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Ephesians 2:1–10

“God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (vv. 4–5).

The precise timing of regeneration continues to be an issue that professing Christians disagree on. In the broader evangelical movement, several different views of regeneration are common. Frequently, well-known evangelical preachers speak as if regeneration is a consequence of faith or as if it follows faith. Other views of regeneration equate it with conversion, effectively identifying the moment we come to faith with the moment we get a new heart. Finally, there is the Reformed view that says regeneration precedes faith and is necessary for us to exercise faith in the Savior.

Ultimately, the biblical evidence demonstrates the truth of the Reformed view. Certainly, because regeneration is invisible, we cannot always tell the difference between regeneration and conversion. We cannot always make a sharp distinction in time between the point at which the Spirit gives us a new heart and the point when we first believe. Nevertheless, regeneration must precede faith according to John 3:3. Jesus says that we cannot even see the kingdom of God until we are born again, and how can we enter the kingdom if we cannot see it? In regeneration, the Spirit opens our spiritual eyes to the truth of Christ, and then we trust Him.

Ephesians 2:4–5 also supports the Reformed view of regeneration. Before we came to know Jesus as Savior, we all were dead in our sins, spiritually speaking. The death metaphor is important, of course, because dead people cannot do anything. We cannot will ourselves back to physical life. Our only hope is for someone to restore us to the land of the living. Being spiritually dead, we cannot raise ourselves to life. We do not want—indeed, we cannot want—anything to do with the one true God apart from the Spirit’s work. The initiative is His. The Holy Spirit raises us to new spiritual life, and we trust in the Savior. Thus begins our spiritual pilgrimage, as in our sanctification we seek to become more and more like Christ.

Since regeneration starts but does not conclude our spiritual walk, being born again does not end the struggle with sin. Actually, it intensifies this struggle. Regeneration ends the dominion of sin over us and reorients us toward the way of Christ. Yet the presence of sin remains, and we war against it (Rom. 7:7–25). We are called to put to death the lusts of the flesh. We thus are to remain vigilant, knowing that regeneration begins this war within us.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

We will not be entirely free from the presence of sin until we are glorified. One day we will be perfectly like Jesus (1 John 3:2). That day has not yet arrived, since we are still on this side of heaven. But when the Spirit changes our hearts, He also comes to live within us to enable us to fight sin in our lives. We are not in a losing war against sin, so let us be encouraged this day to say no to evil and yes to righteousness. The Spirit will help us do so.

For Further Study
  • Ezekiel 37:1–14
  • 1 Timothy 1:15–17

    The Mystery of Regeneration

    Preserved through Pilgrimage

    Keep Reading The State of Theology

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    Jan 2021 Issue