Should Grace be Referred to as Regeneration?

, posted by

In his book The Potter’s Freedom, James White equates the saving grace of God with regeneration. He writes, “The doctrine of irresistible grace is easily understood. Once we understand the condition of man in sin, that he is dead, enslaved to a corrupt nature, incapable of doing what is pleasing to God, we can fully understand the simple assertion that God must raise the dead sinner to life.

“This is all, really, the phrase means: it has nothing to do with sinners rebelling against God and ‘resisting’ Him in that way. It has nothing to do with the fact that Christians often resist God’s grace in their lives when they sin against Him. No, irresistible grace means one thing: God rasies dead sinners to life.”1

The immediate problem with White’s ideology concerning God’s grace is his imposition that the word grace be equated with regeneration. Thus Ephesians 2.8 should read: “For by regeneration you have been saved through faith . . .” As a matter of fact, for the sake of consistency, should not other verses be changed into the same? The following examples will suffice:

“Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the regeneration of God” (Acts 13.47). “[B]eing justified freely by His regeneration through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3.24). “Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to regeneration” (Rom. 4.16). “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this regeneration in which we stand” (Rom. 5.1-2).

To speak thus is nonsense. But, is it not logical according to White’s method? Because James White equates the dead nature of all sinners in the manner of a corpse, his conclusion, necessarily, leads him to the notion that regeneration must precede faith, regardless as to whether or not the Bible affirms his position.

Moreover, a corpse is not an accurate display of the fallen nature of sinners; for although it is true that a corpse cannot do any good thing spiritually, neither can it do any bad thing; though a corpse cannot accept Christ Jesus, neither can it reject Him; a corpse can do nothing, bad or good.

A more accurate desciption of fallen sinners is one of utter separation. Isaiah wrote that our sins have “separated” us from God (Isa. 59.2). Paul affirmed such by writing that all sinners are “dead” in sins. This type of death is a separation. Jesus mentioned that the prodigal son was “dead” and “lost” (Luke 15.32), as one who was separated from relationship with his father, not “dead” like a corpse.

A. W. Pink commented, “When we say that man is totally depraved, we mean that the entrance of sin into the human constitution has affected every part and faculty of man’s being. Total depravity means that man is, in spirit and soul and body, the slave of sin and the captive of the Devil — walking ‘according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience’ (Eph. 2.2). This statement ought not to need arguing: it is a common fact of human experience.”2

Pink is right and no one argues with what he has stated because it is explicitly taught in the Bible. However, his conclusion that, therefore, “God has ‘ordained to eternal life’ certain ones, and that in consequence of His ordination they, in due time, ‘believe'”3 is unfortuate, to say the least. Arminians heartily agree with White and Pink that sinners cannot obey God’s law (Rom. 8.7), nor can they understand deep spiritual truths which belong to the Holy Spirit (1Cor. 2.6-16). This is why God’s grace is absolutely necessary if a sinner is to be saved.

However, Arminians feel that it is inaccurate and unbiblical to name God’s grace regeneration, because that is not the name which the Spirit of God gave to grace. Salvation is the grace of God (Eph. 2.5, 8; John 4.10). That which leads one to repentance and faith is gracious (Rom. 2.4). God’s conviction in the heart and mind of a sinner by the Spirit of God (John 16.8-11) is gracious. The power of the gospel at work on the heart of a sinner (Rom. 1.16) is gracious. And in the words of Paul, the “grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men” (Titus 2.11, NKJV). Why? Because it is God’s desire that all men be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1Tim. 2.4).

What does James White do with such verses that mention God’s grace to all, or that God desires the salvation of all people? He writes, “Who are kings and all who are in authority? They are kinds of men, classes of men. Paul often spoke of ‘all men’ in this fashion. For example, in Titus chapter 2, when Paul speaks of the grace of God which brings salvation appearing to ‘all men’ (Titus 2.11), he clearly means all kinds of men, for the context, both before and after, speaks of kinds of men.”4

Just how “clearly” Paul refers to kinds or classes of men in those texts remains to be seen. There is no evidence, as White suggests, that contextually speaking, kinds or classes of men are being referred to. One cannot find his definition of all “kinds” or “classes” of men in any of our major lexicons.
Not only that, but the text itslef is a command to first pray for all men, and then Paul also lists kings and those who are in authority. And the prayer is not necessarily that kings and those who are in authority be saved, but so that Christians may lead a peaceable life, which is pleasing to God, who desires the salvation of all people. It is nothing short of desperate to try to make those verses refer to kinds or classes of men.

Paul told the Romans that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3.23). Is Paul referring to all kinds of men, or to classes of men? Paul also wrote, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5.12). Is he referring to all kinds of men, or to classes of men?

In conclusion, there is no reason for the reader to define the grace of God as regeneration. God’s desire to grant salvation to whomever will trust Christ Jesus is genuine. Salvation is conditioned upon faith in Christ, and God grants the sinner the ability to believe by freeing that sinner from bondage to sin in order for him or her to freely choose or freely reject Christ. Forlines comments, “Faith is not complicated. There are two elements of faith: (1) acceptance of redemptive truth, and (2) trust . . . In the trust element of saving faith, there is dependence upon God for salvation. In the New Testament, this is dependence upon Jesus Christ for salvation . . .

“We are nowhere told that Jesus is to believe for us. It is clear that ‘the faith of the Son of God’ is not Jesus’ faith, but it is our faith in Jesus. Faith is not some substance that exists outside of us that is to be given to us . . .

“Calvinism insists that regeneration, which is irresistible grace, precedes saving faith. Regeneration makes the ‘yes’ answer of faith in Christ a guaranteed result . . . In Calvinism it is impossible for a person to believe unless he or she is first regenerated. There is also another impossibility. It is impossible for sanctification to take place prior to justification . . . justification must be prior to regeneration. This is true since regeneration is the initial work of sanctification . . .”5

Thus, in Forlines’ view, the ordo salutis is FAITH> JUSTIFICATION> REGENERATION> SANCTIFICATION. The only aspect in the process of salvation which precedes faith is the grace of God, not regeneration. Paul teaches the same thing at Colossians 2.13: “And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses.” The reader can easily note that God made the sinner “alive” (i.e. regenerated him) only after he had been forgiven. And since one is forgiven (and thus justified) by faith in Christ Jesus, then, the accurate conclusion is that faith precedes regeneration.

1 James R. White, The Potter’s Freedom (Amityville: Calvary Press Publishing, 2000), 283-284.

2 A. W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God, revised edition (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1998), 102.

3 Ibid., 54.

4 White, 140.

5 F. Leroy Forlines, The Quest for Truth (Nashville: Randall House, 2001), 253-260.