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Regeneration. Congratulations. If you have even clicked on this post I admire your bravery in tackling a big scary Bible word. Even growing up in a Bible-saturated environment like I did, I admit that I haven’t taken the time I should to dig deep and figure out what God actually means by the word regeneration.
Sure…grace, mercy, even justification I can give you a lesson on. But regeneration was a level beyond – a level I don’t often go.
That said, taking the time to really understand regeneration has changed the entire way I look at my spiritual identity in Christ.
To recap from the past few posts in this series on moving forward in faith after legalism, my biggest struggle in moving on has been getting stuck on this:
If I don’t truly desire to do the “good Christian things” but do them anyway, isn’t that still just legalism? I don’t want to “serve God” out of a sense of duty. I want to want to serve him and be good, but what about the times that I don’t want to? What then?
I have talked about a few life-changing encounters with truth that have helped me sort through all of this – starting with a sermon called “Live in the Outflow” and then being encouraged by some illustrations in the books “Habits of Grace.” On the heels of these two encounters came a third:
Last summer our pastor did a Sunday School series entitled “Seven Words that Can Change Your Life.” You can listen to them here, if you are so inclined:
- Imputation – part 1 and part 2
- Regeneration – listen
As it was summer, I know we didn’t make all of the lessons, nor did I go back to listen to them (although I probably should). But the week on regeneration we arrived (late) and slipped in the back. What happened that morning changed my life.
Our pastor began with a discussion about how we were designed for communion with God, yet how sin makes that impossible:
God is holy and therefore necessarily is opposed to that which is contrary to his character and purpose. Because we are inherently unrighteous. And so we are destined for necessary wrath of God, but for the propitiation of Jesus Christ. He took the blow of God’s wrath in my place. …so that the wrath of God is now turned away from us, and now we are invited to God, and our only safety from God is in God himself.”
He then talked about the transformative work that God does within our hearts through regeneration:
“Now his life is flowing through you. Now you have life in you that you did not have before.
Jesus Christ transforms believers from the inside (where the problem lies) and then replaces the old with the new. As a result, salvation is not a clean-up, rather, it means being brand-new in Christ.”
He then moved to 1 John for a mind-blowing exposition of the following verse about regeneration – a verse I’ve never really understood:
“Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” (1 John 3:9)
We were designed for communion with God. That is THE definition of human success. So I have to have a righteousness if I am going to have communion with God. And this is provided to us through the gospel of grace.”
There is life here that God has generated in the believer…and there is a fundamental difference at the core of the believer’s being.
John emphasizes the inward newness of the child of God whose whole bent of life is away from sin.”
He then moved to Ezekiel 11:19:
“And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh.”
“The heart is the metaphor for the seat of thought and desire. …God is transforming us at the level of thought and desire, and he is going to give us newness at the level of thought and desire.
God is in the business of transforming desires. It’s not about cleaning up our act on the outside. It’s about God transforming us on the inside and when that happens then the outside follows. That’s the gospel of grace. …God is providing this newness for us at the core of our being.”
In one sense, we have God’s nature in us. We are, as Peter says, partakers of the Divine Nature. …but it is his intent that we grow…God wants the world to see the process of transformation happening in the hearts and minds of individuals.
We always come back to ‘what do I have to do?’
What you need to be labor-intensive in doing is walking with God. Pursuing him, because it is in that pursuit that your new nature grows and continues to transform you.
The more you walk with God, follow in the steps of Christ, the more you pursue God – because you’re reconciled to him – the more his life flows through you and is transforming you at the level of thought and desire, the less you are going to want to do the things that are contrary to his character and purpose…”
This is where it gets really good. He talked about the word “seed” back in first John, which is the Greek word “sperma.” Think about it!
It’s not about doing all the things a good Christian is supposed to do…It’s about pursuing God and becoming like him and following Jesus in your personal communion with God. The more time you spend with him, the more you become like him. …That’s what transforms you at the level of thought and desire, is by you spending time and deep, personal communion with your creator and your redeemer. You were made for that, and reconciliation makes it possible.
The new spirit that God gives you, the regeneration, it is the sperma of the parent it is the nature of the parent handed down to the child – which means that at the core of your being you have life that is sinless. And it’s planted there…now you are regenerate. Newness exists in you. Life exists in you in a way that it never existed before.”
I know that was a lot to take in. I know it was for me. I’ve listened to this lesson on regeneration at least three times and still am not sure it has completely sunk in.
I feel like this was the missing piece. It’s not like I was never taught this. I probably WAS – I just never really GOT it. Somehow regeneration got lost in all the legalism and the scripture memory contests and the character awards. I never really understood what it meant to truly be born of God and have His nature, His sperma, His spiritual DNA – if you will – within me.
This is another way that biology class came in handy. We did a few units on genetics, during which I watched some videos on genetic mutation and strides being made in the field of genetics when it comes to healing disease by literally reprogramming or repairing mutated DNA. Science is literally using viruses to REWRITE and REPROGRAM every strand of DNA in every cell of our body – which then go on to code for different proteins and cells with different functions.
That is what God is doing in our souls with the process of regeneration. He is rewriting our spiritual DNA. He is changing and transforming us – enabling us to fulfill our purpose and design.
As he said, it has always come back to “but what do I have to DO?” (for God to be happy with me, for God to love me, to be a good Christian, etc.)
I simply need to pursue Him.
That day (July 23, 2017) sitting in the back row of Sunday School, I pulled out my phone and used my “Notes” app to write the following prayer:
It was such a small act on my part, but it changed everything. Because I didn’t pray for strength to do the right thing and be a good Christian. I didn’t ask for help to stop sinning and help to do all the good Christian things.
I asked for God to change my desires.
Since then, I’ve notice that everything “spiritual” has come just a little bit easier. No, I don’t sit down every morning with my Bible and read and pray for hours. It’s not been some radical overnight change where suddenly I want to do all the good Christian things.
I’m not as angry anymore. I have found it easier to take my hands off trying to control everything (like “fixing” or “managing” all of the special needs and mental health issues we have in our home). I find it just a bit easier to feel loving and affectionate toward my husband and my kids. I’m not as triggered in church by hymns and jargon. I’ve been able to look back on my past and see the good. I pray more. I have grown in appreciation for what it means to be a wife and mom and am more happy and content in my roles. I feel more spiritually (and emotionally) mature. I finally quit watching Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy…because I just was fed up with it and really didn’t want to anymore.
I continue to pull this prayer up on my phone occasionally and pray it – a way of letting God know how much I still need his regenerative power in my life.
This is how I move forward in grace. With God changing me at the level of thought and desire as I pursue Him.