(Article for publication week of 3-20- AD 2013)
"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." (John 1:12-13).
For several weeks we have been writing on the doctrine of justification by faith, which is another way of saying justification by grace (Romans 4:16). I have shown you that justifying faith is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9). This week I will labour to teach that regeneration precedes faith. This is a fundamental truth of God's word. Unless we are enabled to see and understand something of the order of God's work of salvation, we will miss much of the gospel and have a flawed understanding of salvation itself. The learned theologian, Dr John Gerstner said that when he came to see that regeneration actually precedes faith, it was the key that began to open the truth of the gospel to him. I pray it will be so for many of you. If we get the order of salvation reversed, we are likely to err at many points. Modern day evangelicalism is fundamentally flawed, and is filling the church houses with spurious converts because most preachers today believe that sinners can regenerate themselves by an act of their own will.
Our text this week makes it clear that true, justifying and saving faith is not produced by man's fallen will, but is produced by the sovereign work of regeneration. I want you to read our text carefully and prayerfully, and if you do, you will see that regeneration (the new birth) precedes faith. Note well that our text says that those who believe in Christ for salvation WERE (emphasis mine) born (past tense). The new birth is antecedent to a sinner believing in Christ. Indeed, no one can or will believe in Christ to the saving of their soul until they are born from above by the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit (see also John 3:3-8). Saving faith is a spiritual exercise, and a sinner dead in trespasses and sins can perform no spiritual actions. Life always precedes action, naturally and spiritually. You must have spiritual life in order to act spiritually, and only the Holy Spirit can give such life.
Notice also in our text this week that saving faith in Christ comes not from man's fallen will, but from God's sovereign will. The text plainly says that those who believe in Christ are those who are born again, not by any power of man, but by the will of God. The text plainly says, "not of the will of man, but of the will of God." Salvation is by free grace, not free will. Salvation is all of the Lord from first to last , in every detail, and at every point. A poor sinner is helpless to save himself, or help save himself. By nature, every person is dead in trespasses and sins, and void of any spiritual capacity whatsoever (Ephesians 2:1). If you will ever be saved, you must be born again by the immediate work of the Holy Spirit. The thing a lost sinner needs above everything else is spiritual life, and only the Holy Spirit can give such life.
Here we have a fundamental difference between carnal professors, and those who truly have Christ. There are multitudes all around us who have been cajoled and coaxed into making a profession of religion, but they have never been regenerated. They have made a "decision" by their own so-called "free will", but they have not been born spiritually by the sovereign will of God as is described in our text this week. There are probably some of you reading this who say you have "accepted " Christ, but have never received Him as a result of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit as described in our text. There are many who have some head knowledge of Christ, the Bible and the gospel, but they have not true saving faith that is produced by the will of God in the new birth. We have multitudes of blind leaders of the blind falling into the ditch and bringing their false converts down with them.
The order of salvation is that the Holy Spirit regenerates an elect sinner by His sovereign power, and then that sinner comes to Christ by faith. "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3), nor enter in (John 3:5). May the blessed Holy Spirit Who moves like the wind, regenerate many of you, and give you the gift of saving faith and draw you to the dear Saviour of sinners.