A Change of Heart – Chapter 2: Mere Christianity (Part 4)

For the last year+, I’ve been working on a new book, A Change of Heart: Understanding Regeneration and Why it Matters. Now that I’ve finally completed my M.Div, I’ve taken this project back up again. I thought I would share the first two chapters in a series of blog posts with our readers. I hope you’re edified by it and I hope you’ll pray for the completion of this project!

Chapter 2, Part 4 is below:

We might think of a causal relationship (instead of temporal) between some of these various aspects of salvation. It is better, though, to think of them as logical. We must avoid getting overly mechanical. David VanDrunen helpfully reminds us that the Ordo Salutis should not be thought of as a “deistic process in which God knocks over the first domino…and the rest of the soteriological blessings tumble over in turn. Instead, each and every one is a blessing of Christ by his Spirit.”[1]

So, effectual drawing, regeneration, faith, justification, and adoption are certainly distinct blessings flowing from Christ, but we must not separate them in such a way that we assign moments of time to each.[2] A hyperbolically bad example would be to say, “I was drawn on Monday, regenerated on Tuesday, had faith on Wednesday, justified on Thursday, adopted on Friday, and began the process of sanctification on Saturday.” But periods of time do not exist between these soteriological events whether it is days or nanoseconds.

Thus, the Norman Geisler or so-called “Traditional” Southern Baptist Soteriology idea that regeneration preceding faith means we are “saved in order to believe” is nonsense.[3] We are not regenerated and then believe 0.003 seconds later. Rather, regeneration produces faith as the sun produces light. We are regenerated, believe, and are saved, in that order. Hence, God works in our salvation in a logical and orderly way. Understanding how these pieces “fit” together properly has huge practical ramifications—as this book will seek to demonstrate—regarding the proper place of regeneration.

Therefore, it helps to establish upfront what the biblical process of salvation looks like and where the subject of this book, regeneration, fits in. And hopefully, you see that it is impossible to discuss regeneration without also considering its proper place within the Ordo Salutis. Therefore, though other aspects of the Ordo Salutis will inevitably be touched on, the focus here is mainly on what it means to be born again and why a biblical understanding of this reality matters practically.

Defining a Christian

Now we are ready to conclude this chapter by giving a more formal definition of what constitutes a Christian. A Christian is someone who is in union with Christ. He or she has been born again through the supernatural and mysterious work of the Holy Spirit by means of the gospel and this regenerating work has resulted in his or her willful belief in Christ and repentance from sin.

By grace alone, through faith alone, the ungodly one has been forgiven of all sin past, present, and future and is completely reconciled to God having been fully justified before God all upon the merits of Jesus alone (Romans 4:5). The believer has now been given “the right to become [a child] of God” (John 1:12). Furthermore, a Christian has been “delivered…from the domain of darkness and transferred…to the kingdom of [Christ]” (Colossians 1:13) whereby he has been transformed in such a way that he now lives a comprehensive life of repentance and faith and freely loves Christ, His people, His church, His ways, and His Scriptures. The Christian now longs to follow Jesus and obey Him in all things great and small.[4]

Notice that this definition is rather “regeneration heavy” since that is the subject of this book. I do not mean to imply that my definition is the only acceptable one. You may simply say something like, “A Christian is someone who has turned from their sins and believed the gospel.” But I have sought to show that without one being born again — without a genuine change of heart— there is no Christian. Becoming a Christian ultimately belongs to the Lord (Jonah 2:9); for if left to ourselves we would continue to hate God (Romans 8:7-8).

I have also endeavored to tip my hat here that regeneration is a massive overhaul that results in a total change that manifests itself in lifelong faith and repentance that will be evidenced by one’s good works. But we will get to all of that in due time. For now, let’s consider a brief historical survey of the doctrine of regeneration.

[1] Matthew Barret, ed. The Doctrine on Which the Church Stands or Falls: Justification in Biblical, Theological, Historical, and Pastoral Perspective (Wheaton, IL Crossway, 2019), 502.

[2] Also, there is no time gap between faith and justification or justification and adoption or even justification and sanctification. Though justification is the ground for sanctification, the lifelong process of progressive sanctification is something that begins immediately. So, one may experience moments of time between 1) and 3) and certainly 8) is lifelong and there exists a time gap between 8) and 9) of course. But we want to avoid using temporal language for 3) through 7).

[3] David L. Allen, Eric Hankins, and Adam Harwood, eds. Anyone Can Be Save: A Defense of “Traditional” Southern Baptist Soteriology, (Eugene, OR: WIPF & Stock Publishers, 2016), 80.

[4] When God makes us alive, we go from hating God to loving Him. We love the Scriptures. We love the Church. We love to pray. If these are not true of a person, that person has not been made alive. They may claim to have had some experience, they may claim to believe in or follow Jesus. But to be made alive is a total change.

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