A Forgotten Doctrine
The texts I have read to you (Daniel 2:22, Ephesians 1:18)speak of a doctrine that has become obscured and forgotten in the modern church. I will spend the next few sermons elaborating upon the doctrine of regeneration, which is vital and necessary for there to even be faith.
Perhaps we should say a couple of things about why the doctrine of regeneration is so neglected.
First, because it is out of our control. In the heart of regeneration, it is totally an act of God. It is out of men’s control. Whenever we can’t control something, we tend to fear it. Regeneration is completely a work of the Spirit upon men. Men do not participate in the accomplishment of the second birth no more than they participated in their first birth. As any teaching that is not man-centered, people tend to neglect it.
To ride off the first point, the second point is that men are naturally pharisaical and Saduceical. That is to say they want a religion man-centered, man accomplished, and absent any synergistic, supernatural power. They want to be able to control the outcomes and the means of their religion. They want a form of Godliness but deny the power thereof. Regeneration is radically out of the control of men. Spiritual regeneration is like the wind, unpredictable and autonomous. In fact, when a religious leader came to Jesus to have a religious discussion with him, Jesus completely turned the conversation on its head when he proclaimed: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
This is to intimate that a conversation about Christianity starts only at conversion. All unconverted conversations about spirituality is equivalent to a blind person talking about the nuances of a Van Gough painting.
Thirdly, regeneration is neglected in the church today because with regeneration there is change. Men so love hiding behind cloaks of religion so they can privately practice their evil deeds. Men are like whitewashed tombs, pure on the outside but the inside full of dead men’s bones. Dead men holding to their pride, lusts, and selfish desires. When one is regenerated, dead men come to life, hidden things are revealed, changes happens from the inside out. Repentance from dead works to righteousness is required. The fallen heart hates the prospect as Jesus as Lord in a practical and personal way, thus shy away from any mention of regeneration.
So to outline the message:
Men are spiritually blind and dead. Of course blindness, deadness, being asleep are all illustrative to generally prove the point men are spiritually dead. That is to say there is no capacity to connect with God in a spiritual sense. No seeing the things of God in a salvific way. No comprehension of Christ’s glory and moral perfections. No understanding of God’s claim to the world, or God’s demands of holiness. No change to holiness. This is the state of natural men.
God must awake the sinner. God must awake the church. God must awake people to righteousness and to the saving work of Jesus.
Notice the scripture text:
Ephesians 5:14 – Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.
Titus 3:5 – Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;
Romans 13:11 – And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.
Flesh and blood is no means to reveal spiritual light.
Matthew 16: 16 and Simon peter answered and said thou art the Christ the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou Simon Barjona for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.
Flesh and blood did not reveal this to Peter. Notice that, Peter was taught of Jesus, he heard many great sermons, he saw Jesus, he worked next to him, he heard others speak about Jesus, but all of this knowledge comes from flesh and blood. This type of knowing did not bring salvation to Peter. This is a flesh and blood type of knowing. It is vital to know the difference between flesh and blood and spiritual light.
What is it to have flesh and blood revealed knowledge? For starters, it is in the realm of the doctrine of common grace. Common graces are those good things that God gives to everyone regardless of spiritual status. Light, food, rain, laughter, love, wealth, health are but a few common graces that fall upon everyone. Knowledge is common grace. Knowledge of math, science, logic, carpentry and even theology. One can be taught or even learn from experience this type of knowledge.
A child can sit at the foot of his mother and learn to sing, or accompany his father to the workplace and learn how to build, or attend school and learn how to read, go off to university and know systematic theology. But all of this is learning from flesh and blood. This type of learning does not initiate spiritual life.
Consider this, the demons know from experience, are taught and even learn from the scriptures. The devil himself cites Bible passages according to Matthew 4, James says that the demons believe in God and tremble. Demons not only have orthodox belief, but also have emotional responses to that belief. Yet they are eternally damned with no prospect of redemption.
Even emotional responses that accompany flesh and blood teaching is not proof of spiritual light. That is to say that not even emotional responses to knowledge given is true salvific knowledge. Many scriptures cite examples of correct knowledge and even emotional responses but no true conversion. Balaam the false prophet, Judas, Saul, Demas, are to name a few. People that have religious experiences filled with emotion have no proof of salvation. This is a sad truth, and one that has plagued the church for far too long.
The practice of immediate conversions, and walking the isle, and on the spot decisions may not be the best practice. In fact, alter calls and immediate decisions are very new to the church relatively speaking. Sure, there is an immediate response, but to what end and to what proof? Jesus says in Matthew 13:20 “but he that receiveth the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word and immediately receives with joy yet he has no root in himself but dureth for a while for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.”
Notice, there is an immediate reaction but not root. There is a reception with joy but no lasting change. There is a planting, but no persisting. The emotional response quickly dies out. Soon as persecution and Christian suffering comes, they gradually slip out the back of the church. Many new converts are not converts at all, they are those that have been taught by flesh and blood, forced or manipulated to make a decision, and then fall away once the trials come. I have seen this scenario play out over and over through the years. The fact of the matter is that what is born of flesh is flesh and will return to fleshly things. What is born of the spirit is spirit and will last.
Flesh and blood conversions do not work and often produce the most vile and hateful religious zealots. Pharisees make converts after the flesh. Jesus said in Matthew 23: 3-15
“They, preach but do not practice, they tie up heavy burdens hard to bear, you neither enter yourself nor allow those who would enter to go in. You travel across land and sea to make a single proselyte and when he becomes a proselyte you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourself.”
Jesus is saying that your conversions do not work. No converting after the flesh works.
Just the other day I heard a preacher say that Christians should get off their butts and do something. We have all heard the sermons guilting people into good works, challenging them to be more on fire for God, brow beating the sheep into submission. We have all felt that hopeless guilt, that sense of drudgery that always accompanies those types of services. Flesh and blood trying to produce spiritual results ends up producing burned out little Pharisees.
So we have determined that flesh and blood does not reveal spiritual revelation through any natural means. So how and what does the advent of spiritual light mean. What are the meaning of Jesus’s word, “My Father which is in Heaven” (has revealed this to you Peter).
First, let me tell you the implications.
To know what is meant here is to have eternal life.
To have this knowledge is to secure eternal life
It is to have drastic and eternal change in one’s life.
It is to be blessed, it is to be the subject of the beatitudes.
It is to be translated out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of life.
It is to have the mind of Christ, totally transformed from an old way of seeing the world, to a new way.
It is, in short, to either be a sheep or goat, to have our Lord say well done my good and faithful servant or depart from me you worker of iniquity.
First, As opposed to knowledge coming from flesh and blood, God reveals in a direct supernatural way.
It is necessary that God’s revelation comes to us directly. The human condition is so blind that there is no way they can obtain this knowledge by themselves. Let me be clear, without the intervention of God, men will not turn to Him. Men in their natural state run from God, hate His light, despise His holiness.
Imagine this: a man born in a dark cave. He is raised in the dark. There is no light to guide him. Tell him of a tree, or the green grass, or the brilliant colors of the rainbow, or the feel of the blue ocean. He will be lost to your statements. He will not understand or empathize with any of your descriptions. His heart will not jump nor his desires be awakened. He has no point of reference, no experience of seeing or feeling in his current situation to inspire him. It is only when he has outside light, a transcendent illumination that he can begin to understand reality. His reality can change only with the advent of light. With the light, he can then see, understand and experience what reality actually is.
So it is with fallen men who are living in the cave of dark sin. Telling them and preaching to them will never make them understand the love of God. They can never have love or desire for Christ. They cannot comprehend the glories of Christ. Spiritual goodness is as lost to them as a rainbow’s color are lost to a blind man or as the deaf are lost to the magnificent of Handel’s Messiah.
Only when the spiritual light comes can the fallen man see by it and be awaken to a new reality. Jesus said you cannot see the kingdom unless you are born again. This is literally a true statement. One cannot see anything spiritual without spiritual light, without being born again. Spiritual light is God given and changes everything. When this light come there comes a conversion and a definite spiritual capacity for taste and apprehension.
Spiritual revelation gives with it a taste. A positive characteristic of spiritual light is that there are desires/tastes/affections that are absolutely linked with it. That is to say the will has been affected along with the mind. Not only do you know, but now you feel. You desire, you want, you enjoy!
Psalm 34:8 Oh taste and see that the Lord is good.
Psalm 119:103 How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth.
I Peter 2:2 Like new born infants, long for the pure spiritual milk….
Let me add a huge qualifying statement: you desire God, you enjoy God, your will is bent toward now serving God, your pleasure is in the glory of God in Christ. Before, you enjoyed your sin, now you hate it, you enjoyed being in rebellion against the Law of God now it is sweet as the honeycomb.
Another character of spiritual light is the love of the moral perfections of God. Jonathan Edwards has the most wonderful treatment of this subject. Let me stand on his shoulders and make some statements about this very important point.
As I have noted earlier, the devils believe and tremble. False converts receive the word with joy. There is many various emotions that the lost exhibit in regard to religion and some of them resemble saving affections but are not. There is, however a sure sign of saving grace that is given by this impartation of spiritual light: a love for the moral attributes of God.
There is known in theology as the natural and moral perfections of God. The natural perfections of God are probably what the average Joe thinks about when they think about God. Strength, all powerful, all knowing, present every, magnificent in power and presences. Maybe your image of God is how he has revealed himself in his natural perfections. His smoke, thunder and lightning on Sinai. His dwelling in light that no man can approach, or his transfiguration with the three disciples. He was so glorious they could barely stand and became almost like Isaiah when he saw God, undone. The truth is that no man can see God in the fullness of his natural perfections, for scripture says in John 1:18 “No man hath seen God at any time…”
So what is meant by the moral perfections of God. These are those attributes of God that speak of the goodness of God rather than the power of God. Attributes like love, kindness, patient, longsuffering, faithfulness. It is one awesome aspect for God to be so powerful as to be able to destroy the world in a moment. It is another glorious attribute of God, that His longsuffering is that He would not destroy the world. It is a wonder that cannot be comprehended that God dwells in glory that no man can approach, quite another altogether different glory that he emptied Himself and became a baby in a manger.
God’s moral perfections are defined best as Holiness. God is Holy. In fact this is the song of heaven, Holy, Holy, Holy. Holiness would encapsulate all of God’s moral perfections. Psalm 96:9 says “worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness”. We as believers are to be Holy and He is Holy. This is the highest form of worship: imitation.
The ultimate expression of God’s moral perfection is in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus was perfect in all moral attributes. He is the highest expression of all grace, faithfulness, loveliness, and humility. Not only can he call 10,000 angels to execute all life on the earth for rebellion (that is to demonstrate his natural glories), he is so perfect, and lovely he will die for this rebellious mob at their most cruel hand and display his moral glories.
So the distinction here is that only those that are converted love Jesus. They love the moral glories of Jesus. The demons as mentioned before, cannot love Jesus in this way. They may know Jesus, and indeed they do, however, they can never love Jesus for His perfections. Likewise, the unconverted do not love the Jesus of scripture for who He is, but only what He can do for them. The lost want to go to Heaven that they may terminate upon their own selfish ends. The redeemed want to go to Heaven to sing the song of the Lamb and cast their crown at his feet.
There is much more to say, but we must move on.
Supernatural light does not disqualify faith, clarifies it.
II Corinthians 2:3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case 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. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants[c] for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
This section of scripture is beyond value in understanding how spiritual light and awakening relates to faith
There is blindness and there is the light. Because of the blindness there must be a divine illumination that comes from God. In fact, Paul compares this light to the light spoke out of darkness in the creation account found in Genesis 1. Humans left to themselves will love darkness and are blind in original sin. A person must be born again to even see the kingdom of God. A sinner must have the light from the Spirit to quicken, to open eyes and ears before any progress can be made. This is the introductory level. The first level or tier.
Notice now the Gospel is mentioned. What is the Gospel? In short it is the doing and dying of Jesus Christ as seen in the scripture. The Gospel is not a sap story, it is not a pep message, or a message of self- affirmation. The Gospel is the story of Christ based in the Scriptures I Corinthians 15. The light shines upon the Christ in the scripture so the sinner can see Him. The sinner sees Him, sees his work, His purpose, His substitutionary death, His mercy, His justice, His holiness, His wisdom, etc. This is the Gospel. So you can see that the light clarifies the Gospel. Clarifies the gospel in terms of radiating the doing and dying of Christ to the mind of the sinner.
Lastly, the glory of Christ, who is the image of God is seen. Christ is God, Christ has glory, the glory is the moral perfections that was mentioned earlier. This can only be seen by the sinner when light comes in, when the Gospel is proclaimed. Then one sees how glorious Christ is. Christ is the end all. His beauty is the objective, to know him is the aim. The glory of Christ is the end of salvation. This glory is seen in the Gospels by the illumination of the Spirit. This glory is everlasting satisfying. The sinner is completely satisfied in the moral Glory of Christ.
God uses means of Grace to impart supernatural light and awaken people.
God’s revelation is not a result of reading, or study, or experience, or hearing. However, God’s revelation can use as a means hearing, study, experience, or reading as a funnel that light would come in. For instance, Peter was exposed to the teaching of Christ, to the experience of Christ and this was a means for him to receive this revelation of God.
Paul says in Romans, the faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. This verse tells us that the word of God is a means by which God uses to reveal his light, to reveal Christ. Christ is also communicated through other means of grace such as the Lord’s Table, Prayers, Christian fellowship and living. II Corinthians 2: 14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.
So although this spiritual light is only given by the Father in Heaven and not by flesh and blood, The Father has given to flesh and blood the ministry of means to impart this light. Let us be therefore faithful in our ministry and may God bless it with supernatural light.