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(23 posts)

“Born Again”

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. —John 3:3 The term born again has become popular. Surveys show that the majority of Americans consider themselves to be born again, by which they mean that they have had some spiritual experience. But for many, there has been no real change in their lives. When it comes to issues such as sexual sin, their conduct in marriage, their use of time and money, and their life ambitions, a great many so-called “born-again” people are no different than non-Christians. This is a problem because, according to the Bible, if we have not been changed, we have not been born again, regardless of any spiritual experiences we think we have had. To be born again, Paul said, is to be “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). If our witness of the gospel is to be true and accurate, then we must present people with this reality. . . . Sinclair Ferguson tells of a young man who came to church and eventually was converted. He told an elder: “I can’t believe how much this church has changed within the last few weeks. The hymns are so lively now. The worship is so wonderfully meaningful. Why, even the preacher is better!” have you experienced something like that? Spurgeon asks, “Do you feel [that] . . . now you love God, now you seek to please him, now spiritual realities are realities to you, now the blood of Jesus is your only trust, now you desire to be made holy, even as God is holy? If there is such new life as that in you, however feeble it may be, though it is only like the life of a new-born child, you are born again, and you may rejoice in that blessed fact. Jesus’ teaching that the new birth is revealed in its effects not only challenges us to examine ourselves for such evidences, it encourages us in our weakness and gives us hope about what the future holds for us. The Holy Spirit’s work does not end with the new birth—having made us alive, He goes on to bring us more and more to life, working in us the life of God and molding our character into Christlikeness. The new birth is the beginning of a lifelong process of spiritual animation and growth, and is the pledge of glorious things yet to come. How wonderful that Christians are no longer what we once were, but how wonderful it also is that we someday will become what we are not yet. Paul says, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). —Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007), 66, 67.

A Hopeless Task

Friday··2008·06·13 · 2 Comments
The monergist’s approach to evangelism is necessarily different from the synergist’s because the monergist knows that conversion is a result of the miracle of regeneration—and he knows he is unable to perform miracles. [U]nderstanding God’s sovereignty makes us dependent on Him because we see that it is only because of sovereign grace that the conversion of spiritually dead sinners is even possible. The Calvinist knows that unbelievers are not merely sick; they are “dead in . . . trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1). We know that people are dead when they no longer respond to stimuli. We talk to them and they do not answer. We touch them and they do not move. This is the way people who are spiritually dead respond to God and his word. When the Bible is taught, they have no comprehension; when the gospel offer is made, they make no response. This presents a most depressing situation for an evangelist. Given man’s utter depravity, an evangelist cannot hope to lead anyone to faith in Christ by his own power. Paul states, “The natural person does not accept the things of the spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and He is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1Cor. 2:14). Note that Paul says not only the natural person “does not” accept the gospel but that he “is unable to.” Elsewhere, the apostle says “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom. 8:7). Packer therefore writes: “Our approach to evangelism is not realistic until we have faced this shattering fact, and let it make it’s proper impact on us. . . . Regarded as a human enterprise, evangelism is a hopeless task.” —Richard D. Phillips, Jesus the Evangelist (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007), 174–175.

Raising the Dead

Sinclair Ferguson on Jesus’ live demonstration of monergistic regeneration: With one command, “Lazarus, come forth!” (John 11:43) [Jesus] raised His dead friend. It is fascinating to notice that our Lord accomplished this by two means: prayer and His word (vv. 41–43). He is the Ezekiel-like prophet who speaks both to the bones and the spirits of those who have fallen prey to the curse of sin. He brings new life to the dead. What the prophets of God did spiritually, the Prophet of God did quite literally and physically. The emphasis on prayer should not go unnoticed–the apostles certainly grasped it (Acts 6:4). In addition, a pattern is illustrated that is characteristic of Christ’s ongoing activity as the giver of new life: resurrection comes by this new life (James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23). Question: Surely the instrumentality of the Word (to which we actively respond) implies an activity on our part? Do we not, in this sense, contribute something to being born again?Answer: No more than Jesus’s command implies that Lazarus contributes life energy to his own resurrection. Lazarus comes out of the tomb because Jesus raises him from the dead, not in order that he might be raised from the dead. In him, our Lord’s words are fulfilled: “Most assuredly I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live” (John 5:25). When prayer to the father and the word of command to the dead come from the lips of Jesus, His voice opens deaf ears and raises the dead. What was true then remains so now (which is why we join prayer and preaching), and will continue to be at the last, when by his powerful command Christ once again will raise the dead (1 Thess. 4:16). In undiluted Monergism, He called the galaxies into being, and He gives life to the dead in the same way (Rom. 4:17). —Sinclair Ferguson, In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life (Reformation Trust, 2007), 70–71.

Two Beautiful Words

Tuesday··2008·08·12 · 2 Comments
What are the most beautiful words you’ve ever heard? You might be thinking of several possibilities: the first time you heard the words “I love you” from your spouse; news that a seriously ill or injured loved one would recover, or some impending disaster had been averted; or any number of things that would be cause for great joy. I believe the most beautiful phrase ever spoken begins with, of all things, the word but. We don’t normally think of but as a prelude to good news. Maybe your boss has said, “You’re doing a good job, but . . .” What young man (except me, of course) hasn’t heard, “I like you, but . . .” from a young lady. What follows the but is seldom good. But is most often not a word we want to hear. But . . . Add one word to that but, and everything changes. That word (if you are a child of God) is God. Hunted by enemies: “David stayed in the wilderness in the strongholds, and remained in the hill country in the wilderness of Ziph. And Saul sought him every day, but God did not deliver him into his hand.” (1 Samuel 23:14). Weak and faltering: “My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26). We are constantly in need of God’s intervention. We live in need of but God. Nowhere is this phrase displayed in more glorious beauty than in Ephesians 2:1–9: And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. We were dead in sin; we lived in a worldly manner, led by Satan himself; and we kept company among others of our kind, satisfying our lusts, bringing upon ourselves the wrath of God . . . but God . . . loved us anyway, in spite of our wretched sinfulness, raised us to life, and, purely by grace, gave us the gift of saving faith, and has given us citizenship in his kingdom with Christ. For what purpose? That he might demonstrate the glory of his grace toward us in Christ. We were dead, but God . . .

A Still Greater Mystery

I suppose I risk belaboring the point, but here’s another excerpt on the unknowability of the moment of regeneration, this time from Spurgeon. Scripture does not teach that Christians know the moment of their rebirth. No man can describe his first birth; it remains a mystery. Neither can he describe his new birth; that is a still greater mystery, for it is a secret work of the Holy Ghost, of which we feel the effect, but cannot tell how it is wrought. [Read sermon online: Life from the Dead.] I do not think you can tell, with regard to yourself, when the first gracious thought was sewn in you, when first you lived towards God. You can tell when you first perceived that you believed in God; but there was an experience before that. You cannot put your finger on such and such a place and say, “Here the east wind began,” nor canst thou say, “Here the Spirit of God began to work in me.” [Read sermon online: The Spirit and the Wind.] This truth has an important practical lesson: an individual may have passed from death to life in regeneration and yet not recognize it at first. This explains how a person can be truly “willing to believe” and yet uncertain if Christ will accept him. To such a person Spurgeon could say, “If the power of God has made a man will to believe, the greater work has been done, and his actual believing will follow in due course . . . Rising from the dead is a greater thing than the performance of an act of life.” — Iain Murray, The Old Evangelicalism (Banner of Truth, 2005), 54–55.

You Must Be Born Again

Without Irresistible Grace, perhaps better called the “effectual call,” no sinner would believe. Salvation would be impossible. It is clear from the Bible that the Spirit’s regenerating work always precedes and causes faith. Jesus stated this to Nicodemus: “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). This is reflected more or less clearly in every conversion recorded in the New Testament. An excellent example is the conversion of Lydia, which Luke records by writing, “The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul” (Acts 16:14). Likewise, Jesus ascribed Peter’s great confession not to the operations of his flesh but to divine grace: “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 16:17). Regeneration—the new birth—precedes faith, so that prior to being born again it is impossible for anyone to believe on Jesus. Paul explains why: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). Therefore, if regeneration had to result from faith—if unregenerate sinners had to believe in order to be saved—then according to Paul, no one would ever be regenerated and saved. Instead, the Bible uniformly teaches what our sinful condition demands: regeneration precedes and causes saving faith. The apostle John put it succinctly: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God” (1 John 5:1). —Richard D. Phillips, What’s So Great about the Doctrines of Grace? (Reformation Trust, 2008), 76–77.

It’s Who He Is

You see a dog, a puppy. He barks, he wags his tail, and you think nothing of it, because that is what dogs do. Those actions are essential to the nature of dogginess. You don’t think, “Oh, that poor dog, laboring under legalistic expectations.” On the contrary, without these manifestations of natural dog behavior, you would think there was something wrong. The dog grows and, depending on his type, you see him point pheasants, retrieve ducks, etc. Again, unless you are some sort of animal rights lunatic, you recognize these as perfectly natural canine activities, and observe that the dog actually enjoys performing his duty. The dog grows old, the joints stiffen, energy flags, and a rug by the fire becomes his usual office. The master has a new pup in training. Still, when the shotgun comes off the rack, the old dog is on his feet, ready to go, not only because his training compels him, but because that is who he is. Left behind, he whimpers at the door. His one desire is to be with his master. As you may have guessed, I am describing, by way of analogy, the life of a Christian, for whom God’s command is not a burden, but a delight. His service, while not always easy, is not an imposition, but the natural way of life. Only one more element is needed to complete the analogy: The dog I’ve described was born a cat.

The Spirit’s True Work

The incredible irony is that those who talk the most about the Holy Spirit generally deny His true work. They attribute all kinds of human silliness to Him while ignoring the genuine purpose and power of His ministry: freeing sinners from death, giving them everlasting life, regenerating their hearts, transforming their nature, empowering them for spiritual victory, confirming their place in the family of God, interceding for them according to the will of God, sealing them securely for their eternal glory, and promising to raise them to immortality in the future. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014) xvi.

The Spirit’s Work in Salvation

John MacArthur writes, “If we are to honor our divine Guest, treating Him with the reverence and respect that is His royal due, we must rightly discern His true ministry—aligning our hearts, minds, and wills with His wondrous work.” Toward that end, he lists “six aspects of the Spirit’s work in salvation.” The Holy Spirit Convicts Unbelievers of Sin As the general, external call of the gospel goes forth, through the preaching of the message of salvation, unbelievers in the world are confronted with the reality of their sin and the consequences of their unbelief . For those who reject the gospel, the Holy Spirit’s work of conviction might be likened to that of a prosecuting attorney. He convicts them in the sense that they are rendered guilty before God and are, therefore, eternally condemned (John 3:18). The Spirit’s convicting work is not about making unrepentant sinners feel bad, but about delivering a legal verdict against them. It includes a full indictment of their hardhearted crimes, complete with irrefutable evidence and a death sentence. Yet for those whom the Spirit draws to the Savior, His convicting work is one of convincing, as He pricks their consciences and cuts them to the quick. Thus, for the elect, this work of conviction is the beginning of God’s saving, effectual call. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 184. The Holy Spirit Regenerates Sinful Hearts Regeneration is a transformation of a person’s nature, as the believer is given new life, cleansed, and permanently set apart from sin (cf. 2 Thess. 2:13). Those who formerly operated in the flesh now operate in the Spirit (Rom. 8:5–11). Though they were dead, they have been made alive, indwelt by the very Spirit who raised Christ Jesus from the dead (v. 10; cf. 6:11). The Spirit of life has come upon them, empowering them to resist temptation and live in righteousness. This is what it means to be “born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). —Ibid., 188. The Holy Spirit Brings Sinners to Repentance A vivid illustration of this is found in Acts 11:15–18, where Peter reported the conversion of Cornelius to the other apostles in Jerusalem: ”As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.” As Peter and the others realized, the undeniable proof Cornelius and his household had truly repented was that they had received the Holy Spirit. They had been convicted of their sin; their hearts were regenerated; their eyes were opened to the truth of Peter’s preaching; and they were given the gift of repentant faith (cf. Eph. 2:8; 2 Tim. 2:25)—all of which was the Holy Spirit’s work. —Ibid., 188–189. The Holy Spirit Enables Fellowship with God The Spirit produces an attitude of profound love for God in the hearts of those who have been born again. They feel drawn to God, not fearful of Him. They long to commune with Him—to meditate on His Word and to fellowship with Him in prayer. They cast their cares freely on Him, and openly confess their sins without trepidation, knowing that all has been covered by His grace through the sacrifice of Christ. Thus, the Spirit makes it possible for believers to enjoy fellowship with God, no longer fearful of His judgment or wrath (1 John 4:18). As a result, Christians can sing hymns about God’s holiness and glory without cowering in terror—knowing they have been securely adopted into the family of their heavenly Father. —Ibid., 190. The Holy Spirit Indwells the Believer It is important to emphasize that there is no such thing as a genuine believer who does not possess the Holy Spirit. It is a terrible error—one tragically promoted by many within Pentecostalism—to assert that a person could somehow be saved and yet not receive the Holy Spirit. Apart from the Spirit’s work, no one could be anything other than a wretched sinner. To reiterate Paul’s statement from Romans 8:9, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.” Put simply, those who do not possess the Holy Spirit do not belong to Christ. Genuine believers—people in whom the Holy Spirit has taken up residence—think, talk, and act differently. They are no longer characterized by a love for the world; instead, they love the things of God. That transformation is evidence of the Spirit’s power at work in the lives of those whom He indwells. —Ibid., 192. The Holy Spirit Seals Salvation Forever The Holy Spirit Himself personally guarantees that fact. As Paul told the Ephesians, “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:13–14). Believers are sealed by the Holy Spirit until the day of redemption. He secures them unto eternal glory. —Ibid., 193.

Luther, Regeneration, and Faith

This might have surprised the Lutheran evangelists of my youth: Luther believed that regeneration precedes faith. The truth is that no sinner can believe and embrace the Scriptures without the Holy Spirit’s divine enabling. As Martin Luther observed, “In spiritual and divine things, which pertain to the salvation of the soul, man is like a pillar of salt, like Lot’s wife, yea, like a log and a stone, like a lifeless statue, which uses neither eyes nor mouth, neither sense nor heart. . . . All teaching and preaching is lost upon him, until he is enlightened, converted, and regenerated by the Holy Ghost.” —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 225.
But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him. —John 12:37 While the purpose of Jesus' miracles was the authentication of himself and his word (Hebrews 2:1–4), that fact should not lead us to believe that miracles have any power to convince unregenerate minds (Luke 16:31). Calvin writes, That no man may be disturbed or perplexed at seeing that Christ was despised by the Jews, the Evangelist removes this offense, by showing that he was supported by clear and undoubted testimonies, which proved that credit was due to him and to his doctrine; but that the blind did not behold the glory and power of God, which were openly displayed in his miracles. First, therefore, we ought to believe that it was not owing to Christ that the Jews did not place confidence in him, because by many miracles he abundantly testified who he was, and that it was therefore unjust and highly unreasonable that their unbelief should diminish his authority. But as this very circumstance might lead many persons to anxious and perplexing inquiry how the Jews came to be so stupid, that the power of God, though visible, produced no effect upon them, John proceeds further, and shows that faith does not proceed from the ordinary faculties of men, but is an uncommon and extraordinary gift of God, and that this was anciently predicted concerning Christ, that very few would believe the Gospel. —John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XVIII (Baker Books, 2009), Commentary on the Gospel according to John, 2:40. Only one miracle has the power to produce faith, and that is the miracle of regeneration (John 3:4–8).

If I Do Not Wash You

Peter said to Him, “Never shall You wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean . . . —John 13:8–10 As visitors came with dirty feet from walking dirty roads in open sandals, it was customary for their feet to be washed upon arrival. This was a job for a servant—certainly not for the head of the house or any other distinguished person. Therefore, it was only natural for Peter to object when Jesus knelt to perform this most menial service. But Jesus was not really interested in Peter's feet. He was preparing a teaching moment. “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” Typical of the apostles at this stage in their education, Peter didn't get it. “Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.” Lord, not my feet only. When Peter heard that he was ruined, if he did not accept the cleansing which was offered to him by Christ, this necessity proved, at length, to be a sufficient instructor to tame him. He therefore lays aside opposition and yields, but wishes to be entirely washed, and, indeed, acknowledges that, for his own part, he is altogether covered with pollution, and, therefore, that it is doing nothing, if he be only washed in one part. But here too he goes wrong through thoughtlessness, in treating, as a thing of no value, the benefit which he had already received; for he speaks as if he had not yet obtained any pardon of sins, or any sanctification by the Holy Spirit. On this account, Christ justly reproves him, for he recalls to his recollection what he had formerly bestowed on him; at the same time, reminding all his disciples in the person of one man, that, while they remembered the grace which they had received, they should consider what they still needed for the future. —John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XVIII (Baker Books, 2009), Commentary on the Gospel according to John, 2:58–59. What Peter didn't understand was that “the washing of regeneration” (Titus 3:5) is a once-and-for-all miracle that never needs repeating. Sanctification, on the other hand, is a day-by-day process whereby we are cleansed of the pollution of the world and the flesh. We are washed, but we still need washing.

Union with God through Christ

In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father. —John 16:26–27 From this passage some might conclude that God does not love his elect until they come to Christ in faith. The analogia scriptura prevents such an erroneous interpretation. Because you have loved me. These words remind us that the only bond of our union with God is, to be united to Christ; and we are united to him by a faith which is not reigned, but which springs from sincere affection, which he describes by the name of love; for no man believes purely in Christ who does not cordially embrace him, and, therefore, by this word he has well expressed the power and nature of faith. But if it is only when we have loved Christ that God begins to love us, it follows that the commencement of salvation is from ourselves, because we have anticipated the grace of God. Numerous passages of Scripture, on the other hand, are opposed to this statement. The promise of God is, I will cause them to love me; and John says, Not that we first loved Him, (1 John iv. 7.) It would be superfluous to collect many passages; for nothing is more certain than this doctrine, that the Lord calleth those things which are not, (Rom. iv. 17) raises the dead, (Luke vii. 22,) unites himself to those who were strangers to him, (Eph. ii. 12,) makes hearts of flesh out of hearts of stone, (Ezek. xxxvi. 26,) manifests himself to those who do not seek him, (Isa. lxv. 1; Rom. x. 20.) I reply, God loves men in a secret way, before they are called, if they are among the elect; for he loves his own before they are created; but, as they are not yet reconciled, they are justly accounted enemies of God, as Paul speaks, When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, (Rom. v. 10.) On this ground it is said that we are loved by God, when we love Christ; because we have the pledge of the fatherly love of Him from whom we formerly recoiled as our offended Judge. —John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XVIII (Baker Books, 2009), Commentary on the Gospel according to John, 2:158–159.

Regeneration and Carnal Christians

Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. —1 Peter 2:1–3 Salvation is not just a ticket out of hell. It is a miraculous transformation wherein, one moment, we were enemies of God, and the next, we became new creatures, indwelt by the Holy Spirit. In order to embrace the things of God—spiritual things—a new birth is required, a birth wrought in our souls by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. Paul speaks of this experience as being quickened, or made alive, by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 2:1). . . . Whereas before we had no inclination or desire for the things of God, God has quickened our souls and created in us a desire for Him and for His Son. Peter makes mention of our having been born again and then goes into chapter 2 with the consequences and implications of that. Some hold to the doctrine of the carnal Christian. It has permeated the evangelical Christian world today. The doctrine teaches that regeneration does not necessarily change the disposition of the believer’s will or soul. Someone can be a believer in Christ and indwelt by the Holy Spirit yet remain completely unchanged. However, that doctrine is on a collision course with orthodox Christianity and certainly with the biblical understanding of regeneration. No one can be brought to spiritual life without also being fundamentally changed. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 58—59.

A Received Faith

Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ —2 Peter 1:1 Although it is easy to miss, this passage repeats a vital truth that we have been given elsewhere, that faith is not something we naturally possess, but rather is something we are given supernaturally. Just like the Apostle Paul, so the Apostle Peter defines faith not as something that originates and is exercised by an unregenerate human heart but as something the believer receives passively. If you have faith in Jesus Christ, you did not conjure it up. When you first heard the gospel and responded favorably to it, perhaps you thought that you decided to believe in Jesus, but saving faith is not the result of a human decision. It is a divine gift. Paul wrote: You He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ. (Eph. 2:1–5) That God has made us alive is the biblical language for regeneration. God made us born again, not after we left the pigsty of the prodigal son and came home but while we were dead in sin and trespasses, while we were still following the course of this world, the prince of the power of the air, and obeying the lusts of our flesh. While we were in that spiritually dead condition, God, in His unspeakable grace and mercy, brought us to spiritual life. When the physical corpse of Jesus was placed in the tomb, the power of God raised Him from death and brought Him to life once more. That is the same power that raises us from spiritual death, if indeed we have faith in Christ. Paul continues: (By grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God. (Eph. 2:5–9) This is the wonderful benefit of the sovereign election of God, that He gives the gift that we do not deserve. Nobody believes by his own power but only as the result of God’s action. That is exactly what Peter is saying. In our vocabulary something called “precious” has an exceedingly high value. Gems we call precious stones because they are so much more valuable than gravel. Just so, Peter describes the faith by which we are saved as a precious faith. Is there any possession you have more precious than the faith that links you to Christ and delivers to you His entire inheritance? The wisest people divest themselves of all they have in order to possess this precious reality, this pearl of great price. —R. C. Sproul, 1–2 Peter: Be All the More Diligent to Make Your Calling and Election Sure (Crossway, 2011), 204–205.

Depravity Meets Regeneration

How helpless, guilty nature lies, Unconscious of its load, The heart unchanged can never rise To happiness with God. The will perverse, the passions blind In paths of ruin astray, Reason debased can never find The safe, the narrow way. Can ought beneath the power divine My stubborn will subdue? ’Tis Thine, Almighty Savior, Thine, To form my heart anew. Oh, change these wretched hearts of ours And give them life divine, Then shall our passions and our powers, Almighty Lord, be Thine. —Anne Steele*, in John MacArthur, Kingdom Living: Here and Now (Moody, 1980), 18–19. * Erroneously attributed to Isaac Watts in Kingdom Living: Here and Now.

A Remedy Revealed

Our disease is great, but the remedy is greater still. I ask my readers to observe what deep reasons we all have for humiliation and self-abasement. 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 a mass of infirmity and imperfection cleaves to the very best of us at our very best! What a solemn thought it is, that ‘without holiness no man shall see the Lord!’ (Heb. 12:14). What cause we have to cry with the publican, every night in our lives, when we think of our sins of omission as well as commission, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner!’ (Luke 18:13). . . . On the other hand, I ask my readers to observe how deeply thankful we ought to be for the glorious Gospel of the grace of God. There is a remedy revealed for man’s need, as wide and broad and deep as man’s disease. We need not be afraid to look at sin, and study its nature, origin, power, extent, and vileness, if we only look at the same time at the Almighty medicine provided for us in the salvation that is in Jesus Christ. Though sin has abounded, grace has much more abounded. Yes: in the everlasting covenant of redemption, to which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are parties—in the Mediator of that covenant, Jesus Christ the righteous, perfect God and perfect Man in one Person—in the work that He did by dying for our sins and rising again for our justification—in the offices that He fills as our Priest, Substitute, Physician, Shepherd, and Advocate—in the precious blood He shed which can cleanse from all sin—in the everlasting righteousness that He brought in—in the perpetual intercession that He carries on as our Representative at God’s right hand—in His power to save to the uttermost the chief of sinners, His willingness to receive and pardon the vilest, His readiness to bear with the weakest—in the grace of the Holy Spirit which He plants in the hearts of all His people, renewing, sanctifying and causing old things to pass away and all things to become new—in all this—and oh, what a brief sketch it is!—in all this, I say, there is a full, perfect, and complete medicine for the hideous disease of sin. Awful and tremendous as the right view of sin undoubtedly is, no one need faint and despair if he will take a right view of Jesus Christ at the same time. No wonder that old Flavel ends many a chapter of his admirable ‘Fountain of Life’ with the touching words, ‘Blessed be God for Jesus Christ.’ —J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Banner of Truth, 2014), 10–12.

In Name and Form Only

One hundred and forty years ago, J. C. Ryle made an observation that should sound familiar to us: I think there can be no question that there is an immense difference among those who profess and call themselves Christians. Beyond all dispute there are always two classes in the outward Church: the class of those who are Christians in name and form only, and the class of those who are Christians in deed and in truth. All were not Israel who were called Israel, and all are not Christians who are called Christians. . . . Some worship God as a mere form, and some in spirit and in truth. Some give their hearts to God, and some give them to the world. Some believe the Bible, and live as if they believed it: others do not. Some feel their sins and mourn over them: others do not. Some love Christ, trust in Him, and serve Him: others do not. In short, as Scripture says, some walk in the narrow way, some in the broad; some are the good fish of the Gospel net, some are the bad; some are the wheat in Christ’s field, and some are the tares. I think no man with his eyes open can fail to see all this, both in the Bible, and in the world around him. Whatever he may think about the subject I am writing of, he cannot possibly deny that this difference exists. —J. C. Ryle, Knots Untied (Banner of Truth, 2016), 124–125. The reason for the difference should be obvious. Now what is the explanation of the difference? I answer unhesitatingly, Regeneration, or being born again. I answer that true Christians are what they are, because they are regenerate, and formal Christians are what they are, because they are not regenerate. The heart of the Christian in deed has been changed. The heart of the Christian in name only, has not been changed. The change of heart makes the whole difference. —Ibid., 125. We should expect the number of these formal Christians to be much smaller in churches that practice biblically meaningful membership, but even then, there will be some unregenerate members along with (we should hope) unconverted nonmembers. This means that our mission field is not only out there in the world, but inside each church, as well. We can never assume that everyone sitting in our pews are converted. We can never stop preaching, “You must be born again.”

Six Marks of Regeneration

It is very unfashionable these days—not only in the world, but also within the church—to engage in anything resembling judgment. It is particularly unpopular to form opinions of the spiritual state of others. Doubting the profession of anyone who claims to be a Christian is simply not kosher. Yet we are given instructions such as “Do not be bound together with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14), which we can hardly obey without—[gasp!]—judging. Far more importantly, we must judge ourselves (2 Corinthians 6:5). To that end, J. C. Ryle offers “six great marks of regeneration,” laid down in Scripture. (1) First of all, St John says, ‘Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin’, and again, ‘Whosoever is born of God sinneth not’ (1 John 3:9; 5:18). A regenerate man does not commit sin as a habit. He no longer sins with his heart and will, and whole inclination, as an unregenerate man does. There was probably a time when he did not think whether his actions were sinful or not, and never felt grieved after doing evil. There was no quarrel between him and sin;—they were friends. Now he hates sin, flees from it, fights against it, counts it his greatest plague, groans under the burden of its presence, mourns when he falls under its influence, and longs to be delivered from it altogether. . . . (2) Secondly, St John says, ‘whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God’ (1 John 5:1). A regenerate man believes that Jesus Christ is the only Saviour by whom his soul can be pardoned and justified, that He is the Divine Person appointed and anointed by God the Father for this very purpose, and that beside him there is No Saviour at all. In himself he sees nothing but unworthiness, but in Christ he sees ground for the fullest confidence, and trusting in him he believes that his sins are all forgiven, and his iniquities all put away. He believes that for the sake of Christ’s finished work and death upon the cross he is reckoned righteous in God’s sight, and may look forward to death and judgment without alarm. He may have his fears and doubts. . . . [But] he would say he found a preciousness in Christ, a suitableness to his own soul in Christ, that he found nowhere else, and that he must cling to Him. (3) Thirdly, St John says, ‘Everyone that doeth righteousness is born of [God]’ (1 John 2:29). The regenerate man is a holy man. He endeavours to live according to God’s will, to do the things that please God, to avoid the things that God hates. His aim and desire is to love God with heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, and to love his neighbour as himself. . . . No doubt he is not perfect. None will tell you that sooner than himself. He groans under the burden of indwelling corruption cleaving to him. He finds an evil principle within him constantly warring against grace, and trying to draw him away from God. But he does not consent to it, though he cannot prevent its presence. In spite of all short-comings, the average bent and bias of his way is holy,—his doings holy,—his tastes holy,—and his habits holy. . . . (4) Fourthly, St John says, ‘We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren’ (1 John 3:14). A regenerate man has a special love for all true disciples of Christ. Like his Father in heaven, he loves all men with a great general love, but he has a special love for them who are of one mind with himself. Like his Lord and Saviour, he loves the worst of sinners, and could weep over them; but he has a peculiar love for those who are believers. . . . They are Jesus Christ’s people: they are His Father’s sons and daughters. Then he cannot help loving them. (5) Fifthly, St John says, ‘Whatsoever is born of God, overcometh the world.’ (1 John 5:4). A regenerate man does not make the world’s opinion his rule, of right and wrong. He does not mind going against the stream of the world’s ways, notions, and customs. ‘What will men say?’ is no longer a turning point with him. He overcomes the love of the world. . . . He overcomes the fear of the world. He is content to do many things which all around him think unnecessary, to say the least. They blame him: it does not move him. They ridicule him: he does not give way. He loves the praise of God more than the praise of man. . . . (6) Sixthly, St John says, ‘He that is begotten of God keepeth himself’ (1 John 5:18). A regenerate man is very careful of his own soul. He endeavours not only to keep clear of sin, but also to keep clear of everything which may lead to it. He is careful about the company he keeps. He feels that evil communications corrupt the heart, and that evil is far more catching than good, just as disease is more infectious than health. . . . He finds by experience that his soul is ever among enemies, and he studies to be a watchful, humble, prayerful man. . . . I know there is a vast difference in the depth and distinctness of these marks among those who are ‘regenerate’. In some people they are faint, dim, feeble, and hardly to be discerned. Yon almost need a microscope to make them out. In others they are bold, sharp, clear, plain, and unmistakable, so that he who runs may read them. Some of these marks are more visible in some people, and others are more visible in others. It seldom happens that all are equally manifest in one and the same soul. All this I am quite ready to allow. But still, after every allowance, here we find boldly painted the six marks of being born of God. . . . Now what shall we say to these things? What they can say who hold that Regeneration is only an admission to outward Church privileges, I am sure I do not know. For myself, I say boldly, I can only come to one conclusion. That conclusion is, that those persons only are ‘regenerate’ who have these six marks about them, and that all men and women who have not these marks are not ‘regenerate’, are not born again. And I firmly believe that this is the conclusion to which the Apostle wished us to come. —J. C. Ryle, Knots Untied (Banner of Truth, 2016), 138–144.

The Miracle of Regeneration

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. —Ephesians 2:1–10 This is a vital truth that bears frequent repetition: Don’t rush past the main point of that passage: whenever a sinner turns to Christ for salvation, it is because God has done a miracle of spiritual resurrection. The common theological term for this is regeneration, or the new birth. This is the same thing Jesus was speaking of when He told Nicodemus, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Our Lord went on to describe redeemed people—all true believers—as those who have been “born of the Spirit” (v. 8). Elsewhere He said, “It is the Spirit who gives life” (6:63). Paul likewise said believers are saved “through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). Here, then, is a simple definition: regeneration is a miracle wrought by the Holy Spirit, whereby He gives life to a spiritually dead soul. This life-giving act of God is a complete spiritual rebirth unto eternal life, no less a miracle than a literal bodily resurrection from the dead. By the way, resurrection and rebirth are kindred concepts, and the Bible uses both of them in reference to the risen Christ. He is “the firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:18; Rev. 1:5). “Now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20). Both rebirth and resurrection are likewise apt descriptions of the miracle that takes place when God regenerates a spiritually dead sinner and gives that person the gift of salvation. —John MacArthur, The Gospel according to Paul (Thomas Nelson, 2017), 97–98.

Children of Wrath?

George Whitefield began his sermon, “Christ the Believer’s Husband” (on Isaiah 44:5), as follows: Although believers by nature, are far from God and children of wrath, even as others, yet it is amazing to think how nigh they are brought to him again by the blood of Jesus Christ. Though it may be impertinent for a nobody like me to quibble with the great evangelist, whose feet I am unworthy to wash, I will take a chance and do it anyway. Ephesians 2:1–10 says, And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. Notice the verb tenses in bold type—all are past. We formerly walked according to the course of this world; we formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh; we were dead in our transgressions; we were by nature children of wrath. All that changed with the two biggest little words in all of scripture: but God. “But God made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Therefore, with apologies to Whitefield, we who have been born again by the Holy Spirit (John 3:1–8) are no longer by nature children of wrath, but new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17); we are no longer far from God, but have been brought near (Ephesians 2:13). As long as we live, we are bound to our flesh (Romans 7:18, 24) and, consequently, still sin (1 John 1:6, 8), but we are no longer slaves to sin (Romans 6). We have a new nature.
Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place. —Daniel 9:24 All that Christ hath done, all that Christ hath suffered, all Christ’s active obedience, all Christ’s passive obedience, will do us no good, unless by the Spirit of God, it is brought into our souls. As one expresses it, ‘An unapplied Christ is no Christ at all.’ To hear of a Christ dying for sinners will only increase your damnation, will only sink you deeper into hell, unless we have ground to say, by a work of grace wrought in our hearts, that the Lord Jesus hath brought this home to us. Hence it is, that the Apostle, speaking of Christ, says, ‘Who loved me and gave himself for me.’ O that dear, that great, that little but important word, me. Happy they who can adopt the Apostle’s language! Happy they that can apply it to their own heart. And when they hear that Christ has brought in an everlasting righteousness, can say, ‘Blessed be God, it is brought in by the blessed Spirit to my soul!’ —George Whitefield, “The Righteousness of Christ an Everlasting Righteousness” in Lee Gatiss (Ed.), The Sermons of George Whitefield (Crossway, 2012), 1:293–294.

In Preparation for the Lord’s Day: Not All the Outward Forms

Not All the Outward Forms on Earth VOX DILECTI Not all the outward forms on earth, nor rites that God has giv’n, nor will of man, nor blood, nor birth, can raise a soul to heav’n. The sov’reign will of God alone creates us heirs of grace born in the image of His Son, a new, peculiar race. The Spirit, like some heav’nly wind, blows on the sons of flesh, new models all the carnal mind, and forms the man afresh. Our quickened souls awake, and rise from the long sleep of death; on heav’nly things we fix our eyes, and praise employs our breath. —Hymns to the Living God (Religious Affections Ministries, 2017). Right tune, wrong hymn: The current hymnal for this series is Hymns to the Living God, published by Religious Affections Ministries. This is such a good hymnal that I’m pretty sure I could happily post every hymn it contains, but I’ll be limiting selections to hymns I have never posted here before, especially those unfamiliar to me (of which there are many). For more information and to purchase this hymnal, visit Religious Affections Ministries.


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