Regeneration and the New Birth in Christ and the doctrine of Election part 2

Some birds in my garden feeding.  

Bavinck earlier looked at preparations to the new Birth (born again).    Last time we looked at man’s problem that he is ‘spiritually dead’.  Today though we are focusing on the ‘struggle to rebirth’.  This is how Bavinck starts this section on page 258:

(“However, after one receives these preparations, the process can go in two directions. After all, with such a preparation there will be a struggle between the convicting Spirit in one’s conscience and the flesh. The Spirit knocks on the door of one’s heart and calls to conversion, to distance oneself from the world and its allurements. Even imperfect desires to be converted arise within the person. They would want to be converted, but the flesh and the world are opposed; they would have to surrender so much pleasure, so much sweetness, and sacrifice advantage. The flesh advises keeping the door of the heart closed. In this way, a struggle ensues, anxiety, doubt.”page 260)

Before we got to this point somewhere Bavinck said that the Christian has two natures. 

  1. ·        The natural man who by nature was created
  2. ·        The spiritual man who yearns for God

The natural man is interested in the things and pleasure of the world.  The spiritual part of us yearns to go home from whom we owe our existence.  So for Bavinck then there is a ‘tug of war’ for who will be our master.  The effects of this is that; if the natural man was to submit to the Holy Spirit then he would have to give up the pleasures of the world and ‘sacrifice advantage’ (page 260).

He goes on to say that some people who profess conversion turn back to the pleasures of the world and Bavinck quotes the words of Peter:

22 It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A DOG RETURNS TO ITS OWN VOMIT,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.” 2 Peter 2:22

The love of the sinful things of the world is opposed to God’s nature as he is holy.  So having tasted God’s goodness somehow it is equivalent to this. As he continues in Timothy by saying:

“for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica… 2 Timothy 4:10”

Bavinck goes on and says that some people don’t go completely back into the world because they like some of the trappings of the Church.  They are not born again and the Scriptures puts them in a particular category (Hebrews 6  1-8, Psalm 582-5).  They use ‘preparatory standards’ towards being born again and remain ‘half baked’ (Hosea 7 8). 

In contrast the elect (those who are truly born again, anew) may stay in a state of preparation for a long time before being born again but when it happens it is not half baked.  It is genuine and it is not full of hypocrisy.  This rebirth, regeneration, whatever you like to call it is a complete mystery to us, but it happens (John 38); “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8” (page 262)

In Christ by the Holy Spirit, we are kept from falling away from God.   The elect are a ‘new creation’.  The spiritually dead to the things of God are made alive to the things of God.  It is God who makes this possible.

As Bavinck says:

Without any cooperation on our part, God begins this regeneration in us by his irresistible grace, penetrating our conscience through to our heart and pouring into us a new life-principle. This enlightens our understanding, judgment, conscience, and memory so that the darkness disappears, and we evaluate ourselves, God, and Christ differently.” (Page 261)

 

The effect of this for Paul was that the scales fell from his eyes:

And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized; Acts 9:18

The effect for Lydia was that the Lord opened her heart:

 A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. Acts 16:14

The new situation then being in Christ is that we are indeed a new creation, ‘a new person’:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. 2 Corinthians 5:17

A dead twig cannot bring itself to life therefore the initial work of rebirth is done by the Holy Spirit.  The spiritual act and gift of faith flows from this beginning:

Mystical union arises (logically) after regeneration, simultaneously with and through faith. Becoming one with Christ, we therefore already have the organizing principle of life. But this life-principle now draws, as it grows, all its power, strength, and nourishment from Christ. And in order to be grafted into him who is the olive tree, we must already be living twigs. One does not ingraft dead branches.(Pages 262-263).

Reflection

As we have seen we were spiritually dead towards God, and we were alienated from the promises of God.  The big ‘I’ was the controlling factor in our lives.  Even though creation itself was perfect the Fall marred this creation and sin entered into the world.  God had to make a completely new creation in us.  Christ came into the world and did what he had to do in order that it would be possible for us to be brought into the life of God.  This is only possible in Christ. 

Election and reprobation are in the hands of God.  I don’t think we should focus on that and look at this problem logically because then we can come to some conclusions that don’t make sense.  Rather, this only makes sense when we realise that as well as God being Judge, he is also the lover of our souls and He in Christ by the Holy Spirit wants us to come into fellowship with him. 

Christians have various views on election, and some want to give us the decision and not God.  Of course, there is reciprocation but at all times I think it is important to allow God to keep His Sovereignty. 

Even when we talk about a natural birth there are many factors.  It is a miracle.  How much more of a miracle is it when we are ‘spiritually dead’. Calvin came to the conclusion of double election:

  • ·        The elect elected to eternal life
  • ·        The reprobate elected to eternal damnation.

This sounds very harsh and on the face of it a lot of theologians cannot accept this either.

Karl Bart tried to find a way around this by saying in the ‘Judge Judged in our place’ that Christ also paid the complete price for the reprobate.  Some have accused Barth of universalism.

I don’t think that theologians have arrived yet at a proper formulation of the doctrine of election.  Every viewpoint has its fault.  I think the reason for this is because our knowledge is limited whereas God’s knowledge is infinite.  God loves his creation because he told us in Genesis, and it is no accident that the Logos as God working in the creation is found in Johns Gospel.  We need to remember that it was the sin of Adam that led to this problem.  God is not to blame.  In fact, God became a man in order to sort this Fall problem out.

For these reasons and others, I speak of election as ‘mystery’ and because of this it is very apt that Jesus said:

Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:7-8”

Having said that we need to respect God’s holiness, justice, mercy and love.  Bavinck holds all these elements in place.  It is the Lord Jesus Christ who did the work so that we could be saved.  The Holy Spirit as he who breathes new life into humans. He ought to be seen as the one Who turns the salvific key in us so that new birth can take place. 

Dictionary

Salvific = saving, salvation

Regeneration = born again, new birth

Bibliography

Reformed Ethics; by Herman Bavinck; edited By John Bolt; pages 258-263

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