"Unity without verity is no better than conspiracy." - John Trapp

Friday, November 24, 2006

Regeneration and Faith

In the meta for Phil Johnson's post on Lordship Salvation (for more on this topic, see this post) there is probably material for a years worth of posts from several bloggers (that's hyperbole for all you literary fans). A couple of things in particular struck me as worth further consideration. I'll deal with the first in this post and maybe the second one later.

The first from the meta regards the discussion on regeneration and faith. A good way to deal with this subtopic, IMO, is to consider what Lou Martuneac wrote:
Calvinists hold the trigger is regeneration followed by faith, repentance, conversion, and justification. As I noted this is a system that is born from logic and reason. The Bible order of the events has faith as the trigger. The Bible teaches faith and belief result in regeneration. John 3:16; Eph 2:8-9;

Evangelist John VanGelderen and Pastor George Zeller both use the following questions to demonstrate the absurdity of regeneration (being born again) preceding faith:

Is it “look and live” or “live and look?” Is it “Look unto Me, and be ye saved” (Is. 45:22) or “Be ye saved, and look unto Me?” Is it “He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life” (John 6:47, cf. John 3:15, 16, 36; 5:24) or “He who hath everlasting life believeth on Me?” Did Paul say to the Philippian jailer “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 6:36) [I believe this reference should be Acts 16:31, which I linked to] or “Thou shalt be saved, and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ?” (Faith vs. Fatalism, p. 3.)

Phil (and Nathan at Pulpit Magazine who I also questioned on this) believes regeneration (everlasting life) precedes/triggers faith and belief. Nathan never did reply, he might later.

This extra-biblical position is one of the extremes of Calvinism that leads to Lordship Salvation.

You can read more on this at:

There is an article on this issue at my blog.
Does Regeneration Precede Faith?

Phil notes in the meta that the word "precede" implies a time relationship that is not really is not what we want to imply. A better word, perhaps, is "cause". The events of salvation are simultaneous, from the effectual call/regeneration, faith, repentance, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The question is whether or not the Bible teaches this, or does it teach that faith is the cause of regeneration. Let's consider the texts cited as saying faith produces regeneration.

Isaiah 45:22 Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.
This verse does not speak to the ordo salutis (the order of salvation). This verse is a general call issued by God for everyone to repent (turn) in order to be saved. (Sidenote: This is an interesting verse to be referenced by someone arguing that repentance is not a integral part of salvation.) It really doesn't speak to the "how" of turning, which is the question. There is no question that turning to God is necessary for salvation. The question that the ordo salutis asks is how does one turn to God.

John 6:47 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.
This and the other passages in John again do not address the ordo salutis. However, what this reveals is that these authors cited by Lou have confused regeneration with salvation and eternal life. There is no doubt that eternal life is a gift to those that believe. But regeneration is not equated in the Scripture with eternal life. Both are part of the total work of salvation that Christ accomplished for us, but they are different aspects in that salvation.

What the Bible Says about the Relationship

Perhaps no Biblical author addresses the relationship of faith and regeneration more than John. In the first chapter of his gospel we read:
John 1:12-13 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
Simple word order here might lead one to say that faith is the causal element (receive and believe come before born). But the emphasis of v.13 is that salvation is not based on man's will but God's will. Those who did receive Him are those who were born. Still, by itself, these verses would not help in settling the debate. But John builds the case in chapter 3:
John 3:3-5 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
Notice here that there are two statements that without being born again (regenerated) man is unable to see or enter the kingdom. Jesus goes on to teach Nicodemus that if you are of the Spirit (you have been born of, i.e. regenerated by, the Spirit) you understand and therefore come to the light (John 3:21) but those not born again reject the light and do not believe(John 3:19-20).

John is saying that there is something that distinguishes those who come to the Light (Jesus - see John 1:4-9) and those who do not. That something, in context, is being born of the Spirit, i.e. regeneration.

John continues to build the case, in many ways reaching a crescendo in John 6:44-45:
44No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. 45It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me
Notice the "box" created here by the phrase "come to me" which links the two verses. Man's inability is highlighted in v.44: "No one can . . ." Apart from the drawing of the Father, not only will we not come to God, we cannot come to God. It is not in our nature. We reject Him. Now, without spending a lot of time doing a word study on draw, some people argue the word here means that the Father "woos" us, and we can either accept, by faith, the Father's wooing, or we can reject it. While a word study would rule this out, let's be simpler and look at the other half of what Jesus is saying.

While man's inability is highlighted in v.44, v.45 highlights the Father's effectual call: "Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father . . ." Notice that it is not some that have heard or some that have learned. Everyone who has heard and learned comes to Jesus.

So, no one is able to come apart from the Father, but all who hear and learn from the Father do come. So what does it mean to hear and learn? What is the drawing of the Father? It is the effectual call, i.e. regeneration. The Father draws us through the Holy Spirit, teaching us to see the beauty of the Son and to trust (i.e. believe) in Him. This drawing and teaching removes inability and always (everyone) results in salvation (coming to Jesus).

One final verse on the subject:
John 10:26 but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock.
Why is it that there are some who do not believe? Because, according to Jesus, they are not part of His flock. It is not that they are not His flock because they do not believe. How do we interpret this? Jesus' flock is those that the Father has given to Him (see John 6:37, 10:29, 17:2, 6, 9, 24). We believe because we belong to His flock, and faith has been granted to us because we are His sheep. Those who are not His flock do not believe because the Father has not granted them to come to Jesus (see John 6:65).


We could go to Paul's letters and see what he has to say on this subject. He is not silent on the order of salvation. Romans 1-3 establish that man in his fallen state does not seek God. God must be the initiator in salvation, to the point of granting new life before we will come to Him. When new life is effected, we immediately believe and are justified. But it is God's work of regeneration that causes us to believe.


Blogger Even So... said...

We only respond to Life because we have been made alive...

10:45 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


In a search I found your site and had referred to my comments on the regeneration before faith issue. Hope they were helpful.

Calvinists arrive at regeneration (being born again) before faith/repentance/believing because they take the total depravity of man (Jer. 17:9) to the extreme of Total Inability (1st 'T' in the TULIP).

This takes the convincing and convicting work of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7-ff.) out of the equation.


2:34 PM EST  
Blogger Taliesin said...


Man's inability does not remove the convincing and convicting work of the Spirit for the same reason it doesn't remove the need for the preaching of the gospel: God ordains not only ends, but means. That the Spirit must regenerate before we believe does not say that He normally does so without using external events. Those events may be a blinding visit from Jesus, as in the case of Paul, or several months of reading the New Testament, as in my case. It is a misunderstanding to assume that Reformed Theology (normally - I'm sure there are contrary examples) teaches that the Spirit "poof" regenerates without some external means of convicting and convincing.

10:09 PM EST  

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