Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Understanding the miracle of the New Birth

James 1:17-18 17 Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. 18 In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.

Today I wanted us to better understand what is meant when Christians and the Bible speak about the beginning point of salvation - "The New Birth". It can be instructive to grasp how earlier Christians spoke of Biblical truth in order to see whether or not we are on the right track. Such an exercise is what we call "historical theology". Far from being dull and dry, historical theology connects us to Christians of the past. If anything, their insights can aid us in a deeper understanding of Biblical truth. Historical theology's accuracy is measured by what the Bible teaches by way of its major themes and development of doctrinal truth (or what is called Biblical theology). Both types of theological study assist in better comprehending what God has revealed about this truth of regeneration or the new birth. 

How Christians have historically defined the New Birth in Christian Salvation
The above text deals with the beginning of one's salvation - what the Bible calls "The New Birth" or "Regeneration". The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 (the doctrinal statement of the Southern Baptist Convention) defines the "New Birth" accordingly: "Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God's grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace." Henceforth we can see that regeneration is all about a change of heart brought about by God in the sinner, followed by a response of repentance and faith. 

Baptists have come to understand both the individual Christian life and corporate church life as rooted in this entry point of the Christian life. The 1689 Baptist Confession defines regeneration or the New Birth accordingly: "(God) is pleased in his appointed, and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God." We can pause here to note how this older Baptist confession includes and enlightening of the mind, as well as a change of heart. The confession goes onward: "taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them a heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by his almighty power determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ; yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace." 

One more example, the 1833 New Hampshire Confession, speaks of regeneration in this way: We believe that, in order to be saved, sinners must be regenerated, or born again; that regeneration consists in giving a holy disposition to the mind; that it is effected in a manner above our comprehension by the power of the Holy Spirit, in connection with divine truth, so as to secure our voluntary obedience to the gospel; and that its proper evidence appears in the holy fruits of repentance, and faith, and newness of life." Here we see how regeneration not only affects the heart (seat of emotions) and the mind with respect to their illumination, but also the will with regards to its inclination. Such is the understanding of God's work of regeneration through some of the thoughts of earlier Christians. But now, the true measure of any doctrine is to see what the Bible teaches. 

The Biblical source, the effects and the activities involved in the New Birth
The New Testament speaks of the beginning of Christian salvation as being that of a "New Birth".  Jesus for example in John 3:1-8 discusses with Nicodemas what it means to be "born-again".  Peter too talks about being "begotten" or "born again" by God in 1 Peter 1:3 and 23.  This language of "birthing" and "regeneration" to describe saving faith is used in Titus 3:5 "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 renewing by the Holy Spirit." 

James 1:17-21 is the text I want us to specifically focus upon in drawing to a close today's post on the New Birth, since James was the first New Testament Book.  As you go down through James'  treatment, you discover the following about the New Birth or as it is sometimes termed "regeneration":

1. The New Birth Comes from God. James 1:17
This is clearly the origin of the New Birth.  This tells us that salvation by its very nature is a genuine miracle.  We could call this first thought the "source" of regeneration or the New Birth.

2. The New Birth Brings a change of heart.  James 1:18
The New Birth, being a work of God, brings with it the grace that accompanies salvation.  As we will see in later blogs, whenever you and I have been born again - there must needs had been a change of heart.  We could term this the "effects" of the New Birth or regeneration.

3. The New Birth Involves faith and repentance. James 1:19-21
Any definition of the New Birth must include "faith and repentance".  Apart from faith and repentance, the New Birth simply will not occur.  James speaks about both repentance (James 1:19-21a) and faith (1:21b) in this authoritative definition of "The New Birth".   We could call this last point the "activities involved" in the New Birth. 

I would encourage the reader to study over James 1:17-21 and the other texts mentioned in today's blog to gain a better understanding of this essential truth of Christian salvation - The New Birth. Furthermore, consider again what older Christians taught, since how Biblical truth was expressed in former generations can shine fresh light on current study and application of such truth. One thing is for certain - the New Birth and its attendant graces is a miracle of God wrought in the heart and thus marking the beginning point of salvation. 

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