Visitor: If regeneration precedes faith, how can we explain Ephesians 1:13? This verse lists hearing, believing and sealing with the Holy Spirit in that order. If being sealed with the Holy Spirit is the same thing as being indwelled by the Holy Spirit, or if this happens when the heart is changed (ie., with regeneration, as per Ezekiel 36:26-27), doesn't that mean that regeneration follows belief rather than precedes it?
Response: Hi and thank you for your question. Are you suggesting that because the Spirit comes to indwell the believer AFTER he believes and is justified, that the Spirit does no work whatsoever in people prior to and during his conversion? That the Spirit is dormant and is waiting for a natural, graceless person to take the first step to believe, before He will do anything? Consider that If we as regenerate believers need the Spirit daily to believe, obey and persevere in the faith, how much more does the unbeliever need Him to understand and believe the things of the Spirit (1 Cor 2:12,14). The Biblical evidence is so overwhelming that the Spirit also works prior to belief (1 Thess 1:4,5) that this should not even be a debate in the church. The sinner hears and comes to Christ only because the Holy Spirit opens his ears, eyes and understanding to the gospel (Deut 29:4, 30:6; John 6:63-65). As in creation, the Spirit broods over us, so to speak, before He gives the birth to us. It is important that we do not limit the Spirit's work but understand that He has a full array of ministries:
In fact, there are seven major distinct ministries of the Holy Spirit:
- Convicts unbelievers of sin, righteousness and judgment: John 16:8-11.
- Calls and Regenerates (causing us to believe): 1 Cor 1:24; John 1:13, 3:1-8, 6:63-65; Titus 3:5, I Peter 1:23-25; James 1:18.
- Indwells and baptizes the believer: I Corinthians 6:19; Romans 8:9; John 14:16; I Corinthians 12:13.
- Seals us: Ephesians 1:13-14; 4:30.
- Imparts gifts: I Corinthians 12:7-11.
- Fills the believer: Ephesians 5:15-21; Galatians 5:16.
- Causes us to bear fruit: Galatians 5:22-23.— conforming us to the character of Jesus Christ.
I would encourage you to also consider that you thank God for your conversion because you know your repenting and believing cannot be ascribed to your own wisdom, sound judgment, or good sense (even partly). Jesus Christ gets ALL the glory (1 Cor 1:20-31). Even the very humility you have to believe is a gift of grace... "for what do you have that you did not receive."
Lastly, take the time to read Ephesians 1:13 in light of the first 12 verses in the chapter. Reading texts in isolation is a sure way to produce unsound theology. Read in context God predestined and adopted us as sons, according to the good pleasure of His will, not ours.