Monday, July 5, 2010
Regeneration by Grudem part 1
We may define regeneration as follows: Regeneration is a secret act of God in which he imparts new spiritual life to us. This is sometimes called “being born again” (using language from John 3:3–8).
A. Regeneration Is Totally a Work of God
In some of the elements of the application of redemption that we discuss in subsequent chapters, we play an active part (this is true, for example, of conversion, sanctification and perseverance). But in the work of regeneration we play no active role at all. It is instead totally a work of God. We see this, for example, when John talks about those to whom Christ gave power to become children of God—they “were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). Here John specifies that children of God are those who are “born...of God” and our human will (“the will of man”) does not bring about this kind of birth.
The fact that we are passive in regeneration is also evident when Scripture refers to it as being “born” or being “born again” (cf. James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:3; John 3:3–8). We did not choose to be made physically alive and we did not choose to be born—it is something that happened to us; similarly, these analogies in Scripture suggest that we are entirely passive in regeneration.
This sovereign work of God in regeneration was also predicted in the prophecy of Ezekiel. Through him God promised a time in the future when he would give new spiritual life to his people:
A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. (Ezek. 36:26–27)
Which member of the Trinity is the one who causes regeneration? When Jesus speaks of being “born of the Spirit” (John 3:8), he indicates that it is especially God the Holy Spirit who produces regeneration. But other verses also indicate the involvement of God the Father in regeneration: Paul specifies that it is God who “made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:5; cf. Col. 2:13). And James says that it is the “Father of lights” who gave us new birth: “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures” (James 1:17–18).1 Finally, Peter says that God “according to his abundant mercy has given us new birth... through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3, author’s translation). We can conclude that both God the Father and God the Holy Spirit bring about regeneration.
What is the connection between effective calling and regeneration? As we will see later in this chapter, Scripture indicates that regeneration must come before we can respond to effective calling with saving faith. Therefore we can say that regeneration comes before the result of effective calling (our faith). But it is more difficult to specify the exact relationship in time between regeneration and the human proclamation of the gospel through which God works in effective calling.
At least two passages suggest that God regenerates us at the same time as he speaks to us in effective calling: Peter says, “You have been born anew not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.... That word is the good news which was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:23, 25). And James says, “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth” (James 1:18 NIV). As the gospel comes to us, God speaks through it to summon us to himself (effective calling) and to give us new spiritual life (regeneration) so that we are enabled to respond in faith. Effective calling is thus God the Father speaking powerfully to us and regeneration is God the Father and God the Holy Spirit working powerfully in us to make us alive. These two things must have happened simultaneously as Peter was preaching the gospel to the household of Cornelius, for while he was still preaching “the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word” (Acts 10:44).
Sometimes the term irresistible grace is used in this connection. It refers to the fact that God effectively calls people and also gives them regeneration, and both actions guarantee that we will respond in saving faith. The term irresistible grace is subject to misunderstanding, however, since it seems to imply that people do not make a voluntary, willing choice in responding to the gospel—a wrong idea, and a wrong understanding of the term irresistible grace. The term does preserve something valuable, however, because it indicates that God’s work reaches into our hearts to bring about a response that is absolutely certain—even though we respond voluntarily.