What Really Happens at Regeneration?
Not one grain of our recreation in Christ is attributable to man, any more than our creation was. Man must learn, and re-learn, his eternal condition–the nothing over against the All. And what a relief! Not my past righteousness (non-existent), not my present works (wood, hay and stubble unless His works in me), not my future suitability (equally non-existent). All is His. His past planning, His completed redemption, His endless mercy and love.
First, God’s righteousness must be satisfied. None but a righteous God could be God, nothing but righteousness could be the foundation of His throne. The broken law upon which His creation is based must have its penalties, if it is a law. If His eternal nature is to reward the good, He must also inevitably punish the evil. In no other way could He be righteous. No mere forgiveness, then, could be a just forgiveness, unless it was grounded on full satisfaction for the wrongdoing. What a Redeemer we have, who provided a salvation with no loopholes in it!
Man’s reasoning might and often does suggest some easier way, which is always, when traced to its roots, a subtle refusal to face the start reality of lawlessness in a law-based universe. Abel knew it, when he first approached God with a blood sacrifice, the life of another symbolically shed for him. Cain, in the blindness of religious self-righteousness, offered his own good works, so much more pleasant and self-gratifying. But which touched reality? Which had the witness from God? The tragic end tells us, when Cain hated Abel for his glowing testimony to acceptance with God. And why did he hate him? John tells us (1 John 3:12) because Abel struck at the roots of self-righteousness and exposed it as sin, which could only be expiated by God’s appointed sacrifice, to which God bears faithful witness in the believer.
Here is salvation in its first stage, God’s great salvation. The Judge became the condemned criminal. God the Son disguised His deity in human flesh, and "tasted death for every man." The Author and Sustainer of life yielded up His own life to receive in Himself the wages of the world’s sin. As Mrs. Cousins put it in her great hymn:
Jehovah lifted up His rod
O Christ, it fell on Thee!
Thou wast sore stricken of Thy God;
There’s not one stroke for me.
Thy tears, Thy blood, beneath it flowed;
Thy bruising healeth me.
Jehovah bade His sword awake,
O Christ, it woke gainst Thee!
Thy blood the flaming blade must slake;
Thy heart its sheath must be–
All for my sake, my peace to make;
Now sleeps that sword for me.
Through all eternity we shall never know what those hours meant when God was separated from God, the Son crying out to the Father, "My God, My God, why has Thou forsaken Me?" But its glorious consequences we do know–that, having been "delivered for our offences," He "was raised again for our justification." The resurrection was God’s witness that He had accepted the sacrifice. This was more than forgiveness. This was as if we had never sinned. God could now be just in justifying the believer in Jesus. We can leave the court without a stain on our character. Upon Another’s life, Another’s death, we can stake our whole eternity. The penalty of an eternal hell, the guilt, the stain, the rebellion, the broken law, the separation, all as if they had never been, for "Jesus paid it all."
This primary and fundamental aspect of the atonement is always represented in Scripture by the word "blood." "The precious blood of Christ." It is the first and necessary Godward side of the process of redemption. It was the solution, first, as we have said, of God’s problem. How could He be just and the justifier of the unjust? His wrath must first be propitiated: His holiness vindicated: the punishment of His broken law inflicted. Nothing in the Bible stands out more prominently than the sacrifice God appointed and declared to be the satisfaction of all those claims. It was His own outpoured life. God as Spirit cannot be seen of men. God the Word and the Son, as the express image of the Father, could take human form, so "the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world." We may know for certain that it cost the Father all and more than the Son to send Him to be the propitiation for our sins. The sacrifice was settled in heaven before the sin that necessitated it had appeared in history.
The shedding of blood, representing the outpoured life of the victim, as Moses declared in Leviticus 17, runs like a reddened strand throughout all Bible history–from Abel to Israel, where the life of the nation centred around the sprinkling of the blood on the annual day of atonement: on through the prophets to the last of them, the Baptist, who pointed to the Lamb of destiny and called Him God’s Lamb "that taketh away the sin of the world": on through the great moment of the sacrifice itself hidden from all eyes in the three hours of darkness, proclaimed by the Saviour Himself to be His blood of the new covenant to be remembered at His table: expounded in fullness of revelation and understanding by the apostles: seen as presented and accepted by God Himself in the heavens in the letter to the Hebrews, giving us our title to boldness of access to the holiest of all: and consummated in the final vision of the eternity, with the throne occupied by "the Lamb as it had been slain."
No wonder the blood is holy and precious to all believers. No wonder it is the point of attack and derision by those who hate to own themselves as sinners. It represent the uniqueness of that holy sacrifice, the blood He shed alone, the winepress He trod alone. It is His atoning work which none other shares. The cross, the manward aspect of Calvary’s redeeming work, we share: the blood, the Godward aspect, is the sacred offering of the Son to the Father. And because He accepts it, we can do so. We need not question that sacrifice, nor its efficacy. He appointed it. He accepted it. He invited, He argues, He commands us to do the same. No sinner please the heart of God by remaining a penitent. No, if repentance is sincere, let us not add sin to sin by failing to believe in the blood. If good enough for Him, it is good enough for us. Nothing pleases the Father more than the faith of a sinner in the efficacy of the precious blood.
The Son Revealed in Me
And now, what really happens at the new birth? It is most important to understand. Remember again that the creature has no other end to his existence than to be a manifestor of the Creator–God in man, and God through man; and that therefore a human being is not a true human until he is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Nothing can function except by the laws of its being; a car won’t go unless its machinery works aright; and a man can never be a man unless he is a God-indwelt, God-controlled man, because men are not made to "work" any other way.
That is why life is a jigsaw puzzle until the Masterhand pieces it together; that is why "there is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked," because the wicked are all of us who still have a dethroned God and an enthroned self at our centre, and "the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest." Nor can there be any possible purpose in a redemption for man, unless it is to restore his humanity to the only condition in which it slips into gear. Remember God CANNOT create a creature except, in its measure, to contain and shew Him forth: "God is seen God in the star, in the stone, in the flesh, in the soul and the clod." Of the lower forms of creation, animate and inanimate, who are without choice in the matter, it is written, "The whole earth is full of His glory."
Man, however, in the height of his privilege, made in the similitude of God, with faculties like His though not with the incommunicable attributes of His Godhead, has had the awful responsibility of intelligent choice. Created free to choose his glorious destiny of being the conscious container and transmitter of God, he could and did refuse, and thus became the child of the devil, the original rebel. There can, then, be only one possible purpose in God’s grace in salvation–to restore man to his sole and original destiny–"Christ in you, the hope of glory."
We stress this again because the only infallible, inexorable consequence of a sinner receiving salvation is not always made plain by Gospel preachers. It is often easy to get the impression that it is certainly necessary to have our sins forgiven, to be delivered from the wrath to come, to receive an assured entrance into heaven; but to submit to the total control of Christ is something which may and should follow, but does not necessarily do so; and even that it is possible to enjoy the former without the latter. Nothing could be more false or absurd. There is no salvation conceivable, possible or actual, other than God’s way in infinite grace of destroying the false form of life in which man lives, and replacing it by the true. The false form of life is that which has self in the centre, which is the sin in which my mother conceived me, which is the false god. The true form of life is that which has God at its centre–Christ living in me.
It is for that reason Paul used the striking expression in Gal. 1:17 to describe his conversion–"when it pleased God . . . to reveal His Son in me." The startling fact is that on the road to Damascus it was the exalted Christ who spoke to him from heaven; yet he writes years afterwards that the outcome of God’s dealings with him those three eventful days was not an external revelation of an ascended Christ, but an internal revelation of the Indwelling Son. The eternal life which had begun in Paul was not some "thing" received in a detached sense as a gift from the heavenly Father; but the start of an eternal union. One more human soul, a deluded, blinded captive of the great egoist, Satan, impregnated from birth with his evil spirit of egoism, had now been led captive by Him who "leads captivity captive"; which meant that with Paul’s deliverance from that Satanic spirit of egoism at the cross, another Ego, the Great I Am, Jesus the Son of God, had begun to live His life within the little, emptied ego of Paul.
In other words, and let us get this clear, the atoning work of Christ, which makes it possible for a lost sinner to stand in the sight of God as one who had never sinned, is only the gateway to life, not the life itself. The life itself is, and can never be anything but, Jesus Himself, "that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested unto us," coming into the cleansed vessel, occupying His holy temple, being the life of the branch now attached to the Vine, the life of the member of the body now attached to the Head.
Do we see the point? Salvation is only salvation when it is God–Father, Son and Holy Spirit–returning to live in the personality created for Him, but exiled from Him through the fall. This is the inner reality of such parables as the prodigal returning to his Father. Therefore salvation is only salvation to any individual believer when the Spirit has given the inner witness of the presence of the Indwelling Christ. It is certainly true that a new born babe in Christ might not be able to interpret his new living experience in these exact terms; but it must be true that he has not merely an external faith in a Christ crucified 2000 years ago, but also, as the inevitable result of the heavenly gift of repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, the inner revelation of "Christ in me," my Saviour, my Lord, evidenced by an inner witness that is both incomprehensible to the world, and indescribable. That is the sole and only purpose of the atonement, and the inevitable effect of true repentance and faith, which neither man nor devil can prevent.
-The Deep Things of God
More Articles from The Intercessor, Vol 24 No 2
- God’s Twofold Restoration
- The Editor’s Note
- The Necessity of Doubt
- Death to Sin: The Radical Solution of the Cross
- Romans Tells Us How
- Two Problems Solved
- Our Total Salvation: The Two Works of Jesus on the Cross and in the Resurrection
- Book Review: Paul’s Key to the Liberated Life: Romans Six to Eight
- How Acquire Faith?
- Faith in Action
- Rees Howells and the New Birth
- Free From the Law of Sin and Death
- Words to Live By
- What Really Happens at Regeneration?
- The Total Remedy