Conversion does not equal regeneration

by Mike Ratliff

12 “While so engaged as I was journeying to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests, 13 at midday, O King, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining all around me and those who were journeying with me. 14 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘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 get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; 17 rescuing you from the Jewish 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 dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’ Acts 26:12-18 (NASB) 

I once heard an interesting parody of Jeff Foxworthy’s ‘You may be a redneck if…” comedy routine. In the article, the word redneck had been replaced with the word “hypocrite.” After a few of the quips, it became obvious the humor was becoming strained. It was no longer funny because each “You may be a hypocrite if” statement stressed the ugly half-heartedness which plagues the majority of church members. For example, one of them said something like, “You may be a hypocrite if you read “Left Behind” at work and “Fanny Hill” at home.

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 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.

Sadly, the vast majority of post-modern professing Christians is in bondage to sin and is far more in love with this world than they are with their Savior. 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 Savior 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 actually do 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 at the moment of their conversion. This regeneration makes them new creations. They are Born Again. Conversion is not equal to regeneration. Think of conversion as a religious act and regeneration as 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.

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as 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 so that we would walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10 (NASB) 

How anyone could come up with a doctrine of salvation based on religion 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,
“There is none righteous, not even one;
11 There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for God;
12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless;
There is none who does good,
There is not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave,
With their tongues they keep deceiving,”
“The poison of asps is under their lips”;
14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”;
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood,
16 Destruction and misery are in their paths,
17 And the path of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Romans 3:10-18 (NASB) 

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? I’m sure you have deduced that regeneration is the miracle. When does it happen?

28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. Romans 8:28-30 (NASB) 

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 with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on 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 on us. In all wisdom and insight 9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him 11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, 12 to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. Ephesians 1:3-12 (NASB) 

The first statement in this passage tells us that God chose “us in Him” before the foundation of the world. Who is the “us in Him?” 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 (NASB) 

The word “draws” 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 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 Savior 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. 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 So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Philippians 2:12-13 (NASB) 

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 how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 2 Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. 1 John 3:1-3 (NASB) 

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!

2 thoughts on “Conversion does not equal regeneration

  1. God declares us righteous based on placing the faith He has given us in His Son, Yeshua and His shed blood as payment of our sin-debt. As it says in Romans 10:9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. And yes,it takes the miracle of regeneration to prompt us to do so!

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