No Salvation Without Regeneration

The Lord gives small gifts to His children. It is a good thing for a man or woman to have passions, as long as we enjoy these gifts in light of the one who gives. People that are passionate about cooking can praise each time they begin to put together a recipe for gift of food God has given. The person who is into restoring old cars can easily see the shadow of 2 Corinthians 5:17, where Paul writes of how God takes a spiritually dead sinner and makes him a new creation in Christ.

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31.

As for me, I have always loved fitness. As with most earthly passions, it started off at a young age as a vain pursuit. However, since my own conversion, I constantly see how very similar physical discipline is to spiritual discipline. God gives his children small gifts in the form of hobbies.

But to the true Christian, these gifts are merely shadows that direct our affections, not to the gift itself, but to the giver of all things, the Lord Jesus.

A few years ago when my wife Lacy and I owned a Gym in Atlanta, I had an interesting man join our gym. We’ll call him Roger for the sake of anonymity. Roger was about six feet tall, and was slightly overweight. I had asked Roger what brought him to our gym, and his answer surprised me. He said he was a professional bodybuilder, and was in training for his next competition coming up in six months. I would have never guess that from his out of shape appearance, but I figured if he truly was a bodybuilder, I guess he could whip himself into competition shape within six months with hard work.

In the weeks to come, I proceeded to watch Roger when he came in to train. He was very quick to strike up a conversation with anyone who would listen and tell them he was a bodybuilder, but I never saw him break a sweat. Further confusion entered my mind when I ran into him at a local fast food restaurant eating a hamburger and fries. Six months flew by, and Roger looked the same way he did when he had first joined. He always stood by his profession that he was a bodybuilder, but would always find an excuse as to why he didn’t compete when he said he was going to.

I knew some real bodybuilders. One was a guy named Matt, who shared with me once that he was hooked on junk food as a kid and extremely overweight. However, one day that all changed as he threw out all the junk in exchange for healthy foods and Matt began a rigorous daily workout routine. In time, Matt was a new creation. He was not the same person he once was. Matt had new desires. New affections. And although he admitted to being tempted by junk food from time to time, he in no small way wanted to go back to how he used to be. Matt was a real bodybuilder not in just his profession, but it was evident in the way he lived his life.

I have a great fear that our world has many professing Christians who have not truly been converted. They are very similar to Roger, professing Christianity with little to no life change being evident. Much of our evangelical culture has all but forgotten the doctrine of regeneration. It is not predominantly taught today that salvation is a supernatural work of God within the heart of man, but rather that salvation can be attained by man making a decision, and then after this decision has been made, reminding man, “You made a profession of faith, now act like it.”

Iain Murray expounded on this dangerous deception. Murray said, “When a man first becomes concerned about salvation, he commonly thinks he can do what is needed. He then embarks on a quest to improve himself. But the more he seeks to obey and be holy, the more hopeless he finds his position to be. Instead of getting better, he finds he grows worse. What God requires begins to look like an impossibility. The recognition of that impossibility is exactly what the spirit of God intends to bring about. When the disciples observed the way Christ dealt with the Rich Young Ruler, and saw the man go away sorrowful, they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, “Who then can be saved?” Then Jesus told them why He had spoken as he had, “With men it is impossible, but not with God.” (Mark 10:27). The Rich Young Ruler was never convinced of this or he would have seen that he was truly lost and in need of a deliverance outside of himself.”

His words are evident still today. And how clearly Jesus speaks to salvation being a regenerating work of God in the account of the Rich Young Ruler.

“And someone came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” Then he *said to Him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not commit murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; and You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  The young man *said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”  But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.” Matthew 19:16-22.

The Rich Young Ruler indicated that his heart was wrong in his very first statement. “What good thing must I do to inherit eternal life?” There are two things very wrong with his question. First, he is concerned with what he must do to inherit eternal life. With the best of intentions, we at times teach this false theology inside of the church. We tell people things like, “You must pray a sinners prayer, be baptized, and then get involved in a church.” Although all of these things are good things, they are incapable of saving a person in and of themselves.

A sinners prayer is a great tool to lead a person in, but if that person has not been discipled to know the depth of their sins, the sacrifice of Christ, and has not personally been pierced to the heart and broken over their spiritually dead lives, no words recited have the power to save a man. In the same manner, baptism is required, but not as a means of salvation, but rather as evidence of salvation. Ive seen far to many people hear an emotion driven sermon and be encouraged to immediately jump in the baptism waters with no real brokenness in hopes to get them saved.

Iain Murray said it best. A man who seeks salvation in himself, much like the Rich Young Ruler, will naturally inquire how to do “good” works. They will attempt to do better and to change their habits, but in time only have their desire for sin increase and begin to hate the righteousness that is keeping them from what they really love, that being sin. Frustration will eventually set in. And when the emotional high final wears off, they will return to their life of debauchery, all the while thinking that they are saved because they made a profession.

In the Great Awakening of 1740’s, Jonathan Edwards was elated at the many professions of faith he saw at the preaching of the Gospel. However, in the years that followed, he felt great remorse because a great many of those who converted reverted back to a Godless life after the excitement had worn off.

Edwards wrote of this conviction, “There are many that think themselves born again that have never experienced any change of nature at all; that havent had one new principle added, nor one sinful disposition mortified; that never saw one glimpse of divine light; never saw the least of God’s or Christ’s glory. They think themselves now renewed in the whole man that never have had one finger renewed.”

Edwards went on to say this of true regeneration;

“They that have truly converted are new men, new creatures, and new not only within, but without. They are sanctified throughout, in spirit, soul, and body. Old things are passed away, all things are becoming new. They have new hearts, new eyes, new ears, new tongues, new hands, new feet. They walk in newness of life, and continue to do so until the end of life.”

Edwards stated that sinful man is governed by false affections, meaning he may think he has a love for God, but only because God is in some way profitable to him. But the truly regenerate person loves God for his holiness and moral excellence.

I think of it like this. If you put a plate of steak and a plate of garbage in front of a pig, it will by its nature gravitate towards the slop. If you put a clean mattress and a pool of mud in front of the pig, it would choose the mud. The pig may try the steak and may try the mattress for a time, but will soon begin to crave the slop and mud that is natural to it. The pig cannot change its natural desires.

Now imagine that someone came and supernaturally transformed that pig into a human being. The pig, now a human, would look at the slop hanging from his mouth and begin to be disgusted. He would see his nakedness and be ashamed. He would begin to desire that which is clean over the mud and slop. In short, his nature would be transformed.

This is a picture of Biblical regeneration. Man can make a profession, but he has no power in himself to change his heart. By nature, man is not good. In fact, Jesus told this to the Rich Young Ruler that no man is good but God alone. It is not in our sinful nature to be good. By nature, we are enemies of God.

“Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” Colossians 1:21.

And this was due to our sinful nature.

“among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” Ephesians 2:3.

The next verse of Ephesians 2 says this…..

“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” Ephesians 2:4.

Notice the verse did not say, “You were children of wrath, but you turned things around.” BUT GOD….the most beautiful words in scripture. Offensive to man are these words, because so desperately do we in our fallen nature want to take some credit for the work of God. God is the only one who can regenerate a man’s heart. Salvation is a supernatural work of God, not a work of man.

Going back to the account of the Rich Young Ruler, not only did he think good deeds would get him into eternity, but he revealed his wrong motives for seeking God. He asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Heaven is not a place for people who are afraid of dying, Heaven is a place for people who love Jesus. The question we should all desire to ask is, “What must I do to know Jesus?” He is the prize, not crowns of glory or mansions in the sky. Christ is the draw of every true believer.

Jesus went on to list external acts of the law pointing to fruits of a new creation. They Ruler proudly said that he had accomplished this moral feats. Then Jesus dropped the bomb. Jesus told the Ruler he must sell everything he owned, and the ruler walked away because this was not something he was willing to give up.

Jesus was not saying that to be a Christian you must be homeless. Rather, He was saying to be a Christian you must not have any idols in your life more precious to you than God. Jesus knew that in the case of the Rich Young Ruler, his wealth was his idol. It was his God. And it was something he was not willing to part with. This was his fallen, sinful human nature. This is all of us without Christ giving a new heart. We all have worldly desire that we pursue instead of God. But when God regenerates a mans heart, he supernaturally changes his nature and new desires begin to set in. Suddenly, the new man begins to recognize idols in his life and is ashamed that they have been a greater love than Christ.

Upon seeing the Rich Young Ruler walk away, Jesus used this meeting as a time to teach His disciples about regeneration being of God and not of man.

“And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?”  And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:23-26.

This example was not primarily used to teach on the evils of wealth, as many will misuse it. Because the bible never says that MONEY is the root of all evil. Instead it says “The LOVE of money is the root of all evil.” 1 Timothy 6:10. Jesus was saying to the disciples that it is hard for a man to part with his idols. An idol being anything we love more than God. John Calvin compared the human heart to and “idol factory.” C.S. Lewis said that man in his unconverted state is satisfied to play with mud pies instead of the holiday at sea that God offers in salvation. And the disciples realized this. Maybe they even realized this draw towards worldly things within themselves. “Who can be saved”, they asked. It is impossible for man to deny the cravings of his flesh is what they were getting at. And they were right. But look at Jesus response.

“With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

You can’t be good enough. Christ can.

You can’t change your evil ways. Christ can.

You can’t deny the cravings of your flesh. Christ can.

You can’t save yourself. Only Christ can.

We do not possess the power of life and death, and we cannot resurrect that which is physically nor spiritually dead.

Praise Christ He can.

The question is not have I been through a Christian ritual. The question is not have I made a profession or even have I been baptized. The question we need ask regarding true regenerative salvation is, “Have I been made a new creation?” Is your life different from before knowing Christ? I often use the example in church of how I am a movie lover. And my favorites were always war movies. Rambo and any Chuck Norris flick I could find. But when Christ changed me, I had a new disdain in my life that I never had before. All of the sudden, it made me sick to my stomach to hear the Lord’s name taken in vain in these movies. Try as I did to justify, watching them only made me sicker and angry. As much as I love movies, I cannot sit through a movie with even one instance of the Lord’s name taken in vain. Not because I feel I have to. Because He is now my new desire, and we protect and defend that which is most precious to us.

Have you been given a new heart? My dear friend, please do not hang your salvation on what someone may have told you. Ask yourself, “Has God done a supernatural work in my life and in my heart?” Do I desire Him more and more? Ask yourself “What idols are currently in my life that are more precious to me than Christ?” Must you read about Him, write about Him, tell others about Him? Is Jesus becoming your primary affection in life? The question is not have you ever repented of your sins. The question is, are you continuing to repent on a daily basis of revealed sins in your life? Are you staying stagnant in your love and knowledge of God or are you being sanctified? Are you growing in holiness? Don’t ask yourself, “Was there ever a time I walked with Him?” Instead, ask yourself, “Am I still walking with Him?”  It is Jesus who begins this supernatural work of salvation within a man, and it is He that will carry it to completion.

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6.

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