Regeneration vs. Faith – Which Came First?
As I stated in last week’s preamble to this particular post, I have found what to me seems to be a trilogy concerning 3 biblical subjects; that of:
Regeneration, is a theological term referred to as the act or process which propagates salvation; and salvation is achieved through grace, yet according to the exercise of man’s faith.
As many theological terms seem to be opportunities to display spiritual arrogance, in reality they present shortcuts when talking about something without having to further explain the intricacies of what that subject entails.
It’s like the biblical word, “atonement.”
Many of us were mistakenly told in Sunday school class that this liturgical word meant: “at-one-ment, with…” which is completely wrong.
The Hebrew words used for “atonement,” kaphar, hata, and racah; meant “to cover,” hence expiate, conceal, or placate; to offer or receive a sin offering; hence make atonement, appiece, propittiate; make reconciliation.
The Greek word, katallage, translated atonement; is actually used in Romans 5:11, but really means “reconciliation;” with the word reconciliation used in Romans 11:15, and 2 Corinthians 5:18-19; yet all 3 passages uses same Greek word katallage as listed above.
It is in defining the words translated to the word atonement, that we come to understand that God did not simply forgive and forget the sin of man; but that there was a covering of man’s sin that was necessary to restore the relationship, that reconciliation was made necessary by the legal act of someone else paying for that sin.
God is a just and righteous God, and where there is violation, there must be recompense. Where there is sin, there must be punishment; to do otherwise is unrighteous.
The word atonement, for the Christian cannot be separated from the name of Jesus as our Savior. It is by Jesus that we are reconciled to God by His death on the cross; which Paul further elaborated on in the 5th chapter of Romans.
Atonement is an important word. There are cults which avoid the subject of atonement, which set up different criteria for receiving salvation, based upon deceit, wherein the participants follow an un-biblical charter in order to become saved.
Yet it is in understanding that Christ’s death on the cross, His atoning work on the cross as it is theologically referred to; is the only means of salvation, not by works; but by the simple act of faith in Christ’s atoning death, wherein Christ took my place – paid for my sins, and all that would exercise faith in that act, this is what the word atonement means.
Hence theological terms are necessary for communication concerning the deeper truths of God’s Word in order to avoid confusion and save time.
We must dig deeper into God’s Word to understand the meaning of these types of words.
Regeneration is one of these words.
It is what the Holy Spirit does within the believer which brings life to a dead soul.
One misunderstanding within the church is that all human beings have a spirit per se, such as referred the same as the Spirit of a believer.
This is not true.
Every person born has a soul, it is the essence of life which makes them what they are – a human being – a living soul (Gen. 2:7).
The soul upon death will either go to heaven or hell.
The unbeliever is spiritually dead, they do not maintain the Spirit which is referred to as indwelling believers.
Where generically speaking they are said to be spiritual beings in reference to their eternal life, this is a nomenclature rather than a reality concerning the use of the word Spirit by the Christian.
It is the child of God that is the dwelling place of the Spirit of God, hence the New Testament reference to the believer as the Temple of God (John 2:21;1 Corinthians 3:16,17; 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21).
In it’s most simplistic term, regeneration is used many times to be synonymous with “born again,” as both referred to the act of becoming a Spiritual child of God, to live for eternity with God; as compared to an un-regenerated unbeliever destined for the second death.
Unfortunately, we Americans miss-use the word “death” as meaning something that extinguishes life – a halting, or stopping of something.
Yet Biblically speaking, both in the Hebrew and Greek, death always has to do with transition.
And where the Bible refers to the unbeliever as going through the second death, this is a reference NOT to the lack of existence, but of an existence outside of the presence of God; formerly understood to be in hell.
Regeneration is understood to be the work of the Holy Spirit within the believer.
Perhaps, one of the simplest yet adequate explanation is found in Easton’s Bible dictionary, which states:
Only found in Mat_19:28 and Tit_3:5. This word literally means a “new birth.” The Greek word so rendered (palingenesia) is used by classical writers with reference to the changes produced by the return of spring. In Mat_19:28 the word is equivalent to the “restitution of all things” (Act_3:21). In Tit_3:5 it denotes that change of heart elsewhere spoken of as a passing from death to life (1Jo_3:14); becoming a new creature in Christ Jesus (2Co_5:17); being born again (Joh_3:5); a renewal of the mind (Rom_12:2); a resurrection from the dead (Eph_2:6); a being quickened (Eph_2:1, Eph_2:5).
This change is ascribed to the Holy Spirit. It originates not with man but with God (Joh_1:12, Joh_1:13; 1Jo_2:29; 1Jo_5:1, 1Jo_5:4). As to the nature of the change, it consists in the implanting of a new principle or disposition in the soul; the impartation of spiritual life to those who are by nature “dead in trespasses and sins.” The necessity of such a change is emphatically affirmed in Scripture (Joh_3:3; Rom_7:18; Rom_8:7-9; 1Co_2:14; Eph_2:1; Eph_4:21-24).
The text that I always refer to concerning regeneration is Titus 3:5, which states:
“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost“
Now to the question at hand
While listening to a radio Bible teaching class, the following question was posted, “which comes first, faith or regeneration.”
Being a good faith zealot that I am, my response would be: “faith of course, which gave opportunity for the Holy Spirit to initiate the regeneration process.”
The reply that I heard, according to R.C. Sproul is the reason that I am presenting this post.
Before answering this question, Dr. Sproul read John 3:1-19, which states:
“There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven,even the Son of man which is in heaven.And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.” (John 3:1-21)
Dr. Sproul went on to present the Reform Theology position that according to Jesus words, w are use must first be “born again” or regenerated in order to believe.
In my mind I found myself arguing that verse 3 stated that a man must be born again before he can “see the kingdom of God,” that being born again was in reference to where one would spend eternity as compared to the exact point that they received salvation, where they became a child of God.
I would further go on to state that in verse 14 Jesus uses the story of Moses lifting up the serpent, which was a typology of Christ being lifted up on the cross – that it was indeed faith (or the verb form of faith – “believeth“) used here in the book of John – that “believeth” came first, before the healing of the snake wounds, the same that as faith occurred before the regeneration, which created the Spirit within the person, who became saved.
Yet, Dr. Sproul went on to state Jesus words as seen in verses 20 and 21, which present a different arrangement in the time sequence. He pointed out that everyone
“that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light.”
Dr. Sproul went on to state that every man born is born in sin, without exception. And that according to these previous words does not come to the light, which is also validated in John 6:44, which states:
“No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.”
As well as Romans 3:11, which states:
“There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.” (Which is also seen in Psalms 5:9; 140:3; 10:7; 36:1; Isaiah 59:7-8)
Dr. Sproul reiterated that whereas Ephesians 2:8 in reference to salvation being a “gift” of God, could not be a reference to “faith” according to the grammar, that the above teaches that even this faith that man exercises can only be exercised after regeneration, after having a spiritual discernment in order to choose to do right, to choose to walk into the light.
His point was that regeneration had to occur prior to the choice to exercise faith. That man simply doesn’t decide to follow God and believe, in fact he is incapable as a fallen creature of doing so on his own.
Therefore faith could not proceed the regeneration, as the regeneration was necessary to obtain the sight wherein one could exercise faith.
Now I still hold to my belief that faith is exercised first, yet I do agree that faith cannot be conceived of unless the Holy Spirit opens our eyes.
And whereas this may be a play on semantics, and in essence we would agree, I still am more comfortable believing that the saving act of faith, which is only made possible according to the Holy Spirit, occurs first to allow for the regeneration to proceed – yet, the foolishness may be an us separating things according to our understanding of time, wherein the act of faith may be synonymous as far as time goes with the regeneration of the Holy Spirit.
The thing that this episode brought home to me was the fact that we must all be willing to reconsider those things that we hold on to so dearly.
I have spent time expressing the price that I pay in teaching and making presentations.
While I may act like a peacock in doing so, the main purpose is for you to understand as a reader that a price is being paid for what is presented, that is not merely an opinion based upon a conjecture or is an uneducated opinion.
I am so tired of dealing with individuals who have no commitment, and make rash statements based upon their feelings (emotions – I hate when politicians do it, in fact you will notice whenever an individual cannot win an argument based upon logic or reason, they will revert to an emotional based attack upon the messenger of the message, using rigorous inflammatory terminology to paint the other side is evil – have you been watching our president lately, his last speech; as well as many others are a perfect example of this type of immature emotional based tripe, sorry – just saying...); as compared to Gods Word. We must all dig deep into God’s Word and study it – not simply read it. Yet we must always be willing to hold on loosely to anything that the Holy Spirit may want to challenge us concerning.
Therefore, whereas in the past I have, for the sake of simplicity stated that according to Ephesians 2:8, “the gift” referred to could apply to faith as well as it does salvation; I openly confess that based upon me growing in my understand of the Greek grammar of the Bible, this has been wrong.
Ephesians 2:8, states:
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God“
One of the most trusted scholars, Warren Wiersbe states concerning Ephesians 2:8:
Our salvation is the gift of God. (The word “that” in Eph. 2:8, in the Greek, is neuter; while [the word] “faith” is feminine. Therefore “that” cannot refer to “faith“. It refers to the whole experience of salvation, [which] including faith.)
Salvation is a gift, not a reward. [formatting added]
Ephesians 2:8, states:
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God“
Vincent’s Word Study also states concerning this:
“For by grace,”
This may truly be called exceeding riches of grace, for ye are saved by grace. Grace has the article, the grace of God, [also as] in Eph. 2:5, Eph. 2:7.
Not faith, but the salvation.
Emphatic. Of God is it the gift. [formatting added]
It is the dumbing down of the gospel, wherein we try to do things more simply so that people will understand, that we do a disservice to God in His Word.
Please forgive me for having done so myself.
It is so hard to try to use words to describe things that are spiritual, hence part of the problem in defining these theological terms and expressions.
What I do know, and what I do believe is this.
Salvation is a gift of God, an expression of God’s mercy in not receiving the punishment I deserve; an expression of God’s grace in being made a son of God; yet all made possible through the exercise of faith according to God’s grace, yet even this precious faith is a blessing of the Holy Spirit, and that nothing in this flesh is good or righteous.
The following verses may be helpful for any ongoing study on the subject of regeneration.
“Regeneration” – General references
Deu_30:6; Deu_29:4; 1Ki_8:58; Psa_36:9; Psa_51:2; Psa_51:7; Psa_51:10; Psa_65:3; Psa_68:18; Psa_87:4; Psa_87:6; Psa_110:3; Pro_4:23; Pro_12:28; Pro_14:27; Pro_16:1; Isa_1:16-17; Isa_1:25; Isa_4:4; Isa_12:3; Isa_26:12; Isa_29:23; Isa_32:3-4; Isa_32:15; Isa_32:17; Isa_35:5-6; Isa_42:16; Isa_43:7; Isa_44:3-5; Isa_49:9; Isa_55:1-3; Jer_13:23; Jer_17:13-14; Jer_24:7; Jer_31:3; Jer_31:33-34; Heb_8:10-11; Jer_32:38-40; Jer_33:6; Eze_11:19-20; Eze_16:9; Eze_18:31; Eze_36:26-27; Eze_36:29; Eze_37:1-14; Eze_44:7; Eze_44:9; Zec_12:10; Mat_12:33-35; Mat_12:43-44; Mat_13:23; Mat_13:33; Mar_4:20; Luk_13:21; Mat_18:3; Mar_10:15; Luk_18:17; Mar_4:26-29; Luk_1:16-17; Luk_8:35; Luk_8:38-39; Mar_5:19-20; Joh_1:4; Joh_1:13; Joh_1:16; Joh_3:3-8; Joh_4:10; Joh_4:14; Joh_5:24; Joh_6:44-45; Joh_6:47; Joh_6:50-51; Joh_6:57; Joh_8:12; Joh_8:32; Joh_8:36; Joh_10:9-10; Joh_13:8; Joh_15:1; Joh_15:3; Joh_17:2; Act_2:38; Act_2:47; Act_3:26; Act_11:17; Act_11:21; Act_15:9; Act_16:14; Act_21:19; Act_26:18; Rom_2:28-29; Rom 6:3-23; Rom_7:6; Rom_7:24-25; Rom_8:2-6; Rom_8:9; Rom_8:13-16; Rom_12:2; Rom_15:16; 1Co_1:9; 1Co_1:24; 1Co_1:30; 1Co_2:12; 1Co_2:14-16; 1Co_3:6-7; 1Co_3:9; 1Co_6:11; 1Co_12:6; 1Co_12:13; 1Co_15:10; 2Co_1:21-22; 2Co_3:3; 2Co_3:18; 2Co_4:6; 2Co_5:5; 2Co_5:17; Gal_2:20; Gal_4:29; Gal_6:15; Eph_2:1; Eph_2:5-6; Eph_2:8; Eph_2:10; Eph_4:7-8; Eph_4:16; Eph_4:21-24; Eph_5:14; Phi_1:6; Col_2:11-13; Col_3:9-10; 2Th_2:13; Tit_3:5-6; Heb_4:1-12; Heb_10:16-17; Heb_10:22-23; Jam_1:18; Jam_5:19-20; 1Pe_1:2-3; 1Pe_1:22-23; 1Pe_2:3; 1Pe_2:9; 2Pe_1:3-4; 1Jo_2:27; 1Jo_2:29; 1Jo_3:9; 1Jo_3:14; 1Jo_4:7; 1Jo_5:1; 1Jo_5:4-5; 1Jo_5:11-12; 1Jo_5:18. See Atonement; Reconciliation; Redemption; Sanctification; Sin, Forgiveness of Instances of: Jacob – Gen_32:29; Saul – 1Sa_10:9; and Saul of Tarsus – Acts 9:3-18. (Naves Topical Bible)
Till next week (lately I’ve taken on other ministerial responsibilities which have cut into my time, I hope to be back here writing more frequently in the near future – at least if I see any comments indicating a desire for more presentations by me – or if any others would consider posting, that would be great too), bb
“To most Christians, the Bible is like a software license. Nobody actually reads it.
They just scroll to the bottom and click ‘I agree.'”