If you were to ask the average Christian in the average church, which comes first? Do you believe and then you're born again, or are you born again and then you believe? Well, the answer of the Scripture is we must be born again if we are to believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome to the Monday edition of Renewing Your Mind. I'm Lee Webb. Well, years ago you could count me among those who would say that first you have to believe, then you're born again.
I'm grateful for R.C. Sproul and this ministry, along with pastors and elders from my local church, who helped me discover what the Bible says about salvation, about the new birth. And that's the focus of a series we're pleased to bring you this week by Dr. Stephen Lawson. Last time we noted that the new birth is a sovereign birth. And in this session, I want to use a theological word to describe the new birth, what it is. It is a monergistic birth. That may be a word that you're not familiar with.
You may be familiar with it. But the word monergistic is a word used by theologians to describe the new birth. And it is even more specific as it relates to the sovereignty of God. Let's talk about what this word monergistic means. The word mono means one or single. For example, monogamy means one husband, one wife. Monopoly, one person, has an exclusive possession or control of something. So, mono meaning one.
And then the Greek word erg, which means a unit of work. Monergism means there is only one agent doing a work. Now, the opposite of monergism, where there is one active agent accomplishing a work, is synergism.
And the prefix syn, S-Y-N, not S-I-N, but S-Y-N, carries the idea of two or more agents working together to accomplish a purpose. Well, when we read the Bible, it becomes very clear that in the new birth, there is only one active agent, capital A, who is doing the work, and it is God working by His Spirit. And so, the new birth is not a joint effort between us and God. It is an exclusive solo act by God in which He works independently. Now, in John chapter 3, I want us to read back through these verses yet one more time, and each session we're going to be appealing back to John chapter 3. But I want to begin reading in verse 3, and I want you to… you tell me, who is at work in the act of regeneration? Is it just God?
Is it God and man? You tell me as I read these verses. You tell me what God's part is, and you tell me what our part is. Beginning in verse 3, Jesus answered and said to Him, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again… Remember, we said that really can be translated, born from above. Unless one is born again or born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God. So, to be born from above, is that our work or is that God's work? Look at verse 5. Truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit or water, even the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. Is it us or is it God?
Is it a combination or is it exclusive, one or the other? Well, it's pretty obvious in verse 3. It's God.
You're going to have to look very hard to find our part. You'll have to look at the white spaces between the black print because it's just not there in the black print. Look at verse 6. That which is born of the flesh is flesh. That which is born of the Spirit is Spirit. Born of the Spirit. There's exclusivity with the operation of the Holy Spirit of God. In verse 7, Do not marvel that I say to you, you must be born again.
And again there, it is born from above. And then finally, in verse 8, at the end of verse 8, so is everyone who is born of the Spirit. It's very clear to me as we make observations that God is the sole initiator and God is the sole agent in the new birth.
Man is passive. God alone is active. We do not cause ourselves to be born again. It is God and God alone who does this work. So therefore, man is totally dependent upon the mercy and the grace of God in this act of regeneration. When we consider the Old Testament, the new birth, regeneration, is always presented in a monergistic way. It is always presented as God alone is the active, sovereign agent in the new birth as He acts upon man. I want to read some verses from the prophets, from Jeremiah and from Ezekiel, and I want you to listen for two words.
It's a subject verb. I will. God is the speaker and I want you to listen for I will. You will not hear we will. You will not hear you will. You will only hear I will. Jeremiah 31 and verse 33.
Listen to God speaking through His prophet. I will put my law within them and on their heart I will write it. I will forgive their iniquity and their sin.
I will remember no more. Four times God says I will, I will, I will, I will. The God who alone can forgive sin is the God who alone can change the human heart and write His word upon our hearts. And by the way, that is why everyone who is born again is marked by obedience from the heart because God writes His word upon their heart. Ezekiel chapter 11 and verse 19.
Again, this is so clear that God is the exclusive agent in regeneration. Ezekiel 11 and verse 19. I shall give them one heart. I will put a new spirit within them and I shall take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh that they may walk in my statutes and keep my ordinances and do them.
Did you hear that again? I shall, I will, I will. This is God at work in the new birth. Again, in Ezekiel 36 and verse 25, I want you to hear again this emphatic, exclusive statement of God's monergistic regeneration that God and God alone is the one who is the author of our new birth.
Ezekiel 36, beginning in verse 25. I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean. And I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes and you will be careful to observe my ordinances. Please note this emphatic, exclusive, repeated use of I will in each of these divine assertions. God is claiming to be the sole and exclusive author and agent, capital A, in our new birth. Again, it's not we will together working with God. That would be synergistic.
It is I will. That is monergistic. To be more specific, regeneration is the root. Saving faith is the fruit. We have said last time regeneration precedes faith and regeneration produces faith. Listen to a couple of more verses that show that God must first regenerate the heart before the heart can exercise saving faith in Jesus Christ. If you were to ask the average Christian in the average church which comes first, do you believe and then you're born again or are you born again and then you believe? Well, the answer of the Scripture is we must be born again if we are to believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ. Let me give you a couple more verses that make this very clear. John 11 and verse 26, these again are the words of our Lord and in John 11 verse 25, Jesus says, I am the resurrection and the life. In verse 26, Jesus says, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?
Please note the order. Everyone, so in other words, there are no exceptions to this. Everyone who lives and believes in Me. It's not that some believe and then they live. No, everyone who lives, who is made alive by the resurrecting power of the Lord Jesus Christ in regeneration. Everyone who is made alive believes in Christ. One other verse is very worth mentioning, 1 John 5 verse 1. And we'll look at this in yet another session, but let's just initially look at this verse at this time because it gives the order of regeneration and faith. 1 John 5 verse 1, and the key is found in the verb tenses. Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God. Now, whoever believes, that's right now. Whoever now believes in Jesus Christ, the proper translation has already been born of God.
It's a totally different verb tense. It is the new birth that precedes saving faith. It is the new birth that produces saving faith.
Now, let me say this. Logically and theologically, regeneration must precede faith. But chronologically, it all happens at the same time. There is a cause and effect. Regeneration produces faith. But there is not some gap of time in between where someone is walking around in no man's land. They're neither dead in sin nor are they alive in Christ.
They're just nothing. No. As soon as God regenerates the soul, it immediately is alive in the Lord Jesus Christ. And there is instantly given the gift of repentance and faith, such that logically and theologically, regeneration precedes and produces faith, but chronologically, it all happens at the same split second. John Piper, who is a very astute pastor and author, writes at this point, quote, your act of believing and God's act of begetting are simultaneous. God does the begetting and you do the believing at the same time. And, and he says this is very important, His doing is the decisive cause of your doing.
Okay? God's doing is the cause of your doing. The operation of His will is the cause of the operation of your will. His begetting is the cause of your believing. That's what Piper is saying. Now, let me continue to quote. His begetting, begetting meaning being birthed, born into the kingdom.
His begetting is the decisive cause of your believing. And Piper makes this astute observation and gives an illustration. If you have a hard time thinking of one thing causing another thing if they are simultaneous, think of fire and heat or fire and light. The instant there is fire, there is heat. The instant there is fire, there is light. But we would not say that the heat caused the fire. Nor would we say the light caused the fire. We say that the fire caused the heat and the fire caused the light. Close quote.
It's a very good illustration. The one produces the other, but you will never find one without the other. Wherever there is fire, there is immediately heat.
Wherever there is fire, there is immediately light. Yet one produces the other. So it isn't a new birth. It is regeneration, God's begetting that causes our saving faith. Yet you will never find God's begetting independent of saving faith. You will not find people walking around who are regenerate, but who are not believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. As soon as God begets divine life within the soul, there is the immediate believing upon the Lord Jesus Christ.
It's monergistic. It is God who is causing this. John Owen is a towering theological giant of the Puritan age.
He's called England's Calvin. John Owen comments, to say that we are able by our own efforts to think good thoughts or give God spiritual obedience before we are spiritually regenerate is to overthrow the gospel and the faith of the universal church in all ages. Close quote. In other words, you just need to go stand on an island by yourself if you think that you can produce your own spiritual birth. Owen then adds that the biblical teaching is that, quote, regeneration is the work of the Holy Spirit unaided by human effort or cooperation. Yet as soon as God acts in regeneration, there is the human response in believing upon the Lord Jesus Christ because in that instant and in that moment, God the Holy Spirit authors saving faith and He grants the gift of repentance. And just as the baby comes out of the womb and immediately cries out and gasps for breath that there would be air to fill the lungs, even so the moment one is birthed into the kingdom and there is the spiritual delivery of new life, the very first act of the newly born spiritual soul is to call out to God for salvation and to commit one's life to Jesus Christ.
Charles Hodge, who was the great Princetonian professor of systematic theology in the 19th century, speaks to how important it is that we have this order in this proper place. He writes, no more soul destroying doctrine could well be devised than the doctrine that sinners can regenerate themselves and repent and believe just when they please as it is a truth both of Scripture and of experience that the unrenewed man can do nothing of himself to secure his salvation. It is essential that he should be brought to practical conviction of that truth. Well, that's what we are belaboring and that is what we are underscoring, that God alone is the sole agent by His Spirit in the new birth.
We are totally dependent upon Him. In fact, here in John chapter 3, please note when saving faith is even mentioned in this context. There is an order here. Remember, we've been saying regeneration precedes faith. That's the way it even is in this chapter. Notice the new birth is spoken of in verse 3, verse 5, verse 6, verse 7, and verse 8. Your eye can see there being born of the Spirit and being born above, but there is no mention of saving faith, is there? Not until we come to verse 12 and verse 15 and verse 16 is there even any mention of saving faith. In verse 12, if I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? Only now does he begin to address the subject of saving faith, verse 15, so that whoever believes will in him have eternal life. And then, of course, John 3, 16, for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. And then he goes on to talk about in verse 18, he who believes in Him is not judged.
He who does not believe in Him has been judged already. We even see in John chapter 3 the mention of the teaching of regeneration before he even addresses the subject of saving faith. And I think that was representative of even the theological and logical order, and the order salutis of God's working out salvation in the new birth. So, I believe it is very clear that the Bible teaches that regeneration is exclusively a work of God the Holy Spirit in our lives.
We are passive in our new birth. God is active. Yet, when God acts, it produces our act to call upon the name of the Lord. Charles Haddon Spurgeon says, the new creation is as much and entirely the work of God as the old creation.
The God who said, let there be light, and instantly, immediately, there was light is the same God who speaks into our darkened hearts and says, let there be life, and there is life. Let us give glory to God for our new birth. Let us in our hearts fall on our knees before Him and say, you are such a gracious saving Father to me. You have birthed me into Your kingdom, and I will spend the rest of my life in all eternity glorifying Your name, that You have birthed such a rebel as me. You have birthed one who is so far away from Your kingdom as me, one who is a stranger and alien to Your kingdom, that You chose to birth me into Your kingdom. Surely, Your grace is infinite and fathomless.
It is beyond what I can even comprehend that You would take enemies and regenerate them and bring them into Your family and into Your kingdom. To God be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
Amen. What a beautiful conclusion to Stephen Lawson's message here on Renewing Your Mind. I'm Lee Webb, and I'm glad you could be with us for this Monday edition of our program as we air highlights of Dr. Lawson's series on what it means to be born again. In 12 messages, Dr. Lawson shows us from Scripture what the new birth is and how it's applied. You can request the two-DVD set of this series. It's titled The New Birth when you give a donation of any amount to Ligonier Ministries. You can give your gift online at renewingyourmind.org, or you can call us at 800-435-4343. And when you request the series today, you'll also have access to the digital study guide that includes outlines of each message, study questions, and suggestions for further reading, perfect for a small group or a Sunday school class. We will add it to your online learning library when you request The New Birth by Dr. Stephen Lawson.
Our phone number again is 800-435-4343, or if you prefer, you can make your request securely online at renewingyourmind.org. In John chapter 3, we read about a Jewish teacher named Nicodemus who approached Jesus and asked Him what being born again meant. He was the number one teacher of Israel. That's what verse 10 indicates with the definite article V. Are you the teacher of Israel, and you do not understand these things? You have totally missed the message of the Old Testament. Tomorrow Dr. Lawson returns to show us that The New Birth was promised from the very beginning. I hope you'll join us Tuesday for Renewing Your Mind.
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