Regeneration: Ascribed Entirely to God Alone

Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 2 The Bible teaches that God gives life to dead sinners.  Scripture says that people by nature are dead in sin and in bondage to it until God sovereignly breathes new life into the heart by the power of his Word and Spirit (cf. Eph. 2:1-10).  This is an act of grace and mercy; no sinner deserves to receive new life from God.  Reformed theology teaches that regeneration is not conditional upon faith.  That is, we disagree with the Arminian teaching that faith precedes regeneration.  It is true that the regenerated sinner receives new life, and a new heart, and truly does embrace Christ by faith.  But regeneration is monergistic: God alone changes the dead heart.  Regeneration is not conditional.  The sinner is passive in regeneration.  I like how Francis Turretin stated it when he talked about regeneration and conversion (I’ve added [brackets] for clarification):

…Although in every instance [of conversion] God and man concur, still they concur in different ways. God is the sole cause of habitual conversion [regeneration]. He effects it by the heart-turning power of his Spirit without any cooperation from man. Here man (since it treats of his renewal) is only passive and subjective inasmuch as he is a mere subject receiving the action of God.

But with respect to the actual [conversion], the principal cause is indeed God, but the proximate and immediate cause is man, who – excited by the Holy Spirit and imbued with the habits of faith and love – believes and loves. Hence although the act of believing is produced by God, yet because it is exercised by man as the proximate cause, it is ascribed not to God, but to man. Thus man holds himself here, both passively to receive the motion of prevenient and exciting grace (for the will does not act unless acted upon) and actively and efficiently because he actually believes and works under God. Still thus he is said to be the cause of his own conversion that he is not such from himself, but from grace, both because the power of believing is only from God and because the very act of believing depends upon God himself exciting the faculty to its operation.

Turretin also said,

“…God, by his omnipotent acting produces in the man (or in the will) new qualities; then he excites those faculties to action.”

In other words, a sinner cannot believe, repent, accept the gospel and come to Christ unless God first sovereignly and graciously gives that sinner new life by the power of his Word and Spirit.  As the old hymn says, “Thy free grace alone from the first to the last; hath won my affections, and bound my soul fast!”

You can read this section in volume 2, pages 522-526 of Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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