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Regeneration Does Precede Faith (I Was Wrong)

Posted by Job on March 22, 2013

In the past, I have vehemently criticized the doctrine that regeneration precedes faith. The reason for this was my ignorance. I took regeneration to be another word for conversion in that it had the exact same meaning.

However, regeneration only refers to passing from death to life. It is what happened in the natural sense when Lazarus and a number of unnamed characters were raised from the dead by those such as Jesus Christ, Elijah and Elisha. Those natural regenerations were types, or prefigurements, of the spiritual regeneration that happens when a sinner becomes a believer. We can include the resurrection of Jesus Christ as this sort of natural regeneration, as Jesus Christ’s physical existence went from being dead to alive. Obviously, being the sinless perfect and pre-existing God and Son of God, Jesus Christ needed no spiritual regeneration of any sort. This is in contrast with Lazarus, who not only experienced natural regeneration after being dead four days, but being one born into original sin and having sinned – as the soul that sinneth shall die as Lazarus did – he needed to receive spiritual regeneration also.

The subject of confusion: being regenerated, being born again, is only part of the salvation process. The actual conversion process happens after regeneration. Further, the effectual calling occurs before regeneration.

1. Effectual call: this is when God (the Holy Spirit) calls the sinner to salvation. It takes place when the sinner hears the gospel. (Note: the providence of God must place the sinner in position to hear the gospel first.)

2. Regeneration: this is when the Holy Spirit raises the sinner from the dead.

3. Conversion: this is when the sinner receives faith from the Holy Spirit, believes the gospel of Jesus Christ and hence fulfills John 3:16, Romans 10:8-9 etc.

The effectual calling cannot and will not happen unless one has first been chosen (elected by God the Father unto salvation from before the foundation of the world). The regeneration will not occur until one has been called. And salvation occurs after regeneration.

Why must regeneration precede faith? I am certain that you have heard that “dead men tell no tales.” Similarly, dead men cannot have faith. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). How can a dead man have assurance or conviction? A secular dictionary defines faith as “complete trust or confidence in someone or something.” How can a dead man have trust or confidence of any sort in anything, let alone a complete and total one in the unseen God? A dead man cannot even have wishy washy confidence in the casket that he is lying in. Why? Because he is dead. He doesn’t even know that he is in a casket. He has no feelings, thoughts or emotions.

This is not a contrivance of philosophy or idle speculation, but a truth clearly taught in scripture. Consider 1 Corinthians 2:14 “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know [them], because they are spiritually discerned.” Romans 8:7 “Because the carnal mind [is] enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” But that is Paul’s doctrine, right? Well from the words of Jesus Christ in John 3:3: “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.”

Now John 3:3 is key. Seeing the kingdom of God or entering the kingdom of God is always used by Jesus Christ to refer to salvation. Always. So, Jesus Christ explicitly states that one must be born again before that person can be saved. Again, when Jesus Christ said “except”, He was making a condition. So, the condition of being saved was being born again. Regeneration precedes conversion or salvation. And take a look at Ephesians 2:8, which says “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God.” Regeneration precedes salvation. Salvation comes by faith. Thus, regeneration precedes faith. It is clearly, explicitly taught in scripture.

The doctrine of regeneration precedes faith is considered to be a Calvinist distinctive. However, many non-Calvinists believe so also without acknowledging or admitting it. Many non-Calvinists believe that God makes a change in the sinner that allows the sinner to make a choice to accept or reject him. Of course, the acceptance is a decision made through faith, and the rejection is a decision made through a lack of faith according to this doctrine. The non-Calvinist does not refer to this as regeneration, of course, because he recognizes that regeneration must necessarily result in salvation. So the non-Calvinist regards this as God’s merely opening the sinner’s eyes and hearts for the purposes of allowing him a free choice.

Problems with this doctrine are many. The Bible makes it clear that unsaved people are spiritually dead. So the person goes from spiritually dead to “sort of dead”, akin to the woman who says that she is “sort of pregnant”? Just as you are either pregnant or not, you are either dead or not … there is no in-between! Second, how can the “sort of dead/alive” person choose to believe and accept God on this basis in the absence of faith? Simple: he cannot. He cannot accept the gospel and believe without faith. And if God gives him faith, he will inevitably believe. There is no such thing as conditional, decision-based faith that is only activated on choice. So, for the sinner to choose God once God makes this choice possible requires the sinner to already have faith present within himself. And if this faith is present, he never was a sinner to begin with, and he was never spiritually dead to begin with. The Bible states that without faith it is impossible to please God. The converse would mean that those who have faith are already acceptable to God, meaning that they were righteous, justified, regenerate and converted already. Instead of being in a condition of original sin, this person would have had to have been inherently righteous already without having heard the gospel and without need of Jesus Christ. Moreover, if such a righteous person were to confess and repent of his sinful condition and state his need for Christ to be his savior, that person would be a liar!

The doctrine of regeneration coming after faith – or truthfully that regeneration and conversion are the same – is due to people being determined to believe that God must offer a man a free choice to accept or reject Him in order to be just and righteous. However, accepting God cannot be made in the absence of faith! The Bible is clear on this. Thus, denying that regeneration precedes faith is nothing more than an absolute determination to believe a lie.

This also solves the problem of those who fall away and confirms the doctrine of perseverance of the saints, or “once saved always saved.” Be not deceived: faith is not mere belief. Faith only comes by the Holy Spirit after the Holy Spirit regenerates you. And after conversion, the Holy Spirit seals you and keeps you in the faith. The Bible is clear on this. The Bible is also clear with the parable of the sower that it is possible to believe the gospel at one point but later renounce that belief. The Bible further states clearly that it is possible to believe the gospel, retain this belief but not bear fruit. The Bible further still states that it is possible to believe the gospel, do good works and bear fruit but not be obedient. These are the teachings of Jesus Christ, and Christ makes it clear that those people (the ones who renounce the gospel after believing at one point, those who believe but do not bear fruit, and those who believe and bear fruit but are disobedient) will be cast into the lake of fire! Why is this so? Because these people believed without receiving faith, and they did not receive faith because they are still unregenerate. You cannot have faith and be spiritually dead, but you can certainly believe and be spiritually dead. Hence, rejecting the truth that regeneration precedes faith is one of the reasons why many Christian denominations (Methodists and many Pentecostals for example) believe that it is possible to lose your salvation. The regeneration precedes faith doctrine provides both absolute proof that those who fall away were never saved to begin with, and provides absolute assurance that those who are truly saved will bear fruit, attain obedience and endure trials and tribulations until the end, even unto death!

So God will accept anyone who comes to Him through His Son, because those who come to God are those that God has called to do so. Is God calling you today? If so, repent of your sins, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. If you wish for more information on how to do so:

Follow The Three Step Salvation Plan


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Graceworx: Is Salvation Forever?

Posted by Job on February 1, 2012

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Once Saved Always Saved Thanks To Jesus Christ

Posted by Job on October 20, 2008

An excellent example of the incontrovertible Biblical truth of the doctrine “perseverance of the saints”, or rather “once saved always saved” is the verse John 17:11 contained within the high priestly prayer of Jesus Christ:

And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. 

Now please recall that a role of the priest is to stand before God as the people’s appointed intercessor and representative. So in this prayer, Jesus Christ stood before God the Father in the role that God the Father gave Him, as the elect lady’s (the church’s) vicar, and made a request of this same God the Father on our behalf.

What did He request? “Keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me!” Now keep us with respect to what? From poverty? No, for many Christians have been poor. As a matter of fact, many early Christians were known for their poverty and admired for their dignity and holiness in enduring it. Oppression? No, for the Bible says that our trials and tribulations are part of the process of God’s refining, reproving, purifying, and teaching us. Death? No, for a mere few years after this sermon was prayer was given we saw martyrdom beginning with Stephen.

Does it refer to schism? Why yes, it does! Jesus Christ was in fact praying that none should leave the church. However, let us not think of this in an earthly sense, or else the Protestant Reformation (or more accurately the separation of groups like the Particular Baptists from the state Reformed churches) would have violated this prayer. As a matter of fact, even Paul and Barnabas going their separate ways over John Mark in Acts can be interpreted as something of an apostolic schism by earthly standards.

But that is by earthly standards. The true church, the Body of Jesus Christ, which the Bible in various places calls a mystery, is a spiritual reality, not an earthly body or institution. So when God the Son prayed to God the Father (I will propose that without Trinity my argument does not work because Jesus Christ would have been praying to Himself or to some nonexistent entity), He was not asking that we be prohibited from leaving first Baptist church for second Presbyterian church. And by “that they be one” Jesus Christ did not mean to restrain us from criticizing any and every “judge not touch not mine (never) anointed and do my (false) prophet no harm” crackpot pulpit pimp sorcerer and heretic that defames the term Christian by calling himself one. 

Instead, when Jesus Christ was praying “Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one” He was petitioning the Father that every born again Christian would remain in the true church, the spiritual universal church that He is the Head, Lord, Redeemer and Guarantor. Claiming that a person could lose his salvation would mean that either God the Father refused the prayer of Jesus Christ or He could not deliver on the request of Jesus Christ. Either way, it makes God fallible, which makes Him no God at all and our faith a lie. After all, if God cannot or will not honor the prayers of Jesus Christ, what makes God the Father honor His sacrifice on the cross? Further, since Jesus Christ is God, for God the Son to ask of God the Father only to have the latter refuse, then God is divided against Himself and again is not God at all.

But what of the exhortations that Christians should continue in the faith and endure till the end? They were just that: exhortations to holy and righteous Godly living, to not use the grace of God as a justification for lasciviousness. It is one of those apparent tensions or contradictions along the lines of “saved by faith alone and not works” and “faith without works is dead.” In other words, stumblingblocks that exist in the mind of those who choose not to believe, usually because of their insistence on making a thing of the spirit into a thing of this world. For how can a newly saved Christian know of the imperative not to abandon the faith and live holy unless he is told? How is he to learn true doctrine and practice and become spiritually mature unless he is taught by someone who knows these things? It is true that God seals the Christian and keeps Him in the faith. But why cannot or should not this same God use His preachers – and His Word – to tell Christians “stay in the faith” as part of the persevering process? 

To put it another way, salvation is not accomplished by men, but rather the work that Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross. It is not the result of some individual human decision, but those that God predestines and elects. Yet, the fact that God requires humans to preach the gospel to other humans as part of this process – and the Bible specifically states that salvation will not happen unless this God ordained component is fulfilled – does not negate that salvation was started and finished by Jesus Christ. Such a thing as spontaneous combustion may exist, but there is no such thing as spontaneous regeneration. Another way of speaking, just as birth cannot happen unless a seed is provided (the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit in the case of Jesus Christ, human seed in all other cases), rebirth cannot happen unless a human plants the seed of the gospel. 

So if there is a mandated God ordained human role starting the race (a sinner hearing the gospel and becoming born again), what prevents there from being a God ordained human role in staying in the race until the end? Again, the evangelist’s telling the not yet born again member of the elect “repent of your sins and accept Jesus Christ or perish in eternal flame” as the gospel message requires does not undo the fact that God has elected this person. In a similar fashion, the teacher’s telling the born again “you must stay in the race or perish” does not undo eternal security. Telling the truth in one area does not invalidate truth in another, and as a result the words of Jesus Christ and many other New Testament writers that promise eternal security are not contradicted by words of the same Jesus Christ and writers that speak of the need to persevere.

The best example: the parable of the sower. Jesus Christ spoke of the seeds that fell by the wayside, that fell in stony soil, that fell among the thorns, and that fell in good soil. According to those who preach that it is possible to lose one’s salvation, Jesus Christ’s own high priestly prayer contradicted what He stated mere months earlier regarding the people who would receive the gospel initially but then turn aside because of persecution or worldiness. The only way to harmonize that parable with Jesus Christ’s prayer is to conclude that rather than being born again Christians who failed to persevere, the plants that grew in the thorns and stony soil represent people who may have put their trust in religion, values, tradition, apostate Christianity, or some other form of godliness without the power thereof (or those who sought out the faith for the wrong reason, or those who were deceived, manipulated, or coerced into conversions) and as such were never born again. In that, the contrast is between both those two groups (the stony soil and the thorns) and those who fell by the wayside (meaning that they rejected the gospel out of hand) and those who received the gospel in good soil. Now please note that by implication both the first group (the wayside people who reject the gospel out of hand) and the last group (the good soil people who persevere in the faith) are the smallest. It appears that the bulk of the people are going to be in the middle two groups, people who hold onto some external form of Christianity for a time or even for all their lives. Indeed the road is narrow and the gate is strait! 

But never forget that what separates the seeds that produce plants that persevere and the seeds that do not is their landing in good soil, and what makes them good soil is their measure of faith given by the sovereign God. And the same faith given by the sovereign God that creates the good soil that results in true lasting salvation is the same one that will over time (rapidly in some, less rapidly in others) produce spiritual maturity and submission that leads to obedience and good works. The same faith that caused conversion in the first place will cause good soil Christians to heed the exhortation of preachers – as well as the exhortation in the Bible – to persevere. The same Holy Spirit that works the regeneration of Christians upon their hearing the gospel will work the perseverance and eternal security of those same Christians. Why? Because it is the same Holy Spirit which is working on the same ingredient: faith. And what is the object of this faith? What the resurrected Jesus Christ did on the cross. And to whose will and glory does this take place? God the Father, the same who sent the Son and on whose behalf the Holy Spirit speaks and bears witness. (Again, eternal security requires Trinity, which is no surprise because the Bible requires the same.)

So Christian, God the Son prayed to God the Father for your eternal security in John 11:17 and it was done. Believe it, receive it, and live it for doing any other including denying it is akin to claiming that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit is in fact no God at all, for this would be a God in conflict with Himself and incapable of internal consistency of will, word and action or of keeping His promises.

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The Prodigal Son Parable: Why Is The Brother That Stayed Called Unsaved?

Posted by Job on July 8, 2008

Consider the prodigal son parable, Luke 15:11-32. Why is it that the second brother, the one who left, considered to be unsaved? 

We agree that the father in the parable represents God, and that being with the father in his house represents being in God’s presence i.e. being saved, being in fellowship with the church, being in right standing with God, etc. So, in my opinion, the natural interpretation of the story is that when the son leaves, it represents a believer that temporarily backslides, and when he returns to his father’s house, it is restoration. The key point of that interpretation is that Jesus Christ said that the fellow “came to himself”, or came to his senses and recognized the direness of his plight, and recognized that his life could be saved only by returning to his father’s house, even if he returned to a lower position than he was before, a servant instead of a son. (Better to be an angel, which is the equivalent of a hired servant when compared to a born again human in the image of God, than in the lake of fire.) To me, that is an example of the perseverance of the saints, the Holy Spirit bringing a born again person who has sinned greatly to repentance. Now when the other brother gets angry at his father’s accepting the repentance of the sinning son, then it represents a believer that needs to be instructed against pride and self – righteousness and towards the meaning of forgiveness and grace. 

But in so many interpretations, including by preachers and theologians that I respect, it is presented as a salvation narrative. When the prodigal son is convicted of his sin and goes to his father’s house, he represents a sinner coming to God. That would be fine had the prodigal son started out in Babylon, which according to the doctrine of original sin he should have. But to suggest that he started out saved, in God’s house, and then departed upon sinning is Pelagianism!

And then there is the brother. If being with the father – with God – is associated with salvation, how can he be a sinner? Especially when you consider that even after he sinned by refusing to forgive his brother and by challenging the righteousness, holiness, justice, and will of his father (who again represents God!) rather than being cast into outer darkness, he receives only a mild rebuke! Indeed, rather than crushing this knave and grounding him to powder, God comforts, consoles, and reassures the other brother in the very midst of the other brother’s insolence! Not only that, he tells the other brother “everything that I have his yours!” 

Now I have heard some assert that God gave benefits to the other brother through common grace, the rain coming on the good as well as the evil. Not so. The other brother begins on equal footing in the presence of God with the prodigal brother, and that is where he remains after the prodigal brother repents and returns. And there is a difference between common grace and “all that I have always had is thine.” The size of it is sinners are not in God’s house, have no position to demand or expect things from God (as the other son was angry over God never honoring him by throwing him a party), and will never be in God’s presence except the day that they are judged and cast into the lake of fire.

Now some have claimed that the prodigal son represented the Christian accepting salvation through faith and grace where the other son represented the Jew who was trying to earn salvation through works and religion outside of Jesus Christ. Now to be honest, I believe that this notion originated with the extreme anti – Semitism of the early church, who after the apostles passed from the scene ejected the Jewish Christians from fellowship so that they would be unencumbered with going whoring after Greek and Roman pagan abominations that built until it became what we now call Roman Catholicism. Those people, especially the Alexandrian allegorists, claimed that every good character in the Bible represented the church and every bad character represented the Jews. So since they did this with Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, etc. it would have been no small thing to claim the same for the prodigal son and the other son. But Christians, freed from the influence of the allegorists, should have been able to read verse 31, where the father (representing God) says to the other son “And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.” How does “son thou art ever with me” become “sinner headed for eternal damnation” in the eyes of anyone other than the raving anti – Semite hunting down reasons to reject the Jewish Yahwistic worldview under the basis that everything pertaining to the Jews – including Jewish religious thought – is evil and rejecting it in favor of Greek pagan worldview?

Does the prodigal son, then represent someone who lost his salvation? Can’t be. Hebrews 6:1-8 says that it is impossible. Also, please note that even when he was in Babylon, he was still a “son!” Both sons were born in God’s house. Meaning that they were both predestined, both of the elect, both partakers of the limited atonement and of particular grace.  And both sinned and needed to be forgiven. Whose sin was greater? Who cares? I have encountered many scathing condemnations of the elder brother, even among those who are constrained by “son thou art ever with me” in verse 31. Even when accounting for the fact that this is a parable, which means that the elder brother’s behavior in the story has real theological implications, PUT YOURSELF IN HIS SHOES!!! Even if the sin of the elder brother was great, his heart was wrong, and (since he represents people in the church) his understanding of Christianity was all wrong, so what? Who among US has that not been at some point in our Christian lives? Bottom line: the elder brother was just someone in need of rebuke, just like the APOSTLE Peter did concerning his first refusal to accept Gentiles as Christians, and his second refusal to accept Gentile Christians as being equal to Jewish Christians. The first rebuke from God came to Peter came directly in a vision, the second rebuke from God to Peter came through the Word of God as revealed to Peter by Paul. As Paul stated that there were serious consequences to Peter’s actions – he even led Barnabas astray along with many others, meaning that Peter not only sinned himself but suborned sin in this matter – the elder brother was no worse than Peter, and we are no greater than he!

That is something that we should think about as we consider the elder brother in the prodigal son story: at some point our lives we have all been him: hurt, wounded, disappointed, feeling forgotten or undervalued by God, puffed up in our own importance, proud of our own works, feeling that God or the people in our local church favor someone else above us unfairly, or sometimes just wrongheaded in our understanding of doctrine that causes us to live wrong and to butt our heads against the wall in futile frustration. But when that happens to us we should remember: we are still God’s sons, we are still in God’s house, all that is in God’s house is ours, AND WE WILL EVER BE WITH HIM. Why? Because of the unearned grace and love of God. Glory hallelujah and amen. 

If you wish to be in God’s house and be ever with Him, please follow The Three Step Salvation Plan!

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Reformed Christianity: Irresistible Grace And Perseverance of The Saints

Posted by Job on November 26, 2007

R.C. Sproul Series.

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