“Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” James 2:19.
I live in the so called “bible belt”. There are fifteen churches within a reasonable walking distance of my home. These churches represent various denominations and traditions. There are the United Methodists, Independent Baptists, Non-denominationals, even the hipster, “Elevation” style churches are here. In spite of their differences, there is one common thread among them, namely the damning doctrine of decisional regeneration.
Decisional regeneration is essentially the idea that the underlying cause of being born again is the exercise of man’s will. In this system man is a needy, yet capable being, who needs only flex his will power, giving mental assent to certain realities, and then, using that same decisional mechanism, fill out a card, walk an aisle and utter a few magic words, and voilà, they’ve just caused themselves to be born again.
This stands in contrast to the clear biblical teaching that man is:
-> Dead is trespasses and sins: “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.” Ephesians 2:1–3.
-> Unable and Unwilling to submit to God: “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” Romans 8:7–8.
-> Must be born again by the Holy Spirit: “Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” John 3:3–8.
To summarize these passages in showing the error of decisional regeneration, the Baptist Confession of 1689 says: “Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation; so as a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able by his own strength to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.”
The error of decisional regeneration has long been opposed by those who proclaim the sovereignty of God’s grace in the salvation of sinners. Soli Deo Gloria. I too stand on the shoulders of those who have given their lives to proclaim that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone. And in recent years, there has been somewhat of a resurgence in confessing these biblical truths. Yet even within these circles, I am beginning to see a trend that is even more unsettling than the error of decisional regeneration: the error of doctrinal regeneration.
What is doctrinal regeneration? This is the idea that the condition of one’s soul is built upon the bedrock of correct biblical theology. It is the unspoken assumption that a person is a true child of God simply because they proudly affirm the five points, or proudly sport the five solas on their tee-shirts and bumper stickers. What this error has produced is a bunch of “reformed” “Christians” who spend their days listening to podcasts and engaging in “epic” facebook battles with those deemed “heretics” yet who in reality know nothing of communion with the living God. In essence, they have a “faith” that simply says, and yet produces no real spiritual fruit in keeping with repentance.
Now let me be clear here, the people of God have an obligation to believe righty the things of God revealed in His word (Deuteronomy 6:4-9), however, one does not become a child of God, nor rest assured of their standing in Christ simply by having certain theological facts in their reservoir of knowledge. Here the warning of the Apostle James is crucial: “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” James 2:19.
So you have Hodge, Berkof, and Gill on the shelf, but tell me, what do you know of putting to death that which is earthly in you, and walking in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ? Oh sure, you own the Calvinist Movie, but tell me, what do you know of purifying yourself, even as Christ is pure? We see your Spurgeon shirt, and your beard, but what do you know of spending your life for the sake of Christ as Spurgeon did? You may very well be able to quote Lloyd-Jones, and MacArthur, and Sproul, but what do you know of spending all night in prayer for God to be glorified in your life? Let’s not forget the Martin Luther shot glasses you and your buddies use while you talk about ‘presuppositionalism’, and which view of ‘lapsarianism’ you hold to, but in what way are you laying your life down for the edification, and maturation of the brethren? You bring about the money you spend on books, but what are you sacrificing that the name of Christ might reach the nations?
Although it will no doubt be twisted, I am not talking about works-based regeneration, rather, I am talking about the evidence of regeneration in your life; I am talking about the works that flow from truly being converted. To borrow from the apostle Paul, I am talking about the “working out” of that salvation which God is “working in” (Philippians 2:12-13). I am begging you, do not be deceived into thinking your familiarity with right doctrine can save you.
Before you rush to defending yourself based on your commitment to listening to James White, or to your theology girls, consider the tests of 1 John. Are the evidences of the new birth present in your life?
Test #1: Where are You Walking? – 1 John 1:5-7
Test #2: What is your attitude toward sin? – 1 John 1:8-2:2
Test #3: Do You Obey God’s Commandments? 1 John 2:3-6
Test #4: Do you love the brethren? 1 John 2:7-11
Test #5: Do you love the world? 1 John 2:15-17
Test #6: Are you continuing in the faith? 1 John 2:18-28
Test #7: Are you purifying yourself? 1 John 3:1-3
Test #8: Are you practicing righteousness? 1 John 3:4-10
Test #9 Are you loving the brethren? 1 John 3:10-18
Test #10: To whom do you listen? 1 John 4:1-6
Test #11: Do you bear the marks of redeeming love? 1 John 4:7-21
Test #12: Have you been born of God? 1 John 5:1-5
“Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” 2 Corinthians 13:5.
Is Christ in you, or are you just following the popular trends of the circles you associate with? Do you evidence the new birth, or a carnality that’s dressed up with images of reformers? Do you know Christ, or just facts?
I beg you, if you fail these tests, repent of your self-righteousness, flee to Christ, stay on your face before God until you are sure the Spirit has blown upon you and given you a new heart. Or what a dreadful estate to find yourself in, to be rushing toward eternal damnation with a head full of facts, but a heart full of wickedness.
“Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Matthew 7:17–23.