The Triune God: Regeneration
1 Peter 1:3
1 Peter Lesson #019
June 25, 2015
“Father, we’re so very grateful for the fact that we have You to come to. And that no matter what the circumstances in life may be, no matter how disappointing various political situations and circumstances, and no matter what bad decisions are made, we know that we can relax and trust in You. We ought not to let these things disturb us, though they do. We often need to be reminded that we do not put our trust in man but we put our trust in You. Even though it’s difficult to live in a nation that is in self-destruct mode, we know that the only way we can ever recover is through a spiritual solution and until there is a restoration to spiritual truth and recognition of absolute truth in Your revelation, there can be no true prosperity or freedom in this country. Father, we continue to pray for our leaders, especially those who do have a Biblical framework and do understand truth. We pray that You would give them wisdom, strength, perseverance, and endurance even in times of difficulties. We pray for the others that You would restrain their evil and prevent them from achieving their objectives and that as we go through what will be a fascinating political season for the next eighteen months, we pray that You might give us clear thinking as we come to understand who these people are that seek to lead this nation. We pray that You would make it clear who has wisdom and who has not. Now for us, as we study this evening, we pray that You would help us to understand what You have revealed in Your Word that we may clearly understand it, assimilate it, and tell others about it. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
Well, today certainly started off with something interesting. For those of you who were divorced from the news, which I don’t think is too many of you, the Supreme Court handed down a ruling in relationship to this challenge to how funding for these health exchanges worked on Obamacare. Many people on the right that are opposed to Obamacare thought that the Supreme Court might overturn this and it would eviscerate Obamacare. Unfortunately, they did not. What we see in their reasoning is a significant window into the thinking that dominates this country at this point.
I want to start off this evening by just talking about that a little bit so we can come to understand it. The real issue here is hermeneutics. Hermeneutics is a big word for some folks. It basically means how you interpret what something means, what something means as intended by its writers. When it comes to the human sphere sometimes people don’t write very clearly and that’s certainly true in this law. Part of the problem that was coming up was that Congress did a pretty pathetic job of writing out what they wanted. There’s a certain ambiguity that was recognized and this is why it ended up before the Supreme Court.
First thing, I just want to remind you of some basic rules of interpretation. This applies to any kind of literature. It even applies to the area of the arts such as music and it applies to visual arts. It applies to anything that the author is communicating and the author is the one who determines what he writes means. We call that in the study of interpretation, authorial intent. This is an important issue. We talk about this a lot when it comes to understanding the Bible and Biblical teaching that we need to understand the intent of the author.
In the case of the Bible there is dual authorship. There’s God the Holy Spirit and then there is the human author. You can come to understand what any author intended whether you’re talking about a writer of Scripture, whether you’re talking about Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence, or whether you’re talking about the writers of the Constitution. You can determine what they mean by using certain principles. (Slide 3) The first is literal, plain, normal use of language. This means that you can study any document and on the basis of what these words mean in everyday language you can determine what that person writes. Today we live in a world where due to the influence of what we call postmodernism, people don’t think that meaning is determined by the author, the writer, or the artist; they think meaning is determined by each individual person. It’s how you look at something to determine what it means.
It even applies to how I look at myself. If I look at myself and decide in my self-consciousness I’m really a woman, then I’m a woman. That has been legitimized by many different statutes in different cities, including Houston. They claim you are who you think you are. There’s no objective truth. Truth is determined by your own individual impression of who you are. We’ve seen a couple of examples of this negatively in the last couple of weeks. We have the example of Bruce Jenner. He looks at himself in the mirror and he sees he is a woman. So now he’s going through this transformation to be a woman. There is no objective truth. Somebody sent out an e-mail with a cartoon last week which is a picture of Bruce Jenner’s dog. When you click on it, there’s a cat there.
There’s no objective truth. Everything is what you want it to be. The problem with that is that sooner or later that falls apart on the shoals of reality. It gets shipwrecked on reality. You can’t just make things up and make the world be what you think it ought to be when reality is far different. There’s the case of this Caucasian woman up in Spokane who is, or was, president of the NAACP up there. She said she was black. She had no African-American heritage or genes and biologically she was strict Caucasian, but she felt black.
We live in a world where how you feel is more important than objective truth. We’ve rejected objective truth and when there’s no objective truth, anything can slip in. Language doesn’t mean what it means, it means whatever you want it to mean. So the reader can look at a book on how to understand language in a postmodern world, written by a postmodern, and how do they expect you to interpret things? By the way they intend it to mean. They can’t live consistently. If I’m a postmodern writer and I’m telling you that anything can mean whatever you want it to mean, then you can’t reinterpret that to mean anything else. I’m trying to communicate to you something objectively from my mind to your mind.
The unbeliever lives in this fantasy world. Romans 1:18 talks about how unbelievers want to suppress truth in unrighteousness. They’re truth suppressors and when you suppress truth you have to reinvent reality. That’s called fantasy. Sooner or later when you’re really living in your fantasy world, your fantasy castle, if you live there long enough, you’re what they call psychotic. Your fantasy has become reality to you. The only way to understand anything is in terms of the plain, normal use of language.
A second rule of interpretation is the single meaning of the text. When I say something is white, that doesn’t also mean at the same time that it’s grey or off white or blue or purple or green. If you tell people we’re going to meet tomorrow and we’re all going to be in a group together so for identification, everyone wear a red shirt, that doesn’t mean you should show up in a blue shirt or a green shirt or a yellow shirt. You should show up wearing a red shirt. Language means something and if language doesn’t mean anything, doesn’t mean something specific, then language can mean anything.
If language can mean anything you want it to mean, then language means nothing. It’s ridiculous. We might as well throw everything out because the written word no longer has meaning or significance. So as Christians we can say that attacks on language are ultimately attacks on the Word. The Word is important in the Bible because in the Old Testament in Hebrew you have this word memra which refers to the revelation of God. That is brought over into Greek as the LOGOS and Jesus is said to be the LOGOS, the Word of God. So we believe in the written Word of God and the physical Word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Once you attack meaning in this way, which has happened over the last hundred years, and you destroy meaning and the Bible doesn’t mean anything to anyone anymore because it can mean anything to anybody. You run into conversations with your friends, your neighbor, your relatives, your kids, and your parents and they say, “I just don’t think it means that.”
How do you determine meaning? There are clear rules for determining meaning. (Slide 3) These are two of them and the third one is that meaning is determined by context and usage. When you look at words in Scripture you look at how they are used. Sometimes they are used with different meanings. If you were here last week when I taught last Thursday night at the Chafer Conference on Romans 10:9–10 you learned that sometimes words have different meanings. Saved sometimes refers to being saved from the eternal penalty of condemnation. Other times it means simply to be delivered from a physical trauma. Sometimes it means to be saved in terms of being saved from the power of the sin nature. Sometimes it means glorification. You have to look at context to determine usage. This is important.
I’m just going to go through this. I don’t want to belabor this but this is a great example for us to learn how people are thinking out there. This is why we get so frustrated at times. We live in a culture where the vast majority of people do not think that words have meaning and that that’s significant. They think it can mean whatever you want it to mean. That is how they operate.
When this gets into the law courts, we’re in serious trouble. I have friends who are lawyers and are operating both as legal counselors and as prosecutors. What they tell me is that this has so permeated the function of law at the basic court level that we’re in serious trouble. When you’re trying to interview witnesses or you’re trying to deal with people who are suspects and they just make anything mean anything they want it to mean, it’s extremely difficult to even have a meaningful conversation with a huge segment of our population because language has lost its meaning.
Let me just summarize what has happened here in the Affordable Care Act, which is really a misnomer because it’s made healthcare much less affordable. In fact, a report I saw this morning said that in states such as Hawaii, the cost of health care has gone up 49%. In some other states it’s gone up 47% and 42%. You can Google the data and find out for yourself. This is what has happened in this new marketplace. It’s not only the fact that you have certain progressive Democrats and Republicans who colluded on this, but the insurance companies discovered they could make an enormous amount of money off of this. They were glad to jump on board and the insurance lobby behind this is just incredible.
So the way this was supposed to work is that the Act created something called an exchange, an insurance exchange in each state. Each state was motivated by the law to operate these exchanges because they would get certain freebies from the federal government. They would get all these “bennies”. There were a couple of states that started it off. They were going to be the postcard example of how these exchanges worked. One of these was Oregon and another was New York. What happened is that after they established their exchanges they realized it was going to cost them more money to have this exchange through which people would just buy their health insurance than to just not have the exchange. The government wasn’t giving them enough “bennies” for what it was going to cost them to have the exchange. According to the law, every state was supposed to establish their own exchange.
I printed out the whole court filing this afternoon and I highlighted a few things. It says, “The act requires an exchange in each state, basically a marketplace that allows people to compare and purchase insurance plans. The act gives each state…” How are they using the word “state”? To each of the fifty states. “The act gives each state to establish their own exchange but provides that the federal government will establish the exchange if the state does not.” Now this is their summary. Do you discern in that language that there is a difference between the federal government and the state? That is obvious and that runs through the whole document. They use the term state numerous times and it always refers to the individual states. It doesn’t ever refer to the federal government.
In Section 36b it says, “If the statutory language is plain, the court must enforce it according to its terms but oftentimes the meaning or ambiguity of certain words or phrases may only become evident when placed in context.” So we all recognize that sometimes words are a little bit ambiguous and it’s the context that informs it. That’s what the argument was over in the court: over context. The summary goes on to say, “So deciding on whether the language is plain, the court must read the words in their context and with a view to their place in the overall statutory scheme.” They recognize context determines meaning.
Then it goes on to say, “When read in context, the phrase ‘an exchange established by the state under 42US Para (and so on) is properly viewed as ambiguous. The phrase may be limited in its reach to state exchanges but it could also refer to all exchanges, both state and federal for the purpose of tax credits’.” That’s the real issue. Are the people who live in states that don’t have exchanges [Texas is one of them] are they going to be able to get tax credits since their state doesn’t have exchanges?
Then in the summary it also says, “The Affordable Care Act [I love this phrase] contains more than a few examples of inartful drafting.” Inartful drafting means they wrote it so badly that no one knows what in the world they meant by it. That’s the legislature’s responsibility.
Now we get into looking at the dissent opinion. Justice Scalia wrote the dissenting opinion along with Justice Thomas and Justice Alito. They say in summary, “The court holds that when the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act says ‘exchange established by the state’ means ‘or the federal government’ they’re adding a phrase. Why in the world would they want to add that phrase?
Scalia goes on to say, “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act makes major reforms and it provides that if a state does not comply with this instruction, the Secretary of Health and Human Services must establish and operate such exchanges within the state.” He goes on to make a point that what the case is all about is that it requires that someone who buys insurance established by the state gets tax credits, which is what I just explained a minute ago. He says, “Words no longer have meaning if an exchange is not established by a state is established by the state.” That’s the word game the majority opinion had. They didn’t really mean established by the state. What they really meant established by the state or something else. They’re just reading it in there.
He goes on to say, “It’s harder to come up with a clearer way to limit credits to state exchanges than to use the words ‘established by the state’. How else would you limit it?” They couldn’t have said it more clearly. He goes on to say, “It’s hard to come up with a reason to include the words ‘by the state’ other than the purpose of limiting credits to state exchanges. The plain, obvious and rational meaning [our point number one] of a stature is always to be preferred to any curious, narrow hidden sense that nothing but the exigency of a hard case and the ingenuity and study of an acute and powerful intellect would discover.” In other words, make it up and add it in.
“Under all the usual rules of interpretation, in short, the government should lose this case. But normal rules of interpretation seem always to yield to the overriding principle of the present court: the Affordable Care Act must be saved.” See, here’s an example like we see in theology all the time. When people have a theological agenda, for example, covenant theology, they’re going to ram, cram, and jam that meaning into a text in order to get that text to fit their theology rather than letting the text have its own meaning. This is what has happened. I highlighted a bunch of other stuff but I don’t want to take any more time. That’s the guts of it.
What we see as our culture drifts more and more away from objective truth is that you can make meaning up and add meaning. The problem with this has nothing to do really with your political views on Obamacare. It ought to have something to do with your views of the Constitution. As they said, it was inartfully written. It was poorly written but the intent of the law is determined by the legislature, not the courts. When the court says, “What this really means is…” and they add a phrase, then the Supreme Court is legislating from the bench. The result of that is that the Constitution has now been shredded. It is irrelevant. The Supreme Court is dictating meaning and law to the country and we are now under a judicial tyranny. The Constitutional Republic is dead.
It’s going to get worse in the next couple of days if the Supreme Court rules that same-sex marriage is okay. That leaves us, as believers, in a great quandary. The question in my mind is how in the world I can exhibit loyalty and faithfulness to a government to which those words have no meaning. What is means one day is different from what it will mean another day. How in the world are we know what to do on any given day because on any given day the meaning of these documents shifts and changes? That leaves us in a horrible position. It will lead unless there’s a massive shift in the worldview of the nation, it will lead to either the collapse or anarchy of the nation or it will lead to total dictatorship and tyranny, one or the other.
We really don’t have a whole lot of options available to us, unfortunately, except we are commanded in Scripture to pray for those in power, pray for those in authority, and to a degree we need to respect that but it doesn’t mean we have to validate it. That’s going to be a real challenge.
Almost every major conservative Christian organization now such as the large black pastor’s association are calling for civil disobedience if the government rules in favor of same-sex marriage. Last week it was the Southern Baptist Convention. Last week it was the American Family Association and James Dobbs’ Focus on the Family. They’ve all called for Christians to get involved in civil disobedience. I don’t think that’s the answer in this because no one is making us do anything. Now if the government comes in and makes the churches perform same-sex marriage, that’s a different story. That’s where civil disobedience comes in. You never have a case in Scripture for civil disobedience unless the government is telling an individual believer to do something or not to do something that violates Scripture. To allow for same-sex marriage is very different from mandating that every pastor or every church will have to perform same-sex marriage.
We may be headed there but that’s not what’s going to be decided on in this court case. So I think as much as we agree that this is perverted and horrible and a violation of the meaning of marriage, if marriage means something else how are we to know what anything means. As much as we may agree with that, we have another problem.
When Paul wrote about the government, it was a perverted government. You can never say that people like Caligula were not perverted. The Roman Empire was clearly perverted. Some rulers were better. Some rulers were worse. But the perversion that took place and was allowed within the Roman government and the Roman culture was worse than what we’ve got. Let’s keep things in perspective.
Okay, let’s get back into the Word (Slide 4) that refreshes us. We’re in 1 Peter 1 and we’re looking at this opening statement in verses 3–5. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is a statement of praise. We can praise God for a reason. Remember, in 1 Peter 3 Peter is going to come out and also say that we need to obey the government. The government was allowing at different times persecution against Christians. These believers who were Jewish believers were suffering individual opposition and persecution.
So, “Praise be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Why? “According to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away.” It’s unchangeable; it’s permanent; it’s eternal. “Reserved in heaven for you who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
The whole focus here is on exuberance. We can be excited, despite whatever negative circumstances are around us. We are focused on the long-term game. We’re not focused in the short term. What happens today, tomorrow, next week, next year; that is going to fade against eternity. When we have that perspective we can still have great joy because we have hope.
(Slide 5) When we looked at the passage we spent a lot of time talking about who God is and the attributes of God, the eternity of God and the immutability of God. We saw that this applies to all three Members of the Trinity: Father, Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Why do we praise Him? (Slide 6) Because He, “according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope…” (Slide 7) I broke this down here a little bit so we can see the phraseology. Each one of these phrases is loaded with significance and with meaning. We praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Why? Because according to His abundant mercy…
Now the Greek word that’s translated “according to” is a preposition that means according to a standard, according to an absolute. That absolute is God’s mercy. Mercy is related to God’s love. God’s love is an attribute that is eternal. It’s one of the few attributes where it makes an absolute statement that God is something. The God of the Bible is said to be holy. God is holy. He’s also said to be love. God is love. Now the other attributes are ascribed to God but these attributes are emphasized and brought out and highlighted by these bold statements saying that God is this. God is love.
Love manifests itself toward the human race in two different ways. One way is through grace. Grace is undeserved kindness or unmerited favor. It means that we don’t deserve any of the good things God gives us. He gives good things to unbelievers and believers. He gives good things to those who are obedient and those who are disobedient. God has freely given His Son to go to the Cross and die for sin even when we were obnoxious to Him. “God demonstrated His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”
God isn’t saying that we need to come toward Him a little bit and then I’ll do some more for you. God doesn’t say we have to show Him that we mean it and then He’ll save us. God just says, “Here’s the gift. If you just accept it, if you just believe it, it’s yours.” The gift is eternal forgiveness. The gift is eternal life, the very life of God, which is the foundation for meaning and happiness in life. That’s grace. We’re saved, not by works Ephesians 2:8–9 says, but by grace. It is God’s goodness. It puts the emphasis on what God does, not on what we do. Now mercy is related to grace and to love. Grace is the principle of God’s unmerited favor to man. Mercy is the application of that grace, that kindness, to people who are specifically undeserving.
Mercy has to do with grace in action. God’s kindness to those who don’t deserve kindness. That is God’s mercy when we deserve something horrible, God negates that and that’s His mercy. So it is according to His abundant mercy, His manifold mercy, the richness of His mercy. His mercy is a bottomless measure. It’s infinite. We can’t measure it. We can’t quantify it. We can’t outdo it. We can’t “outsin” His mercy. You can’t do anything that is too great for His mercy to cover. Our sin is finite and limited but God’s grace is infinite. His mercy is infinite. It is more than enough to handle whatever problems we have in life. That’s the standard. It comes from His love, His grace, and His mercy.
So according to that standard of His mercy, He does something. It says He “has begotten us again to a living hope”. What I like about this phrase is that it shows directionally. It’s toward something. It’s a living hope. It doesn’t say to a future hope. Notice He doesn’t say to a dead hope, either. It’s a living hope, which emphasizes that it is a present reality. When we wake up in the morning and you turn on Fox News or you turn on ABC, CBS, or NBC or one of the thirty thousand people in the whole country who watch Al Jazeera. You can turn on Al Jazeera America and you hear all these negative things, you can have hope. It doesn’t have to wipe out your day. It doesn’t have to wipe out your spiritual life. We have a living hope. We need to focus on the future.
So this whole section is going to help us understand that we’re going to live today in light of eternity, not in light of tomorrow, not in light of any of these horrible Supreme Court rulings that are coming down, not in light of all the machinations that are taking place in Congress, not in light of the fact that we now have, I’ve lost count, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen candidates on the Republican side for President. Every day it seems like someone else is announcing that they’re going to run for president. It’s just going to turn into an absolute donnybrook for the media. They’re going to play everyone against everyone else and it’s just going to be a mess.
But God’s in control. We have a living hope. That means it ought to change and focus our attention every single morning on the fact that we have hope. It states that He has begotten us again to this living hope and it’s through something. It’s through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Now when we go back and get there and study the resurrection of Christ, that’s the reality.
I bet I could ask every person in this room and a whole lot of other people, “Do you believe Christ was raised from the dead?” “Sure, not a problem. That tomb is empty. Jesus arose. Hallelujah!” So do you have a living hope? There’s an application. You say you believe in the resurrection of Christ, but one of the things that produces, according to this passage, is a living hope because Christ conquered death. His victory is our victory. And so because He has victory over the greatest problem we’ll ever face which is death, then all of our problems fade into insignificance. If you believe in the resurrection, it impacts your mental attitude. If it’s not impacting your mental attitude, we need to stop and take a look at 1 John 1:9 again and refocus and rethink about what we say we believe and how it should impact our thinking and what’s going on in our heads.
These doctrines are not just ideas that are historically significant. They are ideas that should be changing how we live and interact with the details of life on every single day, every single occasion. As we work our way through this, we look at the fact that the standard is grace or mercy and that caused Him to do something. He caused us to be born again. (Slide 8) We need to look at this aspect of the grace solution, which is regeneration. We need to talk a little bit about what regeneration is and then we need to see why this is so important.
(Slide 9) One of the great tools we can use in talking to an unbeliever is just draw out a little chart where you put man on one side, God, on the other side, and a problem between God and man. That is the problem of sin. You don’t have to get much more complicated than this if you’re talking to an unbeliever. You can just leave it like this. But if you want to understand all of the internal dynamics and complexities of salvation then you need to recognize that the Bible builds this out in a little more detail.
(Slide 10) The sin barrier that exists between God and man is really composed of several different facets. There is more to it than the fact that we sin. We are not condemned for our sin; we are condemned for Adam’s sin. We have this barrier. We have six different components to that barrier. The basic problem of sin is that which separates us from God but it has different features and facets to it. We’ve all sinned but that’s really Adam’s original sin. Because of what Adam did, we’re all sinners.
The old Puritan primer said, “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all.” It’s his sin that condemns the race. Everyone thinks it’s their nasty little sins that caused their separation from God but we sin because we are sinners. We sin because when we were born and came out of the womb we were already sinful. We were corrupt because of Adam’s original sin. We were already corrupted by sin before we ever exercised our volition. That’s the basic problem.
Then on top of that there’s a penalty for sin, which is spiritual death. Another problem is the nature of God. How can God have any kind of relationship with sinful, unrighteous people? How can light have fellowship with darkness, the Scripture says? Then we have the problem of unrighteousness because even if the sin is paid for, we are still unrighteous. How is God going to solve the problem of our corruption, which is that all of our righteousnesses are as filthy rags? We have another problem, which is spiritual death. We’re born spiritually dead and we’re born “in Adam”. That’s our position. He is our father and we are in the Adamic family.
So we’ve looked at all of these in the past and all the discussions on these are available under the series I taught on salvation. (Slide 11) So we’re going to look at just the one doctrine we’re talking about here and that’s regeneration. Regeneration solves the problem of spiritual death. So we need to come to understand part of what the problem is so we can understand the solution.
(Slide 12) Now if you talk to someone about being regenerate they’re probably going to look at you like you grew a third eye or a horn or something between your eyes and have no idea what you’re talking about. Even if you use the term born again. Jimmy Carter made that popular and overused it. It got overused and abused so much back in the 70s that it lost its meaning. I discovered that by witnessing to someone. I was in Denver at a family thing and I was talking to some guy that my only female cousin was dating at the time. I asked him if he had ever been born again. He said, “Yeah. I did. You know when I was in college all of a sudden I decided my parents had given me all these standards and all these rules to live by and finally I just threw them all away and I was like a new person. You know I didn’t worry about their morality any more. I didn’t worry about this or that.”
That’s a perversion of being born again. That tells us that the unbeliever doesn’t hear things the way we hear things. They often give Christian terminology different meanings. So we can’t just use these terms loosely. They’ve often become clichés and you know what happens with clichés. They lose their distinctiveness and they lose their meaning so we need to understand the words clearly enough to use our own vocabulary. The first point we need to cover in talking about this concept of regeneration is to talk about its meaning.
(Slide 13) It means to be spiritually born. Now some people pervert that. We have a lot of people who get in touch with their spiritual side. What that means in common everyday language, I think, is that they get in touch with their emotions. Don’t you think that’s how most people use that term? When you hear Hollywood stars say, “I’ve just become so much more spiritual” they are just dwelling on their emotions and their own little self-absorbed desires. Once they get into touch with fulfilling the fantasies of their little sin natures then they feel fulfilled. So this concept of spiritual birth is also something that has a lot of confusion to it so we have to define that.
What does it mean to be spiritually born? To be born implies something, doesn’t it? That something didn’t exist but now it does exist. So spiritual birth or being born again is for Christians the basic meaning. At the moment a person expresses faith alone in Christ alone, the Holy Spirit creates a human spirit. Now we’re going to break all of this down but at the beginning most of you have all of this. The Holy Spirit creates a human spirit and God the Father simultaneously imputes eternal life to that human spirit and imparts that spirit to the believer. The believer passes from what the Bible calls from spiritual death to spiritual life.
Now we have to break all of this down. (Slide 14) We’re going to do it slowly but first a couple of other terms. Regeneration is a technical, theological term that we classify this under and it’s really derived from three different Greek words. The first word is PALIGGENESIA. Now when you see a double “g” in Greek it’s usually pronounced like an “ng” so I pronounce it palingenesia. The second word is GENNAO ANOTHEN and the third word is ANAGENNAO. Notice that “gen” syllable that’s in the middle. That’s the word that means to be born or someone gives birth. When you read the sections in the Greek that say “so-and-so begat so-and-so” it’s got that verb in there that means to give birth to someone.
So PALI in the first word is a common word. What does “GENESIA” sound like to you? Sound anything like genesis? See, same root; something that begins. So PALI is the Greek word for again so that literally means to be born again. Then the second word, GENNAO ANOTHEN is found in John, chapter 3 when Jesus says to Nicodemus that you need to be born again. The word ANOTHEN can have one of two meanings. It can mean to be born a second time or it means to be born from above. You’ll find a lot of Calvinists say it means to be born from above because they’re emphasizing that the origin of the new birth is from God the Father. You’re born from above. But how did Nicodemus understand it? Nicodemus’s question is, “Does that mean I have to go into my mother’s womb again?” If he had understood Jesus to be talking about “from above” he wouldn’t have ever thought about going back into his mother’s womb. Context tells you what the meaning is. He understood what Jesus was talking about which was to be born a second time.
Then ANAGENNAO, that third word, is the one we find here in 1 Peter 1:3. That prefix, the preposition ANA, also means again so it’s the same verb GENNAO with that prefix again and it means to be born again. All of these words are used to communicate the same concept of regeneration or being born again. As I’ve said here and as we look at our passage in John 3, that’s really the foundation for understanding the spiritual birth.
(Slide 13) So we come down to the bottom for the definition and there are two key passages: John 3:3–7 and Titus 3:5. That’s where we’re going to spend some time this week and next week is looking at these two passages. Turn with me now to John 3. This is always one of my favorite passages. It’s a favorite passage for many people who witness. When I was in high school I went on a canoe trip with Camp Peniel up to Colorado. We were going up to the headwaters of the Rio Grande and coming down. One of the counselors on the trip, one of the leaders who mostly ran most of the trip, was a guy named Mike Turnidge. Mike was also the guy you heard me talk about. He was the one who had me read the book, The Genesis Flood, by John Whitcomb and Henry Morris back when I was about fourteen years old so this was a couple of years later. I remember we were camping at a campsite, one of the numerous roadside campsites in Colorado. They’re all over the place. We were on our way up there and we were up in the morning and getting all our gear together and everything. I went with Mike over to one of these old hand pumps to get water. We were pumping the hand pump to fill up our water pails. This kid, probably a little older than me, and a college kid, was camping there. He came over and Mike started talking to him. This was a great example for me. Mike started talking to him and he used that as a question. He said, “Are you a Christian? Have you ever been born again?” He just walked him through the gospel and the kid trusted Christ. He sat down with him and pulled out his little Bible and went through John 3 with him, explaining the importance of being born again. That was such a great example to watch someone in a witnessing situation like that. I’ve seen Gene Brown to do that too on more than one occasion. You always have to adapt to whatever the circumstances are. Every situation is going to be a little bit different.
(Slide 15) So we come to John, chapter 3. A couple of things we ought to understand when we look at this. It takes place very early in the gospel of John. It takes place very early in the Lord’s public ministry. He is first presented to the crowd in John, chapter 1, when He comes down to be baptized by John the Baptist. When John the Baptist saw Him he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” He said it twice. What we have in chapter one is basically four days at the very beginning of the Lord’s ministry when He is publicly presented by John the Baptist and then He picks up his first six disciples, John, James, Peter, Andrew, Phillip, and Nathaniel and they begin to follow Him.
Then He performs His very first ministry in Cana of Galilee in John chapter two. That is turning the water into wine. This is a creation miracle that is determining that He is the Creator God. Word of that would have begun to spread. Cana wasn’t very far from His hometown of Nazareth. We’re told in John 2:11–12, “This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee and manifested His glory.” That’s always intrigued me. When we think of the glory of God we think of the shekinah glory from the Old Testament. We think of a bright light. We think of the brilliance of God’s character but see, Jesus has that cloaked in hypostatic union. He’s not showing off His glory. His glory is in what He did. He showed that He was the eternal Creator God by what He did, not by some sort of flashing light and sound show.
From there we’re told that He moved to Capernaum in verse 12 and then He goes to Jerusalem. That is the first Passover He went to in His public ministry. He goes to Jerusalem and this is His very first ministry. What is His message? We’ve been studying in Matthew for a long time so here’s your pop quiz. What is His message during the first part of Jesus’ public ministry? What’s His message? Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Now that ought to give you a clue. What is Jesus going to tell Nicodemus in verse 3? “Unless you’re born again you can’t see the kingdom of God.” Now how many of us have read that for hundreds of times and what we hear is Heaven? Is that what Jesus is talking about? By implication that would be true but that’s not what He’s talking about. He’s offering the kingdom at that stage of His ministry. John the Baptist has been teaching that message. Jesus has been preaching that message and He’s going to send His disciples out with that message. That’s the message that Nicodemus has heard that He is preaching. Jesus is saying to Nicodemus, a Jew, maybe even the chief rabbi of Jerusalem at that time.
The name Nicodemus is probably a title. It means a ruler of the people. It’s probably not his everyday name. It probably refers to his position. The text says he is a ruler of the Jews, a teacher of the Law. He is probably the foremost Bible teacher in Jerusalem at this particular time. He knows what Jesus has done because he says, “We know that no one can do these signs unless God is with Him.” So the signs had pointed to who Jesus is as the Messiah.
Furthermore, Nicodemus in verse 2 says, “You are a teacher from God.” That was a title the rabbis had for the Messiah. He would be a teacher from God. He’s indicating by what he says that he understands that Jesus is the Messiah. Remember what Jim Myers said last Friday night at the Chafer Conference? He gave a tremendous presentation on how people were saved in the Old Testament. There are so many people today, scholars in New Testament departments and Old Testament departments throughout many different seminaries, who don’t really believe in messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. They say, “Those weren’t really messianic.” Yet we look at what happens in the New Testament and Jesus expects that Nicodemus would understand messianic truth from the Old Testament. If it’s not messianic how could He expect that? Well, clearly Nicodemus understands it. He says, “You’re a teacher from God”, which means you’re the Messiah.
The sense of what he’s saying is that we know you claim to be the Messiah. “For no one can do these signs unless God is with Him.” So Nicodemus already recognizes that He has God’s stamp of approval on Him. Jesus, then, is going to address him specifically. He says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” He uses these words GENNAO ANOTHEN which mean to be born again, to be born a second time.
This gives us a great insight into the core of the gospel message. You are spiritually dead, which is why a person needs to be born again. What we learn from this terminology is that for something to be born, something comes into existence that wasn’t in existence. That is very important because as you read different theologians and you talk to them about being born again they get fuzzy. Not all of them are clear. Even some of the people you think would be clear aren’t very clear. To be born means something goes form nonexistence to existence. Something positive, something new, is added.
In 2 Corinthians 5:21 we learn that we become a new creature in Christ, old things are passed away, all things are new. We become a new creature in Christ. There is something new that’s added. The reason I bring that out as I wrap this up for tonight is that I was reading an article that came out in a theological journal, The Evangelical Theological Journal in 1997. It wasn’t long before I moved up to Connecticut. A former classmate of mine in the doctoral program at Dallas Seminary wrote it and he was writing this article analyzing the conflict that occurred between Lewis Sperry Chafer and the Princeton theologian, Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield. Chafer wrote his book, He That is Spiritual, in 1918 and when Warfield, who was considered the most erudite Presbyterian theologian in America, wrote his book review he just slammed Lewis Sperry Chafer. He just ripped him up one side and down the other. There were a lot of issues there. I think Warfield misunderstood some of the things Chafer was saying because Chafer used victorious life language. He didn’t mean it so Warfield automatically thought he was getting into the victorious life Keswick teaching when he wasn’t. But all of that aside, when I read through that whole article I got to that guy’s conclusion he said, “One of the weaknesses in Chafer’s theology was he had a weak view of regeneration. He didn’t have a view of regeneration that limited the power of the sin nature.”
Now think about that. That is because the guy who wrote it is pretty reformed Calvinistic in his soteriology, in his understanding of the makeup of man. It clued me into the fact that in reformed or Calvinistic theology, regeneration isn’t the acquisition of a totally new nature where something new is there that wasn’t there before. It is the limitation of the sin nature. Now when you think about lordship salvation, this suddenly makes sense for in the reformed idea of salvation it means if you’re really saved you’re not going to do certain things. Or you may do them but not for very long because your sin nature is not as bad or as nasty as it was before you were saved.
But that’s not what regeneration means. It means that something new is given. In fact, there is something that limits the power of the sin nature. It doesn’t mean you can’t do those things any more. It means that you can control it. That’s what? Romans 6, the baptism by the Holy Spirit. Now there’s a relationship between those two which we’re going to have to get into here. What this is saying is that you have to be born again.
Now if you look down to verse 6, which we’ll start off with next time, Jesus is explaining what this new birth this. He says, “That which is born of flesh is flesh.” That’s material birth. We’re born through normal processes of procreation and the physical material is passed on from one generation to the next. “That which is born of flesh is flesh but that which is born of Spirit is spirit.” I think the King James Version has accurately interpreted this. In the Greek there’s one word for spirit, PNEUMA and the Greeks don’t capitalize. But if you look at your English text it says, “that which is born of Spirit [capital S] is spirit [lower case s]”. It means something that comes into existence is spirit. It is not something that is material.
God creates this human spirit and imparts that to the individual at the instant they trust in Christ. That is what it means to be a new creature in Christ. So we’ll come back next time and finish this and look at Titus 3:5. This is critical to understand the value we have as believers who are now new creatures in Christ. We have a new capacity and that capacity is drawn like a magnet to this living hope. That’s what it goes to. We are born again to a living hope. There’s a purpose for that. Not just so we can spend eternity sitting on a cloud strumming a harp but that there’s this living hope. Those of you who have listened to me long enough knows hope is connected to our eternal destiny and our rewards and inheritances in Heaven. That’s what this first couple of paragraphs in 1 Peter drives us toward in recognizing the importance of living in light of that future destiny.
“Father, we thank You for this opportunity to study these things this evening, to be encouraged by Your Word that in spite of negative things happening in our culture around us that looks like it’s just imploding, we can have joy. We can have hope and we need not be overly concerned about these things because we know that You are in control. We have been born again to a living hope that should shape our thinking and our attitude and everything we do on a day-to-day basis. We thank You for this in Christ’s name. Amen.”