Last time we handled the majority of the article on salvation, but today I would like to focus on what I find to be the most difficult section of the passage, that being subpart A about regeneration.
A. Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God’s grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace.
Repentance is a genuine turning from sin toward God. Faith is the acceptance of Jesus Christ and commitment of the entire personality to Him as Lord and Saviour.
Let’s just take it slowly.
“Regeneration, or the new birth . . .” Okay, I’m on board with that. I agree that regeneration is new birth. Thom Schreiner, in his commentary on 1 Peter says specifically that it is “rebeggeting” and not simply “being born anew.” We were sinless in our creation, received Adam’s guilt and then our own in the world, and then regeneration is being returned to the state that we originally held.
“Regeneration . . . is a work of God’s grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus.” This I agree with mostly, save maybe some of the language. Certainly regeneration is only possible by the grace of God, else it is us who are doing the renewal, which is contradictory to all that we believe about salvation. I also agree that it, in accordances with what I said in the previous paragraph, regeneration is the making of new creatures. However, saying that it is how “believers” are made into new spiritual beings is tricky. If we mean looking back, those who are believers now became so by the work of regeneration making them new creations then I’m in. But, if what we mean is that these are believers first who then are regenerated, then I disagree. This is the argument present between regeneration preceding faith and faith causing regeneration, which will pop-up again later.
“It is a change wrought by the Holy Spirit . . . “ Again, a statement which I wholly affirm. This is clearly what is taught in Titus 3.5 (“ . . . by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit . . . “).
” . . . through conviction of sin . . . “ This statement becomes another statement which needs qualification. What I would say is that the Holy Spirit brings about regeneration and the immediate sin of this is true conviction of sins. This is opposed to the system which says that when you become convicted of your sins then you act in a way which initiates regeneration. That idea comes into prominence next.
“It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.” Here’s the line in the sand. Does this say, and more importantly does the Bible say, that first there is conviction of sins, “to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,” and this causes regeneration; or, first is there regeneration which causes true conviction of sin, this conviction being that “to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ”? I am convinced of the second interpretation, which is the regeneration precedes faith, or RPF, view.
The reason why I am convinced of RPF is because of what I see in Scripture. I won’t show it all out here, but just hit the highlights. First, the Bible is very adamant that “no one seeks for God” (Romans 3.11) and that prior to being saved we are “dead in [our] trespasses and sins . . . following the course of this world” (Ephesians 2.1-2). Accordingly, this does not seem like something we are just snapped out of one day by our own desire, or even by the persuasion of a gospel preacher as some would claim. Second, the Bible says that it is God who “made us alive” (Ephesians 2.5), “caused us to be born again” (1 Peter 1.3), and “saved us . . . according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3.5), all of which leave off any hint of man’s involvement in causing this to occur. I am unaware of any Scripture that tells us that man causes himself to be born again, but have given at least three which say God causes it. Therefore, since none come to God until he has sent the Holy Spirit to regenerate them, it reasons that as well none have come to faith prior to this action.
“Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace.” This is another statement which I have no problem with. I do not believe that one can experience regeneration, which as we have said is a work of grace, without being moved to repentance and faith in Christ. For me this is also a point against the hyper-Calvinist who will argue that men may be regenerate without even realizing it.
“Repentance is a genuine turning from sin toward God. Faith is the acceptance of Jesus Christ and commitment of the entire personality to Him as Lord and Saviour.” This second paragraph is pretty uncontroversial, at least from where I stand. However, I would be interested, as I was yesterday in the subpart relating to sanctification, what amount of Southern Baptists actually agree with the last sentence. This is basically Lordship Salvation as stated, and I know that that is not the prevailing view in a lot of SBC circles. Still, it’s what’s written, both in the BF&M, and I would argue in Scripture as well, and so I am glad to see it there.