Thursday, June 26, 2014

A new gospel paradigm (II): spiritual life

Earlier this month, I took a crack at reframing the way we Christians should think about salvation.  We're often told that it's about making a personal decision or accepting Jesus into our heart.  But I'd argue that it's much more than that.  Salvation isn't rescuing someone who's flailing in the water, it's rescuing someone who's already dead.  That means a full work of resuscitation has to occur in order to bring that person back.

As I mentioned in the previous post, this act of giving life to a dead person is commonly referred to as "regeneration," which simply means that new life is generated in that individual.  Scripture exemplifies this most vividly through resurrection.  Other than Christ himself, we see many examples of resurrection in the Bible: Lazarus, Jairus' daughter, etc.  All these instances required an external power to restore life to each respective person.  The dead couldn't do anything.  They were...well, dead.

Regeneration is also sometimes referred to as spiritual rebirth (which, by the way, has absolutely nothing to do with the Buddhist doctrine of rebirth).  Rebirth is most commonly expressed as being born-again.  If you hang around enough evangelical churches, you might come across this term.  Every now and then, you'll likely hear of someone who "became a born-again Christian."

In today's world, being "born-again" has a stronger connotation with being evangelical than it does with actual regeneration.  It's like adopting an identity-- you can put on your new "born-again Christian" hat once you've made the personal decision to accept Jesus into your heart.  Ultimately, it's about some rational faculty that we have to exercise in order to be saved.

But when we examine the doctrine of spiritual rebirth through biblical lens, we see a very different story.  Christ's famous dialogue with Nicodemus in John 3 gives us an indication as to what genuine spiritual rebirth is all about.  Nicodemus is obviously confused by the idea of being born again, bewildered by any possibility one can climb back into his mother's womb.

But look carefully at Christ's words in verse 6: "that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit."  In other words, your physical reality came about through birth from your mother, the external agent of flesh.  But your spiritual reality comes about through birth from another external spiritual agent, the Holy Spirit.  Since you made no contribution to your physical birth, you also make no contribution to your spiritual rebirth.

This is something that most evangelicals today gloss over when they talk about being "born again."  When you're really born again, it means that the Holy Spirit has given new life to someone who was previously dead.  Only when someone is given new life will he or she exhibit the characteristics of saving and genuine faith.  

So when we confess with our tongues that Christ is Lord and place our faith and trust in Him alone for our salvation, that is only because the Holy Spirit has already quickened us unto life from our deadness. We cannot genuinely believe until we are regenerated.  It is only then that we do the things that spiritually enlivened people do: believe (Rom 10:9), repent (Mat 4:17), and do good works (Eph 2:10).  

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