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When do Calvinists consider an elect person to be regenerate?

If it is at birth, then is it odd that someone who is "regenerate" is living in sin, up until the point of faith in Christ?

And if it is at a later time, such as at faith in Christ, then how is that faith in Christ prompted in an unregenerate person?

I may not fully understand the definition of "regenerate" (and particularly its distinction from "salvation"), so answerers would be kind to also explain that definition from a Calvinist perspective.

Note: This question arose out of comments made in this answer.

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3 Answers 3

It largely depends on which Calvinist you ask :)

The author of one of the more famous Systematic Theology works (can't remember if it was Shedd, Berkhof, or Hodge... I remember reading it in a defense of Classical Arminianism by Picirilli) said that predestination is not unto faith. This indicates that predestination is unto regeneration.

So what is required is a definition of Calvinistic regeneration. Here is Berkhof's take on regeneration (too long to post, please read. Also read the discussion. It's highly interesting.). Essentially, regeneration is a change in a man's condition, from being spiritually dead to being spiritually alive. Once a man is spiritually alive, he has the ability to see his rebellious condition. Because of this, he has an irresistible urge to be saved and have faith in Christ, and he does. Regeneration and salvation are not something that are considered to happen in a chronological order whereby one happens then the other. That regeneration precedes faith and therefore salvation is only a logical ordering. In actuality, the chronological ordering is simultaneous. An important note, though. In Romans, we see that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by preaching. We also see in Ephesians that faith is a gift of God. So, simply put, the faith is given to the believer by God, and the believer comes upon this faith by hearing the Gospel.

There is a second question, how sin affects a regenerate's life. The first point is that regeneration occurs at a point in time. An elect man is born into original sin and rebellion toward God, and regenerated at a later point. He does not necessarily emerge from the womb in a regenerate state.

However, even if this was the case, a regenerated man will still sin! This does not mean that this is accepted by God, but rather that through the man's faith in Christ, he has access to the forgiveness brought through Christ.

Edit: It has been asked, "Is faith a gift of God? Does the verse from Ephesians necessitate this interpretation?"

First, whether or not an individual believes faith to be a gift from God is not the question at hand. We're talking about a Reformed interpretation of the doctrine, so for point of this answer, faith is a gift from God.

More importantly though, is it good to consider faith as a gift from God?

A cursory glance at the verse in Ephesians says no.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV)

I'm not a Bible languages scholar, but the commentaries I've read all say that "It's" antecedent is "grace," not "faith" because the gender of the words in question. So, we can make the argument from language that "it" refers to "grace," not "faith." However, we have not established that faith is not a gift in this verse, only that the antecedent of the gift is "grace." If we're going to use this information to determine that faith is not a gift, we're going to need to say that grace is a gift from God, but the channel through which grace is applied is not a gift from God and is instead resident within the believer. This is shaky ground for Arminians and Calvinists alike (and Lutherans, etc.).

The Calvinist position is that the mechanism whereby God applies His grace is also a gift, or at least the ability to act on that mechanism. If the believer had present within himself the channel through which Grace is applied, in addition to the ability to employ the channel, and chose to employ this channel when another did not, this would give the believer a right to boast over the non-believer that "I was wise enough to act upon something within me, whereas you were not." The Reformed interpretation of this verse completely blows this argument out of the water: none of salvation is by works, it is all of grace. A common answer to this is that "faith is not a work," but if it is something that the believer does and something an unbeliever does not, then why should we not consider one's faith a work? Without considering faith as a gift of God, we are relegated to consider faith a work and are no better off than demons

In other places too, we see faith as being something God can administer. In Romans, we see that God assigns a measure of faith.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. (Romans 12:3 ESV)

In Mark, we see that Christ does not rebuke the man who begs his Lord to "help with his unbelief," and rather the Lord blesses the man through the healing in the passage.

And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”

(Mark 9:23-29 ESV)

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"We also see in Ephesians that faith is a gift of God" - The verses you quoted in Ephesians seem to be a bit unclear to me as to what is exactly there called a gift of God: "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God". The way I understood this verse the first time I read it (and pretty much the way I still gather it today) is that it is salvation - not faith - that is called the gift of God. Are there any arguments supporting the idea that it is the faith - not salvation - that is called a gift of God in that verse? –  brilliant May 16 '12 at 17:56
@brilliant updated. –  San Jacinto May 16 '12 at 19:15

This passage, I think gives a good quick perspective on the Calvinist understanding of regeneration [especially when read in light of the Calvinist reading of ideas like "dead in transgressions and sin" (Ephesians 2:1) and God's act of replacing a man's hard heart with a new one (Ezekiel 36:26)]:

Titus 3:3-7 (ESV)
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Here, it's interesting, because we are identified as having been foolish, disobedient, etc...essentially "in sin." What's key here though, is that salvation is provided by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. The washing of regeneration is the avenue by which we receive salvation, and it is the process by which we are transformed from foolish, sinful people to new creatures capable of receiving faith.

I think San Jacinto answered it well. To a Calvinist, regeneration is a logical precursor to faith, though as far as we can tell, it's not nec. a chronological precursor (or at least not in a way that we can perceive it). Being "born again" is a very apt description...I don't remember my birth, but I do remember moments of my awareness of being alive. We may not nec. have a distinct moment where we feel regeneration, but as time wears on, we gain in our understanding and application of faith, which, too, is evidence that we have been made alive.

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I up-voted, but there's a hair's-width of difference between your answer and the doctrine as I've read it several times. When you say that "regeneration is salvation," this confuses matters. Salvation is achieved for us by Christ apart from anything we do, and in the act of the Spirit's regeneration, we have access to Christ's work through the faith that comes by necessity of being regenerate. Justification is by faith alone. Regeneration and faith always come together, but Regeneration is not faith, and faith is not justification. Regeneration is unto Faith; Faith is unto Justification. –  San Jacinto May 18 '12 at 13:13
And then you can say that Justification is unto sanctification, and sanctification is unto glorification. It is all contingent upon regeneration and regeneration necessarily leads to these things, but regeneration is not any of these things. These distinctions matter. –  San Jacinto May 18 '12 at 13:14
@SanJacinto: You raise a good point, and I was a bit sloppy to summarize "regeneration is salvation". I guess it kind of depends on what we take "salvation" to mean (is it synonymous w/ justification? is it that process that ultimately culminates w/ glorification?) In this passage Paul basically says "we are saved...by the washing of regeneration," which seems to suggest that regeneration IS salvific in some sense, but I agree; it was a bit bold of me to equate the two. –  Steven May 18 '12 at 14:26
not bold, just confusing. Because one who is regenerated will have faith and be justified... and will be sanctified and then glorified. You're correct; all are part of the salvation process that begins with regeneration. It really isn't your fault, so far as understanding the doctrine goes. This is more of a question on the role of each person in the Trinity as regards salvation. –  San Jacinto May 18 '12 at 15:15

I am a Calvinist, but would never consider regeneration as coming 'before faith' except in the spiritual sense of faith, that is a living active faith. Faith must come before regeneration otherwise we do not partake in our only part of the process.

There is a faith that a sinner can have which is not active. It is a 'passive' receiving only. Luther called the faith that brings regeneration a 'passive faith' on account of its simple receiving role. Many Calvinistic theologians maintain the same thought. When God offers the gift of salvation o a sinner the sinner can receive that gift based on nothing more than sinful selfish motives. In fact this is all God expects, for we come to him with nothing but an open hand.

At the very moment that we receive His great gift, in our sin, the wheels and gears of the door to heaven is rolled back that very instant. Our sins are placed on Christ. His righteousness is charged against us making us perfect in His sight forever. We are born again an regenerated into eternal life. This life is indestructible and as secure as Gods word itself. Now we have a living faith to do good works but they never did, nor ever will have to do with our regeneration or our acceptance before God. In fact by a dead mere passive receiving faith we were regenerated into a living faith. Faith itself on this account it also a gift.

Nothing good is us or worked in us can come before our regeneration which is the same as our new birth:

For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5:10)

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Based on your first paragraph, you're not a Calvinist, you're a semi-Pelagian :) bible-researcher.com/sproul1.html –  San Jacinto Jul 13 '12 at 10:40
@SanJacinto - Not true I am probably more Calvanitic then 99% of those who call themseles Calvinist. By the way I beleive in original sin even more than Calvin. I believe a sinner sins every second in every thought eery desire and every action until saved by grace alone. –  Mike Jul 13 '12 at 10:47
You and me both... but the start of your second paragraph (a part with which I agree) is in direct opposition to the last sentence of your first paragraph, "otherwise we do not partake in our only part of the process". Perhaps you meant to word it differently. –  San Jacinto Jul 13 '12 at 10:59
@SanJacinto - I know what your getting at but I prefer the way it is. I never implied anywhere that sinful man in his selhish unholy reception of Christ has the power in himself to beleive. That too requires and 'external' work of grace and election but a sinner must sinfully receive Christ and have that kind of faith, before any gace can exisit inside him as a regenerate soul. Your not the only one who gets hung up on semantics, we seem the same. I am probably the worst in that regard. It seems like our differences requires an atomic hair splitter, glad to meet you ;-) Cheers. –  Mike Jul 13 '12 at 13:03
@Sanjacinto - You probably sense a subtle difference between John Calvin and myself and that would be true. You are not imagining things. I do not think exactly like him, only in the high 90s. Where I actually differ I am more like Luther as Luther did not go so far in speculating about the meaning of election as Calvin did, but this goes beyond the scope of this question. This link indicates the point where I would prefer Luther as the better lead over Calvin. christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/8047/… –  Mike Jul 13 '12 at 13:13

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