The Mystery of Regeneration

This morning I had a few people ask for the list of Scripture passages I referenced in my Sunday School lesson last week, so I decided to just copy and paste my lesson outline to the blog. Hope it’s helpful for the guys who asked, and for anyone else who happens to stop by. Also, the numbers next to each text are references to numbered bookmarks I printed out before class. I figured we’d spend the entire lesson flipping through pages, so I had everybody grab two or three bookmarks and find their passages before class started so I could just call out a number to have the verses read. It worked pretty well!

Here’s the outline:

“The Mystery of Regeneration”

What is regeneration?

  • What does the word make you think of? (biology, theology, electronics?)
  • Dictionary definition of “regenerate”:  to re-create, reconstitute, or make over, especially in a better form or condition
  • Word only used once in Scripture: Read Titus 3:4-5 (#1)
  • Theological definition of regeneration: Regeneration is a secret act of God in which he imparts new spiritual life to us. (Wayne Grudem) Sometimes called “being born again” (the word “generation” has to do with birth; regeneration is re-birth). Scripture tells us a lot about regeneration, but much of the process is a “mystery”.
  • There are some important questions that we must ask about regeneration. All Christians believe that regeneration happens, but differ in how and when it happens. So the way we answer these questions has a lot to do with how we will understand salvation. Rather than reading a system of theology (like Calvinism or Arminianism) into our understanding of regeneration, let’s try to build our understanding from Scripture. Here are the questions we’re going to ask:
    • What is our state prior to regeneration?
    • What happens in regeneration?
    • When does regeneration take place?
    • What is our state after regeneration?
    • What is God’s role in regeneration?
    • What is man’s role in regeneration?

What is our state prior to regeneration?

What happens in regeneration?

  • To sum it up, regeneration does what?
    • New heart
    • New spirit
    • New life

When does regeneration take place?

  • Now it gets trickier… Regeneration is not the same thing as faith. The Bible tells us that we are saved through faith, but given a new life of obedience through regeneration. So which comes first, regeneration or faith? This is one question lots of people don’t agree on, so let’s see what we can figure out.
  • Starting with Scripture:
    • First set of verses:
  • Next set (revisiting):
    • 2 Corinthians 5:17 – New Creation
    • 1 Corinthians 6:11 – You were washed
    • Passages in Jeremiah & Ezekiel – Once God gives us a new heart, it works
    • Conclusion: Regeneration happens in an instant and it only happens once
  • Next set:
    • (#21) 1 Corinthians 2:14 – Remember: what is the state of the “natural” man?
    • (#22) Romans 3:11 – Without a new heart, nobody is seeking God
    • (#23) John 3:5
    • (#24) John 6:44; 63-65 – Notice verses 60 & 66; a lot of people don’t like this teaching!
    • (#25) Acts 16:14, which is similar to…
    • (#26) Luke 24:45 – After the resurrection
    • Conclusion: Regeneration appears to be necessary before someone can understand the message of the Gospel and place faith in Christ. However
    • This is a logical progression from regeneration (or being born again) to having faith and being saved. On a practical level, for all intents and purposes, these things happen at the same time. Another way to put it is that from God’s perspective, he acts to regenerate someone’s heart so that that person can believe, but from our perspective this is pretty much simultaneous. It’s one reason why we tend to use the terms “born again” and “saved” interchangeably, even though the Bible describes them as separate things.

What is our state after regeneration?

  • Scripture verses:
  • Second set:
    • (#30) 1 John 3:9 – This refers to habitual, unrepentant sin
    • (#31) 1 John 5:18 – We have protection from Satan’s attacks
    • (#32) Galatians 5:22-23 – Regeneration produces fruit (evidence of salvation)
    • Conclusion: Though we still have two natures, we become more and more like Christ (sanctification)
  • Last set:
    • (#33) 1 Corinthians 15:49-58
    • Conclusion: One day we will be made perfect like Christ is perfect, and will sin no more (glorification)

What is God’s role in regeneration?

  • What we’ve already seen:
    • Gives us a new heart, spirit, and life
    • Works alone in this (“I will do this…”)
    • See also:
      • (#34) Ephesians 1:3-12
      • Conclusion: God not only works alone to regenerate our hearts; he also had a plan “before the foundation of the world”, and salvation happens according to the purposes of his sovereign will.

What is man’s role in regeneration?

  • Is there anything then left for man to do? Yes!
  • Starting with Scripture:
    • First set:
      • (#35) Acts 2:21
      • (#36) Romans 10:9, 13-17
      • Conclusion: We are not puppets. Man has responsibility to exercise faith. Those who do this will be saved, those who do not will be held accountable for their choice.
  • Second set:
    • (#37) Colossians 3:1-2 – “Seek… set…”
    • (#38) Colossians 3:5-10 – “Put to death… put them all away…”
    • (#39) Colossians 3:12-17 – Things to “put on” in place of the old self
    • (#40) Romans 13:12-14
    • (#41) 1 Peter 2:1
    • (#42) Ephesians 6:10-20 – The armor of God
    • Conclusion: Man has responsibility to walk according to the new life he has been given, following the example of Christ and putting our own sin to death (what the Puritans called mortification).
  • Last set:
    • (#43) James 2:17
    • (#44) 2 Peter 1:10
    • Conclusion: While we are not saved by our works, a regenerated person will produce good works (this is the fruit of the Spirit). Thus, an absence of good works means that our “faith” is dead – it is not true faith at all. Someone who does not bear fruit has not lost salvation; it is evidence that he has not (yet) been given a new heart at all.

Final Thoughts

There is a huge debate going on within the Southern Baptist Convention right now about whether the SBC should officially affirm or deny the “Five Points of Calvinism”. Thankfully, most Southern Baptist leaders on all sides agree that Calvinists, Arminians, and others can all worship and minister together as Southern Baptists. Most of the area of dispute between Calvinists and Arminians (and those in between) has to do with where regeneration and faith relate chronologically to one another. Do we believe because God gave us new hearts, or do we get new hearts because we believe?

As we’ve seen this morning, from our perspective these things happen pretty much simultaneously. Here are some things that Calvinists and Arminians all affirm:

  • Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone
  • God is triune, and sovereign over all things, including salvation – (Though there are different understandings for how God exercises his sovereignty)
  • The Bible is inerrant and authoritative – We all believe the Bible and base our doctrinal beliefs on it
  • We agree on how Christians should live; on what the “new life in Christ” looks like

I really like an illustration that a theologian named Donald Barnhouse used to use:

Imagine a cross like the one on which Jesus died, only so large that it had a door in it. Over the door were these words from Revelation: “Whosoever will may come.” These words represent the free and universal offer of the gospel. By God’s grace, the message of salvation is for everyone. Every man, woman, and child who will come to the cross is invited to believe in Jesus Christ and enter eternal life. On the other side of the door a happy surprise awaits the one who believes and enters. From the inside, anyone glancing back can see these words from Ephesians written above the door: “Chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world.” Election is best understood in hindsight, for it is only after coming to Christ that one can know whether one has been chosen in Christ. Those who make a decision for Christ find that God made a decision for them in eternity past.”

I’m a Calvinist, and I believe that the doctrines of grace (the Five Points of Calvinism) are true, but I’m not that concerned with convincing you to be Calvinists. But I do want to point out that saying “I don’t believe in predestination or election” is not an option. The words are in the Bible and we have to deal with them. Some people have different understandings of how God predestination and election work, but we can’t just totally throw them out like a lot of non-Calvinists want to do. Likewise, we must avoid thinking of the doctrine of sovereign election as an excuse to not evangelize, which is a common error among Calvinists.

For further study:

Combing the Net – 7/21/2012

The Dark Night in Denver: Groping for Answers — Al Mohler on the reality of human evil, and how to begin to make sense of yesterday’s shooting in Colorado.

Was the Batman Shooting Imitating a 1986 Comic? — This is a search for a different sort of answer. Not the most important question to be asking, but still curious.

Aspiring Sportscaster Among the Casualties — In what might be one of the saddest stories from Colorado, here is the story of a young journalist who was one of the 12 people killed in the movie theater shooting. The last entry in her blog was the account of her escape from a shooting at a shopping mall in Toronto last month. What are the chances?

Why Calvinism Should Not Divide the SBC — Paige Patterson and Al Mohler on cooperation among Southern Baptists with different understandings of the doctrine of election.

Ramadan FAQ’s — The Islamic holy month has just begun. Here are some of the main points for understanding what Ramadan is all about.

Nashville Symphony Chorus Auditions — I really wish I could sing in this chorus, if only just to be part of the “Symphony of a Thousand!” If anyone is interested in singing some really challenging literature with a great ensemble, you might want to look into this. Here’s a clip of the finale of Mahler’s 8th Symphony, which the NSO will be performing in September:

Combing the Net – 7/12/2012

Puddleglum’s Lesson — Chris Brauns on one of my favorite moments in The Chronicles of Narnia:

Puddleglum had it right. Obey the Word of God regardless of how it seems that things will turn out.

Exercising Your Listening Muscles — How music classes can develop the listening skills of children… and parents, too!

How Study Bibles Can Limit Bible Study — This article is spot on, particularly in the section on the “right use” of study Bibles. Don’t get me wrong; I love my study Bible and consider it a valuable resource, but I do the bulk of my reading and study from a Bible with cross-references only. (For the record, my everyday Bible of choice is the ESV New Classic Reference Bible that my kids got me for Father’s Day last year; it’s perfect for me!)

Should You Pray for God to Save Your Loved Ones? — The ongoing conversation between Calvinist theologian Michael Horton and Arminian theologian Roger Olson has been fascinating, but this interaction was especially good. One answers the question affirmatively, the other negatively. I’m with Horton on this one. (HT: JT)

Putting the Art Back in “How Great Thou Art” — I love this appeal for more beauty in the worship of the Church! Kyle Hatfield points out four elements of the songs in the Bible that are not present in much popular “Christian” music today, and provides links to a few songwriters who are creating beautiful music for God’s glory.

Here’s a ballad from one of my favorite songwriters who understands the need for both trial and triumph in our music, and brings great beauty, imagery, and depth to his writing:

Combing the Net – 7/2/2012

10 Questions for Anne-Marie Slaughter — This is a good interview with the former State Department staffer who recently left her job to spend more time with her children, and wrote a well-circulated article about it.

Why Is Jerry Sandusky Guilty? — This is a “60-second summary” of an article (which you can read in full here) which makes the case that if Jerry Sandusky (the Penn State football assistant coach recently convicted of 45 counts of sexual molestation of young boys) had lived in a pre-Christian era, his behavior would have been considered commonplace.

Latin, Math, and Glory — The story of how one parent who’d never studied Latin fell in love with the language and realized its importance through classically educating her children.

I have known that I will have to tackle Latin in a serious way being that I am attempting to classically educate my children. I also know that everyone I respect that speaks into my life about education are HUGE advocates of learning Latin. So I knew there must be something I was missing. Why is it that I did not see how important Latin is? Why could I not apprehend the truth of this? I knew enough to know that all I had to do was continue to wrestle with these ideas and eventually I would get it. So on I pressed, and to my delight the Lord revealed exactly what my heart needed to perceive regarding Latin for me to fall in love!

10 Tips on Solving Mysterious Bible Passages from Sherlock Holmes — This is absolutely brilliant! Pastor Eric McKiddie takes quotes from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic novel and shows how good investigative techniques apply to Bible study as well as to sleuthing.

The One Point of Calvinistic Soteriology — With all the talk of five points going on lately, this quote from J.I. Packer is a great reminder that there is ultimately only one point of Calvinism!

Here’s a great history lesson told through 100 guitar riffs! (HT: Stephen Altrogge)

Calvinism & Arminianism Summarized

In yesterday’s post about Tom Ascol’s “4 types of Southern Baptists”, I said that the vast majority of people in my church were what he called “cooperative non-Calvinists”. While this is true, it may not be the whole truth. It would probably be more accurate to say that most people in our church either don’t know or don’t care about the doctrines of grace — often referred to as the “five points of Calvinism”. I thought it might be helpful, then, to share a succinct history and definition of them.

The first thing to be pointed out is that John Calvin himself did not come up with the “five points”, and he certainly did not invent the “TULIP” acronym (popularized in the 20th century). The five points of Calvinism actually arose out of a theological dispute among Dutch Christians more than 50 years after Calvin’s death. Theologian James Arminius and his followers had articulated five main points of doctrinal dispute with the teachings of Calvin and other reformers, which led to an international church council (a “synod”) held in the city of Dordrecht to decide the dispute. The result was a document called “The Decision of the Synod of Dordt on the Five Main Points of Doctrine in Dispute in the Netherlands“, more commonly known as “The Canons of Dordt”.

The Synod determined that the Arminian teachings were false, and a summarized version of their responses to the “five points of Arminianism” was eventually set to the TULIP acronym for ease of memory. So really, the “five points of Calvinism” weren’t Calvin’s at all! They were rather (in the opinion of the delegates convened in Dordrecht in 1618, anyway) the teachings of Scripture, taught not only by John Calvin, but by Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and many other theologians throughout church history.

Baptist pastors David Steele and Curtis Thomas concisely contrasted the five points of Arminianism and Calvinism in their 1963 book Romans: An Interpretive Outline:


1. Free-Will or Human Ability

Although human nature was seriously affected by the fall, man has not been left in a state of total spiritual helplessness. God graciously enables every sinner to repent and believe, but He does not interfere with man’s freedom. Each sinner posses a free will, and his eternal destiny depends on how he uses it. Man’s freedom consists of his ability to choose good over evil in spiritual matters; his will is not enslaved to his sinful nature. The sinner has the power to either cooperate with God’s Spirit and be regenerated or resist God’s grace and perish. The lost sinner needs the Spirit’s assistance, but he does not have to be regenerated by the Spirit before he can believe, for faith is man’s act and precedes the new birth. Faith is the sinner’s gift to God; it is man’s contribution to salvation.

2. Conditional Election

God’s choice of certain individuals unto salvation before the foundation of the world was based upon His foreseeing that they would respond to His call. He selected only those whom He knew would of themselves freely believe the gospel. Election therefore was determined by or conditioned upon what man would do. The faith which God foresaw and upon which He based His choice was not given to the sinner by God (it was not created by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit) but resulted solely from man’s will. It was left entirely up to man as to who would believe and therefore as to who would be elected unto salvation. God chose those whom He knew would, of their own free will, choose Christ. Thus the sinner’s choice of Christ, not God’s choice of the sinner, is the ultimate cause of salvation.

3. Universal Redemption or General Atonement

Christ’s redeeming work made it possible for everyone to be saved but did not actually secure the salvation of anyone. Although Christ died for all men and for every man, only those who believe on Him are saved. His death enabled God to pardon sinners on the condition that they believe, but it did not actually put away anyone’s sins. Christ’s redemption becomes effective only if man chooses to accept it.

4. The Holy Spirit Can Be Effectually Resisted

The Spirit calls inwardly all those who are called outwardly by the gospel invitation; He does all that He can to bring every sinner to salvation. But inasmuch as man is free, he can successfully resist the Spirit’s call. The Spirit cannot regenerate the sinner until he believes; faith (which is man’s contribution) proceeds and makes possible the new birth. Thus, man’s free will limits the Spirit in the application of Christ’s saving work. The Holy Spirit can only draw to Christ those who allow Him to have His way with them. Until the sinner responds, the Spirit cannot give life. God’s grace, therefore, is not invincible; it can be, and often is, resisted and thwarted by man.

5. Falling from Grace

Those who believe and are truly saved can lose their salvation by failing to keep up their faith, etc.

All Arminians have not been agreed on this point; some have held that believers are eternally secure in Christ – that once a sinner is regenerated, he can never be lost.

According to Arminianism:

Salvation is accomplished through the combined efforts of God (who takes the initiative) and man (who must respond) – man’s response being the determining factor. God has provided salvation for everyone, but His provision becomes effective only for those who, of their own free will, “choose” to cooperate with Him and accept His offer of grace. At the crucial point, man’s will plays a decisive role; thus man, not God, determines who will be recipients of the gift of salvation.


1. Total Inability or Total Depravity

Because of the fall, man is unable of himself to savingly believe the gospel. The sinner is dead, blind, and deaf to the things of God; his heart is deceitful and desperately corrupt. His will is not free, it is in bondage to his evil nature, therefore, he will not – indeed he cannot – choose good over evil in the spiritual realm. Consequently, it takes much more than the Spirit’s assistance to bring a sinner to Christ – it takes regeneration by which the Spirit makes the sinner alive and gives him a new nature. Faith is not something man contributes to salvation but is itself a port of God’s gift of salvation – it is God’s gift to the sinner, not the sinner’s gift to God.

2. Unconditional Election

God’s choice of certain individuals unto salvation before the foundation of the world rested solely in His own sovereign will. His choice of particular sinners was not based on any foreseen response of obedience on their part, such as faith, repentance, etc. On the contrary, God gives faith and repentance to each individual whom He selected. These acts are the result, not the cause of God’s choice. Election therefore was not determined by or conditioned upon any virtuous quality or act foreseen in man. Those whom God sovereignly elected He brings through the power of the Spirit to a willing acceptance of Christ. Thus God’s choice of the sinner, not the sinner’s choice of Christ, is the ultimate cause of salvation.

3. Particular Redemption or Limited Atonement

Christ’s redeeming work was intended to save the elect only and actually secured salvation for them. His death was substitutionary endurance of the penalty of sin in the place of certain specified sinners. In addition to putting away the sins of His people, Christ’s redemption secured everything necessary for their salvation, including faith which unites them to Him. The gift of faith is infallibly applied by the Spirit to all for whom Christ died, therefore guaranteeing their salvation.

4. The Efficacious Call of the Spirit or Irresistible Grace

In addition to the outward general call to salvation which is made to everyone who hears the gospel, the Holy Spirit extends to the elect a special inward call that inevitably brings them to salvation. The internal call (which is made only to the elect) cannot be rejected; it always results in conversion. By means of this special call the Spirit irresistibly draws sinners to Christ. He is not limited in His work of applying salvation by man’s will, nor is He dependent upon man’s cooperation for success. The Spirit graciously causes the elect sinner to cooperate, to believe, to repent, to come freely and willingly to Christ. God’s grace, therefore, is invincible; it never fails to result in the salvation of those to whom it is extended.

5. Perseverance of the Saints

All who are chosen by God, redeemed by Christ, and given faith by the Spirit are eternally saved. They are kept in faith by the power of Almighty God and thus persevere to the end.

According to Calvinism:

Salvation is accomplished by the almighty power of the Triune God. The Father chose a people, the Son died for them, the Holy Spirit makes Christ’s death effective by bringing the elect to faith and repentance, thereby causing them to willingly obey the gospel. The entire process (election, redemption, regeneration) is the work of God and is by grace alone. Thus God, not man, determines who will be the recipients of the gift of salvation.

I hope you’ve found this helpful! For further study, here are some sources to check out:

I’m a Five Strip Baconist

So much for the SBC soteriology debate. Once people realize we’ve got BACON on our side, everybody will be a Calvinist!

Consider: You may think you had the opportunity to reject the bacon that was freely offered to you, but I know that I was irresistibly drawn to it.

Or, for those unwilling to part with the TULIP acronym, here’s a little baconization for you:

Total Deliciousness
Unconditional Edibility
Limited Allotment
Irresisible Goodness
Perseverance of the Savor

(HT: Ben Woodring via Jules Lapierre for the image, though please don’t blame the rest of my terrible puns on them… I take full responsibility.)

Combing the Net – 6/20/2012

Finding True Love: Helping Your Child Chose the Right Instrument — This is a great article from NPR about musical instrument selection for kids. I was glad to see that they listed “Instrument Petting Zoos” as one of the best ways to help children (and parents) choose. The School of Performing Arts has been holding petting zoos for seven years; they are always super fun! We have three already scheduled for this Fall. Let me know if you want to attend one!

Explosion at Opryland Hotel — This doesn’t look like it’s as dramatic as it originally sounded last night, but it was bad enough to force an evacuation and do significant damage to the Convention Center. Thankful that no one was hurt!

Opposing Unconstitutional Wars — Rand Paul explains why he endorsed Mitt Romney, while also promising to stand up to the presumptive GOP nominee on the issues where he is an opponent of liberty: most notably on his stance on the President’s authority to declare war without the consent of Congress. In this regard (as in many others), Romney is virtually indistinguishable from our current President and his predecessor.

Reflections on the Election of Fred Luter — Denny Burk on the selection of the first black president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

I cannot overstate how deeply significant the election of Fred Luter is. Nor can I overstate the emotion that was in the room when he was elected. Baptist messengers from all over the South rose to their feet and cheered as they cast their votes for the first black president of the SBC. I myself tried to cheer and whistle as I held my ballot up, but I could not get anything out through the tears. And I wasn’t alone.

Calvinism Debate Shifts to Heresy Accusation — This Christianity Today article is another good report on the ongoing debate over “God’s Plan of Salvation” in the SBC. (HT: Owen Strachen)

SBC Pastors Polled on Calvinism and Its Affect on Convention — The results of the study mentioned in the previous article, and in Dr. Frank Page’s address at the SBC Annual Meeting. Of SBC pastors, 30% describe their churches as “Calvinist” or “Reformed”, while 61% report that they are concerned about the impact of Calvinism in the SBC. No wonder tensions are so high! (HT: Tom Ascol)

This Is The Gospel Project — The trailer for the new curriculum from Lifeway is also a great 3-minute summary of Biblical Theology!