************ Sermon on Canons of Dort, Head III-IV, Article 11 & 12 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 12, 2014
Canons, Head III-IV Articles 11-12
"You Must be Born-Again"
I want to start by telling you about two unbelieving friends. The first got to know me when I helped him with his computer. When I came over, he didn't want me to say too much about Christ and religion but I always managed to say something about the Lord. "There you go again," he said. I simply grinned in return. Then came the day he needed surgery, serious surgery he might not survive. I visited with him before surgery, told him he might die on the operating table, and again presented the claims of Christ. I asked him if he was ready to give his life to the Lord. He thought about it for maybe 15 seconds. Said "yes," went into surgery, came through surgery, and ended up joining our church. Using the words of Jesus, we would have to say that he was born-again.
Another friend was rushed to the hospital. He had a giant aneurism of the brain. His wife flew home from visiting family overseas. When she called to tell me what happened we rushed to the hospital in Bakersfield. Up to this point he had shown no response to the doctors or nurses. I said his name. He opened his eyes. I prayed the sinners prayer with him. A tear rolled down his cheek. His eyes closed and he never responded again. I want to believe that at that moment my friend was born-again.
What does it mean to be born-again?
I The Order of Salvation
A In our study of Scripture and the Canons we have been looking at the saving work of God. We have looked at the preaching of the gospel calling all men to repent and believe. And we have looked at the heart of man that accepts and believes the gospel.
I asked last time which of these three is the most important: the work of God, the preaching and evangelism of the church, or the heart of man? We learned that the work of God is most important.
This time I want to ask what exactly does God do? To answer this question, theologians talk about the order of salvation. They talk about the steps taken by the Spirit so that the work of Christ is applied to the hearts and lives of sinners.
B It starts off with preaching, with the outward call of the gospel. All salvation starts off with this. Men, women, and children come to believe in Jesus only when they are confronted with the gospel. Not a single person has ever been saved who has not in some way or in some form heard the Good News of Jesus Christ suffering, dying, and being raised to life again. That's why the church must never stop preaching. That's why individual Christians must never stop witnessing. That's why we support our missionaries – Eric & Penny Schering, John Van Hemert, Mission India church planters, Brad Lenzner, Talking Bibles, MINTS – as well as various students, and VBS both here and in Big Springs.
Do you support the outreach ministry of the church? Do you remember to pay your pledge for faith promise? Do you pray for our missionaries? Do you witness to unbelievers you come into contact with? Don't forget, God has given to the church and to every believer a command to "go and make disciples of all nations" (Mt 28:19).
C Yet, you know as well as I do, that the outward call of the gospel is not enough. This outward call does not bring salvation. Many people hear the outward call, many people hear the preaching of the Gospel, but they are not saved. Something more is needed.
What is needed is that the outward call must become an inward call. This brings us to our topic for the evening: regeneration or, using the words of Jesus, being born-again. To be saved, for the outward call of the gospel to become an inward call, for repentance and faith to take root and bear fruit, we must be regenerated, we must be born-again. Jesus says this to Nicodemus:
(Jn 3:3) I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born-again.And, what is true for Nicodemus is true for you and me too: none of us can enter the kingdom of God unless we are born-again.
II A Supernatural Work of God
A What is regeneration? What does it mean to be born-again?
The Bible uses a number of different words and phrases to describe regeneration. Jesus refers to regeneration when He tells Nicodemus that he must be "born-again" (John 3:3). When Paul describes those in Christ as a "new creation," he is referring to the act of regeneration (2 Cor. 5:17). When he refers to Christians as God's "workmanship" made for the purpose of good works, he is again referring to regeneration (Eph 2:10). Peter is referring to regeneration when he describes followers of Jesus as "newborn babes" (1 Pet 2:2). The Canons pick up these different phrases when it says:
this is the regeneration, the new creation, the raising from the dead, and the making alive so clearly proclaimed in the Scriptures ... (Art 12)Based upon Scripture, the Canons tell us regeneration is a mighty, marvelous, and powerful work of God. The Canons compare it to the act of Creation or the Resurrection of the dead.
B Let's take a look, for a moment, at God's great and wondrous act of Creation.
(Gen 1:3) And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.
(Gen 1:9) And God said, "Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear." And it was so.
(Gen 1:11) Then God said, "Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds." And it was so.
(Gen 1:14-15) And God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, (15) and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth." And it was so.
(Gen 1:24) And God said, "Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind." And it was so.
Do you see the pattern? God spoke, and it was done. Isn't God marvellous? Isn't He wondrous? None of us can do what only God can do – none of us can call things into being simply by the words of our mouth.
C Let's also consider those who were raised from the dead. Remember Lazarus? Jesus stood in front of his tomb and called out in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" And, says Scripture,
(Jn 11:44) The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.Or, consider the widow of Nain's dead son:
(Lk 7:14-15) Then Jesus went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, "Young man, I say to you, get up!" (15) The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.Or, consider the dead daughter of Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue:
(Mk 5:41-42) Jesus took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha koum!" (which means, "Little girl, I say to you, get up!"). (42) Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished.Do you see the pattern? Again, God spoke and it happened. Isn't God marvellous? Isn't He wondrous? None of us can do what only God can do – none of us can call people forth from the grave.
D The Canons of Dort wants us to see the same pattern in regeneration, in being born-again, that we see in the Creation and Resurrection stories – namely, God speaks, and it happens. This is how the Canons put it:
... it is an entirely supernatural work, one that is at the same time most powerful and most pleasing, a marvelous, hidden, and inexpressible work, which is not lesser than or inferior in power to that of creation or of raising the dead (Art 12).
Regeneration, like Creation and Resurrection, is an act of God, a supernatural act of God. In regeneration, just like Creation and Resurrection, God speaks and it happens. Regeneration, like Creation and Resurrection, is impossible for man to do. Regeneration, like Creation and Resurrection, is a most powerful work. Regeneration, like Creation and Resurrection, should cause us to say:
Isn't God marvellous? Isn't He wondrous? None of us can do what only God can do -- none of us can make people born-again.
E In the Greek, the phrase "born-again" tells us three things. First, the phrase may also be translated as "born from above." This translation emphasizes that it is God Who makes us born-again. It, says the Canons, is "an entirely supernatural work" of the sovereign God (Art 12). It comes from above. Along the same line, the Canons reminds us that regeneration is that "which God works in us" (Art 12).
Second, it tells us that man is passive. Just as man does not choose to be born, so he does not choose to be born-again. Just as we are completely passive at our natural birth, so are we completely passive at our spiritual birth. Says the Canons, regeneration is that which "God works in us without our help" (art 12).
Third, it happens only once. It is a single act. It happens one time for all time. Just like no person enters his mother's womb a second or a third time, so no believer is born of God a second or a third time.
F I need to stress, as does the Canons, that regeneration, or rebirth, or the new creation, is an "entirely supernatural work." It is not up to man to accept or reject what God wants to do. Go back for a moment to the image of Creation or Resurrection. Can you imagine God saying, "Let there be light, please" as if He needs permission? Or, can you imagine Jesus saying, "Lazarus, please come out"? Just like the Creation has no say in its creation, just like Lazarus has no say in his resurrection, so believers have no say in their rebirth. It is entirely a supernatural work. Says Jesus,
(Jn 3:8) The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."
It is not in man's power to determine whether or not he will be reborn or converted. God works this in us without our help or even our permission. It is entirely a supernatural work of His Spirit.
III Implanting of New Life
A What else can we say about regeneration? Remember, we are talking about the order of salvation. Regeneration always results in new life. It is that act of the Holy Spirit by which new life is implanted into man. When God makes us born-again, says the Canons,
He infuses new qualities into the will, making the dead will alive, the evil one good, the unwilling one willing, and the stubborn one compliant; he activates and strengthens the will so that, like a good tree, it may be enabled to produce the fruits of good deeds (Art 11).
Whether the figure used involves birth, life, creation, resurrection, flowing rivers, or whatever, the Bible is presenting a new experience of life which is enriching, comprehensive, and thoroughly different.
B When someone is born-again, their life shows it. When someone is born-again, they bear fruit. In more than one place Paul tells us the result of regeneration (Eph 4:17-32; Col 3:1-17). Because of regeneration each believer has put off the old man of sin and put on the new man of righteousness. Because of regeneration believers practice truth, control anger, demonstrate kindness, and submit to the control of the Holy Spirit. Those who are born-again repent and believe. Those who are born-again struggle constantly against sin and evil. Those who are born-again clothe themselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. They bear with each other and forgive each other. And over all these virtues they put on love.
Are you born-again? Are your loved ones born-again? The only way to tell is by looking for fruit. You see, regeneration happens within. You can't see or hear it happening. All that you can do is look for its fruit, the outward signs that an inward thing has happened. If the fruit is not there, it is extremely doubtful that the person is born-again. If the fruit is not there, it is extremely doubtful that the person has a place in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Isn't God marvellous? Isn't He wondrous? He created everything out of nothing; He spoke and it happened. None of us can do this. He called the dead from the grave; He spoke and they listened. None of us can do this. With His Spirit he takes people who are dead in sin and plants new life in them. None of us can do this.
Are you born-again? Then give God the honor, praise, and thanks. Give Him the glory because He has done what no man can do. He has made us born-again.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page