Regeneration. The very word speaks hope to my soul. I have long been fascinated by this topic, and it would be suffice to say that this is the topic I cut my theological teeth on. This was the first, and most life changing truth I have yet to so graciously be allowed to learn, and I hope that I will be able to bless you with the same truth.
Dead To God
Dead. The very word gives an idea of hopelessness beyond repair. We often see that culture believes the worst thing that could happen to a person is death. We fear death. We spend our entire lives either ignoring or running from death. We know that there is a certain hopelessness to being dead. And before we get to the life changing ability of Regeneration, we need to first affirm that Man is dead.
Let’s start in Genesis, the book of beginnings. Remember God’s first no-no in the Bible? He said:
“You shall surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Notice what God says. You shall surely die. God basically is promising death if Adam and Eve eat of the tree that He has forbidden. They will die. What happens next? First sin, they eat of the tree. But wait, did they die? Well, obviously, no. Since we are alive, then the only humans alive couldn’t have died before they had kids. So what then? Is God a liar? Not so fast. Adam and Eve did die. They died to God. Or rather, if you want to sound mystic, they died spiritually. But what does this even mean? What would being dead spiritually even look like?
I put forth to you that the idea of spiritual death is so foreign to us and sounds so weird is because all we know is spiritual deadness. We live in a fallen world so what is dead seems alive, what is broken seems fixed, and what is sinful is actually admired. To be dead to God is the norm for human beings, in fact the vast majority of humans will live and die physically without ever being alive spiritually. So what does being dead spiritually do to us? Well, (as has already been put forth by another writer on this blog) it means that every choice we make is marred, ruined, and only ever for, sin.
Our heart is the source of our will. And sin has corrupted our heart through Adam’s first trespass (see Romans 5 for more on that). So, logic would follow that our wills are corrupted by sin. What does this mean practically? Romans says it best:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks God.”
No one can even begin to look for God. How depressing is that? It’d be one thing to say that we can’t find God. But the Bible goes so far as to say that whole notion that someone is ‘seeking’ God is completely erroneous and, frankly, stupid. Sin has so corrupted us that we are so utterly wretched and vile sinners that we cannot even begin to look for light.
But before this post becomes even more depressing, and turns into a passage straight out of Ecclesiastes and Lamentations, we need to see this. That it is in this darkness, this complete and utter shadow of sin, that the light of Christ breaks, smashes, and thunders into. The beauty of the gospel is that it invades dark spaces, and here we are, in the most dark space of them all, and Jesus comes to us.
Nick At Night
So Jesus did some cool party tricks. Turned some water into wine, and all of sudden he was a pretty big deal. All of a sudden Rabbis are saying he’s from God. We pick up in chapter 3 of the Gospel of John, where Jesus has a little late nate chat with a guy named Nicodemus.
“This man [Nicodemus] came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”
So Nicodemus gives Jesus a kudos of sorts and says good job to Jesus. But Jesus’ response is awesome, check it:
“Truly, truly I say to you unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Remember a few lines ago when I said that it’s stupid to say that someone is seeking God? Well now Jesus echos it in a way by saying no one can even see the Kingdom of God. Forget even becoming a Christian, before you can barely even see the goal you have to be born again. That’s how depraved man is. We can go nowhere without being born again.
Now I remember reading this passage for the first time and thinking what Nicodemus says next:
“How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb?”
Naturally, that’s the obvious conclusion of what Jesus just said. This shows that what Jesus is putting forth is so radcially new, so insanely different to what Nicodemus was used to. Nicodemus, a teacher of the Jews, was totally lost. This idea that we could be “reborn” that God could change who we are, it’s the kind of thing you only hear about in prophecy! (Ezekiel 36: 26)
Now Jesus sees Nicodemus’ confusion and gives a response that gives us clarification to what Jesus said before.
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
John 3: 4-8
Remember where we started. We started with the notion that no person can begin to even seek God because we are so radically and utterly depraved that that us un-holy creatures could never approach a holy and perfect God. But wait, Jesus gives us an alternative. We are not left in the muck and mire of our sin. Now Jesus is giving us an escape, an escape from being apart from God. We can now enter the kingdom of God. I think we’ve grown descentived to the idea of God’s kingdom because we forget the urgency. Listen up. Stop thinking about all other things and focus on what I’m about to say: You are going to hell without Jesus. You are dead spiritually, and cannot come near to God unless Jesus saves you. You cannot and will not be a “good person” and God won’t “just let you in”. You will go to hell. But wait! That is not the end. There is hope for you. The Bible doesn’t simply say you’re going to hell, then it ends. NO! We rejoice as Christians because we know that our God is so amazing, so loving, so gracious, that we don’t get what we deserve!
So often we think that all we need is to get what we deserve. We have this disgusting pride that tells us that we’re so great, so wonderful, so incredibly amazing that we deserve great things! Yet this flies directly in the face of scripture. We are told in scripture that we “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” and that “wages of sin is death” (Romans 3:23, 6:23). We deserve, not only physical death, but eternal conscious torment for the sins we have committed. But what’s beautiful about the Gospel, and glorious about our God, is that he won’t just leave us in the muck and mire that we deserve. He is willing to rescue and save us.
I want to make a point on regeneration here now and how sin is involved in it. See when Jesus says “what is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit”. Here’s why we need regeneration: because we born of the flesh. Being born of the flesh leads to us never becoming Christians, we won’t ever choose God in our sinful flesh. So what does God do? To save us from our inevitable death, God regenerates his elect to choose him.
I want to take time and explain this thought very carefully because I often find it a point of misunderstanding in the predestination debate. What we as people of the Reformed camp say is not that God just forces man to choose him. We believe people have free will. God doesn’t override free will, he doesn’t force compliance. Instead what he does is not leave us dead in our sin, but rather make us alive so we can see his glorious light. Let me put it just plain and directly: 1. We cannot choose God spiritually dead 2. God doesn’t force compliance 3. If we were spiritually alive, we would choose God 4. God makes us spiritually alive 5. We follow our newly regenerated heart (remember, the will of man flows out of the heart), and choose God.
That is what Jesus is getting at here in John 3. He is saying that only those born of the spirit can enter the kingdom of heaven. Next post we will look into what Jesus calls hearing the sound of the wind, and by that I mean the effects of Regeneration that can be found in Romans 6.