Depravity and Regeneration (2): "Except we are Regenerated"
Reformed Free Publishing Association
What follows is the second entry of a series of articles written by Rev. Wilbur Bruinsma. The first entry is Depravity and Regeneration (1): Understanding Total Depravity.
In our last blog we ended with a truth with which every Reformed believer agrees: since the fall of Adam every person conceived and born into this world is totally depraved. Every person is conceived and born dead in sins and trespasses. The Heidelberg Catechism asks in Question 8, “Are we then so corrupt that we are wholly incapable of doing good and inclined to all wickedness?” The answer is clear: “Indeed we are.” The question we now attempt to answer is, however: is the child of God once regenerated, justified and sanctified still “incapable of doing any good and inclined to all wickedness” (totally depraved)?
The Catechism continues in its answer to Question 8: indeed man is totally depraved “except we are regenerated by the Spirit of God.” This instruction of the Heidelberg Catechism is based on what Jesus himself teaches us in John 3:3, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” From eternity God has chosen by his sovereign grace a people unto himself in Christ. By the same working of his grace God delivers them from the corruption of sin and unbelief into which they fell in Adam. God accomplishes this through the work of Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection. When our ascended Lord sends forth his Spirit into the hearts of his people the Spirit regenerates them. Through this work they have been brought from death into life. We who were at one time dead in sins and trespasses have been made alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:1, 5). The Spirit works in us the life of our Lord Jesus Christ so that as a result we become alive. This takes place when upon regeneration the elect sinner is now grafted into Jesus Christ and becomes one with him. The life of our Savior now becomes his life. Christ’s mind becomes his mind and Christ’s desires become his desires.
What then can we say of the spiritual condition of those who are regenerated though the Spirit and grafted into Christ? Well, what does the Bible teach us? First, we who were blind prior to regeneration now are able to see and understand the things of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus teaches us this: being born again we are able to see the kingdom of God. Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians 2:12 that the Spirit has revealed to us those things that are freely given us of God. Second, we who were lost in the darkness of unbelief prior to regeneration are now given the light of God. 1 Thessalonians 5:5, “Ye are all the children of the light, and the children of the day: we are not children of the night, nor of darkness.” Third, we who were slaves to sin and Satan prior to regeneration have now been freed from the bondage of sin. Romans 6:22, “But now being made free from sin, and become servants of God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.” Fourth, we already pointed out that we who were dead prior to regeneration are now made alive in Christ. (What about filth versus clean?)
What is the point in all of this? To prove what is being vehemently denied by some, that the regenerated, engrafted believer is no longer totally depraved. Scripture reveals it. Total depravity = blindness, darkness, slavery, death. Regeneration = sight, light, freedom, life. Christ has earned for the unrighteous sinner the righteousness to stand before God. Christ has also overcome the power and dominion of sin over such sinners. He has cleansed us from our sin.
To deny that the regenerated, justified, and sanctified believer is no longer totally depraved has serious consequences that leads into another error: God’s people are incapable of thinking or willing the good, even after being regenerated. This error has surfaced in letters written to the Standard Bearer and in some protests/appeals against the preaching of several ministers, an error properly answered by writings and decisions. The claim is made that the only reason the regenerated man is said to think and will the good is that Christ does this for him. The will of regenerated man, it is claimed, has not been set free by means of his salvation, but is still in bondage to sin. The Canons of Dordt deal with this error in Heads 3-4, Art. 11. First of all, this is what happens to the minds of those who are saved: God “powerfully illuminates their minds by his Holy Spirit that they might rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God.” Second, this is what happens to man’s will: God “by the efficacy of the same regenerating Spirit pervades the inmost recesses of the man; he opens the closed and softens the hardened heart, and circumcises that which was uncircumcised, infuses new qualities into the will which though heretofore dead, he quickeneth from being evil, disobedient, and refractory, he renders it good, obedient, and pliable; actuates and strengthens it that like a good tree it may bring forth the fruits of good actions.” The point is: God through the work of the regenerating Spirit of Christ in us actuates our minds and wills so that the believer himself thinks, desires and is able to do the good. Christ does not do the thinking and willing for us, but works in and through us by his Spirit and grace freeing our minds and wills in order that we think and will the good.
We are not finished. If the regenerated believer is not totally depraved then why does he so often walk in sin and disobedience? We need to understand according to Scripture (human reasoning is vain) the relationship between the old and new man in us. This will wait for next time.