Friday, October 2, 2009

The Doctrine of Regeneration: Introduction

Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he
cannot see the kingdom of God.”
- John 3:3 -

I’ve wanted to do this series of posts on regeneration for a long time. The doctrine of the new birth has unbelievable importance and relevance for everyone in the entire world. For non-Christians, this new birth needs to happen to you, and so you need to know about it. For Christians, this doctrine is a cornerstone for our entire understanding of our God Himself, of the Savior Himself, and the nature of His work -- this great salvation that has happened to us.

Now, I know that not all Christians believe the same things about this issue. And neither do Christians all agree on the implications this doctrine has on so many areas of Christian life and thought. So my aim in doing this series is not to say vague enough or basic enough things that everyone can superficially agree with and then pad my ego by telling me how great a series it was. My aim, understanding that there is vast disagreement, is to confront ideas that are not in accord with the Word of God, in hopes that those holding views contrary to Scripture (including myself) would disown those views. And then in place of those views, I pray that by the clear presentation of truth, that God’s view would be embraced in place of those false views. Said a bit more simply, I want people – including me – to be taught. So I’m inviting questions and disagreement. Tell your friends.

This study was born out of a Sunday school lesson at my home church based on John Piper’s What Jesus Demands from the World, in which he picks 50 commands that Jesus gave in the gospels, and hopes to serve the Church by “teaching them to obey” (Mt 28:20). The very first command in that book is the command to be born again. That’s fitting, because without that first one happening, obedience to the others is impossible. And so I’ll be quoting from that short chapter here and there.

Piper has also recently done a sermon series and written a separate book called Finally Alive on the doctrine of regeneration. When Piper was interviewed and asked why he wrote the book, he said the following:

I am deeply concerned that there are many church members in America and beyond who think they are saved when they are not. Part of the reason for this nominalism is a failure to teach and understand the true meaning of the new birth.

You must be born again. It is a miracle. Many, I fear, don’t even want to think in terms of “being saved” as being in the category of a miracle that only God can perform. They want it to be a decision based wholly on human power involving no necessary miracle. That is deadly.

For those who are truly born again, I want them to exult in what has really happened to them. Many who are truly born again do not know the nature of the change that has happened to them. It is a good thing to know—so that Christ can be honored for the fullness of his glorious work, and so that people can enjoy the assurance of being the objects of that miraculous act.

Finally, I want the new birth to happen more and more. God does the new birth through the word. I pray that the sermons and the book will be a means used by God for the working of this miracle of new birth.

I thought that was a great, very insightful quote about the topic, and I agree with all of it. And in it I noticed three components. I noticed a theological component, where Piper says we just need to know what this regeneration/new birth thing is because we’re naturally inclined to think it’s something else. I noticed a Christian living component, where a Christian knowing the fullness of the truth about the new birth gives glory to God and satisfies that Christian. And I noticed an evangelistic component, where he says he wants the new birth to happen more and more.

That summed up my thoughts pretty well. So in the coming weeks, that’s actually going to be my outline:

  1. The theology of the new birth.
  2. The implications of a correct understanding of the new birth on the Christian life.
  3. The implications of a correct understanding of the new birth on the ministry of the Gospel.

So the goal of all the talk there will be during this series on the doctrine of regeneration, – what I’m after – is that you would (1) know God better, (2) thereby know your own experience of the new birth better, (3) know yourself as a Christian better, and (4) know how to minister the Gospel, or evangelize, Biblically.

I hope you’ll read, think, pray, comment, and be benefited. To that end, here’s a tentative, more detailed outline for where I hope to be going:

1. The Theology of the New Birth
1.1. Man's Spiritual Death (Total Depravity)
1.2. The Dead Cannot See
1.3. The Wind Blows Where it Wishes: The Freedom of God and Irresistible Grace
1.4. Regeneration and Faith: Temporally Simultaneous but Logically Distinct

2. Implications for the Christian Life
2.1. God Grants What He Requires
2.2. The Impossible is No Longer Burdensome
2.3. The Means of Justification is the Means of Sanctification

3. Implications for Gospel Ministry
3.1. Introduction
3.2. Evangelism
3.3. Apologetics


Monica said...

Mike, this is exciting! It's also cool to see your pastor-teacher type organized notes :). I'm looking forward to reading what you're going to say on the subject. We miss you guys!

Mike Riccardi said...


Great to hear from you! We miss you too. Can't believe you've been married for two weeks already, Mrs. Vroman! Hope you're settling in well. Janna and I hope to talk with you and Dave soon.

Mike Riccardi said...


I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt that this is on topic, but let me make it clear to you: I will not allow pre-published and pasted comments on the blog. Read the posts. All the words. Not just the titles. Then, interact with what is written. Otherwise, I'll continue to delete your comments.

But like I said, this time I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt. The answer to your notion that "water" refers to baptism and that baptism is the agent of regeneration is: sure, if you ignore the rest of the New Testament. Aside from the fact that Paul labors in Romans to show that justification is by faith apart from works (Rom 3:28), you'd have problem with the thief on the cross being with Jesus "today" in Paradise. Certainly he was never baptized.

The "water" Jesus refers to is symbolic of the needed cleansing that Yahweh spoke of when Ezekiel prophesied of the New Covenant. The New Covenant, which was on the horizon during Jesus' public ministry, was to be characterized by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. So when God talks about the New Covenant with Ezekiel, He speaks of new birth, the putting of the Spirit into His people, and sprinkling them with clean water.

So, Jesus' reference to water is not -- in violation of the rest of the NT -- a hat tip to baptismal regeneration. It's a pointer to Ezekiel 36. Jesus is saying: I am Messiah, and the promised New Covenant (of which the new birth will be the sign; cf. also Jer 31:31-34) is coming.