I have written a great deal on regeneration as it relates to the Holy Spirit’s sovereignty. The wind blows where He wishes, and is not bottled up by anything whatever that we can do — whether we are talking about decision cards or baptismal fonts. Understanding this is a function of basic piety, and we have countless passages in Scripture that reinforce this reality by talking about things like sacrifices, sacraments, music, miracles, temples, and so on, with a sublime kind of disrespect. God can make sons of Abraham out of your driveway gravel, which is not a good reason to decorate your sanctuary with the magic driveway gravel.
But let me take a moment to address a theological/anthropological aspect to it. If you believe that the Spirit can depart from a man who is “as converted as the next guy,” there are only two basic directions you can go. Either this was the determination of the individual, being able to say to the Spirit, in effect, “You must go,” or it was the determination of the Spirit saying, “I will go now.” The former is Arminianism, and the latter reduces, at the end of its theological pilgrimage, to a form of fatalism.
The key is found in the phrase “as the next guy.” In the former set up, he is as “born again” as the next guy, but he loses it. Regeneration is reversible. In the latter, he is as set apart by baptism as the next guy. Regeneration is understood differently than the evangelical Arminian understands it, but they agree on one thing — whatever it is, it is reversible. This is Augustinian, not Wesleyan, but after we have rendered all due respect to that great Christian, vastly my superior, we still have to differ with it.
The question is this — in either framework is there a group of people to whom God keeps all His promises regardless, and can those people know who they are?
I want to argue that wisdom is vindicated by her children, and that the promises of God are given to those in whom the promises of God are realized. When Jesus went through the land healing all manner of diseases, how could we tell which ones were healed? Well . . . I would argue . . . the ones who were better.
Every blind man that Jesus touched could see after that. But not every blind man touched by the waters of baptism can see after that. Some of them remain as blind as all get out. Now if every third blind man that Jesus touched physically remained blind, the two who could see would still be a remarkable testimony of His power. His miraculous power would still testify to who He was. But, at the end of the day, we would nevertheless have to give an account of those who were “healed” without being actually healed. Right? We would need a theological category for that.
That is the situation we have with those set apart to Christ by baptism. Some of them can see the glories of His grace, and some of them are still bumping into things. Some of those who bump into things have gotten so good at it that they have set up their Blind Guide Tour Guide Service (BGTGS) and, as in the first century, business is brisk (Matt. 15:14). This means that there are covenant members who surrounded themselves with all the apparatus of the covenant, but who failed to combine what they had with faith (Heb. 4:2). We therefore have the category we need — that of unregenerate covenant member.
Now someone is going to say that this reduces my faith in God to a faith in something that occurred in me, something inside me, and that this detracts from the objectivity of the death of Jesus for sinners. Are we not supposed to look away, to Jesus? Well, sure. But when we look away to Jesus, one of the things that happens is that we see.
“He answered and said, Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25).
When he testified that he could now see, in what way could this possibly detract from the glory of the one who healed him?
There is a pitfall that some have fallen into, the mistake of trying to have faith in their own faith. Sure, and so let’s not do that. Blind men healed should look at Jesus, and then at the world. They should spend very little time trying to look at their own eyeballs. You look with your eyeballs, not at them. But let us not, for fear of this mistake, make another opposing one, equally ludicrous. That is the mistake of pretending that blind men get to testify to His healing grace and power.