David W. Hegg
Faith and Regeneration
Introduction: The relationship between faith and regeneration lies at the very foundation of our thinking about the manner in which God saves sinners through the person and work of Jesus Christ. What we come to believe about this relationship will, for consistent theologians, determine other theological choices down the line.
Romans 10:13-17: 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him (of) whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
Paul uses several words to give us a practical definition of fath:
• hear (notia): cognition of the Gospel
• believe (assensus): agreement with what is heart
• call (fiducia): entrustment of life on the basis of what is believed
1) In verse 17 Paul makes it clear that faith is distinguished from hearing. While hearing is essential to the production of faith, it is not faith.
2) The Greek words here in vs. 14 (believed, believe), and in vs. 17 (faith) are of the
pistiß, (pistis) word group which can be used in Scripture both for intellectual belief and saving faith:
John 2.23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed (e˙pi÷steusan, episteusan) in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust (e˙pi÷steuen, episteuen) himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.
John 8.31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed (e˙pi÷steuen, pisteuein) him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, …44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. … 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
Grudem: “Saving faith is trust in Jesus Christ as a living person for forgiveness of sins and for eternal life with God.
Hegg: “Faith is a life-dominating conviction that whatever God has for me through obedience is better by far than anything the world or Satan can offer through selfishness and sin.”
Saving faith is more than belief, but it is not less. As Romans 10:13ff shows, saving faith in Jesus Christ begins with a hearing of the gospel that must then be agreed with. But the faith that is part of God’s rescue of lost sinners includes an entrustment of the life to God on the basis of the truth that is both heard and believed.
It is also correct to understand “saving” faith as more than the initial trust that flows from God the Spirit’s work of regeneration. This initial faith (first faith) will continue to grow becoming mature (firm faith).
Theologians often divide the benefits or graces of salvation into the categories of subjective and objective.
Subjective: Those benefits of God’s saving grace that are particularly experienced by believers. Regeneration, faith, and sanctification are examples. We “feel” these rather than merely learn that they are true.
Objective: Those benefits of God’s saving grace that refer to our changed status before God. Justification and adoption are the two objective benefits of salvation. We understand these but do not experience or feel their effects.
Ezek. 36.26, 27 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
Ezek. 37.1-6 The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. 2 And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” 4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5 Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD.”
John 3.3-7 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’
Titus 3.5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,
The language of “new birth” is found throughout the Bible although the term “regeneration” is found only twice, in Titus 3:5 and Matthew 19:28 (where it speaks of a new, restored world, which has great ramifications for our understanding of the new heavens and new earth).
Despite the scarcity of the Greek term for regeneration, the concept is well known and broadly taught in the Bible.
Grudem: “Regeneration is a secret act of God in which he imparts new spiritual life to us.”
Bird: “Regeneration refers to the new birth wrought by the Holy Spirit in a person. It involves restoring and recreating a person from spiritual death to spiritual life. It entails cleansing and transforming the huma heart so that one may believe in God, enjoy God, and produce fruit for God. Regeneration is God establishing a beachhead of new creation on the shores of the human heart.”
Regeneration is the dynamic work of God the Spirit whereby the new life promised by God the Father and accomplished through the death and resurrection of God the Son is applied to those who are dead in their trespasses and sins.
2. Ordo Salutis (Latin: order of salvation)
The study of theology has led its practitioners to ponder the actual order of the components of salvation described in the Bible. And while this is, technically, something the Bible never puts forward in the form of a list, it is very helpful in assisting us to recognize the interrelatedness of the various components.
For our purposes here we need only consider the relationship of faith and regeneration.
Which comes first? This question is made more difficult by the fact that we experience them simultaneously. The exact nature of regeneration is a mystery to us. One moment we are spiritually dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1ff), and the next we are alive in Christ (Eph. 2:4).
There are only two choices:
1) Faith precedes regeneration:
As we read the Bible we see that God exhorts all humanity to trust in Christ (saving faith). As we have seen, this entails hearing the gospel, agreeing with it, and entrusting our lives to God on the basis of the truth we have heard and believed. It is clear that personal faith is necessary for salvation. If we stop here we must conclude that our faith precedes God’s work of regeneration.
2) Regeneration precedes faith:
While the command to personal faith in Christ is clear in the Bible, so also is the fact that we are unable to obey this command due to our depravity. The choice to come savingly to God lies outside our nature (see: 1 Cor. 2:14; Romans 8:7 below). This is a classic case of humanity being commanded, and held accountable, to do what it cannot do.
1Cor. 2.14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
Rom. 8.7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.
So, what is the answer? Simply this: God grants us saving faith, and the gift of repentance that comes with it, through the Spirit’s work of regeneration. While we experience regeneration and faith simultaneously, technically God’s work makes our work both possible and actual. Yet, in every sense, we believe we are believing freely.
Faith and repentance as gifts from God:
Eph. 2.8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
2Tim. 2.24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
The regenerative work of God the Spirit produces the simultaneous human responses of faith and repentance. The impartation of new life, and a new nature, makes both possible and actual the faith and repentance of the newly born Christ-follower.
Given this, the ordo solutis (order of salvation) would look like this:
1. Election (God’s choice of some to salvation)
2. Gospel call
4. Conversion (faith and repentance)
5. Justification (legal standing changed forever before the court of heaven)
6. Adoption (legal standing as a child of God forever)
7. Sanctification (progressive likeness to Christ)
8. Perseverance (God the Spirit persevering in the Christ-follower)
9. Death (promotion to glory; escape from unredeemed flesh)
10. Glorification (a new body, a new residence, apart from even the possibility of sin)
3. Romans 8:29,30
Once again this “golden chain” of the components of our salvation is helpful. But notice that neither regeneration nor faith nor repentance are mentioned here. Paul is looking at this from God’s perspective. He is the one “working” the process whereby those in Christ are never lost to him (see the continuation of the argument in vs. 31-39).
The elements of regeneration, faith, and repentance are summarized under the topic of God’s calling. This is often referred to as the effectual call to distinguish it from the general call:
General Call: The general call of the Gospel as it is preached, lived out, and generally broadcast to the world.
Effectual Call: The effectual call of the Spirit to the sinner extended through regeneration that results in faith and repentance.
Paul could not be more clear:
Those God predestined, he also called; those he called he also justified; and those he justified he also glorified.
What God accomplishes in his effectual calling also brings about repentance and faith. Yet, we all understand that the faith was ours, as was the repentance. We heard, we agreed with what we heard, and we acted on it. The decision was ours. The faith was and is, ours. Yet, it was all a gift so that we can only praise our Lord, but never boast as though we had done something better than those who continue to reject the free offer of rescue in Jesus.
• How does knowing regeneration precedes faith inform our evangelistic efforts?
• How does knowing regeneration precedes faith inform our praying for unbelievers?
• How does knowing that God grants both repentance and saving faith inform your understanding of what salvation looks like initially?
• If someone asked you “What must I do to be saved?” what would you say?
Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem; pg. 669-670; 699-706
Systematic Theology, John Frame; pg. 944-960
Charles H. Spurgeon