Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Gospel and the New Birth

"Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." 
(Jesus Christ to Nicodemus, John 3:3)

There is certainly a great deal of misunderstanding on the topic of the new birth in Christendom today. I believe that regeneration is as broadly misunderstood in our day as it was in the time of Christ and that a great many professing Christians stand to benefit from the exact same lesson that the Lord Jesus Christ taught Nicodemus some 2000 years ago. Consider the following:

  • Many in Christendom teach that a man cannot be eternally saved unless he is presented with the gospel message. In so doing they are teaching that, "Except a man see the kingdom of God, as represented in the gospel, they cannot be born again." The Lord Jesus Christ taught precisely the opposite when he said, "except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3) It is difficult to imagine two ideas more at odds with each other. This observation alone provides sufficient cause for many to reconsider their doctrine regarding the new birth and the utility of the gospel message.  
  • Many in Christendom teach, "If you will just hear the words of God then you'll be born of God." The Lord Jesus Christ taught, "he who is of God heareth God's words," (John 8:47) and "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." (Matthew 11:15) In so doing the Lord Jesus Christ established that a man must have the spiritual capacity of hearing born of regeneration in order to receive gospel truth.
  • Many in Christendom teach, "Any man can know and discern the spiritual wisdom of God if he will just receive it." The apostle Paul taught, "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (I Corinthians 2:14) 

With that statement Paul establishes that a man must be regenerate in order to receive and believe the spiritual truth contained in the gospel message. In so doing Paul likewise affirms that the gospel message is NOT instrumental in the impartation of eternal life to God's people, but is rather a message of comfort and instruction to those who have the spiritual capacity to receive and benefit from it. That is an astonishing contrast when held alongside the popular notions in Christendom today. Simply stated, when Jesus Christ said, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3), he was saying, "Unless a man is already in possession of eternal life, he lacks the spiritual capacity to perceive, much less receive, the spiritual truth of the gospel." Only as God's people come to understand the magnitude and ramifications of that statement do we begin to understand the nature and purpose of the gospel message and the role of discipleship in the Christian life.

So Why Preach?

In my efforts to teach this truth, along with the immediacy of regeneration that logically follows from it, the most common objection I encounter takes the form of, "Well if that's true, why preach the gospel at all?" There are two important observations regarding this Why-Preach-Objection that I believe warrant further consideration.

First, embedded in the Why-Preach-Objection is the erroneous presupposition that if the gospel does not serve the purpose of imparting eternal life, that it therefore serves absolutely no purpose whatsoever. But it is readily evident that there are a great many things that serve an important purpose without having the purpose of imparting eternal life. It has been well said that, "Dinner won't give you eternal life, but I bet you won't miss it." That observation alone is sufficient to provide reasonable, gospel-means adherents an occasion to reconsider their doctrine every time they strap on the feed bag. Their thrice daily ritual refutes the logic of this particular objection, even as their hearty enjoyment of every bite serves as a testimony to one of a great many purposes found in this non-eternal-life-imparting activity.

The bible lists numerous reasons for preaching the gospel that have nothing to do with imparting eternal life such as: doctrinal understanding, reproof, correction, instruction in righteousness, furnishing unto good works (II Timothy 3:15-17), comfort (Isaiah 40:1), rest (Matthew 11:28), light for our path (Psalm 119:105), repentance (Matthew 4:17), exhortation (II Timothy 4:2), knowledge of kingdom mysteries (Mark 4:11), assurance (Romans 8:31-39), understanding of God's love (Jeremiah 31:3, John 15:9), and many, many other reasons. It is abundantly clear that there are numerous reasons to preach the truth of the gospel to God's people, and that none of them have anything to do with imparting eternal life to them. So while the Why-Preach-Objection is demonstrably false, none-the-less I have found this fallacious argument to have an extra-ordinary persuasive power in the minds of those who support a gospel means position. I would invite them to give this matter more consideration.

Second is that this Why-Preach-Objection does precisely nothing to refute the scriptural case for the doctrine of immediate Holy Spirit regeneration found in the word of God (John 5:24, John 3:3, John 8:47, I Corinthians 2:14, etc.). It offers no alternative interpretation of those passages to support the assumption that the gospel is instrumental in the impartation of eternal life. To state that another way: If the gospel is the very instrument of imparting eternal life to God's people, as the gospel-regenerationist insists, then Paul's statement in I Corinthians 2:14 is robbed of any meaning whatsoever. Plainer still, the natural man's rejection of the things of the spirit of God is made utterly inconsequential if the things of the spirit of God are the very means whereby man's rejection of such is overcome. That observation forces us to adopt one of two conclusions: either Paul's statement is nonsense, or the gospel is not instrumental in imparting eternal life to God's people. Only the latter of those two positions is biblical (II Timothy 3:16-17) and it is for this reason that we should embrace and be thankful for the doctrine of immediate Holy Spirit regeneration.

The Purpose of the Gospel Illustrated

Consider the example of a poor and destitute man. This man's state is the consequence of his own actions (Romans 3:23, 5:12). His sin is ever before him (Psalm 51:3). He recognizes his own folly (Psalm 69:5) and is mournful regarding his inability to extricate himself from this condition (Matthew 5:4, Romans 7:14-24). He is miserable. Yet there was another, a rich man of inestimable wealth (Psalm 50:10), who knew this man all along (Jeremiah 31:3), who was aware of every horrible decision he had ever made and every depraved inclination he ever possessed (Psalm 69:5), but who none-the-less chose to set his love upon this man (Ephesians 1:4-5) and to show mercy to him in spite of the fact that the man has done precisely nothing to be selected as an object of mercy (Titus 3:5). One who decided long ago that he will deliver the man from his poor and destitute state by his own death through the establishment of a covenant (Jeremiah 31:3) based on his own will and desire to show mercy to another (Exodus 33:19). Upon the rich man's death the destitute man is immediately transported from a state of poverty to the state of being a billionaire - from a legal standpoint (Hebrews 9:16). The testament (covenant) is NOW in effect for him and he is the beneficiary of the benevolent rich-man's estate.

But does this change in legal status deliver the destitute man in every sense? It most certainly does not. Would it not be regarded as a tragedy if this formerly destitute man, who now legally possesses great riches, were to persist in his state of misery for want of ever hearing the truth that he is actually rich beyond all measure as a result of the covenant? Who would deny that upon the death of the testator, it is of the utmost importance to inform the beneficiary of his legal status as heir of all the rich man's things so that he may be delivered from his impoverished plight, not in a strictly legal sense, but by coming to hear, understand, and receive the blessings of the good news that he is blessed recipient of undeserved mercy purposed by a benefactor who loved him in spite of who he is? Knowledge of one's existing legal inheritance in Christ is a blessed thing and it saves God's covenant people - not by imparting eternal life to them - but by providing them the light of gospel truth wherein they can know and rejoice in the knowledge of their gracious savior (II Timothy 1:9-10) and profit from being discipled in his commandments (John 14:15).


This is the purpose of the gospel in the lives of God's people. Understanding of this purpose is in very short order in Christendom today. As often as not the result of this lack of understanding is that God's people pursue the fool's-errand of accomplishing that which they could never do and which Christ has already done, while simultaneously failing to recognize the purpose of gospel ministry in establishing God's people in obedient discipleship as their reasonable service to God (Romans 12:1).

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