Is Being Born Again Up to Us?
The following is an edited transcription of the audio.
Is being born again up to us?
It's no more up to us than it was up to my grandson, who was born two days ago, to get out of the womb. In other words, birth is something done to us. It's not something that we do.
It is, however, something that we react to. The first cry of a newborn in Christ is faith. I would never write a book on how to be born again—because that is like writing a book for babies on how to get out of the womb—but I would write a book on how to be saved, because that is about faith in Jesus Christ.
I've never met a believer who, when you ask how they came to Christ, really wants to take credit for it. I've never talked to anybody who wants to say that they we the one who really provided the decisive initiative and the decisive work behind their salvation. Almost every believer, because of the work of God within them, wants to give God the credit for their salvation.
When you have two brothers listening to a sermon together, and one is awakened to see the spiritual beauty of Christ while the other isn't, can this awakening in the one be attributed to any innate wisdom or sensitivity to spiritual things? No! These things are not innate. The Bible says that we are all dead in our trespasses and sins and that it is God who makes us alive together with Christ. God, in his sovereign mercy, is the one who quickens people and causes them to be born again.
The new birth is the prior, miraculous, subconscious work by which people are enabled to see and savor and embrace Jesus Christ. Therefore we must pray accordingly.
I've prayed for my own children, before they were born again, that God would do a decisive, regenerating work in their hearts. I didn't pray that God would keep his distance and leave it up to my son to come to Christ. I prayed, "Break in! Crash in! Take out the heart of stone and give a heart of tenderness!"
We pray for regeneration—we pray for new birth—so that people can believe. They don't believe so that they can be born again. They're born unto a living hope so that they can believe. People don't believe unless God breaks into their lives, raises them from the dead, gives them a new heart, and enables them to see the beauty of Christ.
Do you think we'll ever be able to resolve the tension between God's sovereignty and man's responsibility?
Yes, in heaven. I think it can be resolved to a significant measure here, if you read the very best analyses of it. (Jonathan Edward's book The Freedom of the Will is as good as they get, and I think he comes to a pretty close solution. But practically I find that lay people, by and large, are not going to read such a heavy-duty book).
In the end, however, we have to live with mystery because we are finite. And we must make sure that we draw the line for mystery in the right place. I find that a lot of people agree that there is mystery, but they don't agree on what that mystery is.
The mystery is not between the sovereignty of God that governs all things (including the will of man) and the absolutely self-determining free will of man. That is not the biblical mystery.
The biblical mystery is between God, who is sovereign over all things and governs all things (including the will of man), and our accountability and responsibility to will what we ought to even though we don't have absolute self-determination. That's the mystery. And I'm willing to live with that because the Bible teaches both of those things.
What is the first step in our responsibility?
If we read Jesus in John 3 we see that the new birth is God's work. The wind of God's Spirit blows where he wills. And if was talking to another person who showed some interest in spiritual things, I would say to them, "There is evidence that the wind is blowing here because of your concern, interest, and conviction. Therefore, take this initiative that God has wrought in your life and use it to close with Christ. Come to Christ. Come to the cross, and reach out with the arms of your heart and will, and embrace Christ as Savior and Lord."
Then the person must admit, "I was brought to this point by the Spirit of God. Yet now I must use my will, enabled by God, to embrace him, to receive him" (John 1:12).
So I would plead with people to come to Christ as the fountain of living water and as the bread of heaven (Isaiah 55:1-3). And when people come and embrace Christ with faith they are saved, their sins are forgiven, and they have the hope of eternal life. Then they'll look back some day and say, "I came because he drew me. I came because I was born again. He opened my eyes. He gave me ears to hear. He enabled me to taste and see that the Lord is good."