Today is Philippine Independence day – a good day to reflect not only on political independence but also on spiritual liberty. The Bible says, “If the Son therefore sets you free, you shall be free indeed,” (John viii. 36). These words imply that prior to the Son’s act of liberating us, we are in fact in bondage. We are not free. There are certain things we cannot do precisely because we are sinners and have sinful hearts.
In relation to the verse “Unless you are born again, you cannot see the kingdom of God,” (John 3:3) Thomas Brooks (in Volume IV of his Works) identifies a number of cannots on our part.
1. There is a natural cannot. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor. ii. 14)
2. There is a habitual (Brooks uses the word habituated) cannot. “To whom shall I speak, and give warning, that they may hear? behold, their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken: behold, the word of the Lord is unto them a reproach: they have no delight in it.” (Jer. vi. 10) “Having eyes full of adultery that cannot cease from sin…” (2 Pet. ii. 14) “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may he also do good that is accustomed to do evil.” (Jer. xiii. 23)
3. Finally, there is a judicial cannot. “And he said, Go and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes, lest they see with eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert and be healed.” (Isa. vi. 9, 10) “They have not known nor understood; for he hath shut their eyes that they cannot see and their hearts that they cannot understand.” (Isa. xliv. 18)
Given our spiritual blindness and bondage, only the grace of God can set us free. And that is precisely what God does in the day of his power:
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Cor. iv. 3-6)