Faith Precedes Regeneration: Further Evidence

Having offered a primer on prevenient grace, the issue is settled that a grace event precedes the faith-response of an individual, and this has been the classical Arminian position on the issue from the start. While semi-Pelagians insist that man initiates or attracts the grace of God, toward the act of salvation and, thus, regeneration, classical Arminians argue that man cannot initiate or attract the grace of God because he is unable to do so. Without the operative prevenient grace of the convicting Holy Spirit no one would give God the first thought. Even Arminius himself distances his theology from that of the semi-Pelagians when he address whether semi-Pelagianism should be considered a Christian tradition.1 In other words, classical Arminian theology is not semi-Pelagian.

Arminius, lover of grace, confesses: "Meanwhile I profess that I detest from my soul the Pelagian dogmas."2 Suggesting that Arminius revives Pelagianism is mere nonsense. Yet he also argues: "Besides, even true and living faith in Christ precedes regeneration strictly taken," and consists of "the mortification or death of the old man, and the vivification of the new man; as Calvin has, in the same passage of his Institutes, openly declared, and in a manner which agrees with the Scriptures and the nature of faith." He continues:
For Christ becomes ours by faith [in this order], and we are [then, and not until then] ingrafted into Christ, are made members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones, and, being thus planted with Him, we coalesce or are united together, that we may draw from Him the vivifying power of the Holy Spirit, by which power the old man is mortified and we rise again into a new life.3
We believe Arminius is right, and is interpreting the scriptures aright, and we look to the teaching of Paul himself for evidence. A prison guard asks Paul and Silas: "'Sirs, what must I do to be saved?' And they said, 'Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household.'" (Acts 16:30-31 NASB) Once we understand the biblical truth that God, according to His mercy, saves a person "by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5); and that Paul teaches that faith in Christ precedes salvation (Acts 16:31); we then understand that faith precedes salvation and, thus, regeneration (Titus 3:5). Using this very passage (Acts 16:31), Calvinist Charles Spurgeon agrees, "I know there are some who will deny this, and deny it upon the ground that man has not the spiritual ability to believe in Jesus, to which I reply that it is altogether an error to imagine that the measure of the sinners' moral ability is the measure of his duty." (link)

Regardless of duty, however, Spurgeon, as well as Arminius, references faith in God as the gift of God. "Never yet," argues Spurgeon, "did a man believe in Jesus with the faith here intended, except the Holy Spirit led him to do so." (link) As noted in the post, "Granted by the Father: A Primer on Prevenient Grace," wherever in Scripture one encounters words related to grace (χάριτι, Eph. 2:8), granting (δεδομένον, cf. John 6:65; ἐχαρίσθη, cf. Phil. 1:29), drawing (ἑλκύσῃ, cf. John 6:44) or favor (ἐχαρίσθη, cf. Acts 27:24), the notion of prevenient grace may be inferred, given that prevenient grace is merely the grace which precedes an action. If one is to believe in Christ, come to Christ for salvation, be united with Christ, and to the body of Christ by faith in Christ, then that one must first be the recipient of God's prevenient drawing, gifting, favor, granting, grace.

But Spurgeon addresses the folly of the Calvinist insisting that regeneration must precede faith in his sermon, "The Warrant of Faith," in which he writes:
If I am to preach the faith in Christ to a man who is regenerated, then the man, being regenerated, is saved already, and it is an unnecessary and ridiculous thing for me to preach Christ to him, and bid him to believe in order to be saved when he is saved already, being regenerate. Am I only to preach faith to those who have it? Absurd, indeed! Is not this waiting till the man is cured and then bringing him the medicine? This is preaching Christ to the righteous and not to sinners. (link) (emphases added)
Of course, Arminians agree with Spurgeon, but we agree because of the teachings found in Scripture and not merely because he lays out a logical program to follow. If anyone is "in Christ," he is a new, regenerated creature (2 Cor. 5:17), and this is from God (2 Cor. 5:18). How does one come to be "in Christ"? One is justified from the perspective of God as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3:24). One is counted justified and redeemed through faith (Rom. 3:25 ESV; cf. Rom. 5:1). Such a one has been "baptized into Christ Jesus" and "baptized into His death" (Rom. 6:3).

Having been baptized into the death of Christ the redeemed individual can then "walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:4 NASB). "For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection." (Rom. 6:5) Faith is the key! Grace precedes faith, but faith precedes being united with (Rom. 6:5) or in (2 Cor. 5:17) Christ. Hence faith precedes regeneration. By the mercy of God (Titus 3:5a), through Jesus Christ (Titus 3:6) and our being justified by faith (Titus 3:7), God saves us through the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5b). Hence, yet again, faith precedes regeneration, since justification (Titus 3:7) and union with Christ (Titus 3:6) warrants God's saving act of regeneration (Titus 3:5).



To argue that regeneration causes faith is problematic for several reasons: 1) for a moment in time a person is saved irrespective of faith in Christ, contrary to Scripture; 2) the ordo salutis is turned on its head -- "Believe in the Lord Jesus and you shall be saved" (Acts 16:31) becomes "You shall be saved [regenerated; cf. Titus 3:5] and then you shall believe in the Lord Jesus"; 3) faith is not a substance that can be given by spiritual renewal because faith is a response to the gracious inner working of God through the Spirit -- the person must believe or trust in Christ; 4) regeneration grants a spiritual awakening within someone, and, thus, granting that one eternal life, not mystically causing someone to have faith. The false theory that regeneration precedes faith contradicts and contorts Scripture:

  • "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name" becomes "But as many as He gave the right to become children of God, granting those to believe in His name, they received Him" (John 1:12);
  • "that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life" becomes "that whoever has eternal life believes in Him and should not perish" (John 3:16);
  • "He who believes in the Son has eternal life" becomes "He who has eternal life believes in the Son" (John 3:36);
  • "and you are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life" becomes "you may have life if My Father makes you willing to come to Me" (John 5:40);
  • "and that believing you may have life in His name" becomes "you have life that you may believe in His name" (John 20:31);
  • "that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me" becomes "that they may receive forgiveness of sins, faith in Me, and a place among those who are sanctified" (Acts 26:18);
  • "even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ" becomes "even we have been justified so that we may believe in Christ Jesus for faith" (Gal. 2:16);
  • "For by grace you have been saved through faith" becomes "For by grace you have been saved [regenerated] for faith" (Eph. 2:8).
How can a "dead" person believe in Christ? (Eph. 2:1) The answer is grace! But the notion of man being "dead as a corpse" is not biblical, for "dead" also refers, in a non-literal motif, as a separation, since in Adam we are all separated from the righteousness and the life that is in God through Christ (cf. Isa. 59:2; Luke 15:32; Eph. 2:12). What we need is a supernatural act of God that frees us from our bondage to sin in order to freely trust in Christ for the salvation freely offered by God.

Regeneration is just one element within the framework of salvation. Other elements include justification, sanctification, redemption (and being forgiven of sins), adoption, union with Christ, being made a co-heir with Christ, and receiving the indwelling Holy Spirit, to name a few. Hence for Calvinists to ask, "If regeneration is not for the bestowal of faith in Christ, then what is it for?" is telling: they have 1) restricted the act of regeneration merely to a bestowal of faith; 2) deconstructed regeneration merely to a monergistic-induced response and an obliged act of God to His own prior eternal decree to unconditionally save one person and not another; and 3) entirely detached regeneration from the other elements of salvation named above.

In other words, "what regeneration is for" can be answered thusly: God's act of regeneration is His response and sole act to our Spirit-prompted response of faith -- in itself merely a response to His prior work of grace by the convincing attestations of the Holy Spirit -- an act which is directly related, in the context of faith in Christ, to our being justified, sanctified, redeemed (and being forgiven of sins), adopted as a child of God, being united with Christ, being made a co-heir with Christ, and receiving the indwelling Holy Spirit. While faith does not cause regeneration, the response of faith, which is in itself a response to God's prior work of grace through the Spirit, is the condition upon which God's gracious work of regeneration is grounded. Is this supported biblically?

If faith is the condition by which God regenerates and thus saves an individual (cf. Titus 3:5, "He saved us ... by the washing of regeneration") then faith precedes regeneration. (Jn. 1:12; 3:16, 18, 36; Acts 16:31; Rom. 3:22, 28; 4:1-25; 5:1; Gal. 2:16; 3:1-18; Eph. 2:8-9; 1 Jn. 5:13) Again, Calvinists would have us believe that we are saved to faith, or for faith, not through faith, as Scripture explicitly teaches. (Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8) While we must be enabled, granted or graced, to respond with faith (cf. Phil. 1:29), we are the ones who respond with faith; in that, God does not respond in faith for us, nor does He "plant faith in the heart," since faith is not a substance but a Spirit-motivated response to His grace.

What a fallen and depraved individual needs in order to believe and thus be regenerated by the Spirit of God is not regeneration itself, or what Calvinists refer to as particular, efficacious, or irresistible grace, so we Arminians argue, but sufficient grace. Since a person is saved by grace through faith in Christ (Acts 2:21; 4:12; 11:14; 14:22, 27; 15:9, 11; 16:30, 31; 20:21; 26:18; Rom. 1:5, 16, 17; 3:22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30; 4:5, 9, 11, 12, 16, 22; 5:9, 10; 10:9, 10, 13; 1 Cor. 15:2; Eph. 2:5, 8, 2 Thess. 2:10; 1 Tim. 2:4; Titus 3:5; Heb. 10:39), and since salvation itself is interrelated with God's act of regeneration (Titus 3:5), then in order to be regenerated and thus saved, by the sole act of God, one must first place his faith in Christ. Hence faith precedes God's act of regeneration.

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1 Jacob Arminius, "Apology against Thirty-One Theological Articles: Article XXX. It May Admit of Discussion, Whether Semi-Pelagianism is Not Real Christianity," in The Works of Arminius, the London edition, three volumes, trans. James and William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 2:56-57.

2 Arminius, Works, "Examination of the Theses of Dr. Francis Gomarus respecting Predestination," 3:657.

3 Arminius, Works, "Dissertation on the True and Genuine Sense of the Seventh Chapter of the Epistle to the Romans," 2:498.