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.

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)

  • "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, 2012 at 17:56
  • @brilliant updated. May 16, 2012 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.

  • 1
    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. May 18, 2012 at 13:13
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    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. May 18, 2012 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, 2012 at 14:26
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    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. May 18, 2012 at 15:15

I think there is a genuine cause for confusion. Here are the claims made in Calvinist theology

  1. The unsaved man is dead spiritually and totally incapable of understanding Spiritual things or accepting the gospel. He needs to be made alive by the holy Spirit through the process of regeneration to believe the Gospel. So the Chronology has to be something like this - Regeneration followed by understanding the Gospel followed by faith and confession (I write understanding the Gospel because the person can hear the gospel before or as he is being regenerated, but he cannot understand it without regeneration).
  2. Regeneration precedes faith only logically and not necessarily chronologically. Both Faith and Regeneration happen more or less at the same moment. (This statement is made to avoid the problem of having people who are born again but not Christians yet).

    The above two ideas are totally contradictory to each other and leave people confused. On the one hand there is the clear idea that people cannot believe without understanding, and that they cannot understand without regeneration. On the other hand is the claim that regeneration only logically precedes Faith.

    I think this confusion is caused because the Bible does not teach that regeneration precedes faith in an explicit manner. But there is a good case that it teaches the opposite with verses such as John1:12; Acts 2:38,39 etc.

    The major problem with this doctrine in my opinion is that it causes a person to be in spiritual union with Jesus before having saving faith as regeneration grafts us into the vine that is Christ.

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    This answer would benefit from two things. First, the addition of citations Reformed sources to illustrate that your statements represent the Reformed position. Second, the removal of the criticism of Reformed theology that is irrelevant to the question.
    – bradimus
    Oct 17, 2017 at 12:22
  • 1
    Thanks for offering an answer here. However, this is a Q&A site, not a discussion site. Answers here must stick to answering the specific answer asked, from the perspective asked for, rather than debating the truth or falsity of a particular position. See: What makes a good supported answer? and: We can't handle the truth. Oct 17, 2017 at 16:20

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