A Biblical Exposition of the Gospel: The Good News – A New Heart

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Good News: A Biblical Exposition of the Gospel
Pt 6
The Good News: A New Heart – Holy Spirit!

The gospel is a multi-faceted jewel that reveals multiple perspectives on the amazing grace of God for all who are in Jesus Christ. Learn 3 biblical perspectives on God’s amazing grace found in the person and work of God’s Holy Spirit in your life:

  • Good News of Regeneration: You are Born Again!
  • Good News of Redemption: You are Set Free!
  • Good News of Sanctification: You are Being Transformed!

In the Applied Theology Series, “Good News: A Biblical Exposition of the Gospel, Part 6” by Drs. John Frame and Steve Childers, you’ll learn the important differences between being born again (regeneration), being set free (redemption), and being transformed (sanctification) by the Holy Spirit.
 

Learning Tip: Go deeper by reading the 23 footnotes!


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Chapter 5: The Good News: A New Heart – Holy Spirit!

A Biblical Exposition of the Gospel
Drs. John M. Frame and Steven L. Childers

Introduction
God the Father is portrayed in the Bible as Creator, God the Son as Redeemer, and God the Spirit as Restorer of all things lost in creation and humanity because of sin. So the biblical concept of the gift of the Holy Spirit carries with it God’s restoration of fallen humanity through his gift of a new heart and God’s restoration of fallen creation through his gift of a new world. Let’s begin with a closer look at God’s gift to us of a new heart by his Holy Spirit.

This is the good news that by God’s indwelling Holy Spirit he transforms our spiritually dead and corrupt hearts by giving us a new nature, a new freedom, and a new life in Christ. There are three biblical terms that can help deepen our understanding of our new heart from God: regenerationredemption, and sanctification. In regeneration God gives us a new nature by implanting his Spirit in us, in redemption God gives us a new freedom by definitively breaking the domineering power of sin over us, and in sanctification God gives us a new life by progressively transforming us into the image of Christ.

New Birth: Regeneration
At the end of Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, he promises all who will repent not only “the forgiveness of your sins” but also “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2: 38-39). When we become followers of Jesus, we receive God’s indwelling Holy Spirit who gives us a brand new nature.[1] We need not only the vindication of God as Just Judge, but also the healing of our corrupt souls by God as Great Physician. It is as much God’s purpose to save us from sin’s corruption as it is to save us from sin’s guilt.[2]

When Nicodemus, a Jewish leader, approached Jesus to ask about the Kingdom of God, Jesus drew on God’s New Covenant promise of his Spirit in Ezekiel, and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Then Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God … The wind  blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:3-8)

When Jesus speaks of being “born of the water and the Spirit,” he’s not referring to the waters of baptism or natural birth. Instead, he’s referring to God’s promised cleansing renewal of human souls by his Spirit as pictured in Ezekiel 36. Paul calls this work of the Holy Spirit in new birth the washing of regeneration: “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior (Titus 3:5-6).”[3]

The good news is that by a miracle of divine grace–a new life has been implanted in us, and that life is the life of God himself. There is now divine opposition implanted in us to counter the power of sin. God has given us a new nature, a new set of desires, and a new set of dispositions to know him, please him, glorify him and enjoy him as our Heavenly Father.[4]

The good news is that no matter how alone or powerless we may feel, we are not alone and without God’s power to flourish in life according to his design. Through our faith in Christ, God has graciously given us his Holy Spirit to come alongside us, to comfort and encourage us, to convict and teach us, and to empower us so that we will be conformed into the image of Jesus Christ. (John 14:18, 25-26, John 16:12-14, Romans 8:29, 2 Cor 3:17-18).[5]

New Freedom: Redemption
When the Holy Spirit regenerates us, he unites us to Christ resulting in a definitive break with sin’s domineering power over us and a new freedom to strive after holiness and righteousness. Paul describes this as a definitive, one-time act of God in the lives of all believers in Christ. (Rom 6, Eph 2:1-6, 2 Cor 5:14-15, and Col 2:20-3:4)[6]

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he changes his focus from the benefit of Christ’s death and resurrection in our justification in Romans 1-5, to the benefit of Christ’s death and resurrection in our sanctification in Romans 6 because of our union with Christ.[7] In Romans 6, Paul refers to this radical change God makes in us as our “death to sin” through our union with Christ in his death and our “newness of life” by our union with Christ in his resurrection.[8]

Therefore, all who are in Christ have been redeemed from their previous bondage, meaning they’ve been delivered from their captivity in Satan’s domain of darkness and death, and they’ve been transferred to God’s Kingdom of light and life (Col 1:13-14).

Paul often personifies sin as a power by speaking of “sin” in the singular sense rather than “sins” in a plural sense.[9] And he teaches that sin enslaves us primarily through three archenemies of our soul – the diabolical trinity of the world, the flesh[10], and the devil that holds us captive in the domain of darkness. (Rom 5:12, 21; 6:23, 8:2). Satan’s domain of darkness extends beyond individual human hearts to all spheres of private and public life.

The Apostle John writes, “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” (1 Jn 5:19)[11] This is why we need more than forgiveness for our sin. We also need to be rescued from Satan’s domain of darkness and transferred to God’s kingdom of light.

In order to rescue us and our runaway world under the dominion of evil, God himself took on a human nature in Jesus and entered our story as one of us.[12] As our Warrior King, Jesus then did valiant personal battle for us against all of his and our spiritual enemies that held us captive. Paul writes, “He disarmed the powers and authorities…and triumphed over them by the cross.”[13]

From infancy Jesus did battle with every spiritual enemy that defeated us and held us captive. He faced every temptation known to humanity from the world, the flesh, and the devil. But unlike us he never sinned, so that through his suffering, he could earn a perfect righteousness for us before God, completely obeying all of God’s commands in thought, word, and deed.

Jesus offered himself up to God for us as not only our substitute in his life, but also in his death. When Jesus died on the cross, he did not simply experience the pain of physical suffering and death. He also suffered the full wrath and punishment of God that we deserve because of our sin (Is 53:6).

As proof of our Redeemer-King’s victory over sin’s domineering power in fallen humanity and creation, God raised him from the dead and seated him on his throne in heaven. This signifies God giving Jesus the sole authority and power as Lord and Savior to deliver his people from their captivity to the world, the flesh, and the devil and transfer them into his kingdom of light and life on earth forever.

Paul proclaims  “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Col 1:13-14) Through Jesus, God gives us not only forgiveness of sins but freedom from the enslaving power of the world, the flesh, the devil, and even death.[14]

The biblical doctrine of redemption is an all-inclusive concept that refers to the fullness of God’s redemptive work in Christ, but it also refers in a more restricted sense to a deliverance and freedom that comes by the payment of a ransom price. Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Luke 10:45)[15] The word redemption may also refer to a deliverance that comes by means of a champion’s victory.[16] John writes, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 Jn. 3:8)

Paul’s freedom imagery is seen in his use of the word redemption (λυτρον) with a focus on how Christ sets sinners free from the domineering power of sin: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men.” (1 Tim 2:5-6).[17]

No matter how intense or enslaving our present struggle with sin may be, we no longer need to be in bondage to sin’s dominion over our lives.[18] Although we can never be free from sin’s influence until heaven, the good news is that, because of our union with Jesus in his death and resurrection, we’ve been delivered from sin’s dominion and set free to live a life of righteousness.[19]

New Life: Sanctification
Paul saw God’s gifts to believers of a new nature through regeneration and a new freedom through ransom as just the beginning of his Spirit’s transforming work in their lives called sanctification.[20]

The biblical term sanctify (ἁγιάσαι) has a one-time positional dimension and an ongoing experiential dimension. The Holy Spirit begins the process of transforming believers immediately upon their regeneration. In Titus 3:5 Paul writes, “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.” Paul establishes a strong, organic link between the washing of rebirth and the renewal by the Holy Spirit.

Calvin also affirms that the doctrine of regeneration includes both conversion and spiritual transformation through sanctification.[21] The work of God’s Spirit in our renewal begins by giving us the gifts of regeneration and ransom, but then continues as an ongoing sanctifying process through which “our inner self is being renewed day by day.” (2 Cor 4:16b) Paul writes: “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18).[22]

Because of Paul’s confidence in the Holy Spirit’s work in us that he is able to say, “We do not lose heart” (2 Cor 4:16a) while facing various trials of life that are all rooted in man’s sinful nature (2 Cor 4:8-12).

Christians often reduce the gospel to “God’s plan of salvation” for lost people to be saved from sin’s penalty, not realizing that it’s also “God’s plan of salvation” for Christians to be saved from sin’s power. The same gospel message that saves sinners also sanctifies saints.

Therefore, the gospel should be seen as not only a message of good news for lost people to be saved from sin’s penalty, but also as a message of good news for believers to be saved from sin’s domineering power. The goal of the gospel is not merely to forgive us, but to change us into true worshippers of God and authentic lovers of people.

The gospel is not just a gate we pass through one time but a path we are to walk each day of our lives.[23] It’s God’s solution not merely to our guilt, but also our moral corruption—as well as the ultimate solution to all the problems of life both personal and social.

The gospel is not merely a set of propositions to be believed and defended, but it is also a supernatural power to be released in and through our lives and churches for a broken world.

Footnotes:


[1] Regeneration is monergistic: meaning it’s entirely the work of God the Holy Spirit. The Spirit’s work precedes and causes our conversion.

[2] Christ’s purpose in our life as Savior is not only to save us from sin’s penalty but also to save us from sin’s power and corruption. The Psalmist praises God for both of these benefits when he writes, “Bless the Lord O my soul and forget none of his benefits: Who forgives all your iniquities and heals all your diseases. (Ps 103:1–3) This is why the old hymnwriter of “Rock of Ages” writes “Be of sin the double cure, cleanse me from its guilt and power.

[3] J.I. Packer writes, “Regeneration is an act of God whereby a soul undergoes a spiritual resurrection into a new sphere of life, in which he is alive to God and united to Him in Christ. God has implanted in the newborn soul a totally new principle of life.” Calvin, whom Packer calls “the theologian of the Holy Spirit”, uses the term regeneration to cover the whole progressive transformation and conformation of the believer by the Holy Spirit, including conversion and sanctification. Calvin writes, “For Christ imparts the Spirit of regeneration to us in order that he may renew us within … and that a new life may then follow the renewal of mind and heart.” – Calvin’s Commentary of Acts 5:31 (CO 48.111)

[4] In the biblical doctrines of propitiation, justification, and adoption, we see God’s gracious, one-time acts on our behalf never requiring repetition. Theologians call these one-time acts definitive acts versus progressive acts. But the doctrine of regeneration includes both kinds of acts. Regeneration is a definitive act of God, referring to a one-time event in history when God’s Spirit performs the miracle of new birth in our souls giving us a new heart. But regeneration is just the beginning, the origin of our sanctification. It coincides in time with definitive sanctification and is the source of our lifelong process of progressive sanctification into the image of Christ.

[5] As we learn to “live by the Spirit,” God promises that we “will not gratify the desires of our sinful nature”(Gal. 5:16).

[6] The biblical doctrine of sanctification refers to the process of our personal transformation into the likeness of Christ that takes place progressively over time. But most of the words in the New Testament that refer to our sanctification do not describe a process of God’s work in us over time, but a one-time, once-for-all definitive act of God. For example, when Paul addresses the believers at Corinth he refers to their sanctification in the past tense as “sanctified in Christ Jesus” and “washed, sanctified, and justified” (1 Cor 1:2, 1 Cor 6:11). When Paul writes Timothy, he refers to believers as those who have been “set apart as holy” (2 Tim 2:21). The New Testament terms for purification are also used with this same meaning, i.e. believers have been purified by a one-time act of God in the past (Acts 15:9; Eph. 5:26; Titus 2:14).

[7] John Murray writes, “But it is a fact too frequently overlooked that in the New Testament the most characteristic terms that refer to sanctification are used, not of a process, but of a once-for-all definitive act. It would be, therefore, a deflection from biblical patterns of language and conception to think of sanctification exclusively in terms of a progressive work.” – Definitive Sanctification Murray also writes about the common neglect of this biblical teaching: “The bearing of Jesus’ death and resurrection upon our justification has been in the forefront of Protestant teaching. But their bearing upon sanctification has not been sufficiently appreciated.” – The Agency in Definitive Sanctification

[8] In Romans chapters 1-5, Paul expounds the good news of our new, legal standing before God in the heavenly court based on the gift of Christ’s forensic, external (alien) righteousness that God imputes to our account when we believe in Christ. Then, in Romans 6, Paul shifts his focus away from God’s external, judicial act in his heavenly court for us to God’s more internal and subjective act in us by his Spirit uniting us with Christ. Paul’s good news in Romans 6 is that because we are now united with Christ in his death and resurrection, God has definitively broken sin’s domineering power over us (“we died with Christ”) and infused Jesus’ resurrection power in us (“we are raised with Christ) to be “instruments of righteousness.”

[9] Paul describes fallen humanity as being held captive under the power of sin (Rom 3:29, 1 Cor 15:56, Gal 3:22), in bondage to the dominion of sin (Rom 5:21, 6:12, 14), and therefore enslaved to sin (Rom 6:6-7, 16-18, 20, 7:14).

[10] The New Testament word σαρκὸς often translated “flesh” is not referring to the flesh of the human body but to our sinful human nature that opposes the work of the Spirit. Paul writes, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” (Gal 5:16-17)

[11] Paul refers to Satan as “the god of this world (who) has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Cor 4:4)

[12] One author wrote, “It’s as if he snuck into the enemy camp, under cover of night, to whisper words of love to his own: I have come for you!”

[13] Throughout history, theologians have formulated several theories about how Jesus’ death was “for our sake,” including Christus Victor [Latin: Christ the Victor]: a perspective toward the atoning work of Jesus that emphasizes his triumph over the evil powers of the world, through which he rescues his people from the domain of darkness to transfer them into the kingdom of God’s light. (Col 1:13-14)

[14] Although Paul speaks of the death of Christ as the basis of our “forgiveness of sins” (Eph 1:17; Col 1:14) and “for our sins” (1 Cor 15:3, Gal 1:4), he also speaks of the death of Christ as the basis for our “deliverance” and “redemption” from the enslaving power of sin revealed in the world, the flesh, the devil, and even death–in which forgiveness of sins is a vital part but not the whole.

[15] Throughout church history, many have promoted unbiblical views of Jesus’ atoning work of ransom, including the view that Satan is the one to whom the ransom of Jesus’ death was paid, and the erroneous view that an angry God afflicts cosmic child abuse on his son to satisfy his cruel demand for justice. Roger Nicole presents the biblical view of ransom: “In common language, the word ransom and its cognates were frequently used with reference to a payment which insured the liberation of prisoners (both prisoners of war and those who were incarcerated on legal grounds) and the emancipation of slaves. It secured a deliverance from the thralldom of servitude or, although more rarely, from the penal consequences of the violation of the law.” (1964:202) This view is also expounded by Leon Morris in The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross.

[16] Nicole writes, “One should also take into consideration numerous passages where Satan is represented as the adversary (this is the meaning of the name Satan), where the struggle occurs between the forces of good and evil, where Christ appears as humanity’s champion, and where Christians themselves are enlisted in the battle royal against demonic powers. It is probably in this universe of discourse that Genesis 3:15, “He shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel,” finds its meaning as the protoeuangelion” (1964:204).

[17] Paul also describes Jesus as the one “who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (Titus 2:14). Leon Morris describes Paul’s freedom imagery: “Christians agree that evil is strong and that they cannot break free from it by themselves. But the wonderful thing about the Christian way is that it is the way of freedom. The evil that is part of human nature has been defeated in Christ. Believers live in freedom. Since the price has been paid the bondage is ended. They are no longer to live in slavery” The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross

[18] Paul’s good news of freedom from sin’s dominion sounds like this: “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his …  For one who has died has been set free from sin … For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:1-13) We see here Paul’s biblical ethic that grace motivates obedience. To Paul, the root of salvation is our union with Christ, especially in his death and resurrection. Because Jesus died–we died in him, and because Jesus was raised–we are raised in him to newness of life.

[19] Commenting on Romans 6, John Owen writes, “Wherefore, to be freed from the dominion of sin is not to be freed absolutely from all sin, so as that it should in no sense abide in us any more.” See Owen’s A Treatise of The Dominion of Sin and Grace and A Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit V:iii

[20] Paul describes this ongoing process of sanctification through which God transforms believers as being solely a work of God: “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.” (1Thess 5:23)

[21] “Many seventeenth century Reformed theologians equated regeneration with effectual calling and conversion with regeneration … later Reformed theology has defined regeneration more narrowly, as the implanting of the “seed” from which faith and repentance spring (I John 3:9) in the course of effectual calling.” J.I. Packer, Regeneration, Elwell Evangelical Dictionary

[22] Paul saw our spiritual process of transformation as a complete reversal of its bodily counterpart: “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Cor 4:16). Kenneth Prior comments: “Our bodies begin with health and vigor of youth and then gradually decline to the weakness of old age and, ultimately, death. Our spiritual history is the complete opposite. Instead of a healthy and vigorous nature, a Christian begins with a nature corrupted and weakened by sin. From this unpromising start the believer is daily renewed by the Holy Spirit and can look forward to the day when this sanctifying process will be complete.” The Way of Holiness, IVP, p. 57

[23] Tim Keller often writes, “The gospel is not just the ABC’s of Christianity, but the A to Z of Christianity.”


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