New Birth: A Lesson from Lewis

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June 28 2013
Author: Pastor Bill Henderson

C.S. Lewis became a Christian in 1931. Best known for authoring The Chronicles of Narnia in the 1950’s, it was in 1932 that he became a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford where he served as a tutor in English Language and Literature for 29 years. A year earlier, one September evening in 1931, Lewis had a long late-night discussion about Christianity with his close friends J.R.R. Tolkien (author of The Lord of the Rings) and Hugo Dyson. The very next day, with his brother, he experienced an uneventful yet life-changing bus-ride:

I know very well when, but hardly how, the final step was taken. I was driven into Whipsnade one sunny morning. When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did. And yet I had not exactly spent the journey in thought. Nor in great emotion. “Emotional” is perhaps the last word we can apply to some of the most important events. It was more like when a man, after long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awake. And it was, like that moment on top of the bus…
(C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life [New York: Harcourt Brace & World, 1955] 237)

For some, it’s accompanied by tears of conviction perhaps mixed with overcoming feelings of excitement and celebration. But for others the very moment of the new birth occurs quietly on a bus ride to the zoo. Either way, new life in Christ is out of this world and a result of God’s amazing grace!

Lewis’ brief testimony, especially his illustration of a sleeping man rousing into consciousness, conforms to the biblical idea of new birth (or the doctrine of regeneration). Conversion (faith and repentance) is the human response to God’s offer of salvation, but new birth is the other side of conversion and completely God’s doing. If I was to build a definition of the new birth from the Bible I would word it this way:

Regeneration: In God’s process of saving people for Himself, the new birth is a sovereign, secret, initial, instantaneous and unrepeatable action of the Holy Spirit who, on the grounds of Christ’s cross-work and resurrection life, implants an essential inner spiritual life which radically transforms the natural inclinations and desires of an individual setting in motion a new direction with the inevitable result of behavioural change that conforms to the person of Christ.

Personal study: This definition of regeneration (above) was constructed from the following passages: Ezekiel 36:25-26; John 1:13; 3:3-8; 6:63; Acts 16:14; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15; Ephesians 2:1, 5; Colossians 2:13; Titus 3:5; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:3, 23; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1-4, 18.

Some Practical Implications:

1. No human makes the new birth happen. No preacher, no evangelist, and no author can make it happen. You can’t make it happen yourself. God makes it happen. It happens to us, not by us.

2. For the Christian the new birth is a one-time single action of the Holy Spirit. Nowhere in the Bible is the new birth considered incomplete. A person may experience antecedent awakenings but the new birth itself is complete in a moment of time. Therefore, if you are a Christian, while you may be more or less sanctified, no one can say that you are more or less regenerated. All Christians have been twice born.

3. While the new birth initiates a process of spiritual development that continues over the duration of a Christian’s life (called sanctification), the new birth finds its sustained completion at the final stage of the Christian’s life (called glorification) at the Second Coming of Christ. So, in a temporal world of decay and downgrade where flowers wilt, cars rust, and world leaders come and go, be assured that if you are born again you have not received a temporary resuscitation but the very genesis of imperishable spiritual life that will last you for eternity.

4. All those who are truly born again are fruitful. Whenever the likes of the Barna Group reports statistics to show that “born again Christians” are indistinguishable from the world (they sin as much, divorce as much, sacrifice for others as little, embrace injustice as readily, covet things as greedily, and so on) you can be sure that the biblical reality of the new birth has been slandered. Claiming you’re “born again” doesn’t make it so any more than reporting such a claim makes it true. Christians may be immature, and all Christians are imperfect, but no Christian continually behaves like an unregenerate person. “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God” (1 John 3:9).

5. The new birth is an urgent necessity because it answers the deepest human need, a need that we humans are impotent to fulfill. Contrary to the common Canadian assumption (even among most mainline Protestant churches) that human nature is essentially good, the Bible teaches that human nature is depraved and radically so. Therefore, due to human incapability, the new birth is never acquired through re-education, character development, sacraments, psychotherapy, or any other means of moral or religious self-improvement. God’s Spirit alone by absolute necessity must effect a supernatural rebirth to reverse sin’s curse and radically transform our lives from top to bottom.

6. The new birth is a re-birth because it is restorative. One of the results of the Fall of humanity from grace into sin was the onset of spiritual death. Today everyone is born into this world with biological life but not spiritual life. In the spiritual realm we are dead in our trespasses and sins. But spiritual rebirth, while rousing saving faith and repentance into consciousness, kicks off the reversal of the Fall and begins the process of negating the effects of sin and reestablishing our original human nature created in the image of God before the Fall’s damage.

7. The new birth exalts the amazing grace of God to the skies. Sometimes people say, “Believe in Jesus and you will be born again,” but this expression is biblically inaccurate and potentially robs God of His rightful glory. If you’re a Christian God’s action in your new birth was the decisive cause of your faith not the other way around. When you put your faith in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour you are acting out the new birth, you are breathing in the new life. The new birth does not take place without your belief in Christ but the new birth is the birth of that belief. Saving faith is never its own cause. God is. Therefore, God deserves all the glory.

8. You must, you must be born again. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.

Pastor Bill

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