Do Conversion And Regeneration Represent The Same Thing?

by Mike Ratliff

13 At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. 14 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads. ’ 15 And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord? ’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, 17 delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles— to whom I am sending you 18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ (Acts 26:13-18 ESV)

A hypocrite is someone who implies he or she stands for one set of values, but actually lives out their life doing the opposite. Since few would disagree that the post-modern church is mired in hypocrisy, one might assume that Christianity was the problem. If Christianity really was the one and only true religion and Jesus’ disciples truly are changed by their new birth in Christ, the hypocrite label should not stick. Why? True Biblical Christianity professes that all in Christ not only have their sins forgiven them, but they are also new creations who are no longer under the power of their former sins. Something isn’t right. 

Sadly, the vast majority of post-modern professing Christians are in bondage to sin and are far more in love with this world than they are with their Saviour. This should not be! The problem is not with Christianity, but with a doctrinally unsound aberration of it. This “counterfeit Christianity” is rooted in Humanism. It places Man’s will equal with God’s will. Salvation is taught in such a way that people believe they “choose” salvation by accepting Jesus as Saviour by reciting a “sinner’s prayer.” As a result, these “Converts” believe their salvation came because they made the correct decision while the lost have not done so. After a short time, however, most of these conversions fail to “stick.” They fall away as soon as the going gets tough. Most of the remainder fall into the role of “hypocrite” while a small remnant live lives that grow in grace.

What makes the difference? That small remnant who do grow in grace is made up of those whose hearts have been regenerated by God causing them to become New Creations, having a faith that is alive rather than dead, and they believe the Gospel and receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour and are then Justified by the Father. They are Born Again. Conversion is not equal to regeneration. Conversion is a religious act while regeneration is a miracle wrought by our sovereign God as an act of grace. No matter how religious one becomes it will never result in the miracle of regeneration. No one earns salvation.

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV)

How anyone could come up with a doctrine of salvation based on religion (works righteousness) after reading that passage is beyond me. Let’s look closely at this passage. Salvation is by grace through faith. One may say that the faith is our part and the grace is God’s part. If we left it at this point, that may make sense, but let’s go deeper. What does the second statement in that passage say? It says our salvation is not our own doing. Instead, it is a gift of God, not a result of works. How can that be if we must have faith? The last part of that statement says that our salvation is accomplished in such a way that none of us may boast about it. So, do we have a paradox? Let’s look at another passage.

10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” 14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10-18 ESV)

What an ugly statement. Unfortunately, all unsaved people fit this description. Without God’s grace, we are all unrighteous. We do not understand God nor do we seek Him. We all turn aside from righteous behavior. We are spiritually worthless. No one does anything that pleases God. We do not fear God. This is a description of the spiritually dead. Unless there is a miracle to bring what is dead to life then there is no salvation because without that there is no faith or belief possible. Why? The spiritually dead cannot make spiritual decisions to choose God. What is the miracle and when does it happen? Regeneration is the miracle. When does it happen?

28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30 ESV)

If we carefully read this passage, we see a progression. What happens first? The first statement speaks of God’s people living within God’s sovereign grace because of being called according to His purpose. The progression comes next. It is a description of those who are called according to God’s purpose. What is the first act and who does it? God foreknew them. To get a better understanding of this passage let’s compare it to another.

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:3-12 ESV)

The first statement in this passage tells us that God chose “us in Christ” before the foundation of the world. Who is the “us in Christ?” That is all believers. When did God choose them? He chose them before the foundation of the World. Now go back to Romans 8:28-30. The word “foreknew” in this verse means to know someone intimately. It does not mean to know what someone will do or not do. Therefore, before God created the World He looked into the future and foreknew those to place His affection and love upon. He chose them. He elected them. He set into motion a set of acts that would accomplish a specific result. We see that in Ephesians 1:3-12. In love, he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ. Why? Look back a few verses. God chose His elect and set His affection and attention on them so that they should be holy and blameless before Him. Now let’s go back to Romans 8:28-30. This passage gives another reason God predestined all true believers. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.

Let’s summarize before jumping into regeneration. God chose all who would be saved before the foundation of the World according to His own sovereign will. It had nothing to do with any of our attributes. He set His purpose and affection on this select group of people. Why? So that in His timing they would be holy and blameless before Him so they would be Jesus siblings. With that purpose in mind, how does God save people who hate Him, want nothing to do with Him, and think that sin is just fine? As we said earlier, it takes the miracle of regeneration. Back in Romans 8:28-30 what is the next step after foreknowledge and predestination? God calls sinners to salvation. What does this entail? Let’s take a quick look at another passage.

44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:44 ESV)

The word draw in this verse is the Greek word that is used to describe a fisherman drawing a net full of fish out of the water. The fish do not want to leave the water. They fight to get out of the net. However, they have no choice. They are “dragged” out of the water by the fisherman. Therefore, the Father “drags” all who are to be saved to Jesus. This is the effectual call of God that no one can resist. The general call of the gospel that preachers and teachers present to people is not the effectual call. In fact, people can and do resist that call all the time. The general call is able to produce “converts,” but it regenerates no one. The effectual call, the drawing, or dragging by God, from John 6:44 is the calling to salvation from Romans 8:28-30. This call is an act of God’s sovereign will and it comes through His grace. It regenerates the heart of the new believer. It takes what is spiritually dead and resurrects or quickens it. The new believer is Born Again.

Because of regeneration, the new believer no longer hates God. He or she sees their sin in the light of God’s regenerative power. They see how their sin separates them from God. In horror, they repent and turn to Jesus for salvation. They receive Him as Lord and Saviour by faith. This faith comes because of God’s regeneration of the heart. It is a gift from God. As the new believer exercises the faith God gave them He, in turn, justifies them. That means that God declares them righteous. He forgives all of their sins having imputed Christ’s perfect righteousness to their account. This is justification by faith. Unless God does this, there is no eternal salvation. However, because of this declaration, the new believer is truly saved. This salvation is eternal. It is God’s act, not the believer’s act. After God justifies the new believer, He adopts him or her into His family. This makes all believers Jesus’ brothers and sisters.

What is the next step after justification? The next thing listed in Romans 8:28-30 is glorification. However, there is another step. After salvation, no new believer is mature. At salvation, each believer is a spiritual baby. Each of us must grow and mature in Christ so that we will be ready for the glorification in God’s timing. This spiritual maturing has a name. It is called sanctification. It is a work by God in each believer’s life to mature him or her unto Christ-likeness. A good picture of it is found in the following passage.

12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13 ESV)

All regenerated believers must cooperate with God in their sanctification to “work our their salvation with fear and trembling.” That means God uses our everyday circumstances, stresses, test and trials so we will learn to walk by faith. With each act of obedience and submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in our lives, we grow in Christ-likeness. There is no other way. If we will obediently do that then we will mature spiritually until God take us home.

The last step in salvation is glorification. The following passage gives us a hint of what that will be like. In addition, it gives us some motivation to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.”

1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1 John 3:1-3 ESV)

Conversion does not equal regeneration. Conversion is simply religious activity. Regeneration produces a new creation from what was a spiritually dead person. (2 Corinthians 5:17) Because of God’s foreknowing us, He predestined us for glorification. To accomplish this, God called, justified, adopted, and sanctified us. Salvation was not designed to save the whole World. God chose those who are His and He saves them according to His sovereign will.

Why are our churches full of hypocrites? Most are simply converts not the truly regenerate. Many of the regenerate are mired in spiritual immaturity because they don’t understand that they must submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ so they will mature unto Christ-likeness. Many believe their salvation was accomplished once and that was that, however, as we have seen, it is a process that continues until death.

Soli Deo Gloria

3 thoughts on “Do Conversion And Regeneration Represent The Same Thing?

  1. Mike, I have a question, you stated:

    “…Therefore, before God created the World He looked into the future and foreknew those to place His affection and love upon. He chose them. He elected them…”

    This reads as God “learned”, “looking into the future”, compared to Romans 9:11; “though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—”

    What do you say?

  2. Tom I agree 100% with Romans 9:11 :-) I was wondering who would pick up on my poor grammar in that paragraph. God did not learn about those He elected then chose them, He elected His elect prior to Creation.

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