Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Does Faith Precede Regeneration?

I believe that faith precedes salvation because of the clear meaning of a multitude of verses.

John 10:9
I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.

Mark 16:16
He who believes and is baptized will be saved;

John 5:40
But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.

Romans 10:9
Ghat if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

Acts 16:31
So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

Belief here logically precedes salvation. And what is this salvation?

Romans 3:24
Being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

Hebrews 10:10
By that will we have beensanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Romans 8:30
... and whom He justified, these He also glorified.

Titus 3:5
Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.

Our salvation, then, includes justification, regeneration, sanctification, and eventual glorification.
Salvation is a package deal: We as christians have been saved, are being saved, and will be saved. Unless a particular part of salvation is specified, "salvation" refers not to one part of salvation, but to all of it. Would we be surprised if we read "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved," only to later find out that that "saved" did not include future glorification? If salvation includes justification, regeneration, sanctification, and eventual glorification, then Mark 16:16 is saying that "he who believes and is baptizes will be [justified, regenerated, sanctified, and glorified]"

Even as far back as the Old Testament, in Psalm 51, when David asks for deliverance and for salvation, he clearly includes His request for "a clean heart." For the sake of clarity, regeneration is also considered to be synonymous with the ideas of being made into a "new creation" or being "born again."

What else could these verses possibly mean?
There are a couple of possible interpretations out there. One interpretation is that the word salvation is often used in a narrower sense, and that faith is part of the salvific process, and precedes much of salvation (including justification, sanctification, and glorification) but not other parts of salvation, which could include such things as regeneration, calling, or predestination. Another common interpretation is that all the verses refer solely to justification (Rom 3:8)

I do not agree with that interpretation, based on the plain meaning of the text, and based on the Scriptural support I have given for what salvation includes. One cannot have "salvation" without having all of those. The plain reading of the text states that faith precedes salvation(including the subsets that make up salvation) Also, I do not agree with that interpretation because it is inconsistant with the rest of the Scripture, in my opinion.

It is inconsistent with God's loving desire for all to be saved
If salvation is conditional on faith, and faith is conditional on regeneration, and regeneration is "unconditional," then those who are not given unconditional regeneration are born and die without hope. God never gives them the slightest option to be saved. How does this jive with the verse that says that God desires for all to be saved? Love seeks the betterment of the one being loved, and goes out of its way to help them, like Christ's example of the good Samaritan. To save those extra people, Christ would not need to even go out of His way, or die again, but merely offer extra grace. Not only does Christ not love them enough to die for them, but does not even desire their betterment enough to give grace. How is this consistent with the Biblical view that God loves all, and that indeed He IS love? It is not consistent.

It is inconsistent with God's strong desire for all to repent
We know from 2 Peter 3:9 that God doesn't desire that anyone would perish, but wants all to come to repentance. He doesn't want people to perish, but He does let people perish, because they do not come to repentance. Even more than He wants people not to perish, He wants them to repent. If regeneration must precede faith, then not just anyone can repent, but only those who God regenerates. God regenerates the minority of people. If God strongly desires that all come to repentance, why would He give all the ability to come to repentance? It is not consistent.

It is inconsistent with God's enabling commands
We know that God is righteous, and is, in the strict meaning of the word, "reasonable." It would be unreasonable for any of us to demand something from someone which they cannot do. I have not seen one case throughout the Bible where God commanded man to do something that man could not, though God's enabling, do. Lazarus was commanded to come from the grave, and Christ's command implied also the supernatural ability given to Lazarus to obey the command and come forth from the grave. If regeneration must precede faith, then God's command to all unregenerate men to repent (Acts 17:30) would be impossible to obey. This is inconsistent with the Biblical picture of God as a just and reasonable Being who enables people to obey and thereby does not insist that we ought to do the impossible.

It is inconsistent with responsibility/blame
Throughout the Bible, man is only responsible for a choice that he has made. We are not responsible for things outside of our control that happen, but are held responsible for what we can determine. Virtue and vise are no longer praiseworthy or blameworthy if the actor had no choice. Justice is not condemning Daniel for falling onto the vase, but condemning David for determining to push Daniel with such force that Daniel had no choice but to fall onto the vase, thereby breaking it. We know that God is just, and that He holds man responsible for his actions, for what he determines to do.

Mark 16:16
He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.

John 3:18
He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

Matthew 12:31
Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men.

Romans 11:20
Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear.

Luke 13:3
I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.

Hebrews 3:12
Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God...

Each of verses put forward the same concept clearly: Those who choose not to believe will be held personally responsible for that choice. It is not as though they could not have acted otherwise. Those that are condemned are condemned because they do not believe. It is a causal relationship. Notice the last verse there, which instructs people to "Beware," as though they can do something about it. If regeneration precedes faith, then those that do not have faith could not possible have done anything else! This is inconsistent with the harsh judgment and clear blame of responsibility put on those who choose to commit "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit."

It is inconsistent with salvation being conditional
All of these verses, and many more, state that salvation is conditional. (He who meets the condition will be saved) If salvation is conditional, as we see that it is from the verse above, then regeneration, being a part of salvation, is conditional. The idea that regeneration precedes faith makes faith, as a condition for regeneration, impossible. In that way, it is inconsistent with the whole gist of all these verses I have quotes, and more.

What are some common objections to the interpretation that I believe?
Many people reject the idea that faith precedes regeneration because they think that the logical implications of such a belief would be disastrous. They think that my belief is inconsistent with Scripture, and object to it. What are some common objections?

Man is dead (in sin) and therefore cannot believe
To this I would respond that Biblically, death is not inability, but is separation. I will write a separate blog explaining this point more in depth. Throughout the Bible, we see that we are dead in sin, separated from God, and yet can and ought to believe. (Eph. 2:12, Acts 17:30)

Man cannot understand the things of God, and therefore cannot have faith
Unregerate man cannot "see" the kingdom of God, or truly comprehend Scripture concepts. However, Jesus Christ never commanded non-believers to understand. He commands us to have faith - childlike faith. "Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” Mark 10:15. Children believe many things they do not understand: they come into the world, trusting, and without a bit of understanding or experience. Not only can we have faith despite a lack of understand, we must!

Man would get the credit
To this, I would respond that in no Scripture does man get credit for faith. Man perhaps would get credit if his salvation were by works, but faith is not a work. Throughout the Bible, faith is consistently contrasted with works. (Rom. 3:8) They are never lumped together as one. Not only does man not get credit, in the Bible, for faith, but no christian takes credit for his own salvation. Among the many who believe that salvation is conditional on faith, not one believes that he has earned, deserved, or contributed to his salvation in any way. All say "To God be all the glory!" Salvation is of the Lord, and it so pleases Him to make it conditional, it is still of the Lord.

What does this all come to?
To wrap things up, I have put forward several of the many verses in the Bible that teach that faith logically precedes salvation. I have shown that regeneration is part of salvation, and you cannot have "salvation" without it! The request for salvation is not separate from the request for God to "create a clean heart" in us, as David prayed. Unlike what the Catholic church teaches, If you are not born again, you are not truly saved. I have mentioned an alternate interpretation of the verses, and have responded with my objections to them. I have also made mention of some objections to my interpretation, and answered them very briefly here.

If regeneration precedes faith, then this would make faith unnecessary since the person would already be saved. If a person is regenerated, then he is born of God, a member of God’s family and a possessor of eternal life. If you are a member of God’s family and a possessor of eternal life, then you are already saved. Faith, then, would be simply another fruit of the Spirit, like love and joy - why then the emphasis on salvation being conditional on faith? If faith is part of salvation, and not the condition on which salvation is given, then is the verse really saying "Be saved, and you will be saved?" But that would be repetitious!

  • New life does not come before faith, but after.
    John 20:31
    But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

  • We are never told to live and then to look, but rather to look and then live. (John 3:14-16; Numbers 21)

  • The Bible teaches that
    John 1:12
    But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.

    It does not say "But as many as have been regenerated, to them gave He the power to believe on His Name, even to those who have become the children of God."

  • Finally we have the command of Jesus Christ Himself, the same commanding voice which granted Lazarus the supernatural ability to obey His command:
    John 14:1 “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me."


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The main thing is to believe that salvation will come. We all deserve to be forgiven and live happily. It is important not to lose courage and help your neighbor.

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