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