Believing Precedes Being Born of God

This concept is well understood by most Christians I know. But there are many I have met who hold to a Reformed (Calvinistic)Theology on this matter and presume that being born of God (regeneration) occurs before a person believes in Christ. There are some issues on which I agree with Reformed Theology - such as the concept of the Perseverance of the Saints. But I find that it deviates from Biblical Christianity on this point. Here I show that the Bible teaches contrary to Calvinistic Theology on this point:

 John 1:12b "to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of Godó".

When were they given the right to become children of God? Was it before they believed or after? What does it say?
Gal 3:2  "I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?"
Did these people receive the Spirit before believing or after? What does it imply? And how would a Calvinist answer Paul's question if he had been one of the Galatians? Would he have said, "Neither! I received the Spirit before I believed. I didn't receive it by observing the law nor by believing!"
Ac 2:38 "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."
When did they receive the Holy Spirit? Before they believed or after? What does it imply? In fact did they receive the Spirit before they were justified or after?
Ga 3:26  "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,"
So how could a person be born of God before believing? A person is born of God through faith - just as John 1:12 indicated.
Ephesians 1:13
And you also were included in Christ when you heard
the word of truth, the  gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were
marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,
When did they receive the Holy Spirit? Was it after they believed or before? What does it say?
1John 3:9,10
No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because Godís seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.
Calvinists would have us believe that this applies to unbelievers who are "elect" but are yet to come to faith in Christ.

Faith a gift?

Faith is not a gift given in a monergistic fashion, but is developed synergistically in cooperation with the Holy Spirit. Calvinists may object with Ephesians 2:8,9  "for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, that no one would boast." But consider this analysis.

"By grace you have been saved" had already been mentioned in Ephesians 2:5 "made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-- it is by grace you have been saved." (niv) But I think that both of these have been imprecisely translated using the dative of means, whereas it is more likely the author meant for the dative of manner to be use "with grace" or "graciously" rather than "by grace". For graciously describes the manner in which he saves us, as he has an attitude of graciousness. "by faith" is using the preposition "dia" in the genitive exlusively indicating instrument or mechanism of salvation. God grabs hold of our faith and pulls us to safety. But those without faith are not saved. Or as Robertson puts it in Robertson's NT Word Pictures, "Grace" is Godís part, "faith" ours.

Now there are those who interpret the phrase "And this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God," to be referring to faith being a gift. But such an idea cannot be support by this passage. According to Greek grammar the gender of "this" must match what it's referring to. "this" is neuter, while "faith" is feminine, and therefore "it is" is not referring to faith. Furthermore "this" is in the nominative case and therefore the subject of the sentence and "gift" is a predicate nominative. Much like in English if I said "This is a gift", "This" is the subject and "gift" is the predicate nominative. The meaning is clearer if we write it this way, "This is a gift of God, being saved by grace through faith".

Concerning the word "gift", there are two words most commonly used for "gift" in the New Testament. "dorea" emphasizes the freeness of a gift, while "doron" is used for sacrificial offerings. It is this second that Paul is using, alluding to the sacrificial offering God made through Christ's atoning work on the cross. Salvation is the sacrificial offering of God, as opposed to being obtained by one's own works.  He speaks extensively of this in Romans and Galatians, contrasting the righteousness obtained through faith in Christ as opposed to the righteousness of the law which is obtained through one's works, being a performance-based salvation concept.

Romans 3:20-24 "Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.  But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus."
Thus we have "for graciously you have been saved through faith, and that sacrificial offering is not from yourselves, but from God, not of works, that no one would boast."

Thus if "faith" is the gift, then it is faith and not the atoning work of Christ on the cross which is the sacrificial offering made up to God. Furthermore is the issue of boasting. Is it true that if God does not give us faith as a gift that there would be reason to boast? Not according to the Bible. "For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not toward God.  For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.'" Rom 4:2,3 Here the contrast is between works and faith. It is not between faith being a gift versus faith not being a gift. And the same contrast is drawn in the Ephesian's passage as well. Yet Paul mentions nothing here in Romans about the necessity of "faith" being a gift. He simply states that since it is by faith and not by works therefore there's nothing to boast about.

And they may also bring up Hebrews 12:2 "looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith", and demand that "author" means that we have no part in developing our faith. But again the Greek reveals otherwise. For the word for "author" simply refers to Jesus being our chief leader or Prince, as the word is translated in a number of places. But a leader is not a leader unless he has followers. He leads, we follow. This is the synergistic relationship of which I speak. But Calvinists view Jesus more as a puppet master and we his puppets in coming to faith in Christ, a view which is not supported by the Bible. Indeed you will never hear a Calvinist preach as Peter did saying, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." Acts 2:40


If there is no application then there is no relevance to Bible study. The application here is to incorporate faith in Christ as prerequisite to being born of God. The misapplication that those how hold to Reformed Theology may make is to view the process of salvation as completely passive even devoid of faith in Christ. For example Reformed Theology teaches infant baptism, which is contrary to Biblical Christianity. It can affect evangelism greatly. There are those who simply won't share the gospel with non-Christians until they feel such people have been born of God, thinking that they cannot even understand the gospel message until they are born again! They may try and get the person to pray some prayer in an experimental fashion to "receive Christ", but trivialize the quality of faith acceptable to God for salvation, and so distort the message. And their message to missionaries: "If God wants to save those foreigners he can do it without your help!" And the dark ages of Calvinism I would not characterized as being particularly "evangelical". The Bible emphasizes faith in Christ as essential to the gospel message. And the faith it speaks if is not simply agreement, but conviction. It is an application-oriented faith characteristic of what people would call true-faith. "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of Godís one and only Son." John 3:18 If there are people walking around who are born of God but don't believe in Christ, such people are condemned according to the Bible. But the Bible indicates that we are all sons through faith in Christ rather than apart from faith in Christ.

Here are a couple of examples from a couple of discussion forums of people caught up in Calvinist theology.
"Today the church runs around teaching that if you believe in Jesus and call on his name you will be born again. It turns the born again experiance into something that happens as a result of an action we take. I taught it this ways as well. However, I submit that one must be born again first(be born of the spirit) so that we might hear and accept the words Jesus spoke which can not be understood in the flesh. Once born again we can hear and repent."
Before a person is even given a right to be a son of God, they must be born of God. Only then will he "believe in his name".

(Compare with John 1:12)

See also

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources