Must Regeneration Precede Faith?

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Romans 1.16-17, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith'” (NASB, and henceforth).

Christ’s gospel is effectual, “even” on an unregenerate spirit. That forces me to ask the Calvinist: What power does the gospel contain if one must first be regenerated in order to believe it?

Romans 10.14, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?”

Saving faith has a spiritual component, but it is also an intellectual assent. Even the demons believe (James 2.19). Are the demons regenerate? God forbid! There is, however, a quality of difference concerning the faith which demons possess about God and that which believers have about Christ Jesus. Nonetheless, we should consider whether it can rightly be said that the bible teaches regeneration precedes faith.

Paul’s statement, that saving faith “comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10.17), is very telling, isn’t it? For Paul, faith does not come as a result of being regenerated, but from the result of hearing and believing the gospel.

If, in the gospel of John, it is everywhere assumed by Christ that all one needs to do in order to be saved is to “believe,” with nothing else whatsoever mentioned about the precedence of regeneration, then are we not obligated to concede that faith precedes regeneration and that the purpose of regeneration lies in something other than being the vehicle for saving faith?

What, then, is the “purpose” of regeneration? A man must be regenerated (1) in order to have fellowship with God, and know the things of God (1Cor. 2.6-16); (2) in order to see/enter the kingdom of God (John 3.1-8; 1Cor. 15.50); and (3) in order for God’s work of conforming him or her to the image of Christ to be effectual (Rom. 8.29), which includes sanctification, spiritual growth, and ultimately glorification (8.30).

The passage found at 1Cor. 2.6-16 seems to crop up in a Calvinist’s argument for regeneration preceding faith. The Calvinist will ask how it is that a “dead” spirit can exercise saving faith in Christ, because, “a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (2.14).

In effect, Arminians should heartily agree with the Calvinists here, but only to a point. What Paul is trying to convey, I believe, is that the unregenerate man is without the ability to understand “the deep things of God” (2.10). Though men of old did not know “God’s hidden wisdom” (2.8), which was contained “in a mystery” (2.7), they may now know through the Holy Spirit (2.10-15).

There is a vast difference, I believe, in not being able to understand the hidden wisdom of God’s plan for the ages (1Cor. 2.6-9), with possessing the ability to comprehend the simplicity of the gospel message. Would you not agree? I believe that the passage of 1Cor. 2.6-16 is a bit abused by Calvinists, which, in turn, is due to their necessity to defend their brand of total depravity (total inability). This leaves the Calvinist desparate to prove their doctrine with proof texts, which are based on presuppositions, and not careful exegesis.

That probably sounded harsh. I am not attacking any Calvinist personally. I do not necessarily have a bitter, theological axe to grind with Calvinists. As a matter of fact, I am becoming increasingly tolerate, appreciative, and loving towards Calvinists (after all, they are our brothers and sisters in Christ).

Arminians are trying just as hard as Calvinists to be true to the Text. And quite frankly, when Arminians detect that Calvinists are grasping at straws in order to defend a pet doctrine, they are quick to jump on it. The same is true for this matter of regeneration preceding faith.

Paul wrote, “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions” (Col. 2.13). It is clear from this statement that the cause of God’s making the sinner “alive” (regeneration) was on the basis of that sinner being “forgiven” (justification). A cardinal Christian doctrine is that a person is justified by faith (Rom. 5.1) and faith alone (Rom. 4.4-5). Therefore, a sinner is “made alive” when he or she is justified by faith, and therefore, faith precedes regeneration.

Paul also instructed us that faith precedes other things as well. As a matter of fact, the only thing which seems to precede faith is the grace of God. Faith also precedes the reception of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 3.2), adoption (Gal. 3.7), justification (Gal. 3.11), and regeneration (Gal. 3.11). The prophets declared that the just or the righteous man or woman shall “live” (i.e. have life) by faith. This life is eternal life, and is granted to the person upon faith, by which he or she is placed “in” Christ (2Cor. 5.17), and made into a new creature (regeneration). Thus faith precedes regeneration.

Calvinists are sharp individuals with a heart and mind devoted to our Lord and Savior and also to the word of God. They care just as much about God’s character, glory, justice, and sovereignty as my Arminian brothers and sisters do. It is, at times, a bit difficult to put aside our passion for these theological matters and not become personally vindictive. But hey, we can be grateful, at least, that people are no longer burning one another at the stake, as our Church Fathers were guilty of, for charges of heresy. God bless.