Regeneration - The Supernatural Element in Coming to Christ
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Sunday, October 7, 2012 -

1) THE CORE ISSUE IN CHRISTIANITY - The word regeneration deals with the kind of change that takes place when one becomes a Christian. Not all changes involve the same degree of inward transformation. For example, perhaps I once voted liberal and I now vote conservative. This change involves three elements: a) the inward perception of some factual data (some political information), b) a change of mind (in this case from liberalism to conservatism), and c) a resulting decision in the will (usually made visible at election time). While all of these elements are involved in becoming a Christian, none of them is enough to adequately describe the change from non-Christian to Christian. This is where the importance of the term regeneration comes in.

2) REGENERATION - A DEFINITION - It has its roots in two words that can be clearly seen in the word's structure. "RE" - meaning "anew" or "again", and "GENESIS" - meaning "birth". This meaning is also apparent in the words of Jesus in John 3:7 - “Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'” It is also obvious in Peter’s words in 1 Peter 1:23 - “...since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God...”, and also Paul's words in Titus 3:5 - “...he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit...”

As we will stress later, this is not a change that one can manufacture in his own being. It is a divine work - note "born of God" - John 1:12-13 - “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, [13] who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

3) THE IMPORTANCE OF REGENERATION - The Bible says it is imperative (notice Jesus' words in John 3:3 & 5 - “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God’.....5.... Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’” Note, people must be born again. They “cannot enter” the Kingdom of God unless they are.

4) THE MEANS OF REGENERATION - The two primary means through which regeneration takes place are the Spirit and the Word:

a) The work of the Holy Spirit - Perhaps the clearest words on the subject are found in John 3:6 - "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”Regeneration or the new birth is consistently described as a work performed by God Himself. Perhaps the apostle John emphasizes this more than any other New Testament writer:

1 John 3:1 - “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” Or, 1 John 3:9 - “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.” Or, 1 John 4:13 - “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.”

The analogy of physical birth is appropriate. You can do some things to either help or impede your growth and development, but your actual birth is totally out of your hands. Just as you could do nothing to bring about your own physical birth, so you cannot , of your own will, bring about your spiritual birth (or new birth).

b) The power of the Word of God - See 1 Peter 1:23-25 - “....since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; [24] for ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, [25] but the word of the Lord remains forever.’And this word is the good news that was preached to you.”

The Spirit uses the Word of God to bring about spiritual life in the heart. See also Jesus' words in Mark 4:3-9 - “Listen! A sower went out to sow. [4] And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. [5] Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. [6] And when the sun rose it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. [7] Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. [8] And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold." [9] And he said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

James teaches the same truth in James 1:18 - “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”

It is important in our day to stress the importance of preparing the heart for conversion through exposure to the sowing of the Word. Under normal circumstances, conversion does not usually take place in a spiritual vacuum. For example, parents greatly increase the opportunity for God to bring their infants to an early conversion through regular Bible devotions, attendance church and Christian Education, etc. While the “decision to accept Christ” (a phrase used nowhere in the New Testament) may be made in an instant, the preparation of the heart through the Spirit and the Word usually takes place over time.

5) THE PROCESS OF REGENERATION - While God initiates regeneration, one must respond with his whole being for the process to come to completion. This involves the mind, the heart, and the will:

a) MIND (illumination) - The illumination of the Holy Spirit is needed to overcome the blindness of fallen man's mind - 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 - “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. [4] In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

And notice also God’s solution to this problem in verse 6 - “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

Notice how God’s illuminating inward word is Christ specific ( see 1 John 2:23). This illumination isn’t an issue of bare intelligence. The key points of illumination seem to be:

First, a deep awareness of one’s lostness in sin. This is more than just feeling bad about a "few mistakes in life". God is brought into the picture. This is an awareness of hopelessness before a holy God - Psalm 51:4 - “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.” See the same idea unfolded in Ephesians 2:12 - “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”

Second, an appreciation that salvation can come through faith in Jesus Christ alone. There are no other solutions to the problem of sin.

b) HEART (conviction) - It is simply not possible exegetically to draw a sharp distinction between mind and heart in Scripture. What I am referring to here is a matter of intensity rather than bodily organs. Just as the heart is the vital center of the whole circulation system of life blood in the body, so there must be a penetration of the truth of God to the core of ones being! This is pictured in Peter's preaching in Acts 2:37 (notice the phrase "cut to the heart"). Only the Holy Spirit can bring about this kind of conviction! See Paul's words in Romans 2:29 - “But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.”

c) WILL (repentance) - See 2 Chronicles 6:36-39 - “If they sin against you— for there is no one who does not sin—and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to a land far or near, [37] yet if they turn their heart in the land to which they have been carried captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captivity, saying, 'We have sinned and have acted perversely and wickedly,' [38] if they repent with all their mind and with all their heart in the land of their captivity to which they were carried captive, and pray toward their land, which you gave to their fathers, the city that you have chosen and the house that I have built for your name, [39] then hear from heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their pleas, and maintain their cause and forgive your people who have sinned against you.”

Even in this Old Testament model there are powerful lessons on the nature and use of a renewed will in turning to God. There must be: a) a full recognition of sinfulness (37), b) a putting aside of superficiality ("if they have a change of heart"37, c) a turning from their sins ("if they turn back to you with all their heart and soul"38).