First Love Bible Conference
March 4, 2023
I have been given the topic of “Regeneration and the Pastoral Ministry,” which is a very large subject to address in a short period of time. Seven general questions have been given to me for consideration.
Question. “Why does regeneration demand a primary position in a pastor’s preaching
shepherding, and discipleship to his flock?”
Question. “Why is it imperative for a pastor to strive for a fully regenerated congregation?”
Question. “Why must the Doctrine of Regeneration have a high priority and primacy in public.
Question. “Why is the Doctrine of Regeneration opposed? By whom?”
Question. “What practical steps can be taken to ensure the members of the local church are
truly born again, or regenerated, by the Holy Spirit?”
Question. “What must not be forgotten when preaching to others about regeneration?”
Question. “Why is regeneration vital in laying a doctrinal foundation in a pastor’s
theological training, in his preparation for ministry, and in his calling as a pastor?”
As these questions are reflected upon, there must be an understanding of the term “regeneration.”
It is to be noted that the word is a Biblical term.
“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” (Titus 3:5).
The main idea of regeneration (Gk. paliggenesia) is that of a spiritual rebirth, whereby, in sovereign grace, “almighty God works a radical change in an individual as He brings the soul from a state of defeat and death, to a renewed condition of holiness and life” (Holman Bible Dictionary).
The Bible says that regeneration is the work of God, apart from human help. A person is born again, by the “renewing of the Holy Ghost.”
Because of this gospel truth, there is a need to understand what regeneration is not. Regeneration is not an outward presentation of the gospel, whereby, through clever arguments, or by emotional manipulation, individuals are left believing it remains in their human power to be reborn, or converted.
When Jesus told Nicodemus he must be born again, Nicodemus understood immediately that any rebirth was beyond human ability, or co-operation. Nicodemus said to Jesus, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? (John 3:1)
To ask the question, is to answer it.
“Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto You, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Marvel not that I said unto you, You must be born again” (John 3:5-7).
In a self-centered society, it is not uncommon for individuals to become very angry when the Doctrine of Regeneration is taught to be the exclusive work of almighty God. There are individuals who are determined to have some part in their own salvation. Individuals insist on making their own decision on the matter of salvation, sincerely believing their will is free, and autonomous, and is not in bondage to the law of sin and death.
The helplessness of the human will in the matter of salvation, and regeneration, was understood by Nicodemus, but not by modern men and women.
Because individuals have been taught to believe they are the Master of their own fate, and the Captain of their own soul. Many have yet to understand how helpless and hopeless a person is in their natural state before God, who is holy, holy, holy.
“Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may you also do good, that are accustomed to do evil” (Jer. 13:23).
The Bible says,
“So, then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8).
Some people become angry when told they need to be born again, because they do not believe they are a sinner in need of a Savior. That concept is offensive. It is mockingly called, “Worm Theology.” Many will not sing the song written by Isaac Watts.
“Alas and did my Savior bleed,
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head,
For such a worm as I?”
Then, there are people who do not feel they need to be regenerated. They are past feeling shame and guilt. They do not need new life. They are happy and complete in themselves. What these people want is affirmation.
It does not matter if they are covetous, proud, boastful, living in adultery, a transgender advocate, or personally engaged in homosexual activity, bestiality, or pedophilia. They want to be understood, loved, affirmed, and accepted as they are. They will never know the freedom Christ gives, nor be able to understand what Paul meant when, rejoicing, he said to the Corinthians who had been enslaved to various passions,
“And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11).
Jesus understands the militant mindset of those whom the Father has given over to a reprobate mind (Rom. 1:28). To such people the Lord wisely notes that those who are whole in their own mind do need not a physician (Mark 2:17).
In contrast, there are others who know something is wrong in their life.
They are unhappy.
They are miserable.
They are full of sadness, sorrow, and despair.
The past haunts them, and the future terrifies them.
They know they have hurt others, and committed many acts for which they are ashamed.
They need a Savior.
They need a new birth.
By the drawing of the Father to Himself, by the wooing of the Holy Spirit, there are individuals who want to be born again. They know they have no power to rebirth themselves. They have tried to be good, they have tried to change, only to despair, because of constant failure.
They understand. Regeneration is beyond human ability.
There is something else. Regeneration is not moral reformation. For many years, throughout the 20th century, the idea of the power of positive thinking prevailed in Christendom.
Dr. Norman Vincent Peale had a profound effect on the Christians of his generation, followed by men like Robert H. Schuller, who wrote, Self-Esteem, The New Reformation.
Time passed, and the theology of moral reformation has proven itself to be a broken reed. Those who have leaned on it, have had their hands pierced. Some might think they have been helped, but none has been spiritually healed through Moral Reformation as the basis of salvation.
“But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire” (2 Peter 2:22).
Because regeneration is not a matter of moral reformation, it is also not a synergistic work between man and God. It is often proclaimed that a person must do their part in salvation because, God has done His part in the matter. The final verdict, yet to be determined, is in the hands of the unconverted.
The Bible says, “No! Regeneration is not the work of God comingled with human effort.” I tell people, “If you will share with me how much you had to do with your natural birth, I will share with you have much you have to do with your new birth.” Regeneration, salvation, the new birth, is of the Lord.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8,9).
This gospel truth must be kept in mind, because some confuse the means of their conversion experience with the act of regeneration itself.
For example, a person might think, because they heard a gospel sermon, went forward when an invitation was given, prayed a Sinner’s Prayer, and shook the pastor’s hand, they were
saved at that moment.
They have yet to discover the reason why they responded to the gospel invitation, and why there were willing to pray, and how they were enabled to call upon the Lord. All of that was possible only because they have been regenerated by the Holy Ghost. 1 John 5:1 explains.
“Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.”
Let the word go forth. Regeneration is an entirely supernatural work of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, requiring the same omnipotent power present at creation, and in the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Regeneration is the divine activity within the soul of a sinner, whereby new life is initially instilled, so that at the moment of gospel hearing, there is the newly imparted ability to hear with understanding, see with spiritual illumination, and respond from a new heart, with faith in the Person, and work of Jesus Christ.
How the Holy Spirit regenerates the soul is not fully understood, for salvation is one of those wonderous works of grace that remains a mystery.
“I know not how the Spirit moves,
convincing us of sin,
revealing Jesus through the Word,
creating faith in Him.
But “I know whom I have believed,
and am persuaded that He is able
to keep that which I’ve committed
unto Him against that day.”
While a person may not know how God’s wondrous grace comes to them, they, and others, will see the visible results of regeneration. A person who is regenerated, a person who is born again, a person who has been renewed by the Holy Ghost, will give evidence of a regenerated heart.
There will be an inner witness of the heart with the Spirit God.
“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. (8:16).
There will be a change in lifestyle.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).
When a person is born of God, they will not need special initials, or non-sensical pronouns, to identify themselves. In Christ, they know who they are. Those who are born of God will be known by the love they have for Jesus, and the kindness they have for others.
When a person is regenerated by the Holy Spirit, there will be a new longing for holiness, goodness, and truth. There will be a desire to be like Jesus.
“O to be like Thee! blessed Redeemer;
This is my constant longing and prayer;
Gladly I’ll forfeit all of earth’s treasures,
Jesus, Thy perfect likeness to wear.
O to be like Thee!
O to be like Thee!
pure as Thou art;
Come in Thy sweetness,
come in Thy fullness;
Stamp Thine own image
deep on my heart.”
~Thomas Chisholm, 1866 -1960
When a person is regenerated by the Holy Spirit, there will be an interest in the Bible. The heart will pray,
“Open my eyes, that I may see Wondrous things from Your law” (Psalms 119:18).
When a person is regenerated by the Holy Spirit, there will be a new sensitivity to sin. The conscience will be pierced when the heart has done something, or said something, that grieves the Holy Spirit. The name of the Lord will not be used in vain as an expletive. As a converted man Paul cried out
“O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24).
Such a cry was born of a sensitive heart to that which is wrong. Any Christian who has struggled with an addiction, or an area of weakness, knows the anguish of their regenerated heart. Such people need hope, and find it in Jesus, who has come to make the captives free.
When a person is regenerated by the Holy Spirit, there will be a new longing for heaven, or the return of Jesus.
“Looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).
Does the Doctrine of Regeneration matter? Indeed, it does, and for this reason. The One who does the saving, is the One who receives the glory. If any person has one iota in procuring their own salvation, then they have a basis on which to boast, however humble they might make their part in the process appear. However, if a person is born of the Holy Ghost, then the heart can say,
“Soli Deo Gloria!”
Having established the Doctrine of Regeneration in Scripture, and how it will be manifested in the life of those who are born again, attention is given to how this doctrine is to be applied in pastoral ministries.
First, ministers of the gospel must seek to have a fully regenerated congregation. Only a congregation born of God is a true church – all other gatherings are merely social clubs, or religious self-help groups, meeting for psychological therapy.
There is a popular philosophy in contemporary ministry that advocates, when the church gathers for Word and worship, it should consciously include unbelievers, in order to minister to the lost. The idea is to make the unconverted comfortable in a formal church setting. This is what drives the Seeker Sensitive Movement.
For those who are not familiar with this terminology, the Seeker Sensitive Movement is an evangelistic strategy founded on the idea that everyone is searching for something, and what the unconverted are really seeking is God. The Scriptures take a gospel axe to this idea, and strikes at its root. A Biblical understanding of the thoughts and feelings of the unconverted is given in Romans 3:11-18.
“There is none who understands.
There is none who seeks after God.
12 They have all turned aside.
They have together become unprofitable.
There is none who does good, no, not one.”
13 “Their throat is an open tomb.
With their tongues they have practiced
“The poison of asps is under their lips;”
14 “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood.
16 Destruction and misery are in their ways.
17 And the way of peace they have not known.
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
It is argued, by advocates within the Seeker Sensitive Movement that a church, to be “all things to all people” (1 Cor. 9:22), should arrange their gathering in worship to cater to the interests of the unconverted, and the ungodly.
A better objective for the ekklesia, would be to call for the regenerate to gather for worship, fellowship, and study, and then go forth to evangelize the lost (Acts 2:42).
Pastors, seek to have a regenerated congregation. Tell the people, in the assembly, and out, not to neglect our so great salvation (Heb. 2:3).
Many years ago, a Welsh minister beginning his sermon, leaned over the pulpit, and said with a solemn air, “Friends, I have a question to ask. I cannot answer it. You cannot answer it. If an angel from heaven were here, he could not answer it. If a devil from hell were here,
he could not answer it. The question is this. ‘How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?’
It is a great salvation we are to proclaim to others. This is the gospel that we must preach. It is a gospel of being born from above by the Holy Spirit. Like John the Baptist, let us go, and call a world to repentance, and then, let us call a regenerated people to a place of worship. Tell people the Messiah will baptize individuals with fire, and with the Holy Ghost.When the gospel is preached, the Spirit will compel those who are the heirs of salvation to call upon the name of the Lord (John 6:44). Then, the redeemed of the Lord will say so. They will gather to worship.
Now, in order to have a regenerated congregation to shepherd, without trying to feed a pack of ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing, the Doctrine of Regeneration must have a high priority in preaching.
As a young pastor of 23, Charles Spurgeon understood this truth. On May 3, 1857 he had this to say from the New Park Street pulpit. In daily life our thoughts are most occupied with things that are most necessary for our existence. No one complained that the subject of the price of bread was frequently on the lips of men at a time when bread was scarce, because they felt the subject was one of vital importance…I must offer the same excuse for bringing before you this morning the subject of regeneration. It is one of absolute and vital importance; it is the hinge of the gospel; it is the point upon which most Christians are agreed, indeed, all who are Christians in sincerity and truth. It is a subject which lies at the very basis of salvation. It is the very groundwork of our hopes for heaven; and so we should be very careful about the foundation of our [spiritual] structure.
If the primacy in preaching of the Doctrine of Regeneration is vigorously opposed, the opposition will come from those who are unconverted, and from those who are careless
in their faith. Neither want to be taken out of their comfort level.
The unconverted want to worship like the Heavenly Devils they are, which of course is a contradiction in terms. They are the Great Pretenders, religious but not regenerate. The careless want to worship without conviction, or discomfort. A. W. Tozer spoke about this.
“We want to be saved, but we insist that Christ do all the dying. No cross for us, no dethronement, no dying. We remain king within the little kingdom of Mansoul, and we wear our tinsel crown with all the pride of a Caesar, but we doom ourselves to shadows, and weakness, and spiritual sterility.” ~ A.W. Tozer, The Radical Cross
When the Doctrine of Regeneration is given primacy in the pastoral ministry, and individuals respond in a positive way, having been born of the Holy Ghost, a general peace will be found among the people in the pews.
Peace is a large theme in the Bible. Jesus said,
“Peace, I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).
When there is no personal peace, no calmness, no concord in the spirit of a person, there will be no congregational peace. The apprehensions and fears in an individual will often be manifested and influence others in an unhealthy way.
If a pastor wants peace in the congregation, preach the doctrine of regeneration, and remind the people to guard their hearts lest a root of bitterness springs up and defiles many. If the heart is not guarded among God’s people, there will be no peace. A person who has found power and influence in a congregation, will become disruptive, and domineering. In secret meetings, and through quiet whispers, in the ears of one person, and then another, the willful shall demand to have preeminence, like Diotrephes, that self-seeking troublemaker in an unnamed local church in the first century.
When Christians do not guard their hearts, when Christians do not prefer others to themselves,
when Christians do not consciously seek to co-operate with one another, individuals will begin to compete, and with the competition will come the fleshly wars of which James writes.
“Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?” (James 4:1)
Oh pastors, preach the Doctrine of Regeneration or Peace will take wings and flies away, and fear will replace faith. Some Christians are afraid of losing their traditions, even when the will of the Lord is plainly stated in Scripture. I have seen this happen.
I believe in anointing people with oil. I believe it is a Biblical practice. I do not think I have to be healthy myself to practice what the Christians are instructed to do.
“Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14).
Personally, I do not want to argue over this text, or explain it away. I am a Non-Cessationist. I believe in divine healing. I want to practice praying for the sick, and anointing them with oil. One Sunday I was invited to preach at a Church. With the pastor’s permission, I placed a bottle of oil on the altar. A lady came up to me and said, “We don’t do that here.” “I replied,” I thought very politely, “I do.” “But we don’t do that here,” she insisted. “We are Baptist.” That is not our tradition. And I said, “I am sorry for that, but it is the will of the Lord, so I must anoint anyone who wants prayer.”
The lady never spoke to me again. A year or two later she died, which, from my perspective, means she now has better theology. I think I hear St. Peter taking her aside and saying,
“Madam, You should have listened. Anointing God’s people with oil is a biblical practice.”
Some Christians are reluctant to move geographically into the will of God. When the word of the Lord came to Abram in the land of the Chaldees and told him to relocate, Father Abraham was hesitant. So, we read in Genesis 12:1,
“Now the Lord had said to Abram:
‘Get out of your country,
From your family
And from your father’s house,
To a land that I will show you.’”
There is a geographical will where God would have to be. It may be the Lord is telling an Under-Shepherd to lead the sheep in a new direction doctrinally, linguistically, occupationally, and geographically. David Livingstone once said,
“I had rather be in the heart of Africa in the will of God, than on the throne of England out of the will of God.”
The exhortation comes. “Follow the man who is following God.” Let there be peace in the hearts of the regenerate. The caveat is that every Under-Shepherd must be following God, because he too is converted.
It is not hard to discern in many established churches, and religious movements, that the pastoral leadership is not converted. Many ministers are not regenerated. They are not following Christ. Prior to his spiritual discovery that “the just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17), Martin Luther was an unconverted priest. He became angry because he believed God could not be pleased.
Although Luther had truly sought to love God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength, he found no comfort. There was always a sense of the wrath of God. Said Luther, “When I am touched by this passing inundation of the eternal, my soul feels and drinks nothing but eternal punishment.”
What was he to do?
Luther would study Scripture, and theology. He would teach and preach so much that he did not have time to think! Perhaps a life of zeal and overwork would placate his tormented soul in his own search of personal redemption and regeneration.
And so, in 1511, at the age of 28, to the city of Rome, Martin Luther went, to work for the salvation of his soul, and do something good for the Catholic Church.
He was a minister of the gospel, he was a gifted theologian, he was moral, he was sincere, but he was not converted.
At the altar of St. Sebastian, Luther once said several masses in a single hour, and then was sadden that his parents were still alive,
“For I would have loved to deliver them from purgatory with my masses and other special works and prayers.”
Because Martin wanted to deliver his grandfather from purgatory, he crawled up and down the twenty-eight marble Santa Scala (Holy Stairs) on his knees reciting the Lord’s Prayer on each step.
By praying this way, it was said that a soul could be saved. The Santa Scala was alleged to be the very stairway that Jesus climbed before Pontius Pilate.
When the ordeal was over, and Luther arrived at the top of the incline, a moment of honesty overtook him. He stood, crossed his arms, and asked himself softly, “Who knows if it is really true?” It was almost a blasphemous thought, but Luther had seen some things that planted more seeds of concern in his sensitive conscience.
There was much sin in the Holy City. Luther witnessed drunken priests, rampant immorality, and open laughter at the saints, and all that was sacred. Indulgences were hawked for a price. All this, and more, disturbed Luther. It was true what people had warned him of during his pilgrimage: “The closer one comes to Rome, the worse the Christians are.” “Where God builds a church, the devil puts a chapel next door,” was another true saying, but the churches in Rome were worse. Said Luther, “If there is a hell, then Rome is built on it.”
If Luther could walk among Protestant churches today, and visit with pastors and people, what would he say? Hardly a week goes by without a major news story of some scandal in Christendom. Every time the gospel is preached, both pastor and people should bow before Jesus and pray,
“Pass me not, O gentle Savior,
Hear my humble cry;
While on others Thou art calling,
Do not pass me by.
Hear my humble cry,
While on others Thou art calling,
Do not pass me by.“
The pastoral ministry needs, not just a converted people, but converted pastors. An unregenerated pastoral ministry causes great harm to the cause of Christ. When a pastor is not personally born of God, when a pastor has no personal doctrinal foundation of regeneration on which to build up a congregation, when a pastor has no sense of a divine anointing and calling because he is not regenerated, then all is lost. The people shall perish for lack of knowledge. The blind shall lead the blind, and all shall fall into the ditch of eternal destruction.
If there is a conclusion to this Breakout Session, let it be for all of us to go forth with a renewed conviction, that, the Doctrine of Regeneration is important in pastoral ministries. Let the word go forth, that the Doctrine of Regeneration by the Holy Spirit is the superstructure erected by Jesus Christ, the Lord. The Doctrine of Regeneration must have primacy in preaching, and will have, when both pastor and people are converted by the Holy Spirit.
Sola Deo Gloria
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