I want to return tonight to our look at the great subject of the doctrine of regeneration. Whenever you talk about the doctrines of salvation, the doctrines of grace, you have to start with the doctrine of total depravity, because everything is essentially predicated on that. The Bible describes those who are in their natural state. The Bible describes all of us, in our humanness apart from God, as living in sin and headed for eternal judgment. And it uses many descriptives to identify what it is to be in that natural human state. Just summing them up a little, the natural man is foolish, disobedient, deceived, rebellious, lawless, enslaved to lust and desire, living in evil and envy, hateful toward others and toward God, ignorant, empty, desperately wicked, blind, deaf, hard hearted, unrighteous, full of poison, cursing, bitterness, bloodshed, destruction, misery, turmoil, having no fear of God or desire to seek Him or know Him. Every human is by nature idolatrous, blasphemous, iniquitous, callous, sensual, impure, greedy, a son of Satan and a child of wrath. Nice group.
And the reason for all that can be easily established with one very clear descriptive – dead. The natural person is spiritually dead. Non-existent as far as spiritual life is concerned, as far as the life of God is concerned, and therefore unable to do anything that pleases God. Scripture says we are all dead in trespasses and sins, we are excluded from spiritual life, from the life of God. This is our condition. And it sets the stage for God and God alone to take the initiative. If we are to be saved, it must be that God initiates it for there is nothing in us that can initiate life. This state of death then is a perfectly suited metaphor, a perfectly selected metaphor to describe the sinners total inability to interact with God. Dead people can’t do anything, will anything, make anything happen, cause anything to happen, or contribute to anything that does happen. They’re in a hopeless situation unless something or someone acts on them from outside of them.
Romans 8:7 says, “The mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God, not subject to the law of God, not even able to do so. Whoever is in the flesh can’t please God.” That is the big issue. If then salvation comes to anyone, it can’t be initiated by that dead person that I have described with so many descriptive terms and phrases. Since we have no life and can do nothing for ourselves, it must come to us, this life, from God who alone is the life giver. This means then that God’s work of salvation in our lives begins with regeneration, giving us life.
The doctrine of regeneration essentially addresses this. It is the divine impartation of spiritual life to the otherwise dead sinner, solely an act of God according to His own will, in His own grace and His own power. It is the divine gift of life that awakens us that produces understanding and along with it comes repentance and faith, and the consequence, that life which is given to us becomes eternal life. This initial act of regeneration is an act in which we do not participate, we are passive. This is the whole point of the Holy Spirit’s chosen imagery.
There are, in fact, three New Testament analogies of regeneration, three New Testament analogies of the new life: creation, resurrection, and birth. In several places in the New Testament there is the discussion of creation. Galatians 6:15, a new creation; 2 Corinthians 5:17, a new creation; that analogy is chosen because it is something to which the one created makes no contribution. The one who is not in existence can make no contribution to his own coming into existence, and that is why creation is chosen. It is ex nihilo, out of nothing, that God created the universe and it is ex nihilo, out of nothing that God gives life to the dead.
The second picture is that of resurrection. The Bible says that the work of God in our lives is not only a new creation, but it is a resurrection. It is a resurrection from the dead. In John 5:25, “Truly, truly I say to you, an hour is coming and now is when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.” He’s talking about responding to the gospel. The dead will all of a sudden begin to hear and they will live – resurrection. Ephesians 2:1 says, “And you who were dead in trespasses and sin has He made alive” – resurrection.
The Third analogy that is used in the New Testament to refer to this doctrine of regeneration or new life is birth – birth. First Peter 1 tells us in verse 3 that we, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father and the sanctifying work of the Spirit, obeying Jesus Christ and being sprinkled with His blood, have received what verse 3 calls new life, being born again to a living hope. Born again is the familiar term to all Christians.
So whether you see the analogy of creation or resurrection or birth, each of those analogies conveys the impossibility of the individual upon whom this power comes, making any contribution to it. That’s why these are chosen. You are created, as it were, out of non-existence. You are raised out of death. And you are born into life which previously you did not possess. Before anyone can respond to the gospel, before anyone can repent, before anyone can believe, before anyone can confess, he must or she must be given life. And that life can only come from the life giver, the divine life giver, for by grace are you saved by faith, that not of yourselves, gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast. Regeneration is the life giving grace that cannot come from us but comes only from God.
So we’re talking about this great truth and this is message number two. Turn back to our text in James 1, we’ve been sort of using this one verse, verse 18, as a launch point to understand this great work of God. And in James 1:18 we read this, “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth” – He birthed us. He gave us life. He created us – any of those imageries. He raised us. “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth so that we would be a kind of firstfruits among His creatures.” There you have the idea of new birth, regeneration, creation, and certainly resurrection is an apt way to describe it as well. Now we looked at this verse last time and we asked the first question, what is regeneration? The verse tells us, “He brought us forth.” It is being given birth, new birth, new life being created out of nothing, being raised from a condition of spiritual deadness. That is what regeneration is, as I’ve just said.
The second question we asked, who is the regenerator? It is, back to verse 17, the Father of lights in whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. That is God the creator who created the heavenly lights and though the heavenly lights that He created do have variations – they come and they go and they produce shadows – the Father of lights has no such variation or shifting shadow in the exercise of His will producing new life. The regenerator then is the creator, the Father of lights. It is He who causes the light to shine in the darkness. And we are reminded as I mentioned to you, although I didn’t read it last time, 2 Corinthians chapter 4, “God who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shown in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Just in the same way that God spoke light into existence in the creation, He speaks light into existence in our hearts. Where heretofore there was only darkness in the creation, also heretofore there was only darkness in the heart. God speaks it into existence, the light and the life that allows us to understand, to repent, and to believe.
In Colossians 1:13, “He rescued us from the domain of darkness, transferred us to the kingdom of His dear Son.” Colossians 2:13, “When you were dead in your transgressions, uncircumcision of your flesh He made you alive.” He creates. He resurrects and He brings into birth. Power grace, irresistible to which no one makes a contribution. This is solely the work of God. Look for a moment at Titus 3, and this is kind of where we ended a couple of weeks ago, Titus 3. And we can start in verse 3 which says, “For we also once were foolish ourselves” – and here are some of the words that I mentioned earlier in the opening comment. “We once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures” – or desires – “spending our life in malice” – or evil – “and envy, hateful, hating one another.” Now what changed that? Something we did? No, we could do nothing. “But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy by the washing of regeneration and the renewing” – which is another way to speak of regeneration, the new life – “produced through the agency of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” – eternal life.
Key words: “He saved us,” verse 5. If He hadn’t, out of kindness and love, reached down and given us life not on the basis of anything we had done but according to His mercy, if He hadn’t washed us as cleansing and regenerated us and renewed us by the Holy Spirit and poured out richly upon us through Jesus Christ all the benedictions and blessings of salvation, including justification, we would have remained as we were in verse 3. This is not apart from faith, look at verse 8, “This is a trustworthy statement concerning the things I want to speak confidently, so that those who have believed God will be careful to engage in good deeds.” This works through our faith which is also prompted by God.
So God creates, as I said, ex nihilo, out of nothing, light out of darkness, life out of death. God creates light out of darkness with no help from the darkness, life out of death with no help from the dead. Scripture is everywhere clear that God is the sole source of this initial work of regeneration which then produces faith along with repentance and becomes eternal life. Every text in the Bible on regeneration, whether on creation, resurrection, or birth, declares it is a monergistic, unilateral work of God.
Now I want you to look at a specific illustration, the best one really, John 3. And I told you a couple of weeks ago we’d look at it, and here we come – John chapter 3. Now this is a very familiar passage but I think by the time we’re finished, you’re going to see it in a little bit different way. John 3, powerful account. Our Lord is the teacher, and this is the definitive text on regeneration, the definitive text on the new birth. Everything else that you read in the epistles is built on this revealed truth that comes from the lips of Jesus Himself.
Now the idea here is that a man who is a ruler of the Jews, very important man, a Pharisee named Nicodemus, verse 1, comes to Jesus at night. And that’s because he didn’t want to be exposed to his cronies who would see this as a very inappropriate and disloyal activity, since the Pharisees were unified in their opposition to Jesus. But this man has some aches in his heart. This man is honest enough to know he’s got a serious problem. He comes by night. He says to Jesus what is a somewhat benign introduction, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher. For no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” It was apparent to him which should have been apparent to everybody that nobody could do what He did unless God was with Him. There was no human explanation for the miracles that Jesus did, the massive number of visible public miracles had no other explanation than God. And this man was honest enough to say that though he wasn’t bold enough to say it in the daylight.
But this is really not what’s on his mind. This is a somewhat superficial confirmation of his attitude toward Jesus on the surface, but something else was really on his mind. And what was on his mind was this: he came to Jesus by night because he knew He was from God and God was with Him. And the aching reality in his own heart was that he knew he was not in the kingdom of God. He knew that even though he was a ruler, even though he was a prominent Pharisee, a teacher in Israel, he knew in his own heart of hearts that he did not belong to the kingdom of God. He was not a saved man. And that was what was on his heart. And since he believed that Jesus was from God and God was with Him, he came with the nagging question in his heart, “What do I do to get into the kingdom,” but never has the chance to ask the question because Jesus reads his mind, verse 3. “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again he can’t see the kingdom of God.’“
What does that have to do with verse 2? Nothing. Had absolutely nothing to do with the comment that he made. He doesn’t say, “Thanks a lot.” He doesn’t say, “Oh, you’re pretty wise and astute and that’s fairly obvious. You’re being very honest. You have the integrity to say what everybody should say. That’s nice.” He doesn’t say that at all. He bypasses the rather benign statement there, though it’s a true statement. He goes directly to the issue of the heart, no one will see the kingdom of God unless he’s born again. Now the second chapter ends with these words, verse 24, “Jesus on His part was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He didn’t need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.” Chapter 2 ends with the fact that Jesus knew what everybody was thinking. And He knew that some of those people who on the surface believed we’re not real, so He never committed Himself to them because He could read their hearts. And here’s an illustration. Here’s one man whose mind He reads, and this man is Nicodemus.
Now Nicodemus had all the tradition and all the religion and all the legalism and all the self-righteous works, but he didn’t know how to be in the kingdom. He didn’t know how to be saved. And he didn’t know about being born again. Shockingly in verse 10, look what Jesus says to him, verse 10, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?” How is it that you are the most prominent teacher and you don’t even understand the basics of salvation, and that is the necessity of the new birth? Here is the teacher in Israel, definite article, prominent teacher, maybe the most prominent, and he can’t lead anybody into the kingdom. He can’t lead anybody to salvation, because he’s not there and doesn’t even know how to get there.
He’s like all the rest of his Pharisaic friends. He’s a blind leader of the blind, and everybody goes into the ditch. He’s ignorant. But it was inexcusable ignorance. Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? This is incredulous. Jesus effectively says to him, “Let me tell you how to get into the kingdom. “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again” – birthed – “he cannot see the kingdom of God.” He says it again in verse 5, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he can’t enter the kingdom of God.” He says it again in verse 7, “Don’t be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’”
The word again is anōthen in the Greek, from above. It actually is better translated from above. And by the way, it is the very word used in James 1:17, “Every good and perfect gift comes down from above, from the Father of lights.” It is used to refer to heaven even in John 19:11, “You must be born from above.” It’s the same as being born of the Spirit, which He also says. “You have to be,” in verse 5, “born of the water and the Spirit.” Verse 6, “Whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Well this is a foundational truth that Jesus is giving to Nicodemus. You must be born from above by God through the agency of the Holy Spirit.
Now what is so interesting to me is He doesn’t tell him how. Doesn’t tell him how. And Nicodemus asks, verse 4, “Nicodemus said to Him,” he understands, “How can a man be born when he’s old? He can’t enter a second time in his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” He gets it, he absolutely understands the analogy. You’re telling me I have to be born again, and I cannot make any contribution to that. Being born happens to you. Nicodemus says, “I can’t do that,” and he’s right. I can’t make any contribution to that. There’s no way I can do that. I can’t go back and be born. I can’t go back in my mother’s womb. He’s not talking literally. He’s simply saying, “I know – I get the analogy. You’re telling me I have to be born from above by the power of the Spirit. If it’s from above and it’s by the Spirit of God, then I can’t do that. That’s right. So when you’re giving the gospel to someone, you say, “You’ll never enter the kingdom of God, you’ll never be saved unless you’re born from above by the power of the Spirit.” And you can just add, in case they don’t recognize it, “And you can’t do it.” And there is no formula and there aren’t five steps to being born again. There aren’t any. You don’t birth yourself. You don’t create yourself and you don’t raise yourself from the dead.
But Jesus goes on to say, but it’s still absolutely necessary. You must be born again, verse 7. Verse 5, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he can’t enter the kingdom of God.” Now we’re getting a little closer to the issue here. Nicodemus, you have to be born of the water and the Spirit. What’s He talking about? What does He mean by the water and the Spirit? Nicodemus was a teacher in Israel. Jesus couldn’t believe that he didn’t know this, because this was one of the most magnificent portions of Scripture in the Old Testament. Go to Ezekiel 36. It is to this that Jesus is referring. Now remember, He’s talking to a Pharisee, a self-confessed fastidious student of Scripture, who knew the Old Testament very well. In Ezekiel 36 there is a passage that describes this. Verse 25, “Someday,” God says, “I’ll sprinkle clean water on you. You will be clean. I’ll cleanse you from all your filthiness, all your idols. Moreover I’ll give you a new heart. I’ll put a new Spirit within you. I’ll remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” – a tender heart. “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”
That’s the Old Testament text on the new birth. I’ll transform you from the inside. I‘ll take out your heart of stone. I’ll give you a tender heart. I’ll place a new heart in you. I’ll put a new Spirit in you. I’ll put My Holy Spirit in you. I’ll cause you from the inside to walk in My statutes and observe My ordinances. That is the Old Testament new birth passage. That’s the transformation. That is the Old Testament description of new life, because it is a new creation. I’ll create you brand new on the inside. Out goes the cold and out goes the hard and out goes the senseless and the dead and the unregenerate, and in comes new life. And the key is, “I will give you – I will give you – I will give you – I will give you.” This is the new covenant promise from God of His sovereign work of regeneration. It comes from God from above. Like Jeremiah 24:7, “I’ll give them a heart to know Me.” I’ll give them a heart to know Me. Another way of saying I’ll bring them to life from their deadness.
Nicodemus knew he was missing something. What he was missing was life. What he was missing was a new heart. What he was missing was the Holy Spirit. He needed regeneration. Now go back to John 3. Because, verse 6 says, “that which is born of the flesh is” – what? – “flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” The natural produces only the natural. The natural can never transcend humanness. This is our problem. We are, as we described earlier, caught up in a kind of deadness that is nothing but sin and transgression. And there we sit in that dead condition with a cold, dead heart – stone, and stone is dead. And we do not have the power to create life. And God says, “I will do it. I will do it.” I will come in and I’ll take out all that deadness, and I’ll give you life and a new heart and a new Spirit and plant my Holy Spirit in you and give you a will to honor Me and worship Me and obey Me.
So He says to Nicodemus, “Don’t be amazed,” verse 7, “that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’” Have you ever witnessed to anybody like that? Have you ever said, “You know, your problem is you’re dead.” When you’re talking to somebody and they say, “Oh, I’m not interested in that. You know, don’t bother me with that.” You know, your problem is you’re dead and you need to be born again. You must be born from above. And then they might say to you, “Well how do I do that?” Oh, you can’t do that. You can’t do that. No, that’s something God and God alone must do. And by the way, look at verse 8, here’s the shocker, “The wind blows where it wishes. You hear the sound of it. You don’t know where it comes from. You don’t know where it’s going.” Hey, we all identify with that. Right? Who controls the wind? No one. No one controls the wind. We’ve seen pretty good illustrations of that lately. Haven’t we? You watch the storm tracking, the wind goes wherever it wants whenever it wants at whatever degree it wants, and no one can control it.
Verse 8, “So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Wow. You have no control over who it is the Spirit gives life. He doesn’t tell Nicodemus how to get it. He just says your problem is, you’re dead. Your problem is you need life. You need to be regenerated, born again, raised from the dead, created anew. You need the water and the Spirit, the water of the washing and the cleansing, and the Spirit mentioned in that great new covenant passage in Ezekiel 36. And by the way, Nicodemus, this has to happen before you will ever enter the kingdom, and it’s beyond your control. I love what Austin said in his testimony tonight. Didn’t you? Just going along in life and all of a sudden – wham. His heart starts pounding and palpitating. He runs to his room and starts crying out to God for salvation. What is going on? The wind blew and it blew right into his heart, and it blew life, just like God breathed into Adam life and he became a living soul.
Yes, it’s fair to say to the sinner you need to be born again. Your problem is, you don’t have any life, and that’s beyond your control, because the Spirit gives life to whomever He will. Jesus does not tell him how to be born again. Stunning, really – stunning. And Nicodemus in verse 9 says, “I don’t get it.” I don’t get it. And Jesus says, “How is it that you don’t understand this basic principle when you are the teacher in Israel?” Jesus makes no excuse for his ignorance – no excuse for his ignorance. You say, well so is that the end of the conversation? No, no. What do you do? There you are witnessing to somebody. You’ve just given this speech. what do you do? Say, “Oh blow, wind, blow.” What do you do? Go get your big gospel fan? What do you do? Well I’m sort of stuck here. I can’t do anything productive with this guy or this gal, unless the Spirit does something, but what can I do?
And the answer comes in this passage and I want you to skip down to verse 14. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be” – what? – “lifted up.” So what do you do? Start lifting up the Son of Man. Just start telling the story of Jesus. Just start giving the gospel and exalting Christ. Don’t try to manipulate the heart – that’s not your work – but lift up Jesus. That’s in this same conversation, by the way. And then verse 15 says, “So that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.” All you can do is lift up Christ and call on the person to believe. Because, as we learned in John 1 and verses 12 and 13, “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name who were born not of blood or of the will of the flesh or the will of man but of God.” The reason they believed and received is because they were born again. But at the time they were born again, the time they were given life, it was when they were hearing the truth. We’ll see that. Lift up Christ. Call on people to believe. Tell them John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
This puts the issue of sovereign life, sovereign power grace right up against human responsibility, doesn’t it? And it never tries to resolve them. All you can do is lift up Christ. All you can do is cry to the sinner to hear the gospel and believe the gospel and you can tell every Nicodemus you ever meet that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that if you believe in Him you will not perish but you will have eternal life in that kingdom. And that’s what we’re to do. Tell them, as verse 18 says, he who believes in Him is not judged. He who doesn’t believe has been judged already, because he’s not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. That’s all you can do is lift up Christ, lift up the Son of God, talk about the cross where He gave His only begotten Son and call on them to believe. That’s our part and the Spirit does His part. So the nature of regeneration, new life. The source of regeneration, God and God alone, and He gives it to whomever He will. Since we don’t know who that is, we continue to give the gospel to everyone, lifting up Christ and lifting up Christ, and God in His sovereign purposes sends the Spirit to give life to whom He will.
Thirdly, the question is how is one regenerated? By what means? Let’s go back to James 1. this is a very important text, James 1:18, and it throws something at us here that is crucial. “In the exercise of His will” – He is the source – “He brought us forth” – that’s the new life. Listen to this – “by the word of truth.” Life doesn’t come in a vacuum. It doesn’t come preliminarily to hearing the truth. It is by the truth, by the word of truth. So there we are. What do we do when we come across the dead Nicodemuses in the world and we say to them, your problem, friend, is you have no life? Your problem is you have a cold, dead, stony heart. Your problem is you need to be born again. And that is the work of the Spirit and you can’t make any contribution to it.
Then what do we say? We say, “But, let me tell you about the glory of Jesus Christ and call you to trust and put your faith in Him.” And in doing so, you are giving him the word of truth. What is the word of truth? That’s an interesting little phrase. It has a very, very specific definition. In Ephesians 1 verse 13, “In Him” – in Christ – “you also, after listening to the word of truth” – comma – “the gospel of your salvation, having also believed were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise.” So the word of truth, says Paul, or the message of truth is the gospel of your salvation. Salvation comes by the gospel. Colossians 1:5, by the way, also uses it. It says, “You heard the word of truth, the gospel, which has come to you.” We can’t give life, but we must give the gospel and the Holy Spirit will give life to those He desires to when the truth is presented. It’s a tremendous thing to think about. God has His work and we render our responsibility in the proclamation of the gospel.
Listen to what it says in 1 Peter 1, the end of the chapter. “You have been born again” – same language – “not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is through the living and enduring Word of God.” And what is that? “The Word of the Lord which was preached to you.” The Word of the Lord which was preached to you. God through His Spirit regenerates and gives life to whom He will, to the elect, upon their hearing the gospel. And so we go. We don’t know who it is the Holy Spirit will give life to. The wind comes and goes where it will and when it will, and even so does the Spirit of God. We don’t know that divine secret work, but we go everywhere we can. We lift up Christ. We give the Word of truth which is the gospel of your salvation. We call the sinner to believe. We assure the sinner that whoever believes will have eternal life. The truth is critical. The truth is critical to salvation.
Let me give you an illustration of this. Romans 10 – Romans 10, and bear with me for just a minute because I want to develop this a little bit. Romans 10 is so important. In Romans 10 we have a problem. Israel is ignorant. Paul says, “I have a desire in my heart and prayer to God that they would be saved. They have a zeal for God but not in accordance with knowledge.” They don’t know. Verse 3 actually says they’re ignorant. They can’t be saved, because they’re ignorant. They’re ignorant about the righteousness of God. They’re ignorant about their own sinfulness. That’s why they seek to establish their own righteousness. They’re ignorant, verse 4, about Christ being the satisfaction of the law which removes its penalty for all who believe. So they don’t understand the righteousness of God. They don’t know His holy character. They don’t understand how sinful they are. They do not understand the work of Christ, nor do they understand that salvation is to the one who believes. They also don’t understand, as the chapter develops, that they must confess with their mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in their heart that God raised Him from the dead in order to be saved. They don’t understand that righteousness comes by faith and not by works. They don’t understand that there’s no distinction between the Jew and the Greek and that anyone and everyone can call on the name of the Lord through Christ and be saved. They don’t understand it. And so the bottom line is that no matter what the Holy Spirit intends to do, it cannot be done, life cannot come until they understand the truth.
That is why you come down in this chapter to verse 13. “Whoever will call upon the name of the LORD will be saved.” And verse 14, “How will they call on Him in whom they haven’t believed?” You can’t call on the Lord if you don’t believe in Him. “How will they believe in Him whom they haven’t heard?” How are they going to believe until they know what to believe? And how are they going to hear what is the truth without a – what? – a preacher? And how will they preach unless they are sent, by God, not by the church? You see, the whole thing hinges on whether we go. And so no wonder, verse 15 borrows the language of Isaiah 52:7, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things.”
I’m telling you, when I was in Denver this week, I walked in this pastors conference and a man ran up to me, threw his arms around my neck and hugged me tight. And he was a really – he had a huge beard, and I didn’t know if he was going to stab me or tackle me or what. And he just kept hugging me and hugging me and, “Thank you, John. Thank you, John.” And then later on he grabbed me again, and this is a beg bear hug. And then he gave me a letter and explained in this letter how God had used me to bring the truth to him. I understand that. From his viewpoint, beautiful are the feet of the one who brings the good news.
But the point we’re making is, look, the Spirit will do His work, but the Spirit does not do His work apart from the gospel. And the gospel belongs to us in terms of its proclamation. We are the ones whom God has sent. I’m not talking about the church sending people. This is God’s work. How will they preach unless God sends them? And frankly, He sends all of us. Doesn’t He? “Go into the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” Nobody is going to be saved without hearing the truth. I was telling the pastors this week, this is really scary to me. Very, very frightening to me, because we’re living in a time when people aren’t interested in the truth. They aren’t interested in clear gospel. Do you understand? If you’re mucking up the gospel and you don’t understand it, if you’ve got some cheap gospel, something less than the truth, you can’t be used. You’re part of the problem, not the solution.
You’ve got a church today, a large vast part of the church, that has no interest in precision, no interest in clarity in the truth. They just want to sort of talk spiritual words that have very little meaning. This is partly the legacy of the charismatic movement, the original culprit in our time, demanding to move into the main stream with its aberrant views of revelation and theology. This is also part of the socialization of the church, the personal relationship movement, in which everybody defines his own experience with Jesus. It’s also a part of the “God speaks to me” notion that some people think God’s talking to them outside Scripture. It’s part of the seeker movement, the style before substance.
But the newest wave of this is in what is called the emerging church. The emerging church is frankly, as far as I’m concerned, a seriously frightening movement. Because the emerging church basically says this – this is the fast-moving church. This is the big trend. It says the Bible is not clear, period. Not clear. It denies what I’ve told you is the perspicuity of Scripture, the clarity of Scripture. The new emergent church simply is obsessed with uncertainty, and they’re the logical extension of everything else that’s gone on. Now they’ve enshrined uncertainty. They’re proud of their doubt. They have doubts about the authority of Scripture. They have doubts about Christ. They have doubts about the exclusivity of the gospel. They have doubts everywhere and their spin on it is, “Oh my, I’m far too humble to say I know what this means.” This is the hermeneutics of humility. And they pass themselves off as superior intellects. “Well, we understand that there are things in this text that make it too difficult to be certain. There are nuances and subtleties and linguistic and the historical elements that cause us not to be able to be certain about it.” And they also are not only enamored with their own pseudo-intellectualism, but they love their own pseudo tolerance. They are the all-embracing ones. They are the ones who want to allow for everybody to have his view of everything.
To say you can’t know what the Bible means is the worst kind of arrogance imaginable, because what it says is, God is inept. God can’t get His point across in a way that we could understand. While at the same time God holds us accountable to it, makes it the means of our salvation and sanctification, but it’s not clear. This is worst to me than openness theology. Openness theology says God doesn’t know the future. This says even what God does know, He can’t communicate effectively. This is blasphemy. Not only does God not know everything, but He can’t communicate effectively and clearly what He does know. And so we have an uncertainty about everything. They sit in a proud perch, these people. They pump out books, most of them published by Zondervan. They sit in a proud perch called humility, self-styled skeptics sitting smugly staring down in condescension, not only at those who teach sound doctrine, but at the generations of illustrious preachers throughout the ages who studied and lived and taught and sometimes died for the clarity of the truth. You’d be hard pressed to find a more egotistical perspective, that God is unclear and distorted and we can’t know what He means.
What causes that? Is the Bible really unclear? No. No, it’s crystal clear. You don’t have any trouble with it, do you? Very clear. You say, well what’s the deal? Oh, you can go back to John 3 for that, verse 19. Here’s the truth. “This is the judgment” – these people who do this are condemned – “that the light has come into the world” – the light of truth, the light of the gospel in all its fullness has come into the world – “and men loved the darkness rather than the light, for their deeds were evil.” It isn’t that the Bible is hard to understand, it is that the clear message of the Bible is not the message they want to hear, because it exposes their sin and they flee into the darkness. They love the darkness rather than the light because their deeds are evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light. That’s the issue. They hate the truth that is clear in the Scripture, because it exposes their sin. “They don’t come to the light,” verse 20, “for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But the one who practices the truth comes to the light, so his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought by God.” I don’t know about you, but as a believer, I run to the clarity of the Word of God. I run to the light. These pseud-intellectual falsely humble people who sit on a perch and say you can’t understand what the Bible means say it because they do not want to accept the plain sense of Scripture concerning their wickedness. This is a time when these people have abandoned the truth and salvation only happens when the Word of truth is presented. We are saved by the truth. We are sanctified by the truth. John 17:17, “Thy word is truth, sanctify them by Thy Word.”
You know, this is Roman Catholicism back again. You read Brian McLaren books and the others like him, this is Roman Catholicism. Roman Catholicism denied the perspicuity or the clarity of Scripture. It said this, that the sense of Scripture cannot be ascertained with certainty by people – by people. It can only be ascertained by the infallible judgment of the church. Keep the Bibles away from the people. When you do take the people into worship, talk in Latin so nobody understands what you’re saying. Keep it mysterious. Don’t ever let the people get the Bible, because if the people get the Bible they’ll misinterpret it. The truth of the matter is, if the people got the Bible, Satan knew it would expose the system, and that’s exactly what it did in the Reformation. This was a very effective ploy. This is how the false church was sustained through the Dark Ages, by keeping people from reading the Scripture and understanding its clear and simple and straight-forward meaning. Turretin wrote, “Having concealed the candle under a bushel, the Church reigned in darkness more easily.” And then came Luther and Calvin and turned on the light. And the sinners in the church hated the light, and they started to kill those who turned on the light. And now you’ve got so-called Christian evangelical pastors reverting to the Dark Ages, saying what Rome said, the Bible is incomprehensible. Only they go farther than that, and they say that not even the church can comprehend it. And yet the psalmist said, “Thy Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” I’m afraid on this subject war is better than peace. You can’t leave this one alone.
Well, that’s an aside. Isn’t it? Anyway, how is one regenerated? By the Word of truth. So what do we do in our encounters with the Nicodemuses of the world? We can tell them they must be born again. That’s not my work. That’s the Spirit’s work. But I will tell you this, I will lift up Christ. I will give you the Word of truth which is the gospel of salvation and I will tell you that if you hear it and you believe it, you will be saved.
A final question, back to James 1. Why does God regenerate? Why does God regenerate? End of verse 18, “So that” – there’s that purpose clause, the reason – “we would be a kind of firstfruits among His creatures.” We would be a kind of firstfruits among His creatures. That we should be – eis with einai – that’s purpose, a kind of firstfruits. You remember firstfruits in the Old Testament? Exodus 23:19, Leviticus 23, Deuteronomy 18, Deuteronomy 26, Proverbs 3:9. Firstfruits, what was that? Well when you had a crop, first part of the crop that came in and the best, what did you do with it? Gave it to the Lord. You gave it to the Lord. It was to honor Him. It was devoted to Him. It belonged to Him. You gave Him the first part of your harvest as an offering. Revelation 14:4 says, “There are those who follow the Lamb who have been purchased by the Lamb as firstfruits to God and to the Lamb.” Why does God regenerate? To take us into heaven as the firstfruits, His own special possession. Out of all humanity, He takes us and gathers us into glory as a kind of firstfruits. What an incredible, incredible reality. James says a kind of firstfruits among His creatures. That is to say of everything He’s created, of everything He’s ever made, we are the first and the best. Not because of anything in us, but because He chose to give us life and gather us into eternal glory.
Our Father, we thank You for the greatness of this doctrine and the richness of it as we have looked at it tonight. How thrilling it is to get a grip on this and to be so thankful that You have in Your sovereign love and through Your power grace given us life by the Holy Spirit through the word of the truth, the gospel of salvation. And You’ve done it in order that You might gather us as a gospel harvest into Your own private barn, the glory of eternal heaven. We’re stunned. We’re in awe that You would desire to bring us to Yourself for eternal blessing. We thank You. May we be faithful to lift up Christ, to cry, “Whosoever will,” to tell sinners if they believe they will be forgiven. They will not perish but have everlasting life, and rejoice when the Spirit of God mixes the message with His regenerating power to save souls. Thank You that we can participate. What a privilege. Amen.
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