|If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation . . . .|
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked . . .
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved . . . . (Ephesians 2:1, 5 ESV)God's salvation, Paul writes, brings spiritual life to people who are spiritually dead. Scripture also calls this work of the Holy Spirit being born again (John 3:3-8; 1 Peter 1:23), being newly created (Ephesians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 5:17), or becoming a new self or person (Ephesians 4:24). Theologians usually call it regeneration.
This pivotal transformation occurs when God implants spiritual life in someone who, to use another scriptural term, has been spiritually dead. When this change happens, says Louis Berkhof, "the governing disposition of [a person's] soul is made holy".1 If you're familiar with Ephesians 2, you know that between the verses quoted above, Paul says that our natural governing disposition—the spiritually dead one—is decidedly unholy. A spiritually dead person is
following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind . . . . (Ephesians 2:2-3)Before we are reborn, we are governed by Satan and our own sinful desires, but when we are reborn, we come under the dominion of the Holy Spirit. Or to put it another way, in the new birth, the Spirit unites us to Christ, who lives his resurrection life in us.
At the moment our new life begins, everything changes. Without new life, we see no need for repentance, but with new life, repentance becomes a life principle. Without new life, we have no desire or ability to follow Christ, but with new life, we do.
New Life Gives Faith
Someone who has been born again believes Christ, loves him, and trusts him. In the last post in this series, we learned God gives us the faith by which we are saved. He does this by implanting new life within us, and "conscious, intentional, active faith in Christ is [the] immediate fruit"2 of this new life. Everyone who has been regenerated repents and believes, and no one repents and believes without it.
New Life Grows Holiness
What's more, regeneration brings ongoing changes in our attitudes and actions. Like faith, obedience is also a fruit of regeneration. The person who has been born again is increasingly obedient to Christ (1 John 2:29); they cannot keep on living a life of sin (1 John 3:9). Yes, sin will continue to be a problem in this life, but someone with new life keeps on growing in holiness.
Theologians call this process—the growing holiness of the one who is regenerated—sanctification. Sanctification is primarily God's work, for the Holy Spirit works within the believer, causing them to want to please God and giving them the power to do it (Philippians 2:13). But the believer has work to do, too (Philippians 2:12). The believer's effort is God-dependent effort, but it's real effort.
Out with the Old, In with the New
Fundamentally, a believer's work in sanctification is to become, more and more, what they already have become through God's regenerating work. Paul exhorts the believer to "put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life" and "put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:22-24).
Jesus, the one we have been united with in the new birth, whose resurrection life gives us our new life, is our example as we live out our new life of obedience. In sanctification, we are becoming conformed to his image—and the more we grow in our knowledge him, the more we become like him (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Are you a believer? Then strive to be what you already are—a new person recreated to be like Christ.
- Study Ephesians 2:1-10 and Ephesians 4:17-32. Read the entire book of 1 John to learn more about the life results of being born again.
- Read up on regeneration and sanctification in your favorite systematic theology. In Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, chapter 34 is about regeneration, and chapter 38 on sanctification. You can also read about regeneration and sanctification online from Berkhof's Systematic Theology.
- Read the chapters Regeneration and Holiness and Sanctification in J. I. Packer's 18 Words: The Most Important Words You Will Ever Know(previously known as God's Words).
- Listen to Wayne Grudem teach about regeneration and sanctification (part 1, part 2, part 3).
2] Concise Theology by J. I. Packer, page 158.
This post is the latest in a series of posts on truths every Christian woman should know. Here are the previous posts: