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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • « Can you repent and believe in Christ by your own power? | Main | Images of the Savior (49 – His Resurrection) »

    Is Justification is the CAUSE of regeneration?

    These are some excerpts from a recent conversation with a visitor.

    Visitor: Justification is the CAUSE of regeneration, just as sin is the cause of death. Sproul and others are teaching that justification comes two steps AFTER regeneration in a literal temporal order. They teach that faith comes, not IN, but AFTER regeneration, and that only THEN are we justified. That means that we are united to Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit, but not YET justified. Our union with Christ doesn't justify us, it only "enables" us to do the work necessary to get ourselves justified. I hold that justification can't FOLLOW regeneration, because it is the CAUSE of regeneration. I also hold that we can't be united to Christ (by regeneration) if justification has not occurred and we are still in our sins. Even if you say that these events are "nearly" simultaneous, it would still mean that the body of Christ has sin that has not been dealt with, if only for the briefest time.

    Response; I may have misunderstood, but from all appearances you are denying that the Spirit can work in any way on an unregenerate person to change their heart prior to belief (since regeneration cannot, by definition, precede faith in your book). But this is obviously not the case. Can you repent and believe in Christ by your own power? No, the Spirit works before, during and after salvation. Even though you [elsewhere] claim to be monergistic, if you deny that the Spirit acts in some way to bring forth belief, your challenge is essentially a denial of this aspect of the Spirit's work. Sproul is not and has never, taught a temporal order in the way you describe. You may have misunderstood him and others who use temporal language (in order to distinguish the benefits of salvation) to describe a non-temporal event. The purpose of this is to demonstrate the Spirit's monergistic working in the soul that is causally "prior" to any human response. To clarify perhaps we can consider the following text of Scripture and an example from the physical world:

    In Acts it reads that when Paul was preaching "...the Lord opened her [Lydia's] heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul." Plainly, here the Spirit works a change in the heart of the person prior to their faith. Regeneration is a change of our heart of stone to a heart of flesh - the Spirit working grace and faith in their heart of the unregenerate prior to anything else. In other words, no one believes while their heart is still stone and something (regenerative grace) must occur before a change happens. The heart must first be made flesh. God does something to change the heart of people prior to ANY faith, though one is connected to, and springs from, the other. The Bible calls this work regeneration.

    The following example may help grasp why these gracious benefits of salvation do not occur in some temporal order. In the physical world, consider a pool ball that hits another - ask yourself, does one hit first and then the other? No, both pool balls hit each other at the same time, but it was only the ball rolling with the momentum that actually caused the other to move. In this way, two event can happen at the same time as another even if one event caused the other. This is a causal order, not a logical or temporal order and this expresses a little about how God acts on us. His work comes in from the outside, apart from which we can do nothing. That initial move of regeneration we are passive, but from this regeneration concurrently springs faith, justification and the beginnings of sanctification. How can this be? Because God is not a creature and is not locked into a temporal history as we are. His acts from the outside are what change our heart instantly from a poiseded spring to a fresh spring.. Apart from the Spirit's work our heart remains dormant or hostile to Christ. Our regenerative grace in Jesus Christ is what makes all the the other benefits spring forth at once.

    Visitor: I hold that it is totally illogical to hold that regeneration can occur before justification. How can we be raised to life, filled with the Holy Spirit, and united to Christ (regenerated) while we are still in our sins?

    Response: Because the Bible teaches it. "While we were still dead in sins, He quickened us" (Eph 2:5). You may be confusing the Spirit's work of quickening (regeneration) with being filled with the Holy Spirit, which most scholars agree are entirely different doctrines and works of the Spirit. Further, you appear to be relying on what you think is logical rather than letting your logic fall under the authority of Scripture which itself plainly teaches monergistic regeneration. For example:

    Jesus says in John 6:63-65 that it is the Spirit who quickens and the flesh counts for nothing ... and some do not believe ... and that is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the father grants it. Notice the work of the Trinity in monergistic regeneration here. The Father grants faith (v.65) to those He gives the Son and this occurs through the quickening of the Holy Spirit (v.63). In plain language, then, no one can believe in Christ unless He first grants it through the quickening work of the Spirit. So faith is the result of the Spirit's regenerating work. Its all right there in black and white.

    All spiritual blessings flow from Christ, regeneration, justification, sanctification, glorification. The benefits cannot be separated from the Benefactor. All the benefits of redemption such as conversion (faith & repentance), justification, sanctification and perseverance presuppose the existence of spiritual life. The work of applying God's grace is a unitary process given to the elect simultaneously. This is instantaneous, but there is definitely a causal order (regeneration giving rise to all the rest).Though these benefits cannot be separated, it is helpful to distinguish them. Therefore, instead of imposing a chronological order we should view these as a unitary work of God to bring us into union with Christ. All aspects of the work of God continue together throughout the life of a Christian. So while regeneration is Monergistic, all others spring forth from Christ, who by His Spirit works through the renewed heart that God granted us.

    All benefits spring from the gracious work of the Spirit in uniting us to Christ. No one here believes that it is ultimately because of our own faith that we are justified ... no, it is by grace itself that we even have the faith and the will to believe the gospel, and this must be causally prior to anything else. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ ALWAYS causally precedes a spiritual act. So any example of sin still being in the body because of some imagined temporal order is nonsensical.

    Posted by John on December 7, 2007 02:27 PM

    Comments

    Just so you know, I thought the comments about salvation, basically happening simultaneously, not piecemeal, were so good that I included the response to the visitor on my blog. I want to give credit were credit is due.

    What is with these people that insist on a temporal order when referring to non-temporal events, like salvation? I'm going through this discussion as we speak, so this response was timely, to say the least.

    Also, how can anyone believe that faith or justification comes BEFORE Regeneration? I don't get it, even though that seems to be the majority opinion.

    As was pointed out, a person DEAD in trespasses and sin, dead, not sick, dead like a corpse, can't respond to anything piecemeal, in a temporal order, if you will.

    When Jesus commanded Lazarus to come forth from the grave, he didn't respond by first having his toe awakened, then his heart. It was instantaneous, complete and a package deal. You are either regenerated or you aren't.

    Lastly, what is the point of insisting on some type of order in the first place? I mean there are places in the bible were sanctification is listed ahead of justification. Does that mean a person is sanctified, then is regenerated? Good Grief!!!!

    When people argue like that I really start to wonder if they are even regenerated. 1 Cor 2:14 says that the things of God are spiritually discerned. The unregenerated CANNOT understand the things of God.

    So if a person can't understand that faith is a gift, and that our being "born from above, is all of God and NOTHING of man, I am concerned for their salvation, even though they think I am unsaved because of my views.

    The bottom line is simple. Regeneration THEN justification, if one must insist on an order. I still say it all happens as a package--simultaneously.

    I am not sure if the comments are still monitored for this post or not, but I have a question related to this topic, so I'll take my chances.

    The explanation of the causal relationship is very helpful. A question that stumps me is how can a person be born again before receiving justification? In other words, if regeneration involves raising from spiritual death, doesn’t it have to include forgiveness of sins? If it includes forgiveness, isn’t that application of God’s justification prior to a profession of faith in Christ (which is necessary for justification)?

    Here’s my take, but I am not sure if I am on the right track, nor do I have any scripture that backs this up. The regeneration is akin to opening the ears to hear and eyes to see, and giving the sinner a heart of flesh. It is merely an ability to pursue salvation, and the catalyst for faith, which then allows for justification. As stated, it is a causal, and not chronological connection. The difficulty when discussing this with an Arminian is that the phrase ‘regeneration’ is read as full salvation (i.e. born again to the Arminian is the completed process and not the beginning).

    Am I on the right track? Any scriptures that would clarify would be helpful. Thank you.

    Aric

    Anyone who is a Christian should at least acknowledge that the Holy Spirit works in people prior to their being justified. Otherwise, no one would ever come to faith. Paul said, "no one can say 'Jesus is Lord' apart from the holy Spirit." Even your Arminian friends must affirm this much. The question then is, what does he do? If God does nothing to one's heart and will at all then all our prayers are in vain, for a person who does not have the Holy Spirit cannot understand spiritual things (1 Cor 2:14)

    Now if this is the case, and we cannot cry 'ABBA Father' unless the Holy Spirit works grace in us, then it is clear that no one can come to faith in Christ unless the Father grants it through the quickening work of the Spirit. This is taught explicitly in John 6:63-65. The work of the entire Trinity is shown forth in this passage as a necessary precursor prior to those who exercise faith in Christ. The passage says so much in plain language. 1 John 5:1 also teaches this: "Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him."

    The Greek of this Text makes clear that the new birth is necessary to have faith.

    Hope this helps
    John

    To the contributors of Reformation Theology.com, just want to say your efforts has greatly blessed me and helped me gain a stronger foundation for my faith.

    May God bless you all..

    Ewen

    It seems to me that the visitor raises a valid point, one which you missed in your response. He is not denying the sovereign unilateral work of the Spirit in regeneration. What he is denying is the logical priority of regeneration to justification. He is saying that it must be the other way around, since the imputation of Christ's righteousness is the forensic ground for all the special grace we receive, including regeneration. Consider these passages from Louis Berkhof's Systematic Theology:

    "The sinner receives the initial grace of regeneration on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Christ. Consequently, the merits of Christ must have been imputed to him before his regeneration. But while this consideration leads to the conclusion that justification logically precedes regeneration, it does not prove the priority of justification in a temporal sense. The sinner can receive the grace of regeneration on the basis of a justification, ideally existing in the counsel of God and certain to be realized in the life of the sinner."

    "In connection with the various movements in the work of application we should bear in mind that the judicial acts of God constitute the basis for His recreative acts, so that justification, though not temporally, is yet logically prior to all the rest ..."

    "Justification is always a declaration of God, not on the basis of an existing condition, but on that of a gracious imputation,” a declaration which is not in harmony with the existing condition of the sinner. The judicial ground for all the special grace which we receive lies in the fact that the righteousness of Christ is freely imputed to us."

    A.A. Hodge says essentially the same thing as Berkhof in his essay, "The Ordo Salutis." Following is a pertinent excerpt:

    4. The analogy of the imputation of Adam’s sin to us and of our sins to Christ must be borne in mind when reflecting on the conditions of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ to us.

    However much various schools of theologians may differ as to the grounds and nature of our union with Adam, and hence as to the reason in law of our responsibility for his apostatizing act, the whole Church has always maintained that the depravity of moral nature innate in his posterity is the penal consequence of his first sin. Beza on Rom. v. expresses the faith of the whole church when he says: “As Adam, by the commission of sin, first was made guilty of the wrath of God” (i.e., righteously exposed to that wrath), “then as being guilty underwent as the punishment of his sin the corruption of soul and body, so also he transmitted to his posterity a nature in the first place guilty, and next corrupted.” The imputation of the guilt (just liability to punishment) of Adam’s apostatizing act to his whole race in common leads judicially to the spiritual desertion of each new-born soul in particular, and spiritual desertion involves inherent depravity as a necessary and universal consequence. In like manner the imputation of our sins in common to Christ lead to his spiritual desertion (Matt. 27:46), but his temporary desertion as a man by the Holy Ghost lead in his case to no tendency however remote to inherent or actual sin, because he was the God-man. By consequence, the imputation of Christ’s righteous to us is the necessary precondition of the restoration to us of the influences of the Holy Ghost, and that restoration leads by necessary consequence to our regeneration and sanctification.

    The notion that the necessary precondition of the imputation to us of Christ’s righteousness is our own faith, of which the necessary precondition is regeneration, is analogous to the rejected theory that the inherent personal moral corruption of each of Adam’s descendants is the necessary precondition of the imputation of his guilt to them. On the contrary, if the imputation of guilt is the causal antecedent of inherent depravity, in like manner the imputation of righteousness must be the causal antecedent of regeneration and faith.

    I was just listening to the dividing line a bit ago, and Dr. James White was talking about a distinction between Justification and Regeneration. I was confused for a moment, then I thought about it, First and foremost all of the elect are preordained to eternal life in Christ Jesus. Regeneration coming before faith and thus justificstion makes sense, God must first give us a spiritual life or a heart of flesh to be able to respond to the Gospel through the regenerative power of the Holy Spirit. It Is by the means of regeneration that the Father causes us to be willing and thus draws the elect to His Son. Then and only then can we most willingly and freely surrender to the will of God, which Is to believe on the one whom He hath sent, Jesus Christ our Lord. Regeneration makes faith possible, but faith cometh by hearing, a heart may be changed prior to the hearing of the gospel, but that heart Is changed for the very purpose of hearing of the gospel by which regenerate Is brought to faith, being drawn by the irresistable grace of God.

    The Lord declares the ends as well as the means. I do not think that compatibalism would be very compatible if Justification came before Regeneration. Those are my thoughts.

    Soli Deo Gloria!

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