The new birth is essential. That's what salvation is. It is God sovereignly coming down to a sinner and by His grace cleansing that sinner and planting His Spirit in that sinner so that the cleansing of that sinner takes care of his relationship to God and the planting of the Spirit takes care of his power to live in the will of God. Welcome to Grace to You with John MacArthur.
I'm your host, Phil Johnson. The wickedness of man, the eternal penalty for sin, and salvation in Christ. No doubt you are familiar with those elements of the gospel message, but what about the issue of regeneration? What exactly does it mean to be regenerated?
How does this happen, and why is it necessary, and what's the connection between being regenerated and benefiting from your trials? Those questions are the focus of John MacArthur's lesson today on Grace to You as he wraps up this timely series benefitting from life's trials. And now with a message titled, Born to Holiness, here is John MacArthur. Let's look together at verse 18 of James chapter 1. It says this, of His own will, speaking of the Father, God the Father mentioned in verse 17, of His own will begot He us with the word of truth that we should be a kind of first fruits of His creatures.
A simple verse, but one in which is bound up all of the richness of the new birth. In order to enter into the presence of God, man must be holy, set apart from sin unto righteousness. Now men are not holy.
That's obvious. They are not righteous. That is, they are sinful. They do not think right, speak right, act right, do right. They do not rightly perceive God. They do not rightly perceive themselves. They do not rightly perceive God's truth, God's revelation, or God's law, or God's will. But even though men are not holy and they are not right with God, for the most part they do not perceive that they are not holy. They do not understand that they are not righteous.
They do not willingly agree with the diagnosis of Scripture that they are sinful. Now the question comes up, what are you going to do to help this man? What are you going to do to change the situation? What does this man need? External changes are not enough. He cannot, by some resolution in his own mind, determine that he's going to obey the law of God and work his way out of this deadness. He cannot give himself new life. What he needs is to be recreated. He needs a new heart, a new inner person, a new life principle. He needs to be born again. He needs to start all over and come out different. As if, in the words of Nicodemus, he could crawl back into his mother's womb and start all over again with a different nature. Since holiness is the absolute condition for acceptance into fellowship with God, sinful man in his fallen dead condition can't ever have that fellowship and God won't accept his corrupt self so he needs a new life.
He needs a brand new life. So when we talk about the gospel or the new birth, we're not talking about adding something. We're not talking about tacking something on.
We're not talking about putting a ribbon on a sow. We're not talking about putting a new suit of clothes on an old man. We're talking about a total transformation. To enter into a right relationship with God demands a total new person. You have to go back and start all over again and be born all over again into a new life. So what I'm saying here is that a new birth is essential. That's what salvation is. It is God sovereignly coming down to a sinner and by his grace cleansing that sinner and planting his spirit in that sinner so that the cleansing of that sinner takes care of his relationship to God and the planting of the spirit takes care of his power to live in the will of God. And that's the purpose of regeneration. Now I want to ask four questions in our verse, James 1.18. Let's go back. James 1.18, I want to ask you four questions about regeneration. Very simple questions and it won't take us but a brief time to answer the four.
First question, what is it? You've just said that man cannot know God without holiness. Man is not holy. Man doesn't recognize his unholiness and when he does he tends to blame God. How's he ever going to get out of that dilemma? Here he is blaming God for it or not recognizing it.
How's he ever going to change? You say well somebody brings him some higher standards, some better ethics, a law that he's supposed to keep and he does it on his own. No, that which the flesh produces is more what?
More flesh. So what has to happen is he needs the divine intervention of a sovereign God who by his spirit comes in, washes away his sin, plants a new life in him, gives him his spirit to energize that new life unto obedience that is a sovereign act. That's really regeneration. But let's get into this verse and look at the four questions.
Question number one, what is it? What is the nature of regeneration? And I've already alluded to it, in fact already covered a great portion, but just this phrase, of his own will he begot us. That's the nature of regeneration. It is God bringing us forth, giving birth to us as new beings.
You're not the same. You're a whole new creation. It's the same verb by the way, exactly the same one used back in verse 15. God, when he conceives, brings forth regeneration, brings forth new life.
It's the very same verb. It is in an aorist tense so it looks back to the event of salvation when we were born by the divine parent and given new life as children of God. Now if you want a technical definition for he begot us, here's one that I think is excellent. It's given by the theologian Berkhoff many years ago, but really says it. Regeneration is that act of God by which the principle of new life is implanted in man and the governing disposition of his soul is made holy. That is a great definition. Regeneration is that act of God by which the principle of new life is implanted in man and the governing disposition of his soul is made holy.
That is a total transformation. That doesn't sound anything like Romans 3, does it? Or anything like Ephesians 2, 1 to 3. In fact, Peter says we become partakers of the divine nature. God gives us his own life, his own self, his own righteous character, his own holiness is implanted in us.
Just a tremendous thought. As a Christian, you and I possess the very nature of God, 2 Peter 1.4. We are partakers of the divine nature. Now in its fullness we are yet to receive all that that implies, but already that new life principle is planted in us.
This is completed in a moment of time. It is not a process. It is an event. It is an act by which God creates you new. It is a secret work. It cannot be perceived. That's why we can't, in the words of Jesus, tell the wheat from the tares because this particular act is imperceptible.
It is known only through its effect. We can't see God recreate someone. That is a divine miracle unseen by any human eye. But it plants in the person a new life principle and a new disposition that is enabled and driven to keep the law of God.
Marvelous. It overcomes the deadness of sin and the deadliness of sin. No longer are we subject to sin.
Paul says in Romans chapter 6, sin no longer has dominion over us. We now follow a new master willingly and eagerly. Jesus said in John 10, I am come that they might have what? Light. What do dead men need most? Life. And so He comes to give us new life. So what is regeneration?
What is it? He begot us. What does that mean? He gave us new life. Total transformation of the inner person.
Second question. Who does it? Well, I've already told you that from John chapter 3. Who does it? Look back at verse 18 again. Of His own will, He begot us. He, being God the Father, mentioned in verse 17 as the source of every good and every perfect gift. Of His own will is first in the Greek in the verse which puts it in the emphatic position showing that the sovereign will of God is the root of this new life. It couldn't be any other way because how is a dead person going to give himself life?
Impossible. The source of new life is God. God. It is the grace of the giver, not the desire of the receiver. That desire of the receiver is prompted by the grace of the giver.
So it is holy the choice and the work of Almighty God. If I am saved and you are saved, who gets all the credit? God does. We praise Him.
You say, but wait a minute. Didn't I receive Christ? Didn't I believe? Of course you did. You reached out and received Him and believed. Look at verse 12 of John 1.
As many as received Him, to them gave He the right or the authority to become the children of God, even to them that believe on His name. You say, that's right. I believed and I received. Didn't I do that?
Didn't I initiate that? Look at verse 13. Who were born, not of blood, not talking about a human birth, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of what? God. You believed and you received because it was the will of whom? Of God. It is a sovereign thing. Yes, you believed.
Yes, you received. Behind it all was the sovereign, determinative, gracious will of God. No child has ever been born into the world, humanly speaking, because he or she wanted to be born.
Fair enough? The birth of a child is strictly the decision of parents, not of unborn children. Spiritual birth is analogous to that. It is the decision of the sovereign, divine parent. No man comes unto me, Jesus said, except the Father what? Draws him.
Except the Father draws him. And even the very faith we exercise is granted graciously by God. So our conscious experience of conversion, our conscious experience of committing our life to Jesus Christ, of believing in His death and resurrection, of opening our hearts to receive Him, of believing the gospel, all is a consequence of His sovereign will. Beloved, when you stop to think that you're saved because He predetermined in eternity past to save you, that is a marvelous thing. God, in His grace and love, predetermined to have an eternally intimate love relationship with you just because that's what He wanted.
Marvelous. John put it this way. We love Him because He, what?
First loved us. A child gives love to a human parent as a response to parental love and care and the life they gave that child. And because God has will to save us, because God has will to give us new life and a holy nature, it is absolutely impossible, James says, that He could ever lead us into sin.
You see how absolutely incongruous that is? What a thrilling thought. He predestinated us to set His love on us, to give us new life that we might have eternal fellowship with Him, and He longs for us to be in His presence. And when we go into His presence, He'll make us like His own Son, and He'll pour out eternal blessing on us forever and ever and ever. No wonder, John says in 1 John 3, behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed on us that we should be called the children of God. He can't even think of an adjective.
It's absolutely indescribable. He just says what manner of love. He couldn't even come up with an adjective to describe that kind of predetermined, sovereign, free choice to love. Now, looking back at James 1.18, just one other thought about that particular point. When it says of His own will, it uses the word bullithace, eris participle. It is not just a wish, but it is an active will of accomplishment. It isn't God just wishing it. He wishes us to be saved. It is He wills it to the extent that it actually happens.
May I say something to you that's very profound theologically? This is what we would say is God's productive will. That is, when He wills this, it happens. It is not a wish. You can wish something, I wish all how I wish this would happen, and it may be remotely unrelated to what will happen. Or you can say, I will that to happen because it's within your power to make it happen.
That's the intent of the word here. God's desire produces the end of that desire. So what is regeneration? It is God recreating us.
Who does it? God does it by His sovereign power and we respond to that sovereign grace. Third question, okay? We've asked what and who.
Here's the third one. How does it happen? How does it happen? You say, well, does God just reach down and bang, you're saved? Does God just zap you?
How does it happen? Well, let's look back at the verse. Verse 18, of His own will He begot us, here it comes, with the word of truth. With the word of truth, or literally by truth's word, by truth's word. That means the word of God, the Scripture. You see, God regenerates us and washes us and cleanses us and gives us a new inner person and plants the Spirit in us through the power of His what? Of His word.
Of His word. Men are born again by the power of the word. If you don't hear the word, you don't hear the message that saves. In 1 Thessalonians 2.13, Paul is commending the Thessalonians for how they responded to the preaching of God's word.
He says, for this cause we thank God without ceasing because when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you received it not as the word of men but as it is in truth the word of God, listen to this, which effectually is working also in you that believe. It is the word that works with a believing heart. God sovereignly moves to redeem. A person responds to the exposure to the word with faith and salvation takes place. God's will then of salvation is brought to the heart of a person through an understanding of the word mixed with faith and regeneration takes place.
How does it happen? It happens through the word of God. And again, I remind you of Titus 3.5, not by works of righteousness which we have done. We don't get salvation and new life by doing things, by trying to obey God in the flesh. But according to His mercy, He saved us, watch this, by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit. There are the same two things, the washing of the water of the word and the planting of the Holy Spirit.
That's the sovereign work of God. So the word of truth is the issue. Now let me just take that phrase a little bit further, the word of truth or truth's word.
That particular designation is used several times in the New Testament. In 2 Corinthians 6, 7, you don't need to look these up, I'll just mention them to you. It says, by the word of truth, by the power of God, and it goes on. In Colossians 1, 5, it says, of which you heard before, listen to this, in the word of the truth of the gospel, the word of the truth of the gospel. And there, the word of the truth is specifically linked to the gospel. By the way, 2 Timothy 2, 15 also mentions the word of truth, rightly dividing the word of truth. So the word of truth in general is the word of God. It is that which God brings to us to unfold an understanding to us of His revelation of Himself. In specific, on basis of Colossians 1, 5, we could call it the word of the truth of the gospel. Now with that in mind, we go back to James and we can just simply say that we wouldn't be out of line to say that we are born again with the word of truth, not only God's general revelation, but as in Colossians 1, 5, His specific revelation of the gospel. And you say, what's the gospel? The good news is that Jesus came, died, and rose again. So people are saved then when God sovereignly sets out to give them new birth, to give them a new nature, to wash away their sin, plant His Spirit in them. He brings them an understanding of that through the knowledge that comes in the gospel that is preached or that is given to them. That mixed with faith results in the new birth. So God sovereignly saves by moving into a life and recreating that life, but that takes place when a person comes to hear and understand the gospel and it is mixed with faith. And that brings about the new birth. What is it?
It is total transformation. Who does it? God does it by His own sovereign will.
How does it happen? By hearing and believing the gospel of Jesus Christ that He died on the cross and rose again. That comes through the revealed word of God. So God sovereignly chooses to redeem, comes down, cleanses the heart, plants His Spirit, but in order to do that, the heart must comprehend the gospel as clearly preached and that comprehension mixed with faith brings about new life, new life.
Now if anything is to change in us, God must do it, but we must respond as well to the gospel. Now that leaves us with one question, one question. Why is it done?
Why? Why does God bother? We know what, we know who, we know how, but why? What is the purpose of making us new? The end of verse 18, this is marvelous. In order that, we should be a kind of first fruits of His creation.
Boy, what a statement. We could really go to town on this one. The ramifications of this are just tremendous. That we should be, that's an ace with the verb to be, that's a purpose clause. With the purpose of producing a new kind of creation.
That's what God wants. He wants a new kind of creation and we're the first fruits of that. That's great, but we're just the first fruits.
What is that? The first fruits was the promise of the full crop. The promise of the full crop and we are the first fruits.
What a thought. God says, I want to take you to be my special possession. I want to take you to belong to me to be symbols of the full new creation yet to come. Creation, it says in Romans 8, is groaning, waiting for its recreation. And we also are crying out for the recreation not of our soul, we've had that, but of our what? Of our bodies where the flesh hangs on. This new life we have in Christ is a taste of future glory when the whole universe will be recreated. So, what a marvelous privilege is ours. What is regeneration?
It's recreation making us all new from the inside. Who does it? God does it sovereignly.
When does it happen or how does it happen? It happens when we hear with believing hearts the word of the gospel and then God mixes our faith with his sovereign power, transforms us. And why does he do it? Because we are to stand out in the world as living examples of where this world is headed when he recreates it. Now, to put this thing back in James' context, try to tell me now that God wants us to sin and I'll tell you, you've got to screw loose. There's no way God wants you to sin. No way he's pleased with your sin. He created you to be a model of a sinless society.
That's what he wants. So when you sin, don't blame him. Put the blame where it ought to be on your flesh and long for the day when your flesh is redeemed. That's what it means to be born again.
And we have much to praise God for. You've been listening to John MacArthur, Chancellor of the Masters University and Seminary, as he continues his study from James chapter 1 showing you how to honor God and how to grow spiritually during the hardest times of life. It's part of John's series on Grace To You titled, Benefiting From Life's Trials. John, from what we've seen in these past couple of weeks, it's pretty clear that we don't need to be asking, will I ever enter into a dark valley? Because there's no avoiding trials.
The bigger question is, how will I respond when those trials hit? Yeah, and I think this is really the acid test of our faith. And that's what Peter says. He says, essentially, that the benefit of a severe trial is that it proves your faith. It's not that it proves it to God. God knows your faith is real.
He gave it to you. But it proves it to you. And the severe character of the trial tests the validity of your faith in this sense that if your faith survives, then it's the real thing. And so that is the gift that trials give. Not only do they perfect us, not only do they help us grow spiritually, but they assure us of our faith, our true faith. So when people talk about assurance of salvation, how do you know you're really a believer? Your greatest evidence of that is when you go through the darkest trial and your faith holds, and you come out the other side in confidence in God's plan and God's purpose. You know that's a supernatural faith. So you've been listening to Benefiting from Life's Trials.
We've just finished the series. Trials don't have to dominate our lives, and they don't have to cause us pain and suffering endlessly. Rather, God intends them for our joy and rejoicing. We know trials will come. James 1 gives us so much practical truth for looking at those trials in a triumphant way. The study is available on six MP3 downloads, also available in a six-CD album.
And also remember what I've been saying for the last few days. Benefiting from Life's Trials is also framed up in a study guide, 120 pages, including the outlines for the sermons in the series and helpful explanations for everything we covered. Great encouragement to give to someone you know who has been knocked down hard by a trial. And everybody's either in one or headed for one, so this will be a helpful tool that you can use with many that you come across. For the audio series and the study guide, both titled Benefiting from Life's Trials, get in touch with grace to you today.
Yes, do, because, you know, even though there's no way to avoid trials in this life, God really does give you what you need to find strength and peace no matter what comes your way. This material from James is great to have on hand. To get your copy of Benefiting from Life's Trials, the study guide, the audio, or both, contact us today. Call toll-free 800-55-GRACE or go to gty.org. The brand new Benefiting from Life's Trials study guide is the fifth volume in our relaunched study guide series.
It costs $7 and shipping is free. To purchase the Benefiting from Life's Trials study guide, call 800-55-GRACE or go to gty.org. Also, as John said, you can download all six messages from Benefiting from Life's Trials free of charge in MP3 or transcript format at gty.org.
If you prefer the six CD album, we also have that available. You'll find all of it at our website, gty.org. Well friend, if you're regularly finding encouragement from this broadcast, let us know when you contact us. Send your email to letters at gty.org. And to express your support, call us at 800-55-GRACE or go to the website gty.org. And now on behalf of John MacArthur, this is Phil Johnson reminding you to watch Grace to You Television, look for it this Sunday, and then be here with us next week for more verse-by-verse Bible teaching with John MacArthur. It all starts Monday with a half hour of unleashing God's truth one verse at a time, on Grace to You.
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