Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Necessity of Regeneration, or Being Born Again

The necessity of being born again flows from five biblical truths: the inability of human beings, the holiness of God, the grace of the gospel, the power of God’s Spirit, and the creation of a people. 

1. Our inability. Jesus makes a radical distinction between flesh and Spirit, that is, between us and God: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3: 6). No matter how good the flesh is, it cannot produce the spiritual life that’s needed if we would be right with God (see also Rom. 8: 5– 8). It’s not that we tried hard, but fell short. Or meant well, but got sidetracked. It’s that our sinful nature desires to please the flesh rather than God. Even when we do the right thing morally, we do it for the wrong reasons— to justify ourselves and bring ourselves glory. This is one reason the Bible describes us as dead and not just sick (Eph. 2: 1– 3). Like a dead person, we are incapable of loving God for God’s sake. 

2. God’s holiness. What’s more, God is not like us. The Bible is unrelenting in its presentation of God’s holiness. God’s holiness means that he’s in a different category from us altogether. He’s utterly set apart from sin and consecrated to his own glory. He’s uncompromising in his goodness. He refuses to tolerate evil. He’s not impressed with how good we are— with our nice— because we pursue niceness for our own glory rather than God’s (see Isa. 64:6). So we stand under God’s judgment, another reason the Bible refers to us as dead. And it’s a judgment we deserve. 

3. God’s grace. Yet there’s good news: God is gracious! God himself took the initiative toward us. While we were still his enemies, God sent his Son to take on our flesh and to live the life we were originally created to live. He lived not a nice life, not a good life, but a perfect and sinless life, a life wholly devoted to God’s glory. Then Jesus offered his life on the cross as a sacrifice, taking God’s wrath on himself as a substitute for anyone who would turn from his sins and put his faith in him. To prove God accepted his sacrifice, three days later Jesus rose from the dead. 

4. God’s Spirit. But that’s just the beginning of God’s initiative toward us. Jesus speaks about the Spirit’s work in John 3, which he compares to the wind over which we have no control. When God regenerates us, the Holy Spirit of God instantaneously unites us to Christ. In that union the Spirit takes all the benefit of what the Son has done— his resurrection life, his righteousness, his grace— and applies it all to us. This changes our nature, gives us the new birth, makes us new creatures. We then turn to Christ in repentance and faith, are justified by his grace, and are adopted into his family to follow him in a relationship of love and trust. 

5. Creation of a people. Hundreds of years before Jesus’s conversation with Nicodemus, God promised his grace and Spirit through the prophet Ezekiel. He also promised that he would make us a people. 
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 . .  . and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. (Ezek. 36:26– 29) 
God has kept this promise through the work of Christ. He makes us new creatures. He grants us his Spirit. He makes us a people. And he forgives our  sin. Soli Deo Gloria.