Tag Archives: Regeneration

“The Wind blows where it wishes”

 

Originally published August 11, 2009.

The other day I checked in on a Bible Facebook group that I sometimes follow and in the comments there was an interesting request.  One member, perhaps passing through, indicated that he was an atheist and would like for someone to provide a convincing argument that a divine entity existed.  Now, it’s at this point I must say I don’t know what compelled me to message him, nor had I prepared any sort of conversation.  I was just honestly wondering what might have persuaded him to be an atheist, where his beliefs came from, and what convincing argument he was looking for.  I’ll also quickly mention that as Christians we should care for each and every lost soul and I still pray that Christ might reveal himself to this young man, perhaps even through this site as I recount our conversation.

When I first mention a conversation with an atheist, the initial thought might be to take an apologetic route.  I don’t claim to be an expert on atheistic issues, but I felt like I should try to find out what his beliefs were and admittedly to determine where his thought process fell, i.e. relativism.  I asked questions along the lines of “Do you believe we are born with the ability to determine right from wrong” to which he answered no.  I then followed up attempting to probe deeper into those thoughts, but each time I was thwarted in MY efforts.

At this point I prayed, “Dear Lord guide my steps, my thoughts, let my words be Your words” and the young man’s next response was essentially let’s stop being so apologetic and cut to the chase.  And then it hit me and with all the sincerity of my heart I replied with:

Ahh I see, well forgive me. I was merely trying to understand where you were coming from. Without apologetics, you’re left with one thing standing in your way between understanding whether a divine entity exists or not.

See where apologetics fails is that it presumes that all things can be broken down into logical concepts, arguments if you will, that prove or disprove one point or another. While on the surface this makes sense, as it appeals to the very intellectual nature of our being, it lacks a key, necessary component and that is faith.

We can banter back and forth about relativistic points of view, to establish morality or whether a divine entity created the earth or not and that is all well and good, nothing wrong with that at all. But at the end of the day, without faith you and I are the same person. We both do what we want, when we want, and live each day doing the best we can.

Without my faith in the only One and True living God, I am an atheist. Without my faith that God loved His only Son so much that He sent Him to die on the cross for me and all of my disgusting sins, I am an atheist too. But I have that faith. And through my faith I am saved from those sins. And through that faith I have eternal life through my Savior. And that faith is all I need. Because if I’m wrong and everything I believe in is wrong, have I lost anything? No, you and I would end up in the same place after we die. But if I’m right and my faith is all that’s needed in this world, then that’s a big difference isn’t it?

At the end of the day that’s the separation between us <name>, it comes down to faith. Neither of us were granted a higher knowledge over the other or have seen some great revelation that leads us to our beliefs. I have faith in my Savior Jesus Christ and perhaps you want proof so that you can believe in a higher power, but in the end it’s faith you are searching for. But I’m afraid you won’t find it by searching, no one is going to provide you with the answer you’re looking for, it’s within you already and it’s up to you to believe.

“So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” Romans 10:17

I’m sure it’s easy to look back on that and say, well you should’ve said this or that or phrased your response this way, but that’s the way it came out, so that’s the way it is.  Why is it that some have the capacity to have faith while others, like my young friend, seemingly do not, or at least not yet?

See what my friend, and so many others who are searching, long for is a god to mold into what they want.  What Christians have is a God that molds us to what He wants.  That’s the difference and it’s big.

In John 3, Jesus is approached by Nicodemus who says, “…Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” John 3:2 To which Jesus replies, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3

Ah, if only I had remembered this encounter before mine with my young friend, because here, it is Jesus who cuts to the chase.  He wastes no time in witnessing to Nicodemus.  He doesn’t even wait for him to ask the question, before He has already stated the answer.   Nicodemus is no fool, he understands the figurative language that Jesus is using, but nevertheless he asks, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”  John 3:4 He knows that his question is not a possibility, but as he’s picked up on Jesus’ analogy, he inquires more.  Jesus replies, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.'” John 3:5-7

Jesus reemphasizes His figurative language by pointing out the Spiritual cleansing and Spiritual rebirth necessary for salvation and essential to entering heaven.  It should be noted that being born of water in this passage does not refer to baptism, but rather the spiritual cleansing through being born again.   As though He  perceived the potential next question from Nicodemus, Jesus follows up by explaining the root of this rebirth does not come from man, but from the Spirit Himself.  “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8

That last sentence of Jesus’ statement is so important towards understanding our previous question of why is it that some people come to faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, yet others don’t.  It’s this passage that so clearly points out that it’s not a human decision.  Meaning it is not within us to “make a decision” without the power of the Holy Spirit moving in our lives and in our hearts.

As Jesus indicates, the Spirit moves where He wishes and we never see Him, never know from where He comes, nor where He is going, but we see the impacts.  We see the impact on the lives changed by His presence.  Spiritual rebirth is as much or more a miracle than our original birth from the womb.

Our role as Christians is to preach the Gospel and expose nonbelievers to the Word of God. (Mark 16:15) In accordance with this, in order to be faithful to Jesus’ commission, we need to be well equipped with a strong knowledge of the Bible, because it is through God’s Word that seeds of salvation are planted in the hearts of nonbelievers.  We can make rational arguments through apologetic presentations, present emotional “seeker sensitive” church services, and even present biblical truths, but without the power of the Holy Spirit, no true regeneration or even a desire for one can take place.

Prayer: My prayer is that the Holy Spirit reaches out to our unsaved friends and family that they might realize their need for a Savior in Jesus Christ.  That the Holy Spirit might bring them to repentance and that they might openly and willingly respond when this happens.  That the Spirit of the Lord might put each one of us in the path of the unsaved and that He might guide our steps, our thoughts, let our words be His words that we might be useful vessels in conveying the wonderful truths of the Word of God.

Additional Study: 1 Corinthians 2:6-16

Every Advantage

 

In thinking through the circumstances surrounding both Adam and Noah that we’ve seen in recent posts, there is at least one commonality between them that is shared with believers in Christ today, primarily the advantages that they had, and those that we have, which lend themselves towards aiding in our obedience to God.  Yet like them, even with every advantage, we still sin.

Pre-fall Man

Reviewing the case with Adam, we know that God rested him in the garden, which He had ordained to bring forth lush vegetation and food, apart from the efforts of the first man.  His primary duty was obedience and service before the Lord, as a priest, but also as a protector of the garden and all that was in it.  As it is sometimes explained, Adam had the ability to sin and the ability to not sin  (Latin = posse peccare, posse non peccare).  Though he was created sinless, his nature was mutable, or changeable.  He had the moral free agency to choose to sin or choose to not sin.  He was given dominion over creation, abundant food to eat as he pleased, and a wife who came alongside him as a help-mate.  By all accounts Adam was living in perfection.  If anyone could claim to be living their best life now, it was Adam, pre-fall.

Yet despite all of these blessings from God; despite all of the advantages, Adam still succumbed to temptation, that conceived with his inmost desires of discontentment and brought forth sin.  Despite literally having it all, including most importantly, direct communion with God, Adam was dissatisfied and chose to sin.

After Adam and Eve’s fall from grace, man now had the ability to sin, but lost the ability to not sin, thus inheriting the corruption of Adam’s original sin by means of a sinful nature which carried with it the inability to not sin (non posse non peccare).  This is simply referred to as man’s inability.  Instead of retaining the moral free agency that Adam had briefly enjoyed, his offspring -namely all mankind, as was evident with Cain- became enslaved to sin, their wills now held captive to sin.

Post-Fall Man

It was with this sinful nature that Noah entered upon the scene of God’s creation, now with a cursed ground and living among a rebellious people.  However, Noah found favor in God’s sight (even with the presence of a sinful nature, which should be an encouragement to us).  With Noah, God decided to set-apart a new people for Himself and chose Noah and his family out of all the peoples of the earth.  God then rained down judgment upon the earth, because of the sinfulness of man, through a world-wide flood, preserving Noah, his wife, and their sons and wives along with a selection of animals to repopulate the earth.

It was into this new creation, this new garden, that God opened the doors of the ark to complete the rescue of his people.  Noah, as a new priest in a new temple (Genesis 8:20), had, like his great grandfather Adam, every advantage at his fingertips.  No longer was he faced with the ridicule and mockery of a people who doubted the words of his preaching, but it was him alone with his family with a renewed commandment of “be fruitful and multiply” and a new charge to have dominion over creation.  To show His steadfast love and faithfulness, God enters into a covenant with Noah.  This time there is no prohibition of eating from a particular tree, instead there is a prohibition to “not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (Gen. 9:4) again carrying with it the consequences of death for its violation.  As God reveals this commandment, we see it specifically applied to the murder of man, who God reminds us, was made in His own image.

Again, despite all of the advantages presented to Noah, just like Adam he too fell, quickly (Genesis 9:21-29).  Despite the flood cleansing the world from its external wickedness, the seed of sin was allowed to germinate in the hearts of the eight who were saved through the waters of judgment.  The ability to sin and the inability to not sin remained.

Until Christ.

Sinless Man

These principles of the sinful nature, inherent in man after the fall, highlight the supreme importance of the sinlessness of Christ, more specifically that He was born sinless and remained sinless.  Because of the uniqueness of Christ’s birth, the unbroken line of the sinful nature was broken, in Him.  The generational succession of the ability to sin and the inability to not sin was not transmitted to Him.  We say then that Christ was impeccable, or that He was unable to sin (non posse peccare – note the distinction between this an Adam’s original state).  While a minority position has often claimed that Christ did have the ability to sin, all must conclude that He did not actually sin, as Scripture so adamantly asserts (1 Peter 2:22; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 John 3:5).  Christ alone was sinless.

Our Lord, we may be reminded, was not afforded all the advantages of His grandfathers Adam and Noah.  He entered into this world with nothing, literally being born nowhere, coming from nowhere, and then having all of this nothing stripped further away during His own wilderness garden experience.  Here, Christ was not surrounded by lush vegetation bringing forth an abundance of food effortlessly, but He fasted, for 40 days, surrounded by thorns and thistles of a cursed land and subjected to the wild beasts (Mark 1:13).  He then, throughout His ministry, was subjected to every temptation, yet unlike us, did not sin (Hebrews 4:15).  In His next garden experience, this one more lush than His last, He was given the sentence of death. Whereas His grandfather’s were given prohibitions that carried the sentence of death for their violations, Christ was given the sentence of death despite not having a violation of His own.

Renewed Man

The death of the sinless Christ for sinful man and His subseuqent resurrection, attesting to His sinlessness, now made it possible for those who have repented, and been united to Him by faith, to not sin.  Because of Christ, those in Him, given a new nature and a regenerate heart, have returned to the state of the original Adam having now both the ability to sin and the ability to not sin (posse peccare, posse non peccare).  No longer then are our wills enslaved to sin.  No longer do we possess a moral inabiltiy wherein all we do is sin continually.  No, the redeem actually do have the ability to not sin!

Like our forefathers, Adam and Noah, we have even greater advantages.  We are able to live on this side of the cross, this side of our Lord’s resurrection, we know and can see the power of sin, but the greater power of grace.

We are co-heirs with Christ, seated with Him in the heavenly places. We now have access to the Father through the Son and can come freely into His presence at anytime. Not only this but we have been united to Christ, clothed with His righteous, bought by His blood, redeemed from the power of sin, and have had the wrath of God removed from us, by Christ’s propitiation.  Not only this but we have Christ as our Mediator, our High Priest, and the Captain of our salvation.  Not only this, but we have been given His Word as a lamp to our feet and a light to our paths.  Literally the Word of the living God has been made accessible to us, to have, read, and meditate upon at any time.

As if those advantages were not numerous and weighty enough, we have been given a Helper, the Comforter, the Paraclete, God’s Holy Spirit who resides not among us on the outside, but internally in our now regenerate hearts.  All of these advantages working for our good to bring us into conformity with Christ and fulfilling His promise to complete this work until our day of salvation.  Regenerate man reclaimed the ability to not sin while simultaneously retaining the ability to sin.

But herein lies the problem.  Given far more advantages than both Adam and Noah, we still sin.  That ability to sin is still within and is an active, vital force within us until the day we die.  The Apostle Paul laments this very fact as he surveys the duality within his own heart, two laws at is were, warring against one another (Romans 7:21-23).  The flesh vs. the spirit, the former lusting against the latter while the latter wars against the former (Galatians 5:17). If Christ had simply died to return us to the former state of Adam, we would still be damned because of the continual presence of the ability to sin in our natures.

Glorified Man

But thanks be to God He did more than that.  Christ was not content to simply leave us in a pre-fall Adamic state.  No, more than this He was intent to bring us into glory.  The glorified state of man where we will one day have the ability to not sin and likewise the inability to sin, as our Lord did.  Praise be to God as we long for this day when sin is no longer crouching at our door step.  When the war within us has ceased and the spirit is alone without carrying along the rotten carcass of the flesh.  Then in the New Garden, when we return to the restful state intended by God for man, we Will serve God night and day as priests with every advantage at our fingertips, including the renewed communion with God forever to be enjoyed because sin, the devil, and the flesh have been eradicated.

Praise be to God, come quickly Lord Jesus for we long for the day!

 

An Objection to Total Inability: Deuteronomy 30:19

Continuing with some common objections to the Calvinistic doctrine of man’s inability, a second objection can be found in the Old Testament passage of Deuteronomy 30:11-20.

11 “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 14 But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.

15 “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. 16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. 17 But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”

The appeal made from this passage is the phrase I’ve highlighted from verse 19 above, “Therefore choose life”.  Since Moses lays the choice before the people, it is often assumed that this is an example of the free-will of man to choose his own destiny.  Again, we must 1) Examine this verse in context 2) Realize that God’s Sovereignty in salvation is not divorced from man’s responsibility to repent and believe, as we have previously seen.

The use of the verse as a proof-text for man’s freewill highlights the importance of understanding a verse in its context, both the immediate context of its chapter and where it fits in the flow of the larger context within the book its written.  There are really two ways to do this.  We could read through Deuteronomy noting the context as we go until we come to this passage in chapter 30 or we could start in this chapter for the immediate context and then expand out from there.  The former is probably the better angle for our study because of the covenantal framework of Deuteronomy.  It breaks down something like this[1]:

  1. The Covenant Setting (1:1-5)
  2. The Historical Review (1:4-4:40)
  3. The Preparation for the Covenant Text (4:41-49)
  4. The Principles of the Covenant (5:1-11:32)
  5. The Specific Stipulations of the Covenant (12:1-26:15)
  6. Exhortation and Narrative Interlude (26:16-19)
  7. The Curses and Blessings (chaps. 27-28)
  8. The Epilogue Historical Review (chaps. 29-30)
  9. Deposit of the Text and Provision for Its Future Implementation (31:1-29)
  10. The Song of Moses (31:30-32:43)
  11. The Blessing of Moses (chap. 33)
  12. Narrative Epilogue (34:1-12)

Upon examining the book in this way, we find that our verse falls within the section of The Epilogue Historical Review.  What this means is that the passage from Deuteronomy 30 is pregnant with a lot of meaning that needs unpacked before it can properly be understood within its context. I’ll try to summarize some of the key points in the narrative that will give us the background necessary to understand this passage.

At this point in the book, Moses has reviewed the covenant made with the people at Sinai and the giving of the Ten Commandments (5:1ff) specifically because the people are about to enter the Promised Land.  A key passage for our understanding is in Deuteronomy 10:12-22.  In this passage God commands fear, love, obedience, and service and that the people to circumcise their own hearts.  Who can do that themselves?  Further reading will answer that question.  God then provides additional stipulations of the covenant (12:1-26:15) which Moses instructs the people to write on whitewashed stones when they entered the land (note the contrast between the 10 Commandments written in stone by the finger of God and these additional commands written on stone by the people).  When we arrive at chapters 27-28 we have God promising blessings for obedience and cursings for disobedience.  I take this to highlight the conditionality (IF/THEN) of the Mosaic or Siniatic Covenant, i.e. Do this and live, Don’t do this and die.  ( A separate, yet related question might be: Is the covenant here (Mosaic) even referring to salvific blessings? See here and here).

Fascinatingly, weaved within the description of the blessings and cursings are prophecies concerning how the people will respond and what God’s plan for them will be.  Ultimately, this shows us the sovereignty of God over His people; not simply His omniscience that they will do such and such, but that He is sovereignly ordaining the events for the purpose of His glory.  In these prophecies we see that the people will agree to obey, but that they will ultimately disobey and the full weight of the curses will fall on them.  You can read in the passage and get a sense of the expectation for failure. (Deut. 28:36-37)

In chapter 29, this expectation changes though, from an expectation of failure to an expectation of hope in the form of a better covenant, the New Covenant (Hebrews 7:22).  Hints of this, which began in chapter 10, surface again here with a brief reminder of what God has done for Israel, yet in 29:4 we see that the Lord “has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.”  This is significant because of the transition here between the Old Covenant, temporal in nature and the New Covenant, everlasting and salvific.  As we’ve seen before, all those under the Old Covenant were not circumcised in heart, evident here, however all those in the New Covenant have the sign of the covenant, namely a circumcised heart.  As the transition continues through the expectation of failure to the expectation of the New Covenant in chapter 29, we arrive at chapter 30 and read of the prophecy of what will happen:

“And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, and return to the Lord your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there he will take you. And the Lord your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed, that you may possess it. And he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.”

Clearly the people were going to turn from the Lord and follow their uncircumcised hearts (vs. 29:19), thereby suffering all of the curses that God had lain before them.  What was hinted at in chapter 29, now blossoms into a fully revealed promise of the New Covenant (30:6).  Note also that the language here is not one of conditionality, but of certainty on God’s part.  Ultimately, because of Israel’s disobedience, they would not perpetually enjoy the blessings of the Old Covenant promised to them, instead they would experience the curses.  However, as we know, there would come One who through perfect obedience would fulfill the covenant law, likewise suffering the curse for all of the covenant breakers who by faith are united to Him.  It is in Christ alone that the Old Covenant is fulfilled and the New Covenant is inaugurated (Matt. 26:28; 1 Corinthians 11:25; Hebrews 12:24).  All of that is right here, in a “boring” Old Testament passage narrating the history of Israel on the plains of Moab.  Oh the wisdom of God!

Returning to our theme of man’s free will, by the time we arrive at verse 30:19 we have seen blessings and cursings for obedience and disobedience respectively; we have read of God’s expectation of disobedience; and we have seen the promise of the New Covenant, out of which One would come who would perfectly obey.  So when we read, “therefore choose life” this is a foregone conclusion.  Yes the decision is real; yes the command is legitimate, but the outcome of obedience is impossible because the people’s hearts have not been circumcised.  In fact, even if perfect obedience to the commandments of God had been possible, it would have been the great result of moralism (see the rich, young ruler), not obedience from the heart.

As we continue into chapter 31, to maintain the rest of our context, we read that in fact God affirms the inability of man to obey and follow Him:

Deut. 31:16-21

16 And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers. Then this people will rise and whore after the foreign gods among them in the land that they are entering, and they will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them. 17 Then my anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide my face from them, and they will be devoured. And many evils and troubles will come upon them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?’ 18 And I will surely hide my face in that day because of all the evil that they have done, because they have turned to other gods.

19 “Now therefore write this song and teach it to the people of Israel. Put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the people of Israel. 20 For when I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to give to their fathers, and they have eaten and are full and grown fat, they will turn to other gods and serve them, and despise me and break my covenant. 21 And when many evils and troubles have come upon them, this song shall confront them as a witness (for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their offspring). For I know what they are inclined to do even today, before I have brought them into the land that I swore to give.”

Deut. 30: 27-29 (Moses speaking)

”For I know how rebellious and stubborn you are. Behold, even today while I am yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against the Lord. How much more after my death! 28 Assemble to me all the elders of your tribes and your officers, that I may speak these words in their ears and call heaven and earth to witness against them. 29 For I know that after my death you will surely act corruptly and turn aside from the way that I have commanded you. And in the days to come evil will befall you, because you will do what is evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger through the work of your hands.”

Again, as in our last post, in a verse that has been championed by those who advocate for the free-will of man, we actually find a passage prophesying about the total inability of man to follow and obey God out of his own corrupt, sin-bound heart and the promise that only God alone can overcome the sinner’s heart by replacing the heart of stone with a heart of flesh and causing them to walk according to His commands and statutes (Ezekiel 11:19-20; Ezekiel 36:24-27).

My prayer for you the reader is to understand that apart from God, we can do nothing and that assuredly includes our salvation.  It is entirely a work of grace.  Secondly, the Old Testament is so rich in its meaning and deserves not to be neglected, but treasured as the absolute and supreme Word of God which points forward to Christ and provides much of the foundational understanding for the New Testament.



[1] Merrill, Eugene, et.al. Word and the World: An Introduction to the Old Testament