Does regeneration precede faith or does faith precede regeneration?

by Matt Slick

Regeneration is that change in the person that occurs when God indwells him and makes him a new creature (John 3:3-8; 14:23; 2 Corinthians 5:17). The question is when does it occur, before or after faith. Within Christian theology, there has been a wide variety of disagreements on this topic, but the two basic camps of thought are Arminian and Calvinist.

Generally speaking, in the Arminian camp regeneration comes after faith.  In the Calvinist camp, regeneration comes before faith.

Arminians assert that we must believe in order to become Christians and when we become Christians we are regenerated. Calvinists assert that a person is not able to believe of his own free will because of the doctrine of total depravity (that his free will is a slave of sin). Therefore, in the Calvinist camp regeneration precedes faith.

Each side is with its proponents and opponents as well as strengths and weaknesses. However, since I lean towards the Calvinist camp, I hold to regeneration preceding faith. But not in a temporal sense. Let me explain with an illustration. 

In a light bulb, electricity must be in place in order for light to occur. But, it is not true that light must in place for electricity to occur. The light is dependent on the electricity, not the other way around. Therefore, the electricity is logically first, but not temporally first because when the electricity is present, light is the necessary and simultaneous result. Likewise, regeneration must be in place in order for believing to occur. When regeneration is in place, faith is the necessary and simultaneous result. Finally, when we say logical order we must clarify that it is not an order of temporality, but of logical necessity.

Logical priority is different than temporal priority. As with the light bulb and electricity, one is logically prior to the other even though they are simultaneous. If, however, regeneration preceded faith temporally, let's say by five seconds, then we would have someone who's regenerate, but also not a believer for about five seconds. That is problematic. Likewise, if faith precedes regeneration, let's say by five seconds, then we would have someone who is a believer, but is also not regenerate for about five seconds.  See the problem?

This is why it seems better to say that the order of regeneration preceding faith or faith preceding regeneration ought not to be a temporal one, but a logical one. It makes more sense to say that regeneration must be in place for a person to believe, but belief is a necessary result of that regeneration.






About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.