Edward F. Lundwall, Jr.
The question: At the time of initial profession of faith, do regeneration, spiritual rebirth, and forgiveness happen at the same time?
The impression one received from evangelistic campaigns in many churches is that there is a once and done event. More often than not, repentance is assumed and not dealt with and the absolute need for a moral and spiritual life is not placed on the consciousness of the professed convert. The results are legendary.
Some years ago, Elmer Towns reported about the experiences of the Churches with the largest numbers in their Sunday Schools and Church attendances. In my study of this report, I found that it took six professions of faith to increase attendance by one. One Church reported 500 professions of faith, but experienced an attendance loss of 100!
In contrast, First Baptist Church of Houston, Texas, reported that they made contact with those who professed faith in an effort to bring them into the ongoing fellowship of their Church. As a result, of six professions, they only lost one!
I attended a seminar held by the First Baptist Church in Modesto, California on imperatives for Church life. Their Church grew in attendance from about 300 to nearly 2000 in ten years. Their Pastor was both very evangelistic, and promoted a strong ministry of discipleship. Behind the platform of the Church were small rooms where professors of conversion were taken and given basic instructions, but were also enlisted in a 10 session Discovery Class to further ground them in the faith. And, for those who desired further growth, there were growth classes held in the homes which lasted for about 26 weeks. This philosophy was a reflection of what Scripture teaches.
For those who promote the idea that “once saved, always saved. . .” Or, “once a tearful profession is made following ‘the altar call is always saved from hell” the conditional statement by Peter “if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:” should make them nervous enough to look at the Scriptures more carefully as to whether initial forgiveness includes regeneration or not!
“...giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;” (2 Peter 1:5).
“Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” (2 Peter 1:4).
A true conversion is demonstrated by applying God’s promises in Christ. It is exemplified by an exchanged life delivered from worldly corruption. Peter exhorts the addition of a progressively transformed life of godly purity. But to some he adds that this kind of transforming life is necessary for he writes:
“But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:” (2 Peter 1:9, 10).
In Scripture, as in a number of notable experiences, regeneration seems to happen at the same time forgiveness is experienced. The conversion of the Apostle Paul seems to be one where his conversion, regeneration, and call to apostleship happened all at once. A good number of other greatly used men seem to have gotten forgiveness and regeneration at the same time also. Men like D. L, Moody, and Lee Robertson. But spiritual service, even greatly used, does not necessarily indicate regeneration. Judging from the outcomes of evangelistic meetings, these men represent a great exception. Indeed, the Lord Jesus cautioned about initial professions of faith in the Parable of the Sower:
“And the one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word, and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away. And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” (Matt 13:20-22 NASB).
“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doth 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.” (Matt 7:21-23).
For these reasons, the Lord Jesus didn’t initially give new believers assurance of salvation, even though He accepted their faith.
“As he spake these words, many believed on him. Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;” (John 8:30, 31).
Regeneration or being born again is a process of becoming the sons of God in character. This starts with the gift of forgiveness that gives a conditional reconciliation with God. This must be maintained by avoiding sin, confession for forgiveness when sin recurs, and continuing exposure to the ministry of the Word.
Related reading: What it Means to be Saved; Are We Losing Our Young People?