One of the things that I love about video games is when your character, your avatar, has lots of lives. When you die, you just need to wait for your character to regenerate.
Regeneration is new life.
Spiritually, our walk with Christ requires that we be regenerated (or born again). But before we go there, we need to know why it is important for us to be born again. Why do we need to be regenerated anyway?
In the beginning, humans were created in the image of God, what is called imago dei. And it was good (read Gen. 1:31)
Man and woman were put in the perfect setting to be obedient. They were given everything they needed, but told that they couldn’t eat from the tree in the middle of the garden (Gen. 3:3). They only had one rule to obey, and they couldn’t do it.
When man and woman disobeyed God, they sinned, and death entered the world.
“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned--- To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone's account where there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.” (Romans 5:12-14 NIV)
Humanity started off good, in the image of God, and then fell into sin. The Old Testament shows us how sinful humanity is.
JC Ryle had this to say in his book Holiness:
“Let us sit down before the picture of sin displayed to us in the Bible and consider what guilty, vile, corrupt creatures we all are in the sight of God. What need we all have of that entire change of heart called regeneration, new birth, or conversion. What great weakness and imperfection clings to the very best of us at our very best! What a solemn thought it is that without holiness no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).” (p. 34)
To draw close to God is to see more and more of your sinful nature. This is why Spiritual Awakenings and Revivals start with people repenting of their sins.
Isn’t it truly amazing that even though we are such ungodly sinners, God never gave up on us? This is because of His great love!
Listen to these verses from Romans…
“There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:22b-23 NIV)
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23 NIV)
“Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:5-8 NIV)
So we have all sinned, and we all fall short of God’s desire for us. And as long as we are guided by anything but God, we will be both hostile to God and unable to please Him. This is not good!
We need to understand that our sin distances us from God. God hates sin! And without God intervening, there was no hope.
In the Old Testament, God put a sacrificial system in place, one that was a precursor to Jesus. When you read through the book of Leviticus, you read about so much blood. Burnt offerings, fellowship offerings, sin and guilt offerings. Tons of sacrifices. Tons of blood.
And it is interesting to note that as we look at the sins spelled out in Leviticus, the expectation for most of them was that the sins were done unintentionally.
Blood was required because life is in the blood.
“For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life.” (Leviticus 17:11 NIV)
Let’s look at the definition of the word atonement in the New Ungers Bible Dictionary;
“Definition: ‘in accordance with the force of these terms of Scripture the atonement is the covering of sin, the reconciliation between God and man, accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ. It is that special result of Christ’s sacrificial sufferings and death by virtue of which all who exercise proper penitence (repentance) and faith receive forgiveness of their sins and obtain peace.’” (P. 123)
Our sin has to be covered before God because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross.
This brings us to John chapter 3:
A Pharisee, Nicodemus, came to Jesus at night so as to not get in trouble with the other Pharisees. Nicodemus acknowledged that Jesus was special, and Jesus tells him that He will not see the kingdom of God if he isn’t born again.
This blows Nicodemus’ mind… he can only see things from a worldly perspective and wonders how it is that a person can be born again as they will certainly not fit in their mother’s womb. And Jesus makes this statement…
“Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.’” (John 3:5 NIV)
Born of water and the Spirit. Remember how we want to look at everything in context? We want to recognize that although we might want to substitute baptism here for water, that is not how Nicodemus would have received it.
Here is a paragraph from John Murray’s book Redemption Accomplished and Applied (p. 97):
“Now what religious idea would we expect to be conveyed to the mind of Nicodemus by the use of the word ‘water’? Of course, the idea associated with the religious use of water in that religious tradition and practice which provided the very context of Nicodemus’ life and profession… the religious use of water, that is to say, the religiously symbolic meaning of water, pointed in one direction, and that direction was purification… and that message would be focused in the mind in one central thought, the indispensable necessity of purification for entrance into the kingdom of God.”
Now let’s look at what was written in Ezekiel…
“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Eze. 36:25-27 NIV)
God will sprinkle clean water and we will be cleansed from all our impurities (sins). He will give us a new heart and put a new Spirit in us — His Spirit! (See also Tit. 3:4-7)
And this should have us think back on John 1:12-13 NIV:
“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.” (John 1:12-13 NIV)
This is regeneration!
If we jump to John 3:16-18, we see the atonement spelled out.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.” (John 3:16-18 NIV)
If Jesus did all of the work on the cross, what is left for us to do? Now it is time to look at another large church word… justification. For Christians, we justification is grace through faith. And for this, let’s look at Ephesians 2.
God sent His Son, Whose death was an atonement for our sins, or to put it differently, His blood covers our sins. He washes us clean.
So He has done everything necessary for us to be in relationship with Him. Our sins can be covered if we so choose.
And He stands at the door of our hearts, waiting…
“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (Rev 3:19-20 NIV)
So what is our part in all of this?
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith---and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--- not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph. 2:8-10 NIV)
Justification is a legal term. To be justified is to be made right. In Noah Webster’s dAmerican Dictionary of the English Language (1828) defines justification this way:
“The act of justifying; a showing to be just or comfortable to law, rectitude, or propriety…” And “In theology, remission of sin and absolution of guilt and punishment; or an act of free grace by which God pardons the sinner and accepts him as righteous, on account of the atonement of Christ.” (Pages not numbered)
We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus. There is nothing we can do to earn it. By truly believing in Jesus (seen as we work to surrender our will to Him) we are accepted as righteous! How awesome is that?
But there is one more piece to this that we need to understand. We need to be born of water and Spirit. The water piece has been taken care of by Jesus — we are cleansed and made righteous by believing in His sacrifice on the cross for our sins.
When He reveals Himself to us, and we come to believe that He is who He says He is, He reveals to us our sinfulness. This brings us to repent of our sins (to ask forgiveness and turn away from them).
As it said in Ezekiel, He gives us a new heart and a new Spirit. A part of surrender to Jesus is repentance. That is the piece where we recognize our need for a Savior.
He frees us from the shackles of sin which hold us back, and gives us new life. But if we have received that new life, it should look different than our old life. This is what John Murray has to say about this in his book Redemption Accomplished and Applied (p. 114-115).
“Repentance we must not think of as consisting merely in a change of mind in general; it is very particular and concrete. And since it is a change of mind with reference to sin, it is a change of mind with reference to particular sins, sins in all the particularity and individuality which belongs to our sins. It is very easy for us to speak of sin, to be very denunciatory respecting sin, and denunciatory respecting the particular sins of other people and yet not be penitent regarding our own particular sins. The test of repentance is the genuineness and resoluteness of our repentance in respect of our own sins, sins characterized by the aggravations which are peculiar to our own selves.”
We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus, and there is nothing that we can do to earn heaven. But a redeemed life is a regenerated life, a life that seeks to obey its Heavenly Father to please Him. This is often spoken of as sanctification, or the process of becoming holy.
“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14 NIV)
“We have been created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph. 2:10 NIV)
And we find in Romans 8:9-14 that we are to be led by the Spirit of God if we are His children, and that the Spirit gives life because of Jesus’ righteousness which is imputed (given) to us.
If we have been regenerated, then the Holy Spirit lives in us. And if the Holy Spirit is living in us, then we should be living for Jesus. In John 14 and 15, Jesus tells us that if we love Him we will obey Him. We also see this call to live for Jesus through the Holy Spirit in 1 John:
“No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God's child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.” 1 John 3:9-10 NIV
I want to repeat again from our (Elm Street Community church) statement of faith about justification and regeneration in the life of the believer…
We believe in the absolute necessity of regeneration by the Holy Spirit for salvation because of the exceeding sinfulness of human nature; and that people are justified on the single ground of faith in the shed blood of Christ, and that only by God’s grace and through faith alone are we saved.
We don’t do good works to get saved, we do good works because we are saved and because we have the Holy Spirit living in us!
We seek to be obedient to God because we love Him. And are no longer slaves to sin because we have been freed from the bondage of sin.
This doesn’t mean we don’t struggle with sin. Unfortunately, although we have the Holy Spirit in us, we still struggle with our human nature, but He is there to help us through the tough times. And His Spirit is greater than our sin.
How wonderful is it to know that we have been saved, that we have been redeemed, that we have been justified, and that we no longer need to live in sin and shame, but can freely live for Jesus in newness of life (Rom. 6:4).
As wonderful as Heaven will be, we get freedom and His presence in this life. We don’t need to wait until this life is over.
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