Tuesday, November 1, 2011

When Are We Born Again?

By Pastor Bruce Oyen
Grace Baptist Church
Rochester, WA
E-mail: bk_oyen@hotmail.com

When Are We Born Again?
      My theme is introduced with this question:  When are we born again? Are we born again when we believe in Jesus Christ as Savior, or before we believe in him? To many Christians, the question seems unnecessary to ask, for they think that most if not all Christians believe we are born again when we believe in Jesus, not before we do so. These Christians think that the new birth is the result of believing in Jesus, not the cause of doing so.
     While I agree that we are born again when we believe in Jesus Christ, it is a fact that many Christians think we are born again before we believe in him. They state their belief this way: "Regeneration (the new birth) precedes faith."  These persons, therefore, think that the new birth results in faith, instead of faith resulting in the new birth.
What John Piper And R. C. Sproul Believe About This Matter.
     In a previous posting, I gave two examples of well-known, current-day preachers and authors who teach that the new birth comes before faith, and that it results in faith. Those preacher-authors are John Piper and R. C. Sproul. To read Piper's statements about this matter, click on this link: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/regeneration-faith-love-in-that-order. To read Sproul's statements about this matter, click on this link: http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/sproul01.html.
Many Scholars Disagree With Piper And Sproul About This Matter
   What follows are quotes from many sources of the present and past who disagree with Piper and Sproul on when we are born again. In other words, all the quotes are from scholars who do or did believe we are born again when we believe in Jesus Christ as Savior. Sometimes the author's names are given, sometimes just the names of the books quoted. These quotes are given in approximate chronological order of when the scholars lived, starting with the more contemporary ones. Their words are in red, to easily distinguish them from mine. The words in italics in the quotes were put that way by the authors.
  •  John MacArthur, Jr.  He is the popular author and radio preacher. Like Piper and Sproul, John MacArthur is a 5-point Calvinist. But he does not believe that the new birth comes before faith.  Here is 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."
  • John Phillips. This man is the author of many expository commentaries on Biblical books. This quote is from his book called, "Exploring The Gospel Of John."  In his comments on John 1:6 - 13 he wrote: "How does believing and receiving make one a child of God? Well, that is our part. When we do our part, God performs the miracle. He says, 'Become!' And we become a child of God. He imparts new life. The Holy Spirit comes in and indwells the human spirit, bringing with him the life of God. The life-giving power of God flows in and regenerates our human spirits. We have life from above. We share the divine nature. We become children of God."
  • Charles C.  Ryrie. This man is the popular author of many books on Biblical subjects. One of his books is called, "Basic Theology." Here is what he wrote in that book on regeneration or the new birth: "God regenerates (John 1:13) according to His will (James 1:18) through the Holy Spirit (John 3:5) when a person believes (John 1:12) the Gospel as revealed in the Word." Ryrie also wrote the following about the relation of regeneration and faith: "In the Reformed statement of the ordo salutis, regeneration precedes faith, for, it is argued, a sinner must be given new life in order to be able to believe. Although this is admittedly stated only as a logical order, it is not wise to insist even on that; for it may well be argued that if a sinner has new life through regeneration, why does he need to believe? Of course there can be no chronological order; both regeneration and faith have to occur at the same moment. To be sure, faith is also part of the total package of salvation that is the gift of God (Eph. 2:9); yet faith is commanded in order to be saved (Acts 16:31). Both are true."
  • John Walvoord And Lewis Sperry Chafer. These two men are well-known for their books, and for their having been Presidents of Dallas Theological Seminary. Chafer wrote a book many years ago called "Major Bible Themes." Some time later, Walvoord updated it. Here is what the updated book says in the chapter on regeneration: "It is entirely a supernatural act of God in response to the faith of man." Later in the same chapter we read this: "When a believer receives Christ by faith, he is born again and in the act of the new birth receives a new nature."
  • The Expositor's Bible Commentary. This multi-volume set covers the entire Bible, and was written by numerous Bible scholars. Here is what it says on John 1:12, 13: "When we accept a gift, whether tangible or intangible, we thereby demonstrate our confidence in its reality and trustworthiness. We make it a part of our own possessions. By being so received, Jesus gives to those who receive him a right to membership in the family of God."
  • The Bible Knowledge Commentary. This two-volume set covers the entire Bible. it was written by numerous scholars from Dallas Theological Seminary. Here is what it says on John 1:12: "People are not naturally children of God but can become so by receiving the gift of the new birth." Here is what it says on John 1:13: "A person welcomes Jesus and responds in faith and obedience to Him, but the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit is the cause of regeneration."
  • All The Doctrines of The Bible. This good book was written by Herbert Lockyer, who wrote many books on Biblical subjects from a Bible-believing perspective. Here is what he said on the new birth, including when it takes place: "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 faith receives Christ, the miracle of regeneration takes place.
  • The Great Doctrines Of The Bible. This helpful and popular book was written by William Evans. Here are some quotes from the chapter that deals with the subject of regeneration: "Man is regenerated by means of the acceptance of the message of the Gospel." It also says: "The truth is illuminated, as is also the mind, by the Spirit; the man yields to the truth, and is born again." The book also says: "Man is regenerated by the personal acceptance of Jesus Christ. This is the clear teaching of John 1:12, 13 and Galatians 3:26. We become 'children of God by faith in Jesus Christ.' When a man, believing in the claims of Jesus Christ receives Him to be all that he claimed to be -- that man is born again." Then, quoting an unnamed source, Evans wrote: "'Man therefore is not wholly passive at the time of his regeneration.'"
  • The New Testament For English Readers. This very thorough commentary on the New Testament was written by the famous scholar, Henry Alford. Here is what he wrote on John 1:13: "The Jews grounded their claim to be children of God on their descent from Abraham. St. John here negatives any such claim, and asserts the exclusive divine birth of all who become children of God by faith."
  • J. C. Ryle. This scholar is well-known for his many books on Biblical subjects. His expository comments on the four Gospels are a favorite of many students of the Gospels. Here is what Ryle wrote on John 1:12: "This expression means, 'he gave them the privilege of adoption into God's family.' They become the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:26.) 'Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.' (1 John 5:1.) There is no sonship without living faith in Christ. Let this never be forgotten. To talk of God being men's Father, and men being God's children, while they do not believe on the Son of God, is contrary to Scripture. Those are not children of God who have not faith in Jesus." Here is what J. C. Ryle wrote on John 1:13: "Saving faith and regeneration are inseperable. The moment that a man really believes in Christ, however feebly, he is born of God. The weakness of his faith may make him unconscious of the change, just as a new-born infant knows little or nothing about itself. But where there is faith there is always new birth, and where there is no faith there is no regeneration."
  • Albert Barnes. This man's commentaries, called "Barnes' Notes," have remained popular ever since they were first published in the 1800's. Here is what Barnes wrote on John 1:13: "The heart is changed by his (God's) power. No unaided effort of man, no works of ours, can produce this change. At the same time it is true that no man is renewed who does not himself desire and will to be a believer; for the effect of the change is on his will (Ps. 110:3), and no one is changed who does not strive to enter in at the strait gate, Phil. 2:12."  Next, Barnes gave several points about what this verse teaches us. The sixth one is this: "That we should forsake all human dependence, cast off all confidence in the flesh, and go at once to the throne of grace, and beseech God to adopt us into his family and save our souls from death."
  • George Zeller. This man has a website with hundreds of excellent Bible studies on it. Here is the link to the following quotes from one of his articles: http://middletownbiblechurch.org/reformed/regenera.htm  Here are the quotes: "Does regeneration precede faith? Actually they both take place in the same moment of time. The moment a person believes on the Lord Jesus Christ he is regenerated (born again). The moment he receives Christ by faith he also receives God’s gift of eternal life. It all happens in an instant of time. Yet logically as we think about this great transaction, we must put an order to it. Does the Bible indicate that a person must be regenerated so that he can believe or does the Bible teach that a person must believe in order to be regenerated? Do we need life in order to believe or do we need to believe in order to have life?" He also wrote: "The Bible clearly teaches this: believe and thou shalt live! "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on Me hath everlasting life" (John 6:47). "That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:15). The extreme Calvinist says, "live and thou shalt believe!" Please notice that John 1:12 does not say this: "But as many as have been regenerated, to them gave He the power to believe on His Name, even to those who have become the children of God." Notice also that John 20:31 says, "believing ye might have life." It does not say, "having life ye might believe." In his helpless and hopeless condition the sinner is told to LOOK to the Lord Jesus Christ AND LIVE (John 3:14-16; Numbers 21). [We sing the hymn, Look and Live. The extreme Calvinist should rename the hymn: Live and Look.] The extreme Calvinist teaches that a person must have life in order to believe. The Lord Jesus taught that a person must believe (come to Christ) in order to have life (John 5:40).  Remember, to "come to Christ" is synonymous with "believing on Him" (see John 6:35,37,40). Why do people not believe on Christ? Is it because they have not been regenerated or because they refuse to come to Christ by faith (John 5:40; 2 Thess. 2:10,12)?"
Some Goals Of This Article
     It is hoped that these scholars' comments on this subject will do these things:
  • Confirm us in our belief that we are born again when we believe in Christ, and not before. Or,
  • Clear the fog out of the minds of those who have begun to think their own view is wrong, and  that maybe Piper and Sproul and others who teach that view are right about this subject. Or,
  • Cause those who do believe that "regeneration precedes faith" to abandon that view and accept the one held by the scholars quoted above, for it is Biblical to say we are born again when we believe in Jesus Christ.
A  Concluding Syllogism:
     Perhaps it will help to close this article with a syllogism. A syllogism has three parts: a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion. Here is mine on this subject.
  • To become a child of God, we must be born again.
  • Galatians 3:26 tells us we become children of God by faith in Jesus Christ.
  • Therefore, we are born again when we believe in Jesus Christ, not before we believe in Him.

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