Repent so that you can understand


Faith and understanding, God created both. There are different kinds of faith such as:

  1. The atheist’s faith (which he denies is faith) that his reason is rational and that it corresponds to the world out there (physical reality). I’m not talking about the atheist who says there is no way of knowing what is out there; let’s call him a nude atheist in contrast to a “new” atheist like Richard Dawkins, who certainly believes his jeans are real. In a nutshell, faith in your nut.

  2. Grocery” faith. I have faith that the meat I’m buying contains no donkey. Faith in someone else’s nut and/or good will.

In the first kind of faith, we, you might say, have faith in understanding; faith is the ground on which our reason stands, on which our bottom sits. In the second kind of faith, faith is the grist on which our stomachs churn.

  1. Religious faith, specifically Christian faith, which is what I want to talk about here.

My main objective in this article is to stress that it is impossible to understand Christ unless he raises (quickens) you from your spiritual death. When you are raised, you repent and belief in Christ; in sum, you become a new creature. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Which is the cart, and which the horse, which comes first? Faith in Christ or understanding of Christ. Or is it simultaneously a bit of both? Is it true that credo ut intelligam (Anselm of Canterbury) “I believe that I may understand,” or, to put it imperatively, crede, ut intelligas, “Believe so that you may understand” (Augustine of Horse (Hippo)? I examine this question.

The dark night of the senses

In my introduction to The Night of the Senses: Belief and Understanding in John of the Cross. I said: There are two kinds of believing: believing that (something is true/real) and believing in (something or somebody), that is, trusting. You can have the first kind of belief (belief that something is true) without believing in the second kind (trust), but you cannot have the second (trust) without first believing that what or whom you trust (believe in) is true. Believing that, therefore, logically precedes believing in (trust).”

“Believe that” presupposes understanding. Since I wrote the above piece, I need to rethink this sequence, namely, that “believe that” (understanding) precedes “Believe in/trust.”

In John of the Cross, if you want to understand faith, you need to enter the night, the dark night – the dark night of the soul. (No, not the Dark Knight’s soul). For John, faith (as full commitment to Christ) does not come through the light of understanding. He says in his Ascent of Mount Carmel Chapter 3:3:

The light of natural knowledge cannot inform us of these things, because they are out of proportion with our natural senses. We know them because we have heard of them, believing that which the faith teaches us, subjecting thereto our natural light, and making ourselves blind before it: for, as it is said by St. Paul, faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ. Faith is not knowledge that entereth in by any of the senses (italics added), but rather the ascent of the soul to that which cometh by hearing. Faith, therefore, far transcends the foregoing illustrations for not only does it not produce evidence or knowledge, but, as I have said, it transcends and surpasses all other knowledge whatever, so that perfect contemplation alone may judge of it. Other sciences are acquired by the light of the understanding, but that of faith is acquired without it, by rejecting it for faith, and it is lost in its own light. Therefore it is said by Isaias, ‘if you will not believe you will not understand.’ (The Septuagint’s translation of the Hebrew Isaiah 7:9b).

It is evident, continues John of the Cross, that faith is a dark night to the soul. and it is thus that it gives its light: the more it darkens the soul the more does it enlighten it. It is by darkening that it gives light. According to the Words of the prophet,’If you will not believe, that is, ‘if you do not make yourselves blind you shall not understand.’”

So, John of the Cross is not an evidentialist, where evidence of the truth of the Bible comes first, faith in (commitment to) Christ, second. For John of the Cross, unless you are blind, or rather, make yourself blind – to the natural world, you can never have any supernatural knowledge. If you think John of the Cross’s “faith before evidence” is bizarre, wait till you read what the Bible says. The Bible, in contrast to John of the Cross, says that there is no need to make yourself blind, for you were blind from birth, worse, dead from birth. Jesus comes to open the eyes of the blind because they cannot and don’t want to see unless Jesus enables them not only to see, but to want to see:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:4-10). “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind” (John 9:39).That is why faith is an unmerited gift of God. (The Night of the Senses: Belief and Understanding in John of the Cross).

Repentance, understanding and faith

Here is an excerpt from a transcript of an exchange Sye Ten Bruggencate had with atheist Justin Schieber on Schieber’s podcast on July 11, 2011:

“Sye: He is explaining why he doesn’t discuss the Bible with unbelievers) … you will be unable to see the truth until you repent. That’s Biblical as well – 2 Timothy 2:25 – that it’s repentance that comes before a knowledge of the truth, and that’s why I object to so many different forms of apologetics because what people try to do is get people to see the truth so that they’ll repent, and what I’m saying is that you will not be able to see the truth until you repent. So that’s why I don’t, I don’t bother trying to explain these things to unbelievers because you will not be able to see the truth of it until you repent.”

I sent the above excerpt to a friend for whom I pray continually that God would grant her repentance so that she may come to a knowledge of the truth. She replied, as most would: “Repentance comes before knowledge of the truth . . . Raphael. look at that sentence. This is hocus pocus.” ROFL RPHL.

The most important of God’s commands is to repent and believe. Repentance and faith (belief/trust) go together.

Matt. 4:17 – “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Mk. 1:15 – “Repent, and believe the gospel.”

Lk. 24:47 – “repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name.”

Acts 2:38 – “Repent and be baptised for the remission of sins.”

Acts 3:19 – “repent and be converted, that your sins might be wiped away.”

In Steve Jobs bio points out the good and the bad” (thanks to Ignatius Insight for this link) we read What Steve Jobs thought about Christianity, Jesus, and faith. Jobs said: “The juice goes out of Christianity when it becomes too based on faith rather than on living like Jesus or seeing the world as Jesus saw it.”

Ignatius Insight writes: “it seems he didn’t know that the person and message of Jesus were intimately bound up with the necessity and reality of faith.” Jesus chastised people for not exhibiting faith (Mt 6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8; 17:20; 23:23; Mk 4:40; Lk 8:25; 12:28; etc.)
Jesus praised and acknowledged those, especially Gentiles, who displayed faith (Mt. 8:10; 9:2, 22, 29; 15:28; Mk 2:5; 10:52; Lk 5:20; 7:9, 50; 8:48; etc.)
. Jesus exhorted his disciples to have faith (Mt 21:22ff; Mk. 11:22, etc.).

Having stressed the importance of repentance and faith, my main objective in this article is to stress that it is impossible to understand Christ unless he raises (quickens) you from your spiritual ignorance, indifference, hatred of God (of the Bible). Recall Augustine’s imperative: crede, ut intelligas, “Believe so that you may understand.” Augustine taught that salvation is entirely of God, which is summed up in Augustine’s famous “Grant what You command, and command what You desire” (Confessions 10, 29).

Evidence, assent and trust/faith

Here is an excerpt from the Preface of Jonathan Edwards “Original Sin”:(1757) written by its first editor: “His method in preaching was, first to apply to the understanding and judgment, laboring to enlighten and convince them; and then to persuade the will, engage the affections, and excite the active powers of the soul.”

The three-stage progression of “apply the understanding” (knowledge of who Christ is), “convince and persuade the will” (leading to assent) and “engage the affection and excite the soul” (trust/faith) is the normal human means God uses to convert souls. It would, however, be a big mistake to think that (Edwards thought) this is all there is to “coming to Christ.” For Edwards – so should it be for all Christians – it is “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it (grace and faith) is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The Reformers of the 16th Century divided true saving faith into three parts: notitia, assensus and fiducia. Notitia comprises knowledge, such as belief in one God, in the humanity (1 John 4:3) and deity of Christ (John 8:24), His crucifixion for sinners (1 Cor. 15:3), His bodily resurrection from the dead, and some understanding of God’s grace in salvation. Assensus is belief. This belief hasn’t yet penetrated the heart; it is still on the mental level – a mental assent. “I believe it, that settles it.” Of course, when you say that, your mental assent is a mental descent. To understand why this is so, you need to ascend to the third level of faith: fiducia. Fiducia is trust and commitment, reflected perfectly in Jesus’ prayer to His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, which we shall read shortly.

As we know, you can have oodles of notitia and boodles of assensus yet still remain unconverted. And here’s the rub, without God working in you, these two are not genuine stages on the way to fiducia, for unless God open’s your dead eyes, you will understand very little. That is what is meant by credo ut intelligam (Anselm of Canterbury) “I believe that I may understand” and crede, ut intelligas, “Believe so that you may understand.”

In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prays: John 17: 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Those whom have been given to Christ by the Father are the ones whose eyes God opens, the ones whom he raises to life, which equips and qualifies them to understand. Without the regenerative life of fiducia, one is no better off than the devils, who have enough notitia and assensus to vomit. (Two conversions: the mind (NOTITIA) and the heart (FIDUCIA) of faith in Blaise Pascal).

Jesus also says in his Gethsemane prayer that he is not praying for the world (those who think that after studying the evidence they are able to choose to be or not be born again): John 17: 6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8 For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.


The Bible states that the main obstacle in coming to faith is, naturally, the sinner. He (or she) – no matter the religion – doesn’t want to find anything, arrive anywhere; it’s the searching, the journey that matters. In his review of Matthew Levering’s “The Theology of Augustine: An Introductory Guide to His Most Important Works,” Carl Trueman describes the postmodernist’s penchant for pursuing truth in the hope of not finding it. Augustine [however] was cut from different cloth. For him, it was not the pursuit of truth or some nebulous ‘journey’ which was the important thing; it was finding and resting in truth, real truth, God’s truth.” (The postmodern pursuit: Always departing, never arriving).

What’s the deal with having a messiah who’s arrived? Where is the mystery once he’s exposed and had his say? It is unremarkable, unsurprising that sinful man would ask such a question? Undergirding this question is not the fear that a Messiah, a Judge, exists, neither is it the conviction that Truth can never be found. What such a question implies is rather the chutzpa (hubris) that nothing higher than man has the right to exist, for man is the measure of all things. Satan asks Adam “Did God really say?” (Genesis 3:1). And therein lies the genesis of the question “What’s the deal with having a messiah who has arrived, unless he’s arrived at another departure lounge?” (The Deconstruction of Messiah: Always Arriving Always Departing).

I don’t want to arrive because then I will no longer be doing anything meaningful; I will no longer be in control; I will no longer be at the centre. That is why I say there is no centre, no ideal. “The great mistake of Jesus for Renan was to forget that the ideal is fundamentally a utopia (Philip Schaff).” Renan was talking through his fundament, naturally.

12 thoughts on “Repent so that you can understand

  1. This comment was sent to my email. I have permission to post it.

    Bertrand Russell and his ilk (including me) do not hate Jesus and we would certainly NOT rather be in hell than be near Jesus or God.  Don’t be absurd.  We don’t BELIEVE in hell.  We don’t believe in religion–including Judaism and Christianity. 

    Repent first and then you’ll understand.  Sure, I regret very, very much–and would ask their pardon if only I could–all the injustice and pain I have inflicted on other people!  But God, according to you, demands more than that from me.  God demands that I repent for not believing in Him.  God says, according to your interpretation of Scripture (not every Christian’s) that I cannot know the truth until I believe. The words you quoted by John of the Cross are poetic, even seductive,  but I cannot deliberately relinquish my reasoning, I cannot voluntarily fall into the dark and trust that God, in whom I don’t believe, will catch me and hold me.  What is sinful about that?  Do I deserve to go to hell for that? 

    Sorry, I still don’t understand the concept of free will.  I still don’t think there is anything free about it.  It isn’t a choice if you say to someone, ‘You have a choice–but you must choose what I tell you to choose.’

  2. You say you don’t hate Jesus. If you have read what he said in the Bible, you certainly would hate him, for he said those who don’t believe in him are condemned (to hell) (John 3:17-18).

    About free will. You are free to do and choose what you want, but what you want is not Jesus. You freely reject him. Your freedom is in bondage to your own nature. Your choices are not (externally) determined by God but (inwardly) determined by you. You are a prisoner of your self. Only Christ can free you. Ask him and he will.

  3. Good post. I like what you have to say here and I think I’ll give a link to it sometime next week during our Presuppostional apologetics links round up. In particular I like how you touched on the definition of believe, God’s Sovereign grace and understanding.

  4. Pingback: Mid-April 2013 Presuppositional apologetics round up | The Domain for Truth
  5. Pingback: January 27, 417, Pope Innocent I condemning Pelagius about Faith and Works | From guestwriters

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