The Regeneration of the Sinner

March 20, 2014

by Ronnie Rogers, M.A., pastor
Trinity Baptist Church
Norman, Okla.
Ronnie has served in various denominational roles,
including president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.

This chapter summarizes the Traditional Southern Baptist view of the relationship of faith and regeneration—being born again. Most Calvinists teach that regeneration precedes faith, which will result in a free but determined act of faith.[1] Non-Calvinists believe that faith precedes regeneration or that regeneration occurs, as stated in the TS, “at the moment he believes.”[2] I will also point out how some of the harsh realities of Calvinism are contrary to the clear teachings of Scripture. I call these “disquieting realities.” Although they are unsettling, one must accept them if he is going to be a consistent Calvinist.

The Scripture affirms that faith precedes and is the prerequisite for regeneration—being born again (John 1:12–13; 3:3, 15–16, 36; 5:24; 6:40; 7:37–39; 12:36; 16:7–14; 20:31; 1 Peter 1:23; 1 John 5:1, 4). These and other Scriptures show that spiritual life follows the sinner placing his faith in Jesus Christ. The Apostle John gave as his reason for writing his gospel “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31). It seems clear that “you” includes anyone who reads or hears John’s gospel. If salvation is monergistic and man is totally passive, then why would God inspire John to write his gospel in order for people to read, believe and be saved? According to Calvinism, God knows the non-elect cannot read and believe and the elect cannot believe prior to regeneration.

Calvinists posit that no one can read John’s writings (or any Scripture) and believe unto salvation because salvation is monergistic—accomplished by God alone. According to Calvinism, a person must be regenerated first and then, and only then, can he read and believe; furthermore, not only can he then believe, he must believe. Consequently, this is to turn what John clearly says about reading and believing into an esoteric code for the Calvinist doctrine of regeneration prior to faith for only a select few rather than the clear teaching that God had John write this gospel so that all people, by the grace of God, could see who Jesus really is and what He did for them, believe, and be saved.[3] Calvinism’s belief that grace is only for a select few is a disquieting reality.

Jesus repeatedly called on people to believe so they would not die in their sins. For example, “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24). The inference is that Jesus truly desires that they believe and that they can believe and not die in their sins. This is contrary to the Calvinist secret.[4] The Calvinist secret is that while it is true that if one does not believe he will die in his sins, the other truth is that Jesus is telling them to do what He knows they cannot do unless they are one of the elect.[5] Therefore, Calvinism transmogrifies Christ’s general, merciful plea into an esoteric, academic recitation. This is a disquieting reality indeed.

Calvinists frequently seek to analogize unconditional election with the reality that even in non-Calvinism not everyone gets the same opportunity to believe the gospel. However, these two realities are absolutely disanalogous. First, the non-Calvinist position is not that everyone receives the same opportunities because that is an impossibility, but simply that the Scripture portrays God’s love providing everyone an opportunity to believe. Therefore, according to Calvinism, God’s love withholds what He could have granted, whereas according to non-Calvinism, God’s love provides everyone an opportunity, which is possible rather than the impossibility that everyone receives the same opportunity. Hence, it is urgent to recognize that “today is the day of salvation” (Luke 12:14–21; Acts 13:38–41; 17:30–31; Heb 13:7–19; Rev 22:20).[6]

The Scripture is replete, lucid, and compelling in teaching that faith precedes regeneration. Also, faith is not a gift given to some people in unconditional election or selective regeneration. Scripture is clear that God is working in order to give all men and women a real chance to trust Him unto salvation (John 16:8–11). Salvation is offered as a free gift (Romans 3:24; 6:23) to all who are in need of forgiveness (Rom 3:23; 5:15, 18), and people are summoned to act upon the offer by accepting the gift by (grace-enabled) faith (John 1:12; Rom 3:22). As Norman Geisler has stated it, “Never does the Bible say, ‘Be saved in order to believe’; instead, repeatedly, it commands, ‘Believe in order to be saved.’”[7]

Scripture affirms repeatedly that God supplies every man with the necessary grace in order for him to be able to exercise faith in Christ unto salvation and eternal life or to resist the genuine offer of salvation unto eternal damnation. The means of this grace enablement include but are not limited to: conviction of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7–11), working of the Holy Spirit (Heb 6:1–6), and the power of the gospel (Rom 1:16). Additionally, it affirms that man, because of these gracious provisions and workings of God, can choose to seek God, as did the Bereans, of whom it says because they studied the Scripture, “therefore many of them believed” (Acts 17:12). Moreover, it is clear from Scripture that no one can come to God without God drawing (John 6:44) and that God is drawing all men (John 12:32). The same Greek word for draw, helkuo?, is used in both verses.[8] According to Lewis Sperry Chafer, “About 115 passages condition salvation on believing alone, and about 35 simply on faith.”[9]

Other grace enablements may include providential workings in and through other people, situations, and timing or circumstances that are a part of grace to provide the optimal opportunity for an individual to choose to follow Christ.[10]

Since the Fall, man has been in such spiritual bondage that he cannot, nor will he have any desire to, come to God unless God offers “enabling grace.” Enabling grace may be referred to at times as “calling,” “conviction,” “drawing,” or “opening the heart” among other things, but all refer to God graciously granting sufficient grace for a person to hear and understand the good news, be able to choose to receive God’s word of redemption, and by God-given grace exercise faith unto salvation or choose to remain in sin. A person can choose to do other than whatever he did in fact choose. There is nothing that a sinner can do to merit this unconditional enabling because it originates conceptually and manifests itself actually because of God’s perfect love, mercy, compassion, and grace. Therefore, enabling grace exists and is granted because of what is in God rather than what is in man. Furthermore, this enabling through the work of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7–11) is coextensive with the preaching of the gospel and the work of the gospel in the heart of man (Rom 10:14; Acts 16:14; Heb 4:12).[11]

The Scripture teaches and demonstrates that the exercise of faith is a choice, meaning that one could do otherwise, and this is an inextricable part of man being made in the image of God. The Fall so corrupted man that while man can still make many choices about many things or choose to act otherwise, he is now unlike Adam in that he is unable to exercise saving faith—choose God—on his own. However, God’s enabling grace overcomes this inability. Consequently, the charge that rejecting Calvinism results in minimizing the damage of the Fall, or that we are saying that man’s free will is sufficient to choose to trust God on his own, are simply straw men.

The question is not whether or not man is totally depraved, whether he needs God’s grace to be able to come to God, or whether salvation is totally a work of God. Rather, it is this: Does the Scripture teach that God sovereignly chose to create man with the ability to exercise faith or not exercise faith, and does God restore that ability by means of grace enablements for everyone apart from unconditional election and selective regeneration in His salvation plan?

Calvinists refer to their beliefs as “the doctrines of grace,” which is fine, but it actually does not tell us much. That is to say, the doctrines of any Biblicist are all “doctrines of grace.” There simply are no other kinds in orthodoxy. It is similar to the Calvinist’s continual reference to the sovereignty of God. It tells us nothing since all believers with any biblical fidelity and understanding of God believe in His sovereignty. Further, disavowal of the Calvinist’s definition of the doctrines of grace and sovereignty is not a denial or undermining of the doctrines of grace and the sovereignty of God, but is simply a denial of Calvinism’s definitions.

Non-Calvinists affirm that salvation is entirely a work of God because He has provided everything necessary by which sinners receive the salvation of the Lord. The offer of salvation is unconditional, whereas the experience of salvation by an individual is conditioned upon grace- enabled—not forced—repentance and faith (Luke 24:47; Acts 2:38). Many verses attest to the accuracy of this understanding of salvation. The call for people to repent and believe is seen in the book of Acts repeatedly, e.g. Acts 2:37–41; 3:19–26; 7:51; 8:6–14, 22–23, 36–37; 9:35, 42; 10:34–35, 43; 11:21; 13:8–13, 38–41, 46–47; 14:1; 15:19; 16:30–34; 17:2–4, 11–12, 17, 30–31; 18:4–8, 19, 27–28; 19:8–9, 18; 20:21; 22:18; 26:17–20; 28:23–24. The epistles teach the same (Rom 5:1; Gal 3:26; Eph 2:8–9; Heb 11:6). In addition, God gave repentance as a grace gift (Acts 5:31; 11:18).

Accordingly, God works substantively through people. Regarding Paul’s Damascus road experience, he said before King Agrippa that the Lord said to him, “But arise, and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; delivering you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me” (Acts 26:16–18, emphasis added).

By saying that God works through people and uses other things in bringing people to salvation, non-Calvinists do not mean the same thing as Calvinists who say that …*


Editor’s Note: This chapter draws from “Faith and Regeneration,” published previously in my book Reflections of a Disenchanted Calvinist (Bloomington, IN: CrossBooks, 2012), 53–60.
[1]According to Calvinism, regeneration is something that God does monergistically against the sinful will of man. Then, after God has changed the nature of the elect person through this inviolable selective regeneration, man, whose nature has been so changed, will choose to exercise faith in Christ unto salvation. Calvinists regard the act of faith to be free, but the free act is determined by the new nature given by God. Thus, in Calvinism’s soteriology, the idea of contrary choice is non-existent.
[2]I would label myself as an Extensivist, which is one who believes that man was created in the image of God with libertarian free will (otherwise choice) and that God’s salvation plan is comprehensive, involving an all-inclusive unconditional offer of salvation and eternal security of the believer; reception of which is conditioned upon grace-enabled faith rather than a narrow plan involving a limited actually meaningful offer of salvation restricted to the unconditionally elected, or any plan that, in any way, conditions salvation upon merely a humanly generated faith from fallen man.
[3]Jeremy A. Evans, seeking to soften the Calvinist order of things, writes, “This relationship is intended to be understood logically, not temporally. Temporally, the cause and effect relationship occurs simultaneously; logically, regeneration occurs before faith.” See his “Reflections on Determinism and Human Freedom,” in Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism, ed. David L. Allen and Steve W. Lemke (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 259. One wonders if it is helpful (even possible) to divide logic and time in this way.
[4]Lewis Sperry Chafer is a Calvinist who emphasizes that unconditional election and selective regeneration (i.e. the non-elect really can’t be saved even though they hear “whosoever will may come”) are not things to talk about with the unsaved. He writes in Systematic Theology, vol. 3: Soteriology (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1948), 172, “The entire theme concerns those only who are regenerated and should never be presented to, or even discussed in the presence of, the unsaved.”
[5]Jesus clearly warned them to repent, with every indication that they should and could. Jesus issued warnings repeatedly (Matt 4:17; 11:20–21; Luke 5:32; 15:7; 24:47) as did the apostles (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 8:22; 17:30; 20:21; 26:20). If Jesus knew some of them could not repent because they were not the elect, then His warnings seem disingenuous and misleading. Some Calvinists will say that Jesus was making a “good faith offer” (if there is such an idea) because as a man, He did not know who the elect were.
As an example of Jesus not knowing certain things in His humanity, they reference Jesus saying, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Matt 24:36). However, these are disanalogous. For the reference in Matthew to be relevant, it would have to include Jesus not knowing the date and then announcing a date for His return. There is a crucial difference between Jesus not knowing certain things due to His role as a servant and His speaking forthrightly things that are either misleading or not true—do not correspond fully to reality.
Jesus commanded them to repent because He was not willing that any would perish and that all would come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), something that God has grace-enabled everyone who hears the truth to do.
[6]It is impossible to offer the same opportunity for every person. Requiring that God do such is neither possible nor necessary to demonstrate God’s love any more than to be offered a free gift requires everyone be offered the same number of times in exactly the same time frame and same way in order to have actually received the offer of a free gift. Also, when the Scriptures offered a chance and call for people to repent and believe, Calvinists believe some are not actual opportunities to believe.
[7]Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology, vol. 3: Sin, Salvation (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2004), 129.
[8]This does not mean that all men will be saved. These verses only affirm that God draws all men to Christ and that all who come to Christ will have been drawn by God. Other biblical texts can be examined to establish the view that many of those people who are drawn by God to Christ will not repent and believe in Him.
[9]Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol. VII: Doctrinal Summarization (Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1948), 273–74.
[10]These are grace enablements in at least three ways; first, they are provided by God’s grace rather than deserved by mankind; second, the necessary components for each and every individual to have a real opportunity to believe unto salvation are provided and/or restored by God; third, they are provided by God without respect to whether the individual will believe or reject, which response God knew in eternity past. The offer of the gospel is unconditional, but God sovereignly determined that the reception of the offer was conditioned upon grace enabled faith; thus, faith is the means to being regenerated, or saved, not the reason for being saved; finally, this truth of Scripture does not imply that God was held captive to the choice of man, but rather that God coextensively determined to create man and provide this genuine offer in eternity past; also, in order to fulfill this plan, God is not obligated to disseminate the gospel to people that he knows have rejected the light He has given them and will in fact reject the gospel that He enables the lost to believe or reject; although, He may still send the gospel to them.
[11]See “Depravity of Man” in my book Reflections, 21–24.
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