The Work of the Spirit in the Life of the Believer: Regeneration
The third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, is often treated as kind of the “black sheep” of the Godhead. Many people have a flawed understanding of who the Spirit is based on baggage and stereotypes from what they have experienced or been taught regarding the Holy Spirit. In some circles the Holy Spirit is abused, through misuse of spiritual gifts such as tongues and prophecy; other churches, seeking to avoid those pitfalls, have erred on the other side by ignoring his work and power in their lives.
Both of these misunderstandings of the Holy Spirit are errors that we should carefully avoid. This is not just a theological matter; what we believe about the Holy Spirit will be reflected in how we live, and it will deeply impact our relationship with the living God. For the Spirit himself is God; his work is essential to the functioning of our Christian life and his character and attributes are essential to our understanding of God’s nature. In order to commune with and appreciate the Spirit, we must study what Scriptures say regarding who the Spirit is and how he works in our life.
The work of the Spirit in the believer’s life begins with the doctrine of regeneration. In order to understand the work of the Spirit in regeneration, one must understand their natural sinful state before God.
The Bible is clear that we all stand sinful before God.
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Romans 3:10–12).
“There is no one who does not sin” (1 Kings 8:46).
Every human being, apart from Jesus Christ, who has ever lived or ever will live has “sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and because of this sin nature all of mankind is incapable of spiritual life. What’s more, we live under the deceiving spiritual influence of the devil. Paul comments on the state of man before conversion:“You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1–3). Writing to the Corinthians, Paul says, “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Our nature is to only do what is “right in our own eyes” (Judges 17:6). Our mind is hostile to God, and in our flesh we cannot please him (Romans 8:7-8). “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6).
When we understand this sinful and helpless state that we find ourselves in before God, we realize that we need God’s supernatural help in order to turn to him. How can someone who is dead take a step toward God? How could someone who is blind see?
“When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:3-7).
Our salvation, in his mercy, comes forth by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. Every believer’s story starts with the work of the Holy Spirit bringing a miraculous new birth. In the words of our Lord, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God”; unless he “is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:3-5).
Only when we have been given new life and born of God from above can we see Christ and be saved, and only then can we live a Christian life. It is the Spirit alone who can give this new life we need. And so “the Christian life begins with the sovereign act of the Spirit”(Millard Erickson, editor Baker Pub Group (June 1979) Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The Holy Spirit , 39). Since “it is the Spirit who gives life” (John 6:63) and he is responsible for turning every believer to the Lord, “we play no active role at all. Instead it is totally a work of God” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Zondervan Carr (Jan. 12 1995) 699).
The Holy Spirit gives spiritually dead men life. He raises the dead, gives sight to the blind, ears to the deaf. This is the work of regeneration in the believer.
See the next post: The Work of The Spirit in the Life of the Believer: Sanctification