In 2012, an elderly woman in the city of Borja, Spain, realized that a familiar fresco painted on one of the walls was looking a little faded. The fresco, Ecce Homo (“Behold the man”), was a rendition of Christ standing trial before Pontius Pilate. The woman took it upon herself to attempt a restoration of the nearly century-old piece of art. The result was disastrous. According to one report, she turned the painting into something resembling a “bloated hedgehog.” Sadly, that’s a lot like us. We are image bearers of God, but sin has marred us beyond recognition (Eph 2:1–3; 4:17–19). As a result, we stand of need of regeneration — a new birth. James describes regeneration as follows: “Of his own will [God] brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (v. 18).
The Cause of Regeneration: God brought us forth “of his own will.”
Just as we contribute nothing to our physical birth, so we contribute nothing to our spiritual birth. Regeneration is a work of God:
- It reveals the glory of God’s power; he raises sinners from spiritual death.
- It reveals the glory of his grace; he raises sinners from spiritual death for his good pleasure.
- It reveals the glory of his wisdom; he raises sinners from spiritual death for his good pleasure in accordance with his eternal purpose.
In short, God raises us up “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:7).
The Instrument of Regeneration: God brought us forth “by the word of truth.”
Peter tells us that we have been born again “through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Pet 1:23). The Bible is God’s voice — that which “goes out” from his “mouth” (Isa 55:11). It bridges the expanse between heaven and earth, infinite and finite, Creator and creature. It’s as powerful as the “rain” and “snow” that “come down from heaven, and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout.”
When God speaks to us, he illuminates our mind and inclines our heart, enabling us to see that his Word is truth. It tells us the truth about God, about man, about heaven and hell, about Christ, and about the gospel.
The Purpose of Regeneration: God brought us forth, “that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”
In the Old Testament, the firstfruits of the harvest were set apart to God. Similarly, God regenerated us to set us apart to himself. In a word, we’ve become a “people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). At the time of regeneration, the Holy Spirit illuminates our darkened understanding, softens our hardened affections, and liberates our enslaved will. As a result of this renewal, we possess a new spiritual sense.
In a word, we embrace God as incomparable. His incomparable power draws forth faith from our hearts. His incomparable wisdom draws forth fear from our hearts. His incomparable goodness draws forth love from our hearts. These three graces cause our hearts to close with God as our center and rest. That is to say, we take God as our happiness, we take God’s Son as our Savior, we take God’s Spirit as our guide, we take God’s holiness as our desire, we take God’s promises as our hope, and we take God’s Word as our rule.
This is the “birth” of wisdom. With God’s Word as our guide, we learn to fear, serve, and obey God over man (Acts 5:29); we learn to prefer heaven over earth and the salvation of our souls over the comforts of our bodies (Matt 6:33); we learn to pursue godliness over profit and pleasure (1 Tim 6:6); and we learn to choose the greatest suffering over the slightest sin (Heb 11:25). In sum, we learn that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Prov 9:10).
Dr. Yuille is Teaching Pastor/Elder of Grace CommunityChurch in Glen Rose, Texas. He has served the Lord as a missionary, preaching elder, and as a seminary professor at Toronto Baptist Seminary in Toronto. He is the author of several books including The Inner Sanctum of Puritan Piety: John Flavel’s Doctrine of Mystical Union with Christ and others.
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