Is a Person Born Again Before or After Belief?

Many believers see God in His sovereignty and by His Spirit causing unbelievers to repent and then to believe. In other words, these believe that God controls unbelievers to obey the Gospel before believing. What do the Scriptures have to say about this? The following essay is timeless answering this question concisely.

This is Barton W. Stone’s work, “On the Operation of the Spirit”.

The Bible plainly teaches that the whole work of regeneration and salvation from sin, is the work of the Spirit: Eph. ii: 10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus, unto good works;” Phil. i: 6, “Being confident of this very thing, that he who hath begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ;” Phil. iii: 5, 6, etc., “For it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” John iii: 5, etc. From these and many similar texts it is plain, that God begins, carries on, perfects the whole work. It is a work infinitely beyond the power of man, who can not make one hair white or black–who is unable to change his nature as the Ethiopian his skin, or the Leopard his spots.

It is also plain that God begins, carries on, and perfects this work by means of his word. Is. i: 18, “Of his own will begat he us by the word of truth;” 1 Pet. 1: 18, “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God;” Rom. i: 16; John xvii: 17; 2 Cor. vii: 1; 2 Tim. iii: 16, 17, etc.

It is equally plain that God does this whole work in us by means of the word believed by us, and not in unbelief. Rom. i: 16, “The Gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation, to every one that believeth;” 1 Thes. ii: 11, “The word of God which effectually also worketh in you that believe;” Heb. iv: 2, “For unto us was the Gospel preached, as well as unto them–but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.”

We have been frequently charged with denying the operations of the Spirit. I do not recollect of having ever known one among us that did deny them; yet some may have given cause for the charge, by using expressions which seemed to lean too far that way. But I think the very reason why we have been thus charged, is because we have continually asserted, and do yet firmly believe, that the Bible gives us no grounds to expect these operations while we abide in unbelief. To assert the contrary, we think dangerous.

Some appear to make the Scriptures every thing in regeneration; and others make them nothing. These opinions seem to be extremes from the truth. Suppose God should extend his arm from heaven, and hand the Bible to me a poor sinner, and thus address me: “Take this book–in it are all things necessary for you to know, believe and do–by this book convert, regenerate, quicken, and save yourself; never expect any other help, aid or assistance from me.” On this plan I should think it folly and presumption to pray to God for his spirit, or for any thing–I should despair of salvation and eternal life.

Again; suppose God should hand me, a poor sinner, the Bible, and should thus speak: “Take this book–in it are all things necessary for you to know, believe and do–but you can neither know, believe nor do them, till I, in my sovereign time and way, give my Holy Spirit to enlighten and renew your minds. On this plan I should think it folly to attempt to know, believe or do. To act consistently would be to lie inactive, and wait for that sovereign time, if that time should ever come.

That which I think to be the truth, is this: Suppose God, having handed me the Bible, should thus speak: “Take this book–in it are all things necessary for you to know, believe, and do–believe them as the truths of Heaven, and come to me and ask, and I will give you the Holy Spirit, and every promise of the New Testament.” On this plan I should be encouraged to activity in every duty, in the confident expectation of help and salvation.

About Scott J Shifferd

Minister, church of Christ in Jacksonville, FL. Husband and father of four. Email: ScottJon82[at]
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5 Responses to Is a Person Born Again Before or After Belief?

  1. churchesofchrist says:

    Thanks Scott.


  2. I assume you read my article on false teachers. I may be an Apollos and teach the Gospel incomplete or I may be the teacher in James 3 who may stumble in the spoken tongue. I am not perfect nor do I expect perfection from anyone. I expect teachers [preachers] to only teach what they know and those who teach the whole congregation should be able to teach all things to be observed. I do believe that the Church must observe all things and we can only do this together. I do believe that this is possible as the Church though we may individually err since we all need instruction. I will never know the Bible completely, but I can teach only by the Word in faith and I must observe all things through the aid of my brethren in the Church.

    Apollos did not teach false teaching, but incomplete teaching. My knowledge is not complete, but I must have the understanding of all of Christ’s instructions. A mature Christian must be able to observe all things and then be able to teach (Matt. 28:20, 2 Tim. 2:24). This is who should teach. I can only teach by faith and only that of the Word (Rom. 14:23, 10:17). I cannot make assumptions or teach by vague inferences. I deserve anathema if I invent teaching instead of not teaching or if I do not teach just God’s Word. I will teach all commands and every examples or principle that defines that command. That’s why I believe CENI is right though an organization of teaching invented by man. It is not the standard. This is the misconception and twisting of teachers to reject CENI because it does not work as a standard and it obviously causes divisions hence the non-institutional churches.

    “A false teacher is not simply one with lack of knowledge or lack of understanding.” Yes, I agree. A false teacher teaches false doctrine, but an ignorant teacher does not teach everything or know everything, but such a teacher should be able to keep all of Christ’s instruction like the instruction to observe all things. In any case, a teacher must not teach what he does not know, invent teaching or deny and, or combat teachings of Christ. Now, you have a teacher who is not perfect but hopefully able to observe all of Christ’s teachings who will not teach what he does not know. The false teacher though ignorant will invent doctrine or reject Christ’s doctrine for whatever reason. See the difference between false teachers and us ignorant teachers. We stray in inventing doctrine and rejecting any of Jesus’ teachings. This is what denominational teachers do. They may reject that denominationalism is a sin leading to Hell (Gal. 5:19-21). They may also reject baptism in Jesus’ name unto the forgiveness of sins as the exact moment of life in Christ are false teachers (Acts 2:38). These are the most common and part of an excellent standard for a teacher of truth.


  3. churchesofchrist says:

    okay. ttyl



  4. I’ll have to reply tomorrow.


  5. churchesofchrist says:

    I couldnt comment under the post about false teachers, so I will here:

    Scott, what if your views of scriptures are not 100% on the money – are you then a false teacher? Can you honestly say you have mastered the bible cover to cover without error? Which doctrines do you consider one must understand perfectly the same, to be saved? How long does it take for a person to reach your level of understanding before they can be accepted? How much doctrine did you know when you were first saved? Did Christ accept you on the basis of perfect understanding of each and every doctrine? A week after you were saved, how much doctrine did you understand? Did Christ accept you still? How about 1 year later, how much doctrine did you understand? Keep in mind it may take some people many years to reach the knowledge you had at 1 year – does Christ accept them still? A false teacher is not simply one with lack of knowledge or lack of understanding.


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