By Alan Davis
When considering the doctrine of regeneration we must explore a component of regeneration, which is faith. Some would have us believe that faith is something that man works up for himself. There has been a movement within the Southern Baptist convention called the “traditional” movement. The traditional movement, in some ways, is diametrically opposed to the historic Baptist faith on the doctrine of regeneration. Though we are opposed on this important doctrine that does not mean we cannot work together in the Fathers fields and it certainly has caused many of us to dig a little deeper.
First let’s take a look at what the Traditional Statement says distinctly about faith. Traditional Baptist Movement says, “We deny that the decision of faith is an act of God rather than a response of the person.” Now we can plainly see from this statement that this new movement, called “traditional Baptist”, is clear that they view the act of faith as fully a man-controlled act; that God has nothing to do with one’s faith other than to observe it. Now other parts of this particular document seem to have contradictory statements. This statement defiantly takes away from the sovereignty of God and also brings our salvation to a point of being man-centered and not God-centered.
Now, let’s see what we, as Historic Baptists, proclaim about faith.
Let’s start in the contemporary and see what our Baptist Faith & Message 2000 says concerning faith: Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God’s grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace.
Next let’s look at one of our historic Baptist documents, the New Hampshire Baptist Confession of Faith, which has this to say concerning repentance and faith: Of Repentance and Faith – We believe that Repentance and Faith are sacred duties, and also inseparable graces, wrought in our souls by the regenerating Spirit of God (42); whereby being deeply convinced of our guilt, danger, and helplessness, and of the way of salvation by Christ (43), we turn to God with unfeigned contrition, confession, and supplication for mercy (44); at the same time heartily receiving the Lord Jesus Christ as our Prophet, Priest, and King, and relying on him alone as the only and all-sufficient Saviour (45).
So the “traditional movement” says they deny faith is an act of God, and both the New Hampshire Baptist Confession of Faith and the Baptist Faith & Message says faith is a grace. Now according to the Webster dictionary, grace is unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration…a virtue coming from God. And according to Nelsons Bible Dictionary grace is favor or kindness shown without regard to the worth or merit of the one who receives it. We all know the tried and true definition that grace in relation to God is God’s unmerited favor.
I believe the writers and drafters of the NHBCF and the BFM2000 probably had a similar definition in mind as those above when they wrote, and we as Baptist have said, that “repentance AND faith are inseparable experiences of grace.” If faith is an experience of grace then it is a gift, since that is what grace is. I do not know if all Baptist believe grace is a total work of God but I do believe that historically that is what Baptists have believed as a whole. If faith is a grace then it cannot just be the response of man and not an act of God.
The Bibletells us in Eph. 2:8. “For by grace are ye saved through faith: and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God”. Now some have said this cannot be interrupted as faith is a gift. Well, let’s look at some interpretations from some well-known theologians:
The Pulpit Commentary says of the later part of this verse; “this usage confirms the view that it is not merely faith, but the whole work and person of Christ which faith receives, that is meant here as ‘the gift of God”. The writers seemed confirmed that enabling grace, salvation and faith are all three a gift of God.
HA Ironside says, “Theologians have questioned as to whether ‘not of yourselves’ means the salvation or the faith. We may apply it to the whole subject in question, ‘by grace are ye saved, and that not of yourselves’. The grace, the salvation are not of yourselves. For ‘by grace are ye saved through faith, and not of yourselves’. The faith is not of yourselves – it is all the gift of God. But somebody says if faith is the gift of God and God is not pleased to give me that gift, how can I believe? Scripture says Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. God gives the gift of faith to all who give heed to the message of the gospel.”
And then we have Warren Wiersbe speaking of this very verse; “It refers to the whole experience of salvation, including faith”
Herbert Lockyear says of faith in All of the Doctrines; “Faith is a gift of God resulting from His grace. He not only supplies a Savior but the faith to believe in Him as such.”
Now when reading the traditional movement statement about faith being a response of man and not an act of God one might begin to think our understanding of faith as a gift from God is a foreign concept that maybe needed some further study. This I have done and the above is a small piece of that study. My conclusion, based on Scripture and our historic Baptist documents of faith is this: Faith is a gift of God. And thank God for the gift of the whole experience of salvation; regeneration, repentance and faith.
Pastor Alan Davis
Woodland Baptist Church