Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Cor. 5:17, NIV)
The Bible says that the sinful mind is hostile to God, that men love darkness rather than light, and that by nature we are dead in trespasses and sins. So how is it that you would love Christ, believe the gospel, and desire to be more holy than you are?
Your salvation involves something that God has done, and something that he is still doing. What God has done is give you new life, new birth. We call that regeneration. What he is still doing is to make you increasingly like Christ. We usually refer to this as sanctification.
Sanctification is sometimes used to describe a completed work. For example, in 1 Corinthians 6:11, Paul says, “You were sanctified.” But usually sanctification is continuing and progressive.
I want you to see how these wonderful gifts that are ours in Christ relate together. Here’s a simple analogy:
Karen and I enjoyed a wonderful day on Monday. It was my birthday and we celebrated in style. I could tell you “We had a wonderful day.” Or I could unpack that and tell you what made it a wonderful day.
We went to the Inn at Lake Geneva. We sat on a little balcony looking out over the lake. It was cold and wet, but we sat out with our overcoats on (only a couple from Britain would do this), and we enjoyed every minute of it.
We had a marvelous dinner, then opened a pile of cards and gifts. Our sons called to talk on the phone, and when we got home we found a voicemail from the pastoral staff singing happy birthday. That’s a great day! There were many things that made it great.
The Bible tells us that God has given us a great salvation. What makes our salvation so great? There’s all that he has done for us and all that he does in us. There’s what he has done already and what he continues to do.
What Christ does for us: Justification & Intercession
Christ’s completed work for us is justification. It is God’s marvelous gift by which he forgives us freely, so that we can say, “Having been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). We contribute nothing to that. It is not a process. His blood was shed for you. You are justified completely through Jesus Christ.
Christ’s continuing work for us is called intercession. Christ is for you right now at the right hand of the Father. He always lives to make intercession for us (Heb. 7:25). That is why you can have confidence in living the Christian life. Your life is in the hand of the risen Christ who is able to supply all you need according to his riches in glory.
What Christ does in us: Sanctification & Regeneration
Thank God for his completed work of justification and his continuing work of intercession for you in Christ! But there’s even more in this great salvation. The Bible also speaks of Christ’s work in you. Christ’s completed work in you is called regeneration. His continuing work in you is called sanctification. Regeneration is the complete transformation that begins the continuing process of sanctification.
Most Christians are more familiar with the continuing process than with the complete transformation. Many of us are comfortable saying, “God is changing me,” but some of us would hesitate to say, “God has changed me.” We’re not sure we can say that, and that’s why we’re studying regeneration. Your first instinct would be to say, “I’ve got a lot more changing to do. I’m a work in progress. I haven’t arrived yet.”
Many Christians have a good grasp on the continuing process of sanctification, but only a weak grasp of the completed work of regeneration. So I want to give you seven Scriptures that speak clearly of Christ’s completed work in you as a believer, and then to give three applications to show how you can use this wonderful truth in your life.
Notice the language of a completed change, something that has already happened:
You are a new creation
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Cor. 5:17, NIV)
Paul does not say, “If anyone is in Christ, he is becoming a new creation.” He does not say, “the old is going away.” Nor does he say, “the new is gradually forming.”
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come.” There is no process here. This is something that has happened in its entirety, and it’s true of you if you are in Christ.
You have been crucified
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. (Gal. 2:20, NIV)
Paul says that this is what has happened. It didn’t just happen to him; it’s true of every believer. It’s a done deal. This is the truth about you as a believer. No process. It’s done.
You have been raised
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. (Col. 3:1-3, NIV)
Notice it’s not “If you hope one day to be,” but “Since you have been…” This is what has happened to you. If you are a believer, you have been raised with Christ.
You died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. There is something for us to do (as there are in all these passages) in setting our hearts on things above, but the way you do that is by taking in the first part of the verse.
Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? (1 Cor. 6:19, NIV)
Some Corinthians also struggled with regeneration. “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit,” not “is becoming a temple of the Holy Spirit.” You have received him from God.
If you are in Christ, the Holy Spirit lives with you and in you. His presence gives you power, and that makes the Christian life possible for you. That’s why it’s important to know this.
You are light
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light. (Eph. 5:8, NIV)
He doesn’t say, “You have light,” he says, “You are light.” Your very nature was darkness. You were darkness, now you are light. Your nature has changed.
Notice how Paul brings regeneration and sanctification together: “You are light.” That’s regeneration. “Live as…light.” That’s sanctification. You can’t live as light, unless you are light.
You have been set free from sin
You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. (Rom. 6:22, NIV)
Many Christians don’t grasp this. They would say, “Well, you don’t understand; I sin and fail in many ways. I’m not set free from sin yet.”
Paul says, “Wait a minute! You have been set free from sin.” He’s writing to ordinary Christians like us. Sin is still your enemy, but it is no longer your master. You are no longer sin’s prisoner. You are no longer in chains. You are no longer under your old master. You can fight against temptation. That’s why there is hope for you.
You have been born again
You have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. (1 Pet. 1:23, NIV)
Here’s what has happened: You have been born again. You can’t be a little born or half born. Either you are born or you are not born. The language is of completed transaction. This is what has happened to you in Christ.
Regeneration is God’s completed work in you. It is not a process. It does not happen in stages. That’s what makes it different from sanctification. You can be a little in love, but you cannot be a little married. Sanctification is like being a little in love. Regeneration is like being married. Either you are or you aren’t. You cannot be a little regenerated.
Regeneration is the complete transformation that begins a continuing process called sanctification. The great truth of sanctification is that “God is changing me.” The great truth of regeneration is that “God has changed me.” We need both.
The Function of Regeneration in the Life of a Believer
1. Regeneration is the root of all growth in your Christian life
If you want growth, you have to start with life. Dead things don’t grow. If you put a stone in the ground, it won’t grow. But if you put a seed in the ground, it’s another story.
Regeneration is the root from which your Christian life grows. It is the life that grows in sanctification. To use another analogy, regeneration is the engine that drives all your progress in the Christian life. Regeneration is what makes you want to be more holy than you are.
Since regeneration is the root of all progress in the Christian life, sanctification begins with knowing who you are in Christ. Regeneration tells you who you are.
Have you ever come to a place where you said to yourself, “I am such a miserable, pathetic, feeble, useless, powerless, no good, failing apology for a Christian?” Maybe you fell into some sin, or the progress of other Christians made you feel small. Maybe you said to yourself, “If that thought went through my mind, can I be a Christian at all?”
Let God tell you who you are
In Christ, you are a new creation.
You have been crucified with Christ,
so don’t crucify yourself again.
You have been raised to new life in Christ.
You are a temple of the Holy Spirit.
You have been set free from sin.
You are a light in this dark world.
You have been born again,
and for that reason you are a child of God.
2. Regeneration will help you overcome discouragement
Some Christians have a genuine longing to be more like Christ, but they are always discouraged about it. They have the air of defeat about them. The sense of longing is good, but defeat is not what we find in the New Testament.
What we do find goes like this: “I want to be a better Christian, but I’m not there yet. I’m not the person I want to be, but I’m praying that God will do a new work in me.” The strength of these Christians is that they have a passion for holiness. They want to be better. They are stretching themselves out in pursuit of a more godly life.
That’s what the doctrine of sanctification does—it promotes humility and effort. It says to us, “You haven’t arrived yet. You have a long way still to go. Press on.” “Not that I have already obtained all this or have already been made perfect, but I press on.” (Phil. 3:12). That’s sanctification.
We need all the truth of the Bible
I need this great truth of sanctification in my life, and so do you. I need to apply myself to become more holy than I am on a continuing basis.
With God’s help I need to work on being less selfish, less critical, less a lot of things. I asked my wife what I should include in this list. She said, “Just put a whole lot of things.”
With God’s help I also need to work on being more generous, more thankful, more patient, more understanding. By God’s grace I want to do that, because his Spirit is in me.
But who is satisfied with their own sanctification? Is there anybody here who is as holy as you want to be? The first sign of holiness is that you want to be more holy than you are.
The problem we all face in sanctification is discouragement
It is a problem because you never get there. If sanctification is the only truth you have grasped, the Christian life will always seem beyond you. You will live the Christian life as if it’s always beyond you.
That’s why beside sanctification—what God is doing, we need regeneration to remind us of what God has done, so that we will find strength and joy to continue the journey.
Think about a man on a journey through a desert. He has a pack on his back and a cloth over his head as he trudges through miles of sand. He carries water that sustains him on his journey. When he drinks he knows that he needs to find more water, because without it he has no strength to press forward.
Regeneration is the oasis for your soul. It tells you that, beside the work that Christ continues to do, there is in you the work that he has already done. That is water to a thirsty soul!
Imagine our man on his journey. His flask of water is empty. He is tired and exhausted. A mile ahead is an oasis. You are already there. You see him coming.
Just a mile ahead, there is a spring of water, a cool lagoon to swim in. As you see him coming, you go out to welcome him, but he tells you that he cannot stop. He says, “I must press on in my journey.”
You say, “But you need to renew your strength! You will never survive unless you take in water.”
“No,” he says, “I must press on.” And off he goes without water…
Rushing past regeneration in our passion for sanctification
A lot of Christians live like that. God says, “You are a new creation.” That’s water to a thirsty soul. But you rush past it. You say, “I’m not as new as I need to be.”
God says, “You are a temple of the Holy Spirit.” There’s life in that. But you rush past this, and you say, “I need to be more filled with the Spirit than I am.” Stop and hear this: “You are a temple of the Spirit.”
God says, “You have been set free from sin.” There’s power in that to drive you forward in living the Christian life. But you rush past this, and you say, “There are many besetting sins in my life that I need to conquer.”
You are so passionate about sanctification that you rush past regeneration. And like the man without water in the desert, eventually you fall down in your pursuit of the Christian life—exhausted. That’s what happens in every generation to those who grasp sanctification, but don’t grasp regeneration.
Drink deeply of this water. Let Christ tell you who you are in him. Take in the miracle of God’s grace that he’s already done. Stop, for one moment, fretting about what you are not yet, and take in who you already are in Jesus Christ. It’s water for your soul.
In Christ you are a new creation. The old has gone. The new has come! Take in this truth. Drink this water. It will be life to you. It will help you overcome discouragement, and it will sustain you in the journey of the Christian life.
3. Regeneration will help you stand up against temptation
It’s very important to know how temptation works. Satan invites you to go back to your old sins, because he’s a liar and the father of lies. He tempts you with some enticement, and he puts these thoughts into your mind: “This is what you want. This is what you enjoy. This is where you belong. This is who you are.”
Remember, then, in that moment of temptation, that he is the father of lies. The Spirit of truth says, “That is who you were. It is not who you are, for you have been bought. You have been cleansed. You are a new creation. You are a temple of the Holy Spirit. You are a light in this dark world. Now, be who you are.”
Sanctification is About Being Who You are in Christ
Someone in the congregation said to me recently, “It has really helped me to know that the flesh is not who I am. It is what I am fighting against.” She had discovered the truth of regeneration.
You can’t be someone you are not. Be who you are in Christ. You are light, so live as light. (Eph. 5)
You are free from sin, so do not let sin be your master. (Rom. 6)
Don’t let Satan tempt you. You are a free man! You are a free woman! Christ lives in you, so live by faith in him. (Gal. 2)
Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, so flee from sexual immorality. (1 Cor. 6)
You will not flee sexual immorality, until you know that the Holy Spirit lives in you. Once you know that, you’ll say, “I have to live differently.” You have been raised with Christ, so set your mind on things above. (Col. 3)
You are a new creation, so live for Christ and not for yourself. (2 Cor. 5)
Are these things true of you? Have you been born again? Are you a Christian? Do you belong to Christ? Then you can say, “I am a new creation in Christ, and I am going to spend the rest of my life living that out to his praise and glory. That’s the joy and the freedom of the Christian life. It’s not about pretending to be something you are not; it is learning to be who you are in Christ.
© Colin S. Smith
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