Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Regeneration and Faith: Temporally Simultaneous but Logically Distinct

Last time, I discussed the freedom of God in salvation. Namely, man is neither the decisive determiner of who is born again, nor the initiator of his new birth. God, and God alone, is the sole agent working in the miracle of regeneration.

Now, discussions about monergism and synergism, Calvinism and Arminianism, God's freedom and man's freedom, etc., usually bring up the question of the ordo salutis, or the order of the events of salvation. Some people wonder if faith is the cause of regeneration, or if faith is a product of regeneration. Which comes first? In other words, are we born again because we believed, or do we believe because we have been born again?

The synergist’s answer is that faith precedes regeneration. We believe in Christ, and then are born again based upon our faith in Christ. I hope, from what I've presented over these past two weeks, that it is obvious to you all that this view does not accord with Scripture.

The monergist’s answer is a bit more complicated. The Bible teaches that regeneration and faith are temporally simultaneous, but regeneration logically precedes faith. Now, what does that mean? It means that in terms of a chronological, time order, there is no distinction between regeneration and faith. No time passes between the new birth and faith. There is no possibility of someone being born again but not having faith yet. Neither can someone have faith without first having new life (which is the synergist’s error).

But they are logically distinct. We would say that the new birth logically – not temporally – comes before faith.

Using the illustrations provided by the text of Scripture itself, we can see that the implications of such passages require this position.

The illustration of being born again is such a wonderfully precise illustration. Understanding that the Lord Jesus Himself describes regeneration in terms of being re-born, I ask: Does a baby have life and then breathe, or does he breathe and thereby have life?

It’s really impossible to separate temporally. Breathing is the definition of being alive. So temporally we don’t separate the two. But logically, do you breathe and then become alive? No. Because before you do anything you have to be alive. So it is with faith. The definition of a person who is born again is a person who believes the Gospel of Christ, but you must be granted life before you believe.

As we have seen, Jesus also describes not being born again as blindness. Following Jesus' own illustration, I ask: Are you given the gift of sight, and then see, or do you see and thereby gain sight? And even further, which happens first: The opening of one’s eye, or the perception of light?

Same thing here: it’s impossible to separate these events temporally. The definition of having open eyes is perceiving light. The definition of sight is being able to see actual things. So temporally we don’t separate the two. But logically, do you see and then get the gift of sight? No. Because seeing in the first place logically depends on being granted the ability to see. So it is with faith. The definition of being born again is seeing, but you must be granted the gift of sight before you actually see anything.

There are also Scripture passages that speak directly to this issue.

The ESV translates 1 John 5:1 correctly: Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been (passive perfect) born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.

This verse teaches that faith is the result of having been born of God. Everyone who at this present time believes (present tense), has been -- in the past -- born of God.

If it was the other way around, and faith caused our new birth, this verse would have to be rendered: "Everyone who is born of God has believed that Jesus is the Christ." Another option would be, "Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ will be born of God." But neither of those alternatives is the case.

Another passage of Scripture which speaks directly to this issue is in the narrative of Lydia's in Acts 16:14. It says, "[She] was listening, and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul." Lydia's heart was closed. If left to herself, she would not have responded to the things spoken by Paul. Then, in the grace of regeneration, God opened her heart. Now that her heart was opened, she then responded in faith. It was not the other way around. The text does not say, "She responded in faith to the things spoken by Paul, and then the Lord opened her heart." This is another text, then, which affirms an ordo salutis consistent with monergistic regeneration.

And thus ends the doctrinal/theological section in our series on the new birth. Here is what we've gone over so far.

  1. All people are born spiritually dead (Rom 5:12-21; Rom 3:10-18; Eph 2:1-3; Col 2:13; Ps 51:5; 58:3).
  2. That spiritual death manifests itself in the inability to see Jesus Christ as He actually is (John 3:3; John 1:4; Mt 13:13-14; Deut 29:2-4; 2Cor 4:3-6).
  3. Therefore, to have any fellowship with God (i.e., to be saved from the just punishment of God's wrath against our sin), we must be born again. Nothing short of an entire new birth will save us (John 3:3, 5; Rom 14:23; Is 64:6).
  4. This work of regeneration is entirely the work of God; it is not dependent upon anything in man (John 3:8; Ezek 36:25-27; Ezek 37:1-14; Jas 1:18; 1Pet 1:3; John 1:12-13).
  5. Our faith in Christ does not effect (or cause, or bring about) our regeneration. Believing is the result of our regeneration (1Jn 5:1; Ac 16:14), which is granted by the Father (John 6:37, 44-45, 65) through the ministry of the Holy Spirit (John 3:8).

1. The Theology of the New Birth
1.1. Man's Spiritual Death (Total Depravity)
1.2. The Dead Cannot See
1.3. The Wind Blows Where it Wishes: The Freedom of God and Irresistible Grace
1.4. Regeneration and Faith: Temporally Simultaneous but Logically Distinct

2. Implications for the Christian Life
2.1. God Grants What He Requires
2.2. The Impossible is No Longer Burdensome
2.3. The Means of Justification is the Means of Sanctification

3. Implications for Gospel Ministry
3.1. Introduction
3.2. Evangelism
3.3. Apologetics

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