Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike agree that unregenerate man is dead in his sins. He is lost and blind–even captive. In short, he needs help! And Christ provides the help. So far, so good, yet a fork in the road lies just ahead. One group (Calvinists) insists such a man needs regeneration before he can receive the word and believe. The other group sees the desperate sinner as hopeless apart from the gospel. Yet with the gospel’s proclamation, this dead man can receive the truth of the gospel and believe. Arguments over the interpretation of the death metaphor aside, a few Scriptural passages seem to plainly contradict the second view.
Both sides affirm that sinful man needs regeneration. Rom. 8:8 states, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Both sides also agree that faith and regeneration are intimately connected. Either faith immediately results in regeneration, or regeneration is seen as producing faith (and most would say this happens almost immediately after regeneration).
Now, I ask, how can non-Calvinists affirm that unregenerate men cannot please God, and also affirm that unregenerate men can become regenerated by believing in God–thereby pleasing Him (Heb. 11:6)? Can they just decide to believe and please God? Remember, they are in the flesh when they are unsaved. Not being in the flesh would indicate that they had been born again–regenerated. So just prior to their exercising faith (which pleases God), they are actually still “in the flesh”, and thus they cannot please God!
A solution is offered by some. Since God regenerates us with the Word of Truth (James 1:18), and since “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17), then with the preached word the sinful, unregenerate man is enabled to accept or reject the gospel message. The Spirit imparts life through the Word (John 6:63), so the argument goes, and thus the dead sinner becomes able to receive the gospel and believe.
Taking a step back, that last sentence sounds an awful lot like the Calvinist view which argues that the Spirit regenerates us, using the Word of Truth, before we are enabled to believe. And there is much in the non-Calvinist view which might attract people to its position. It offers a harmonization of passages which seem to imply unsaved man can respond to God’s message with those that teach he cannot. God is seen as extremely nice–giving all a supposedly equal chance. It saves face for mankind by proving that he is not a mere puppet.
Yet this view–that men are enabled to receive the gospel and believe through the preaching of the gospel and the interaction of the Spiritual Word upon their hearts–flies in the face of several key passages. 1 Cor. 2:14 seems very decisive: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” So this verse says that when the Word of God and the preaching of the gospel message interact with the unregenerate, these lost people do not accept the gospel because they think it foolish and further, they cannot understand it, since it is spiritually discerned! Far from enabling them, the preached word is trampled under foot like pearls given to swine. Paul explains this further in 2 Cor. 4:3-6: “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Here the lost are said to be blind to the message of the Gospel. Further, there appears to be no in-between-stage half way from sight and blindness. There is no period where the lost is enabled to believe, considers the message of the Gospel for a while, and later makes his verdict. Rather, they cannot see or even understand the message as an unregenerated person–but in a moment God shines in their hearts giving them the light of the Gospel of the glory of God in Christ. (Keep in mind that God’s word is describing what actually happens inside a person–we cannot use our experience to correct the word. It may appear to us that some are in an in-between-stage, yet Scripture interprets that experience differently.)
Now, I have encountered several people who claim to reject Calvinism yet affirm that repentance and faith are gifts of God. They claim God gives them to those who begin to respond to the Gospel, having been enabled by the life-giving words of the Spirit. I have yet to understand how this idea can fit in with verses like 2 Tim. 2:24-26: “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” Here repentance is God’s gift to those who are captured by the devil. Notice, that God “may perhaps grant”. Now how exactly is repentance a gift? If all who hear the Gospel are enabled to repent and receive/believe, then the gift of repentance is not merely the opportunity to repent. And if before you have the gift you are captured by the devil and possess no repentance, it seems to me that when you receive the gift of repentance, you are set free and enabled to repent for the first time. One moment you have no repentance, the next moment you have it–as a gift of God!
More could be said, for sure! But this is to say that regeneration, reception, and belief happen in this specific sequential order. Regeneration happens internally resulting in a heart that receives the word and then believes in Christ. All of this is a gift of grace from a merciful and loving God to a totally undeserving criminal of a sinner.
âˆ¼striving for the unity of the faith for the glory of Godâˆ¼ Eph. 4:3,13 \”¢ Rom. 15:5-7