I want to start out by asking a question. I’m just going to mention three simple words and I want you to put them in chronological order. While contemplating the order in which you believe these words should be placed, I ask you to truly question what the words actually mean. The words are:
If you had to place a chronological order on those three words, what order would you put them in? In my personal experience, most people place them in the order of grace, faith, and then regeneration. The reasoning is that God must first give us grace but then we choose whether to accept His gift before any regeneration can occur. This is a false doctrine that has infiltrated the Church and confused many well intentioned believers; many of whom are not even aware they are confused. While I would never advocate for rejecting your fellow brother or sister in Christ over this, one should still be aware of the depth of this doctrine and how it lays the foundation for the understanding of who God is and what He has done for you. It is my hope that by the end of this article, you will be able to fully (or at least begin to) understand the proper order of these three words.
Grace is completely God’s doing. It is His unmerited favor toward His own and it is the backbone of our salvation. We are saved through grace (Acts 15:11), believe through grace (Acts 18:27), and are justified by grace (Romans 3:24). What a gracious God we serve (Psalm 86:15, Jonah 4:2)! Ephesians 2:8 tells us that we are saved through faith by grace. Grace has to take place before any faith can occur.
And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory,Romans 9:23. NASB
God showered His grace upon us before the foundation of the world. Before anything ever was, He had a plan. Part of that plan was to call the vessels of mercy to Himself. Even while we were still enemies of God, He showed His love for us and lavished us with grace (Romans 5:8, Ephesians 1:8). The fact that grace comes first is not usually the part that confuses people. It is the proper order of faith and regeneration that gets sticky. As I have already stated, this is not the correct order at all.
God has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men, To see if there is anyone who understands, Who seeks after God. Every one of them has turned aside; together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, not even one.Psalm 53:2-3, NASB
And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.Luke 9:23, NASB
While some claim a conditional statement implies a necessary choice, this is not always so. Oftentimes, as is the case here, it only necessitates a requirement. However, a requirement does not always necessitate an ability to fulfill it.
First of all, it is impossible for one to choose God. Before salvation, we serve the dominion of Satan (Acts 26:18). We are at war with God and hate Him (John 3:20a). Nobody chooses the enemy. Even the most infamous traitors in American history were not serving the enemy. They may have been OUR enemy, but they were not THEIR enemy. Whether it was money, allegiance, or some other common bond, our enemy had become their ally. In the same way, nobody who chooses God is an enemy of God at the time. In order for one to choose God, a change must first occur. There must be a common bond.
Scripture not only tells us we are at war with God, hate God, and belong to Satan, but it also takes it a step further by telling us we are dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1, Ephesians 2:5, Colossians 2:13). Opponents of pre-faith regeneration are forced to take verses such as these and manipulate them to say what they want. Even some of the staunchest literalists have changed these passages to say we are almost dead or are currently in a state of dying. This might sound nice except for one simple fact. It says we are already dead! The dead man does not choose to come back to life. Even Lazarus had no control over when he would be raised from the dead. In fact, Jesus left him there to rot for four days before raising him! Those who are spiritually dead can control when they are raised no more than Lazarus could.
But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.1 Corinthians 2:14, NASB
We see this verse speaking of the natural man. The natural man is a man of his own desires. He is a man at war with God. He is the unregenerate man bound by the chains of sin who still serves the dominion of Satan. Scripture tells us plainly that this man cannot understand the things of the Spirit. However, the Christian is a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17). He is the regenerate man who has been set from the chains of sin. He has turned his eyes to the Light (Acts 26:18). He has been renewed, not on the basis of any righteous deeds we may have done but by the Holy Spirit through the washing of regeneration (Titus 3:5).
The Holy Spirit does not reside in the natural, unregenerate man. The Holy Spirit resides only in the regenerate. Our bodies are the very dwelling place of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). Having the Holy Spirit is synonymous with being saved. It is utterly impossible for a man to be saved without the Holy Spirit. It is equally as impossible for a man’s body to be the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit if he has not been regenerated. As a result, there is no way faith can come before regeneration.
First, the grace of God is poured out to us. This occurred before the foundation of the world. Next, in God’s timing, we are washed anew and regenerated by the Holy Spirit. At this time, we become a new creature in Christ. We now possess the ability to understand the things of the Spirit because the Spirit resides within us. Lastly, faith occurs. It is only after grace and regeneration that one can truly have faith in God. That said, please don’t view this as a mechanical process of “if this, then that,” as that’s not what I’m implying. I am merely reviewing the logical order of salvation. In the practical sense, faith comes at the very moment of regeneration. There are no regenerate unbelievers. This is important to point out as it has been the victim of many a strawman. While we should all be pleading with unbelievers to choose this day whom they will serve (Joshua 24:15), this means the “choice” we made was not of some act of Libertarian Free Will but an irresistible calling of God Almighty, as He had already changed our very nature and desires. I am thankful for this because if it were up to me and my own works/choices, I would be left with nothing but filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) and a lack of Christ. Soli Deo Gloria!
~ Travis W. Rogers