Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What does it mean to be "Regenerate"?

You may or may not have been following the comment thread on the following post on this blog.

What had happen' was.....: Debunking Christianity: Dr. Avalos vs. Dr. Weikart: The Rematch

Although the post is about an audio debate between scholars Avalos and Weikart on the Unbelievable? broadcast regarding which best explains the origins of Nazis ideology: "Christian antisemitism" or Darwinism. I think Avalos lost this one, by the way. As he often does, atheist-about-Christianity-but-agnostic-about-all-other-religions Ryan Anderson took issue with the post. He often does. However the discussion has shifted to what it means to be a "Christian". Anderson claims that he used to be a born-again Christian but now he thinks the Bible has mistakes in it and that he was mistaken and all Christians are mistaken. Rather than just send off a quick reply in the comments I think it better to start a new post to explain exactly what the argument is and my response in a clear way. Ryan wrote the following:

Oh I'm regenerate, I regenerated this weekend when kayaking with my Daughter, and this morning when she blew me a kiss walking into school. Before that, I regenerated date night with my Wife and then again watching the two of them play with each others hair, before that I regenerated while mountain biking at dawn, then there was a trip to the mountains and that time on my sailboat...

Can you demonstrate that your regeneratedness is any different than mine? And I mean demonstrate, not just assert.

But I do love the term apostate, I think I'll change my face book status to apostate.

To which I responded:

Use the Biblical definition of the term and I'll answer your question. Nice emotional punt. Totally irrelevant but nice try. Good thing God love you.

Anderson replied:

Says the guy who didn't answer the question. I don't believe the biblical definition (the supernatural one) is valid, so I'll just assume you cannot demonstrate that what you think you've experienced in "biblical regeneration" is any different any other sort of natural regeneration. So there we are.

Said I:

Yeah, I did. you are the one mixing apples and microchips. You prove you understand what "regeneration" is first and then I'll answer your question. Otherwise, you are wasting my time.

To which Anderson replied:


And to be fair, I asked first, but since you are pathological in your avoidance of questions you know you can't answer (and because you are an infant), here's my take on "biblical" regeneration, whoever wrote Ephesians sums up what I think most christian sects agree is the meaning of regeneration, see Ephesians 2:1-10.

Now, demonstrate that what you perceive to be biblical "regeneration" in your life is actually any different in any way than what anyone else senses as any other type of regeneration in their life. You've not been able to demonstrate in any way any sort of supernatural influence, be it an indwelling of the holy spirit or whatever, so I don't hold out much hope for you on this one, but seriously, good luck with that.

Consider this: Anderson is arguing that rest and relaxation and connecting with one's family is the same thing as what th (we Bible says about being regenerated by the Holy Spirit. I'll wait for the snickering to stop....okay now? First let's see what Ephesians 2:1-10 says (in red and notice that Ryan didn't bother to explain how his idea of regeneration is backed up by this scripture.)

1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. 

Before we dive into some exegesis it's important to be clear on what we are talking about. I totally agree that this scripture is a good to explain regeneration. It describes what God does in the life of one who believes.Verses 1-3 lays out exactly what an unregenerate person's situation is before God's grace is applied to that individual. We are dead in our sins and unable to help ourselves. We deserve God's wrath. Notice this describes everyone - your gender, upbringing, intentions, personality, experiences, nor anything about you changes that. I just don't see how spending time with and enjoying your wife, children, or any of your possessions changes any of that or fixes the fact that you deserve God's wrath especially since without God you would have none of that. Verses 4 and 5 tells us how we are saved - by God's grace (unmerited favor) . Verses 6-10 tells us why God saved us. It is a gift and God is making us into masterpieces throught Jesus so that we can do good works that God has predestined us to do!  Still not seeing how that has anything to do with Ryan Anderson's definition of "regeneration". The Bible is talking about a lasting regeneration that happens once and is good for all time. In order to get the happy feelings he got from enjoying what he owes God for any he has to keep doing it. One day, our Children grow up and move away. Their companionship is not something you can depend on and it will change. These 10 verses are talking about a relationship that never changes.

It's important to point out that atheists are capable of doing good things. They can be good parents and loving spouses. But notice that this isn't enough to make the jump from being spiritually dead in your sins and being complete. Your niceness or goodness is not the point.

6 All of us have become like one who is unclean,
   and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
   and like the wind our sins sweep us away.- Isaiah 64:6
The good things you do are not good enough to make up for the sins that permeate our lives. Sin is anything that goes against the character and nature of God.  "Regeneration" is the process that God does that turns your mind from what it was to something better. It's an upgrade. It's a gift. You don't get it because you are smarter or better. God does it for you. To be regenerate is to be born again. And once you are born you can't be unborn.

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again." - John 3:3

There are several other scriptures that spring to mind that show more of what I'm talking about. First let's look at scriptures that juxtapose the regenerate and the unregenerate:

 5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.
 9 You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.
 12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.
 14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba,Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.- Romans 8:5-17
 If you have been regenerated your mind is no longer hostile to God. You can obey and hear God.  He is now Father. You are His child. As much as I love my wife and children and my hobbies, they can't do that for me. But God can.

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
 19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness
23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.- Galatians 5:16-26
Now come'on be honest: you can find yourself some where in verses 19-21. If you are still in those verses and not in verses 22-26 you need to get saved because you are regenerate yet.  The passage is talking about lifestyle. It's talking about the things that we practice and/or want to practice. Can enjoying family and hobbies move you from verses 19-21 to 22-26? Nope.

It's not just the New Testament that talks about how God has to regenerate us - molding and shaping us into better than what we are. The Old Testament is full of such passages also. Here is one of my favorites:

I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. - Ezekiel 11:19
This was the whole point for God to send the prophet Jeremiah to the potter's house  in Jeremiah 18.

5 Then the word of the LORD came to me. 6 He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the LORD. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel. 7 If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, 8 and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. 9 And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, 10 and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.  - Jeremiah 18:5-10
 This was also the point behind God sending Ezekiel to the "Valley of Dry Bones" in Ezekiel 37.

11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’” - Ezekiel 37:11-14
 Why is sin and death so connected - almost synonymous?

The wages of the righteous is life, but the earnings of the wicked are sin and death. - Proverbs 10:16

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. - Romans 6:23
 I don't know about you but I think that I have more than shown how the Bible describes regeneration and what it means to be born-again and that Ryan's definition is way too narrow. If a person is truly born-again I don't know why  they would ever want to leave God because there is no way to get what God is offering. The only explanation I can offer is that they didn't really experience what the Bible describes as being regenerate. With the experience you should get at least in inkling (that grows) of what you have been saved from! I have also given scripture that explain how to tell if you have been regenerated but I will conclude with one more passage.
14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
 15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:
 16 “This is the covenant I will make with them
   after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
   and I will write them on their minds.” - Hebrews 10:14-16
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Beggars All: Reformation And Apologetics: J.M. Reu: Luther's German Bible... now online

Ausschnitt aus dem Titelblatt der Lutherbibel ...Image via WikipediaJames Swan posted a link to a book by JM Reu on Martin Luther's German translation of the Bible.

In my opinion, the best book in English on the background of Luther's Bible is J.M. Reu's Luther's German Bible: an historical presentation, together with a collection of sources (The Lutheran book concern, 1934). I've been looking for an affordable copy of this book for a long time. Used copies typically only go as low as $75. The price though can go much higher. I've used library copies of this book for years.

Good there is an online version. You can get the link by visiting James Swan's blog.

Beggars All: Reformation And Apologetics: J.M. Reu: Luther's German Bible... now online
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