Depravity and Regeneration (4): A Battleground Within the Regenerated Believer
Reformed Free Publishing Association
What follows is the fourth entry of a series of articles written by Rev. Wilbur Bruinsma. The third entry is Depravity and Regeneration (3): The Freedom of the Regenerated Believer.
The life of a regenerated sinner is a battle ground. This is true because he carries with him a sinful flesh. There is a law in his members seeking to pull him down into captivity to the law of sin. Though the regenerated sinner is yet the old man of sin, the old man is no longer in control. Being redeemed in the blood of Christ the regenerated believer is become a new creature. Through the work of regeneration, faith, and sanctification he is recreated. His spiritual identity is now the new man in Christ. According to Ephesians 4:24, the regenerated man and woman have the image of God restored to them: “And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” According to Colossians 3:10, this image of God also includes a true knowledge of God: “And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.” This new man renewed in the image of God is now who we are. Not the old man, but the new man dominates our hearts and therefore our thoughts and desires. The old man is not in control! There is not even a 50/50 relationship between the old and new man as if the control of who we are is up for grabs! The new man, the inward man of the heart (Romans 7:22) is in control of our hearts, thoughts and desires. I am the new man in Christ.
The result is that in the inner recesses of my heart I deeply love God. He is my Father whom I adore. I fear God and seek to please him. I desire to serve him. I therefore will to do the good and hate and eschew evil (Romans 7:19-21). I make God’s commandments my choice. O how love I thy law! It is the desire of every regenerated child of God, therefore, to walk in good works. He actually strives to walk in good works. Not in order to save himself. He is already saved. But because the inner principle of his heart is love for God and his commandments.
But let’s understand how this works. It is not as if the regenerated man is totally depraved and unable to do good until which time Jesus Christ does the good for him. The believer is not inactive in his salvation. The new man is not Christ. The believer himself is the new man. Christ is not in me performing good works for me. It is true that Christ is present in me with respect to his Godhead, grace and Spirit (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 18; Q&A 47). Through the power of God’s grace, through the work of the Spirit leading and directing me, through Christ’s divine work within me I think, will and do the good. I do. He works in me in such a way that I will and do of God’s good pleasure. Philippians 2:13: “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” The life of Christ in me empowers me to do the good. Think of a light bulb. It cannot shine without the power of electricity. Well, I am that bulb. I shine by means of the Spirit of Christ working within me. But I shine. Christ is the electricity that empowers me to shine. This is why I am called to work out my own salvation with fear and trembling. A totally depraved man would be both unwilling and unable to do that because he is not saved.
This ties in with what may seem to be an entirely unrelated matter: God built the ark. Really? You’re going to bring up that side issue? It is not a side issue! It relates directly to the matter at hand. This is another bit and piece when put together with the rest of the controversy becomes but another error in the thinking of those who oppose themselves. Put the pieces together! If the contention that “God built the ark” stood all by itself, perhaps it could be interpreted favorably. Certainly, God was at work by his grace in the heart of Noah to build the ark. Noah built the ark by faith, a work of Jesus Christ through his Spirit in Noah performs. But it is contended: “Noah did not build the ark. God did.” That statement denies the truth that regenerated Noah was himself willing and able by God’s grace to perform the good work of building the ark. Noah by faith picked up the hammer and saw to build an ark.
In this lies the root of the error. To say that the regenerated man is not able to think, will, or do the good because he is yet totally depraved; to say that it is Christ in him that does the work for him; to say that God built the ark and not Noah, is to deny the work of Christ in salvation. The believer then becomes nothing more than a stock and block as the Canons of Dordt explains in Heads 3 and 4, Article 16: “. . . this grace of regeneration does not treat men as senseless stocks and blocks, nor takes away their will and properties, neither does violence thereto; but spiritually quickens, heals, corrects, and at the same time sweetly and powerfully bends it; that where carnal rebellion and resistance formerly prevailed, a ready and sincere spiritual obedience begins to reign, in which the true and spiritual restoration and freedom of our will consist.” The regenerated man himself thinks, wills and does the good. His mind and will has been set free!
This does not deny the truth that though delivered through regeneration from the slavery and dominion of sin we still have in us the “body of sin” and “the infirmities of the flesh” (Canons 5; Article 1). In other words, the new man and the old man exist side by side with one another. This produces a constant daily warfare within the regenerated sinner. The good that he truly desires to do because he is the new man in Christ he fails to do because sin dwells in him. The evil he truly hates because he is regenerated he yet does because of the law of sin in his members (Romans 7). In Galatians 5:17, Paul explains this struggle within ourselves between the flesh and the new man who is regenerated by the Spirit. “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” What a wearisome battle that goes on within a redeemed child of God!
“Hence spring forth daily sins of infirmity, and hence spots adhere to the best works of the saints which furnish them with constant matter for humiliation before God and flying for refuge to Christ crucified . . .” (Canons 5; Article 2). The Catechism explains: “even the holiest men, while in this life, have only a small beginning of this obedience.” This is why we pray for the forgiveness of sin. This is why we ask God to lead us not into temptation but to deliver us from evil. This is why we “with sincere resolution begin to live not only according to some, but all the commandments of God” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 44; Q&A 114). This is not true of a totally depraved individual because such a person only delights in sin. This is the activity only of a regenerated heart, mind, and will set free to walk in all good works.
All of this implies Christ’s work in our sanctification, which we will discuss next time.