Dan (GodIsMyJudge) originally wrote to Gene:
Regarding the “new covenant” and Isaiah 54:13 (cross ref Jer 33, Mathew 26, Hebrews 8, Hebrews 10, …) One of the blessings of the new covenant is regeneration, but another is forgiveness of sins. Do you believe people are forgiven before they come to Christ? Doesn’t this view contradict much of the NT? But you seem to be arguing that teaching, hearing & learning are part of the new covenant and precede coming to Christ.
First of all, the temperal speed at which everything happens can vary. Many of the steps of salvation occur simultaneous to one another. There remains, however, a logical order. Ignoring the logical order of the decree of God and focusing only on what happens to the sinner during salvation, what you have is:
1. A sinner begins spiritually dead.
2. God regenerates that sinner. The ordinary means by which this occurs is through the proclamation of the Gospel. Sometimes the temporal moment between the proclamation of the Gospel and God's regeneration of the sinner is instantaneous; sometimes it can take years and the sinner is reminded of the previously heard proclamation at a later date. In both cases, however, God must regenerate the sinner so that he is no longer spiritually dead so that he can respond to the message he has heard.
3. That response--the response of the regenerated man--is faith in what was proclaimed by the Gospel.
4. On the basis of that faith, God imputes the righteousness of Christ to the sinner and imputes the sins of the sinner to Christ. The sinner is justified before God.
5. The regenerated man produces fruit and continues along the path of sanctification.
Because this chain is certain (that is, once God regenerates an individual that individual will, inevitably, proceed to step 5), Scripture talks about salvation as step 2 (regeneration, not bare proclamation), 3, 4, 5 and all steps combined. We know that if somoene is at step 3, he is saved because steps 4 and 5 must follow. Likewise if he is at step 4, step 5 must follow.
Of course, as humans we do not have the omniscience that God has. We can only make our best judgment as to whether someone is a genuine believer or not based on the fruits we see in that person's life.
So, with that in mind, the question was asked:
Do you believe people are forgiven before they come to Christ?
"Before" is the wrong term here. "Before" implies we look at this temporally; but these events could happen instantaneously and simultaneously.
In any case, logically the claim would be: Regeneration -> Faith -> Justification -> Sanctification. Justification entails the forgiveness of sins, sins our sins are imputed at that point.
In the logical order, therefore, faith preceeds justification; but regeneration preceeds faith. If you define faith as "coming to Jesus" and forgiveness as "justification" then yes, one "comes to Jesus" before one is "forgiven." But this is still after one is made a new spiritual creation that is able to come to Christ.
Finally it was said:
But you seem to be arguing that teaching, hearing & learning are part of the new covenant and precede coming to Christ.
Teaching, hearing, and learning do come before faith. How does one have faith in what one has not heard, and how can one hear unless someone has preached it? (I'm pretty sure someone asked that question once....) The fallacy with the question is thinking that knowing about Christ is equivalent to having faith in Christ. Yet we know from James that the demons believe plenty of truthful propositions about Christ, and that doesn't help them at all. One can know every fact about Christ that is possible for humans to know and still be spiritually dead.
However, one cannot have faith in Christ unless one knows who He is. And God has chosen the proclamation of the Gospel as His first means of bringing about salvation.
Now God could still save someone in a different manner if He so chose to do so; but we have no Scriptural warrant to believe He ever does otherwise. He has only revealed to us that this is the method He uses.
I hope that helps clarify it a bit.
Dan responded by stating:
Thanks for your comments. Your thoughts about “dead faith” are interesting. I took your comments to mean, you interpret the phrase “they will all be taught by God. Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father” as speaking of knowledge of Christ without trust in Him.
No, that’s not how I would have taken it (and I don’t think that’s how Gene meant it either, although he can respond for sure). In any case, that aspect of knowledge is not what is being taught by Isaiah or Jeremiah. These passages do not refer to the bare knowledge of Christ at all, as part of the New Covenant; instead, it is the promise of redemptive faith. Salvation is pictured as something God does. He is the active party, ensuring that those who are saved know Him. In this context, the knowledge of God isn’t “brute” knowledge or “bare facts” but rather the intimate knowledge of the personal relationship with God.
Therefore, the passage isn’t really speaking in terms of knowledge qua knowledge, but rather in terms of how God will ensure the salvation of His people by being proactive. In other words, in this passage the knowledge being talked about is redemptive knowledge in His elect.
This is slightly different from what I understood your first question to be.
And to clarify, I wasn’t speaking so much of “dead faith” (at least not in the way that James uses the term, which is a faith without works) but instead I was speaking of having no faith despite having knowledge. This is something that does happen quite frequently. There are people who know many facts about Christ, and who may even believe those facts to be true, yet who do not have faith in Christ Himself. While I cannot go into detail, I know one person who would actually evangelize nonbelievers while remaining convinced that Christ could not forgive the sins in her own life. She did not have faith in Christ despite knowing enough about Him to try to convince others to put their faith in Him. But even if this individual is an extreme example (I don’t really think that’s the case), there are many self-proclaimed atheists who know more about Christ than some believers.
I agree that knowledge is the foundation of saving faith, and shouldn’t be confused with saving faith. This viewpoint seems to fit the passage well. Knowledge comes before faith and the passage says hearing and learning precedes coming to Christ. Also, the quotation from Isaiah does seem be talking about the spread of the Gospel.
Again, I do think at this point we had a little cross-communication, wherein I misunderstood your first question and you misunderstood my response since it wasn’t referring specifically to what you had asked originally. I would maintain, as I mentioned in my first response, that it is still a mistake to think of this temporally. Knowledge and faith can both occur simultaneously, though they can also occur distinct from one another. But the passages regarding the New Covenant are not speaking so much of how one gets into the covenant as they are speaking of what happens to those already in that covenant. These passages do more to assure us that A) salvation in the New Covenant cannot be lost, for God is the proactive party rather than man; and B) sanctification must follow after justification, for God is proactive in teaching and shaping His people.
But the idea that people could have dead faith seems to favor an Arminian viewpoint on the passage. Unless I miss my guess, the Calvinist viewpoint depends on God’s teaching as being effectual. If some that He teaches don’t come to Christ, then the Calvinist viewpoint fails.
Again, this is probably indicative of the misunderstanding of your first question and my first response. If we are speaking of teaching in general terms, then it is quite consistent within Calvinism to argue that those who are Elect will be effectively taught while those who are reprobate will be hardened by that teaching. The teaching then serves two purposes: to bring the believer closer to God and to heap judgment upon the non-believer. This second kind is seen in the atheists who know facts about Christ yet disbelieve, etc.
However, this is not the same kind of teaching being referred to by Isaiah & Jeremiah, wherein those who are already the people of God are taught by God. In that case, they are those who, as God spoke through Jeremiah: “shall be my people, and I will be their God” (Jer. 32:38). They are those whom God says: “I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me” (Jer. 32:39-40). This is all stated just 18 verses before the portion you referenced in Jer. 33, too.
This same thought is expressed in Isaiah, since before he talks of the children being taught by God, he states: “‘For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,’ says the LORD, who has compassion on you” (Is. 54:10). Again, those who are taught are those who are already in the covenant. As such, these passages are not referring to how one gets into the covenant, but instead are the promises given to those in the covenant.