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Thursday, June 6, 2013

Baptist Faith & Message Ch. 4 "Salvation" Part 2

"A. Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God's grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace.

Repentance is a genuine turning from sin toward God. Faith is the acceptance of Jesus Christ and commitment of the entire personality to Him as Lord and Saviour."

Amen. But now to the scruples, as usual. The second sentence seems to avoid deciding (clearly, at least) between the temporal or "logical" order of regeneration, which, given the goal of the SBC as a whole to neither officially adopt nor anathematize Reformed soteriology, is commendable (however commendable or not such a goal is in the first place...I think at this stage of the SBC's history it probably is commendable). It does seem like it could be read, however, to be saying that man's response of repentance and faith is a prerequisite to the full experience of regeneration. After all, the first sentence says that regeneration is "a work of God's grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ" (a bit ambiguous, but possibly suggesting that there is such a thing as a believer in Christ who is for a split second or two not regenerated).

Moreover, it is unclear whether that to which a believer is said to respond in the second sentence is the regeneration, or the conviction of sin--the person thereby acting as a cooperative agent of regeneration. Scripture, however, seems to attribute full causality of regeneration to the Holy Spirit, with man's faith and repentance as the mere responses and effects of the initial "regeneration" of the rebirth. One could argue that "the regeneration," broadly conceived as the renewal of all things (the primary use of the word in Scripture) includes all of sanctification, and therefore would include the faith and repentance of believers. But the new birth is what is obviously primarily in view here.

1st John 5:1 says that everyone who believes (present, ongoing) that Jesus is the Christ (literally) has been born of God. The instant a person has the kind of faith in Jesus that is vital and persevering, it is true of them that they have been regenerated; they are not "almost" regenerated or half-regenerated the instant they first believe. Compare the syntax of 1 Jn. 4:7 (certainly our love does not cause the new birth), and that of 1st Jn. 2:29 (certainly our practicing righteousness does not cause our rebirth!)

In Ephesians 2 it is God alone who has "made us alive together with Christ" when we were "dead" in our trespasses and sins.

Additionally, two of the most dominant Old Testament metaphors for regeneration are the replacing of hearts of stone with hearts of flesh, and circumcision of the heart. And a heart of stone cannot take itself out--even halfway through the process--and replace itself with a heart of flesh, nor can an uncircumcised heart circumcise itself or even help "complete" the process. Yes, the Israelites are also commanded to circumcise their hearts; but their history recorded in the OT shows the impossibility of them doing this themselves.

For these reasons and more, I personally believe that regeneration as taught in the NT is fully and unilaterally causal and creative of repentance and faith, and that saving faith begins immediately upon regeneration as a result of regeneration. As for the BF&M, as I said, it doesn't appear that the drafters wanted to clearly express either a monergistic or a synergistic view of regeneration here. I only worry that synergism may be seen as implied, given a certain way of reading the paragraph.

Finally, I'm not sure I'm entirely comfortable with the language included here in the definition of saving faith, "commitment of the entire personality to Him as Lord and Savior." I'm not contradicting myself and turning to any anti-Lordship/"free grace" perspective. Here's all I'm trying to say: this language is actually better used to clarify and flesh out repentance, and is acceptable only so long as the reader realizes we are not speaking here of perfect repentance or commitment on the part of a brand new Christian (or any living Christian prior to the consummation).

Of course genuine repentance and saving faith are inseparable and are "two sides of one coin," as I've said before. But the dominant pictures of faith in Scripture are pictures of receiving, and of restful hope and assurance. In John 6, faith is eating Jesus' body which is the bread of life and drinking His blood. In John 4, it's quenching thirst with the water of life only He can give. So it's joyful satisfaction in Christ as He is received, like nourishing food. And in Hebrews, faith is the assurance of things hoped for and a conviction of things not seen (ch. 11), as well as a resting from one's own works, in a certain sense (ch. 4).

So systematically, yes, yes, genuine saving faith and repentance involve committing one's whole self to Christ (if imperfectly). But speaking in scriptural language, the emphasis of "faith" itself is receiving Christ and the benefits of His saving work, not giving something to Him. And yes, that includes receiving Christ Himself as Lord, which has huge implications for repentance and a life committed to obedience, etc.

Overall, this portion of the BF&M is a half-decent short explanation of regeneration as an act of God's re-creative grace. The possible hints at synergism are my main concern.

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