A flatline on the heart monitor, a long beep sounds, the nurses rush in and look at you with expressions of great sympathy. ‘I’m sorry. There’s nothing more we can do.’ There’s utter helplessness in the face of death; the family crumple around the bedside and people struggle to know what to say. Useless platitudes are uttered about how peaceful it was. Let no one kid you: Death is an intruder – it’s nothing short of horrific. Spend a day at a crematorium if you don’t believe me.
When the apostle Paul comes to describe the human condition outside of Christ in Ephesians 2, he describes it as death. It’s not a metaphor or a simile. He says to the Ephesian believers, ‘[You] were dead in your trespasses and sins’ (Eph 2:2). There wasn’t a little bit of life in you. No hope of recovery. ‘There’s nothing more we can do.’ The miracle of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is that in him we have been made alive. We have been born again to a new and living hope (1 Peter 1:3).
Being born again
We’ve dropped being born again from our vocabulary as evangelicals as it smacks of being American from the 1950s and yet the doctrine of regeneration couldn’t be more vital. If you’ve not been born again/regenerated you cannot enter the kingdom of God (John 3:3,5 which fulfils Ezekiel 36:25,26). If you don’t understand regeneration you will misunderstand the whole of the gospel.
We need to start with what the term means. Bible words have bible meanings. When you hear the word regeneration, don’t think of what they do when they go into a housing estate and renovate and rebuild it. Regeneration is an act of God the Holy Spirit where new life is breathed into a dead sinner to raise him from spiritual death to spiritual life in Christ. Think of what happened to Lazarus, who is dead in the tomb and Christ comes and says, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ (John 11). Regeneration is a resurrection word.
How does this doctrine help us?
The doctrine of regeneration helps us in numerous ways. What happened to you when you became a Christian? You were dead and God made you alive. For you to be converted took an act of Almighty God. You contributed nothing to your salvation and so regeneration rightly understood puts us in our place. It gives us a right understanding of the Christian life that it is from God and for God and to God.
It also helps us with our understanding of evangelism. We don’t need better techniques or even more courses, helpful as they may be. The music in your church might not be what you’d like but for your friends, neighbours or family to be converted they need to be born of God (John 1:12-13). You cannot do it! That means we are reliant on God. Regeneration is a sovereign act of God that brings someone from death to life. We can bring them to the Word but only God can bring them to life.
Wonderfully, that bringing to life can take place even from the womb (John the Baptist – Luke 1:42, Samuel – 1 Sam 1). For some of you reading this article you will never have known a time when you didn’t love the Lord Jesus but ordinarily the new birth comes about in the context of effectual calling. That is, as someone hears the life-giving Word of Christ the Holy Spirit illuminates the truth and significance of the gospel as a message from God himself. It is through that they are born again.
Often we don’t know when we were regenerated. The Bible doesn’t ask you when you were regenerated but the Bible does ask you if there is evidence of regeneration in terms of an outward manifestation of faith and repentance, what we tend to call conversion. For many of us we look back to a night on camp and we date our ‘conversion’ back to camp but if we are to think more biblically I suspect many of us were regenerated way before we went on camp.
If we are regenerate
What should be the results of regeneration? Faith in Christ and a love for him, a wanting to be obedient to his Word, a hatred of sin and a desire for holiness, a love for Christ’s church. (1 John 2:29, 3:9, 4:7, 5:1, 4, 18). Regeneration is the beginning grace. It takes place prior to faith. We repent and believe because we’ve been born again. When we understand something of what the Holy Spirit has done for us in regeneration we must be moved to say with John Murray, ‘Blessed be God that the gospel of Christ is one of sovereign, efficacious, irresistible regeneration.’
Next in this series: Go free! »