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GOSPEL REGENERATION WILL NOT WORK

By Curtis Pugh

 

It is the position of this preacher that regeneration or the new birth is a work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus plainly taught that according to John 3:6 & 8 where it is written: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit,” and “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” In speaking of the new birth John states the cause behind those who received Christ saying that they “...were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God,” (John 1:13). Additionally, in John 3:3 and 7 where Christ used the term “born again,” if you look in a complete King James Version Bible you will see a note in the margin that says: “again: or, from above.” An examination of the Greek word shows that most of the time the word “again” was translated in our KJV Bibles as “above” or “top.” We fail to see how that such plain statements as these can be ignored by attempting to say that the Gospel regenerates spiritually dead sinners.

The idea that regeneration comes by the Gospel cannot be true for several reasons. One of those reasons is the teaching of Jesus regarding the four kinds of soil. His words just will not allow Gospel regeneration as we shall show. The reader will remember that the parable of the sower speaks of four kinds of soil. There is the wayside soil, the rocky soil, the thorn infested soil and the good soil. Neither of these brought forth evidence of a new life but were only a reformation of the soulish life already there and were never a new creation that produced any fruit. The Word (including the Gospel) did not profit the people typified by these first three kinds of soil. Only the good ground received the Word and brought forth fruit.

The synoptic gospels record this parable in Matthew 13:3-23; Mark 4:3-20 and Luke 8:5-15. The three accounts are not contradictory, but rather complementary. Each one adds detail to the other. This in no way means that any of them are untruthful. We may illustrate the way in which one writer complements another in this way. A man may say, “My daughter and I went shopping yesterday.” The daughter may say, “Dad and I went to Walmart just twenty-four hours ago.” Someone else may say, “I was in the Poteau Walmart store and saw Bro. Curtis and his older daughter shopping for a present for their pastor.” Each one of those statements is true, but each one is a little different. We say they are complementary (not complimentary) because, like our illustration, each complements or adds to the other. By putting the differing details of the synoptic writers together we gain as complete an understanding of the words of our Lord as has been preserved for us. We know all that God wants us to know about what Jesus said in His teaching on the “good ground.”

The Lord, in explaining this parable of the sower in Matthew's account said: “But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty,” (Matthew 12:23). Mark says this of the good ground: “And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred,” (Mark 4:20). Luke, on the other hand, adds details saying: “But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience,” (Luke 8:15). Putting Matthew's, Mark's and Luke's testimonies together we can say that Jesus said the good ground upon which the seed (the Gospel) fell were those people marked with three characteristics. They are people (1) with “understanding,” (Matthew's word), (2) who “receive” the Word, (Mark's word), and (3) who have “an honest and good heart,” (Luke's words). (And please note that in the parable of the sower the seed did not make the ground good but fell on good ground.) That being the case – and we cannot doubt that the Master knew what He was talking about – three very serious problems arise.

The first two problems can be dealt with together and are these: Paul wrote the following about the unregenerate person and the Word of God (which includes the Gospel): “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned,” (1 Corinthians 2:14). The phrase “the things of the Spirit of God” is shown by the context to mean the revealed Word of God which of course includes the Gospel. Putting Matthew's and Mark's account together two things must occur. We may state these two things together in this way: there must be a reception of the Word with understanding. Now if the natural man as Paul said (1) will not receive the Word of God and (2) cannot know or understand it because he does not have the Spirit of God, then we must conclude that the Gospel cannot have any part in the regeneration of anyone. Why? Because the Gospel (1) will not be received by the unregenerate and (2) cannot be known or understood by him – and Jesus said the good ground were people who “receive” the Word with “understanding.” Remember, Paul said the unregenerate man cannot do either of these things. Until something happens to an unregenerate or natural person to enable him to receive and understand the Gospel in a spiritually profitable way, that unregenerate person cannot be “good ground.” So the Gospel cannot regenerate anyone! Somebody – the Holy Spirit – has to regenerate the spiritually dead sinner and thus enable him to receive and understand profitably the Gospel. Somebody – the Holy Spirit – must make the ground “good” before the seed of the Word will grow and produce. It cannot be otherwise if what Jesus said is true.

The third problem has to do with the heart and the things recorded by Luke. His Gospel records that Jesus said the “good ground” represented people who had “an honest and good heart.” But God says: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Surely the prophet spoke God's Truth! Since no lost man's heart is “honest and good” then no unregenerate person can be “good ground.” The Lord Jesus said: “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man..., (Matthew 15:18-20). Somebody – the Holy Spirit – must take away the stony heart and give the sinner a heart of flesh, (See Ezekiel 11:9 & 36:26-27).

Furthermore, Paul wrote: “This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart,” (Ephesians 4:17-18). Paul said that the other Gentiles – the lost ones – the ones in contrast with the Ephesian church members – were “alienated from the life of God.” And just how was it that they were “alienated?” He goes on to say they were “alienated” “through the ignorance that is in them.” And why were they ignorant? They were ignorant “because of the blindness of their heart.” Now this was the case with the “other Gentiles” - the ones not saved. So then, none of these “other Gentiles” could be “good ground” “because of the blindness of their heart.” Honesty forces us to say that only those regenerated by the Holy Spirit no longer have a blind heart for their blindness is taken away in regeneration. Stephen spoke to unregenerate men describing them thus: “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye,” (Acts 7:51). In the light of these indictments against the natural or unregenerate man, who will be so bold as to say they have the ability to receive and understand the Word of God, i.e. the Gospel in an honest and good heart?

Paul wrote regarding this aspect of regeneration saying: “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” (2 Corinthians 4:6). And in Ephesians 5:8 he wrote: “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light,” It is God who “hath shined in our hearts” thus enabling us to understand! Understand what? Why, understand the Gospel in a spiritually profitable way. We say 'in a spiritually profitable way' because any lost person can memorize and quote the facts of the Gospel, but those truths do not profit him until he is quickened or regenerated. Only after regeneration or the new birth – only after the Holy Spirit has moved in – only after Heaven has birthed the dead sinner does an individual have the ability to understand – then he has “an honest and good heart.”

The cause, then, of regeneration is solely in God. It is a matter of His sovereignty. It is a matter of His will. It is a matter of His unmerited favor – grace! It is not man's believing that brings regeneration to the dead sinner. Let us make sure that we have the horse before the cart – and not the cart before the horse – and not the horse walking alongside the cart as if the Holy Spirit needed a spiritually dead sinner's assistance in regeneration. Be assured, the horse (the power is the Holy Spirit) and the cart (repenting and believing the Gospel) are connected. Never can there be a regenerated sinner who is an unbeliever! Never can there be a believer until there is spiritual life. The issue is not one of time, but of cause and effect so when we say “before” and “after” we mean that regeneration is the cause of godly sorrow, repentance and faith. “The faith of God's elect” (Titus 1:1) is the result of the work and presence of the Holy Spirit. We are not “hardshells.” Hardshell doctrine is heresy! But the cause of faith – the cause of receiving the Word – the cause of being “good ground” is regeneration. Neither believing nor any other act or work of a lost sinner can make him “good ground”! We dare not leave Scripture and hold to any position that makes man's act or effort or anything he produces the cause of the birth which is from above.

Let me insert one other thing here: “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him,” (Hebrews 11:6). From this verse we can say with certainty that faith pleases God. Paul makes it perfectly clear that an unregenerate person cannot please God. He wrote: “So then they that are in the flesh [a natural or unregenerate man] cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his,” (Romans 8:8-9, brackets added). Since faith pleases God and persons not indwelt (and thus made alive spiritually) by the Holy Spirit cannot please God we must logically and scripturally conclude that unregenerate people cannot have faith. No person can savingly believe until the Spirit makes him alive by moving in. After all, Paul wrote: “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure,” (Philippians 2:13).

No sinner is better than another sinner in and of himself. Jesus said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance,” (Luke 5:32). The “good ground” in the parable previously discussed must themselves be sinners just as are the other three kinds – having nothing good in themselves. There are four kinds of sinners in Jesus' parable. The fourth kind – the “good ground” is the regenerated sinner made ready and able to hear and receive the Gospel which has been broadcast (sown indiscriminately) upon the natural ears of all four kinds of ground. The other three kinds of ground do not received the seed – the Gospel – with profit. Hebrews 4:2 says: “For unto us [the “good ground”] was the gospel preached, as well as unto them [the other three kinds of ground]: but the word preached did not profit them [the other three kinds of ground], not being mixed with faith in them that heard it,” (Brackets added). Considering that the Bible teaches that faith is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), then we are thus once again confronted with the fact that it is the Spirit who regenerates the dead sinner, enabling him to believe the Gospel. It is not the Gospel that regenerates the dead sinner enabling him to receive the Spirit. If it is understood that it is the Spirit who by the new birth enables belief of the Gospel, then it must logically follow that the belief of the Gospel has nothing to do with the new birth other than being a consequence of it.

A few words concerning common objections to Holy Spirit regeneration. Someone will doubtless bring up such passages as 1 Peter 1:23 which says: “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever,” and perhaps James 1:18 which says: “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” These verses could be used to contradict what Jesus said about the new birth being a work of the Holy Spirit. Most often Bible commentators will strike a compromise between what Jesus said and what these last two quoted verses say. We do not want to contradict what Jesus said. Nor do we want to attempt a compromise of the teaching of Holy Spirit regeneration as we think some do who say that the Holy Spirit uses the Gospel as a means of regeneration. First of all, nowhere is there a statement saying that the Holy Spirit uses the Gospel in regeneration anywhere in Scripture. Nowhere is that even hinted at in the Bible. The examples of conversion given – of Paul's conversion, the Ethiopian's, Lydia's, etc., all testify to a prior work of the Holy Spirit in them which caused a reception of the Word. Because of space, we quote only what is revealed about Lydia: “And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul,” (Acts 16:14). God “opened” Lydia's heart causing her to carefully listen to the Word preached by Paul. There was a prior work of God in her heart – prior to her listening and believing. And second, since the spiritually dead sinner cannot receive and understand the Gospel how can the Holy Spirit use the 'un-received' and 'un-understood' Gospel in the spiritually dead sinner until He first operates upon the sinner enabling him to receive and understand the Gospel? And that is exactly what happens. The Spirit regenerates God's elect who, up until that happens, has been a spiritually dead sinner. Thus, the Spirit makes him alive and willing to “receive” the Word in such a way that he “understandeth” it in his new “honest and good heart.”

However the verses quoted above which seem to say that the new birth comes by the Word (1 Peter 1:23 and James 1:18), when subjected to careful exegesis, are seen not to speak of regeneration at all. Peter speaks of an ongoing process as the King James Versions shows by use of the word “being.” The tense is present, not past. Peter does not say 'you were born again,' but rather, 'you are being born again.' He speaks of an ongoing conversion process accomplished in the lives of the regenerate by the Word of God. In James 1:18 the writer uses a word translated “begat” which is used only one other time in the Bible. The other place it is found is in verse 15 just prior to verse 18. The word there is the second instance of “bringeth forth.” (The first phrase “bringeth forth” in James 1:15 is a different word!) James 1:15 speaks of the process by which “lust” produces “sin.” And James 1:18 speaks of the process by which the “word of truth” produces in us that which characterized the offering of “firstfruits.” (The offering of “firstfruits” was to be of the most excellent quality thus insuring a good harvest). The “firstfruits” were consecrated or sanctified to God. So it is that the ongoing sanctification (progressive sanctification) experienced by God's children is accomplished by the Word of God – not the Gospel only. There is no justification here for the idea that the Holy Spirit uses the Gospel in regeneration.

In conclusion: unless one is willing to say that apart from the indwelling Holy Spirit a spiritually dead sinner can somehow be made to receive and understand with an honest and good heart, Gospel regeneration will not work. That the sinner must know the Gospel as a lost sinner is obvious because a part of the purpose of regeneration is to enable him – to cause him – to experience godly sorrow, repentance, faith and all that goes with conversion. Therefore the Gospel must be broadcast (scattered abroad) as seed was flung out of the hands of the sower in biblical days. Only by their conversion can we observe the effects of regeneration and so we must preach to all and sundry the truth that Christ, the Good Shepherd gave His life for the sheep. To one and to all, as Paul did, the members of the Lord's congregations must testify “...both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Acts 20:21).




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