Regeneration and Your Missiology

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In a day and age when the church is becoming increasingly fad driven, it is logical that missions starts to reflect this character.  The faddish seeker-sensitive church movement with its human-centered gospel, now has entered the field of missions with its Muslim-friendly approaches. The needs and whims of humans with easy-believism, and impressing others with numerical growth take center stage and the glory of God is pushed to the background.

Yet as we have recently observed with the World Cup of soccer those teams that concentrate on the basics and on the foundations are often the real victors.  Thus this paper reflects, not on a current fad, but on a doctrinal basic, namely the topic of regeneration.

You have been born again…through the living and abiding word of God…

And this word is the good news.  1 Peter 1:23-25

When the theologian J.I. Packer was asked what one of the most important doctrines that a young theologian should know, he suggested it was regeneration. He defined it as “the new birth, meaning simply the new you through, with, in and under Christ.”

In answer to the question, how do you know if you are truly “born from above” or if you have had a new nature put into your heart of stone, Thomas Boston, a Scottish pastor who lived from 1676-1732 gave a detailed answer.  His book, “Human Nature in its Fourfold State starts with humans in their “state of innocence.” He shows how God created humans as kings and queens and how they threw away their royal position. They fall to the “state of nature” and he details their sinfulness, their misery and their inability. From this bad news he moves on to the “state of grace” and discusses regeneration. This is his more than 300 year-old answer to one of the most critical questions of the human race:

Were you to ask me, if the sun were risen, and how you should know whether it were risen or not? I would bid you look up to the heavens, and see it with your eyes. And, would you know if the light be risen in your heart? Look in, and see. Grace is light, and discovers itself.

Look into your mind, see if it has been illuminated in the knowledge of God. Have you been inwardly taught what God is? Were your eyes ever turned inward to see yourself; the sinfulness of your depraved state, the corruption of your nature; the sins of your heart and life? Were you ever led into a view of the exceeding sinfulness of sin? Have your eyes seen King Jesus in his beauty; the manifold wisdom of God in him, his transcendent excellence, and absolute fullness and sufficiency, with the vanity and emptiness of all things else?

Next, What change is there on your will? Are the fetters taken off, wherewith it was formerly bound up from moving heavenward? Has your will got a new turn? Do you find an aversion to sin, and an inclination to good, wrought in your heart? Is your soul turned towards God, as your chief end? Is your will new-molded into some measure of conformity to the preceptive and providential will of God? Are you heartily reconciled to the covenant of peace, and fixedly disposed to the receiving of Christ, as he is offered in the gospel?

And as to a change on your affections, are they rectified, and placed on right objects? Are your desires going out after God? Are they to his name, and the remembrance of him? Isaiah 26:8.

Are your hopes in him? Is your love set upon him, and your hatred set against sin? Does your offending a good God affect your heart with sorrow, and do you fear sin more than suffering? Are your affections regulated? Are they, with respect to created comforts, brought down, as being too high; and with respect to God in Christ, raised up, as being too low? Has he the chief seat in your heart? And are all your lawful worldly comforts and enjoyments laid at his feet?

Has your conscience been enlightened and awakened, refusing all ease–but from the application of the blood of a Redeemer? Is your memory sanctified, your body consecrated to the service of God? And are you now walking in newness of life? Thus you may discover whether you are born again or not.

But, for your farther help in this matter, I will discourse a little of another sign of regeneration, namely, the love of the brethren; an evidence whereby the weakest and most timorous saints have often had comfort, when they could have little or no consolation from other marks proposed to them. This the apostle lays down, 1 John 3:14, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.”

As you reflect on the fruits of your ministry, could you say they would be able to wholeheartedly answer “yes” to the indicators that Boston asks to the question “Have you been born again?”

If there are looming doubts, might it be that you are using methods that depend more on human resolution, and less on miraculous Spirit-given transformation?  Jesus told Nicodemus that “Flesh gives birth to flesh but the Spirit gives birth to Spirit,” John Hannah once said, “self-caused effects can never rise above the character or qualities of their cause”  This is no ivory tower discussion  as there are many so called “followers of Jesus”/ “Christians” whose self-righteous efforts have never been crucified and they carry a title and not a new nature.  To them, Jesus says, “”Do not marvel that I said to you, “You must be born again.” (John 3:7)

If you are more interested in this subject, you might consider John Piper’s book, Finally Alive. Also the Monergism website has the subject of regeneration as its monthly focus with solid articles spanning a number of centuries of church history.

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About Author

John Span has worked with his family in West Africa among an unreached 'Fulani' people group for the last ten years. His mentors have challenged him to think theologically, especially in the area of missions to Muslims and he desires to inspire others to do the same. In the last year he has been a frequent contributor to the St. Francis Magazine.

3 Comments

  1. This is an encouragement, John, thanks. I think I read it 3 times over a week before it sank in.

    It’s so cool to commune with brothers from centuries ago and to sit at their feet and learn.

    To reflect inwardly, as Boston encourages, to observe ourselves and Christ in us just as we can see the sun in the sky, is actually uncomfortable and comforting at the same time. I have so much work to do.

    Thanks for the good word.

  2. John,

    Thanks very much for submitting this article. It points out the importance of being rightly motivated. One day (a long time ago) in Bible college in Minneapolis I had the realization that the grief I was experiencing over my sin had as much to do with my personal failing as it did sinning against God. The Lord showed that to me and I realized a new-found freedom from the binding self-centered and self-serving standard of cultural morality. That gave way to an experience of liberty in the Holy Spirit that reoriented me to a more biblical standard of morality, and more importantly, a greater appreciation of the only righteousness there is, in Christ! That experience caused me to look more carefully at the theology I was being taught, and it changed my theology. I remember wanting to engage in street preaching downtown and I did: all I did was read from the Bible out loud verse after verse of Scripture about grace! I remember being animated by the joy and transforming power of God’s grace like I was when I was first born again. To this day my being as a man of God’s grace informs my doing as a minister of the gospel. I think this is an expression of the Regenerative in my life as a believer and how I’m better motivated because of it. Thanks again for your ministry to us.

  3. Dear John, author of the email below? (this is not you John Span)
    Sorry your email is lost so please write me at ghoussney@bibmiss.wpengine.com.
    We will pray for your family. These two tapes are many years old. I have an Audio DVD with 102 sessions which covers our 4 week summer training courses taught by various teachers. I think I teach half of the classes or less. You can order this real cheaply from us at $25 (originally priced at $130) These can run on your computer and you can download them onto an Ipod or cell phone. They are not regular CDs. It would have required 90 CDs so we decided to use one Audio DVD. We have sold hundreds of these and we would be happy to send you a copy. Write me your full name and address and I will send it to you. Again my email is ghoussney@bibmiss.wpengine.com
    God bless.
    “Hello, I am interrested in more about Mr. Houssney message to reach the Muslim. …I have 2 older tapes from Mr. Houssney that I listened to and enjoyed. One tape is “All Muslims are not the same” and ” The Muslim mindset”. I would like to maybe find more of similar lectures from Mr. Houssney, Prayers for the salvation of my children and mother are also welcome. Thank you. John”

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