Regeneration is a crucial doctrine to our faith. But it’s crucial-ness is partly determined in where we place this doctrine in the order of our salvation. Let me explain. Some people, not me, say that this doctrine must come after exercising faith. I say it must come before. So before I explain this, let me define what I mean by “regeneration.”
Regeneration is a secret act of God’s free grace in which He imparts a new spiritual life to us, where He raises our dead nature to life.
I say is crucial to believe that this doctrine of regeneration must come before someone exercises faith in Jesus, simply because it is true to say that. Without having been regenerated, no one can exercise faith in Jesus. In our natural sinful state Paul explains that we are “dead in our transgressions” (Eph. 2:1-3). Those that are spiritually dead cannot, and will not, make any move toward Jesus, because nothing in them desires to have anything to do with Him. They may make all sorts of spiritual decisions and choices to do this or that, but every sinner will not make a healthy spiritual move toward Jesus while being spiritually dead. Therefore, what the sinner needs most is to be awakened, to be raised from the dead as Lazarus was raised from the grave, to be regenerated. Ezekiel 36:26-27 talks about what happens in the soul when God chooses to regenerated a sinner.
“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”
You see this? God does things this way in Salvation, He is the One who gives us a new heart, a moldable heart that’s soft rather than hard like stone. Once He does this, God will fill us with His Spirit and cause us to walk in His ways. Benjamin Joffe explains it like this:
If a lion is in a cage, and you put before him a bowl of meat, and a bowl of wheat, which one will the lion choose to eat? ”The lion will always choose the meat, he would never choose the wheat, because lion’s don’t eat wheat, that is who they are.” Right, a lion will always eat the meat because of who they are. Total Depravity is like this, in that our nature, using it’s freedom of choice, it will only and always choose sin! Why? That is who we are! It must take an act outside of ourselves to change what is going on inside of ourselves. We need to be made new creatures before we can choose something that is unnatural to us.
I am eager to say this act of God called regeneration must come before we exercise faith in Jesus, because of the above reasons, and because when we place it before faith, God gets the glory, not us. When we place it after faith, we make regeneration an act of God that is in response to our act of faith, which in turn makes God only able to act in us if we allow Him to. This is hurtful, and unhelpful to think in these ways about God.