The Miracle of Regeneration
February 15th, 1987 @ 10:50 AM
THE MIRACLE OF REGENERATION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-15-87 10:50 a.m.
Believe it or not, we welcome you to the First Baptist Church of Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Miracle of Regeneration. It is an exposition of the first part of the third chapter of John. In our preaching through the Book of John, we are in one of the high spiritual peaks of all the revelation of God. And it concerns us, each one of us, and is addressed of course, to a man in Israel; but through him, reaching through the years down to our own personal lives.
The amazing thing as we look at the story we have just read together, the amazing thing is found in the words of the Lord to a man, the last kind of a man that you would ever think such an address would be made. Had this man to whom the Lord is speaking been a robber, had he been a murderer, had he been a terrorist, had he been a vile and evil person, I could well have understood it when the Lord said, “You have to be born again” [John 3:7]. “You have to be changed, you have to be regenerated; your nature has to be something of a different kind and order.” But the address of our Lord is in nowise made to a vile man, or an evil man, or a violent man. This man is addressed by the Lord as, and I don’t know quite the extent of it—the Lord addresses him as “the master” in Israel [John 3:10]; ho didaskalos, “the teacher” in Israel. And he is described as a member of the highest supreme court; he is a member of the Sanhedrin. He is a Pharisee; he is a man of the strictest order in observing the laws of God [John 3:1]. Everything is commendable about this unusual representative of God’s chosen people: Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews [John 3:1-10]. And in this amazing address of our Lord to him, “You, you must be born again” [John 3:7]: remade, regenerated, changed, “you,” I think of the message of John the Baptist to the whole nation of Israel. When they came to hear him preach, representatives of the finest culture and religious life of the Jewish nation, members of the Sadducean sect who ruled the temple, the Pharisees, the elders, the scribes—in addressing them, John said:
Do not say to yourselves, we be seed of Abraham, children of Isaac and Jacob.
For God is able of these dead stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
“You must repent, you must get right, you must be changed” [Mathew 3:1-2], or as the Lord phrased it, “You must be born again” [John 3:7]. That’s an astonishing announcement; and yet when we look at it carefully, all of the experience of life confirms what our Lord has said. It is not by national identity, or by personal achievement, or by keeping law and ritual that we enter into the family of God. The keeping of rituals, the observing of laws, and the attempt to be saved by our own efforts inevitably result in abject despair and failure. It fails religiously. The more a people seeks to find salvation in keeping rules, and rituals, and regulations, the more pharisaical they’ll become.
Condemnatory to others, pride, self-exaltation-congratulation: pharisaism, it fails religiously. The effort fails culturally and educationally. You would think if we can just teach people, get them educated; they will automatically come as fine citizens in the kingdom of our Lord. Just the opposite is true. There never has been a nation—I don’t think ever will be—there never has been a nation so taught, so literate, so cultured as the Third German Reich. Nor has there ever been a nation so depraved! Eighteen million men died because of the ruthless terror of Hitlerite Germany. When I was a boy, if a man sought a great, advanced education, a high degree, he went to the universities of Germany. That was universal.
I read a crazy cartoon this week. A bunch of convicts are in there breaking up rock, and they’re pointing to a fellow seated over here. And one convict says to the other, “You know, he was in here for a stick-up some time ago, at which time he won a college degree. Now he’s back for embezzlement.” Or, I say it sometimes like this: a bum will break into a boxcar on a siding of a railroad track to steal a can of tomatoes because he’s hungry. Dress him up, send him to Harvard, and he’ll steal the entire railway system and get away with it. Culturally, educationally, it fails to change us. Personally, that kind of an attempt to find salvation fails. Isaiah said all of our righteousnesses before God are as filthy rags [Isaiah 64:6]. To ourselves, in comparing ourselves with ourselves, we may seem to be very acceptable. But in God’s sight, in the purity and holiness of the Lord, all of us fall short [Romans 3:23]: filthy rags. God has to do something. If I am saved, it is a work of the Lord.
Paul spoke of it like this: in the second chapter of the Book of Ephesians, Paul said that we are dead in trespasses and in sins; dead [Ephesians 2:1]. A dead man has no eyes to see with, and no ears to hear with, and no heart to feel with, and no will by which he can obey. He is dead! And a man outside of God is dead! If you don’t believe that, pick out any lost man here in the city of Dallas, or woman, and talk to him or her about the things of Christ. They are impervious, they are dead. Nor will all the earnest preaching in the world raise that somebody to life. Nor will all the splendid teaching in the earth reborn that pupil into the kingdom of God. It is something God has to do. We can’t raise the dead; that is the prerogative of the Lord.
Not only does Paul avow in this second chapter of Ephesians that we are dead outside of Christ, outside of the quickening of the Spirit, outside of being born again, born anew, not only does he say we are dead [Ephesians 2:1-3], but he says we are without Christ, we are spiritually poor, poverty-stricken. We are without Christ, we are without hope [Ephesians 2:12]. We look up and the very sun is a blazing fire of fury and condemnation. We look around us, and the whole world to which we belong is one of sin and wickedness. And we look beneath us, and the earth itself is a place of decay and death. The planet is nothing other than a place in which to bury our dead. Not only without Christ, without hope, but without God. We have in Him the great Judge of our souls. And when we stand before the holy and righteous God in our nakedness, and in our sinfulness, and in our lostness, and wretchedness, “What shall I say and what shall I do?”
Then he adds, “We are by nature the children of wrath” [Ephesians 2:3]. We are born in sin [Psalm 51:5]. We don’t have to learn to sin. We are in affinity with sin. We sin by nature. And that nature leads us to inevitable death [Ezekiel 18:4]. What shall I do? I can’t change myself. I cannot raise myself from the dead. I cannot born myself anew. I cannot regenerate my soul. I cannot. Yet by nature I am sinful, and I face the inevitable judgment of death. I have to be changed. I have to be born again. I have to be regenerated. My nature must be changed.
The mole cannot rise and soar into the face of the sun like the eagle; its nature would have to be changed. A tortoise cannot run like the deer, its nature has to be changed. A rabbit is not strong like an ox; its nature would have to be changed. It would be unthinkable to try to yoke the whale to the plow, or even the ox to dwell in the midst of the depths of the sea. The nature has to be changed. And I have to be changed. If I am born again, regenerated, God has to do it. I am cast upon the mercies of the Lord [Romans 6:23].
Now, when the Lord spoke of that to Nicodemus, he was overwhelmed by the thought: “How can these things be?” [John 3:9]. And the Lord replies, “I am not speaking of something that is extraneous, or peculiar, or far out. I am speaking of the world in which you live, in which we live. I have told you of earthly things [John 3:12]. And these earthly things are but pictures and repercussions of spiritual things.” So this marvel of regeneration, rebirth, the Lord says, is all around us. It is a phenomenon of earth. We are coming to a season of the year that dramatizes the word of our Lord. Soon these dead limbs will burst into beauty and color with redbuds, and dogwood blossoms, and apple blossoms. And the whole earth will be reborn and renewed. I live in that. You live in that every day of your life, earthly things; the rebirth, the remaking of the world around us.
A butterfly is a twice-born creation of God. A butterfly is not an improved caterpillar, it is a rebirth, it is a new creation. We live in that kind of a world. And the Lord says, thus the ableness of God in the rebirth, and the recreation, the regeneration of the spiritual life; what we see all around us in the ableness of the omnipotent God to remake the whole world about us. That is the same Lord God that is able to remake us in our souls and our lives and our spirits. It’s a marvelous thing! “If any man be in Christ Jesus, he is a new creation: old things are passed away, all things are become new” [2 Corinthians 5:17]. It’s a marvel! And I see it every day of my life. A man said, “Either the whole world is changed or I have changed, things are not the same again.”
Dr. Naylor, I have never read a sermon out of the thousands of sermons I’ve read and do read, I’ve never read one that had the effect upon me as B. H. Carroll’s sermon, “My Infidelity and What Became of It.” This man was a vocal, and blatant, hardened infidel when he came out of the Confederate army, out of the war. And in a meeting conducted by Major Penn, who was a layman in a meeting—in a meeting he came home, and his dear, sainted mother looking at him said, “Son, son, you’ve been saved! You’ve been converted!”
That is a reality. Demonstrable as the world about us in which we live, the ableness of God to change, to remake, to regenerate, to reborn. Like Paul: the Galatians, they heard of “him who preaches the faith that once he destroyed” [Galatians 1:23]. It’s a marvel, it’s a wonder! You had might as well try to convince the fish that there’s not any water, or a man who breathes air that there’s no such thing as air, as to try to convince a man who has found the Lord that there is nothing in Christ. He knows in his soul of the confrontation with the Master, with the Lord; it’s a living experience, and we are never the same again.
Now may I bring that to us in the appeal for Christ today? Nicodemus said, “How could I enter again into my mother’s womb and be born?” [John 3:4]. Voicing our own hesitancy before such a thing as could happen to me: how can I be born again, regenerated, made anew? How can I be saved? All of it is the work of God [Ephesians 2:8, 9], God does it. The wind blows and you hear, and you see, but you do not know and you do not understand. So it is with one who is born of the Spirit [John 3:8]. It’s the work of the omnipotent God.
And lest you think that would be a peculiar thing in your life, look at you. Have any of you been present when I will dedicate a little baby? Sweetest thing in the world, to bring that child to the house of the Lord, and to dedicate the child to the Lord Jesus. If you’ve ever heard me do it, one of the things that characterize the response of my heart to the father and mother that will bring me that little baby is this, “Look at this child. Look at this baby. Look! This is a work of heaven, it is God’s omnipotent hands that framed that little life and breathed into that little child the breath of God [Genesis 2:7]. God did it; it’s a miracle.” You couldn’t explain it if you tried ten thousand lifetimes, the miracle of a baby. You and the one next to you, you; you’re a miracle of God, God did that. God framed you together; He put all of those infinite little atomic particles into the brain, and the mind, and the eyes, and the nerves, and the muscles, and the bones, and then the soul. It’s a miracle, God did it. God did it. You are a miracle of God. It is the same omnipotent hands that forms us again, that remakes us, that reshapes us. God does it. The Lord does it, and it’s a marvel just to look upon it.
“Pastor, you don’t understand, I have doubts and hesitancies.” Take them to Jesus: “Lord, here I come with all of my doubts and hesitancies. I give them to You.” There are ten thousand things I can’t explain. I don’t have to explain them. I would never be able to know. My mind could never encompass the omnipotent mind of God. But I can wonder, I can trust, I can love, I can adore, I can worship, I can praise. I can. God made me that way. Bring your doubt and your hesitancy to the Lord Jesus. Let Him have them.
“But, pastor, you don’t understand. My heart is hard. My heart is hard.” Bring your hardened heart to the Lord Jesus. He can make you soft and tender as a woman, as the sweetest little child. God can do that. God does it.
“Pastor, you don’t understand. I’m enmeshed in this world. And how could I come to the Lord Jesus out of the world in which I found myself entangled and enmeshed?” God can do it. God can liberate you. God can free you. God can give you liberty and triumph. God does it. He does it.
“Pastor, I have a withered hand.” What is a withered hand if the Lord says, “Stretch forth your hand”? [Mark 3:5].
“But pastor, I can’t walk.” What is it if God says, “Arise, and walk”? [Mark 2:9-12].
“But pastor, you don’t understand. I can’t hear and I’m dumb and I can’t speak.” What is that if the Lord God says, “Ephphatha—be opened, hear!” [Mark 7:34].
“But pastor, this child of mine is dead. She is dead.” What is that if Christ says, “Talitha cumi—Maiden, arise—arise, arise!” [Mark 5:41].
“But Lord, You don’t understand. He has been dead four days, and by now he is disintegrated” [John 11:39]. What is that if the Lord says, “Lazarus, come forth!” [John 11:43].
It’s God who does it. And the same omnipotent hands that created you and made you, that’s the same Lord that regenerates us, that remakes us; born again by the Spirit of “Him who liveth for ever and ever” [Revelation 10:6].
That is the prerogative of God, that’s why He is God. He is able. He is the One that created this world out of nothing [John 1:3; Colossians 1:16]. He is the One that spoke light out of darkness [Genesis 1:2-3]. He is the One that brings life out of death [Ephesians 2:1-6]. And He is the One that regenerates our souls, gives us life forever and ever, and He places it in our hands as a free gift [Ephesians 2:8-9]. I don’t work for it. I don’t buy it. I could never be good enough to deserve it. It’s a gift of God. All the praise, and the thanksgiving, and the glory are His. God does it.
And sweet people, when you give yourself to that kind of a saving gospel, you will just find yourself wanting to sing His love all the time, go to church all the time, speak words of love and gratitude for Jesus all the time, pray all the time, just rejoice all the time. It’s a new day! It’s a new life, it’s a new creation; God does it. And to give yourself to that kind of the adoration and worship is the highest calling by which the Lord could have crowned our life with glory.
And that is our appeal to you, “This day, pastor, this day, I will try it.” Come and see, try it. Let Jesus come into your heart; just see what the Lord can do. It will be a new day, a new life, a new hope, a new prayer, a new vision. It will be a new creation [2 Corinthians 5:17]. God promises us. O Lord, grant it, for all of us in divine presence this precious and holy hour. Now may we pray?
Our Lord in heaven, would we had the tongue of an angel, the voice of a seraph, O God, to be able to speak the words of grace and love in Lord Jesus, in His precious ableness. Lord, thank You for that day, long time ago, when my sainted mother turned and said, “Son, today, today, will you give your heart to the Lord Jesus?” Thank You Lord for the Spirit of God that answered in my heart as a child, “Mother today, this day, this day I will!” God be praised for the blessings of the journey, the pilgrimage ever since. And our Lord, by the thousands do we testify with the pastor, “God did that for me. There was a day when the appeal was made to my heart, and I answered yes, and I came to the Lord.” And in our combined intercessions, Master, we are asking this morning that many will come, confessing faith in the Lord Jesus.
You may not understand, don’t understand. Don’t need to understand: I breathe, not understanding the breath of life, but I breathe and live. I have been saved, and I praise God. And what God did for me, He can do for everybody, anybody.
Do it now, Lord, call to Thyself these, that today their names are written in that book [Luke 10:20; Revelation 20:15], and this is the hour that they receive Thee as Savior. Thank You, Lord, for answered prayer, to the glory of Jesus our Lord, amen.
In a moment when we stand to sing our appeal, a family you, coming into the fellowship of our wonderful church; a couple you, or just one somebody you: “I’m taking the Lord as my Savior” [Romans 10:8-13], or “I’m following Him in baptism” [Hebrews 10:24-25], or, “I’m answering the call of the Spirit in my heart,” on the first note of the first stanza, take that first step, and God will give you strength for the rest of the way. Coming down one of those stairways from the balcony, down one of these aisles in the press of people on the lower floor, “Pastor, this is God’s day for me, and here I stand.” Come, and welcome, while we stand and while we sing.
MIRACLE OF REGENERATION
I. To whom the word was spoken
A. Nicodemus, a ruler
of the Jews
B. Shocked to hear no
man is saved apart from personal regeneration
1. The preaching
of John the Baptist
C. Human identification,
achievement, effort cannot save us
1. Fails in
2. Fails in
educational, cultural life
3. Fails in
personal life (Isaiah 64:6)
D. Must be born again
II. The necessity of regeneration
A. All are dead (Ephesians
B. Without Christ (Ephesians
C. By nature children
of wrath (Ephesians 2:3)
III. Nicodemus staggers before the concept
A. Jesus says it is an
earthly, observable phenomenon (John 3:12)
B. Same Lord remakes
our souls (2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 1:23)
1. B. H.
Carroll’s “My Infidelity and What Became of It”
IV. The miracle of regeneration extended to
A. How can a man be
1. It is from God
(Ephesians 2:8-9, Isaiah 45:22, Acts 4:12)
obstacles and discouragements (Matthew 12:13, Mark 2:11, John 5:7, Mark
5:35-41, John 11:39-43)