Thursday, July 8, 2010

Regeneration by Grudem part 3

c. Genuine Regeneration Must Bring Results in Life

In an earlier section we saw a beautiful example of the first result of regeneration in a person’s life, when Paul spoke the gospel message to Lydia and “the Lord opened her heart to give heed to what was said by Paul” (Acts 16:14; cf. John 6:44, 65; 1 Peter 1:3). Similarly, John says, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (1 John 5:1 NIV). But there are also other results of regeneration, many of which are specified in John’s first epistle.

For example, John says, “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9 NIV). Here John explains that a person who is born again has that spiritual “seed” (that life-generating and growing power) within him, and that this keeps the person living a life free of continual sin. This does not of course mean that the person will have a perfect life, but only that the pattern of life will not be one of continuing indulgence in sin.

When people are asked to characterize a regenerated person’s life, the adjective that comes to mind should not be “sinner,” but rather something like “obedient to Christ” or “obedient to Scripture.” We should notice that John says this is true of everyone who is truly born again: “No one who is born of God will continue to sin.” Another way of looking at this is to say that “every one who does what is right has been born of him” (1 John 2:29).

A genuine, Christlike love will be one specific result in life: “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7 NIV). Another effect of the new birth is overcoming the world: “And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God has overcome the world” (1 John 5:3–4 NIV).

Here John explains that regeneration gives the ability to overcome the pressures and temptations of the world that would otherwise keep us from obeying God’s commandments and following his paths. John says that we will overcome these pressures and therefore it will not be “burdensome” to obey God’s commands but, he implies, it will rather be joyful. He goes on to explain that the process through which we gain victory over the world is continuing in faith: “This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4 NIV).

Finally, John notes that another result of regeneration is protection from Satan himself: “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God [that is, Jesus] keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him” (1 John 5:18 NIV). Though there may be attacks from Satan, John reassures his readers that “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4 NIV), and this greater power of the Holy Spirit within us keeps us safe from ultimate spiritual harm by the evil one.

We should realize that John emphasizes these as necessary results in the lives of those who are born again. If there is genuine regeneration in a person’s life, he or she will believe that Jesus is the Christ, and will refrain from a life pattern of continual sin, and will love his brother, and will overcome the temptations of the world, and will be kept safe from ultimate harm by the evil one. These passages show that it is impossible for a person to be regenerated and not become truly converted.

Other results of regeneration are listed by Paul where he speaks of the “fruit of the Spirit,” that is, the result in life that is produced by the power of the Holy Spirit working within every believer: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22–23). If there is true regeneration then these elements of the fruit of the Spirit will be more and more evident in that person’s life.

But by contrast, those who are unbelievers, including those who are pretending to be believers but are not, will clearly lack of these character traits in their lives. Jesus told his disciples:
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits. (Matt. 7:15–20)

Neither Jesus nor Paul nor John point to activity in the church or miracles as evidence of regeneration. They rather point to character traits in life. In fact, immediately after the verses quoted above Jesus warns that on the day of judgment many will say to him, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” But he will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers” (Matt. 7:22–23).

Prophecy, exorcism, and many miracles and mighty works in Jesus’ name (to say nothing of other kinds of intensive church activity in the strength of the flesh over perhaps decades of a person’s life) do not provide convincing evidence that a person is truly born again. Apparently all these can be produced in the natural man or woman’s own strength, or even with the help of the evil one.

But genuine love for God and his people, heartfelt obedience to his commands, and the Christlike character traits that Paul calls the fruit of the Spirit, demonstrated consistently over a period of time in a person’s life, simply cannot be produced by Satan or by the natural man or woman working in his or her own strength. These can only come about by the Spirit of God working within and giving us new life.

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