Romans 10:17 "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ."
The beginning of the Christian life starts with regeneration or the new birth (John 3:1-5; Titus 3:4-6; 1 Peter 1:23; James 1:18). The continuation of the Christian life following regeneration in saving faith is what the Bible terms "sanctification" (1 Corinthians 1:30; 6:19-20; 1 Thessalonians 4:3). Both graces require the same ingredients for each to begin and carry forth: the Holy Spirit, an open heart of faith and the Word of God.
One could say that the Holy Spirit is the Agent responsible in initiating the miracle of regeneration and regulating (with a cooperating believer) the ongoing work of sanctification. Certainly without a heart open to truth in light of the Spirit's working, there can be no salvation to be worked forth by Him. In like manner, unless a believer has a heart open to growing further in the things of God, sanctification by the Spirit in cooperation with that saint won't be forthcoming.
So what about the words of the Bible? What does scripture have to say about itself with respect to its role in regeneration and sanctification?
The Word of God In Regeneration
First, let's consider the work of regeneration wrought forth by the Holy Spirit in the human heart. We find the following scriptures testifying to the role of God's word in salvation:
Luke 16:31 "But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”
1 Corinthians 1:18 "For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."
1 Thessalonians 2:13 "For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe."
2 Thessalonians 2:14 "It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ."
James 1:18 "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."
1 Peter 1:23-25 "for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For, “ALL FLESH IS LIKE GRASS, AND ALL ITS GLORY LIKE THE FLOWER OF GRASS. THE GRASS WITHERS, AND THE FLOWER FALLS OFF, 25 BUT THE WORD OF THE LORD ENDURES FOREVER.” And this is the word which was preached to you."
It is a remarkable thing to think about when we talk about the preaching or teaching of a book resulting somehow in a change of heart. It surely cannot be attributed to the skill or personality of the preacher whenever a soul makes a decision for Jesus Christ. What is there about the Bible that makes it different from any other book in the world?
I recall once talking at length with a Muslim man about the Quran. My question to that man was whether or not the reading aloud of the Quranic text could make a convert to Islam. He looked at me rather puzzled and said: "no, not really". The Muslim's religion knows nothing of converting power coursing through the words of its religious tome.
The Bible is different. All of the verses I mentioned above reveal that the reading aloud, preaching, teaching or explanation of the words of the Bible bring about the conversion of the soul. Even seeing the precious text of the Bible and reading it to oneself can result in a heart open to truth in general to saying yes to Jesus in a specific act of faith. The miracle of regeneration in the soul is wrought by God's miracle book: the Bible.
The Word of God in Sanctification
1 Corinthians 2:10-13 For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. 11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words."
Colossians 1:4-6 "since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel 6 which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth."
2 Thessalonians 2:13 "But we must always thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God has chosen you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth."
Hebrews 4:12 "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart."
1 Peter 2:2 "Like newborn infants, desire the pure spiritual milk, so that you may grow by it for your salvation."
In the five verses I just listed, we discover that the same Bible that the Spirit uses in bringing about regeneration in saving faith is the chief instrument through which the Christian exercises himself or herself in sanctification. It wasn't too long ago that I was listening to a lecture by a prominent atheist professor of religion at a well-known university. If I were to mention this professor's name, some may recognize him by his many books in which he criticizes the Bible and Christianity.
This professor explained in his lecture how he begins each semester of his university course on religion. He does an informal poll of the class (many from the so-called Bible belt of the United States). He will ask them: "how many believe the Bible to be the Word of God?" The forest of hands in the room testify to the majority view of the class. The next question he will asks pertains to a currently popular movie or book and he asks the students again how many have seen the movie or read the book. Again, many hands shoot up in the room. The third question raised by the professor concerns how many in the class have read the Bible through from beginning to end, at least once. By that point, only two or three raise their hands.
The professor at this point then tells the class that for a book they believe to be authored by God Himself, one would think that everyone in the class would had read that book. Think about it, an atheist professor, no friend to the Bible nor Christianity, sees the folly of neglecting the Book of God. Yet, so few Christians ignore the Bible to their peril. The Bible is the primary means used by the Spirit in shaping and molding the willing Christian in becoming more Christ-like in their sanctification. Truly God's Word which can change the heart and keep the saint must be kept as priority in its reading by any Christian desiring to change from one level to the next in their sanctification.
Today we explored how the Word of God works in regeneration and sanctification. Unless God's Word is part of the Gospel equation, no one will believe and be saved. Unless God's Word is intertwined in Christian sanctification, the Christian commitment of the child of God will stagnate and grow sterile. The Bible is God's living Word. It breathes life into the heart dead to God and breathes life into the heart wanting and needing to grow in God. Would we all cherish and take more seriously that precious book called "The Bible", "The Word of God".
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