Why do some people repent and respond by faith in Christ to the divine summons to faith while others do not? Concerning those who believe in Christ’s name John immediately says in John 1:13: “[These are they] who have been begotten [ἐγεννήθησαν, egennēthēsan], not by blood, nor by the will of the flesh, nor by the will of a husband, but by God.” By this particular reference to God’s “begetting” activity John refers to regeneration, and clearly suggests by his statement that, while faith is the instrumental precondition to justification and adoption, regeneration is the necessary precondition and efficient cause of faith in Jesus Christ. In short, regeneration causally precedes faith.
This sequential order of “regeneration as the cause, faith in Jesus Christ as the effect” is supported by Jesus’ statements in John 3:3, 5. When Jesus teaches that only those who have been “begotten from above” (ἄνωθεν, anōthen) can “see” and “enter” the kingdom of God (figurative expressions for “faith activities”), he surely intends that regeneration is essential to faith as the latter’s causal prius.
John’s statement in 1 John 5:1, “Everyone who believes [πιστεύων, pisteuōn] that Jesus is the Christ has been begotten [γεγέννηται, gegennētai] by God,” also bears out the sequential cause and effect relationship between regeneration as cause and faith as effect. It is true, if one were to restrict his assessment of John’s intended meaning to only this one verse, that one could conceivably argue that John, by his reference to regeneration, was simply saying something more, in a descriptive way, about everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ—that he “has been begotten by God,” but that he need not be understood as suggesting that a cause and effect relationship exists between God’s regenerating activity and saving faith. But when one takes into account that John says in 1 John 3:9a that “everyone who has been begotten [γεγεννημένος, gegennēmenos] by God does not do sin, because [ὅτι, hoti] his seed abides in him” and then in 1 John 3:9b that “he is not able to sin, because [ὅτι, hoti] he has been begotten [γεγέννηται, gegennētai—the word in 5:1] by God,” we definitely find a cause and effect relationship between God’s regenerating activity as the cause and the Christian’s not sinning as one effect of that regenerating activity. Then when he later makes the simple statement in 1 John 5:18 that “everyone who has been begotten [perfect tense] by God sins [present tense] not,” though he does not say so in so many words, it is surely appropriate, because of his earlier pattern of speech in 1 John 3:9, to understand him to mean that the cause behind one’s not sinning is God’s regenerating activity. What is significant in 5:18 for 5:1 is his pattern of speech. When John declares in 5:1 that everyone who believes (πιστεύων, pisteuōn) that Jesus is the Christ has been begotten (γεγέννηται, gegennētai) by God, it is highly unlikely that he intended simply to say about the Christian, in addition to the fact that he believes that Jesus is the Christ, that he has also been begotten of God and nothing more. His established pattern of speech would suggest that he intended to say that God’s regenerating activity is the cause of one’s believing that Jesus is the Christ, and conversely that such faith is the effect of that regenerating work.
When one adds to this Paul’s insistence in Ephesians 2:1–4 that he and Christians generally had been spiritually dead in their trespasses and sins until God, “who is rich in mercy, because of his great love by which he loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive [συνεζωοποίησεν, synezōopoiēsen—Paul’s term for regeneration] with Christ,” the conclusion cannot be avoided that God’s regenerating work must causally precede a man’s faith response to God’s summons to faith.
Consequently, regeneration must be positioned before repentance unto life and faith in Jesus Christ in the ordo salutis as the cause of both. But since Romans 8:29–30 clearly teaches that glorification is the last act in the ordo, implying thereby, when Paul speaks earlier of calling, that he intended to teach that effectual calling is the first act in the “series of acts and processes” in the ordo, we may safely conclude that regeneration either follows upon calling or is the effecting force within calling which makes God’s summons effectual (I shall argue the case for the latter possibility later).
Accordingly, we have now established the following order of application: effectual calling, regeneration, repentance unto life and faith in Jesus Christ, justification, adoption, glorification.
~ Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville: T. Nelson, 1998), 708-10.