The Necessity of Regeneration (III)
Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:3-8).
A New Creation
In the first two issues we focused on the truth that God is sovereign in salvation (Eccl. 11:5; Ezek. 36:26-27; John 1:12-13; 6:44, 65) and that the ordinary manner in which the Lord regenerates a person is through the gospel (Rom. 1:16-17).
2 Corinthians 5:17 contains a text that speaks to our hearts. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” The keys words here are “a new creation.” They capture the essence of the new birth that the sinner receives.
Regeneration makes the soul that is dead to the things of God into a new creation. It is, as it were, a resurrection of the soul from the dead. It is made alive to God by God (Eph. 2:4-10). Then, just as God sovereignly gives us a new heart, he also sovereignly gives us all things in Christ.
Even though this sentence will be a bit of an awkward construction, I’d like to say it this way: By his sovereign grace, the Holy Spirit works regeneration in us without us. In other words, in regeneration man is passive. Our salvation is from first to last by grace and by grace alone and not by works.
In light of what Jesus says to Nicodemus in our text, it is clear that regeneration is not inferior in power to creation itself or the resurrection of the dead. And it is equally clear that all whose heart is spiritually renewed are certainly, unfailingly, and irrevocably regenerated and do actually believe (regeneration precedes faith).
So how is it that men and women repent and believe? The answer is: by the previous work and working of the Holy Spirit to regenerate their hearts. Faith is, therefore, a gift from God, not because it is merely offered by God to the free will of man, but because it is actually conferred on man, instilled and infused into him by the Holy Spirit.
The divine grace of regeneration by the Holy Spirit makes the will of man spiritually alive, heals it, corrects it, pleasantly, and at the same time, powerfully bends it so that now it is inclined towards God and the things that please him.
As a result, where formerly the rebellion and resistance of the flesh fully dominated, now a prompt and sincere obedience to the living God begins to prevail, which is the true, spiritual renewal and freedom of our will (Eph. 4:20-24; Col. 3:7-10).