John Calvin: In His Own Words
Article four: Faith or Regeneration?

August 29, 2012

by Ron Hale

He has served as Pastor, Church Planter, Strategist (NAMB), Director of Missions, and Associate Executive Director of Evangelism and Church Planting for a State Convention, and now in the 4th quarter of ministry as Minister of Missions.


Remember the classic conundrum that asks: which came first, the chicken or the egg?

The secular mind can kick this can down a long road arriving only at one’s wit’s end. A Christian worldview sees the answer immediately. On the fifth day of creation, God created every winged and flying fowl according to its kind (Genesis 1:20-23). I’ve seen chickens fly, especially in high winds; and any country kid knows a chicken is a fowl. We also had a small flock of raucous Guinea fowl. Mom never fried one; therefore, I assumed it was more for looking at, sort of like the Peacock down the road at Mr. Jeter’s place.

Next! This brainteaser is solved.

Alright, which comes first, (gulp) faith or regeneration in the order of salvation? To ask it another way: does regeneration precede faith in conversion?

In his own words, John Calvin gave his opinion in writing commentary on the Gospel of John as he dealt with verse 13 in Chapter One:

 

“Hence it follows, first, that faith does not proceed from ourselves, but is the fruit of spiritual regeneration; for the Evangelist affirms that no man can believe, unless he be begotten of God; and therefore faith is a heavenly gift. It follows, secondly, that faith is not bare or cold knowledge, since no man can believe who has not been renewed by the Spirit of God.

It may be thought that the Evangelist reverses the natural order by making regeneration to precede faith, whereas, on the contrary, it is an effect of faith, and therefore ought to be placed later.”[i]

[Addendum by Ron Hale: “It has been pointed out to me that Calvin went on to say, ‘I reply, both statements perfectly agree; because by faith we receive the incorruptible seed, (I Peter 1:23) by which we are born again to a new and divine life.'” (Please see comments between Ron and Andrew Wencl.)]

I was astounded a number of years ago to learn that some Calvinists believe regeneration precedes faith and devotedly defend this premise. In fact, they would reverse Calvin’s ordo salutis by placing regeneration first in this order. Some have said they are teaching that a person must be born again before he or she believes in Jesus. They would teach that God’s life must precede faith since they teach that spiritually dead people (totally depraved people) cannot exercise saving faith. Some would refer to this as “total inability,” and they believe the lost sinner is as dead as a corpse in a mortician’s morgue – can’t see, hear, breathe, or respond. Therefore, holding to this position requires the spiritually dead person to be completely unable to respond to God similar to dead and decaying Lazarus coming forth from a tomb after experiencing new life at the command and call of Jesus.

Dr. Kendell H. Easley postulates that regeneration precedes faith, therefore, he would disagree with Calvin and identify more with the reformers coming after the Synod of Dort, he writes:

Regeneration happens at the moment of conversion. Yet, the logical relationship between the Spirit’s regenerating work in a sinner and that sinner’s repentance and faith has been the focus of much heated discussion. Is faith the basis upon which the Spirit regenerates or is faith the fruit of regeneration? The biblical language, emphasizing regeneration as moving from death to life and as sovereignly worked by the Spirit, appears to favor the latter view and understands faith itself as a gift from God. One illustration sometimes used is that human infants breathe because they have been born, not in order to be born.”[ii]

Dr. Malcolm Yarnell of Southwestern Seminary has a different perspective. His approach seems to care only what the Bible teaches and there is no hint of having to defend an all-encompassing theological system (Calvinism or Arminianism) based on the answer. Dr. Yarnell is seeking to answer a question posed to him via the Internet:

“Do you teach that regeneration precedes conversion at SWBTS?”

The person asked for a detailed answer and got one. Here it is, verbatim.
In my systematic theology lectures on soteriology, I discuss this issue, which comes under the general heading of the order of salvation (ordo salutis). First of all, please realize that most discussions of the ordo salutis are highly speculative and quickly become independent of divine revelation as they flee toward human speculation and philosophy. This includes both the Calvinist (Synod of Dort) and Arminian/Wesleyan systems. I teach my students to reject both systems as human innovations and stick strictly with Scripture.

Let us focus upon John 3 as an example of how this works. In verses 1-18, both regeneration and faith are discussed by the One who saves us. Faith, as you know, is one side of the coin of conversion, and indicates full trust in God; repentance is the other side of that coin. Regeneration means to be born again, or to be born from above. Let us discuss both faith and regeneration from this passage.

  • Regeneration is a sovereign, mysterious work of the Holy Spirit (vv. 5-8), yet Jesus says it is required for our salvation (v. 3). This means that we are dependent upon God for our salvation. Salvation is truly a divine work of grace, from beginning to end. Without regeneration, there is no salvation.

Nicodemus was confused by this and queried Jesus for further information. Jesus proceeded to speak to him about faith.

  • Faith, or believing in the sense of full trust, is required as well if we are to be saved. The world is facing judgment and the only way to escape that judgment is if one will believe in Christ and what He came to the world to do through His incarnation, death, and resurrection (vv. 16-18). Without faith, there is no salvation.

Jesus, however, did not stop with faith. He also proceeded to speak of the redeemed life.

  • Faith, if it is true faith, will issue forth in a changed life, or Repentance (vv. 19-21). If we are of the Light and welcome in the kingdom of Light than we will practice deeds of Light. In other words, repentance, or the changing of our life to follow Christ, is part and parcel of faith! (Indeed, one may not claim to know God’s grace without being a disciple who seeks to obey His Lord in all things. Saying “Jesus is Lord” is the basic Christian confession, so salvation without lordship is nonsensical. Indeed, anyone who says they have Jesus as savior without having Jesus as Lord is deceived and deceiving.)

We are not done, so hold on to your seat. Regeneration, a work of God, is required of us for our salvation (John 3:1-8). Faith, our personal response to Christ and his cross, is required of us for our salvation (John 3:9-18). And repentance, our personal following of Christ and taking up our own cross, is integral to our salvation, too (John 3:19-21). Now, Jesus did not treat these as part of an order, but as descriptive of a single and profoundly momentous, and indeed the most important, event in a person’s life.

Regeneration and conversion (which includes faith and repentance) are two different ways to speak of what is required for salvation. One emphasizes divine action; the other emphasizes human action. Yet, even the human action that is required is also a gift, for faith and repentance are the gifts of God, too!

  1. Regeneration is required for salvation (John 3:3). Regeneration is a gift of God (John 3:5-8).
  2. Faith is a human duty (Mark 1:14). Faith is a divine gift (Eph. 2:8-9).
  3. Repentance is a human duty (Matt. 4:16, Acts 17:30). Repentance is a divine gift (John 16:8-10).


When Jesus and the apostles talk about the great and beautiful truth of salvation, they describe something so great that it is beyond our capability and comprehension. And yet, God demands of us to exercise all that he gives us to exercise in faith and repentance.

My friend, Regeneration is required and is a gift; Faith is required and is a gift; and, Repentance is required and is a gift. And nowhere in Scripture is there any indication that any of these things are prior to the other. REGENERATION AND CONVERSION ARE CONCOMITANT ACTIONS OF GOD THAT ALSO DEMAND HUMAN RESPONSE!

This is why our denomination’s confession treats regeneration neither as prior to or subsequent from conversion. Rather, it treats regeneration and conversion as concomitant realities of the one moment we understand to be the beginning of salvation. Separating salvation into four moments (regeneration, justification, sanctification, glorification), article IV of the Baptist Faith and Message treats regeneration and conversion as part of one moment: 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.” And Southern Baptists believe this because they follow the Jesus Christ of the Bible, and although they respect John Calvin and Jacob Arminius, they will walk with those two only insofar as they follow the Bible. Baptists are Biblicists: no more, no less.

Or, if you want a simple answer to your simple question, “Does regeneration precede conversion?” The answer is, “No, but neither does conversion precede regeneration.” Calvinists and Arminians would respond that they are not speaking of a temporal order but a logical order, and I would respond that if one deigns to speak of a logical order from eternity apart from divine revelation, then one speaks with both ignorance and arrogance.

May I ask you a question, good sir? Have you responded to the free offer of God’s grace in Christ Jesus? God sent His only begotten Son to become a human being, to die upon a cross to atone for the sins of the world, and to rise from the dead so that those who believe in Him might also have eternal life. Jesus died on the cross for your sins; Jesus rose from the dead for your resurrection. Do you know Him as your personal Lord and Savior? Have you been born again? Have you repented and believed? If not, I beg of you to follow Jesus, who came preaching, “Repent and Believe in the Gospel!”[iii]

Blessings and you may follow the link to: http://www.baptisttheology.org/questions.cfm


[i] Calvin’s Commentaries, John 1:6-13 at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/comment3/comm_vol34/htm/vii.ii.htm

[ii] Kendell H. Easley, 52 Words Every Christian Should Know, Holman Reference, Nashville, 2006, 87.

[iii] http://www.baptisttheology.org/questions.cfm

 

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Bob Hadley

I love the following statement dealing with faith:

Faith, if it is true faith, will issue forth in a changed life, or Repentance (vv. 19-21). If we are of the Light and welcome in the kingdom of Light than we will practice deeds of Light. In other words, repentance, or the changing of our life to follow Christ, is part and parcel of faith! (Indeed, one may not claim to know God’s grace without being a disciple who seeks to obey His Lord in all things. Saying “Jesus is Lord” is the basic Christian confession, so salvation without lordship is nonsensical. Indeed, anyone who says they have Jesus as savior without having Jesus as Lord is deceived and deceiving.)

I have serious problems with the following statement:

Regeneration and conversion (which includes faith and repentance) are two different ways to speak of what is required for salvation. One emphasizes divine action; the other emphasizes human action. Yet, even the human action that is required is also a gift, for faith and repentance are the gifts of God, too!

Regeneration is required for salvation (John 3:3). Regeneration is a gift of God (John 3:5-8).
Faith is a human duty (Mark 1:14). Faith is a divine gift (Eph. 2:8-9).
Repentance is a human duty (Matt. 4:16, Acts 17:30). Repentance is a divine gift (John 16:8-10).

I do not see faith or repentance as Divine gifts beyond the statement that all good things come from God. (James 1:17) God most certainly makes faith available but it is not a gift in the sense that if He does not give it, it cannot be exercised. Faith is the human response to the Word of God’s revelation of who God is and what His promises are to those who believe. Faith in God brings repentance that results in regeneration.

I am not sure what Dr. Yarnell is referring to when he says, “Regeneration and conversion (which includes faith and repentance) are two different ways to speak of what is required for salvation. One emphasizes divine action; the other emphasizes human action.”

Regeneration and conversion are BOTH solely God’s action; they are the result of human action, which are faith and repentance.

Faith and repentance precede regeneration and conversion. We are saved by faith and repentance; we are not saved to exercise faith and repentance.

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    Alan Cross

    Bob, you said,

    “Regeneration and conversion are BOTH solely God’s action; they are the result of human action, which are faith and repentance.”

    So, regeneration and conversion are the RESULT of human action? Does God still initiate in drawing/convicting so that the human can believe and repent resulting in their salvation? Who initiates this? God or man?

    “Faith and repentance precede regeneration and conversion. We are saved by faith and repentance; we are not saved to exercise faith and repentance.”

    So, are you saying that we are saved by human action? That God makes the way available and announces the promises and then if we must up our own faith and then repent and demonstrate the changed life, then God will see that and save us? If faith and repentance are OUR works and we are saved by faith and repentance, then how are we not saved by works?

    I am not a Calvinist, but the only way to not go straight Pelagian is to try and exalt the mystery of both God’s sovereignty in election and our response to His call. Perhaps I am reading you wrong though. This is just a blog comment, not a theological thesis, so forgive me if I seem to infer that you explained a full soteriology. I am sure that there are parts that you have left out. But, all that I can respond to is what you said and I am confused by it.

    Bob Hadley

    Allen,

    I believe faith and repentance are man’s response to God’s self revelation and work of reconciliation that includes the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. Man has no ability in and of himself to stand righteous before God apart from His initiative on the cross. Personally, I do not see any significance in the Pelagian argument at all since God has taken the initiative at Calvary and so it is impossible for man to make the first move… so that argument is a non-argument as far as I am concerned. It is like trying to argue someone trying to be the first person to walk on the moon. Apart from the total depravity/inability issue, there is no issue where Pelagianism is concerned.

    I do not believe God requires faith and repentance to be saved and then gives it to those He wants to have it. That concept is not Scriptural as I read the Bible.

    This notion that God saves those He wants to spend eternity with and they THEN demonstrate faith and exercise repentance to be converted is a DOG that will not hunt as I see it.

    ><>”

      Alan Cross

      So, because Christ took the initiative at Calvary, there basically is no way to be Pelagian if you are responding to Christ through your own faith/repentance? Christ’s initiative was there and as the death/resurrection event is announced through the kerygma, it is up to us to either accept it or reject it?

      I am not wanting to argue. I really am just trying to understand your emphasis here.

      One criticism that I have had of Reformed theology is that it places the focus on God’s eternal decree before time began, or so it seems. I believe that the focus should be on Christ dying on the Cross and raising again. You are doing that. I just also wonder about the role of the Holy Spirit in drawing.

      Bob Hadley

      Allen,

      Christ did more than take the initiative at Calvary; He is the way the truth and the Life; He is the door to the sheepfold… we must enter by Him to become His sheep. (John 10) Faith is believing that God is everything He says He is; so the Word is imperative. Faith is believing that God is everything He says He is and that He will do everything He says He will do. Faith is OUR response to Christ’s initiative that is brought about in us as the Holy Spirit works on our hearts… as God seeks to reconcile the world unto Himself. You are correct in your statement, “the death/resurrection event is announced through the kerygma, it is up to us to either accept it or reject it?”

      I believe that was the case with Abram. God promised him a son and he believed God even though he and Sarai were old and her womb was dried up. I really find it interesting that he did not question his ability but hers to conceive! At 75, he moved his family to go where God told him to go… for one reason; he wanted this son God promised to him. Now here is an interesting question. Was God faithful to Abram at 24 years? He still followed God and he still believed God would give him a son but 24 years of following is a long time especially when you leave at 75!

      Because of Abram’s faith in God’s promise it was accounted unto him for righteousness. Our choice to choose Christ is what brings forgiveness and that choice is our faith expressed in our obedience just like Abram. Repentance is the obedient side of faith; crying out to God for forgiveness brings redemption from God and the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our hearts and we are converted or born again or from above….

      ><>”

Jon Settlemoir

Ron,

Thank you for your discussions of Calvinism. I do not have the opportunity to read all of them, but I was very interested in this one since you quoted Calvin.

I would say first of all, quoting John Calvin with a view to discrediting Calvinist’s view on the ordo salutis doesn’t disprove or repudiate anyone who happens to believe, as I do, that regeneration does preceed faith. If it was your intention to use Calvin to discredit that particular viewpoint, your quotation does not even do that. In the context of the commentary on John 1, Calvin is using the word “faith” in a way that differs from the way we would use it when we say that regeneration preceeds faith. When I say that, I am referring to the faith that is my response to the gospel call and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. Calvin clearly was referring to the gift of faitht that is “breath[ed] into us. In the same paragraph you quoted, Calvin goes on to say this:
“The illumination of our minds by the Holy Spirit belongs to our renewal, and thus faith flows FROM (emphasis mine) regeneration as from it’s source;”

The next paragraph expands on this thought and goes on to say that in effect that regeneration gives us faith and then we percieve the “grace of adoption” and the “newness of life”. He is referring to salvation from the human perspective – again I quote:
“Thus so far as respects our sense, it is only after having believed- that we begin to be the sons of God. But if the inheritance of eternal life is the fruit of adoption, we see how the Evangelist ascribes the whole of our salvation to the grace of Christ alone; and, indeed, how closely soever men examine themselves, they will find NOTHING (again, emphasis mine) that is worthy of the children of God, except what Christ has bestowed on them.

In the context of the Scripture he is referencing, and in the context of the rest of the citation, Calvin is not saying that faith preceeds regeneration in salvation in the same way that you are claiming, he is in fact saying just the opposite.

Dr Yarnell’s quotation from the BF&M is one that any Calvinist would readily agree with….
“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.”
I say AMEN – in that sentence there is a logical order of precedence – the change of heart is first in the sentence then there is the response of the sinner in repentance. This is what we mean when we say that regeneration (change of heart) preceeds faith (responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ).
In context, that’s what Calvin is saying in his commentary. It’s what John is saying in the prologue and it’s what Jesus is saying in John 3 when he tells Nicodemus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot SEE (emphasis mine again) the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)
If you cannot even see the kingdom of God without being born again, then you cannot possibly respond to the message of the Gospel without being born again – regenerated.

Thank you for reading this response.

In Christ,

Jon

    Sam

    Jon,

    I wonder why Ron Hale has not commented on your post here, since you have clearly shown that he has misapplied his quote of Calvin.

Rick Patrick

Ron,

Thank you once again for bringing the actual words of Calvin into this discussion. Although John Calvin clearly rejects the ordo salutis espoused by Calvinists today, our reformed friends should not judge him too harshly for this perceived error. How can we really expect Calvin to have fully comprehended all of the many nuances of the complex theological system he founded? After all, he was at such a great disadvantage, never having had the opportunity to read anything by John Piper.

Today’s Calvinists generally place regeneration before faith and condemnation before transgression. This is like saying “Amen” before you pray and “God bless you” before you sneeze. As Yoda might say, “Think backwards, they do.”

I appreciate Dr. Yarnell’s biblical exposition of the inseparable experiences of grace present in salvation. God regenerated me at the moment I expressed to Him my repentant faith. Why bother placing things in order when they happen simultaneously?

    Keith Miller

    Aren’t you the one that says you’re tired of being talked down to by Reformed folks? Your post is a bit condescending and a wee bit offense to someone with a Reformed background.

    It doesn’t matter which comes first, regeneration or faith. Both are the work of God. The thing that is of primary importance is not the order, but that the two can’t be separated.

      Rick Patrick

      Sorry for any offense, Keith. My comment was intended to poke a little lighthearted fun at the way most Calvinists order events, but I know humor can be dangerous and offensive. Please forgive me.

      As to your second paragraph, I agree completely.

      Robert

      Keith wrote:

      “It doesn’t matter which comes first, regeneration or faith.”

      Actually it matters quite a bit for the theological determinist who wants to believe that regeneration ****produces/causes/brings about**** faith. If that order is valid, then regeneration **necessitates** faith, which is exactly what the determinist wants to believe.

      For those who reject theological determinism, if faith precedes regeneration, and if faith is a freely made choice by the person (and conversely the person also may choose to reject the gospel), this becomes a strong argument against theological determinism.

      So Yes the order does matter, because two very different perspectives result depending on the order.

      Robert

        Keith Miller

        In that case, regeneration comes first.

        Lydia

        Robert,

        I have often pictured a bunch of New Calvinist folks walking around waiting to be given faith because they have been told they cannot have faith unless God gives it to them first. :o) I realize our Calvinist brethern will object to that description but that is what it sounded like to me when I first started listening to Reformed pastors.

        After all the wrangling and verbal gymnastics with defintions and orders, it all boils down to Miss Mildred repented and believed. And is now a child of God, a servant of Christ, has the indwelling Holy Spirit and is serving the Body. But don’t tell her the last 40 years have not been the real thing because it took place with an altar call and sinners prayer!

          Andrew Wencl

          First perceptions can be wrong. Ever heard the joke about the kid who came home from Sunday School and told his mom they sang a song about a crosseyed bear named Gladly? After talking to the Sunday School teacher she discovered they sang a song called, “Gladly, the Cross I’d Bear.”

            Keith Miller

            ha! that’s funny and a great example.

          Robert

          Hello Lydia,

          “I have often pictured a bunch of New Calvinist folks walking around waiting to be given faith because they have been told they cannot have faith unless God gives it to them first. :o) I realize our Calvinist brethern will object to that description but that is what it sounded like to me when I first started listening to Reformed pastors.”

          While I know you are joking here a bit, a worse reality is that there are all these young restless Reformed people who seem to spend so much time on the internet talking about evangelism, rather than doing it. And you can hear it in their words, they have lots of theory but little actual practical experience in leading others to Christ for salvation.

          “After all the wrangling and verbal gymnastics with defintions and orders, it all boils down to Miss Mildred repented and believed. And is now a child of God, a servant of Christ, has the indwelling Holy Spirit and is serving the Body. But don’t tell her the last 40 years have not been the real thing because it took place with an altar call and sinners prayer!”

          Well see that is just it, many of these theorizers, actually attack altar calls and the sinners prayer. As you point out, if someone hears the message (faith comes by hearing the scripture says), goes forward during the altar call (which really irks some of these determinists), utters the sinners prayer (which the theologizers attack and ridicule). And yet actually is saved at that service, receives the Spirit and is faithfully serving the body, she is much more advanced than these determinists who critique the altar call and sinners prayer and question whether anyone is really saved if they have done these things: but have never led anyone to the Lord in their life.

          Robert

    Ben Simpson

    It’s awesome to see the spiritual gift of sarcasm on display! Oops, was that sarcastic?

      Rick Patrick

      Satire and sarcasm, when applied gently, can make a point concisely and poignantly. While at times, I may cross the line and go too far, for which I am truly sorry, I do not believe the use of sarcasm in and of itself is necessarily a sin.

      One of my favorite examples of sarcasm in the Bible is when God asked Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” What could he possibly say?

        volfan007

        Rick,

        People have misunderstood my sarcasm and satire in the past, as well. I like your sarcasm.

        David

        Keith Miller

        Then don’t be offended when one of those dirty Calvinist pokes fun at you and your Area 51 conspiracy theory :)

          volfan007

          Kieth,

          I dont mind a little sarcasm. I do mind when people are just being mean spirited, and just out and out acting ugly….calling names, talking down do….etc.

          But, you do make a good point. We shouldnt dish it out, if we cant take it.

          David

      Ben Simpson

      If your justification makes you feel better, then by all means continue. I agree that sarcasm is not necessarily a sin, but biting sarcasm or belittling sarcasm certainly is. I think you crossed over into that territory.

    Andrew Wencl

    Although John Calvin clearly rejects the ordo salutis espoused by Calvinists today, our reformed friends should not judge him too harshly for this perceived error. How can we really expect Calvin to have fully comprehended all of the many nuances of the complex theological system he founded? After all, he was at such a great disadvantage, never having had the opportunity to read anything by John Piper.

    Those silly Calvinists, how could they think Calvin believed regeneration precedes faith?!?

    Actually Ron got Calvin wrong here. This passage referred to in Calvin’s commentary actually shows Calvin believed regeneration precedes faith. See my comment and Ron’s response below:
    http://sbctoday.wpengine.com/2012/08/29/john-calvin-in-his-own-words-article-four-faith-or-regeneration/#comment-33535

Andrew Wencl

Ron,

You’re being selective in what you’re reading here. Calvin first affirms that regeneration precedes faith: “Hence it follows, first, that faith does not proceed from ourselves, but is the fruit of spiritual regeneration.”

He then presents a possible response he might get from someone: It may be thought that the Evangelist reverses the natural order by making regeneration to precede faith, whereas, on the contrary, it is an effect of faith, and therefore ought to be placed later.”

Calvin then responds to that thought saying that regeneration precedes faith, but adoption follows after faith: “I reply, that both statements perfectly agree; because by faith we receive the incorruptible seed, (1 Peter 1:23,) by which we are born again to a new and divine life. And yet faith itself is a work of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in none but the children of God. So then, in various respects, faith is a part of our regeneration, and an entrance into the kingdom of God, that he may reckon us among his children. The illumination of our minds by the Holy Spirit belongs to our renewal, and thus faith flows from regeneration as from its source; but since it is by the same faith that we receive Christ, who sanctifies us by his Spirit, on that account it is said to be the beginning of our adoption.

Ron Hale

Andrew,

I wish to concede to your point and not be hardheaded about this.

Only two people know that I sent this in as a “rough draft” for review and my personal study and rewriting and checking.

Also, I usually send my proposed articles to a couple of friends for review and I haven’t heard back from them.

So we can talk about the differences between what you have stated about Calvin, and what I have stated about Dr. Easley and Yarnell. Or, delete the post altogether.

Either way … thanks for pointing this out. Also I’m enjoyed our dialogue through the years.

Blessings!

    Andrew Wencl

    I would suggest adding some kind of header or correction to the beginning of the post. I don’t mind discussing more what Calvin or Yarnell had to say.

    Regarding Calvin, I find it interesting that his response was, “I reply, that both statements perfectly agree.” If I’m reading him correctly, he’s saying the terms we use aren’t that important to him, since in his mind, both he and the hypothetical person affirm the same basic concept, just with different emphases/terms.

    To Calvin, regeneration is “the illumination of our minds by the Holy Spirit” a.k.a. “our renewal,” which is necessary for and prior to our exercising faith. To the person who disagrees, regeneration is “receiv[ing] Christ, who sanctifies us by his Spirit” Calvin labels this second concept as “adoption,” but doesn’t see where he affirms something the other person denies or vice versa

    I think that the Calvinists and “Traditionalists” argue a lot over terms, but the real issue is the role of the Holy Spirit prior to the individual exercising faith in Christ. Calvinists believe that no one can respond to the gospel until the Holy Spirit does something (regenerates, renews, illumines) to him. Traditionalists speak of the Holy Spirit’s drawing, but deny that it actually effects a change in the individual’s disposition towards God, since they say an unbeliever is able to change his own disposition towards God.

      volfan007

      Andrew,

      One thing about your last sentence. Traditionalists, or maybe I should say “me,” would say that an unbeliever cannot come to God, unless the Spirit draws him. We, or maybe me, would say that no man will come to God, unless the Spirit is convicting, calling, and persuading that man to be saved.

      David

        Andrew Wencl

        Does the Spirit draw the person who ultimately rejects the gospel any differently than the person who ultimately accepts it? From what I’ve read on this site specifically dealing with the issue, all people who hear the gospel are equally drawn by the Spirit, so the Spirit didn’t do anything different for the person who rejects the gospel than for the person who accepts it.

        The Calvinist position argues that the Spirit actually makes the one who believes to be receptive of the gospel, whereas the one who doesn’t believe was not made receptive to the gospel.

          volfan007

          Andrew,

          Yes, I do believe that the Spirit calls out to everyone the same….according to the light they have. Thus, everyone has to make that choice.

          David

          Robert

          Andrew asks:

          “Does the Spirit draw the person who ultimately rejects the gospel any differently than the person who ultimately accepts it?”

          From my observation and experience it appears that while God desires the salvation of all people (because that is what he explicitly says in scripture) he does not deal with everybody in exactly the same way. If you talk to people about their conversion experiences while you will hear some commonalities (e.g. God showed me I was a sinner and that I needed to repent . . .): there are also different experiences (one is converted at a Billy Graham crusade, another is converted in their bed room, one is converted after hearing the gospel many times, another is converted from merely reading the bible). So you cannot claim everybody experiences the work of the Spirit in exactly the same way. As this is true, the question stated above is not a good one.

          “From what I’ve read on this site specifically dealing with the issue, all people who hear the gospel are equally drawn by the Spirit, so the Spirit didn’t do anything different for the person who rejects the gospel than for the person who accepts it.”

          I think he is confusing two different ideas here. One idea is that God desires for all to be saved. Since he desires this he draws all people at some point in their lives (but that does not mean they are “equally drawn by the Spirit” as if it’s like magic pixie dust and God always and only sprinkles two ounces of this dust on each human person). The other idea is that the Spirit works differently in different situations. The Spirit is equally God like the Father and Son and so He is sovereign in how he acts in any and all situations. The fact is some people receive more light than others. Not everybody has exactly the same experience of God.

          “The Calvinist position argues that the Spirit actually makes the one who believes to be receptive of the gospel, whereas the one who doesn’t believe was not made receptive to the gospel.”

          Key words here “the Spirit actually makes the one who believers to be receptive”.

          Actually it is much stronger than that for the determinist. For the determinist the preselected elect receive an effectual call that necessitates that they believe. They have to believe and it is impossible that they do otherwise.

          Non-determinists reject this and believe that while the Spirit’s work ENABLES faith, His work does make people more receptive, but does not NECESSITATE that they believe. They can still choose to resist the Spirit.

          And note Andrews’ last line here: “whereas the one who doesn’t believe was not made receptive to the gospel.”

          This assumes determinist beliefs to be true, that God only makes the preselected elect receptive to the gospel, with the “reprobates” God does not want to save them so he does not make them receptive.

          Non-calvinists disagree and believe that the Spirit makes people receptive, and this even includes people who will never end up becoming believers. Not everybody who experiences the work of the Spirit believes. Some have heard the message, fully understood it, know exactly what it means, and yet they still have chosen to reject it.

          Robert

      Robert

      Andrew wrote:

      “I think that the Calvinists and “Traditionalists” argue a lot over terms, but the real issue is the role of the Holy Spirit prior to the individual exercising faith in Christ.”

      I agree, for a long time I have been saying that theological determinists seem to leave out the Holy Spirit from the process of conversion because they don’t seem to believe that He can enable but not necessitate a faith response from sinners. I have heard so many determinists argue that regeneration must occur before faith, because the sinner cannot have a faith response to the gospel unless regenerated first. This suggests that the Spirit revealing a person’s sinful condition, their need for Christ, that Christ is the only way of salvation, etc. etc. etc. ****is not enough**** to enable a faith response from a person. They seem to imply that the person can only have faith if regenerated first (with regeneration then causing them to have faith).

      But the bible no where talks about regeneration producing faith. Instead it speaks of the Spirit convicting the world of righteousness, sin and judgement. It speaks of how a person cannot declare Jesus to be Lord unless the Spirit enables this to happen. It also seems to be forgotten that whenever the Word of God goes out, the Spirit works with the Word to effect changes in people.

      “Calvinists believe that no one can respond to the gospel until the Holy Spirit does something (regenerates, renews, illumines) to him.”

      Not only Calvinists believes this, but so do Arminians and Traditionalists. Non-calvinists believe that apart from the preconversion work of the Spirit no one could ever have faith. Unless the Spirit reveals things to you, you are in a lost and hopeless state.

      “Traditionalists speak of the Holy Spirit’s drawing, but deny that it actually effects a change in the individual’s disposition towards God, since they say an unbeliever is able to change his own disposition towards God.”

      This statement is not accurate and amounts to a misrepresentation of the Traditionalist or non-calvinist position. Yes we do speak of the Spirit’s drawing and that this drawing involves more than just those who eventually become believers (cf. Jn. 12:32).

      But then Andrew says:

      “but deny that it actually effects a change in the individual’s disposition towards God”

      Most of us have experienced the Spirit’s preconversion work so we can remember how we might have been hostile or closed to spiritual things and Christianity. But then we started understanding things (as a result of the Spirit working), we started becoming more open about spiritual things (e.g. started attending church meetings when we had never gone before and had no interest before). Sometimes this process went on for days, months and even years. You cannot tell me that this new opennes and understanding was not a result of the Spirit working in us. So Yes the work of the Spirit most definitely “actually effects a change in the individual’s dispostion towards God.”

      And yet the Spirit’s work does not necessitate faith, as some have experienced this enlightening and still are not believers.

      Andrew also said:

      “since they say an unbeliever is able to change his own disposition towards God.”

      Now that is true, apart from the work of the Spirit, we cannot change our own disposition towards God. Again, it is only when the Spirit reveals Christ to us, reveals our sinful condition to us, reveals our need for forgiveness to us, reveals that Jesus died on the cross for us, etc. etc. etc. that our disposition towards God changes (e.g. we love Him because he first loved us, but who reveals to us that this is true??? The Spirit of course!).

      Based upon my understanding of scripture and my own experience in evangelism, I am very strong on the absolute necessity of the Holy Spirit’s preconversion work in order for a person to change their mind towards God and their spiritual condition (i.e repentance) and choose to trust in God (i.e. faith) alone to save them. You cannot have this kind of trust unless you have experienced the preconversion work of the Spirit. And again, I remind people to just think back to their own conversion experience and remember how the Spirit was revealing things to you.

      Robert

        Andrew Wencl

        Robert,

        My goal really isn’t to argue the merits (or demerits) of one particular view, merely to help clarify what Calvin really said and what the main difference is between Calvinists and “Traditionalists” on this issue. Seeking understanding is much better than trying to convince each other, at least, it is in a blog’s comment stream.

Bill Mac

Thanks Andrew. The missing part of the quote does cast the article in a different light. Although I don’t think Calvin’s view and Yarnell’s are that far off.

    Andrew Wencl

    “Although I don’t think Calvin’s view and Yarnell’s are that far off.”

    Calvinists don’t always hold to the extreme conclusions that our views inevitably lead to. ;-)

Darryl Hill

I think it’s a splitting of the hair, personally. Whether faith is the cause of our awakening or the result of our awakening matters little to me- the point is that God is graciously working, calling, drawing, awakening, granting faith and repentance. They are essentially simultaneous in my mind.

But I definitely do not believe we can say that faith is merely the human response to the Gospel, because if that were so, why do not all men respond who hear it? Is faith a naturally occurring thing that some have and others don’t? IN my opinion, if we say this, you’re right back to the same quandary. That would leave God creating some with a stronger inclination toward faith than others.

    Keith Miller

    That’s right, Andrew. We can’t be certain which comes first, but we can certainly speculate! The important thing is not which comes first, but that the two can’t be separated.

      Sam

      Keith,

      Why can’t we be certain what comes first? I think John 1:13 makes it quite clear which comes first.

      That text teaches that those who are born again (regenerated), that their will played no part in it at all. Is not faith an act of the will? Yes it in deed is. So John 1:13 is teaching that faith was not present during a persons regeneration. Faith must therefore come after. That’s how I understand it.

        Don Johnson

        Sam,

        Let’s see if I have this correct. A person is first born of God, then he receives Christ and then becomes a child of God. Interesting concept.

          Sam

          How do you understand John 1:13, Don?

        Keith Miller

        Sam,

        I would certainly lean toward the view that God regenerates our heart, then we have the ability to respond in faith. That’s how I read Ephesians 2:1-10. God gives us the grace and the faith needed for salvation. Neither are elements that we possess on our own.

        For the sake of this discussion, I say we should just let it rest. It isn’t a big enough of a deal to cause division. That’s what I see on this blog…division. People will fight til their dying breath to prove their point (even if it’s a silly point).

          Sam

          I totally agree with you, Keith.

volfan007

Great post, Ron. I appreciate your plowing into the hard issues of the day, and you take them head on, and in a very gracious manner, with a commitment to the truth of Scripture.

I do believe that regeneration happens at the exact moment that someone is willing to repent and put their faith in Jesus. At the exact moment that a person is willing to surrender their heart in faith to the Lord Jesus, then they’re regenerated. It is most certainly an instanteous, momentous event that happens in the life of a person. The moment that we’re willing to be saved….then the Spirit of God invades the heart and soul…and He gives us the ability to repent and believe.

Now, of course, where I’d have trouble with the regeneration preceding faith crowd, is that I believe that all people really can make that choice, as they respond to the light and the convicting of the Holy Spirit. I believe that people really do have to make a real choice….in response to the calling of the Spirit, according to the light, which is being shed on the person. But, I do not believe in regeneration before faith. I do not believe that a person has to be saved, in order to get saved. It is, instead, a simultaneous, instanteous, glorious event in the life of a person, who chooses to be saved, in response to the working of the Spirit of God and the Gospel.

David

Debbie Kaufman

I had a cousin who “came to Christ” hoping that his wife would come back to him. When she didn’t he abandoned the faith. Much later in life, he saw his need for a Savior and did come to know Christ as such. But how many walk the aisle for the wrong reasons.

Dell Russell

We are regenerated because we have faith, we have faith because we believed, we believed because we heard the gospel. So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
I agree that it all happens at a moment in time. Some would argue as to whether that time was before the foundation of the world or when the believer believed.

    Debbie Kaufman

    Michael Horton writes:

    “…God alone is the cause of the New Birth, but he calls women and men to himself through the weakness of preaching. Nowhere in Scripture do we find a pattern of evangelism or revival in which individuals respond to the gospel by simply being “zapped” by the Spirit. They are always responding to the preached Word. It may be one-on-one, or in an assembly, but it is the Word proclaimed that gives life to those spiritually dead. Furthermore, even after they are converted, believers do not grow in their walk, deepen in their Christian experience, or learn new truths by the direct activity of the Spirit apart from God’s ordained means… God has determined to bring that Good News through specific means, and to involve us in this drama… Paul picks up on this language in Romans 10, making the preached Word essential for the Spirit’s work of regeneration: “How, then, can they call on the one in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’”(Rom. 10:14-15).”

    This is what I too believe and see taught in scripture.

      Debbie Kaufman

      Charles Spurgeon writes:

      “While it is true that the Spirit does not regenerate apart from the gospel, but it is also true that the gospel is not effectual in the natural man’s heart apart from regeneration (John 6:63,65; 1 John 5:1) Spurgeon said: “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.” – C.H. Spurgeon from His sermon “Faith and Regeneration”

        Sam

        “Whoever has faith is a saved man.” Amen C.H. Spurgeon!

Stephen Garrett

Dear Ron:

I agree with Dr. Yarnell when he said: “Now, Jesus did not treat these as part of an order, but as descriptive of a single and profoundly momentous, and indeed the most important, event in a person’s life.” I wrote the same thing recently in these words:

Mutually Dependent

In a follow up on the preceding posts regarding the relationship of faith to regeneration (rebirth), I wish not only to state that the Scriptures make these two things concurrent but make them mutually dependent. We can think of lots of examples in nature and logic that demonstrate mutual dependency. In other words, one cannot exist without the other.

There is no order, logical or chronological, insisted on, in Scripture, as regards faith and birth. Arguing over whether faith causes rebirth or rebirth causes faith is not crucial. What is crucial is the fact that both are the result of the work of the Holy Spirit. It is a waste of time to argue over whether faith precede repentance, or vise versa. What is important is the fact that faith and repentance are mutually dependent things. They have a mutual cause in the Holy Spirit. So likewise it is a waste of time to argue over whether regeneration precede faith, or vise versa.

So, in conclusion, I think it best to say that faith and regeneration are mutually dependent.

Blessings,

Stephen

Don Johnson

FAITH PRECEDES REGENERATION

The following is one of several proof texts showing faith precedes regeneration. This one is my favorite because it is the only verse in the Bible that mentions the word “regeneration” with respect to the new birth.

Not only does the verse mention “regeneration”, but it partially defines the word. Which leaves no room for doubt in the Ordo Salutis as to where “regeneration” should be placed.

Titus 3:5
“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.”

My first question would be: What is washed?

I would be very interested in the Calvinist’s answer to that question.

But instead of waiting I’ll give you mine.
The washing of regeneration I believe must be the washing away of our sins. I say that because I don’t find anything else in scripture that it could possibly be. Note the following:

Rev. 1:5
“…and washed us from our sins in his own blood.”

Acts 3:19
“Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out.”

Acts 10:43
“…whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.”

Acts 22:16
“…and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”

Assuming I am correct on the washing of our sins; my second question would be: Do sins get washed away before or after one repents and believes? The above verses should help answer that question if you have any doubt.

I trust you all said one repents and believes before washing.

Now my third question: If repentance and faith occur before our sins are washed, does that not prove they must also precede regeneration since regeneration is the washing of the sins?
The washing of sins is not the only thing involved when one is regenerated, but it is the part God wanted us to know.

    Andrew Wencl

    Don,

    When I read “renewing of the Holy Ghost,” I take that to mean “renewing which proceeds from or is produced by the Holy Ghost.” I would treat “washing of regeneration” the same way: washing which proceeds from regeneration.

      Don Johnson

      Andrew,

      Since you believe “washing which proceeds from regeneration” I assume you also believe faith precedes regeneration.

        Andrew Wencl

        I believe that both washing and faith proceed from regeneration. I do not believe that they precede regeneration.

          Don Johnson

          Andrew,

          The text does not say “washing of THE regeneration.” It is washing “by” or “of” regeneration. Which means something is washed by regeneration. Regeneration does not lead to washing. Regeneration actually washes.

    Alan Davis

    Brother Don,

    You might also want to ask that question of Dr Yarnell since he disagrees with your order also. I can live with what he says here. He does state they are all three a gift.

    Dr Yarnell states:
    “My friend, Regeneration is required and is a gift; Faith is required and is a gift; and, Repentance is required and is a gift. And nowhere in Scripture is there any indication that any of these things are prior to the other. REGENERATION AND CONVERSION ARE CONCOMITANT ACTIONS OF GOD THAT ALSO DEMAND HUMAN RESPONSE!”

    Alan Davis

      Don Johnson

      Alan,

      It’s OK to disagree with me, but you didn’t show why I was wrong. Is there something else that is washed other than our sins? If the washing of Titus 3:5 is not the washing of sins, then I may well be wrong. But if it is sins, then faith precedes regeneration because faith precedes the washing or the forgiveness of sins.

        Alan Davis

        Hey Brother Don,

        Just pointing out that even one of the traditionalist doesn’t agree with your order. However I don’t either, but i wasn’t posting actually concerning the order (or your order) but that even those in the same camp; Traditionalist or Calvinist don’t agree here all the time. We talk to each other on such matters as if everyone in a certain camp believes in a certain cookie cutter order. Which is untrue. Just pointing that out, about both camps.

        Alan Davis

          Don Johnson

          Alan,

          Yes, I sure none of us agree on everything. At least you seem to agree with my take on Titus 3:5. By the way, there several other texts which also show faith precedes regeneration.

holdon

I think Calvin is confused. The context of the gospel of John is clearly about Christ coming into the world but rejected by the Jews who claimed to stand in the rightful lineage from Abraham. John (the apostle) reasons that as Christ came directly from God, Him they should accept. However, they did not (most of them). Not all that are from Israel are Israel as Paul would say. Or like this: “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, neither that circumcision which is outward in flesh; but he is a Jew who is so inwardly; and circumcision, of the heart, in spirit, not in letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.”

John the apostle and Paul make it abundantly clear that salvation was not by lineage (“by bloods; by will of man; by flesh; outward in flesh; children of the flesh; etc.) but by the inward change of heart of those who believe in Jesus. To this witness also Peter and James when they speak of the begetting seed as the Word of truth: it is an inward process. God sows the seed: that is His will. When it is received (conceived) new life springs forth. God doesn’t violate anyone. The reception is ours: “those who did receive” is an active process. New life (regeneration) is only after conception.

Alan Davis

As a Spurgeonist and calvinistic I can live with this;

“My friend, Regeneration is required and is a gift; Faith is required and is a gift; and, Repentance is required and is a gift. And nowhere in Scripture is there any indication that any of these things are prior to the other. REGENERATION AND CONVERSION ARE CONCOMITANT ACTIONS OF GOD THAT ALSO DEMAND HUMAN RESPONSE!” Dr. Yarnell

    Robert

    Hello Alan,

    “As a Spurgeonist and calvinistic I can live with this”

    What is a “Spurgeonist”?

    For me Spurgeon is a mixed bag. While I appreciate some things about Spurgeon (i.e. he was evangelistic, he was a Baptist, he was premillennial) I disagree with his calvinism.

    I especially disagree with his infamous statement that “Calvinism is the gospel.”

    Fact is, calvinism was never the gospel and a lot of genuine believers who were not calvinists nonethess were saved individuals who preached the one and only gospel (which is not calvinism). Calvinism is not the good news, especially for the so-called “reprobates.” Calvinism is “good news” only if you believe it to be true and are a Christian. If not, . . . . .

    Robert

      Alan Davis

      Hey Brother Robert,

      Spurgeon believed in the simultanist work of regeneration, repentance and faith. Also felt it unnecessary to to rectify his gospel call to all with God’s election. Just some among many of the thoughts of Spurgeon that run somewhat (at times) unparrel with what many see in 5 point traditional Calvinism.

      I didn’t coin the phrase, someone long ago did, and Eric Hankins “recoined” it in an interview and used it to make a distinction between “new Calvinists” and Spurgeonists.

      Alan Davis

        Robert

        Thanks for the response Alan. You spoke of a distinction or differences between Spurgeon and the “new calvinists”. Could you elaborate on what these differences are? In my experience the New Calvinists will often quote Spurgeon if it suits their purposes. If there are significant differences between Spurgeon and the new calvinists, then it is a bit disengenous for them to use him in this way. My understanding of Spurgeon was that he was a consistent five point calvinist. So if Spurgeon is different than the new calvinists this would suggest they are not consistent five pointers. Your thoughts?

        Robert

          Alan Davis

          Brother Robert,

          Actually you may be better listening to the interview with Eric Hankins as he speaks to those distinctions. I do not totally agree with him but I see some points. That interview would deal with the distinctions (according to Hankin) that lie between the NC and the Spurgeonists. You can google it or run it on the sbc convention interviews if they are still up.

          Alan Davis

            Alan Davis

            Brother Robert,

            Spurgeon did say he was a 5 pointer but the way one even apply s each of those points may well be the distinction. Being a little bit of a Spurgeon student, I believe Spurgeon (like myself) chalked a lot up to the great mystries of God but thoroughly believed in God’s electing power.

            Plead with all men everywhere to flee to Christ.

            Believe thoroughly in the total sovereignty of God even over mans salvation but also believe in the doctrine of man’s responsibility to respond.

            Those are a couple of areas that some in the more Calvinistic camp might have issue with.

            Have a great night, gotta sign off and spend a little family time.
            Alan Davis

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