Friday, December 11, 2009

What is the Doctrine of Regeneration?

Ed Young opens "Raised Up" by reading Ephesians 2:1-10, "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 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. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 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. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."

Twenty years ago, a group of people kicked off the new church of Fellowship Church. They had no idea it would become what it has today. They rode on the coattails of the Lord Himself. During his time as pastor, one of his top 2 mentors has been Bill Hybils, the pastor of Willow Creek Church. Ted was listening to a message recently from Willow Creek and thought it was so compelling, he wanted his church to hear it. So, Ed decided to broadcast Bill's message to Fellowship directly. Here is that message.

Bill's message opens with an experience several years back. He was jogging in Southern California and came upon a scene that was developing. An older man was biking towards him and didn't see a bus coming up behind him. The biker veered a little too much into the road and the bus hit him, causing the man to flip over his handle bars and to hit a curb. Bill rushed to the man's aid to do what he could. The man was terribly injured. Bill tried to untangle the him and tried to make him feel more comfortable. But while Bill was attending to this man, he watched him die. Only moments before, this was a man who had life in his eyes and who could converse with Bill and then he was dead. What now sticks out in Bill's mind is how absolutely non-responsive the man became. It was truly the embodiment of death.

The first versus of Ephesians 2 talks about a time in every one's life when they are dead to God. A person goes through a stage when they are not listening, not heeding warnings of and not experiencing God's wisdom. For those of us who have children, we have all experienced times when our children have "blown off God". But let's assume that a child doesn't have Christian parents. As he grows up, he starts following the ways of the world. It's not that he's a bad kid, but he will follow the values, the habits and the goals of the world around him. When this happens, what comes next, according to Ephesians, this child (Bill uses "Mikey") will start gratifying his own cravings and desires. If this happens, Mikey will gratify so many pleasures that he will have a nightmare moment. Most of us have experienced this to some degree. When it happened to us, we likely said to ourselves that we had no idea we were capable of acting as we did. we never intended to drift so far from God . We just gratified a little here and a little there. But tens of millions of people go down this same path. Hopefully, all of us will have this "nightmare moment" before we die and we won't spend an eternity in a nightmare.

Ephesians 2:4 goes on to talk about God's reaction to our gratifying ourselves. "But... (Bill says this is the biggest BUT in the Bible) God, who is fully loaded with mercy, mercy to burn, made us alive even when we were dead in our transgressions. This idea of God making people who were dead to him alive again is the whole doctrine of regeneration. "If we lined up 100 creatures and asked them what impact the doctrine of regeneration has had on them...most of them would have to get back to me on that." But this doctrine is beautiful and powerful. Our Christian faith has many doctrines like the Doctrine of the Trinity; the idea of God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit all in one. The Doctrine of Atonement; the notion that somebody else paid for our debts. The Doctrine of justification; God declaring that everyone is righteous based on the righteousness received from Jesus. The Doctrine of Sanctification; How God sets us apart to use us for His kingdom and how He is refining us.

Regeneration is the act of God where He imparts divine life into the dead hearts of human beings. This is truly a rich thought. a thought that will cause us to worship God in a different way. God uses the same power that he used to raised Christ from the grave to raise us up from our deadness to be drawn to God and to do our daily lives with God. To us, it is an actual relationship. "Has this happened to you?" Bill asks. How would we know?

Let's say after the service you go out to the parking lot, put your key in the car ignition, but nothing happens. No windows open, the car won't turn over and no lights come on. Everything confirms a dead battery. Then a friend comes by with a good battery and some cables willing to give you a jump-start. How do we know when the battery is ready? The lights come on , the windows work and the car starts. There would be multiple confirmations. Well, the same is true in our lives and in our hearts. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says that when God enters our hearts, we become new creatures and all thing s become new.

The next part of the message may be painful for some people because Bill says it will be a time when some people realize they are still dead to God. There are logically two groups of people: those dead to God and those alive to God. How do we know how each group will interact? In either group, mind you, there are Christians.

I. If a Bible is brought into the group:
The Dead, or those who haven't experienced divine regeneration (again, they might be very religious), might say they don't read it much or make it a part of their daily life. There isn't a real hunger for the Word and it doesn't compel them to dig out its wisdom. It's just a nice book that doesn't have an effect on them.
The Alive, or someone who has been regenerated has an unexplainable hunger. There is a curiosity as to how God might speak through His Word. It is a living relationship with God. They want to hear his voice and know his thoughts. The Bible is the primary voice of God.

II. In worship of God:
The Dead don't worship very much. Most of the time, these people spend their time calling foul on God. If there is a job conflict, it is a foul on God. There is no notice of the sunset made by their God. Problems are always a conflict with Him rather than a loving discipline.

The Alive have a high degree of thankfulness and an awareness of the surrounding of the actions of God. When people of regeneration hear of a worship, they are eager to go and experience it. They yearn to take part and not miss out.

III. Baptism:
The Dead might say that this was something they took care of when they were a child. They don't want to go to a church that has a lot of baptisms.
The Alive see baptism as a question. Is this a way to identify with Christ or a way to honor God? Is this a way to give witness to God? These people wish they could be baptized many times!!

IV. Church:
The Dead see church as something to check off on a long list of to-dos.
The Alive see it is a way to come into God's presence and to experience rest and fellowship.

V. Prayer:
The Dead see prayer as somewhat mechanical. One night, when Bill when to a party, he met a guy who had talked about believing in God, but who was with a girl who did not. The guy was saying a light prayer over his meal, sort of sheepishly and shyly, not wanting to make a big scene. When he did this, the girl was wondering what he was doing. He told her, and her reaction was that her family prayed too, every Thanksgiving! She related to his lack of boldness to her family's once in a while prayers. Many people are very dead to prayer. Even with the subject of prayer, it is often a list of to-dos or traditions.

The Alive in God see prayer as a constant relationship and conversation with God. They hear promptings from God. They hear God's whisper. Think of that! Six billion people on the earth and He whispers in our individual ears!!

VI. Regarding the poor:
The Dead get so heavy and worn down about thoughts on the poor. They get tired of hearing about the hungry on TV. It brings them "down."
The Alive see that God plants in them a desire to help. God gives that person an awareness of how He thinks. The things that break the heart of God break the heart of the Alive.

Bill was with a guy a while back who was "fasting for the poor". The guy just got up the morning he was to meet with Bill and decided to make it a day of just being aware of the poor through his fasting. This is the miracle of regeneration! "Do you see the differences? Both could be religious...Both could be educated or uneducated."

To press further on examples, Bill goes on.

VII. Sin:
The Dead justify their actions and says "boys will be boys" (or "girls will be girls") and move on. The Alive see sin as very personal. It strikes them down spiritually because their question becomes, "How could I do that to the God I love." It is a violation of a relationship, not of rules!!

VIII. Money:
The Dead see money as personal ownership. "I make my money and I spend it because its mine."
The Alive in Christ are thankful for the money and there becomes a real sense of stewardship and responsibility. They want to use the money wisely.

IX. Relationships
The Dead discover that they only have a certain capacity for relationships with people and it doesn't get any greater than that.
The Alive see their own capacity, but then see God's capacity. God's capacity fills them and becomes overflowing. The Alive then see that they have the capacity to then love even people that are very hard to love.

At dinner, not too long ago, one of Bill's friends said that he would like to go to prison and experience what those who are locked up are experiencing. God says that those who are Christians will have so much capacity to love that they will go to visit even those who have been shunned.

X. TV Evangelists:
The Dead see evangelists as weird.
The Alive see evangelists as weird. Bill gets a laugh, but he does point out that the evangelists bring to mind for the Alive those people who are dead to God; those people who God may bring in front of them to engage. The Alive see work as painful sometimes because they see how many people are dead. It brings the alive in God to their knees. It creates a desire to bring this world with them to Heaven.

The divine life that pulses through us is alive if we allow it and it creates a desire to spread new life to others. One of the great nightmares of Bill's life is getting to the end of it and envisioning some great reunion of Willow Creek, but finding that many members were never regenerated .

Ephesians 2:8-9 says that it is not from us that we could ever be regenerated. We have to stop thinking that we can do anything without the prompting of God. God, if we will let Him, will change our hearts. It will be His lessons to us going forward. It is not an overnight process. It is just a person who becomes alive to the Spirit ready to work in their life.

One of Bill's favorite New Testament stories is about a man who was very religious: churchgoing, alms giving, dutiful etc. This man risks his career and slides in to the shadow of Jesus saying the religious life is not working for him. Jesus responds by saying its because he is dead. He says the man is not alive to the father. The guy asks "What should I do?" Jesus tells the man he has to be born again like a child. The guy says he wants that. Apparently , he got it, because at the end of Jesus' life, two guys come to collect the body of Christ and one of the guys is Nicodemus. He risked his life to give Jesus a proper burial.

Regeneration is the process of God working inside of us. Bill's final question is, "Have you been regenerated? Are there multiple confirmations in your life that you have been regenerated?"

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