Paul writes, “So that we who were the first to hope in Christ— In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him—“ (Eph 1:12, 13). Having shown us the divine perspective of salvation, Paul turns the coin over to show us its outworking in our lives, and the result is faith.
Romans 10 says, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Ro 10:17). Peter said, “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God. And this word is the good news that was preached to you” (1Pe 1:23, 25). Similarly, James wrote, “Of his own will God brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (Jas 1:18).
As the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, moves through this world, God is using it as a sword in the hand of his Spirit to bring his people out of darkness. Not everyone believes his Word because not everyone is effectually called. But as Acts 13 tells us was happening in the days of the apostles, “As many as were appointed to eternal life believed” (Ac 13:48). They recognized the Savior in the words that they heard from the apostles and others. They were drawn to its message. It’s what we call irresistible grace.
For centuries, theologians have debated when exactly spiritual life begins for the child of God. Some have said that the Spirit’s work of regeneration is a process that can take years to accomplish. Others say that it happens instantaneously either well before the sinner first believes or at the very moment he believes.
Here’s what I know.
1) Regeneration is entirely a work of God.
God says, “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you” (Eze 36:26). Despite whatever means he employs in the conversion of his people, God is the only one capable of bringing dead sinners to life.
2) Regeneration is a profound, substantial transformation.
Paul writes, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2Co 5:17). It stands to reason that a dead person who has come alive will be drastically different.
3) Regeneration leads us away from sin to Christ.
John says, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God” (1Jn 3:9). He’ll always be tempted by sin. He’ll continue struggling with sin. But that’s just it; sin becomes a struggle for him. He’s no longer totally enslaved by it.
Furthermore, his affections are turned to Christ. Jesus said, “This is eternal life, that they know the only true God, and Jesus Christ” (Jn 14:3). The very essence of spiritual life is to have an intimate knowledge of God and his Son.
We could go even further by quoting Galatians 5 where Paul said, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:22-24).
When does spiritual life begin? As far as we can know, it begins at the moment when God transforms us to see ourselves as the sinners we are and Christ as our Lord and Savior. Or, as Paul said, “When you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him” (Eph 1:13). Whatever God might do within us before that moment is practically irrelevant. Only God knows.