How Can I Hope? New Birth!

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead . . .
Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere love of the brethren, love one another earnestly from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for
“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers, and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord abides for ever.”

That word is the good news which was preached to you.

Let’s begin by reviewing the first three messages in this series on hope, so that we can see how today’s message fits with the others.

What Is Hope? 

The first question we asked was, What is hope? And the main point (taken from Hebrews 6:11) was that biblical hope is full assurance, not uncertain desire. It’s not the hope my sons speak of when they say, “I hope daddy gets home for supper on time.” I may very well not! That is what they mean by hope. But that is NOT what the Bible means!

When Psalm 42:5 says, “Hope in God!” it does not mean, cross your fingers. It does not mean, God might work for his servant. It means, be confident that he will! Be strong in God! Be courageous in God! Preach to your soul a sermon about the full assurance of hope!

Do what I did last Thursday. I preached my soul a sermon on Psalm 35:27. It says, “Great is the Lord, who delights in the welfare of his servant.” So I said, “Soul, be glad today! Be strong! Look, do you see the greatness of the Lord God Almighty? Do you see the power of the Maker of heaven and earth? Do you see the wisdom and the knowledge of the one who designed the universe and the molecule?

“Well, hear this and be astounded, little soul: that great God delights in your welfare! Did you hear that, little soul? I said, ‘Delights’! That’s D-E-L-I-G-H-T-S, DELIGHTS! Your welfare is not his duty; it’s his joy! ‘Great is the Lord, who delights in the welfare of his servant!’ So hope in God and don’t be downcast.’”

Biblical hope is not an uncertain desire. It is a confident expectation.

Why Do We Hope? 

The next question we asked was, why we hope. If someone asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, what should you say? The first answer was GRACE! God loved us and gave us “good hope through grace” (2 Thessalonians 2:16).

We defined grace from Romans 11:5–6, “There is at the present time a remnant, according to the election of grace. But if it is by grace, it is not on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.” So grace is God’s disposition to choose and bless his people without respect to their works. It is God’s free goodness toward people who have no rightful claim on him at all.

And then we just followed the track of our salvation laid out for us in 2 Thessalonians 2:13–14. We were chosen by grace, called by grace, brought to faith by grace, sanctified by grace, and will be glorified by grace.

Therefore, the great spring and fountain of all our hope is the free and sovereign grace of God.

How Does Grace Give Hope? 

But last week we emphasized that the grace of God does not just sweep sin under the rug in order to give hope to sinners. Grace moves God to send his divine Son Jesus Christ (by whom and for whom all things were created!) into the world to die for sinners and to rise from the dead as the head over a new reconciled humanity. And so grace creates gospel — the good news that Christ died for sinners, rose again the third day, and that “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43). Grace gives hope by creating the gospel.

So if the fountain and spring of all our hope is the grace of God, then the channel through which the river of grace flows is the gospel, and our hope is “the hope of the gospel” (Colossians 1:23).

The Doctor, the Instrument, and the Surgery 

Or we can change the image to help us move into today’s message. Let’s say that grace is the eagerness of a world-class heart surgeon to save the lives of desperately ill heart patients. Grace is his willingness and eagerness to heal. And let’s say that the gospel is the new surgical instrument that this doctor developed on Good Friday and Easter. Let’s call the death and resurrection of Jesus God’s invention of a surgical instrument, the gospel.

But as far as the patient is concerned, something is still missing. The doctor is eager to heal (that’s grace), the surgical instrument is prepared and in his hand (that’s the gospel), but if something else doesn’t happen, the patient is going to die of heart disease — of a sinful nature. If something else doesn’t happen, there will be no hope.

And that is what we want to talk about today — the actual surgery called new birth. Along with the willingness of the doctor to heal and the preparation of the surgical instrument, there has to be the operation. The chest must be opened. The disease must be cut out. The blockages have to be removed.

This is tremendously important, because you can believe that the surgeon is eager, and you can believe that the surgical instrument is effective, and still die of heart disease. To get well from the disease of sin, and to have a living hope, you have to undergo the surgery itself. The eagerness of the surgeon and the effectiveness of the surgical instrument have to go to work on you and make your heart new. We call that the new birth. Without it there is no hope of eternal life.

Grace, Gospel, Hope, and New Birth 

Let’s see this in 1 Peter 1. Peter makes the connections between grace, gospel, hope, and new birth very clear. First notice verse 3:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

The Doctor’s Eagerness

Here we have the doctor’s eagerness, the surgical instrument, the surgery itself and the healed condition of living hope.

Peter writes, “By [God’s] great mercy” — that’s the doctor’s eagerness. I think mercy here is virtually the same as grace. The spring and fountain of our hope is the heart of God, and it is a heart of mercy — Peter says, “GREAT mercy.” “By his great mercy, he begot us anew.”

The Surgical Instrument

Then there is the surgical instrument. “We have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” So the resurrection of Jesus is the surgical instrument. Through it we have been born anew. But to get a clear idea of how Peter is thinking here we need to look at verse 23. There he describes the surgical instrument a bit differently. He says,

You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.

The word of God is the surgical instrument in this verse. What word is that? Verse 25 tells us: “That word is the good news which was preached to you.” The surgical instrument is the gospel — the good news that was preached to you.

So how do we put the surgical instrument of verse 3 and the surgical instrument of verse 23 together? Are they two different instruments or one? Verse 3 says, born anew through the instrument of the resurrection of Jesus. Verse 23 says, born anew through the word of God, the gospel that was preached to you.

This is really one surgical instrument. Remember that the gospel is the message of Christ’s death and resurrection for sinners. You can’t have a gospel message without a resurrection to proclaim. So the resurrection is essential to gospel proclamation.

Yes, but the resurrection wouldn’t be gospel unless it were proclaimed. The resurrection would not beget hope in anybody if it were kept secret. You have to have the event itself and you have to have the announcement of the event. So I would say that there is just one surgical instrument, but you can describe it two ways.

You can say that the surgical instrument of our healing is the resurrection of Jesus preached as good news to sinners; or you can say that the surgical instrument is the preaching of the resurrection of Jesus as good news for sinners. You can call it the resurrection preached, or the preaching of the resurrection. But there is really just one instrument that is used by the surgeon to save us from our heart’s disease. That’s why verse 3 says, born anew through the resurrection; and verse 23 says, born anew through the word of God, the gospel which was preached to you.

So far, then, we have seen in verse 3 the eagerness of the surgeon called mercy (or grace) — “By his great mercy . . . ” — and we have seen the surgical instrument — the resurrection preached in the gospel.

The Surgery 

Now, in the third place, we see the surgery itself. The chest is opened, the disease is removed, and the heart is made new with a living hope.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

We have been born anew. Or literally, he caused us to be born anew — he has begotten us anew. That’s the life-giving surgery. Let’s meditate on it for a moment.

And in meditating on it let’s learn the word “regeneration.” This is a biblical word. It is used in the KJV in Matthew 19:28 and Titus 3:5. It simply means “new birth” or “rebirth.” To generate is to give birth to, to regenerate is to give birth to again. Let’s build this rich word into our worship and prayer vocabulary. Let’s know what I mean when I pray, “Lord make your word today the occasion and instrument of your regenerating work!”

Three Observations About “Regeneration”

  1. Regeneration is necessary, not optional.
  2. Regeneration is a work of God, not man.
  3. God regenerates through his Word, not without it.

1. Regeneration Is Necessary, Not Optional

Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3:3, “Truly, truly I say to you, except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of heaven.” This is what I mean when I say that regeneration is a necessary work. Without it you will never see the kingdom of heaven.

Why? Because Jesus said in John 3:6–7,

That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, “You must be born again.”

In other words, the reason we must be born again is that mere flesh does not inherit the kingdom of heaven, and all we are is flesh until we are born again by the Spirit. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” If there is going to be spiritual life in us, it must be born of the Spirit. Therefore you must be born of the Spirit. Before new birth by the Spirit of God, there is no spiritual life in us; we are simply flesh. We are natural not spiritual.

And therefore we are utterly without hope in ourselves. Because Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:14 that the natural man (the man who is just flesh) does not welcome the things of the Spirit of God because they are folly to him, and he is not able to know them because they are spiritually appraised.

And in another place he says,

The mind of the flesh is enmity toward God, for it does not submit to the law of God, for it cannot. And those who are in the flesh can not please God. (Romans 8:7–8)

But before regeneration that is all we are, flesh. It can mask itself in religion or flaunt itself in immorality, but at root it is independence from God and enmity toward God and callousness toward all that is truly spiritual. That will not enter the kingdom of heaven. That is what we all are by nature. Therefore we must be born again — regeneration is necessary, not optional.

2. Regeneration Is a Work of God, Not Man

The text says this plainly, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who by his great mercy has begotten us anew.” God is the surgeon here, not man.

Here the image of the surgeon has to give way to one that makes this truth more vivid. God is not a surgeon — God is not even an obstetrician in the work of new birth. He is a father. He does not deliver a baby. He begets an embryo. Verse 23 says, “You have been born anew not of perishable seed but of imperishable.” The doctor does not plant the seed. The father does.

God does not come on the scene when this embryo is well-formed in the womb with all its chromosomes fixed. O no! When God comes on the scene, there is no spiritual embryo. And by the miracle of generation, God fathers life. He does not deliver man-made life like an obstetrician. He begets God-made life like a father.

Therefore John says that when we are born again, God’s seed abides in us (1 John 3:9). And Peter says that we are partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), like a child has the traits of his father.

Regeneration is a work of God, not man. Jesus stresses the freedom of the Spirit of God in this work when he says (in John 3:8),

The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit.

The point of that saying is to stress the sovereign freedom of God in the work of regeneration. The wind of the Spirit blows where it wills, not where we will. Therefore John says in John 1:13 that we were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Regeneration is God’s work, not man’s.

O, do you know what it means to be a Christian? Do you stand amazed and speechless that you are a Christian? Do you look back with wonder and awe at the miracle of your new birth? Or do you take so much credit for it yourself that it doesn’t occur to you to fall on your face and thank God that you are a Christian?

Think on it! If you have any truly spiritual desire for God, it is owing to the work of God in regeneration. If you have any love for holiness, it is owing to the work of God in regeneration. If you have any hatred for sin, it is owing to the work of God in regeneration. If you have a mustard seed of faith in Christ, it is owing to the work of God in regeneration. To God be the glory for our conversion to Christ! Consider and be astounded, all you who by nature are children of wrath, that you believe in Christ and are new children of the Almighty.

Regeneration is a glorious work of God, not man.

3. God Regenerates Through His Word, Not Without It

This we have seen already, so I will only point to it briefly in 1 Peter 1:23 and pass on to our final consideration. Peter says,

You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.

The Spirit blows where it wills, Jesus said. But it never wills to blow without the gospel. You might say that the Spirit is like the wind that blows the seed of the gospel onto the soil of man’s heart, and makes it come to life.

Look at 1 Peter 1:12.

It was revealed to them [i.e., the prophets of the OT] that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things which have now been announced to you by those who preached the good news to you through the Holy Spirit sent from heaven.

How was the gospel preached? It was preached through the Spirit. It is the Spirit that carries the gospel and gives it regenerating power.

So regeneration is necessary, not optional. It is a work of God, not man. And God, the Spirit, regenerates through his Word, and not without it.

Why God Causes New Birth Through the Gospel 

That leads us to our final consideration. Why does God only cause new birth in the presence of the gospel? Answer: because the aim of new birth is to create hope in the heart of sinners, and if there was no gospel, there would be no message in which to hope.

Look at verse 3 one last time.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope!

The goal of God in the work of regeneration is to create in our heart a living hope. “Born anew unto a living hope.” But if God’s aim in regeneration is to beget a new little babe who hopes in the mercy of God, then God must have a hopeful message ready for that little babe to believe when he’s born. And that message is the good news that Jesus died and rose again for the salvation of sinners.

It would be contrary to the wisdom of God for him to beget a child of hope and give him no gospel to hope in. So God has ordained that he will always unite the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit with the preaching of the gospel.

Command and Promise

I close with one last reference to the nature of the gospel. In 1 Peter 4:17 it says,

for the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?

When it says that some do not obey the gospel of God, it teaches us that the gospel has a command as well as a promise. The command to everyone everywhere is repent, turn from your sin, and set your hope fully on Jesus Christ. The promise is that your sins will be forgiven and you will enter into the kingdom of heaven.

If Someone Asks How You Know You Were Born . . . 

If someone asked me this morning, “How do you know that you were born?” I would not reach for a birth certificate and argue that a doctor signed it on January 11, 1946, in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I would say, I know I was born because I see and hear and feel and I get hungry and I breathe. I am alive!

And so if someone asks you today (or if you ask yourself!), have you been born again, what will you say? How can you know? You know whether you have been born the second time (born of the Spirit) the same way you know whether you were born the first time. Do you see the truth of the beauty of the gospel? Do you hear the voice of God in the gospel? Do you feel the need to repent and be forgiven? Are you hungry for the milk of God’s Word (2:2)? Are you breathing the air of grace? Are you alive with hope in the promises of God? A living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead! Amen.

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