Let’s allow Piper to take a crack at it from 1 John.  Great explanation:

(HT: Reformation Theology)

While I’m at it, I’d love to offer another plug for Piper’s recent book, Finally Alive.  Or, listen to or watch the sermon series here.  I say the title should have an exclamation point in it, because the book nails this very important issue in a very clear and life-giving way. Read it and be blessed in knowing what God has done to raise sinners to life through His Son.

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9 thoughts on “Which Comes First? Believing or the New Birth?”

  1. Nic Gibson says:

    John P talks about no time lapse between regeneration and belief. He is also a devotee of Edwards, who if memory serves did believe there was commonly/often a lapse. If this just a place where Piper disagrees with Edwards?

    1. Thabiti says:

      Hi Nic,
      Good question. I’m not aware of where Edwards might have had that view. Many of the ancients described periods of “awakening” where a person was growing increasingly aware over time of their sin, conviction, and so on. That period was often distinguished from regeneration itself and from assurance. Perhaps that’s what you’re picking up in Edwards??? But everyone I can think of that I’ve read on the subject would understand regeneration and faith as instantaneous, two sides of the same coin.

      Is there anybody else out there that can share something from Edwards on this issue?

      T-

      1. ajcarter says:

        To say there is “no time lapse” is to equate regeneration with faith. If faith is the fruit of regeneration (which is what Piper is saying) then regeneration must precede it. However, it is difficult, or even humanly impossible to put a qualitative time period on the sequence. The analogy of putting your finger in an electrical socket is helpful, but it breaks down because there is a time lapse between the electricity hitting your body and your reaction to it. They are not simultaneous. However, they seem that way experientially and so we speak as if they are, even though we know analytically they are not. The same may be true with regeneration and belief.

        Just some thoughts.

        1. AJ,

          The historic way of talking about the ‘no time lapse’ is that regeneration and faith are “temporally simultaneous but logically distinct,” or some paraphrase of that.

          There are no people in the category ‘regenerated-but-not-yet-believing,’ because to be born again is to have your eyes finally opened to seeing the beauty of Christ. No sooner are your eyes opened (regeneration) do you delight in what you see (faith). There is no temporal distinction. However, one logically depends on the other; namely, delighting in what you see depends on having working eyes. That’s why the Apostle writes what he does in 1 John 5:1, as Piper explained.

          1. ajcarter says:

            Well said Mike. I like your article, especially this paragraph:

            “It’s really impossible to separate temporally. Breathing is the definition of being alive. So temporally we don’t separate the two. But logically, do you breathe and then become alive? No. Because before you do anything you have to be alive. So it is with faith. The definition of a person who is born again is a person who believes the Gospel of Christ, but you must be granted life before you believe.”

            Couldn’t agree more. Thanks.

        2. doug says:

          When we talk of regeneration “preceding” faith, we are talking in an ontological “preceding” not a temporal or chronological “preceding”. Just as God is ontologically prior to the creation of the universe but not chronologically prior to the universe – there was no time before God created time – so regeneration is ontologically prior to faith. Faith depends on regeneration for its existence though both come into existence in the life of the elect simultaneously. Again, faith depends ontologically on regeneration; regeneration does not depend ontologically on faith. This is what is meant when we say that regeneration precedes faith.

          1. doug says:

            I also like Packer’s refinement: “Reformation theology has defined regeneration more narrowly, as the implanting of the ‘seed’ from which faith and repentance spring (1John 3:9) in the course of effectual calling” (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, p. 925).

            This is the only criticism I have of Piper’s excellent book. I wish he would have made more of the distinction between the “implanting” of this principle of life and the “bringing forth” of this life into expression by means of the word of God in conversion. For since we are born “out of” this seed of previous implanting by means of or “through” the word of God (1Pet 1:23) it is clear that they are distinct. The good soil (regenerate heart) is distinguished from the seed scattered upon it (the preaching of the word). It is only in the good soil of the regenerate heart that the word of God germinates and manifests life.

  2. My husband enjoyed your message at the T4G two years ago and I had the privilege of listening to it online. What a blessing. We are looking forward to this years T4G…I say we because he’s bringing me along!

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Thabiti Anyabwile


Thabiti Anyabwile is assistant pastor for church planting at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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