The New Birth

Posted: June 8, 2010 by Greg Burkheimer in Calvinism, New Testament, Radical Depravity, Theology, Uncategorized

The new birth is not salvation? This was the troubling question on my heart as we covered the doctrine of regeneration one evening in Bible Doctrine III class. I had always thought that being born again was the same as being saved or justified and was a result of faith? The Reformed understanding of the Ordo Salutis (order of salvation) was about to challenge me to re-examine my belief. The purpose of this paper will be to briefly examine the Ordo Salutis in relation to which comes first, regeneration or faith?

Process of Salvation

We don’t tend to think of salvation in terms of a process, at least I did not. Salvation to me meant having my sins forgiven and receiving eternal life. While this is certainly part of the salvation process, it is not the only part. We tend to narrow salvation to just the moment we come to know Christ or are justified (declared righteous). The bible uses many terms in relation to the salvation process; perseverance, regeneration, justification, predestination, glorification, adoption, faith, reconciliation, new birth, sanctification, conversion, imputation, calling, forgiveness. All of these relate in some way to salvation but are not all the same thing. Salvation is a big deal! Salvation encompasses many aspects and I have been blessed to have my understanding broadened.

The Bible presents salvation as both an event and a process in which people are brought into a right relationship with God. Salvation is spoken of as past Eph 2:8, present 1 Cor 1:18, and future Rom 5:9. How then are we to understand salvation as a process?

Ordo Salutis

Ordo Salutis is Latin for “order of salvation” and refers to the logical order in which the process of salvation takes place. While Christ accomplished salvation for us in the past, the ordo salutis deals with, as Wayne Grudem puts it in his Systematic Theology book, “the way God applies that salvation to our lives”. As stated before, the bible uses many terms for different events in the salvation process. Some might question if there can be a logical order of salvation?

Different Approaches

According to Michael Patton of The Theology Program in his lesson on the ordo salutis, this has been approached many different ways by different people and Seminaries across the country. Some have simply spoken of the ordo salutis as, A. Salvation, which happened in the past, B. Sanctification, which is happening in the present, and C. glorification, which will happen in the future and this is all they cover. Some would state they do it according to the involvement of the person in salvation. God the Father foreknows, predestines/elects, reconciles, and adopts. God the Son atones, propitiates, redeems, and justifies. God the Holy Spirit calls, regenerates, and secures. God and man work together on faith, repentance, sanctification, and perseverance. Another way you could divide the ordo salutis is according to what happens before time including foreknowledge, predestination/election and what happens in time, calling, regeneration, justification, faith repentance, and perseverance. Some would organize their ordo salutis according to what God does alone, known as monogism and would include election, atonement, calling, regeneration, and justification and what God does through us, known as synergism, including faith, repentance, sanctification, and perseverance. Then there is the Pauline ordo salutis of Rom 8:29-30

For whom He foreknew, He also predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son, for Him to be the First-born among many brothers. But whom He predestinated, these He also called; and whom He called, those He also justified. And whom He justified, these He also glorified. (MKJV)

 

One interesting thing to note about the Pauline ordo salutis is that every event that Paulspeaks of is in the past tense. Now I have not been glorified yet and I have never met anyonewho claimed to be, so how can Paul speak of such an event in the past tense? The idea I believe is that these are such sure events from the perspective of God that Paul speaks of them as already done, they are finished. I think perspective is the key when examining these issues. It’s always good to note whose perspective is being spoken from?

Different Understandings

Because everyone has not agreed in their understanding of the ordo salutis, this has led to different models. The two main models in Protestantism are the Arminian and Reformed models as outlined below.

Arminian Model                                                         Reformed Model                                

  1. Conditional Election (God/Man)                 1.   Unconditional Election (God)
  2. Atonement (God)                                           2.   Atonement (God)
  3. Calling (Man)                                                  3.   Calling (God)
  4. Prevenient Grace (God)                                4.   Regeneration (God)
  5. Faith (Man)                                                       5.   Conversion (Faith/Repntance) (God/Man)
  6. Regeneration (God/Man)                             6.   Justification (God)
  7. Conditional Justification (God/Man)           7.   Sanctification (God/Man)
  8. Glorification (God)                                          8.   Glorification (God)

By contrasting the models above the differences become clear from the beginning.  Both the Arminian and Reformed models begin with election but in the Reformed model election is not a God/man process. God does not look into the future to see who will believe and then elect them. God sovereignty predestines who will be saved. Another big difference in the Reformed model is that regeneration comes before faith and  repentance.   

Regeneration

Robert Peterson from Covenant Theological Seminary in his class on regeneration covers this topic well. Peterson refers to reformed theologian Anthony Hoekema for defining regeneration. Hoekema on page 101 of his book Saved by Grace defines regeneration as a radical change from spiritual death to spiritual life. Brought about in us by the Holy Spirit, a change in which we are completely passive. This change involves an inner renewal of our nature as a fruitof God’s sovereign grace and takes place in union with Christ. The nature of regeneration then as seen by Hoekema is instantaneous, supernatural, and radical (Saved by grace pp.102-104). Hoekema also states that regeneration usually occurs during the preaching, teaching, or reading of the bible and that we must trust that God will give the hearer the ability to repent and believe (pp109-111). Peterson does criticize Hoekema’s approach to regeneration for beginning with the doctrine of depravity. Peterson thinks that depravity is important to bring in at some point but believes that Hoekema is systematizing too early. Peterson believes that you should first go and study the passages that talk about regeneration, draw your doctrine out of that, and then systematic theology is necessary.

Regeneration and Faith

According to Robert Peterson, the controversy over which comes first, regeneration or faith is a subject on which good people disagree. Can we talk about a logical order of regeneration and faith? Some say yes, faith logically must be prior to regeneration. Faith is the flipping on of the light switch and regeneration is the light coming on. Some would say that calling is logically prior to faith and would say that effectual calling is the cause of faith and faith is the cause of regeneration. A cause and effect relationship is seen between faith and regeneration. Peterson does not agree that the bible shows correlation between calling and regeneration.

Peterson refers to Milard Ericksons, argument that Paul’s reply to the Philipian Jailer in Acts 16:31 shows that faith proceeds regeneration “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved, and your household.” But points out that Erickson must assume that in being saved, regeneration is part of the process being referred to here. Peterson believes this is an error and demonstrates this by assuming that calling is part of the process being referred to. “If Erickson can assume regeneration is part of the process, why can’t I assume calling is part of the process?” “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be called?” Neither side would agree with this. Why does Erickson assume that regeneration is what it means when it says saved?  It is much more likely that justification is being referred to since justification is by faith.

Others would say that regeneration is the flipping on of the light switch and faith is the lighting of the room. Acts 16:14 is often used to support this,

“And a certain woman named Lydia heard us, a seller of purple of the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God; whose heart the Lord opened, so that she attended to the things which were spoken by Paul.” (MKJV)

Peterson here also points out that this may be a problematic verse to use for not being precise enough. He believes that we should go to verses that speak of the giving of new life, becoming a new creation and being born again.

Scriptural Support

Throughout the book of 1John, he describes those who have been, “born of God”. 1John 5:1 states that, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.  And everyone who loves Him who begets also loves him who has been born of Him. Does John mean that believing is the means of being born of God or that believing is the effect of being born of God? When we look at some of the other, “born of God statements” of 1John the meaning becomes more clear. In 1John 4:7, John say’s that, “everyone who loves has been born of God”. Does John mean that love is the means by which we are born of God or that love is the effect ofbeing born of God?  Or how about 1John 5:4? “For everything that has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith. Does John mean that overcoming the world is the means of being born of God or the effect of being born of God? 1John 3:9 and 5:18 both speak of how the one who is born of God does not continue in a lifestyle of sin. I believe it is clear that not continuing in a lifestyle of sin is the result of being born of God and not the means of being born of God.  

John 1:12-13 also seems to indicate that it is the new birth that stands behind believing where Jesus gives authority to become children of God, to those who receive him and believe in his name, “who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but were born of God.

 Eph 2:1-5 shows that while we were spiritually dead it is God that makes us alive with Christ and that we could not save ourselves. Bruce Demarest sums this up well,

“The spiritual condition of  pre-Christians is grave; superficial remedies cannot redress such a cluster of problems. The only hope lies in a radical, spiritual solution. What “once born” people need is a supernatural transformation of their lives by the power of God. This transformation the bible calls regeneration or the new birth.” (The cross and salvation, pp 292)

 

Conclusion

 Through the course of this study I have learned to broaden my view of salvation to include more than just a few events such as justification and glorification. Salvation encompasses many aspects from election to glorification and is both an event and a process. How a person organizes these events in their ordo salutis seems as though it will greatly depend on their view of depravity, but hopefully this is secondary to the teaching of scripture. Does regeneration precede faith? As stated before good men disagree. I believe the scriptures teach that it does. John seems to make a clear case that whether it’s loving, being righteous, overcoming, or believing that Jesus is the Christ; I do these things because I have been born of God and not as a means of being born of God. Wayne Grudem’s statement helps with the confusion:   

 The reason that evangelicals often think that regeneration comes after saving faith is that they see the results…after people come to faith, and they think that regeneration must therefore have come after saving faith. Yet here we must decide on the basis of what Scripture tells us, because regeneration itself is not something we see or know about directly: “The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8) Systematic Theology p703

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