Help on discussing regeneration

Discussion in 'Pneumatology' started by TheThirdandReformedAdam, Feb 7, 2017.

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  1. TheThirdandReformedAdam

    TheThirdandReformedAdam Puritan Board Freshman

    The majority of my ministry friends believe that faith precedes regeneration. I have talked with them about this several times, showing them the impossibility of such a scenario considering the depravity of man. However, it seems that they struggle with the idea of regeneration preceding faith because they struggle with distinguishing between regeneration and the baptism of the Spirit. In other words, they see how the New Testament speaks of our changed behavior as being the result of the indwelling of the Spirit and the regenerated heart, and thus conclude the two descriptions to be referring to the same reality. What would be the best way of talking to them about this? Again, they seem to sympathize with the depravity of man and (to me) it seems they really want to say that man is morally incapable of coming to faith. However, they simply can't distinguish between regeneration and the indwelling of the Spirit.
  2. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable

    Assume that these folks hold that the unbeliever

    - is deceitful and desperately sick (Jer. 17:9);
    - is full of evil (Mark 7:21-23);
    - is not able to come to Jesus unless given to by God (Eph. 2:2);
    - must be quickened by God (Eph. 2:4-5);
    - cannot choose righteousness until regenerated (Titus 3:5);
    - loves darkness rather than light (John 3:19);
    - is unrighteous, does not understand, does not seek for God (Rom. 3:10-12);
    - is helpless and ungodly (Rom. 5:6);
    - is dead in his trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1);
    - is by nature a child of wrath (Eph. 2:3);
    - cannot understand spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:14); and
    - is a slave of sin (Rom. 6:16-20).

    If these persons agree with the above description of the terrible state of the unbeliever—able only to sin more or sin less—it necessarily must follow that the unbeliever possesses no moral ability to choose wisely if and until God first acts.

    Excursus: It is at this juncture that objections are raised along the lines that basically imply those fallen in Adam still possess some minute seed of righteousness, such that they are morally able to choose wisely. This is the notion of prevenient grace, originating from Romanism. Until a person accepts the actual impacts of the fall of Adam, very little progress will be made in discussions with others. All disputes with non-Reformed folks find their root in misunderstanding what actually happened in the Garden. We are all born sinners. We are not born morally neutral and become sinners by sinning.

    Continuing, this act of God is wonderfully described in Eze. 36:26. This regenerative act by God, via the efficacious power of God the Holy Spirit, is a wholly passive experience on the part of the unbeliever. That's monergism. This regenerative act is instantaneous.

    From this, we see that regeneration means fallen sinners have been acted upon by the efficacious power of God, based on the decree of God, and the work of applying the merits of Christ to them through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit works in enlightening the fallen sinners’ minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, taking away the fallen sinners’ heart of stone, and giving to them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and, by God’s almighty power, making them able to do that which is good. Accordingly, faith and repentance follow what has come before, regeneration.
  3. Cymro

    Cymro Puritan Board Junior

    How could Lazarus raise himself, he could not exercise faith if he was dead. He had to be given life before he could respond to the divine word, "come forth." Logic, let alone doctrinal chronology teaches us that without life there can be no exercising of faith. Ye must be born again before you can see the kingdom, which would mean, ye must be regenerate before you can see( a synonym for faith). The 12yr old damsel had to be raised by Christ's hand before she could eat! "He took her by the hand" means, he exerted strength. Without his omnipotence she would have remained without life. Ezekiel 16 informs us that Jerusalem was polluted in her own blood ,"but I said unto thee , Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live." It is absolutely a regenerative, monergistic work, without human involvement. You can't give faith to the dead, dare I say, not even God.
  4. KGP

    KGP Puritan Board Freshman

    All the imagery of the church used in the NT portrays God as the purposeful builder and man as entirely passive; being acted upon. Like the way a builder constructs a house with raw materials. God is building a new temple to dwell in; Christ is the cornerstone; apostles and prophets the foundation, and we are living stones; no less purposed and chosen than any other aspect of the construction.

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
  5. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    In John 3 we find that Nicodemus had a natural faith in Christ as a teacher come from God as a result of witnessing His miracles. It was not true saving faith. Our Lord points out his deficiency, and indeed the deficiency of the unbelieving Jews as whole. "Ye must be born again." It is not said that they must believe, although the necessity of believing is taught later. They need to be born again in order to believe aright, that is, in order to receive the witness of Christ. Without being born again they cannot "see" the kingdom of God, and "seeing" is an act of "believing" throughout the Gospel of John.
  6. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    You may also add to the conversation a simple question like this: "Is a sinner better off regenerating himself or is that better left to God?" True faith flows from God's perfect regenerating work. What would flow from the regenerating work wrought by the sinner?
  7. C. Matthew McMahon

    C. Matthew McMahon Christian Preacher

    I go into great detail on John 3:1-10 in this work.

    "Unless a man IS born again (born from above), he cannot [spiritually perceive] (anything) about the Kingdom of God."

    It is exceedingly clear in Christ's explanation of the idea of "seeing" (spiritual perception) vs. John 2:23-3:1 where they "saw" in the outward sense.
  8. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable

    Exactly so.

    The Scripture account of Nicodemus is terribly maligned by Arminians and others. As Our Lord stated, without the new birth, no one will be saved.

    Christ in John 3:7 uses a strong term, dei (must), indicative of a logical necessity, that being "born again" is absolutely necessary for salvation. Those misunderstanding this will argue that Our Lord intended that Nicodemus should take personal responsibility for his own new birth. But nowhere do we find Christ instructing Nicodemus to take personal responsibility and make a decision using his volitional will. “You must be born again” is a declarative statement of fact. Our Lord, instead of suggesting Nicodemus take ownership of his situation and do something about it, is teaching exactly the opposite. He is in effect teaching that new birth is a necessity, but no man can cause it to happen, even if a man could figure out how to return to the womb. Only God can perform this work.

    Those that misunderstand the account often complain that Our Lord is telling someone about the necessity to be born again, then also telling them that they have no ability to produce such a work is self-defeating and contradictory. Contrary to this, Our Lord's objective was to expose the fallacies of trusting in one’s own efforts and works for salvation. If only being religious and devoted to keeping the law could save a person, Nicodemus was safe, but Christ clearly states that no one is safe, regardless of their works, religious fervor, etc. Because of universal sin, a new birth is a necessity and the debilitating effects of universal sin means no one has the ability to rescue himself. John 3:7 teaches a sinner’s only hope for eternal life is through the sovereign grace and act of God.
  9. TheThirdandReformedAdam

    TheThirdandReformedAdam Puritan Board Freshman

    Thanks all. Again, I've went through john 3 with them and have explained the necessity of regeneration for faith. This, I believe, does seem to impress upon their consciences. However, as a sort of 'last resort,' they primarily argue that the NT describes the righteous deeds of the Christian as being the result of regeneration and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Thus, they conclude that these two terms refer to the same reality, and thus faith precedes regeneration (since it precedes the indwelling of the Spirit).
  10. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior


    You could also go Rom. 8:30:

    "Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified."

    It seems obvious that since a) the calling which proceeds predestination would be effectual calling in Paul's ordo salutis, and b) we are justified by the means of faith (which has been Paul's argument through Romans), c) regeneration would by necessity precede faith since faith proceeds effectual calling.

    Perhaps a different angle is in order. What would your friends say comes first: faith or effectual calling?
  11. Jack K

    Jack K Puritan Board Professor

    Adam, see if I'm understanding this correctly...

    Maybe the question you need to settle with these friends is whether or not the Spirit might be at work, logically, on both ends of the ordo salutis, both (1) producing faith by his regenerating work and then (2) also responding to that faith by his sanctifying work. Your friends seem think it is not possible to have both. Is this correct?

    Perhaps you could start by reminding them that the ordo salutis is not as much a temporal order as it is a logical order. In the case of regeneration and the start of sanctification, the events are practically simultaneous. Dividing them is a necessary logical exercise for some purposes, but in other ways the Spirit's work there is just one work; it happens all at once. Also, God is not limited by time constraints anyway. His work in us in holistic; once one part is begun, the other parts must follow.

    Do your friends really wish to say that the Spirit is limited the way they suggest, that he is unable to be both the one who produces faith and the one who responds to it? Where does the idea that God is so constrained come from? Why would he not take both roles, and more—indeed, take change at every step—in securing our salvation?
  12. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable

    Is the "he" here the Spirit?

    Is not regeneration monergistic? Yes. The person is passive in this event. However, once regenerated, man is now active in his exercise of faith. The whole monergism vs. synergism debate really revolves around regeneration in the strict sense.
  13. TheThirdandReformedAdam

    TheThirdandReformedAdam Puritan Board Freshman

    Well, they are certainly struggling with that, yes, but I believe the argument has now primarily extended beyond the necessity of the Holy Spirit to produce faith.
    Maybe this will help clarify the specific issue they are having:
    (1) There are two distinct works of the Spirit-- A. Regeneration, which creates a heart of flesh, and B. The indwelling of the Spirit which comes to us once we have expressed saving faith
    (2) My friends do not view these two distinct works as distinct. Why not? Because the NT seems to speak of the Christian's behavior as resulting from both (A.) regeneration and (B.) the indwelling of the Spirit.
    (3) Therefore, my friends conclude that the NT is simply using two different terms to refer to the same reality.
    (4) This, finally, leads them to say, "Faith must precede regeneration, for the NT is clear that faith precedes the indwelling of the Spirit, and that is the same thing as regeneration."
    Hope this is clear enough.
  14. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable

    I think the description of the state of the unbeliever here speaks to the confusion that assumes the reality is identical. Temporally it may seem so, but simple logic dictates that the unbeliever must first be made anew before he or she may act anew. That making anew is what we call regeneration. Regeneration is often confused by the non-Reformed to mean all that encompasses being born again. For the non-Reformed "born again" often means the bold portions of the Golden Chain of Redemption below:

    foreknowledge, predestination, calling, regeneration, faith, repentance, justification, union to Christ, adoption, sanctification, and glorification.

    Moreover, the calling above is seen by the non-Reformed as merely the hand-wringing wooing of God in hopes the person will choose wisely, not actually dragging.
  15. Grant Van Leuven

    Grant Van Leuven Puritan Board Freshman

    I think Ephesians 2:1, 4-5 is a good place to go with the references to Lazarus as an illustration or just have them envision trying to tell a dead man to get up out of his coffin. Dead men don’t do anything: they don’t breathe physically and they don’t breath spiritually; they can't walk nor talk without life within, but as soon as life is within, they begin to do both (at least baby breaths and steps) showing sings of life (original or new) within. We are new creatures in Christ, and no creature does anything until life is breathed into him or her (Adam in the garden could be another good illustration). The Holy Spirit must create life and resurrect one’s spirit for he or she to begin breathing that first or second gift of life (being born or born again/recreated). No breathing happens until breath is breathed into someone: the initial dwelling of the Holy Spirit is regeneration (the seed out of which all aspects of conversion sprout).

    Attached are some excerpts from our Enquirer's/Communicant Membership Class on chapters 9 and 10 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, "Of Free Will” and “Of Effectual Calling", which I hope might help (at least in affirming you):

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Feb 11, 2017
  16. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    My understanding on this issue would be that when the sinner is saved at the time chosen by the lord, that the sinner is enabled by the Holy Spirit, quickened, to be then able to respond to the Gospel message with the saving faith given to them by Him, so that to us it would look like all happening at the same time. I do not see where someone would be regenerated and then a long time before getting saved, as is that not all done at same time in the salvation process?
  17. jwithnell

    jwithnell Moderator Staff Member

    Are you accepting as a presupposition that the work of regeneration differs between the Old and New Testaments? If so you don't have a scriptural basis to discuss soteriology.
  18. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    No, as the method of saving a sinner and the work of the Holy Spirit for that is same in both Covenants, but do see the Covenant of OT more in line with Corporate relationship to Israel, and the NT one more on the individual election basis...
  19. jwithnell

    jwithnell Moderator Staff Member

    It's the covenant of grace regardless of OT vs NT. No one was ever saved by corporate relation. The primary benefit you see in the old dispensation is that the word came to Israel first. At the same time, the inclusion of all nations is repeatedly foreshadowed. To the OP, it's a question of ordo solutis, not a temporal relationship.
  20. Dachaser

    Dachaser Puritan Board Professor

    What would be the primary difference than between how the OT believers experienced the Holy Spirit, and as to how we do today?
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