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Often in the debate of Monergism and Synergism the question being asked is: “Which comes first, faith or regeneration?” What does the Bible teach us about faith and regeneration? How does repentance fit in too?
Monergism can be defined as the view that the work of regeneration is done solely by the Holy Spirit thus making regeneration precede faith. The opposing view is Synergism which believes that the work of regeneration is done in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, leading to faith preceding regeneration. “But wait,” you may ask, “don’t they happen at the same time?” Why yes, in a way. However, one is necessary for the other and depends on it for existence. We will also see that the Bible teaches that the work of regeneration can only be done solely by the Spirit of God because of sin. We cannot cooperate with the Spirit until we are regenerated and saved by grace. I will also address repentance and how it fits into regeneration and faith. We will also see that the question we should be asking is different than what is usually being asked.
Before we determine which one comes before or after another in salvation, we first must define our terms. Regeneration is defined by the Word of God as being “born again” in John 3, being “made alive” in Eph 2:5, Col. 2:13, and 1 Peter 3:18. Also it means to be made into a “new creature” (2 Cor. 5:17), a “renewing” (Rom. 12:2) or “renewal” of the mind (Titus 3:5). Regeneration is not merely a “change of heart” but a total transformation of mind, heart, soul, and will. Just as sin reigns in our whole body as we see in the doctrine of sin, so regeneration is a total change. It is clear in many of the passages I quoted that this work is all done by the Spirit and not by man.
True faith is described in Scripture containing three ingredients. The first has to do with “to notice,” or “to come to a knowledge” of something. We cannot have faith in something which is non-existent from our conscious thoughts. Secondly, we “agree” with what it is we know of. We believe that what our faith is in is absolutely true (1 Cor. 15:17, Rom. 10:9). The third, and equally as necessary, is “confidence”, or “commitment.” We have personally placed the full weight of our trust, a complete reliance upon, in what we know and believe to be true. In James 2:14-19 we see that it is not enough to simply know and believe in the mere existence of God, we must believe and place all of our trust in who He is and what He promises, which is salvation in Him alone (John 14:6). This faith is also tied to our affections and desires because we don’t hold our faith in something we don’t desire to believe in. This is not an unwilling faith. The Christian openly and intentionally longs to daily know, believe, and trust in the God of the Bible from the time they are converted in the heart.
I believe that Repentance is made up of six ingredients, which we also find in Thomas Watson’s book, The Doctrine of Repentance:
1. Sight of Sin (Luke 15:17; 1 Kings 8:47; Eph 5:8)
2. Sorrow for Sin (Ps. 38:18; Luke 7:38; Ps. 51:17)
3. Confession of Sin (Neh. 9:2; Hos. 5:15; Lk. 15:18)
4. Shame for Sin (Ezek. 43:10; Ezra 9:6; Lk. 15:21)
5. Turning from Sin (Joel 2:12; Ezek. 14:6; Eph. 5:8; Heb. 6:1)
We find ourselves in a state a repentance after we are stricken and convicted (godly grief) by the Spirit (2 Cor. 7:9-10). We see that before we can truly repent we first have to know the sin (sight of sin). After seeing the weight and depths of sin we are led by the Spirit to grieve our trespass against a holy and infinite God (sorrow for sin). After knowing our sin and grieving over it, we are compelled to confess it openly to God and others (confession of sin), leading to a shameful disposition (shame for sin), and driving our desires to stop committing sin against our eternal Creator God (turning from sin), and follow Him.
Therefore, if regeneration is the work of the Spirit to change the heart, mind, and soul of a person, and if faith is the knowledge, belief, and desire to trust in who God is and what He’s done, then the question goes from “Which one comes first?” to “Which one changes my desires from loving and obeying sin to loving and obeying God?”
Well, from what Scripture teaches us is that because of sin we desire only to serve ourselves. In fact, we hate God. By the work of regeneration, the Spirit of God transforms our heart of stone to a heart of flesh (Ezek. 36:26), and the Spirit permits us to understand the truth of God’s Word leading us to a true and active knowledge of His truth (2 Cor. 2:14). This is the truest knowledge of God (and from God): who He is (absolutely holy and just) and who we are in relation to Him (condemned sinners deserving nothing but eternal Hell and death). This work ultimately changes all of our being and nature completely, including our will, our desires. This true knowledge opens our eyes to our sin and leads us to a desire to repent and do good works in true faith (James 2:26; Gal. 5:22-24).
So, the practical question to ask here is: “How did my desire change from hating God to loving God, from loving myself to dying to myself, and from selfish pleasures to wanting to praise my God all day long?” The answer is by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit by the grace of God the Father through faith in Jesus Christ.
Does this mean that we can be regenerated but not have faith for a time? By no means, as Paul would say. For there is no such thing as a regenerated soul that does not desire to love and serve his or her loving Savior in faith, nor will you find a human with true faith (knowledge, belief and trust) in God without truly knowing and desiring God Himself (it must be revealed to us by the Spirit).
Regeneration and faith are like fire and heat. Can you get heat from a fire without a fire? No. Can you find a fire that is not producing heat? No. They go together, you cannot tell a duration for when they were apart from each other, yet one is necessary for the other. Thus, faith flows from regeneration.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Gentiles. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.'” Romans 1:16-17
Those whom God hath predestinated unto life, he is pleased in his appointed, and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God; taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by his almighty power determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ; yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace. ~1689 LBCF 10.1