Conversion of Souls: Concerning Regeneration

Many books, pamphlets and articles have been written on the conversion of a human from an unbeliever to a believer. Many times the author takes the perspective that man needs no help from God except to know God’s truth from His word and then man takes all the initiative. In this erroneous system man brings himself to God and repents and has faith without any aid from God except for His revealed word. This faulty system is but a religious self-help decisionism method designed by Satan to seemingly thwart the will of God to convert sinners.

Another erroneous system says that God gives some light from His word and then “jump starts man” with the Holy Spirit but then waits on man to pick himself up off his death bed and bring himself to God. This faulty system seems to make God to be like a coach on the sideline rooting for His team, sending in suggested plays and in the end hoping for the best turn out. This hardly seems to be the sovereign God of the scriptures.

There are a lot of big words we could ascribe to these erroneous systems of conversions and we could name several more faulty systems that are propagated by some churches and pastors. My intention is not to dissect the counterfeits of conversion but to dissect what the Word of God says about true conversion of the soul. If one is to learn how to tell a counterfeit the best way is to know what the genuine stuff looks like. In the future I will deal with the counterfeits but in the next few weeks I want to expose what “thus saith the Lord” concerning this doctrine of conversion or regeneration.

Let’s look at what we, as Baptist, have agreed upon in this day we live and then we will look at what we historically have agreed on concerning this doctrine of conversion or regeneration.

The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 says concerning regeneration, repentance and faith:

“Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lordand Saviour, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer. In its broadest sense salvation includes regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. There is no salvation apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.

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.” BFM2000.

Now we do not hold any writings of man above scripture, however this is generally what is agreed upon among Baptists when approaching the subject of man’s conversion. Well now let’s look at what the scriptures say. John 1:12-13  “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”  This scripture tells us that the human has the responsibility to receive (respond to) the message of the gospel by faith and then verse 13 reminds us that this is done through the will of God and not man’s will. Clearly this verse taken in its context shows us that man cannot will himself to Christ nor can someone “work up” others to come to Christ. Man’s regeneration is clearly in the hands of our sovereign God who uses His Word and His Spirit to regenerate unbelievers into believers.

Jesus speaking of the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration said in John 3:8 “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” Man cannot control the wind so man cannot control the Spirit of God in the regeneration of others nor in himself. Man cannot regenerate himself to new life for man is spiritually dead: Eph 2:1“And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;”. The act of regeneration must be a full act of the creator of life, both physical and spiritual. Does man respond by faith to this act of God, yes man responds and scripture is clear that man has that responsibility to respond with faith. However man would only respond with rebellion (John reminds us men love their sin and run from the light) without God working in man’s life the work of conviction (godly sorrow) and regeneration.

Some have asked the question, which comes first – repentance and faith then regeneration by God, or does God regenerate and then one repents and believes? I do not believe these are the only options. Scripture and experience bear out the fact that God’s Spirit works on individuals who are not believers in what we know as conviction of sin, a sorrow for sinning against God and transgressing His laws. With some it appears to be long periods of time, with others (such as Paul) it appears to be short periods. This God-caused conviction brings one face to face with the tragedy of their sin, and God’s Spirit breaks the person’s heart for their sin. At some point God fully breaks the unbeliever with conviction and causes the unbeliever to surrender. At this point scripture appears to show us that regeneration by God, and a response of repentance and faith by the unbeliever happens, which results in the unbeliever becoming a believer.

I believe scripture bears out that God works the conviction over differing periods of time but that regeneration, repentance, and faith is worked by God more in a simultaneous act than an act of 1-3. Now one could say, “If God did not regenerate you, you would not have repented and believed”. True, however it appears that anyone regenerated will immediately, with no hesitation, be a repenter and a believer.  One could not have a regenerated person who was not a repenter and a believer and be agreeable with scripture; also on the other hand one could not have a repenter and believer without having been regenerated.

Let’s look at Acts 2:37-38 “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?  Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” God used His Word and His Spirit to bring conviction and then the instruction to those convicted was to repent and be baptized (signifying their belief in Jesus) and they would receive the Holy Ghost. Seems God caused the conviction, brought them to a point of regeneration, repentance, and belief.  Seems you can’t have one without all three and that it is clearly a work of God.

Forgive me for going on so long this week. We will pick up with Part 2 next week so stay tuned.

–          Pastor Alan Davis, July 18, 2012

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About Jerdon Creek Outpost

Alan Davis is lead pastor at Woodland Baptist Church in Waynesville, NC and author of Jerdon Creek Outpost. Woodland Baptist Church is a body of born again regenerate Christians with a desire to fulfill the great commission from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and bring glory to God. Woodland is a voluntary member of the Haywood Baptist Association, North Carolina Baptist Convention, Southern Baptist Convention, True Church Association of Churches and a Founders ministry church. Even though we are in full co-operation with these institutions we are fully free to make our own decisions here at the local church under the leadership of the Holy Spirit and in accordance to God’s inspired and inerrant Word. We chose to be affiliated with these institutions in order to better fulfill the great commission. Woodland Baptist believes in mission work at home and at large. We believe that there is no other way to God but through His Son Jesus Christ by personal repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. WBC believes in and holds high the historic doctrines of our Baptist faith. Therefore we believe in sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with all we come in contact with. We believe the Church’s sole support should come from the tithes and offerings of the people of God. Everyone is invited to worship with us here at Woodland Baptist Church. We hope you find a friendly and warm atmosphere where God can develop you into the Christian He wants you to be.
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7 Responses to Conversion of Souls: Concerning Regeneration

  1. Ken Hamrick says:

    Pastor Davis,

    This is a good series of articles. Thank you for sharing it with us. I hope some traditionalists here will engage the points you have brought out. I’m currently still sending out invitations, but I’m pleased with the progress so far—especially with your breaking the ice and posting these articles.

    Also, just to let you know… I edited your articles to add category of theology, and to add various tags. Additionally, because we are a discussion forum, we need to limit the footprint of the articles on the front page. We do that by using the “more” tag after the first line or two. You can go back into edit on your article and see how I did it. The sharing buttons do not display on the front page either, but do display at the bottom of the full length view of the article.

    Ken Hamrick

  2. Thank you Ken,

    I am sorry about the editing problem. That is due to my ignorance with posting but I will “overcome”…with help, lol

    Alan

  3. Ken Hamrick says:

    Brother Alan,

    No apologies necessary! I’m here to help, and I’m thrilled that you have posted already.

  4. William says:

    A question for Pastor Alan

    I have appreciated your articles on here and your articulation of Calvinist view concerning regeneration, repentance, and faith. Thanks for explaining this. I have a question concerning the idea of surrender which I have pondered since seminary. In this article, paragraph 9 you state,

    “At some point God fully breaks the unbeliever with conviction and causes the unbeliever to surrender. At this point scripture appears to show us that regeneration by God, and a response of repentance and faith by the unbeliever happens, which results in the unbeliever becoming a believer.”

    I have long thought that the concept of an individual’s surrender/yielding to God in the salvation process has been lacking in discussion or presentation of how one is saved. My question is should we consider surrender/yield as a logical part of the ordo salutis. Such a consideration from a Calvinist standpoint would modify it as such (according to my understanding):

    Unconditional Election – God’s unconditional choosing of individuals for salvation.
    Effectual Calling – The working of the Gospel message, conviction of the Holy Spirit of sin and truth to call individuals to salvation
    Surrender/Yield – The yielding of the individual’s will to the will of the Spirit whereby the individual ceases resistance to the Spirit allowing the Spirit to effect regeneration
    Regeneration – The work of the Holy Spirit in changing an individual into a new creature
    Conversion – The response of the individual by believing in Christ and repenting of sins.

    Feel free to correct any of my misunderstandings on the ordo salutis above and correct me if surrender is logically a part of the effectual calling. My reasoning for including surrender in this way are as follows:

    1) It remains faithful to the doctrine of total depravity. Man is still dependent on God for all aspects of salvation. The Holy Spirit must do a work in man’s life to enable him to believe and repent. Also yielding/surrender is not an actual act whereby man does something but instead is a cessation of man doing something: resisting the Holy Spirit and striving to depend upon himself.

    2) It alleviates one of the arguments against Calvinism which is that Calvinism teaches that God forces himself upon individuals in order to save. Now obviously true Calvinists do not hold to such, but it is a common argument non-Calvinists raise. Including surrender states clearly that God does not force himself upon the individual. Instead it is God’s desire to regenerate and save, and the individual’s desire is to resist and rebel. The point comes, though, when the individuals yields his will to God’s allowing the Holy Spirit to regenerate the individual.

    3) Related to number 2, it alleviates misunderstanding of irresistible grace. Many people object to irresistible grace first because they don’t understand irresistible grace arguing that man does resist God. We resist and fight throughout the Holy Spirit’s conviction of sin and the truth, but as you state, “At some point God fully breaks the unbeliever with conviction and causes the unbeliever to surrender.” Thus we cease to resist surrendering to the Holy Spirit.

    Again, maybe I am confusing the arguments and positions. If so, feel free to correct my misunderstandings. Regardless I believe this to be an area where fruitful discussion would benefit both sides in helping each side understand the other. Also I believe this is a lacking part of our discussion of the salvation process. Shouldn’t we teach people to yield to the call of the Spirit, something I don’t hear much in preaching or evangelism.

  5. William,

    I believe you are on to something there. God does move man’s will to line up with His especially in salvation. I like the last part in numbers 1-3. I still hold to what appears to be a more simultaneous act of God’s Spirit of regeneration, repentance and faith. The work of bringing the believer to surrender to the Spirit may well be in the later part of the conviction stage bringing what many see or talk of as the point of seeing our sins the way God sees them and the need for Christs work in our lives. A little more study for us in the Scriptures may help flesh some more of this out.

    I am thinking out loud here and responding in conversation so I am sure some correction will be needed to this. Thanks for the response William.

    Sola Scriptura,
    Alan

  6. William says:

    Alan,

    Thanks for the reply. I too am more of thinking out loud as I flesh out my own theology of salvation. Like you I think there is a simultaneous act when the Spirit regenerates, and would include the aspect of surrender as part of that simultaneous act: the instant the individual surrenders, the Holy Spirit regenerates, generating instantaneous faith and repentance. The more I think on it the more I question whether it is a later part of the conviction stage or a separate stage altogether. One minute I go with conviction, the next with something separate. Regardless I think the concept of surrender is something that needs more discussion, especially on the Calvinist side.

    I am open to thoughts from anybody else on the blog, so long as you recognize as Alan and myself have pointed out, we are thinking out loud as we try to flesh out our theology on this.

    William

  7. Regeneration is by the Holy Spirit and is the cause of conversion or as James Petigru Boyce put it, conversion “is the result of regeneration.” The Holy Spirit’s work is set forth in Jn.3:3-8, the work of regeneration or conception from Heaven, directly and immediate upon and in the heart of man. Jas.1:18 declares that “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth.” Begat refers to the delivery of a child at birth; the term is anakueo. Boyce and John Gill set forth this view as does E.C. Dargan and others. A.H. Strong hold to the idea that regeneration and conversion are simultaneous acts.

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