their mental state. A lack of faith, despite God’s grace in their hearts and lives.
Let’s now consider a different type of case:
10The LORD spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention. 11 Therefore the LORD brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon. 12And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. 13He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God (2 Chron 33:10-13).
When, as an adult, Manasseh exercises faith in God, for the first time in life (apparently), does this mean God regenerated him in captivity? Certainly that’s one possibility.
Of course, he could pray to God because he’d been indoctrinated in the true faith as a child. He had that to draw on.
So another possibility is that faith didn’t take without a suitable, external stimulus. Perhaps the capacity was there all along, but remained dormant until his extremity made it relevant to his situation. He suddenly saw his need, and the corresponding answer to his need.