Is the “New Heart” of Ezekiel 36:26-27 a Reference to Regeneration Preceding Faith?

Calvinists will often quote Ezekiel 36:26-27 as a proof text for regeneration preceding faith.  The Calvinist doctrine insists that one must be given a new heart before that person can believe the gospel.  For that reason, Ezekiel 36:26-27 is often called into service to demonstrate this principle.  Below is the passage with verse 25 included:

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (ESV)

Does this passage give the Calvinist what he needs to defend his doctrine?  Does it truly demonstrate that regeneration precedes faith and that God must give a sinner a new heart before he or she can believe unto life?

As with many Calvinist proof texts, this passage does not give them all that they need to establish their doctrine.  In order for this passage to fit the bill, it must teach that God gives one a new heart and fills that person with His Spirit unconditionally.  The text does not teach that.  It is a mistake to assume that whenever a condition is not stated it therefore means that the actions being described take place unconditionally.  A promise stated without explicit mention of a condition does not necessitate the conclusion that said promise is unconditional.

While we can find promises in Scripture that are unconditional and promises in Scripture that are made without immediate reference to a condition, one will look in vain for a single passage regarding conversion that states that one gets saved unconditionally.  Such a passage does not exist, and this is big trouble for the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election.  But the Bible everywhere describes faith as the God ordained condition for receiving salvation, and this condition must then be assumed even in places where no condition is stated.  Indeed, the context of such passages usually implies the condition of faith even if it is not expressly stated.

With that in mind, let’s examine the text in question.  It is widely held that this passage looks forward to the new covenant that God will make with His people.  This new covenant was fulfilled in the New Testament through the shed blood of Christ.  One comes to participate in this new covenant through faith in Christ’s blood (Rom. 3:25).  The text of Ezekiel 36:25-27 describes those who will come to participate in the new covenant.  First, the passage tells us that God will cleanse those who participate in the new covenant:

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.

In the new covenant, this would have reference to the cleansing of Christ’s blood.  His blood cleanses us from all unrighteousness and we are forgiven from our past sins on that basis (Heb. 10:18-22, esp. verse 22 as compared with Ezekiel 36:25, 33; 1 Pet. 1:2, 22, 23; 2 Pet. 1:2-9; 1 John 1:7-9; Rom. 3:25).  The Bible is clear that forgiveness is a primary element of justification.  No one can be justified in God’s sight and declared righteous prior to the removal of sin.  No one can be justified while still under God’s wrath for past sins.  Justification is impossible to separate from the cleansing of forgiveness, just as the passage says, “you shall be clean from all your uncleanness.” (cf. Ezekiel. 36:33)  Already we see a problem with the Calvinist interpretation of this passage.  The passage cannot be teaching a cleansing unto faith since the New Testament is adamant that one is forgiven and justified “by faith”.  God forgives and justifies (makes righteous) in response to faith and repentance:

Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” (Acts 3:19)

And Peter said to them, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)

…being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith…that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus…for we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (Romans 3:24-28)

But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness. (Romans 4:5)

Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…Much more then, having been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. (Romans 5:1, 9)

But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. (Romans 6:22)

[All Scriptures taken from the NASB- emphasis mine]

Passages like these could be easily multiplied.  One need only read Galatians to see that justification comes by faith.  In fact, Galatians and Romans are very much concerned with how one comes to participate in the new covenant.  Justification, regeneration, sanctification and adoption are all benefits of the new covenant.  All of these spiritual blessings become ours when we come to be united to Christ through faith (Eph. 1:3-13, esp. verse 13 which says that we are sealed in Christ upon believing the gospel).  The benefits of the new covenant are represented as the “promise” given to Abraham and his descendents, and this promise is received by faith (Rom. 4; Gal. 3).  With the promise comes adoption as children of God and the reception of the Holy Spirit, all of which are received by faith:

Therefore, the law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith.  But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.  For you are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ…And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise (Gal. 3:24-29)

This one thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?  (Gal. 3:2)

Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are the sons of Abraham. (Gal. 3:7)

…in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. (Gal. 3:14)

And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Gal. 4:6; cf. Rom. 8:14-17)

…so that Christ might dwell in your hearts through faith… (Eph. 3:17; cf. 2 Cor. 13:5; Rom. 8:9)

…to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith. (Acts 26:18)

[All Scriptures taken from the NASB- emphasis mine]

There is no question when we compare the promise of New Covenant blessings described in Ezekiel 36 with the fulfillment of those blessings in the New Testament, that all of these new covenant blessings are received by faith.  The cleansing described in verse 25 is by faith and the reception of the Holy Spirit described in verse 27 is by faith.  Even the promise of a new purified and circumcised heart is by faith (Acts 15:8, 9; Col. 2:11-13; Heb. 10:18-22).  But the “new heart” described in Ezekiel 36:26 has primary reference to a heart that is dedicated to God and empowered to obey His law through the indwelling Holy Spirit:

And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

It is only through participation in the new covenant and reception of the promised Holy Spirit that the believer is enabled and empowered to please God, fulfill His law of love, and put to death the deeds of the flesh (Heb. 8:7-12; 10:10-18).  Paul powerfully describes this aspect of the new covenant promise in Rom. 8.  Through the power of the indwelling Spirit (received by faith) the believer can now put to death the misdeeds of the flesh and live according to the Spirit:

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.  For what the law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. However, you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you…So then brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh to live according to the flesh- for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God. (Select verses from Rom. 8:2-14- emphasis mine)

Through the working of the Spirit within us, our desires are turned away from the flesh to the ways of God.  The Spirit regenerates and re-orientates our being so that we are now devoted to pleasing God rather than our fleshly passions.  The Spirit of God gives us the desire and power we need to overcome the flesh and live for God (Gal. 5:17-26; 6:7-9).  This is the fulfillment of the promise given in Ezekiel 36:26-27, and the fulfillment of that promise is dependent on the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit who is received by faith (Gal. 3:14).

Conclusion:  We can therefore conclude that Ezekiel 36:26-27 fails as a proof text for the Calvinist doctrine of regeneration preceding faith.  Ezekiel 36 looks forward to the time of a new covenant effected by Christ’s blood through which believers are cleansed of sin and made new in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17; cf., Eph. 2:8-10  ).  It tells us that those who will participate in the new covenant (through faith in Christ) will receive the promised Holy Spirit, through whom the new covenant believer will be empowered to live for and please God by overcoming the passions and desires of the flesh.

When we compare the promise of Ezekiel 36:26-27 to the fulfillment of that promise in the New Testament, we find that all of the promises and benefits described in Ezekiel 36 are conditioned on faith.  Therefore, it is impossible to construe this passage in such a way as to teach that one receives a new heart empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit prior to putting faith in Christ. Rather, the passage is in perfect harmony with the New Testament (and Arminian) teaching that the promises and benefits of the new covenant (which includes a new heart and the reception of God’s Spirit) are received by faith.

Here is a Calvinist Who Isn’t Afraid to Tell it Like it is!

Marvin Merriweather writes:

Jesus was a Calvinist…I’m a five-point Calvinist who renounces any other gospel except the one true gospel of Jesus Christ the Calvinist Messiah.

In a comments thread he writes:

Calvin was so special that Jesus held to his theology. Jesus foreknew the future and realized Calvin had the best theology in the history of the universe. John Calvin and Jesus are almost like brothers.

Is this a joke?  One can only hope.

Another One Bites The Dust

Tear up the wallchart documenting “humanity’s long lost ancestor”. Correct the recently altered “primate family tree” (pdf). Dismiss the 3.7bn year timeline “from bacteria to mammals” (pdf). Ignore the front page comment by Sir David Attenborough.

Ida, the 47million-year-old fossil described as the “first link in human evolution” and vociferously championed by the media (including the Guardian) earlier this year, is no such thing, according to a team of scientists. They say that Ida is, instead, from a “group of extinct primates” which are “not ancestors” to humans.

From: Ida, the fossil that fascinated the world, may miss out on missing link status

Sanctification by Works?

I have mentioned this in posts and comment threads in the past, but thought I would bring it up in its own post and get some thoughts on it. 

Many Calvinists insist that if there is a synergsitic element in man’s initial salvation (i.e. conversion) then it amounts to salvation by “works”.  Synergism in coversion apparently equals conversion by works.  But what about sanctification?  Many Calvinists say sanctification is synergistic.  Well, doesn’t that mean that sanctification is by works?  Why is synergistic conversion “by works” but synergistic sanctification is not?   I have yet to hear a solid Calvinist response to this question.  Maybe today will be my lucky day.

Why I Am Not A Calvinist (Tim Pierce)

Dr. Tim Pierce is doing a series on why he left Calvinism at his blog Inadequate in Myself.  He seems to considers himself a non-Calvinist rather than an Arminian (the reasons for which have not yet been made clear in the series, though he has mentioned having problems with theological “systems” in general).  His series is ongoing, but it is worth a read.  He seems to be taking his time in order to be as clear as possible concerning the various reasons why he came to believe that Calvinism did not represent a purely Biblical theology.  Here is an excerpt from Part 3:

A big part of my journey out of Calvinism was a journey of discovery of its basis and the way the system didn’t deal with the greater picture of God’s relationship to man. It was also a discovery of how Calvinism had become in many ways its own sort of idol for me – the irony being that at the very moment I was speaking words about the “greatness of God” I was actually enthralled by the greatness of my own intellect. John Newton (A Calvinist) put it well when he wrote:

“And I am afraid there are Calvinists, who, while they account it a proof of their humility that they are willing in words to debase the creature, and to give all the glory of salvation to the Lord, yet know not what manner of spirit they are of. Whatever it be that makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit. Self- righteousness can feed upon doctrines, as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace.”*****

The difference between me and Newton is that I see this as almost an inherent part of the system of Calvinism, because I believe that systems themselves have inherent dangers, and when placed together with some of the content of Calvinism, such is almost unavoidable. In the weeks ahead I hope to outline more specifically where I believe the system of Calvinism has eclipsed some of the content of Scripture as it pertains to Grace and in so doing, stepped into an untenable position biblically speaking.

Edward’s Doctrine of Necessity by Strongest Motive Force Cannot be Proved (Part 2)

Building on my previous post on the subject,  Albert Taylor Bledsoe well documented the circular reasoning involved in Edwards’ primary assertion that the strongest motive force determines the will.  Below is an excerpt:

The great doctrine of the Inquiry seems to go round in a vicious circle, to run into an insignificant truism…In the first place, when we ask, “what determines the will?” the author replies, “it is the strongest motive;” and yet, according to his definition, the strongest motive is that which determines the will…If we ask, then, what produces any particular act of volition, we are told, it is the strongest motive; and if we inquire what is the strongest motive, we are informed, it is the whole of that which operated to produce that particular act of volition.  What is this but to inform us, that an act of volition is produced by that which produces it? (An Examination of President Edwards’ Inquiry Into the Freedom of the Will, pg. 36)

The entire chapter spans pages 36-46, and you can read it (and the entire book) online by following the link above.  I have not yet read the whole book, but it seems to be a very well delivered critique of Edwards’ arguments from what I have been able to read thus far.

Dreams, Free Will, and Accountability

This is one of those speculative posts that are primarily for generating conversation.  Dreams are very strange.  We still do not know much about them, what causes them, or what they mean.  There are plenty of theories, but we still have nothing concrete.  From a Christian perspective, to what degree, if any, are we culpable for the substance of our dreams?  What about the actions we do in our dreams?  If I sin in my dream, do I need to repent of that sin upon waking?  If the substance of my dream is plainly unpleasing to God, will God hold me accountable for the substance of that dream?

My feeling on this has always been, “No”.  I think that even in the non-Christian world, people would not tend to believe that they should be held accountable for what they dream, or the actions their “dream-selves” might perform in that dream world.  And why not?  For me, it is because I do not believe that I have any real control over what I dream.  I have no control over the substance of my dream, nor do I have control over my actions in a dream.  I do not feel the need to repent of a dream that is less than pleasing to God simply because I do not feel like I had any control over that dream.  I may ask God to help me not to have such dreams in the future because of the lingering affects those dreams may have on my thoughts, but I do not see the dreams themselves as sinful.  What do you think?  It seems to me that this is also tied to the intuitive belief we all seem to share that we should not be held morally accountable for those things which we cannot control. 

I recently read someone arguing that the power of contrary choice could never be a basis for arguing guilt in a court of law because of the difficulties involved in proving that someone could have done otherwise.  I understand the point, but I think the courts essentially presuppose that people, in general, do have the ability to do otherwise, and should therefore be held accountable for their actions.  Therefore, it is not something that needs to be proven.

However, if someone can mount a fairly persuasive case that in a particular instance the crime committed was committed in such a way that the person could not have done otherwise, the courts tend to be very forgiving, lessening punishment, or alleviating responsibility altogether.  It needs to be remembered, however, that the courts are also concerned about protecting the innocent, so demonstrating that someone could not have done otherwise doesn’t mean that the individual should not still be removed from society in order to protect people (as in the case of those with mental disorders, etc.). 

Imagine that someone was on trial for committing a crime and it was demonstrated that the person was actually being controlled by another to perform the actions by way of a drug and radio signals sent to a device implanted in the ear.  By combining  the drug’s effects with various sound frequencies, the controller was able to get the person to do whatever he wanted the person to do.  This was true to such an extent that the person being controlled had no idea that he was being controlled, but believed that he was acting freely in committing the crimes.  Who would suggest that the courts would hold that person accountable once the facts came out?  And who would suggest that the courts would not hold the controller accountable once the facts came out?  I think we would all agree that the courts would hold the controller accountable while considering the one controlled to be innocent of the crimes, even though he personally performed the crimes and believed, at the time, that he had performed them freely.

Therefore, I think it is rather obvious that the courts do see the ability to choose and do otherwise as under girding moral responsibility to a great extent, even if the courts do not place a burden of proof on demonstrating that one could have done otherwise in every particular case.  That is because our courts are largely based on the universal human conviction that moral accountability is directly tied to moral free agency.

For similar reasons, I think we do not tend to hold ourselves accountable for the substance of our dreams, believing that we were not in control of what we dreamed.

I think it is rather basic to our God given constitution to see accountability tied to free moral agency in the libertarian sense, based on the idea that freedom is inherent in control and control is needed for responsibility and culpability.  Language seems to presuppose it.  Our institutions of justice seem to presuppose it.  The Bible seems to presuppose it (e.g. the language of the Bible and the assumptions that seem to under gird its basic teachings).  Perhaps, even the way we view our dreams seems to presuppose it.

This may not constitute proof for free will or the connection between free will and moral accountability, but I think it demonstrates that those who reject free will in favor of strict determinism have much to overcome in order to convincingly make their case.