Why I Believe Regeneration Precedes Faith

The short answer is that scripture teaches it:

1 Corinthians 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.” (1 Cor 2:14)

A natural person, one born of flesh only, is incapable of understanding that which is spiritually understood. Salvation (repenting and believing the gospel) is a spiritual transaction that requires spiritual understanding, for which regeneration is an absolute requirement.

Romans 8:7-8

”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. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Rom 8:7-8)

A mind can be fleshly (carnal), spiritual, or in the case of believers, in whom sin still resides, BOTH carnal and spiritual. The unbeliever is controlled by a fleshly mind and cannot please God. True repentance and belief in Christ pleases God, Therefore spiritual regenerating must precede faith.

Ephesians 2:1-5

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body[a] and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.[b] 4 But[c] God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—” (Eph 2:1-5)

What can a ‘dead’ man do? WHEN WE WERE DEAD, we who now believe were made alive in Christ. That’s the very definition of ‘regeneration’.

2 Corinthians 4:1-4

“Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God,[a] we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice[b] cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

Who is perishing? All who have not received and believed in Christ. Why have they NOT received and believed in Christ? Their minds have been blinded by the god of this world. Regeneration opens blind minds and necessarily precedes faith.

John 1:12-13

”But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)

The children of God are those who receive Christ and believe in his name. Those who receive and believe in Christ are those born of God, not by any form of human desire or will. To be born of God is to be regenerated. Note that no one is regenerated by an act of human will.

John 3:3

”Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.””

To ‘see’ the kingdom of God in the above passage means “to perceive” Just as we must have been born naturally to physically see, we must be born spiritually (regenerated) to spiritually see.

Those who believe that human faith precedes regeneration generally fall into two groups:

  • We are all ‘naturally’ capable, without divine assistance, to make a genuine decision for Christ, by an act of human free will.
  • While we aren’t ‘naturally’ capable of such a decision, God, by an act of ‘prevenient grace’, grants the ability to make a free will decision to accept Christ, and then be ‘regenerated’.

I believe the above passages refute the first proposition, on its face. I also believe the second proposition to be in error simply because prevenient grace, in the Wesleyan sense is nowhere taught in the Bible. The thought is that God bestows prevenient grace to the lost sinner, who is then able to consider the claims of the gospel message and either freely accept or reject them by an act of natural human will.

Additionally, I can find NO language in all of the Bible that discusses some sort of decision making process in the process of the salvation of men. Even IF true and a human free will decision determined the eternal destiny of anyone, that person will have saved himself/herself, although God made it possible to be saved through the death of Christ.

It is my belief, based on the above passages, that the human will must ‘itself’ be changed for the natural man to desire to repent of sin and believe in Christ.

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NOTE: For more in-depth discussions concerning ‘Prevenient Grace’ See:

1. Does Scripture Teach Prevenient Grace n the Wesleyan Sense?

2. Is Prevenient Grace in the Bible?

3. What is Prevenient Grace?

Open Letter to the Facebook Group “Arminianism v. Calvinism”

I’ve only been a part of this Facebook Group for a short time, compared to most of you. I asked to join in order to see what folks were talking about and how they were addressing the issues. I freely admit that I was adamantly Arminian for some years before gradually moving toward a more Calvinistic position. That journey has been interesting, to say the least. Like many other members of this group, I could not let go of the idea of ‘libertarian free will’. Like most Christians then and now, I just assumed it was true.

While I have enjoyed good Bible based discussions with some of you, it seems that others here are as so convinced that we all have this ‘free will’ that they are completely unable to consider other viewpoints, even to the point of a continuous stream of pejorative language and insults aimed at all Calvinists. Most of us Reformed folk would NEVER deny that we have free will. We would also assert that ‘free will’ and ‘free choice’ are not exactly the same thing. Fallen men can do whatever they want to do, but what does a fallen man WANT to do? That is the crux of this issue.

As I prepare to leave the group, I would like to present something quite interesting I found recently that claims to offer Biblical proof for libertarian free will. Here’s the article. I have commented after the article.

18 Top Bible Verses about Free Will

Many Christian churches and denominations have different views on free will. While it’s easy to become confused on how God’s control and our own free will interact, we can trust the Word of God and know that what He has told us in the Bible is true. These Bible verses about free will show us that we have the ability to choose and have faith in God, being secure in our eternal life in heaven, or we can choose to turn from God and live apart from Him. Use these Scriptures to help you make wise choices!

1 Corinthians 10:13

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

2 Chronicles 9:7

Happy are your wives! Happy are these your servants, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom!

2 Peter 3:9

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Galatians 5:13

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

John 7:17

Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.

Joshua 24:15

And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

Mark 8:34

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

Proverbs 16:9

The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.

Revelation 3:20

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

Romans 6:23

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 13:2

Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.

Romans 10:9

9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

Galatians 5:16-17

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.

Genesis 2:16-17

16 And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

Isaiah 55:6-7

6 Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; 7 let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

John 1:12-13

12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Deuteronomy 30:19-20

19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”

Ezekiel 18:30-32

30 “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. 31 Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? 32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.”

Online Source: https://www.biblestudytools.com/topical-verses/bible-verses-about-free-will/

Old guy comments:

1. A couple of statements in the introduction to the verses were very interesting “These Bible verses about free will show us that we have the (free will) ability to choose and have faith in God, . . . Use these Scriptures to help you make wise choices! That last statement correctly advises us to use them to make wise choices. The unavoidable implication is that since we can make choices, we have a ‘free’ will. It proves we do have a will, but that’s all.

2. Not a single one of the above passages says anything about a natural ability to choose or have faith in God. In fact, while a few clearly use the language of ‘choosing’ between alternatives, most are general statements about certain actions and consequences that are based on choices we might make.

3. One pair of verses specifically states that being ‘born again’ is an act of God, NOT an act of man’s will, in a single sentence!

John 1:12-13

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

4. As a final note, I have absolutely no clue why there is such an inability to comprehend a difference between ‘free choice’ and ‘free will”. A ‘choice’ is something we do. The human will is a human characteristic. The assertion that the will of man was in no way affected by Adam’s fall and that post-fall man has the same will as Adam before he fell is, for me, equally as incomprehensible, considering the amount of Biblical text devoted to the nature of fallen men. We are talking about being able to understand the meanings of words and basic reading comprehension skills. Perhaps it’s my age, and an erroneous assumption that what I learned in school so long ago is still taught.

Christian ‘Idolatry’?

I have to confess to having a habit of listening to Christian apologetic debates, particularly debates concerning free will v. predestination. I don’t listen to the debates to get ‘ammunition’ for the side I personally take in the debates, however they are helpful in determining if how I feel about the controversy has any merit. I have listened to quite a few of them with Protestant v. Catholic participants as well as Protestant v. Protestant participants (more of the latter than the former I think). When you listen to numerous debates concerning a particular subject it is quite possible that tendencies / trends begin to emerge. I’ve noticed just such a tendency in predestination v. free will debates, thus the above question.

The trend I have noticed is that while the participant arguing for the predestination of believers to salvation are more prone to stick primarily with a scriptural basis for their position, most of the free will advocates invariably end up arguing against Calvinism and John Calvin instead of making the case based on scripture and leaving Calvin out of the discussion. The same thing seems to happen in formal debates with moderators, less formal discussion forums with or without moderators, and even ordinary discussions between ordinary people. Free will proponents seem incapable of leaving John Calvin out of the debate/discussion!

So I have to ask why. It seems to me that the reason closest to the boat is the strength of the predestination/election scriptural position over against the free will position from scripture. While the terms predestination and election have specific scriptural support for the implied doctrines they teach, the term free will is only used of ‘free will’ offerings and never connected to the subject of salvation. The best that free will proponents can come up with as specifically scriptural are the passages requiring us to ‘choose’ something and the ‘warning’ passages that caution us to certain behaviors and resulting consequences. I’ve even had a friend of mine tell me that although the Bible provides more specific support for predestination and election he still comes down on the side of human free will. So I again have to ask why.

The only answer I can come up with is that we have been conditioned so completely to believe we have libertarian free will (our choices are free from the determination or constraints of human nature and free from any predetermination by God) that we just can’t let go!

Some hold on more fiercely than others. I don’t know how many times I have suggested to others that a simple study of what the Bible says about the nature of fallen men might impact their theology. I often offered passages such as Romans 8:7-8 and 1 Corinthians 2:14 concerning the mental state of every nonbeliever on the planet, but to no avail! And if a professing believer refuses to even discuss passages of Scripture, something is amiss. I have to ask of that ‘something’ is not a case of idolatry; of placing one’s presuppositions or opinion above the text of the Bible.

I don’t use ‘idolatry’ language in personal discussions but I have to wonder. I heard it said a few days ago that “If it’s in the Bible you can take it to the bank, but if it’s your opinion, take it to the Bible”. Following that little maxim would go far in settling just about any issue.

One last thing. I can say with certainty that my own ‘letting go’ took some time. I wasn’t comfortable but it was greatly humbling. In the end, I had to surrender to what I was reading in the pages of Scripture, like them or not. It was finding out what the Bible says about the ‘nature’ of fallen men that settled it for me. So I continue to point folks to the topic of the ‘natural’ man and try to avoid debates specifically about predestination and free will. I really believe that if we tackle the question of the nature of fallen men we can get farther down the road to understanding just how much God had to accomplish in order to ‘save his people from their sin’.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!