Tag Archives: Regeneration

The Sinners Conversion: The Chosen

In the last several posts here we have looked at the dangers of The Sinner’s Prayer.  From there we looked at how the formulas of man circumvent the work of the Holy Spirit, known as regeneration, in the hearts of sinners.  We learned how regeneration is clearly defined in John 3 and Titus 3 and how it involves not only cleansing from sin, but a spiritual rebirth.  Today, we’re going to begin part 1 of a series on the sinner’s conversion, beginning with a look at those whom God has chosen. 

The main passage for this series will be Ezekiel 36:24-26 where we get insight into the prophecy of the new covenant (see also Jeremiah 31) that God established with His people through His Son Jesus.  “24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”  Note in this passage that God is doing all of the action.  First, we see God is gathering His people from the nations and all countries.  This is a striking statement considering until this announcement His chosen people had come from only 1 nation, Israel.  Thus, our first glimpse at the inclusive nature of those whom God has chosen. 

In the post A Chosen People, we looked at God’s selection of Israel as a people unto Himself.  Our passage from that study came from Deuteronomy 7:6-8:

6 For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.  7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. ”

In that passage we focused on how God set His love on Israel, choosing them for His “treasured possession” not because they were of any greater number, not because of anything they had done or could do, because in fact they were the “fewest” of all people.  Instead it was because God loved them.  What was the condition that Israel met in order to receive God’s love?  Nothing.  He did so out of His own good pleasure.  Remember in that post we asked was this fair of God?  He didn’t set His love on the Canaanites.  He didn’t choose the Amorites.  God didn’t choose the Philistines, the Hittites, the Amalekites, or the Egyptians.  Instead He consecrated a nation unto Himself beginning with Abraham.  And as we read to them belonged “the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises…the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all.” (Romans 9:4-5)  So, was it fair of God, was He just in making a selection?  Absolutely!  He is after all, God and does whatever “His hand has predestined.”     

What fascinates me is that with a “controversial” subject such as God’s sovereign election of people, it is without dispute that God chose Israel as a physical nation and blessed them as we just read in Romans 9:4-5.  In fact, one would have to deny the truths of the entire Bible if they argued that Israel was not God’s chosen people.  It is through them that He brought King David and established the throne that would be the lineage of Christ, the Messiah.  God had a purpose in His selection and it was to work His own plan of redemption.

But this isn’t the end of the story, because we have the New Testament that sheds even greater light on God’s sovereign choice of Israel.  In fact, the Apostle Paul tells us that it’s not actually those who are Abraham’s physical offspring, i.e. children of the flesh, that God has chosen, but it’s actually, as Galatians 3:7 says “those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.”  We also read of this in Romans “…For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise who are counted as offspring.” Romans 9:6-8 Paul reemphasizes his argument later in this same chapter as he ties back to the Old Testament, “even us who He has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles  25 As indeed He says in Hosea, ‘Those who were not my people I will call ‘My people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’  26 ‘And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’” Romans 9:24-26 The Apostle Paul’s statement regarding the inclusion of not only the Jews, but likewise Gentiles as those whom God has chosen for salvation is a common theme throughout most of the New Testament, but specifically we see the continuity of God’s elective choice again in Ephesians 1:4-5 “even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.  In love, 5 He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will.”   We should note here that the Church at Ephesus was composed largely of Gentiles, so Paul, a Jew, uses “us” and “we” to represent both collectively.

The Word of God is clear.  God chose Israel as a physical people, a nation unto Himself that would bring forth the Messiah.  But just as Paul quotes Isaiah, “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved,” (Romans 9:27 & Isaiah 10:22) within that physical nation of Israel are those whom God has saved, a spiritual people unto Himself.  As we’ve shown, God extended His salvation to the gentiles within whom there is also a group whom God has saved.  Those whom God has elected, both Jews and Gentiles, are collectively the adopted sons of God and as we’ll study next time this is a work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of men.  “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical.  29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.  His praise is not from man but from God.” Romans 2:28-29

The parallels of God’s redemptive plan in the Old Testament and the New are not only consistent, but they are a fascinating display of God’s sovereignty.  Just as I’m amazed that those who argue against election have little if any problem with God’s election of Israel as a physical people unto Himself, I am equally amazed that men have developed arguments against God’s election of people for salvation.  This argument was one that Jesus faced, as recorded in the Gospel of John and one that the Apostle Paul anticipated in Romans 9.  From there this argument persisted in the early Church as Augustine faced opposition from Pelagius.  Like a bad penny that kept turning up, arguments against God’s ability to choose for Himself arose again for Martin Luther as he faced the Roman Catholic Church and Erasmus.  For supporters of John Calvin, they countered the attacks of Arminius and the Puritans held ground against their contemporaries The Remonstrants.  We see it even extending to the early years of America as pelagianism, semi-pelagianism, or arminianism as it became known was spread by men like Charles Finney.  It should be noted that from the Apostle Paul’s opponents to Pelagius to Finney, the opposition to the doctrine of election was considered a heresy, because it was a direct assault on the sovereignty of God. 

It was only in the 1800’s, specifically through revivalism and faithful ministers such as John and Charles Wesley that these contrary beliefs grabbed a foothold.  Though rebuked mightily, and publically, by his good friend George Whitfield, John Wesley promoted the free will of man and the free grace of God.  Despite preaching efforts of men like Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeon, who were vocal critics of man’s free will in salvation, the people loved that they could choose a god for themselves.  This created the chasm that we have today between the man-centered gospel of free will and the God-centered Gospel of His sovereignty and it is the primary reason why most if not all of us who are saved at one time believed in a  man-centered salvation (and a large majority still do).  It is only through growing in the “knowledge and grace” of our Lord Jesus Christ that God’s sovereignty is revealed.  No doubt some of you will receive this post with great difficulty, but I ask that you be Berean-like and search the Scriptures for yourself.  Ask God to reveal Himself and His redemptive plan to you.  When He does, realize that your salvation was absolutely nothing of yourself, but all of God, and be humbled by His mighty, amazing grace.

Lord willing we will continue our series next time with, The Sinner’s Conversion: The Gospel Call.

The Sinner’s Prayer

A few months ago a teenage young lady told me she was having doubts about her faith.  When I asked why she was having such thoughts she began by telling me that she had “prayed the sinner’s prayer” every single time that the pastor had given the “invitation” but she still wasn’t certain of her salvation.  Less than a week prior to that, another teenager, this time a young man, approached me with questions about his own salvation.  Again, certain that he could remember a time that he had “prayed the prayer” he still had questions about if he was really saved.  A third example, is of a woman in her 50s that lives in constant fear that she is not saved and as such admits to “walking the isle” at least 6 times, each with the hope of salvation.  What each of these very real examples have in common is the unbiblical evangelical model of the “sinner’s prayer”, but they represent only 1 side of the story. 

The flipside of the same coin are those who have become “gospel-hardened”, meaning that they prayed the prayer at some point in their life and now, though they live as the world, point to that time as assurance of their salvation.  They have no interest in living a godly life, no interest in reading God’s Word, and no interest in submitting to Christ.  I think we all know someone, perhaps even ourselves, who have shown evidence of this bad fruit.  Since these two groups of people represent the majority of professing believers, the visible church has developed a solution.  Those in the first group are given assurance by reminding them of that day they prayed the prayer and made their decision.  Those in the latter group are simply called “carnal Christians” and assured that because they have prayed the prayer they are indeed saved, however they have yet to submit to Christ in their lives. 

If you’ve stepped foot inside a church within the United States any time in the last 50 years you’ve likely heard this prayer or seen the invitation to walk the isle.  Generally this methodology involves repeating a prayer after the words spoken by the pastor, making the words your own, and meaning them with your whole heart.  The problems with this, other than those outlined above, are multi-faceted beginning with the fact that this prayer model is found nowhere in the Bible.  It is never taught, never used as an example by which someone comes to faith, never included in the epistles of Paul.  Historically, the prayer is not a model that the Church has followed in the last 2000 years, instead the practice reached its pinnacle within the last 50 years.  With the increase in revivals of the last century, the sinner’s prayer became a quick method of salvation, one in which the numbers would highlight the success of a particular preacher.  To an extent it was used as nothing more than an assembly line for converts.  Bringing ‘em in sinners, sending ‘em out saints.    

One famous revivalist preacher once said he would be surprised if at least 10% of those who walked the isle at his events were actually saved.  The remaining 90% all left with the impression that because they walked the isle and prayed the prayer that they too were saved.  To put these numbers in perspective, if 10,000 people walked the isle at one of these large gatherings, perhaps 1000 would actually be saved while another 9000 would leave with a false assurance, likely falling into the categories we defined previously.  Some might argue that at least this method saved the 1000.  But is that the goal of the Gospel?  To save 10%?  No friends, the Gospel is purposed to save all those whom it intends to.  In Isaiah 55:11 God states, “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”  God’s word will not return to Him empty, but shall accomplish all that He purposes.  That means the Gospel has a 100% success rate saving those whom God plans to save and it does not give false assurance but instead is the “power of God unto salvation”.  Those 1000 people were not saved because of the sinner’s prayer, but “in-spite of it” as one modern preacher states.  This is why it is so critical that we preach only the Gospel, and ensure that we do not subvert it with man-made inventions used to pad “decisions” and church memberships.  

If the sinner’s prayer is not a biblical means by which unbelievers come to faith in Christ, we are left with the natural question of how then do unbelievers “come to faith”?  This is where an oft-ignored doctrine which has been neglected by the Church recently (to its own detriment), needs revisited.  In John 3 the Pharisee, Nicodemas, approached Jesus one night and the first words from Jesus’ mouth to him were, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3 Christian, don’t dismiss the words of Jesus here as something trivial.  He is telling one of the leading religious figures of the day how people are saved, i.e. “see the kingdom of God.”  After Nicodemas questions how a man can be born again Jesus replies, 5 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 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.”  The doctrine represented here is that of regeneration. 

We read of this also in Titus 3:5, “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” (see also Ezekiel 36:25-27)  A brief look at the two passages and we begin to see the parallels that give us better understanding of regeneration.  Note that Jesus first states unless one is born of water AND the Spirit.  This parallels precisely with what we read from the Apostle Paul by “washing of regeneration AND renewal of the Holy Spirit.”  The washing/born of water is symbolic of cleansing from sin which is followed up by renewal/rebirth of the Spirit, both are works of God.  This is regeneration, cleansed then made new.   As He concludes His lesson to Nicodemas, Jesus tells him not to be surprised about what He’s just told him and follows up with an analogy of the wind and its effects resembling the Holy Spirit and His effect in the life of those He regenerates unto salvation.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were all about rules, regulations, and formulas which they believed led to their own righteousness.  As Jesus taught one of the chief Pharisees, Nicodemas, salvation has nothing to do with man’s formulas, but instead is entirely a work of God.  The sinner’s prayer is a man-made formula that undercuts the passages (and many others) we just read above.  Does that prayer somehow trigger a “washing of regeneration” or a birth of the Spirit?  No.  Instead it can lead to either uncertainty over eternal security or false assurance in salvation.  This does not mean the Spirit cannot use any means He pleases, such as this prayer, to bring about the salvation of men.  But just as we pointed out before it is often in spite of this formula rather than because of it.  If you fall into either of the categories that were discussed above and are uncertain about your salvation or show no evidence of salvation, then examine yourself to see if you are really in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5).  Read 1 John followed up by the Gospel of John and if you’re life does not line up with Scripture then REPENT of your sins and BELIEVE on the Lord Jesus Christ.  Then love Him with your whole heart, treasuring Christ above everything else.  Christian if you have come to genuine faith in Christ, by repenting of your sins and trusting in Him for forgiveness of your sin, by way of the “sinner’s prayer” then thank God for His mercy and grace.  But know that He saved you through no work of your own, no magical formula or recited prayer, no raised hand or walking of the isle, but “He saved us…according to His own mercy….”

“So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” Romans 9:16