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Calvinism examined: Does regeneration precede faith?

Updated: Sep 10

Regeneration is a central concept in Christian theology and refers to the spiritual transformation that occurs in an individual. Someone who has been regenerated has been "born-again". Regeneration is a crucial concept in the Church's understanding of soteriology (that is, the doctrine of salvation). John Bunyan (the author of Pilgrim's Progress) said, "Believing is the consequence of the new birth." John Calvin wrote that. "The illumination of our minds by the Holy Spirit belongs to our renewal, and thus faith flows from regeneration as from its source".

Throughout the history of the Church, there has been vigorous debate over the specific order of faith and regeneration in the order of salvation ("ord0 salutis"). Specifically, those in the Reformed camp place regeneration prior to a proclamation of faith in Christ (i.e. you need to be regenerate in order to believe), whereas those in the non-Reformed camp place faith prior to regeneration (i.e. you have to believe in order to be regenerated).

In this article, we'll cover a defence of the Reformed order of salvation, and then offer a critique of the non-Reformed order of salvation.

This question (on the order of salvation) is part of the essence of Reformed theology. If there’s one phrase that captures the essence of reformed theology, it is "regeneration precedes faith". That is the power of faith, the power of believing, is a result not of an act of our will independently, but it is the fruit of God’s sovereign act of changing the disposition of our hearts and giving to us the gift of faith [1].

What is the order of salvation (ordo salutis)?

According to the Reformed confessions, the order of salvation is as follows:

  1. Election: God chooses certain individuals to be saved, based on His own sovereign will and not on any merit of the individual.

  2. Effectual Calling (Regeneration): God draws the elect to Himself through the Holy Spirit, granting them faith to believe in Jesus.

  3. Faith: The individual exercises faith in Jesus Christ, placing their trust in Him for salvation.

  4. Justification: God declares the individual to be righteous, based on their faith in Jesus, and imputes the righteousness of Jesus to them.

  5. Adoption: The individual becomes a child of God, receiving all the rights and privileges that come with being part of the family of God.

  6. Sanctification: The Holy Spirit begins a process of making the individual more and more like Jesus, conforming them to His image.

  7. Perseverance of the Saints: God preserves the individual in faith, keeping them secure in their salvation to the end.

  8. Glorification: The individual is eventually fully transformed and glorified, becoming like Jesus in every way.

This order of salvation is based on scriptural principles and is a summary of the teachings of the Reformed faith, as expressed in confessions such as the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) and the Heidelberg Catechism (HC).

The most concrete discussion of the order of salvation in the Reformed faith can be found in the WCF. This confession provides a systematic and comprehensive explanation of the Reformed understanding of salvation, including the order of salvation. The WCF addresses each step in the order of salvation in detail, providing a clear and detailed explanation of the Reformed view on each aspect of salvation

Now, it is not our purpose here to give a full outline of the entire order of salvation. We are merely interested in the specific place where faith and regeneration are found in the order of salvation. Specifically, we ought to notice that regeneration is placed prior to faith in the Reformed order of salvation.

We will now dig deeper into the definitions of regeneration in faith, and in doing so we might touch on some of the other elements in the order of salvation. We will heavily rely on the WCF and the reference it provides. We might also refer to the HC where the HC sheds some more light on the topic at hand.

What is regeneration?

Regeneration is not discussed as an explicit topic in the WCF but is addressed as part of the effectual calling of the Christian. It is useful to note the order of salvation is but a temporal order that assists us in understanding our salvation - some of the parts might well happen in parallel or they might be very closely related so as to make separating them in practice very difficult.

The effectual (inward) call, that is regeneration, is always preceded by the outward call. The outward call is the indiscriminate and clear preaching of the Gospel in the Word of God proclaiming the benefits of Christ to sinners, where He calls and commands men to believe, have faith, repent, and turn from their sins to Him for salvation. Just as God commanded Jonah, "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you", so today, every Christian that has been born again, has at one point in their life heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ being preached to them, and the inward call of the Holy Spirit worked from that planted seed (planted by to the preacher) to regenerate them.

Regeneration is defined as follows by the WCF:

All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, 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 an 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.
This effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from any thing at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it.

WCF, Chapter 10.1, 10.2

Ezekiel 36:36 (also referenced by the WCF above) is probably the text that best explains what happens with regeneration. God says:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh

Ezekiel 36:26

Thus, regeneration is the work of God’s Spirit, changing our hearts, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills. God persuades and enables us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the Gospel (via the outward call).

A regenerated Christian is synonymous with being "born-again". If you are not regenerated, you cannot enter the Kingdom of God.

In the 3rd chapter of John, we get to witness a discussion that Jesus had with Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a pharisee, a member of the Jewish ruling council, and he came to Jesus one night to question Him. One of the first things that Jesus told Nicodemus was:

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.

John 3:3, ESV

Nicodemus struggled to understand this. "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?" (John 3:4, ESV). What Nicodemus failed to understand was that Jesus wasn't talking about a literal second birth. Jesus was using the first physical birth as a metaphor for what happens at regeneration. Jesus was talking about a greater spiritual reality: "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6, ESV). Then we hear these profound words in verse 8:

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.

John 3:8, ESV

According to the Reformation Study Bible, this passage emphasizes the priority and sovereignty of God in the work of salvation [2]. The use of wind as a metaphor to illustrate the work of the Spirit in making believers born again emphasizes that regeneration (being born again) is the work of God, and not of man.

What is faith?

The WCF states that...

By this faith, a Christian (A) believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God Himself speaking therein; and acteth differently, upon that which each particular passage thereof containeth; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come.
But the principal acts of saving faith are, (B) accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.

WCF Chapter 14.2, parenthesis added

Similarly, the HC, Lord's Day 7 Q21 states that...

True faith is a (A) sure knowledge whereby I accept as true all that God has revealed to us in his Word.
At the same time it is a (B) firm confidence that not only to others, but also to me, God has granted forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness, and salvation, out of mere grace, only for the sake of Christ's merits.

HC Lord's Day 7 Q21, parenthesis added

Faith, therefore, is (A) a sure knowledge (an affirmation that the content revealed in the Word of God is true), and (B) firm confidence (trust) that God has granted forgiveness to you that rests in Christ alone.

Regeneration precedes faith

Now that we've defined regeneration and faith, the question before us relates to their order in the order of salvation. Does regeneration precede faith, or does faith precede regeneration? Are you born again, which leads to a sure knowledge and firm confidence, or do you first need to have a sure knowledge of the truth and firm confidence that God has granted your forgiveness in order to be born again? The answer to the preceding questions is a dividing line between Calvinism and Arminianism (including Molinism, semi-Pelagianism, Pelagianism etc.)

An overview of the case from Scripture

The most persuasive argument we can provide is to attempt and argue our point from the witness of Scripture. Scripture is the sure guide when it comes to matters pertaining to our salvation, so it would make little sense to search for answers elsewhere.

Romans 8: 28-30

In Romans 8, we find a passage that most closely links to what we've called the order of salvation. Theologians have called Romans 8:29-30 the "golden chain of salvation". It reads:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Romans 8:29-30, ESV

The order in Romans 8 is thus: (A) Foreknew, (B) Predestined, (C) Called, (D) Justified, (E) Glorified.

Non-Calvinists might feel the urge to jump with joy as "foreknew" is one of the first items in the chain: They might believe that it implies that those who God "predestined" and "called" is based on the "foreseen" faith of the individual person(s) (Dr Leighton Flowers does just that). This allows them to place faith before regeneration in the order of salvation. However, Foreseen faith is foreign to the text of Romans 8:29. The verb προέγνω (proginóskó - "to know beforehand"), from which "foreknew" is derived, often connotes love, affection, and relationship. When the Bible speaks of God knowing particular individuals, it often means that He has a special regard for them and that they are the objects of His affection and concern [3].

God, speaking to Jeremiah, said, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you,” (Jeremiah 1:5). The meaning here is not that God knew about Jeremiah, but that He had a special regard for the prophet before He formed him in his mother’s womb. Jesus also used the word “knew” in the sense of personal, intimate awareness. “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoer’s” (Matt. 7:22,23). It should be clear that Jesus "knows" who they are, but yet he doesn't "know" them in the sense that He doesn't love them.

So the "golden chain" can be summarised as follows. First, God foreknew (loves) his children. Because He loves them, He predestines them to be conformed to the image of the Son (which means that God is making us more holy. He is working in us to cause us to live holy lives). And those who God predestined, He called. "Called" refers back to the previous verse in Romans 8 where Paul wrote about those who are "called according to His purpose" (Rom. 8:28) for who God works all things together for good. The "call" is therefore not the general outward call (the preaching of the Gospel) that goes towards all men. The reason for this is because all those who God called, he justified and not everyone is justified (Arminians and Calvinists agree that there is a hell. If everyone is justified, then hell would be empty). So the calling refers to the inward call (referred to earlier), which is synonymous with regeneration.

This distinction between the inward and the outward call is also present in 1 Corinthians 1:22-24:

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

1 Corinthians 1:22-24, ESV

In the sense that Paul preaches indiscriminately to Jews and Greeks means that all are called in the "outward" sense. Yet, Paul goes on to mention that Christ ceases to become a stumbling block to those who are "called". This "called" cannot mean the same thing as the general "outward" calling (preaching of the Gospel). This then refers to the "inward" call, or, regeneration.

After the outward call (regeneration), we are justified (made righteous via the work of Jesus Christ on the cross), and glorified (when our sanctification completes and sin is finally completely removed as we enter eternity with God and the saints).

But where is faith in the "golden" chain of redemption? The natural place of faith will come after the "calling". After God has called His children, they are granted a saving faith which leads to justification.

The Arminian wants to place faith before regeneration, and hence must place faith before the "calling", preferably also before predestination. The Arminian must maintain, contrary to the witness of Scripture above, that the entire golden chain of salvation is preceded by faith or foreseen faith: Only when the individual has made a decision to trust in Jesus Christ, will God kick off the golden chain of salvation. But this adds a caveat to almost everything that Paul says in the surrounding context. If the Arminian view is the case, God can only work all things together for good for those who love God (Rom. 8:28) ... granted that they continue to love God. Nothing can separate us from the love of God, "neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing" (Rom. 28:38) ... except of course ourselves. We can separate ourselves from the love of God at a moment's notice.

John 1: 11-13
He [the Word] came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

John 1: 11-13, ESV

Our focus is on those who did receive Christ.

Those who received Christ (who believed in Him), God gave them the right (to them) to become children of God. And these children of God were born (1) not of blood, (2) not of the will of the flesh, (3) not of the will of man, but of God.

John 1 is therefore clear. To become a child of God (to be born of God/born-again) does not depend on who your father or mother is (blood or the will of the flesh), nor does it depend on the will of man - hence, you cannot will yourself to become a child of God. It is purely an act of God that regenerates the hearts of sinners that makes them born of God.

The Arminian will try to keep the focus on verse 12, as verse 12 says "To those who believed, God gave the right to become children of God". Hence, they argue, verse 12 clearly places "faith" (to believe), prior to regeneration. But, verse 12 cannot be read without reading verse 13's expansion. Verse 13 clearly states that becoming a child of God does not depend on the will of man. The Arminian tries to restrict the threefold negation (not blood, not flesh, not the will of man) to purely to procreation or familial ties to leave open the possibility that it might still depend on the will of the individual, but the fact that John explicitly states that it depends on God (and thus God alone) makes this interpretation very unlikely at the very least.

John 6: 35 - 65
[A] Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out...
[B] And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day...
[C] No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day...
[D] Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life...
[E] It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father."

John 6: 35-37, 39-40, 44, 47, 63-65 ESV

Jesus' teaching in John 6 is incredibly rich to unpack. We have broken down Jesus' words into sections A - E and will address them accordingly.

Firstly [A], Jesus affirms that He is the "bread of life", and that whoever comes to Him (in faith) shall not hunger nor thirst. Then He goes on and says "... but you have seen me yet do not believe". Why did they not believe (or have faith)? Because "All the Father gives to me will come to me". What does it mean when the Father "gives" someone to Jesus? Most likely, it relates to the Father's foreknowledge, predestination and calling from Romans 8, leading up to justification. Note specifically, that this "giving" is solely attributed to the Father. It is not the work of the Father working on the will of man.

Secondly [B], Jesus affirms that none of whom the Father gave Him will be lost. They will all be raised. Everyone who believes in the Son will have eternal life and will be raised on the last day. Connecting [A] and [B], we know that the Father has given a certain group of people to Christ who will be raised on the last day - none of whom shall perish. They access this "reward" by faith - that is - belief in Christ. Those who the Father has given Christ will believe in Him.

Thirdly [C], Jesus says that "no one came come to Him unless the Father draws them". This re-affirms once again that no one will believe (have faith) in Christ. unless there is a preceding (regenerative?) work of the Father in their lives.

Fourthly [D], Jesus again reaffirms that those who believe in Him have eternal life.

Fifthly [E], Jesus affirms that there are some in the crowd He is talking to who do not believe. Why is this the case? Interestingly there is additional information given to us in the text which says (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him). Also, the reason given for their unbelief is then clearly stated as "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father." So, the reason for their unbelief is that "no one can come to Christ unless it is granted to them by the Father".

Let's then put this all together.

  • If you believe in Christ, you have eternal life [A, D]

  • Not all people believe in Christ [A, E]

  • You can only believe in Christ if the Father grants it to you [A, C, E]

  • If the Father has granted you belief, your salvation is secure [B]

  • Thus, regeneration (a work of the Father) precedes faith (a belief in Christ) logically.

1 John 5: 1
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.

1 John 5: 1, ESV

1 John 5:1 is an interesting text, as it might be interpreted both ways depending on the tense. "Everyone who believes [in Jesus], has been born of God". Does this mean that faith precedes regeneration, or does it mean that regeneration precedes faith? Do you first believe (and then you are born of God), or are you born of God, then you believe? Calvinists would interpret the text at face value. "Has been born" is "past perfect" tense. Past perfect tense denotes an action completed prior to some past point in time. Hence, the present faith of the believer points toward a past completed action where they were born of God: Thus, regeneration precedes faith.

However, there is a much stronger argument that can be made for this interpretation by looking at other similar occurrences in 1 John (the same letter). Founders Ministries provides the following list [4]:

  • “If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.” (1 John 2:29, emphasis mine)

  • “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God.” (1 John 3:9, emphasis mine)

  • “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” (1 John 4:7, emphasis mine)

  • “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.” (1 John 5:1, emphasis mine)

In each of the above cases, it should be clear that the event of being "born of God" always precedes the righteousness that they practice, the fact that they've done away with the practice of sinning and the love that they have for one another. All the preceding are consequences of them being born of God. They didn't practice those things to be born of God after some time.

In the same way, keeping with the author's style and similar examples he provides us in the same letter, we can surely infer that being born of God leads to faith. Faith is a consequence of regeneration. Regeneration precedes faith.

Ezekiel 36: 25-31
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.
And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.
And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses.
And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you.
I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations.
Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations.

Ezekiel 36: 25-31, ESV

Ezekiel 36 is probably one of my favourite texts when it comes to the order of faith and regeneration. Notice the number of times that God says "I will".

God says that He will:

  • Sprinkle clean water on us.

  • Give us a new heart and a new spirit.

  • Remove our heart of stone and give us a heart of flesh.

  • Put His Spirit in us.

  • Cause us to walk in His statutes.

  • Be our God.

  • Deliver us from our uncleanness.

  • Sumon the grain and give us an abundance.

  • Make it so we never have to suffer.

The mirror of God's actions (our reactions) is listed as follows. God says that when He does the preceding, we will (as a consequence of God's prior work):

  • Walk in God's statutes and be careful to obey God's rules.

  • Dwell in the land God gave us.

  • Remember our evil ways and deeds, and loathe ourselves for our iniquities and abominations.

Nowhere in the text of Ezekiel 36 do we find the concept that we must first turn to God before He starts His work of regeneration within us. Our actions are always responses to God's prior good work. God acts out of His own volition to renew (give a new heart) to those He foreknew. Only "afterwards" do we obey (have faith) and remember our evil ways (repent of our sins).

Regeneration precedes faith.

1 Corinthians 2: 12-14
Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
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.

1 Corinthians 2: 12-14, ESV

If faith is understanding of things discerned by the Spirit of God, how can faith precede the regenerative work of the Spirit of God? The preceding Scripture clearly says that "the natural person", or the unregenerate person, simply does not accept the things of God for they are folly for Him. A work of the Spirit is therefore needed prior to understanding which culminates in the profession of faith.

Regeneration precedes faith.

John 3:5
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

John 3:5, ESV

We already discussed and quoted John 3 in the introduction of the article. In this section, we want to point out that the "new birth" (born of water and Spirit) referenced by Jesus comes from Ezekiel 36 (and other OT passages).

The Reformation Study Bible mentions the following:

Probably the statement refers to Old Testament passages in which the terms “water” and “Spirit” are linked to express the pouring out of God’s Spirit in the end times (Is. 32:15; 44:3; Ezek. 36:25–27). The presence of such rich Old Testament imagery accounts for Jesus’ reproof of Nicodemus (v. 10): as a “teacher of Israel,” he should have understood.

This means that John 3 also affirms that regeneration precedes faith.

Ezekiel 37: 1-14 (The valley of dry bones)

It is fascinating that the vision of the valley of dry bones comes directly after Ezekiel 36, where God emphasizes His sovereign work in the salvation of people.

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, O Lord God, you know.”
Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.
Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.”

Ezekiel 37: 1-14, ESV

Ezekiel 37 speaks for itself (especially given that it comes after Ezekiel 36). Dry bones cannot "believe in Christ". They are dead in sins. It takes the supernatural regenerative work of God to give life to these dead bones before they can pronounce faith. Only after God has given us a new life, shall we "know that I [God] am the Lord" and "live".

Total depravity

Embedded in the previous discussions is the Reformed doctrine of Total Depravity. Total Depravity necessitates that regeneration precedes faith. Chapter 6 of the WCF addresses it comprehensively. We will quote it a length:

Our first parents, being seduced by the subtlety and temptation of Satan, sinned, in eating the forbidden fruit. This their sin, God was pleased, according to his wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to his own glory.
By this sin they fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body.
They being the root of all mankind, the guilt of this sin was imputed; and the same death in sin, and corrupted nature, conveyed to all their posterity descending from them by ordinary generation.
From this original corruption, whereby we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions.
This corruption of nature, during this life, doth remain in those that are regenerated; and although it be, through Christ, pardoned, and mortified; yet both itself, and all the motions thereof, are truly and properly sin.
Every sin, both original and actual, being a transgression of the righteous law of God, and contrary thereunto, doth, in its own nature, bring guilt upon the sinner, whereby he is bound over to the wrath of God, and curse of the law, and so made subject to death, with all miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal.

WCF, Chapter 6: 1-6

Note that the doctrine mentions that this corruption of our natures makes us totally indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good and wholly inclined to evil. This means that no one person can do good, or even find themselves in a position where they "want" to place their faith and trust in God. Consider Romans 3:

None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.

Romans 3: 11-12, ESV

"None one seeks God".

The doctrine of Total Depravity (and Romans 3) necessitates that regeneration precedes faith. If God left us to our devices, since no one seeks God by nature, no one would be saved. No one would place their faith in God without God's regenerative work. Dry bones cannot live unless God supernaturally recreates them.

Reply: Faith precedes regeneration (Dr Flowers)

We will now turn to look at some prooftexts offered by Arminians that purport to teach that faith precedes regeneration. Before we delve into them, it is useful to note once again that the Calvinist isn't saying that there is a temporal order between regeneration and faith (in the sense that some time must pass after you've been regeneration before you confess a saving faith). Rather, it's a causal order. They are temporally immediate, yet in logical priority, regeneration comes first to emphasize the Sovereign work of God in the salvation of men. When I read the texts below for the first time as presented Dr Flowers, the emphasis is always on the fact that you must have faith (or, you must believe) in order to be saved. But this does nothing to substantiate a claim that faith must precede regeneration. No Calvinist would ever claim that you don't need to believe in order to be saved.

Perhaps there exists a common misconception among Arminians (and some Calvinists) that (according to Calvinism) you are saved, and then you believe. In saying this, there is an equivocation (introducing ambiguity by using words but not properly defining their meaning) in the use of the word "saved". If the Arminian believes that "saved" means regenerated, the Calvinst can agree with the Arminian on the definition (regeneration precedes faith). However, if "saved" means "justified" (which is the point where the Christian is declared righteous before G0d), then the Calvinist will disagree with the Arminian's definition (justification does not precede faith). Faith is prior to justification, but not prior to regeneration in the order of salvation.

In the verses that Dr Flowers references, the teaching that "you need to believe in order to be saved" speaks to the order of faith and justification, and not the order of regeneration (the new birth) and faith. The verses, therefore, don't serve a purpose when we are looking specifically at the logical order of regeneration and faith. They do serve a purpose when we look at the order of faith and justification. This should become clear as we work through his proof texts one by one.

In the following sections, I will quote the exact portions of the texts as quoted by Dr Flowers [5] and then provide commentary.

Ezekiel 18:30-32
Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.

Ezekiel 18:30-32, ESV

This passage emphasizes the importance of repentance and turning away from sin in order to avoid spiritual death. However, it does not address the question of whether faith precedes regeneration or regeneration precedes faith. In fact, the passage does not mention the process of regeneration at all.

However, Ezekiel 18 precedes Ezekiel 36. Isn't it clear that Israel was unable to "repent", to "turn and live"? If they were able, why is it necessary for God to later reveal that "... I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules." in Ezekiel 36? So in Ezekiel 18 God commands Isreal to repent, to turn and live, and in Ezekiel 36 He reveals the manner in which this will happen, which is via a supernatural work of God.

Hence Ezekiel 18 doesn't support the Arminian view but rather seems to be evidence against it.

Acts 11:18
When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

Acts 11:18, ESV

This passage emphasizes the fact that God grants repentance that leads to life, including to Gentiles who were previously outside the scope of Jewish religious practice. It is curious that Dr Flowers would quote this passage directly after Ezekiel 18. God commands Isreal to repent in Ezekiel 18, and in Acts 11:18 it is clearly stated that God has granted them repentance. This seems to support the Reformed doctrine rather than the Arminian doctrine.

John 5:40
...Yet you refuse to come to me to have life...

This verse is part of a larger passage in which Jesus is speaking to Jewish leaders who do not believe in him as the Son of God. In this passage, Jesus is explaining that he has come in his Father's name and that he is the one who will judge all people. He is also emphasizing the importance of belief in him as the Son of God in order to have eternal life.

John 5:40 does not specifically address the question of whether faith precedes regeneration or regeneration precedes faith. It simply highlights the fact that the Jewish leaders in this passage were refusing to come to Jesus in order to have life. It is still useful to ask why the Jews did not believe in Him as the Son of God. Does not John 6 (the chapter directly after John 5 which we discussed above as evidence for the Reformed view) give us an insight into the reason?

John 20:31
...but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

John 20:31, ESV

This verse emphasizes the importance of believing in Jesus as the Son of God in order to have eternal life. It does not mention anything about the order of faith and regeneration.

Galatians 3:26
... for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.

Galatians 3:26, ESV

The same applies to this verse.

John 12:36
While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.

John 12:36, ESV

This verse is part of a larger passage in which Jesus is speaking about his impending death and the judgment that will follow. In this passage, Jesus is emphasizing the importance of belief in him as the Son of God, and he is urging his listeners to put their faith in him before it is too late.

While John 12:36 emphasizes the importance of belief in Jesus Christ, it does not specifically address the question of whether faith precedes regeneration or regeneration precedes faith. However, the surrounding context of this verse, including verses 37-41, suggests that faith is a gift from God that comes as a result of regeneration.

Let's look at verses 37-41 (right after 36):

Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,
“He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.”
Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him.

John 12:37-41, ESV

The point is that despite Jesus' sign and His command to them, they still did not believe. Why? This again takes us back to John 6 and is again confirms in verses 37-41. They cannot believe it because they are dead in sin. Their hearts are hardened (they have hearts of stone (Ezekiel 36)).


In conclusion, the Reformed doctrine that regeneration precedes faith is grounded in a careful reading of biblical texts. While the Arminian view holds that faith must come before regeneration, the Reformed view maintains that the Holy Spirit must first act to give new life to the spiritually dead and that this new life enables faith. This order of salvation, commonly known as monergism, underscores the centrality of God's grace in the work of salvation.

The Reformed view finds support in a number of biblical texts, including John 3:3, Ephesians 2:1-5, and 1 Corinthians 2:14, among others. These passages make clear that apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, no one can come to faith in Christ. Moreover, the Reformed view highlights the sovereignty of God in salvation and recognizes that the grace of God is the sole cause of salvation.

While the question of the relationship between regeneration and faith has been debated throughout the history of the church, the Reformed view offers a robust and coherent understanding of biblical data. Ultimately, the order of salvation is a matter of divine mystery, and we should approach the subject with humility and reverence. Nevertheless, the Reformed view provides a faithful and compelling account of the way in which God saves sinners, and offers a rich vision of the grace of God that is at the heart of the Christian Gospel.


[1] Ligonier Ministries. (n.d.). Regeneration Precedes Faith. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 Feb. 2023].

[2] See the Reformation Study Bible, note John 3:8.

[3] (n.d.). The Meaning of ‘FOREKNEW’ in Romans 8:29. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 Feb. 2023].

[4] Ascol, H. (2020). Bunyan, Belief, and the New Birth: Why Regeneration Precedes Faith. [online] Founders Ministries. Available at: [Accessed 12 Feb. 2023].

[5] Flowers (2018). Does Regeneration Precede Faith? [online] SOTERIOLOGY 101. Available at: [Accessed 8 Feb. 2023].


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