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.