Arminian theology teaches that faith precedes regeneration, that regeneration is the result of placing faith in Christ. Calvinist theology teaches that regeneration must precede faith, that one must be regenerated first in order to believe. Which is it? I believe the Apostle Paul reveals the answer in the following brief study.
(Ro 8:4) – 4 So that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (NET)
(Ro 8:8-9) – 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this person does not belong to him. (NET)
(He 11:6) – 6 Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (NET)
(Eph 2:8-9) – 8 for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, that no one would boast. (WEB)
Romans 8:4 & 8-9 interprets “the flesh” that Paul talks about in verses 4-9. In these verses Paul is contrasting the unsaved – “who live according to the flesh,” and the saved — “who live according to the Spirit.” We know that’s what Paul is talking about, because “the righteous requirement of the law” (Ro 8:4) is only fulfilled in believers, who are both regenerate (born again – Jn 3:3-8) and indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Ro 8:9). In our unregenerate state we’re “unable to please God” (Ro 8:8). In addition, the writer of Hebrews says that “without faith it is impossible to please God” (He 11:6). Thus, only those who have been regenerated can place faith in Christ as Lord and Savior, and thereby pleasing God. This is why regeneration must precede faith. We must be made alive (Eph 2:5; Col 2:13) in order to believe, and thus, be saved and indwelt by the Holy Spirit at that moment of saving faith.
Salvation and faith for salvation are not and cannot be “of ourselves,” as Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:8. There must be Divine intervention, where at some point in our lives, God chooses to intervene in our spiritually dead state to draw us to Christ via regeneration, and thus giving us the gift of faith (Eph 2:8) in order to be saved. That is why everyone who truly hears and understands the gospel message (John 6:44-45), will be saved. That is why the Arminian view cannot be correct, which teaches that in our unregenerate state, we have the ability to believe or not to believe, to choose Christ or to reject Him. But as we’ve seen, these choices are not possible within our unregenerate state. Everyone who has been enabled to believe – via regeneration – will be saved. No one who experiences regeneration and understanding of the gospel message rejects Christ, for everyone who is regenerated receives the Holy Spirit, and thus belongs to Christ (Ro 8:9).
When Arminians teach Ephesians 2:8-9, they focus on the “works” that Paul mentions, but they overlook what Paul says before that, which is that being saved and having faith “is not of ourselves.” They believe that Paul is merely referring to the fact that it’s salvation that is by grace, but disregard faith as part of Paul’s reference. They believe that Paul is merely contrasting grace and works. However, both salvation and faith for salvation is by God’s grace; the two go hand in hand. We know that faith “is not of ourselves,” because as we’ve seen, it’s not possible to have faith in our unregenerate state, because “without faith it is impossible to please God” (He 11:6), and “those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Ro 8:8). Only those who have been regenerated are able to please God. That includes the required faith for salvation. God Himself must provide that.
All of this points to unconditional Sovereign election. Which means, since salvation is “not of ourselves” at all (Jn 6:63,65), then God must take the initiative and call those whom He has chosen to receive it. When God calls, it always results in salvation. Yes, in a general sense, the gospel goes out to the whole world, and everyone who hears it, is called by that message. However, it’s God Himself who calls people to receive Christ. In other words, God Himself must make the message of Christ come to life in the hearts of those whom He calls (1 Th 1:4-5). Everyone whom God calls (draws), comes to faith in Christ (Jn 6:44-45), because those whom He calls He also “justifies” and “glorifies, as Paul reveals in Romans 8:30. And He does this via regeneration.