Not Ashamed of the Gospel or Not Ashamed of Regeneration? Romans 1:16

The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Soteriology Simplified.

Notice Paul’s declaration in Romans 1:16-23:

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man — and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.”

Paul says the gospel of Christ is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes. Clearly revelation is at least one component of the gospel that is the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes. It can also be argued that human reasoning as seen in the phrase, “to everyone who believes” is affected by the revelation brought about by and contained in revelation through the proclamation of this gospel of Christ. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes. This is a powerful statement. The gospel is that which is revealed in the Word of God that declares the Work of God where salvation is concerned. This revelation demands a response of belief on the part of the hearer. That is why Paul says he was commissioned to preach in the first place.

Paul continues, “For in it (the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’” What does the statement “from faith to faith” mean here? “From faith” is a direct reference to God’s righteousness and His faithfulness to do what He has promised He would do. “To faith” is a reference to man’s response to God’s faithfulness, which always precedes man’s response in faith. God’s righteousness is revealed in His faithfulness to keep His promises even when men do not keep up their end of the covenant God has established. So it is clear that faith is a response from men to God’s faithfulness that has been demonstrated to them over and over again. The point here is simple. While man is unquestionably depraved, the extent of his depravity is what is at question and the answer the Calvinists posit does not seem as solidly etched in Scripture as they suggest.

There is another issue that questions the validity of total depravity and inability. It is not an issue of man’s sinful disposition and his lost state apart from Christ. The issue is not even man’s ability to respond to God’s initiative of salvation. A real issue of contention can be seen in God’s ability, or a lack thereof, to reveal Himself to sinful man in this sinful state posited by Calvinism itself. Calvinists contend that sinful men are dead in their trespasses and sin and therefore are incapable of responding to God in any form or fashion apart from God’s sole initiative in regeneration and efficacious calling. In order for God to reveal Himself to man, He must first change this sinful state. Sinful man must be “born again” or “born from above” before he can even respond to God’s provision of forgiveness, which was brought about by Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross. To the Calvinist regeneration by necessity must precede conversion. This tenet is central to the doctrine of Reformed Theology: “regeneration precedes faith… We do not believe in order to be born again; we are born again in order to believe.” The doctrine of total depravity and man’s utterly lost state and his inability to come to Christ form the chief cornerstone upon which the Doctrines of Grace stand. The discussion of the relevance and the relationship between revelation and reason is crucial to the validity of the tenets that the Doctrines of Grace put forward.

Here is a critical problem with this perspective. While the Calvinist position certainly highlights the inability of the human side to respond to God, it inadvertently says more about God’s sovereignty, or a lack thereof, than it does man’s inability. The total depravity/inability position maintains that man is incapable of responding to God’s initiative in revelation and reconciliation unless and until God first regenerates the lost individual so that in receiving new life and a new nature he is then capable of responding positively to God. In this scenario, God is powerless to reveal Himself to the lost individual and He is powerless to reconcile this person apart from His initiative in regeneration. Now granted, God is able to regenerate but notice Paul’s statement in Romans 1:16, “the gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.” The gospel has no power over the unregenerate because he is completely powerless to respond to God’s revelation of Himself without first being regenerated. This places regeneration as a priority over revelation and consequently the proclamation of the gospel itself that is problematic. Total depravity actually severely limits the sovereignty of God, which Calvinism trumps as a pillar in its systematic development.

Now, the Calvinist will claim the proclamation of the gospel is the means God uses to regenerate the lost person. At first glance, this seems perfectly plausible. However, if one considers the full implications of the regeneration prior to repentance position, the gospel cannot be the means God uses to accomplish regeneration because prior to regeneration the gospel has no power to do anything for the unregenerate. The tenet of total depravity/inability posits man as dead in his trespass and sin. He has deaf ears and a dead heart. He is totally and completely incapable of responding positively to God. He is enslaved to his sin nature and can only sin. If one seeks to reconcile this depravity/inability position with Paul’s declaration in Romans 1:16, it must go something like this: “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to those who have been regenerated by God first so that they may then believe.” In the Calvinist theological system, the gospel cannot be the means God uses to regenerate an individual because until God gives him ears to hear and a new heart to respond, that gospel message is “foolishness to him” and one that he is totally incapable of responding positively to. In fact in taking this a step further, the Holy Spirit has no power to convict the unregenerate of his sin until he is first regenerated. This is seriously problematic. This issue will be discussed in more detail in later sections dealing with regeneration, revelation and reconciliation and the roles they play in the salvific process.

Romans 1:18 speaks of the revelation of God’s wrath that is “revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” Paul clearly states that God has shown this revelation to those ungodly and unrighteousness men. If the Calvinist is correct, this revelation could only be received by those who had been regenerated by God’s Spirit. This is obviously not the case in this passage because this revelation was shown to those who are ungodly and unrighteous. Paul goes on to say in verse 20, that these ungodly and unrighteous men are without excuse for the choices they made because in addition to what God has shown them personally through revelation, His invisible attributes are clearly seen by all men in creation itself. These men even though they knew God, refused to glorify Him as God and they refused to be thankful to God and they became futile in their thoughts and their foolish hearts were darkened. They changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man.

To the Calvinist, the ungodly are totally depraved and incapable of responding to God apart from the process of regeneration. They may receive revelation but their only response to it is rejection. The inference however, in this passage is that the same revelation that saved Paul is the same revelation that the ungodly refused to accept. The gospel message is the “power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes” not everyone who is regenerated enabling them to believe. Here is another problem. Regeneration leads to repentance and believing faith. The gospel really has no role in that event whatsoever. God effectually calls the dead lifeless person to new life and then he repents and believes not because of the gospel at all but because God has called the individual to new life. In the Calvinist system, effectual call and not the gospel must be the power of God unto salvation.

About sbcissues

Interested in bringing the issues facing The Southern Baptist Convention to light.
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7 Responses to Not Ashamed of the Gospel or Not Ashamed of Regeneration? Romans 1:16

  1. Bob Wheeler says:

    “the Holy Spirit has no power to convict the unregenerate of his sin until he is first regenerated.”
    Huh? You got me lost here! It’s a little bit like saying that driver has no power to make the car go forward until he steps on the gas pedal. In this case it is the Holy Spirit who convicts, enlightens and renews. The inability man’s, not God’s.
    You say that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, but want to distinguish this from regeneration. But apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, what power does the gospel have? How does the mere spoken word effectively work in the heart of an unbeliever to elicit faith?
    As for the inability to respond to the revelation, Paul explains what he means in v. 18: “they suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” Intellectually they can perceive the rational order in the universe, and their conscience bears testimony to right and wrong. Yet they refuse to acknowledge God in spite of it. Why? Because of their sinful, fallen human nature. Their will is captive to their lusts, and they rebel against God, denying the revelation that has been given them. This is why they are “without excuse” (v. 20).

    • sbcissues says:

      Bob,

      This requires a little extra thought. Look at what you wrote… “In this case it is the Holy Spirit who convicts, enlightens and renews. The inability man’s, not God’s.”

      The point is… the “conviction, enlighten and renews” only takes place AFTER regeneration. That is my point. This is an issue that the calvinistas have not thought through very well I am afraid.

      Again you ask, But apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, what power does the gospel have? The Holy Spirit has no power to do anything for the unregenerate outside regeneration FIRST.

      Note your comment… in answer to your own question… Yet they refuse to acknowledge God in spite of it. Why? Because of their sinful, fallen human nature.

      If you consider Paul’s statement more carefully… here is what he said. “they suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”

      What is unrighteousness? Righteousness is right standing so unrighteousness is first of all, the lack of right standing and because they are not rightly related to God their decisions fall short of God’s glory and is sin. Notice something else… who suppresses the truth? They do. It is a choice that they make and it is the truth that they suppress. That is interesting as well because as a totally depraved individual… they cannot know the truth until they are regenerated. I would say it is very difficult to suppress something they do not know…

      My point is total depravity and inability as posited by calvinism is at best not as well developed in the Scriptures as the calvinists would like for it to be and I maintain not at all developed and seriously problematic.

  2. Bob Wheeler says:

    I don’t think I would want to say that “convicts, enlightens and renews” occurs after regeneration. We want to be careful that we don’t get hung up over terminology here, but concentrate on understanding what the passage means. In his natural, unregenerate state the sinner knows and understands something — Paul clearly states that. His spiritual blindness results from the fact that in his sin and rebellion he actively suppresses the knowledge that he has. Elsewhere Paul could write “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (I Cor. 2:14; NKJV).
    The process of effectual calling begins with the Holy Spirit’s convicting work, (usually in connection with biblically sound evangelistic preaching!). The Holy Spirit overcomes the sinner’s innate hostility to the truth, and causes him to realize that what is being said really is truth. He begins to realize the depth of his own sin and guilt before God, and is eventually led by the Spirit to cry out for mercy and forgiveness. He receives pardon, the Holy Spirit becomes an indwelling presence, and the person is spiritually renewed. He is a new man in Christ Jesus. It is probably the whole process of conversion and renewal that Christ had in mind when he told Nicodemus “You must be born again.” The gospel is the “power of God to salvation” because it is the instrumental means by which people are brought to Christ and saved.
    I think it is interesting that D.L. Moody would never try to rush a conversion. He instructed his personal workers to take the time to talk to seekers (those who went forward during his evangelistic meetings) to try to discern what was going on inside of them. They were careful not to give them assurance of salvation until they were convinced that there was real conviction of sin and real repentance. They didn’t try to run ahead of the Holy Spirit!
    In the context “unrighteousness” probably means man’s real sin and guilt that results from disobeying God’s law.

    • sbcissues says:

      Bob,

      I agree with everything you said above, for the most part. The problem that I see is this; you are sidestepping total depravity/inability to make your point. Here is the deal. A person is either totally depraved or he is not. Calvinism posits that regeneration is necessary for a person to repent and exercise believing faith. Before regeneration, he has a dead heart, deaf ears and blinded eyes. Either this is true or it is not.

      If it is true, then the stark reality is God MUST regenerate an individual BEFORE the gospel message has ANY effect on him, whatsoever. If a person has deaf ears and blinded eyes there is no possibility of him hearing the gospel or reading it. So my argument stands; in the calvinist system regeneration is the power of God unto salvation and not the gospel and that my friend is problematic.

      I agree 100% with your 2nd paragraph. Here is something I want you to give some thought to. I do not see any way for regeneration to be progressive as you have described. When God effectually calls out to the unregenerate, he comes alive RIGHT THEN… I mean Jesus did not have to coax Lazarus to come up out of the tomb… Now as I said I agree with your statement but I do not believe it is consistent with the tenets of calvinism and total depravit/inability and regeneration.

  3. Bob Wheeler says:

    You may be interested to know that Calvin thought that faith precedes regeneration! He had an odd way of looking at it though. He firmly believed, as you might expect, in total depravity and irresistible grace — faith is something which God must give to man. But he defined “regeneration” in such a way that it was virtually synonymous with repentance and sanctification, which he thought was the fruit of salvation. Later Reformed theologians, however, such as Francis Turretine, normally spoke of the regeneration as the process by which God infuses spiritual life into the soul of the unbeliever and enables him to believe. For Calvin’s view see the Institutes, Book III, Chapter III, sections 2 and 9.

  4. Bob Wheeler says:

    I might add concerning whether a person can respond to gospel without being born again, and when the new birth actually takes place, when you look at the conversion stories of a number of famous people such as John Bunyan and John Wesley, they often went through of spiritual agony that lasted months! They struggled under a sense of guilt, they tried to find a way out, until finally the light broke through and they could see their way clear. At what point were they born again?

  5. sbcissues says:

    Take these testimonies you mention. Here is the deal, effectual call cannot be progressive and that is a problem I have with TD/I and regeneration prior to repentance and faith. Effectual call cannot take months and until effectual call is made, there is no conviction or response to the gospel; that is the purpose of effectual call in the first place.

    I am sorry but calvinism simply does not square with Scripture. Personal experience does as evidenced by these guys testimonies.

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