Saturday, October 29, 2011

Are We Passive or Active In The New Birth?

By Pastor Bruce Oyen
     It will come as a surprise to many Christians that there are many other Christians who think  non-Christians do not have to do something to experience the new birth. Rather, they think non-Christians are completely passive when it comes to being born again.
    Some Christians from the past believed non-Christians are passive in the new birth. And some present-day Christians think this way. Some of them are well-known preachers and authors, such as R. C. Sproul and John Piper.
    John Piper's view of this subject can be seen in the following quotes from one of his sermons in which he presented his view. His words are in red to easily distinguish them from mine.
    He said this:
The New Birth Is the Cause of Faith
We can say, first, that regeneration is the cause of faith. That’s plain in 1 John 5:1: “Everyone who believes [that is, has faith] that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.” Having been born of God results in our believing. Our believing is the immediate evidence of God’s begetting.
    Later he said this:
The Order: New Birth, Faith, Love
So in the order of causation we have: 1) new birth, 2) faith in Jesus, and 3) the doing of God’s commandments without a sense of burdensomeness, namely, loving others. God causes the new birth. The new birth is the creation of new life that sees Christ for who he is and receives him, and that receiving severs the roots of the cravings of the world and sets us free to love.
    R. C. Sproul's view of this subject is clearly set forth in his book called, "The Mystery Of The Holy Spirit," which I carefully have read. What follows is a quote from chapter six in this book. The chapter is titled, "The New Genesis: The Holy Spirit And Regeneration." His words are in red, to easily distinguish them from mine.
    Sproul wrote this: One of the most dramatic moments in my life for the shaping of my theology took place in a seminary classroom. One of my professors went to the blackboard and wrote these words in bold letters: "Regeneration Precedes Faith."
    These words were a shock to my system. I had entered seminary believing that the key work of man to effect rebirth was faith. I thought that we first had to believe in Christ in order to be born again. I use the words in order here for a reason. I was thinking in terms of steps that must be taken in a certain sequence. I had put faith at the beginning. The order looked something like this:
"Faith - rebirth -justification."
    In this scheme of things, the initiative falls with us. To be sure, God had sent Jesus to die on the cross before I ever heard the Gospel. But once God had done these things external to me, I thought the initiative for appropriating salvation was my job.
    Later in this chapter, Sproul wrote this: This concept of cooperation is at best a half-truth. Yes, the faith we exercise is our faith. God does not do the believing for us. When I respond to Christ, it is my response, my faith, my trust that is being exercised. The issue, however, goes deeper. The question still remains: Do I cooperate with God's grace before I am born again, or does the cooperation occur after?
    Later in the chapter, Sproul wrote this:  After a person is regenerated, that person cooperates by exercising faith and trust. But the first step is the work of God and of God alone.    
   And still later in the chapter, Sproul wrote this: The reason we do not cooperate with regenerating grace before it acts upon us and in us is because we cannot. We cannot because we are spiritually dead. We can no more assist the Holy Spirit in the quickening of our souls to spiritual life than Lazarus could help Jesus raise him for the dead.
    There you have these men's own words about their view of the new birth, also called regeneration. But I want to focus on Sproul's statements. Let us, then, consider the reason for Sproul's view that, as his professor put it, "regeneration (that is, the new birth) precedes faith," and the consequences of this view.
    Here is his stated  reason for his view: The reason we do not cooperate with regenerating grace before it acts upon us and in us is because we cannot. We cannot because we are spiritually dead. We can no more assist the Holy Spirit in the quickening of our souls to spiritual life than Lazarus could help Jesus raise him for the dead.
   Sproul believes we are so depraved by sin that we can be compared to a dead body. But this is a false comparison. It is not found in the Bible, from which we are supposed to derive our doctrines. The Bible does say in Ephesians 2:1 and 5 that we are dead in trespasses and sins. But to compare this spiritual death to a dead body is to make a false comparison.
     I have officiated at many funerals, and I know firsthand that a dead person does not hear what goes on at a funeral. A dead person does not hear the crying of loved ones, the eulogies, the reading of an obituary, the music, or anything else.
     However, someone who is physically alive but spiritually dead in trespasses and sins does hear the Gospel, whether it is presented in a sermon, in  personal conversation, in music, or in literature. And that person responds, either by rejecting it or by believing it.
     Yes, Sproul's comparison of a sinner dead in trespasses and sins to a person who is physically dead, is a false comparison. So, what does this spiritual deadness really mean? I think we find our answer in the parable of the prodigal son, which is found in Luke 15:11 - 32. In this parable, a man's son claimed his inheritance early, went out and lived a sinful life, and came to regret it. He made up his mind to humble himself and return to his father and to the good life which previously he had known. The father was thrilled at the wayward son's return, and to celebrate it, he threw a party. Verse 24 says the father said, "For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found." In verse 32 he told his other son, "It was meet (appropriate) that we should make merry, and be glad; for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found."
     From this I conclude that to be dead in sin means to be separated from God. It does not mean to be dead with a death comparable to a corpse. And isn't that what we find in the Bible's infallible account of what happened to Adam and Eve when they sinned their first sin? Had  not Adam been told that the day he would eat of the forbidden fruit he would die? See Genesis 2:16 and 17. And that is what happened. He and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, and paid the consequence for having done so.
    They died that day. But it was a spiritual death, not a physical one. They lived physically for a long, long time after their spiritual death. But could their spiritual death be compared to a physical death? No. Their spiritual death resulted in their alienation from God, but not in total inability to respond to God. Genesis 3 tells us of God seeking Adam and Eve, whose sin had alienated them from God, just as the prodigal son's sins had alienated him from his father. God asked Adam, "Where art thou?" God knew where he was. This rhetorical question revealed their estrangement from God.
We Have Biblical Reasons For Not Believing We Are Passive In The New Birth:
    John 1:11 - 13 tell us this about Jesus Christ: "He came unto his own, and his own received him not. 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."  
    These verses do not teach that the sovereignty of God eliminates our choice to be born again. We must receive Christ to experience the new birth, while at the same time realizing that it is a work of God. But it is a work that can be permanently resisted.
     If these verses teach that we have no choice in the new birth, then 2 Timothy 2:26 teaches that those who are captives of the devil had no choice in it. The verse refers to those who oppose the Gospel, and says this: "and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will." Is it no standard belief among Christians, and rightly so, that someone must cooperate with the devil to be taken captive by him? In other words, do we not believe that we have a choice in the matter? That we are responsible for it happening? Don't we believe Adam and Eve had a choice in their following the devil's will? Well, then, why do Calvinists want us to believe our will has no part in the new birth?
     In 1 Corinthians 4:14 and 15 we have more evidence that we are not passive in the new birth. The apostle Paul wrote this: "I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you. For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the Gospel."
    Was Paul claiming to have brought about the new birth in those persons lives? Yes and no. No, because only God can cause the new birth. Yes, because he had preached the Gospel to them, and they had believed it, which, in turn, brought about their regeneration. Paul's part in their spiritual birth is recorded in Acts 18, verse 8 of which tells us that at his preaching "many of the Corinthians, hearing believed and were baptized."
    So, God used Paul's preaching and their believing to bring about their new birth. Remember, his statement to the Corinthians contradicts the Calvinistic idea that man has no part in the new birth. He said: "...I have begotten you through the Gospel." ( 1 Corinthians 4:14 and 15)
Biblical Statements Misconstrued by Calvinists
    James 1:18 is a favorite proof text of Calvinists. The verse say this: "Of his own will begat he us with the Word of truth, that we should be  a kind of first fruits of his creatures." To Calvinists, this means the sinner's will has no part in regeneration. It is more Scriptural to say that the verse means God's will to save us precedes man's will to be saved. God Himself devised the method salvation, and then made it known to man through the Gospel. Those who believe and are saved can taken no credit for the new birth or any other aspect of salvation. It is a work of God.
    Note that James 1:18 says this: "Of his own will begat he us with the Word of truth....." That Word of truth is the Gospel message. That message must be heard and believed for the new birth to happen. This is in contrast to the Calvinist's belief that the message must be heard, which then results in the new birth of only the elect, which then results in their having saving faith.
    1 Peter 1:23 speaks of "being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever." This abiding nature of the Word of God is also spoken of in 1 Peter 1:25, which says this: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the Gospel is preached unto you."
   Now, if we put the truths of both verses together we learn an important thing about the new birth: the Gospel is a message to be believed. And when it is, the believer is born again by it. So, then, faith precedes regeneration, in contrast to Calvinists such as Piper, and Sproul, and his seminary professor who said "Regeneration Precedes Faith."
    John 1:11 - 13 are misconstrued by Calvinists, but the verses were considered earlier in this posting, and will be considered by MacArthur and Lockyer in the next part of the posting.
Good Statements By John MacArthur And Herbert Lockyer on Regeneration
    These well-known Bible scholar's statements are in red, to easily distinguish them from mine.
    Pastor John MacArthur is a 5-point Calvinist. But he does not believe that the new birth comes before faith.  I am in agreement with his view on the new birth, as found in his 1-volume commentary on the Bible. In his comments on John 3:3 he wrote, "New birth is an act of God whereby eternal life is imparted to the believer (2Cor. 5:17; Titus 3:5; 1 Peter 1:13; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5;1,4,18). John 1:12, 13 indicates that 'born again' also carries the idea 'to become children of God' through trust in the name of the incarnate Word." 
    In his comments on John 3:11- 21 he wrote, " The key word in these verses is 'believe,' used seven times. The new birth must be appropriated by an act of faith."
     Herbert Lockyer was a Bible scholar. He was born in 1886, and he died in 1984. Lockyer is  known for his many books on Biblical subjects. I have several of those books. One of my favorites is the called, "All The Doctrines Of The Bible."  Chapter 17 of this book is about regeneration. Here is what he wrote about the human side of regeneration: "While the Holy Spirit alone can regenerate, He never regenerates alone. On the human side, there are conditions to be observed. There is repentance over the sinful condition the Spirit revealed (Mark 1:15; Acts 20:21).There is also faith, which becomes operative as the Spirit presents Christ as Savior (John 1:12; 3:14; 1 John 5:1). The moment have faith receives Christ, the miracle of regeneration takes place." 
     Two paragraphs later, Lockyer wrote: "A person had nothing to do with his first birth. He did not will it or enter the world on his own volition. But with the new birth, it is totally different, for a person wills his own salvation or damnation. God never forces the human will (John 7:17). Without the fulfillment of conditions on the sinner's part, God cannot accomplish His part in the impartation of a new life."
     In conclusion, let me make some points about the implications of the Calvinist's view that sinners are passive in the new birth.
     First, that view really makes the new birth impersonal. As stated earlier, it means we have no choice in the matter. The Calvinist believes God has chosen who will be saved, and who won't be saved. And he believes God then intervenes in the lives of the chosen ones to irresistibly bring about their new birth. Isn't that impersonal?
     Second, if the Calvinist's view is right, it means that God is responsible for at least some of the sins committed by the elect ones before He intervenes with the new birth. The new birth results in changed lives. Not perfect lives, but changed lives. Some persons do not experience the new birth until they are elderly, and until after they have, therefore, committed many sins. These sins might include murder, adultery, fornication, and rape. Why does God not intervene before these elect persons commit these sins? Would not the new birth have helped prevent many of these sins?
     However, if we are not passive in the new birth, but must repent and believe the Gospel to be born again, but choose to not do so, we are solely responsible for our sins.
        To read Biblical arguments against the idea that God's grace is irresistible, click on the following link to a previous article of mine. Then, scroll down until you see the heading about the matter. Here is the link:
    To read more of  Sproul's view about the subject of regeneration, buy his book, or click on this link: But you should know that this link gives quotes from chapter six of this book without indicating that they are taken from different parts of the chapter. I know, because I compared them with my copy of the book.
    To read Sproul's belief in the Calvinistic doctrine of election to salvation, read his book called, "Chosen By God." I am not quoting this book in this posting. I have carefully read it, and know what it teaches. But to read a quote from Sproul about the subject, and to see an ad for the book, click on this link:

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