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.