Regeneration + The Holy Spirit

Reading Time: 9 minutes

“Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” | 2 Corinthians 4:16, NIV

There can be a tendency to reduce the work of the gospel to simply to a culture of ‘making us nice’. That is to say, that being a Christian equates to a program of basic self-improvement. Yet there are plenty of nice people who aren’t Christians; people who do good things for others without having Jesus in their life. And while Jesus does, of course, make a difference in the lives of believers, it’s more than just ‘making us nice’.

New Not Nice

Jesus didn’t come to improve us – he came to save us!

We were made to walk with God and dwell in His presence. God, who is the source of all life, made humans in His image and in His likeness, with the potential and capability to be like Him, to reflect His glory throughout the earth.

But the effects of sin entering the world were dramatic and far-reaching. Humanity died that day – not physically or immediately, but spiritually. Our union with God was severed and we became separated from God’s presence. And just as we have inherited physical life from our parents, we also inherit spiritual death. Every human who is born comes into the world physically alive but spiritually dead. Without our spiritual connection with God, we are nothing more than ‘dead men walking’, living in darkness and far from the eternal life God intended for us.

And no amount of ‘nice’ can fix this.

“With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity. But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.” | Ephesians 4:17-24, ESV

The Christian life doesn’t start with reformation. You cannot reform a dead heart. The Christian life starts with a radical regeneration. From spiritual death comes a resurrected life, a new nature, through the work of the Holy Spirit.

A truly gospel-shaped life is one that begins in death. Baptism, the Bible tells us, is a symbol of the death that Jesus experienced. And by his death, he destroyed the power of sin and death; those things which keep us separated from God and the life He has purposed for us. Through Jesus, it becomes possible for us to be reconciled again to God’s good life and His life-giving spirituality. We’re told, if we die with Jesus (in baptism), we will also live with him, participants in his resurrection life. That life starts right now, the very moment a believer rises from the waters of baptism.

“That’s what baptism into the life of Jesus means. When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus; when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus. Each of us is raised into a light-filled world by our Father so that we can see where we’re going in our new grace-sovereign country. Could it be any clearer? Our old way of life was nailed to the cross with Christ, a decisive end to that sin-miserable life—no longer at sin’s every beck and call! What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word.” | Romans 6:3-10, MSG

If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-giving resurrection! Not just as some future hope or aspirational thought but as a reality, right now! Our dead spirituality is reborn, renewed, and regenerated in Jesus. It’s into the darkness of spiritual death that God has shone His glorious light of life, the knowledge of the glory of Himself expressed in Jesus.

This is why Paul can so confidently say in his letters to the churches at Colosse and Corinth:

“For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory…” | Colossians 3:4, ESV

“For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” | 2 Corinthians 4:6, KJV

Saved Not Sincere

When we accept the truth of our situation and choose to do something about it, the Bible doesn’t tell us to ‘believe and be sincere’. The Bible tells us to believe and be saved. That’s not to say that sincerity isn’t important. Of course it is. But the emphasis – the first word about the action that takes place – is about the activity of God. It’s God who is saving us and it’s God who is renewing us. It’s God who accepts our belief in the sacrifice of Jesus and sends His Spirit into our lives to regenerate us as new creatures in His Son.

God graciously gives salvation to those who repent and believe. It is His action in our lives that makes the difference. He transfers us from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of His son, He adopts us as His children and the Spirit himself bears witness to this new identity.

The work of saving is entirely God’s and this is why we can confidently preach ‘that we are saved by grace through faith alone and not by our works’. Grace is what saves, faith is the instrument through which it is effected.

This is vitally important because when we believe our faith is what saves us*, we begin to measure our faith (and others’) by the intensity of it (or the lack thereof). We being to think of faith as a single act, rather than a life of orientation.

“Faith isn’t an emotion God evaluates by its intensity. Faith is trust and it’s only as good as the object of its trust. So the question isn’t, “do you truly believe?” but “who do you believe in?” We must point continually to God in Christ, who is good and generous and amazingly gracious. We trust Him and His grace for our salvation, not the strength of our emotions.” | Michael Lawrence

Faith trusts that this work isn’t ours – it’s God’s and He’s doing it for His glory. He saves not because of who we are but because of who He is. Why? Because He loves us.

“Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with every good thing to do His will. And may He accomplish in us what is pleasing in His sight through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” | Hebrews 13:20-21, NIV

“For it is God who works in you to will and to act on behalf of His good pleasure.” | Phillipians 2:13, NIV

“And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore you, secure you, strengthen you, and establish you. To Him be the power forever and ever. Amen.” | 1 Peter 5:10 BSB

Disciples Not Decisions

Our resurrected life is not dominated by decisions that come and go but by faithfully following Jesus. Every Christian’s life starts at a certain point, with a decision, but that one decision alone is not enough to make us a disciple. Resurrection life continues as a life marked by discipleship. Every day, the mission is the same: a commitment to follow Jesus, regardless of the cost.

Having faith does not mean ‘being spiritual’ or ‘belonging to a faith community’ or ‘seeking spiritual direction’. Of course, it may involve those things but having faith is wholehearted trust that God will keep His promises, and this trust is constantly affirmed and demonstrated by a transformed life.

It’s examining ourselves, not just on Sunday, but every day, to see if we are ‘in the faith’.

It’s waiting on Jesus.

We must be committed to not just making ‘a faithful decision’ on any given day, but to being disciples – life-long followers of Jesus who take up their cross, enduring hardship, because our trust is in Jesus’ sacrifice and God’s promise to us in this.

But we are not alone in our resurrected life.

“If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” | Romans 8:11, ESV

“…This is my [Paul’s] prayer. That God, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ and the all-glorious Father, will give you spiritual wisdom and the insight to know more of Him: that you may receive that inner illumination of the Spirit which will make you realise how great is the hope to which He is calling you—the magnificence and splendour of the inheritance promised to Christians—and how tremendous is the power available to us who believe in God. That power is the same divine power which was demonstrated in Christ when He raised him from the dead and gave him the place of supreme honour in Heaven—a place that is infinitely superior to any conceivable command, authority, power or control, and which carries with it a name far beyond any name that could ever be used in this world or the world to come.” | Ephesians 1:18-21, JB Phillips

God’s own Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are His children. Our existence is now framed by Christ’s life – who is, himself, a life-giving Spirit.

“The first man was named Adam, and the Scriptures tell us that he was a living person. But Jesus, who may be called the last Adam, is a life-giving spirit.” | 1 Corinthians 15:45, NIV

This resurrected life comes with the promise of help (Ephesians 1:13-14) from the Spirit of God Himself. Jesus tells his disciples that God will send them a comforter, counsellor, advocate or helper (παράκλητος (paráklētos) to teach and guide them. The spark of new life that has been lit in their hearts will grow and be sustained by nothing less than the Spirit of God – the Holy Spirit; the same power that raised Jesus from the dead!

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot receive Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you do know Him, for He abides with you and will be in you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” | John 14:15-16, 26, ESV

“Peter replied, “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise belongs to you and your children and to all who are far off – to all whom the Lord our God will call to Himself. With many other words he testified, and he urged them, “Be saved from this corrupt generation.” Those who embraced his message were baptised, and about three thousand were added to the believers that day.” | Acts 2:38-41, BSB

“He redeemed us in order that the blessing promised to Abraham would come to the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” | Galatians 3:14, BSB

Led By The Spirit

Christianity is a relationship, not a ritual or a religious code of ethics. It’s living in communion with the Father and His Son and being constantly led by the Holy Spirit in our discipleship. It’s living in freedom from the power that sin and death formerly had over us.

This freedom is one of the most precious realities of our regenerated life.

In no way does this deny the continuous struggle believers still have with sin, but we can have trust and confidence that we have been transferred out of sin’s dominion and into the kingdom of Jesus; that we are a child of God and that, day by day, we are being renewed and transformed into the likeness of His Son.

Not only this, the blood of Jesus is able to cleanse us from all sin. If we confess, He is faithful and just to forgive.

“For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves.” | Colossians 1:13, NIV

“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” |  Romans 8:9-11, NIV

“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” | 1 Corinthians 3:16 – NIV

We are empowered to live a fully reconciled ‘kingdom life’, both with God and to each other, brought together as family and community through the precious blood of our saviour. Together, believers become the church of Christ – his body; fellow citizens with the family and household of God, and a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Our greatest hope and expectation is that Christ, who is our life, will one day appear and change our corruptible bodies to incorruptible bodies and we will be forever with our Lord (Romans 8:111 Corinthians 15:53Romans 2:72 Corinthians 5:4).

God always intended to dwell with His people and, through Jesus, this became possible. The Holy Spirit works powerfully in us to change our hearts. Christians are now connected, in a deeply spiritual way, to the source of eternal life for which we were always purposed. Our faith, hope, and love grow more each day in similarity to the One who empowers our life and we begin to look more and more like Him. 

The power and truth of the gospel are displayed when people begin to live differently, empowered by God’s Spirit. We become a community that can only be explained by a gospel that truly converts and changes lives.

For those of us who may have been out of step with the Spirit, now is the time to open our hearts and our lives to the transforming and regenerating work of the Spirit. Ask, as a child would from a parent, for the gift of the Spirit to come and create in you a new heart.

Now is the season to discover how to walk alongside the Spirit, not expecting God to do all the work, nor trying to do it all ourselves. Being led by the Spirit is following Jesus in faithful discipleship, in partnership with God in His great kingdom mission, fully empowered by His Eternal Spirit.

“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” | Luke 11:13, NIV

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” | Romans 15:13, NIV

“And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” | Romans 5:5 – NIV

*If faith doesn’t save, then why does James make such a big deal about faith and works? When he wrote his letter, James was actually concerned with counterfeit Christianity of another kind – the unauthenticity of a life that is ‘Christian’ in name only. James is talking about those who make a ‘one-time decision’ to ‘be a Christian’ and yet nothing really changes in their lives. He is tackling a different, yet no less dangerous distortion of the gospel of grace, the idea that believers can ‘continue in sin that grace may abound’. That is to say, that nothing about the way the believer behaves or lives after being saved needs to change, that verbally expressing our faith in Jesus is enough, and that we don’t need to ‘do better’ because God’s grace covers all our shortcomings anyway. James is talking about a half-gospel, one that possibly makes us ‘feel better about ourselves’ but doesn’t convert our hearts or demonstrate true discipleship by a transformed life.
The truth, James says, is that yes, we are made right with God by believing and professing our faith in His promisesYet, it cannot be real faith, the faith that counts with God, unless it’s demonstrated by an active, loving response to God’s grace. This is, as Paul agrees, “faith working through love.” (Galatians 5:6), demonstrated by a Christian in ‘what they do’. This is what discipleship is all about.
You can read more about the Faith | Works Conundrum here or Discipleship here.
This article was first published 2 March 2020

Post A Comment