“DOES REGENERATION PRECEDE FAITH?”

 

My article, “Does Regeneration Precede Faith?” has just been released in New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry. The journal is online and the article can be accessed here:

Does Regeneration Precede Faith?

Here are a few excerpts:

Why do most Calvinists believe regeneration precedes faith? There are two reasons. First, most Calvinists define total depravity to mean total inability in the sense that a person cannot exercise faith unless regenerated. Second, appeal is made to key Scripture passages such as John 1:12-13; 3:1-16; Eph. 2:1-10; and 1 John 5:1.

The phrase “regeneration precedes faith’ is fraught with ambiguity. What does one mean by “regeneration”? What does one mean by “faith”? What does one mean by “precede,” (logically or temporally)? Are we talking about mediate regeneration (by means of the Word of God] or immediate regeneration (no use of means, but the Holy Spirit acts directly and immediately on the person to effect regeneration)? Part of the confusion over this issue is a failure to carefully define terms and draw careful distinctions.

As even many Calvinist commentators point out with respect to John 1:12-13, there is nothing in this passage that speaks to a Calvinist ordo salutis.[1] It is not exegetically possible to find “regeneration before faith” in John 1:12-13, temporally or logically.[2]

Man cannot exercise saving faith on his own apart from enabling grace. But the very nature of faith itself means one can do otherwise than believe. It is not true that man’s free will unassisted by enabling grace is sufficient to believe. To accuse non-Calvinists of this is a straw man. The question is whether God sovereignly chose to create humanity with the ability to exercise faith and whether God restores that ability by enabling grace for all apart from selective regeneration. [3]

Philosophically, a “principal” cause is an efficient cause which produces an effect by virtue of its own power. An “instrumental” cause is an efficient cause which produces an effect by virtue of the power of another cause.[4] When it comes to salvation in Ephesians 2:8-9, the Scripture indicates that grace is the principal cause and faith is the instrumental cause of salvation. One might illustrate this from the following syllogism:

  1. “Through faith” is the instrumental cause of “made alive.”
  2. Instrumental cause necessarily precedes its effect.
  3. Therefore, faith precedes regeneration.

The only place an effect can precede its cause is in Star Trek.

[1] See the discussion in Ronnie Rogers, Reflections of a Disenchanted Calvinist (Bloomington, IL: CrossBooks, 2012), 55.

[2] Boris Hennig, “The Four Causes.” Journal of Philosophy 106(3), (2009), 137–60.

[3] See, for example, D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Leicester, England: InterVarsity/Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), 126; Andreas Köstenberger, John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 39.

[4] See Brian J. Abasciano, “Does Regeneration Precede Faith? The Use of 1 John 5:1 as a Proof Text,” Evangelical Quarterly 84.4 (2012), 318-20.

 

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12 thoughts on ““DOES REGENERATION PRECEDE FAITH?”

  1. Dr. Allen,
    Would you be willing to tell me what you think regeneration is? Obviously, for a Calvinist regeneration remakes the man giving him new eyes, ears, mind, heart, and freeing his will, and giving the gift of faith with which to believe. By this definition men had to be regenerated before faith, and as far back as Genesis 4 (Abel- Heb. 11).

    In contrast, Peter says that we are born again THROUGH THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST FROM THE DEAD. (1Pet. 1:3)

    In your opinion, what occurs in the new birth, and when did descendants of Adam begin receiving the new birth?

    Thank you,
    Melani

    • Melani,

      Thank you for your questions. I’ll try to answer them, but my answers will be brief.

      First, let me suggest you read Lehmann Strauss’s little post on regeneration here: https://bible.org/article/regeneration-justification-and-sanctification. This pretty much articulates my view on the subject.

      Second, regeneration is a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit in the person who repents of sin and believes in Christ. It is instantaneous. For all the reasons in my article, it does not precede faith.

      Third, your reference to 1 Peter 1:3 emphasizes that just as Christ was raised to new life from the dead physically, so in regeneration, those who are dead spiritually are raised to new life. This is possible because of both the death of Christ on the cross and the resurrection.

      Fourth, I think the following occurs at the new birth, simultaneously: 1) regeneration, 2) justification, 3) sanctification, 4) union with Christ, 5) adoption into God’s family.

      Fifth, from the very beginning of time, those who by a genuine faith trusted God and demonstrated their genuine faith by obedience to him were regenerated by the Spirit of God.

      I hope this helps!

      David L. Allen

  2. Dr. David,
    I am sorry for my delayed response. I have been traveling to see family who are back in the states for a short visit from China. I have two questions from your post above, and a question/comment about the article that you referenced.

    FIRST QUESTION:
    I was confused by your 3rd and 5th points, which seem to contradict each other. On one hand you say that the new birth “is possible because of both the death of Christ on the cross and the resurrection.” To me that implies that it was not possible to have regeneration before Christ ‘s resurrection. But then you stated, “from the beginning of time, those who by a genuine faith trusted God and demonstrated their genuine faith by obedience to Him were regenerated by the Spirit of God.” Are you saying :
    A) The new birth was possible because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and those men of faith who lived and died prior to the resurrection were regenerated by the Spirit of God at some point after the resurrection?
    OR
    B) The new birth was possible because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but somehow (mystically?) God gave this gift to men of faith from the beginning of time?

    C) Or, something else entirely?

    SECOND QUESTION:
    In your opinion, what kind of life is given in regeneration? (Are there more than two kinds of life in the Bible?)
    Lehman Strauss said, “Regeneration then, may be defined as an act of God whereby He bestows upon the believing sinner new life. This life is God’s own life…” If the life given in regeneration is “God’s own life”, couldn’t we unequivocally say that the “new life” given in regeneration is “eternal life”? (Especially since the “seed” of the new birth is the eternal Word of God, and we are begotten/born of the eternal God.)

    COMMENT /QUESTION ABOUT LEHMAN STRAUSS’ ARTICLE
    After a close examination of Lehman Strauss’ article, I think he strongly advocates that regeneration is a post resurrection reality. Do you agree? I particularly appreciated the fact that he recognized the Holy Spirit entered the believer when he was regenerated. (Although I really think that the weight of the Scripture associates the life given in regeneration with the resurrected, indwelling Son of God. –“He who has the SON has the life! 1Jn 5:11, 12; “made alive together with Jesus Christ “ Eph. 2:5; “I in them” Jn. 14:20, 17:23, 26; etc…)

    Lehman Strauss: “Paul used it in referring to the regeneration of the individual man, his being born again into God’s new order. This new order is the Church, the Body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22, 23), not an organization, but a spiritual organism.”

    Me: The Body of Christ (the Church) began on the day of Pentecost, this would make regeneration a post resurrection reality.

    Lehman Strauss: “All regenerated persons are one in Christ, and love is their badge.”

    Me: Jesus asked the Father for all believers to become “one” with Him and the Father the night before He was crucified (Jn. 17:20-25). Another indication that regeneration is a post resurrection reality.

    Lehman Strauss: “The setting apart of the believing sinner as God’s possession and for God’s purpose is associated with the Holy Spirit’s entering the body at Regeneration… Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life” (John 10:10). But how does one receive this life? The answer is, When he receives the Holy Spirit….God the Holy Spirit entered the body to take up His permanent abode. Jesus said, “And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you” (John 14:16, 17). The Day of Pentecost marked the beginning of the fulfillment of our Lord’s promise, so that now every born-again person is indwelt by the Holy Spirit.”

    Me: The Apostle John let us know that the Spirit had not yet been given, in John 7:38, 39, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

    Thank you for the opportunity to ask you these questions.
    Melani

  3. Melani,

    1. The new birth is simply one metaphor to describe salvation. People in the Old Testament were saved by faith on the basis of what Christ would do on the cross. They were regenerated but only God knows when that would have occurred in each life. They were not indwelt with the Holy Spirit as believers were from the day of Pentecost forward. But they were saved, by the activity of the Holy Spirit who worked regeneration in them.

    2. The life that is given in regeneration is eternal life. It is both a quality of life and a quantity of life. Strauss is speaking about regeneration from the NT perspective, and does not say anything about Old Testament believers. But logically, if people in the Old Testament were “saved,” which they were, then regeneration occurred.

    3. Basically, if regeneration is only a NT event after Pentecost, then you have all saved people prior to Pentecost in an unregenerate state. I don’t think that is biblical.

    I hope this helps!

    David L. Allen

    • Dr. Allen,

      I am thankful we agree: the life given to regenerate a man is eternal life.

      (A comment about Calvinism and one question)
      This fact is very different from early Calvinist teaching. For instance, when I went to the founding documents of Calvinism (the Canons of Dort and the Westminster Confession), I found that they differentiate the life given in regeneration from eternal life. If I recall accurately, these documents teach that eternal life is something that men receive after the sanctifying and persevering. When I observed this fact I wondered, “Does the Bible teach that there are more than two kinds of life given to men?” I searched the Bible to see if I could find 3 different “kinds” of life. I could only identify two kinds of life given to men: the temporal life a man receives in his first birth and eternal life from the eternal, incorruptible Seed (the Word of God) in his second birth. The eternal God brings forth a new creation with eternal life! (It is important to note however, Jesus establishes the fact that men who are only born once still continue to exist with thoughts, wishes, feelings and the ability to communicate after death, as He relates in the story of the rich man and Lazarus.)

      Most Calvinists make a distinction between the life given in regeneration and eternal life, therefore they need another name for the kind of life given in regeneration. I’ve seen the life given in regeneration called “new spiritual life”, “a life principle”, or “newness of life”. Because the men who wrote the founding documents of Reformed Theology saw eternal life as something that they would receive after persevering, they had no problem proclaiming that eternal life is a gift which men receive after faith/repentance. For instance Article 4 of the Canons of Dort says, “But those who do accept it (the gospel) and embrace Jesus as Savior with a true and living faith are delivered through Him from God’s wrath and destruction and receive the gift of eternal life.” There is no dispute that men receive eternal life after faith! For that reason I wish ‘non-Calvinists’ would use the Biblical term “eternal life” when speaking about the life given in regeneration! The NT and the Calvinist’s own founding documents make it clear that faith precedes God’s gift of eternal life!

      ONE QUESTION: In your recent article, “Does Regeneration Precede Faith?” (Fall 2014 JBTM), quoting the Baptist Faith and Mission Statement (2000), you wrote, “Regeneration is ‘a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ”. What Scriptures is this definition of regeneration is based upon? In other words, where in the Bible do we find that the work of God in regeneration is a “change of heart”?

      NO NEED TO RESPOND TO THIS PROGRESSION OF THOUGHT:
      (In my opinion, this statement from the Baptist Faith and Mission, saying that regeneration is ‘a change of heart’, says to me that ‘the change of heart’ is brought about by the conviction of sin, and the conviction of sin and ‘the change of heart’ is what prompts the sinner’s response of repentance and faith. Does the choice to repent produce a ‘change of heart’, or does a ‘change of heart’ bring a man to repent? To me, this statement really seems to imply that a change of heart comes before the act of faith and repentance. Also, The Baptist Faith and Mission does not articulate what it means to be a “new creature” in Christ Jesus. Except maybe to imply that a new creature is someone who has had their heart changed. I can’t help but think… “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved”—when the person believes does he receive a ‘change of heart’ from God? “Call upon the name of the Lord and you shall be saved”— no question, the calling precedes the saving—is the only work of God ‘upon’ or ‘in’ the person after he believes is to have his heart changed? What does the “re” and the “generate” in “regenerate” mean? Is regeneration really about a “new heart” or a new “life”—eternal life?

  4. Dr. Allen,
    Would you be willing to answer the one question I asked above?

    ONE QUESTION: In your recent article, “Does Regeneration Precede Faith?” (Fall 2014 JBTM), quoting the Baptist Faith and Mission Statement (2000), you wrote, “Regeneration is ‘a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ”. What Scriptures is this definition of regeneration is based upon? In other words, where in the Bible do we find that the work of God in regeneration is a “change of heart”?

    Perhaps you could incude a lisr of verses which speak of the new birth, but do not use the terms “new birth”, “born again”, or “regeneration”.

    Thanks,
    Melani

    • Melani,

      I apologize for missing your previous comment and question concerning regeneration, Calvinism, Dort, etc. My comment here will be in response to your previous two comments.

      I see no difference in the life given in regeneration and eternal life. I think you are correct that faith precedes eternal life. Faith also precedes regeneration, if only by a nanosecond.

      I think the definition of regeneration in the BFM is based on a combination of all the texts in the New Testament that speak of “regeneration,” “new birth,” or “born again.” See the texts that are listed at the bottom of the article “Salvation” in the BFM. Not all of these verses speak directly to regeneration since the article also covers justification, sanctification, and glorification.

      The article is using the biblical meaning of “heart” which incorporates the totality of the person: mind, will, and emotions. Regeneration is wholly the work of God as a result of repentance (a change of the mind) and faith (an act of the will whereby we trust Christ).

      Since repentance and faith are necessary preconditions for regeneration, it is obvious that Scripture understands regeneration to be what God does in the human heart as a result of repentance and faith. Repentance and faith is a change of the mind, heart, and will of the person toward sin and toward Christ—which results in God’s miraculous work of regeneration which is a spiritual change in a person’s life — they now possess eternal life. The whole process is initiated by God and actual regeneration is wholly a work of the Spirit of God on the human heart/mind/soul.

      You asked the question: “Does the choice to repent produce a ‘change of heart’, or does a ‘change of heart’ bring a man to repent?” The “change of heart” is the regeneration which is produced by the Holy Spirit alone. This is God’s response to repentance and faith, which is enabled by God’s grace through the preaching of the Word and the work of the Holy Spirit in conviction, etc.

      Therefore, if in your statement I quoted you are using the phrase “change of heart” as equivalent to “regeneration” which then leads people to repent and believe, my article was written to show why that cannot be the case. The result would be a regenerated unrepentant unbeliever, even if only for a moment. Scripture does not teach this.

  5. Dr Allen,

    I hope you’re still reading the comments to this post.

    I have Calvinists often bringing up Romans 3:10-12 to explain that since people can’t do good, they can’t choose good (God) by faith.

    It seems to me that they’re making a leap that cannot be justified. Often times they also throw in Romans 1:18-25 and the suppression of the truth by the unbeliever.

    How would you tackle that?

  6. You said in your article that Spurgeon rejected the notion of regeneration causing faith. But Spurgeon did teach this on more than one occasion:

    He that cometh not to Christ, do what he may, or think what he may, is yet in “the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity.” Coming to Christ is the very first effect of regeneration. No sooner is the soul quickened than it at once discovers its lost estate, is horrified thereat, looks out for a refuge, and believing Christ to be a suitable one, flies to him and reposes in him. Where there is not this coming to Christ, it is certain that there is as yet no quickening; where there is no quickening, the soul is dead in trespasses and sins, and being dead it cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven. (Human Inability No. 182)

    The believer sees in the faith, which is simple as the movements of the needle, an indication that God is operating on the human mind, and the spiritual man discerns that there is an inner secret intimated thereby, which the carnal eye cannot decipher. To believe in Jesus is a better indicator of regeneration than anything else, and in no case did it ever mislead. Faith in the living God and his Son Jesus Christ is always the result of the new birth, and can never exist except in the regenerate. Whoever has faith is a saved man. (Faith and Regeneration No. 979)

  7. Have just read your article. Just one main question.
    Does the very illustration of birth in John 3 not point to new life preceding faith?
    Why i emphasise this point is that not one of us ever tried to be born.physically. In the same way surely Nicodemus must learn that no person can understand who Jesus is unless they are born from above.
    Thanks

  8. Dear Beloved People of God in Love I share:
    Allow me to shed some light beginning on the premise of ‘Born again’ from above.
    Faith >>>Word>>>Holy Spirit (regeneration). Split second order.
    Jesus is the only MEDIATOR between man and GOD [Sinful Man cannot be indwelled by GOD and Holy SPIRIT until after Justification to righteousness]
    Faith (Belief is the condition) as the Womb >> Word(seed) to wash away the Sin and be Justified >> Holy Spirit (Mother) to convict and Sanctify.
    In OT even Abraham believed the coming of the Messiah and rejoiced.
    Therefore Faith must precede to kick start (rather depravity but not inability). Do not take Lazarus as an example but rather the thief on Calvary who repented.
    In the OT days conviction comes through the LAW. In NT Conviction of Sin comes through FAITH in Jesus. (references Jn 16:8-9 ; Rom 3:20 – 22)
    Jn. 16:8 When he (Holy Spirit) comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment:
    Jn. 16:9 in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me (Jesus);
    Rom. 3:20 Therefore no-one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the LAW; rather, through the law we become CONSCIOUS of sin.
    Rom. 3:21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.
    Rom 3:22 This righteousness from God comes through FAITH in Jesus Christ to all who BELIEVE.

  9. Dear brothers and Sisters in Christ,

    Can any comment on Eph 1:13 with regards to “Regeneration precedes Faith”?

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