Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Regenerate Yet Unconverted - Is There Such a Thing?



In a recent discussion with some fellow Christians, I made reference to someone being "regenerate yet unconverted" - a scenario which has been well described as "believer's unbelief." (Mark 9:24) This reference was immediately met with strong opposition. Some insisted that the phrase "regenerate yet unconverted" is self-contradictory because to be born again means to be converted by God from sin. By that definition then, a "born again yet unconverted" man is an impossibility. While I will concede that this is likely the majority position among professing Christians - the more important question remains - is the majority position correct? A closer look at the bible's testimony regarding "conversion" is revealing.

 

Three Examples of the "Regenerate Yet Unconverted"


"Regenerate yet unconverted" is most certainly not a contradiction. Regeneration is passing from death unto life (Ephesians 2:1). Conversion is coming to a right understanding of truth (James 5:20). We see the reality of the "regenerate yet unconverted" demonstrated in numerous passages of scripture. Consider these three formidable examples:

1. PETER:  Peter was a man who had faith (Matthew 16:16-17) and was thus regenerate (I John 5:1). None-the-less we see the Lord telling him, "when thou art CONVERTED, strengthen the brethren." (Luke 22:32). 

2. CORNELIUS:  Cornelius was a man who feared God (Acts 10:2) and was thus regenerate (Romans 3:18), but he was in ignorance of gospel truth and experienced gospel CONVERSION as a result of Peter's preaching. His subsequent baptism bears witness to his conversion to the truth of his salvation in Christ. (Acts 10:48)

3. BRETHREN:  In his address to "brethren" (who are already regenerate and thus already in possession of eternal life) James says, "if any of YOU do err from the truth, and one CONVERT him, Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins." (James 5:19-20) Now the "death" from which one is delivered by such a CONVERSION cannot possibly eternal damnation, because he is speaking to "brethren" to whom there is therefore now NO condemnation in an eternal sense (Romans 8:1). It follows that James is speaking of CONVERTING a regenerate brother from an erroneous belief or practice as part of Christian discipleship.


So What Do We Glean From These Three Observations?


When it comes to using terms employed in the bible, we should allow the word of God to govern our definition and use of such terms for us. When we do that we find that the common evangelical misuse of the term "converted" as a synonym for regeneration is at best short-sighted and at worst just dead wrong. Once we allow the bible to define its own terms, the case for the separation between regeneration and conversion is utterly unassailable.

To assert that one cannot be regenerate without also being converted would require that regeneration impart a perfect understanding and acceptance of doctrinal truth and practice. This assertion would undermine the bible's testimony regarding remaining sin in our lives (I John 1:8) as well as the very definition of the term "disciple" - which means "a learner." Stated very plainly - every single matter of Christian doctrine or practice that a regenerate child of God does not currently either believe or understand is an incontrovertible monument to their need of conversion.



The Example of Peter Taken to Task


The three previous examples were met with some opposition. In particular, there was objection to the example of Peter as a demonstration of the "regenerate yet unconverted."
The example of Peter exactly destroys your point. Peter had all the right doctrinal ideas, as we see in his confession of Christ as the Son of the living God, but his character was weak and he was carnal. His coming into further doctrinal truth would have done no good if he had continued in the same boisterous fashion; but when he began walking in the spirit, then Christ could trust his sheep to him (John 21:17). His behavior had to change, not his beliefs. (Anonymous)
In my opinion this objection makes five problematic assertions. Let's take a look at why I say that.


TETH's Response


ASSERTION #1:  “Peter had all the right doctrinal ideas, as we see in his confession of Christ as the Son of the living God”

This statement is categorically false. While Peter does affirm that Jesus is the Christ, a closer look at that passage reveals that in this same conversation, Jesus preached his crucifixion to the disciples, and we find Peter REBUKING Jesus for this teaching (Matthew 16:22). Any sober view of that interaction reveals that in so doing, Peter was denying a fundamental tenet of the gospel – the crucifixion of Christ. If there is any remaining doubt on the matter, Jesus responds by harshly rebuking Peter for his carnal unbelief of this fundamental tenet of the gospel. So to claim that, “Peter had all the right doctrinal ideas” is to ignore the testimony of the text. If there is any remaining doubt about, consider this – if Peter had all the right doctrinal ideas, why did Jesus rebuke him?

ASSERTION #2: "but his character was weak and he was carnal.”

I do not doubt that Peter was weak and carnal, sinful behavior is always a manifestation of such. But matters of character are every bit as much doctrinal in nature as are the great doctrinal truths that describe the mechanics of our eternal salvation. In other words - whether speaking of Christ's accomplishment or of how we should live in response - it’s all doctrine. If one is getting drunk, womanizing, holding grudges, whatever… in all such actions one is exhibiting unbelief with respect to the doctrinal precepts intended to govern our practice as disciples. Stated another way – to the extent that one is acting carnally they are not loving the Lord, because Jesus taught that those who love him should keep His commandments. (John 14:15) That is doctrine.

ASSERTION #3: “His coming into further doctrinal truth would have done no good if he had continued in the same boisterous fashion”

The “boisterous fashion” he exhibited was an out-and-out denial of the crucifixion, a truth that Jesus Christ had just preached it to him. Peter's unbelief of this fundamental tenet of gospel truth underscores that Peter still had major doctrinal issues so far as gospel truth was concerned. Furthermore, his presuming to rebuke and correct "the Son of the Living God" only serves to emphasize the magnitude of his error and that he stood in great need of correction.

Incidentally, how much belief in that good declaration (Matthew 16:16) was Peter exhibiting the moment he set out to correct Jesus? It appears as though he is in need of conversion, even on his understanding of the very affirmation he made only moments before. And in fact, Jesus tells him as much. (Matthew 16:23) Does this not resemble our lives? We often make good professions, but do we always back it up with lives that exhibit an understanding of that belief? That is a very humbling and convicting question to me. Help thou mine unbelief. (Mark 9:24)

ASSERTION #4: “but when he began walking in the spirit, then Christ could trust his sheep to him”

Peter was already walking in the Spirit because he was already a regenerate man, but even those who walk in the spirit still struggle with sin (I John 1:8), unbelief (Mark 9:24), and doctrinal error (James 5:20). That is why they stand in great need of conversion in manifold ways as they travel along the path of discipleship.

ASSERTION #5: “His behavior had to change, not his beliefs.”

Actually according to Matthew 16:22-23 Peter needed to change both his behavior and his beliefs. Jesus told him “thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” He needed to change his behavior by not endeavoring to correct the Son of the Living God. He needed to change his beliefs since that self-same Son just taught him about the crucifixion and he did not believe it.


FINALLY


While I believe the bible provides innumerable examples of regenerate people who stood in need of conversion, I have found it very hard to convince Christians of this truth. I do not believe it is an overstatement to say that every instance wherein one of God's regenerate sheep stands in need of correction, whether in the scriptures or in our lives today, is a manifestation of the reality of the "regenerate yet unconverted" in our world. Ironically, when one of God's sheep fails to see this truth, they themselves prove to be living evidence of the regenerate who stand in need of conversion.



9 comments:

  1. Yes, re-reading this with a comment. The understanding of this clears up a couple of things.

    First, children of God, having been chosen and regenerated by Him, are safe in their eternal destiny regardless of their age or circumstance. Having the faith of a child was not offensive to the Lord, in fact, He admonished His followers exhibit this quality. What knowledge of complex truths does a child have, and yet he, for his age and understanding, is he not converted?

    Secondly, there are some believers that strain mightily for observable qualities in what they would consider "true converts." That is, that there is such a thing as a "false convert," whereby they exhibit all the true manifestations of Rom 10:9, yet somehow they fall short -- yes, fall short on even being saved. These searchers-for-false-converts run around trying to judge other believers using man made-up tests. They say the combat "easy believism." Ridiculous!!!

    I see the testimonies of the self described "true converts," confessing that before, when they were supposedly a false convert, that they didn't like reading the bible as much as they do now. Or, they didn't like going to church as much as they do now. Or, they didn't feel as saved as they do now. Or, they didn't have as much appreciation for what Christ really did on the cross, as they do now. They claimed that before they just believed "too easily" to really be saved.

    All of this comes at their own expense of never knowing by their own standards if they are really saved. Of course not, it is all works based. And, regardless, scripture tells us we are all imperfect in this life, or as Paul says, our flesh continues to war against our new Spirit.

    I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. And, the life I live in the flesh, I live by faith, in the One who loves me and gave Himself for me.

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    1. RESPONSE 101:

      Brother Gary,

      You make a number of good comments that I'd like to respond to:

      "First, children of God, having been chosen and regenerated by Him, are safe in their eternal destiny regardless of their age or circumstance.” (garyk51188)

      TETH: Absolutely true, he gives unto them eternal life and they shall never perish (John 10:28)

      “Having the faith of a child was not offensive to the Lord, in fact, He admonished His followers exhibit this quality. What knowledge of complex truths does a child have, and yet he, for his age and understanding, is he not converted?" (garyk51188)

      TETH: Another great observation. Neither one’s salvation, nor one’s state of regeneration is beholden to one’s degree of understanding of complex theological truths. Regeneration is a passing from death unto life, not a passing grade on some theological orthodoxy exam.

      “Secondly, there are some believers that strain mightily for observable qualities in what they would consider "true converts." That is, that there is such a thing as a "false convert," whereby they exhibit all the true manifestations of Rom 10:9, yet somehow they fall short -- yes, fall short on even being saved. These searchers-for-false-converts run around trying to judge other believers using man made-up tests. They say the combat "easy believism." Ridiculous!!!” (garyk51188)

      TETH: I agree that there are certain Christian groups that have become incredibly obsessed with the notion of the “false convert” – people who think they are saved but they are not. To this I can only say, if that man has faith then he’s born again and a beneficiary of the covenant promises, and if he is not, he lacks the faith whereby he could possibly profit from spiritual instruction (I Corinthians 2:14). Those who obsess regarding such things suffer from thinking too much about THEIR “involvement” in the eternal salvation of a man through gospel preaching, and far too little of Christ’s fulfillment of the laws demands on behalf of his people as a matter of covenant (Psalm 32:2, John 17:2). Stated more plainly, they all have a false view of the nature and purpose of the gospel message and the nature and purpose of Christ’s atoning work.

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    2. RESPONSE 102:

      “I see the testimonies of the self described "true converts," confessing that before, when they were supposedly a false convert, that they didn't like reading the bible as much as they do now. Or, they didn't like going to church as much as they do now. Or, they didn't feel as saved as they do now. Or, they didn't have as much appreciation for what Christ really did on the cross, as they do now. They claimed that before they just believed "too easily" to really be saved.” (garyk51188)

      TETH: I’ve seen a lot of that as well. It seems that we make a lot of how we do and feel about things. The fact is that the gospel teaches that God’s saving work on my behalf was under way long before I ever existed and Christ died for me when I was without strength and ungodly (Romans 5:6) and the Spirit regenerated me when I was dead in trespasses and in sins (Ephesians 2:1). The sooner people see that God’s people are saved by what Christ did (Hebrews 1:3), rather than by something they do (Romans 9:16), the sooner they can stop proffering sickening displays of piety as proof of their salvation, and rather exalt God by admitting their utterly abased state and God’s utterly undeserved mercy.

      “All of this comes at their own expense of never knowing by their own standards if they are really saved. Of course not, it is all works based. And, regardless, scripture tells us we are all imperfect in this life, or as Paul says, our flesh continues to war against our new Spirit.” (garyk51188)

      TETH: Amen brother. The testimony of a mature believer who understands something of God’s grace toward him is that “this is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” (I Timothy 1:15). The more we understand this, the more we grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. (II Peter 3:18)

      “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. And, the life I live in the flesh, I live by faith, in the One who loves me and gave Himself for me.” (garyk51188, quoting Galatians 2:20)

      TETH: Amen. Thanks for another thoughtful contribution to the blog.

      May God bless understanding of what we are by nature, and what we are “in Christ” by no work of our own.

      teth

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  2. W E Best wrote a book on this. It follows the PB line. Systematic theologians call it the Ordo Salutis, latin for Order of Salvation and they follow the PB line usually.
    Herman Hoeksema was strong on this. Which means that most of "Churchianity" is light on theology and reading. The elect are truly few as Matthew 7:13,14 declares.

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    1. DG: W E Best wrote a book on this. It follows the PB line.

      TETH: I have several books by WE Best. He was not a PB but his beliefs were very similar to what we PBs affirm, far more than most other non-PBs do. He rejected the instrumentality of the gospel in imparting eternal life, and had similar views with respect to Justification. I rarely encounter anyone who is aware of him, you've been blessed indeed if you've come across his works.

      DG: Systematic theologians call it the Ordo Salutis, latin for Order of Salvation and they follow the PB line usually. Herman Hoeksema was strong on this. Which means that most of "Churchianity" is light on theology and reading. The elect are truly few as Matthew 7:13,14 declares.

      TETH: This is an area where PBs would differ from our PRC brethren. We do not interpret Matthew 7:13-14 as having reference to eternal salvation, as obedience to this command would undeniably constitute a work of righteousness, and our salvation is clearly "not by works of righteousness which we have done." (Titus 3:5). Moreover this was part of the Lord's admonition to his people, those who have ears to hear, and all such are already in a blessed state (Matthew 5:3-12). We believe that those in heaven will be a multitude which no man can number (Revelation 7:9).

      God bless,
      TETH

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    2. Sean Heath

      Disagree with all 3 of your examples. Just because you believe, it doesn't mean you are regenerated. Satan believes, demons believe, nebuchadnezzar believed etc..

      Jesus didn't breath on Peter until after he rose and Peter wasn't given the spirit until pentecost.

      Cornelius hadn't even heard the gospel yet. You aren't born again before you hear the gospel or before you have faith in it or before you choose to follow jesus after you have counted the cost whether or not you will.

      3. James is talking to ethnic Jews in the diaspora... hence brothers. 12 tribes.. ethnic brothers.

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    3. TETH ANSWER 101

      First off, thanks for taking a moment to interact with my blog. I believe the objections you raise are pretty common and I’d like to take a moment to explain why I believe they are invalid. You said…

      SH: Disagree with all 3 of your examples. Just because you believe, it doesn't mean you are regenerated.

      TETH: Faith is a fruit of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God (Galatians 5:22, Romans 8:7) and it is evident that some men, the unregenerate, do not possess faith (II Thessalonians 3:2, I Corinthians 2:14). It follows that believing most certainly does mean that one is regenerated. The apostle John says it very plainly, “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ IS BORN OF GOD” (I John 5:1a). This is the very confession that Peter makes in Matthew 16:16, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Moreover, Jesus Christ himself affirms the source and sincerity of Peter’s faith in the following verse, saying, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17) It follows that is it utterly undeniable that Peter is a regenerate man as of the time of his conversation with Jesus Christ in Matthew 16:16ff.

      SH: Satan believes, demons believe,

      TETH: This is a VERY common error. Satan is not a man. Neither are demons men. The things said of unregenerate men in the word of God do not of necessity apply to either Satan or demons, even as the things said of Satan and demons do not of necessity apply to men. It is true that both Satan and demons are fallen creatures, they are not incapacitated by the fall in precisely the same way that men are said to be incapacitated by the fall. While the bible is VERY clear that fallen, unregenerate men CANNOT believe spiritual truth (Romans 3:10-18, 8:7, I Corinthians 2:14), the bible makes no such statement regarding Satan or demons. In fact it states quite the opposite by explicitly affirming in many places that Satan and demons CAN and DO believe many spiritual truths even though they are in a fallen state (James 2:19, Matthew 8:29, Acts 16:16-17). It follows that proving that Satan and demons believe and yet are not eternally saved constitutes ABSOLUTELY NO PROOF WHATSOEVER that a man may believe and yet not be eternally saved. The bible repeatedly affirms that those who believe are in possession of eternal life (John 3:16, 6:47, etc.).

      TETH: So to summarize: to compare the belief of men and devils in a way that comes to this conclusion is a false interpretation of James 2:19. James’s point regards the showing of one’s faith. He is pointing out that one’s belief OUGHT to manifest itself in one’s behavior. He is not saying that a man can believe and not be eternally saved. Devils can believe whatever their fallen natures will permit them to believe, which is quite a lot apparently, but they will never be saved irrespective of any spiritual truth they believe, because they have NO SAVIOR (Hebrews 2:16). The fundamental error that your argument arises from is the false assertion that “whatever is true of devils” (i.e., that they can believe and yet not be saved) must also be true of men. That statement is categorically false. Men are not devils, devils are not men, and we must take care to avoid hasty, unwarranted conclusions that fail to consider the distinctions between their natures.

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    4. TETH ANSWER 102

      SH: Nebuchadnezzar believed etc..

      TETH: I believe that Nebuchadnezzar was a changed man. He was a regenerate child of God who issued one of the strongest statements of belief in the absolute sovereignty of God found anywhere in the bible. (Daniel 4:34-35) You see, the Lord can save whomever he wants to save – even pagan, idolatrous, gentile kings in the Old Testament. “Behold the Lord’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save.” (Isaiah 59:1)

      SH: Jesus didn't breath on Peter until after he rose and Peter wasn't given the spirit until Pentecost.

      TETH: The belief that the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost was regeneration is a very common error that brings with it a host of additional theological errors that follow downstream. The pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost was a special empowerment of the Spirit of God that produced various sign gifts that attended the formation and growth of the NT church. It is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel 2:28ff. It is NOT regeneration as evidenced by the faith that the OT saints all had faith long before Pentecost events of Acts 2 (Hebrews 11). That faith is a fruit of the indwelling Holy Spirit of God. Bottom line: All of God’s covenant people are regenerated during their natural lives by the Spirit of God who is unconstrained in his ability to quicken (John 3:8). The following sermon deals with this topic: http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=37171333242

      SH: Cornelius hadn't even heard the gospel yet.

      TETH: That’s correct, even as Seth, Abijah, Rachel’s Children, Job, and many, many others were regenerated apart from having heard the explicit NT gospel of I Corinthians 15:3-4. The gospel message has precisely NOTHING to do with how a man is regenerated directly by the Spirit of God (John 3:3-10). One must be born again ALREADY in order to be able to spiritually see (understand and believe) a manifestation of the kingdom of God such as the gospel message. That is an enormously important observation and those who fail to embrace this simple, Nicodemian precept are consigned to promoting error in the domain of Christendom and in so doing visit a great deal of confusion and vexation of spirit among the flock of God.

      SH: You aren't born again before you hear the gospel or before you have faith in it or before you choose to follow Jesus after you have counted the cost whether or not you will.

      TETH: That statement is categorically false. At a minimum the OT is an enormous obstacle to affirming that position. Many, many people are eternally saved but not all of them encounter explicit gospel truth during their natural lives. The OT saints prove this beyond any reasonable dispute (Ephesians 3:5, Colossians 1:26). Moreover, one must have FAITH in order to receive gospel truth. That faith is the fruit of regeneration. Those who teach that one must believe in order to become born again as you suggest here are guilty of insisting that the Spirit is the fruit of faith. The bible teaches that faith is a fruit of the Spirit. What you are promoting here is precisely the opposite of what Jesus Christ taught Nicodemus and that should give any sincere disciple of Christ enormous pause. It is an occasion for you to obtain a better understanding of gospel truth that will be prove enormously profitable to you (Act 18:26).

      TETH: Moreover, “counting the cost” is a righteous act of the will and is therefore excluded from having any participatory involvement in how one obtains the free gift of eternal life. (Romans 9:16, Titus 3:5).

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    5. TETH ANSWER 103

      SH: James is talking to ethnic Jews in the diaspora... hence brothers. 12 tribes.. ethnic brothers.

      TETH: He is certainly addressing ethnic Jews but his address is more specific than that. He is speaking to those who have “faith” (James 1:3). James’s address is to Jewish Christians who were dispersed, not to mere ethnic Jews who lacked faith in Christ.

      Let me encourage you to continue to explore the word of God. Whether or not you and I ever come to see eye to eye on such matters, I am confident that your sincere pursuit of God through his word will be a blessing and will prove enormously profitable in your Christian walk, even as the Lord promised (Matthew 7:7-11).

      May God bless our studies and understanding of his word,
      TETH

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