Therefore They Could Not Believe

by Mike Ratliff

[35] So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. [36] While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”

When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. [37] Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, [38] so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us,

and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

[39] Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,

[40] “He has blinded their eyes

and hardened their heart,

lest they see with their eyes,

and understand with their heart, and turn,

and I would heal them.”  (John 12:35-40 ESV)

Where I work, we are having a great deal of turmoil with the merger and many projects coming due and a lot of turnover with people departing et cetera. My wife asked me why I have been so short tempered lately and not so happy to head off to the office as I used to be. I thought about that and then I summarized it like this, ‘I have tons of stuff to get done and I can’t work on any of it because I am waiting on other people do what they are supposed to do, but they will not listen to me when I tell them what they are supposed to do. Many people are now “in authority” who have no business being there and they sort of resent it when someone like me tells them what they are supposed to do even though it is very clear that I am right and am backed up with a chorus of others who agree with me.’ I was so frustrated today that I did not realize that one of my friends had walked up behind be in my office as I just sat there shaking my head. He asked me what was going on. I was startled at first then said, “I am so tired of no one listening to me, but then expecting me to solve all their problems while they get all the credit for me doing all their work.” It just slipped out. That part about telling the truth and no one listening is especially frustrating and I have been asking God if He has allowed this for His own sovereign purposes. In any case, God does control all things. If you doubt it, read the following passage from Isaiah. 

[8] And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” [9] And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;

keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’

[10] Make the heart of this people dull,

and their ears heavy,

and blind their eyes;

lest they see with their eyes,

and hear with their ears,

and understand with their hearts,

and turn and be healed.”  (Isaiah 6:8-10 ESV)

This is the passage that John quoted in John 12:40, which is in context at the top of this post. Notice v39, “Therefore they could not believe…” This is the ESV rendering. The NA27 Greek text for this part of v39 is, “διὰ τοῦτο οὐκ ἠδύναντο πιστεύειν.” Here is my rendering, “Through this they were not able to believe.” The word translated here as “not” is οὐκ or ouk, which is an absolute negative. Therefore what it is defining is absolutely negated and that verb is ἠδύναντο, which is the 3rd person, imperfect tense, indicative mood, middle voice form of δύναμαι or dunamai, which means “to be able, either intrinsically and absolutely, which the ordinary signification; or, for specific reasons.” The third part of this is the word “believe” which is a translation of the verb πιστεύειν the present tense, infinitive mood, active voice form of πιστεύω or pisteuō, “to have faith.” The way this is structured my brethren it is plainly a work of God that these people were not able “to have faith.”

I know some people in churches I have belonged to in the past who would probably be calling for my excommunication if I had said something like that to them back then, but that is exactly what the Word of God says my brethren. What this tells us is two things. No one comes to faith in Christ unless God allows it and gives them the ability to have faith. I believe the Lord Jesus succinctly said that in John 6:44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. ” The second thing we learn is that when God’s judgment on the visible church starts it will be just like that which fell upon the Jews. No matter how much Biblical truth we preach and teach, those whose hearts are set upon that which is false, will be judged and God will give them over to what they really love and they will no longer be able to believe the truth. They will believe whatever pleases them, but God’s truth will be seen as too narrow and those who hold to it as divisive. They may include bits and pieces of religiosity from Churchianity in their religion, but they have their own theology, which is separate from historic orthodox Biblically based Christianity. This theology has its roots in human philosophy not in the doctrines of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The EC or Emergent Church or whatever it is called today is really just a post-modern form of Christian liberalism which decimated the visible church during the 19th Century into the 20th Century. This current iteration has many forms to be sure, but syncretism is across the board. If you think about it, if you oppose the narrowness of Orthodox Christianity then you would naturally not be opposed to including Buddhism, Islam, Wicca, mysticism, Word-of-Faith, et cetera under the Big Tent. In fact, that is exactly what they are doing. They are actually teaching that people who practice any religion can be right with God, it doesn’t have to be Christianity. No one has to have faith in Jesus and Him crucified to be saved. No, just be sincere in your beliefs that you have and God will let you in… Yeah, that’s Big Tent Christianity. I suppose it should be obvious to everyone, but has it ever occurred to anyone to look under that tent flap to see if John MacArthur is there? What about someone like James White? What about Ken Silva? No, you see, those of us who are narrowly focused and divisive because we hold to Sola Scriptura and within that, the doctrine of Separation from false teachers, et cetera, we are not welcome there nor do we want to be there. No, we point to the Big Tent and warn our brethren to run away from it because it is the way to Hell. Once a person is captured by it, spiritual blindness sets in and they are no longer able “to have faith.”

Let us rejoice in this though. I am 100% convinced that the Holy Spirit guards those who truly belong to the Lord and He loses none. Those who are in Christ will not go into that darkness to be swallowed up into that blindness.

Soli Deo Gloria!

19 thoughts on “Therefore They Could Not Believe

  1. Mike,
    I’ve also been shaking my head in frustration at the wilful obtuseness of some of my friends about John 6:44….
    And the slipping in of vestiges of arminian “free will” even in some Reformed gatherings here.
    But yes, I am sure the Lord has permitted this to happen, and will protect those who are truly His!


  2. Mike, just wanted to share:
    I was able to relate to your work predicament. Today I was most irritated with someone for being critical, analytical, unjust and selfish. And as I stewed about this character, it occured to me, that in building up such an attitude, I was demonstrating my own flawed character.
    I thought of Jesus story about the two men who owed money, one forgiven of his debt and then unwilling to forgive his debtor.
    The faith of Christ, the forgiveness of Christ worked his power in my heart and I am free of the bitterness that only hours ago held me in its grip.
    “And in anger his lord delivered him to the torturers till he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:34-35 RSV)


  3. Excellent! Thank you.

    “They will believe whatever pleases them, but God’s truth will be seen as too narrow and those who hold to it as divisive.”

    I have been accused of both these things “too narrow” (hard/harsh) and divisive, because I spoke against the direction that the church was going. I had no right to question the “Grand Poobah” because I was a woman!

    Come quickly, Lord Jesus, and in Your wrath, remember mercy.


  4. Mike,
    I have heard this before; that men who reject truth and cling to a false gospel will not be able to believe, they are deluded. That is why they cannot see or hear truth when it is presented to them. Instead, they resort to name calling and labeling.

    I appreciate your words of encouragement, the Holy Spirit guards those who belong. Blessings to you brother!



  5. Thought this was really good, Ryle’s quote for the day, today (18th)

    Let it never surprise true Christians if they are slandered and misrepresented in this world. They must not expect to fare better than their Lord. Let them rather look forward to it as a matter of course, and see in it a part of the cross which all must bear after conversion. Lies and false reports are among Satan’s choicest weapons. When he cannot deter men from serving Christ, he labors to harass them and make Christ’s service uncomfortable. Let us bear it patiently, and not count it a strange thing. The words of the Lord Jesus should often come to our minds – “Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you.” [Luke 6:26] “Blessed are you, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake.” [Matt. 5:11]

    ~ J.C. Ryle


  6. Isn’t it amazing Celine how Christians can look right through a passage like John 6:44 in unbelief? I go to a Reformed church and even there there is pressure to elevate the “free will” of man so that the narrow gate is perceived to be much wider than it is. I think people do this because they have loved ones who used to be professing Christians who are now apostates and they want the peace of thinking they are included in the Body of Christ. This is deception.


  7. Oh I get it Carolyn. I almost added to my opening paragraph that part of agony and repentance as I struggle through this trial, but that would have distracted from the point of the post.


  8. Here’s a thought. David was in close communication with the Lord but when he sinned, the Lord had to send a prophet to talk to him. David said,


  9. Yes Carolyn, but when he heard the truth from the prophet God broke through the blindness and broke him. He does that with his own, but not with those who are not his own.


  10. oops, sorry. Here’s the rest of my comment.
    Psalm 66:18
    If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me:

    I agree with you completely. Just talking about Big Tent Christianity and what is going wrong with our leaders and why they are becoming blinded by wanting to be people pleasers. The blindness comes because of something that has come before God.

    But why don’t they see that they have not got the closeness with God that they used to? How can we cross over into sin and not realize it?

    I was just thinking about how God cannot reach us if we won’t listen to his Spirit and then we won’t listen to other Christians and then what?


  11. We aren’t omniscient like God Carolyn, however, when people totally reject the truth and follow after lies well the fruit they are revealing certainly isn’t godly. I know that we all blow it and fall into sin at times like David, but when God breaks us we repent. What I see in most those big tent jokers is absolutely no willingness to hear the truth or even repent in any way. Those who claim to be Christians, but who won’t listen are not really Christians.


  12. Feeling sympathy for Noah.??.. He preached and worked for 120 years and no one listened – but he knew that God was in charge and it would happen in His time and in His way.

    Hang on – we aren’t home yet, and the road we are ask to walk is rough, rocky and full of potholes.


  13. Neither when we have chosen our way can we keep company with those who go the other way. There must come with decision for truth a corresponding protest against error.” — C.H.S


  14. Yes, Mike. He had a sovereign reason. He always does. 🙂

    “Hang on – we aren’t home yet, and the road we are asked to walk is rough, rocky and full of potholes.”

    Amen, Ali! 🙂

    And yet it is also completely true that every rough spot, all the rocks, and every single pothole has been purposely left on my path, and yours, when our Father very attentively and lovingly winnowed each of our our paths right down to the individual grains of sand and their placement on our own paths before the foundation of the earth! He left them for us (on purpose–for HIS purpose)!!! So… We praise Him for everything, count it all as being joy, and let all the Glory go to Him!!!

    Psalm 139:3 “You scrutinize (winnow) my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways.”


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