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Does Regeneration Precede Faith?

I believe that salvation is a gift of God based upon no work which man may do. Long ago I was convinced of this based upon Ephesians 2:8–9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” I humbly accepted this when I was young, with great wonder at the kindness of God. Another well known verse that helped shape my beliefs was John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” In the same vein, I had the short statement of Paul to the Philippian jailor memorized: “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). At that early age, these verses constituted the extent of my understanding of the doctrine of salvation. I would often run them through my mind and ponder their significance. “God is so gracious,” I would say to myself. “He requires nothing for us to be saved. Nothing, that is, but faith.”

Faith alone! The great battle cry of the Reformation. As I grew in my understanding of this salvation, I added many verses and passages to my “soteriological repertoire.” Among the more significant of these were the shocking statements made in Romans 9 and John 6. These verses gave me my first exposure to the doctrines known as “election,” “sovereign grace,” or “Calvinism.” I was again humbled by what these doctrines taught. Not only does God not require anything but faith for salvation, but He is the one who is solely responsible for salvation, having predestined people before the foundation of the world. Wow! As I wondered upon such marvelous yet confusing doctrines, there was a question that continually resurfaced. If God does not require any works for salvation, and if He is in control of the process to such an extent that He predestined all of this to occur, why does He require that one thing? As Bono says in “Though I don’t know why, I know I’ve got to believe.” Why does God require something so seemingly trifle as faith?

Don’t confuse my question. I am not asking if faith is a work. That is a different issue. I am speaking of faith as a requirement. Why, if God has worked everything out to such an extent that He is the one within people who is sovereignly and irresistibly calling them to a new life in Christ, does He initiate His plans with a human response of faith? It just seemed rather trivial to me. Not that I thought faith was unimportant, just as I don’t think that love, hope, or service are unimportant. But I thought that it was a little odd for God to require anything at all.

I accepted it, living with the tension for the time. At this time, my ordo salutis (order of salvation) looked like this:

Of all the components here, the only one before justification that is the responsibility of man is faith/repentance. All of the others are brought about and accomplished solely by God. The final goal is glorification, while the primary instrument of bringing this about is faith. God predestines people before the foundation of the world, and at some point in time He calls them to respond in faith. In response to this faith, God regenerates them and they enter into a justified standing. God accomplishes everything but the final instrumental link—faith. Later I made the discovery that there are other possible models of the ordo salutis and that there is a poswesible solution to my dilemma.

Many (if not most) Reformed theologians subscribe to an ordo salutis that places regeneration before faith. Their model, using the same components, looks like this:

The reason most Reformed theologians come to this conclusion is not necessarily because they have the same difficulties that I expressed above. Their reasons are much more complex and philosophical. It is my purpose in this here to briefly evaluate the Reformed ordo salutis with respect to regeneration preceding faith.

First, I will state their position, giving it biblical and philosophical defense. Second, I will deal with problems that arise from the position. Finally, I will evaluate the position.

Statement of the Position

As stated above, most Reformed theologians believe that regeneration necessarily precedes faith. They would not, however, make the sequence a temporal one, but logical. Temporally, it may be stated that all of the events in the ordo salutus stated above happen at the same time. But Reformed theologians would see a necessary logical order in these components of salvation. John MacArthur put it this way: “From the standpoint of reason, regeneration logically must initiate faith and repentance. But the saving transaction is a single, instantaneous event.” Regeneration is seen as a sovereign act of God by which He causes a person who is spiritually dead to become spiritually alive. We sometimes call this “monergism.” This act is not in anyway dependent upon man. Reformed theologian Anthony Hoekema puts it this way: “Regeneration must be understood, not as an act in which God and man work together, but as the work of God alone.”

Why do Reformed theologians insist upon an ordo salutis in which regeneration precedes faith? There are two primary reasons. First is because of their strong stance on total depravity. Second is because certain Scriptures seem to support the view.

First we shall deal with regeneration’s relationship to total depravity. According to Scripture, man is unable to do any good whatsoever. Jeremiah 17:9 states, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” Jeremiah also states that just as a leopard cannot change its spots, neither can man change his evil heart (Jer. 13:23). Paul also states in Romans 3:10–11, “There is none righteous, not even one. There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God.” There are two primary Scriptures that would be used to defend this belief:

Eph.2: 1–3
“But you were dead in you trespasses and sins in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).”

1 Cor. 2:14
“But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised (emphasis added).”

The convincing argument is then made that if man is in such a position that he is evil (Jer. 17:9), does not ever seek to do good (Rom. 3:10–11), and that he cannot change his position (Jer. 13:23), how can anyone expect him to do the greatest good and accept the Gospel? Furthermore, man is spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1). A dead person cannot respond to the Gospel any more than a blind person can respond to light. As Best puts it, “What is good news to a dead man? As light cannot restore sight to a blind man, so the light of the gospel cannot give spiritual light to one who is spiritually blind.”

Finally, a non-spiritual person cannot receive the things of God (1 Cor. 2:14). How can anyone be expected to receive the Gospel, which is spiritual, in an unconverted state? The person must first become spiritual—the person must first be regenerated. Sproul sums up the logic, “If original sin involves moral ability, as Augustine and the magisterial Reformers insisted, then faith can occur only as the result of regeneration, and regeneration can occur only as a result of effectual or irresistible grace.” A good illustration to describe this way of thinking is physical birth. As a baby cries out only after it is born, so also believers cry out in faith only after God has regenerated them.

There are also many other Scriptures that seem to explicitly teach that regeneration comes before faith.

Acts 16:14
“A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond [regenerated her] to the things spoken by Paul” (emphasis added).

Lydia, here, is portrayed as a woman who had her heart opened to receive the Gospel before she received it.

John 1:12–13
“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born [regenerated], not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (emphasis added).

The will of man is here shown to be uninvolved in the regenerating process of God.

Rom. 9:16
“So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs [or strives], but on God who has mercy” (emphasis added).

Again, the will of man is taken out of the picture in the saving process of God.

Problems with the Position

The problems connected with believing that regeneration preceds faith are primarily biblical. Even Erickson, a moderate Calvinist who does not subscribe to the Reformed ordo, states, “It must be acknowledged that, from a logical standpoint, the usual Calvinistic position makes good sense. If we sinful humans are unable to believe and respond to God’s gospel without some special working of his within us, how can anyone, even the elect, believe unless first rendered capable of belief through regeneration? To say that conversion is prior to regeneration would seem to be a denial of total depravity.” Erickson and others, however, do oppose the Reformed ordo. Bruce Demarest, another moderate Calvinist, supports the opposite position that regeneration is initiated by faith, “God grants new spiritual life by virtue of the individual’s conscious decision to repent of sins and appropriate the provisions of Christ’s atonement.” Those who, like Erickson and Demarest, affirm this would even state that regeneration is entirely a work of God, and that man cannot, by nature, respond to the Gospel. Therefore, some initial, or preparatory, work of God is necessary to make man able to respond to the Gospel. Erickson and Demarest believe that this preparatory work is God’s effectual calling, not regeneration. In response to this calling, man initiates faith and conversion, and then he is regenerated.

In this scheme, the effectual calling can be likened to the Arminian understanding of prevenient grace. Prevenient grace is the way that Arminians can hold both to total depravity and human choice. Even they recognize that man, left in his natural condition, must be made alive in some sense in order to have the ability to respond to the Gospel. The only difference between Erickson and Demarest’s scheme is that the spiritual awakening brought about by the calling is always effectual whereas previenient grace is not.

Nevertheless, the reason why those Calvinists who stand with Erickson and Demarest as well as Arminians would stand opposed to the Reformed ordo is because certain Scriptures seem to suggest that faith is a necessary component for regeneration. Norman Geisler, in his book Chosen But Free, emphatically denounces the Reformed position stating, “As anyone familiar with Scripture can attest, verses allegedly supporting the contention that regeneration preceds faith are in short supply.” He then goes on, “It is the uniform pattern of Scripture to place faith logically prior to salvation as a condition for receiving it.” Among the passages he sites are:

(1) Rom. 5:1
“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Faith is here stated to be the source of justification. But most Reformed theologians place justification after faith as well (see chart). They do not equate regeneration with justification. Geisler seems to have misunderstood the Reformed position at this point.

(2) Luke 13:3
“I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

But this does not speak to the issue of regeneration. Geisler’s statement, “Here repentance is the condition for avoiding judgment,” would also be affirmed by those who hold the Reformed position, for they would state that repentance logically preceds justification which results in salvation. Therefore, this verse presents no conflict with the Reformed ordo. Again, Geisler seem to have misunderstood the Reformed position.

(3) 2 Peter 3:9
“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”

This, again, cannot be used to suggest either ordo. It is difficult to see why one would use such a verse to support their position. The verse could have as well stated, “God wills all to be regenerated.” This would not prove that regeneration comes before faith!

(4) John 3:16
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

This verse does teach that belief in Christ is the instrumental act in salvation, but it says nothing about when the act of regeneration occurs in the process.

(5) Acts 16:31
“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.”

The order here is presented as faith first, then salvation. An initial, unbiased reading of this verse would suggest to anyone that faith is a condition of salvation. Of all the verses put forth above, only the last presents some merit in suggesting that faith precedes salvation, but not regeneration. I will explain below.

Evaluation of the Reformed Position

If one is to adhere faithfully to the doctrine of total depravity, understanding that man is unable to come to God on his own, he or she must insist that there must be some initial act of God by which He enables a person to accept the Gospel in faith. The Reformed position explained in this study, in my view, is the most consistent and biblically defendable position. The option that God’s effectual calling is that which enables a person to come to faith and thereby be regenerated is attractive but difficult to substantiate. The Scriptures do not anywhere indicate that faith comes before regeneration. In fact, one may state that salvation in the general all-encompassing sense (predestination, atonement, calling, regeneration, faith, and justification) is completed after faith, and therefore remain faithful to the plain reading of the text that suggests faith is before regeneration. For he or she would not then be suggesting that faith is before regeneration, but that faith logically occurs before the savific process is complete. In other words, the word salvation would be used to describe the entire complete package with all of the ordo (excluding sanctification and glorification) included. This would be a good way to explain the last Scripture (Acts 16:31) stated above and remain consistent to the Reformed position.

But Scripture nowhere suggests that faith initiates regeneration in the restricted since. Grudem’s statement is helpful at this point:

“The reason that evangelicals often think that regeneration comes after saving faith is that they see the results . . . after people come to faith, and they think that regeneration must therefore have come after saving faith. Yet here we must decide on the basis of what Scripture tells us, because regeneration itself is not something we see or know about directly: ‘The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit’ (John 3:8).”

Previously I mentioned my dilemma concerning God’s requirement of faith and nothing else for salvation. This study has helped me to get a better handle on the issues that are involved. I have come to the conclusion that I am in agreement with the Reformed camp concerning the ordo salutis. I believe that regeneration is a sovereign act of God by which He places a new life within a person so that the person naturally responds in faith. At the same time, I am not entirely dogmatic about this. I hope that as I continue to study Scripture, I will gain more insight.

Charles Wesley painted the picture beautifully of the Reformed ordo salutis in one stanza of the great hymn “And Can It Be.” (Though, I know, he was must certainly speaking about prevenient grace.)

Long my imprisoned spirit lay [alienation from God]

Fast bound in sin and nature’s night [total depravity].

Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray: [regeneration (Reformed) or prevenient grace (Arminian)]

I woke—the dungeon flamed with light! [enlightening]

My chains fell off, my heart was free, [salvation]

I rose, went forth, and followed Thee. [faith]

391 Responses to “Does Regeneration Precede Faith?”

  1. Just a couple of thoughts off the top here Michael.

    How about this one, but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. John 20:31

    These things written—that you might believe.

    Believing–you might have life in His name.

    I don’t see how that can be read any other way then that faith comes before life.

    Also, I have always wondered how it can be that since sin causes us to be dead, then how can we be made alive again while still in our sins? That is utterly illogical to me.

  2. Excellent, Michael!

  3. Cheryl, I think that the passage Michael sighted from John might shed light on your last question:

    3:5 Jesus answered, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 3:6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 3:7 Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must all be born from above.’ 3:8 The wind blows wherever it will, and you hear the sound it makes, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

    In our sin we are in the flesh, but God’s Spirit arrives on the scene bringing new spiritual birth from above..

    Sproul says this: Regeneration is the act of God alone, in which He renews the human heart, making it alive when it was dead. In regeneration, God acts at the origin and deepest point of the human person. This means that there is no preparation, no preceding disposition in the sinner that requests or…

  4. …contributes to the new life given by God.

    Michael, BTW….you used the word ‘proceeds’ in a couple of places, which didn’t really work. I think you might want to switch to ‘precedes’.

  5. Michael, also you never gave a definition of regeneration. I gave Sproul’s definition above. He also says this:

    “Regenration is the gift of God’s grace. It is the immediate, supernatural work of the Holy Spirit wrought in us. It’s effect is to quicken us to spiritual life from spiritual death. It changes the disposition of our souls, inclining our hearts to God. The fruit of regeneration is faith. Regeneration precedes faith.

    Great article, Michael!

  6. Regeneration preceding faith is an incredibly weak Calvinist position IMO. The passages Michael quoted in favor of the opposing position are not particularly good ones for it. But there is a massive amount of evidence in Scripture for faith preceding regeneration. Cherylu mentioned just one, a passage that indicates that spiritual life is by faith. There are tons of texts that say this in Jn and the NT. Michael mentioned Jn 1:12-13 in favor of regeneration before faith, but that passage proves faith prior to regeneration because becoming God’s children and being born of him are parallel, referring to the same thing. But v. 12 makes it clear that faith precedes becoming a child of God. As v. 13 explains v. 12, being born of God must also come after faith. That the text says regeneration is not of man’s will does not contradict this. It is God alone who regenerates in response to human faith just as he justifies in response to faith. See next post . . .

  7. There’s so much to say. Since I be,ieve Michael gave such poor backing for the view he disagrees with (faith preceding regeneration), let me simply direct to the Society of Evangelical Arminians topical link for regeneration: http://evangelicalarminians.org/taxonomy/term/11. it has tons of great articles on it supporting faith preceding regeneration. We have a lot of articles by ben Henshaw of Arminian Perspectives. Here is a link to the topic at his site: http://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/category/regeneration/.

    Michael, I wonder if you will change your mind if you look at these links. There’s some first rate stuff there.

  8. vs 13 ‘who were born, not of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man (not of human choice it seems), but of God.’

    Seems quite possible that the order of things stated doesn’t necessarily mean that that is the order of salvation. Verse 13 seems to be an aside as it begins with the words ‘who were born’.

    This new birth takes place by the action of the Holy Spirit giving life to those who were ‘dead in trespasses and sin’ Eph 2:1

  9. CMP,

    I had seen your video from your website in which you discussed this issue. I disagreed, both then and now, but appreciate your thoughts on it. I simply find that faith coming before regeneration to be the more plain, natural reading from Scripture, though I do understand it may not make as much “sense” to others.

    Either way, all because of God’s grace.

    Keep It up, brother.

    • Maurice Harting February 9, 2015 at 5:57 pm

      The nature of birth (be it physical or spiritual) is that it comes to the baby from outside his or her decision … that is why Jesus used the birthing analogy! Furthermore terms like election and chosen also refer to decisions made by others for the person elected and chosen.

      When one is elected to be President it was not a work done by the President, but a work done by the electorate, likewise when one is born it is not the product of the will of the baby, but of the parents and God, who formed the baby in the mother’s womb.

      You MUST be born again, and Nicodemus asked the same stupid question most Arminians ask today: “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” and Jesus responded, like us Reformed folk respond: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You[d] must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

      Salvation is God’s work in the heart of sinful man and that is why we are born from above, born of God, born again, born of the Spirit, who gives life where there is only death because of sin of the sinner.

      Praise God!!!

  10. Susan,

    I am not at all sure I followed your train of thought above. In John 3 Jesus goes on to say: And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. John 3:14-15

    That is again stating that belief comes before life as it does in the John 20 verse I talked about above.

    But the way you guys look at, it seems that either those very blunt statments are not the order it really comes in, or you guys must be talking about two separate kinds of life here. A life you have to have before you can have faith, and then eternal life that comes as the result of faith.

    I don’t see the Bible talking about two kinds of life here, only one. I believe that when we are given life, it is eternal life–period.

    And I notice Michael has only one life mentioned in his chart too. And it is life given before faith. I just don’t see that in the Bible.

  11. As I was reading through your OP again, Michael, I see that you do believe the life that is given in regeneration is not the same as eternal life. Am I correct?

    I found myself being quite confused at times as I read this, both the first and second times through.

  12. Re: John 1:12, 13

    All men are born a slave of sin. A slave cannot serve two masters. You must be set free from sin before you can be enslaved by God (Rom. 6:22). Once enslaved to God, He can adopt you as a son. God doesn’t adopt another man’s slave. You need to become a son to become an heir, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. (This is one of a man’s many needs before Jesus Christ saves him.)

    When Jesus became High Priest, He began baptizing men with the Holy Spirit (as John the Baptist foretold), baptizing men into His Body and baptizing men into his death (Rom. 6:3). A man is united to the likeness of Christ’s death (Rom. 6:5), and he dies to sin (Rom. 6:2). Being made free from sin he becomes a slave of righteousness, a slave of God (Rom. 6:18, 22). Then God can rightfully adopt him as a son. And because He is a Son, God sends the Spirit of His Son into the man’s heart (Gal. 6:6), giving him eternal life (1Jn. 5:11, 12) in the new birth.

    Cont…

  13. Now, John says that as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become a son, even to those who believe on His name (Jn. 1:12). A slave of sin does not have the right to become a son. Jesus gave the slave the right to become a son when He baptized him into His death and freed him from his old master. The man becomes a son by adoption, then by birth. (Why adopt a son who is already yours by birth as Reformed Doctrine purports?) Once he is a son by adoption, God sends Jesus into the dead man’s heart. Jesus gives the man His life (Col. 3:4), newness of life (Rom. 6:5), eternal life (1Jn 5:11, 12). He is regenerated from His death with Christ, by Jesus Christ. And when he is “made alive with Jesus Christ, by grace he has been saved” (Eph. 2:5). He is saved by regeneration (Titus 3:5). The man is saved by His (Jesus’) life (Rom. 5:10).

  14. Susan,
    Now, John says that as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become a son, even to those who believe on His name (Jn. 1:12). A slave of sin does not have the right to become a son. Jesus gave the slave the right to become a son when He baptized him into His death and freed him from his old master. The man becomes a son by adoption, then by birth. (Why adopt a son who is already yours by birth as Reformed Doctrine purports?) Once he is a son by adoption, God sends Jesus into the dead man’s heart. Jesus gives the man His life (Col. 3:4), newness of life (Rom. 6:5), eternal life (1Jn 5:11, 12). He is regenerated from His death with Christ, by Jesus Christ. And when he is “made alive with Jesus Christ, by grace he has been saved” (Eph. 2:5). He is saved by regeneration (Titus 3:5). The man is saved by His (Jesus’) life (Rom. 5:10).

    Jesus came to save men, and give them eternal life. And when he indwells a man’s heart He does save a man and give him eternal life.

    John demonstrates that receiving Christ/ believing in Christ precedes the right to become a son, and the being born of God. Faith precedes both eternal life and salvation which were given in the new birth. Historically faith preceded the new birth by a couple thousand years.

  15. Paige-Patric Samuels February 25, 2011 at 3:28 am

    Mike you have presented a difficult situation, based upon what you are saying that the ordo salutus expostulated by the Reformers, with a slight difference from yourself is sola griade. Romans 3:21-25. Not it is the faith of Jesus Christ, also mentioned i verse 22, that righteousness of God gratuitously justifies us and delivers us through the propitiatory shelter which God purposed in the blood of Christ. True, this evangel of our Salvation is our faith for our faith (Rom 1:17) When justification, both of God and a sinners are in view, it is the faith of Christ that is pre-eminent (Gal 2:16). god’s righteousness is set forth in the evangel of God which Paul now brings. It is revealed through the faith of Jesus Christ, In his death and resurrection . We are have been reckoned righteous because of faith. Our faith is a gift from God , and it continues as a result of His spirit which He gives us(Ep 2:8-10; Gal 5:22,23)

  16. Jesus came to save men, and give them eternal life. And when he indwells a man’s heart He does save a man and give him eternal life.

    John demonstrates that receiving Christ/ believing in Christ precedes the right to become a son, and the being born of God. Faith precedes both eternal life and salvation which were given in the new birth. Historically faith preceded the new birth by a couple thousand years.

    (I apologize for multiple posts, but the subject is important and hard to minimize)

  17. The opposing view, I will agree, is poorly represented. But I must also say that this fails to recognize and appreciate other approaches on the theological globe. That aside a couple of quick retorts:
    1 Cor 2:14 – While the natural man being spiritually unable is enabled by the ministry of the Holy Spirit, this does not necessitate the distinctive act of regeneration.
    Acts 16:14 – “the Lord opened her heart to respond [regenerated her] to the things spoken by Paul” (emphasis added).” Opening the heart is enlightenment, not regeneration, your hermeneutic here is both exegetically and theologically strained.
    John1:12-13 – “who were born [regenerated], not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (emphasis added).” This is a stunner, again strained hermeneutics. This is a retort to those who proposed that their Jewishness, works or religion entitled them to salvation and is an act of eisegesis to impose the intention of regeneration’s timing…

  18. I appreciate those of you who recognize the secondary nature of this doctrine.

    I hope that most of you realize that for most all of Protestants (including Roman Caltholics to some degree) we all recognize that there must be some sort of life given before faith in order for faith to be possible. The only real difference is that the life given in regeneration makes fait assured. For others, the life is made possible. Therefore, many of your arguments against this are the same arguments that would have to be used against the Arminians Ordo as well!

    Unless you want to go the Pelagian route…

  19. Truth Unites... and Divides February 25, 2011 at 9:30 am

    “I have come to the conclusion that I am in agreement with the Reformed camp concerning the ordo salutis.”

    Me too.

    “At the same time, I am not entirely dogmatic about this.”

    Me too!

    Humbly, and by His Grace Alone:

    Monergism.

  20. CMP said: “I hope that most of you realize that for most all of Protestants . . . we all recognize that there must be some sort of life given before faith in order for faith to be possible.”

    **** That’s not really true Michael. You’re framing the issue in a skewed way I think. It is true that some older Arminians used to talk in that way, but that has largely (though not completely) ceased. The issue is really about biblical regeneration, the Bible’s concept. Regarding that, Arminians have been agreed that faith precedes regeneration. One can characterize being enabled to believe as a sort of giving of life, but the Bible does not do that in any way. For that reason, *most* modern Arminians seem to have abandoned that confusing, varying use of the term regeneration for the purely biblical one. So I think most modern Arminians would argue that while one can characterize God’s enabling, resistant grace as partially regenerating, that is not biblical usage.

  21. Thanks so much.

    I did not say that Arminians believe that regeneration procedes faith. But that a life must be given. Maybe they would not call it “life” in the context of such a debate/issue, but it is life nonetheless. Previenient grace restores life to the will. It make a spiritually dead man do what he could not otherwise do.

    Again, its the hair-bredth that Wesley spoke of. The question then becomes does this life bring about faith or merely the possibility of faith? That is where we will depart.

    Although, like I said in the OP, even some moderate Calvinists will agree that the call (i.e. previenient call) excites the will which irrististable grace will then grant regeneration to.

  22. Alex brings up an interesting point. Not being a theologian I had always thought of it as the enlightenment of the Spirit. The Spirit draws a person, enlightens their understanding and convicts them of sin. That is my understanding of the roll of the Spirit in salvation. Since Michael didn’t include a definition of regeneration I had to surmise it as I read this article, but I was wondering if regeneration was akin to enlightenment. No matter how you define it, or what words you choose, salvation is a work of God from beginning to end.

  23. CMP said: “many of your arguments against this are the same arguments that would have to be used against the Arminians Ordo as well”

    I don’t think that is true at all in light of my previous post (February 25, 2011 at 9:56 am). The argument is over the biblical concept of regeneration, and the fact that some Arminians could think of prevenient grace as partially regenerating in a certain sense does not figure into the question of whether faith precedes regeneration in the biblical sense. This is probably the type of difference Arminius himself got at when he said, “even true and living faith in Christ precedes regeneration strictly taken” (Works Vol.2 pg. 233, Wesleyan Heritage Collection). So it is surprising to me that you think that pointing out that Jn 1:12-13 makes clear that faith precedes becoming God’s child/being born of God, or that the NT consistently presents spiritual life coming by faith, would somehow argue against prevenient grace. You have the Arminian ordo…

  24. Some people think that a dead man cannot hear to the voice of the Son of God. What about John 5:25?

    “Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.”

    I believe God opens the heart and produces faith. But regeneration and salvation come as a consequence of faith. Just as stated in John 1:12.

  25. Continued: You have the Arnminian ordo wrong. It is not life-faith-regeneration, but prevenient grace-faith-regeneration.

    I see you have now responded by saying: “I did not say that Arminians believe that regeneration procedes faith. But that a life must be given. Maybe they would not call it “life” in the context of such a debate/issue, but it is life nonetheless. Previenient grace restores life to the will. It make a spiritually dead man do what he could not otherwise do.”

    However, do you not see that you are the one charcaterizing that as life. The Bible does not do that, and most Arminians don’t. Morever, even the Arminaisn that have characterized that as a type of life do not mean it in the biblical sense of regeneration, so the arguments against regeneration preceding faith biblically by Arminians don’t counter that admittedly confusing and unhelpful usage of the terminology by some older Arminians.

  26. Cheryl, I wasn’t disputing that belief comes before life. It must. Even the demons believe and shudder. I was only saying that what the Spirit supplies in v 13 could easily be necessary before the belief and eternal life at secured…as the sentence is structured I think that vs. 13 is an overarching condition of belief. At any rate, vs 13 certainly makes it clear that we are born NOT of our own will, but of God.

  27. I should add that even if some Arminians have used the terminology in the way of seeing it as partial regeneration in the biblical sense, most Arminaisn would disagree with that view.

    CMP said: “Previenient grace restores life to the will. It make a spiritually dead man do what he could not otherwise do.”

    **** That is not the Arminian view. That is not how the Bible uses spiritual life. Enabling (not making) a spiritually dead man do what he could not otherwise do is not making him spiritually alive. The Bible explicitly states many times that spiritual life comes by faith, which places faith logically prior to regeneration/the impartation/beginning of spiritual life. You seem to be relying on a unbiblical notion of “spiritually dead “. You might want to see this post at Arminian Perspectives and the links for further info it gives at the end: http://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2008/05/15/what-can-the-dead-in-sin-do/.

  28. Susan,

    You said, Cheryl, I wasn’t disputing that belief comes before life. It must. Even the demons believe and shudder. I was only saying that what the Spirit supplies in v 13 could easily be necessary before the belief and eternal life at secured…as the sentence is structured I think that vs. 13 is an overarching condition of belief. At any rate, vs 13 certainly makes it clear that we are born NOT of our own will, but of God.

    But that doesn’t make sense I don’t think. After all, what verse 13 talks about is being born. If you are born, do you not have life?

  29. Arminian,

    “Enabling (not making) a spiritually dead man do what he could not otherwise do is not making him spiritually alive.”

    I think you are getting to into the terms rather than the concepts. At this point, it is just a matter of semantics, which we need to be careful with in theology. It is a restoration of ability that was not previously present. Call it “life” to the will. Call it “regeneration” to the will. Call it “exciting” the will. Or just call it a “restoration of ability.” It all supports what I am saying in my opinion.

  30. Cherylu said: “But that doesn’t make sense I don’t think. After all, what verse 13 talks about is being born. If you are born, do you not have life?”

    Yes, and even more to the point, one cannot be born of God and yet not be his child.

  31. I see what you are saying Cheryl, but I still say that regardless of the order of things, we are born not of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. We can’t will our way to new birth. If the Holy Spirit doesn’t initiate the whole process within a person, they they will never experience spiritual birth.

  32. CMP said: “Call it “life” to the will. Call it “regeneration” to the will. Call it “exciting” the will. Or just call it a “restoration of ability.” It all supports what I am saying in my opinion.”

    How can it when the dispute is over the biblical concepots and terms? You choosing to call it a restoration of life does not address how the Bible views it. On that score, the texts I have cited clearly (I believe) present regeneration/life as coming by faith.

  33. Regenation is a pretty simple concept from a broad theological basis. I think Susan is right. I really should have defined it first.

    Regeneration is the restoration of a broken (dead) relationship through the vitalization of the “spirit.” We cannot understand it unless we understanding spiritual death. Spiritual death happened in the Garden when there was a breach in our relationship with God brought about by disobedience. It does not mean that spirit ceases to exist (as I am an advocate of conditional unity, believing in the essential unity of the material and immaterial—see Erickson and Hoekema), but that the spiritual relationship between God and man died. Hense, spiritual life died. Regeneration is the ultimate token of the restoration of a “dead” spirit.

    Hence the passage in 1 Cor about our inability to come to God without life in the Spirit. Really, that is the only passage I need to be convinced of the argument of the OP.

  34. Michael,

    What you just said in comment # 30 would make sense to me and could be called only a matter of semantics except for one thing. Regeneration has been described by your fellow Calvinists as being given a new nature. And that is precisely the way I have always undertood the meaning of regeneration. A new nature given by God. A new nature that is God’s very nature and is therefore eternal. And as far as I can tell, the Bible only shows that to come after faith.

    So I can’t see it as simply semantics. Unless you mean something totally different then what those other Calvinists are saying.

  35. Arminian,

    “How can it when the dispute is over the biblical concepots and terms?”

    Once again, we are not meeting in discussion. I don’t care about terms…What I said was that I do care so much about terms, it is the concepts they represent.

    Again, call it “life” or “restored ability”, it is the same for my present argument.

  36. Michael,

    Your definition of regeneration that you just gave certainly entails a whole lot more then just a giving life to the will it seems to me. Hence, way more then the semanitcs you were claiming.

    You said it is restoration of the broken relationship between man and God. But again, you have this broken relationship restored before the sin issue is dealt with in a man through justification. How can that be? The relationship was broken because of sin, does not sin have to be dealt with before the restoration can take place??

  37. Cheryl, there is not one “Reformed/Calvinist” way of looking at these things or defining the terms.

    However, please rest assured, that we are all in the same semantic domain in this very minor issue. When we say we have received a new “nature” we are not talking about a constitution that was not previously present. To be spiritually dead does not mean you don’t have an immaterial aspect to constitution. It means that it is “dead to God.” The relationship is dead. To be regenerated is simply to be made alive to God.

    Semantics again will cause us to push words like “nature” and “life” in ways that are too technical and can serve to distract from the concepts involved.

    Many among Calvinist exegetes don’t like the use of the word “nature” at all, believing it to be an unfortunate translation from the NIV. I was taught in seminary to use the words “new man/old man” meaning “old way of life/new way of life” in place of nature.

    I think that this is wise and…

  38. Cheryl,

    “Your definition of regeneration that you just gave certainly entails a whole lot more then just a giving life to the will it seems to me. Hence, way more then the semanitcs you were claiming.”

    The semantics has to do with “life” and “restored ability” on the Arminian side. I did not in any sense mean to imply that this whole issue is one of semantics…only how the current discussion on what previenient grace does and the terms used. Either way, unless you are a pelagian, you must believe in some sort of generation/power/life/ability being given to the sinner in order to believe. Do you at least believe that?

  39. Hello Michael, ( 1)

    Let’s take your comments here as springboards to point out some things.

    You wrote:

    “I hope that most of you realize that for most all of Protestants . . . .we all recognize that there must be some sort of life given before faith in order for faith to be possible.”

    The mistake here is seen in the phrase “we all recognize that there must be some sort of life given before faith in order for faith to be possible.” This is already begging the question towards the claim that regeneration must precede faith.

    Now I don’t know you personally Michael and I don’t know how much you evangelize, but I do a lot of evangelism. So I have seen many people converted to the faith, resistant to the faith, you name it I have seen it. Based upon my experience and what I know the bible teaches, my confidence is in the WORK OF THE SPIRIT when I evangelize (and note I am not a charismatic).

    It is the Holy Spirit working in a person who enables a faith response.

    Robert

  40. Good word Robert. No matter what, we all need to know that some sort of “enabling” must take place before a person can believe. Call it regeneration or life or exciting or whatever. Let’s all agree there.

  41. Michael,

    I never said the Spirit doesn’t have to work in a man in order for him to be saved. I did say I don’t believe that is regeneration, if you want to call it a new nature or a new man. Is not the new man the very life of Christ living in a person?

    And again, how do we become a new man in relationship to God before the sin issue is dealt with??

  42. Cheryl, the sin issue was dealt with on the cross. The Spirit comes to us and enlightens, convicts and draws us in spite of our sin…because in our sinfulness we are blind to the truth.

  43. Cheryl, the only reason, in my opinion, that you can be a new man is because God has applied the blood of Christ to your account and have been forgiven. The cross makes all of this possible.

    BTW: This is one of the reasons why I think children who die in the womb can be saved. God simply gives them life. They don’t ever respond in faith because faith is simply a response to their new life that they don’t have the ability yet to exercise. I think that if you make faith the linchpin, you are going to have a lot of trouble dealing with infants such as these (and there are A LOT of them :( )

  44. Robert,

    Appreciate what you are saying, but please read the rules. One post at a time. There is no reason to have 1000 character limits if we post one after the other!

    Sorry, I am obviously involved in this thread so I can’t help but notice.

  45. dear friends, brothers and sisters,
    Grace and peace to you.

    If I could interject a verse (amongst the others that have been presented) regarding regeneration preceeding salvific belief would be John 10:25-26. talking with the Jewish crowds “I told you (regarding the fact I am the Christ) and you do not believe. The works I do in my Fathers name bear witness about me, BUT you do not believe BECAUSE you are not part of my flock”. he goes on to describe HIS sheep will hear his voice and follow.

    I hope this provides some more solidifcation to the biblical arguement of a new nature being given first to a goat before he can become a sheep and follow.
    I love you all.

  46. Michael,
    Where in the Bible do you find another kind of life, other than the life we receive when Jesus Christ comes to dwell in our hearts?

    “He who does not have the SON OF GOD does not have LIFE” (1Jn5:11, 12). “If any man have not the Spirit of CHRIST, HE DOES NOT BELONG TO HIM” (Rom. 8:9). God’s plan hidden from generations that was finally revealed was CHRIST IN YOU (Col. 1:27). CHRIST IS OUR LIFE (Col. 3:4). A man is MADE ALIVE WITH JESUS CHRIST” (Eph. 2:5). JESUS CHRIST DWELLS IN OUR HEARTS (Eph. 3:17).

    Reformed Doctrine is in error, redefining regeneration to be an enabling work, rather than the saving work of God (Titus 3:5; Eph. 2:5). Regeneration occurs when Jesus Christ comes to dwell in a man’s heart to give him God’s gifts of eternal life and salvation. Faith precedes Christ coming to dwell in a heart (Eph. 3:17), eternal life, and salvation (Rom. 10:13, Acts 16:31; Eph. 2:8…)

    If you insist that regeneration is an enabling work and not the saving work, then when was Cornelius “born again”? Was it before Acts 10, when the angel said that his prayers and alms had arisen before the Lord as a memorial? Or was it after Peter preached words to him where by he could be saved (Acts 11:14)?

  47. Jim, I think you need to say “justifying work” not “saving work” to keep us from shooting past each other. Salvation is past (justification), present (sanctification), and future (glorification) in a very broad sense.

    There is the life from the death aspect of our salvation (regenration) which amounts to a restored relationship with God and there is the “eternal life” aspect of salvation which refers to our everlasting life with God. We are talking about the first here. Concepts are what are important here, not so much terms.

  48. Michael,

    Cheryl, the only reason, in my opinion, that you can be a new man is because God has applied the blood of Christ to your account and have been forgiven. The cross makes all of this possible.

    You also said that regeneration is the restoring of relationship between man and God. But is the relationship restored without justification? I dont think it is. Romans 5:1 says, Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: Now that sounds like restored relationship to me. Obviously forgiveness and justifcation are very closely tied together. But justification comes after faith in Romans. And it does in your chart above also.

    <

  49. Michael, I wish you would have posted this last week. I spoke with Norm Geisler on Saturday. I could have asked him if he understood the reformed position correctly ;-)

    I also had a nice little chat with Paul Copan about the new addition to his family. Last time I saw these two men at a seminar I had lunch with them. Delightful.

  50. Is anyone else having a problem with the edit feature here today? Also the html tags seem to only be working part of the time. Don’t know what the deal is.

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