Changed From the Inside
May 1, 2002 - We are living in a revolutionary world that is filled with strife. As a nation, we have been questioning, mourning and attempting to find our way in this new era of history. None of us will ever be the same again.
A Message by Billy Graham
Look at all the fear that was generated in the last few months of 2001 as a result of the September 11 terrorist attacks and the anthrax scare. We are living in a fast-changing world, but in this world we can be secure in the knowledge that God is in control.
There is only one way for us to survive and have security, and that is through God. Only God can save us. And that is precisely what God does when we give ourselves to Jesus Christ. The Bible says that we must be "born again."(1) Just as we have been born physically, so we can be born again spiritually through "the living and abiding word of God."(2)
Jesus explained that this new birth—this spiritual regeneration—is accomplished by the Holy Spirit: "The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit."(3)
There is something mysterious about this new birth. We cannot fully understand how the new birth comes to us, but we do know that it comes because of the love and the grace of God. It comes because of the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It comes because of the action of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus knows what lies in the hearts of all people—the fatal disease that causes lying, cheating, hate, prejudice, greed and lust. He said, "Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man."(4) The Bible says that this fatal disease is called sin. The Bible teaches that the sinner is "dead" before God, and thus a radical change is needed in the inner being of every person. This is a change that we cannot earn, nor is it something that we can do for ourselves; it is something that God alone does in us.
The Holy Spirit Convicts Us
One of the most devastating effects of sin is that it blinds us to our own sin condition, and only the Holy Spirit can open our eyes. Only He can convict us of the depth of our sin; only He can convince us of the truth of the Gospel; and only He can bring the conviction of God to our hearts. I believe that this is what Jesus meant when He said, "No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day."(5)
However, the Bible gives us a solemn warning about resisting the calling of the Holy Spirit: "My Spirit shall not strive with man forever."(6) Without the "striving" of the Holy Spirit, it would be impossible for a person to come to Christ. Yet, there is the danger that our hearts will become so hardened by sin that we will no longer hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. We dare not neglect the warning in the Bible: "A man who hardens his neck after much reproof will suddenly be broken beyond remedy."(7)
The Holy Spirit Regenerates Us
Along with repentance and faith, a work of the Spirit of God in the heart of man is regeneration, which is another term for renewal or rebirth: "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit."(8)
This is a once-for-all change, though sin has continuing effects. The sinner in his natural state is spiritually dead. In regeneration that which is dead is made alive. The sinner, justified by God from the guilt of a broken law, is forgiven of every sin.
Regeneration, like justification, is immediate and constitutes a one-time act of the Holy Spirit, though the person who is born again might or might not be conscious of the exact time. Theologians have debated exactly when regeneration actually takes place in a person’s life. In spite of some disagreements, the central issue is clear: it is the Holy Spirit who regenerates us.
Regeneration is a hidden transaction that takes place within our individual hearts, and the new person exists within. The divine life, which abides forever, is there.
Regeneration is the work of the Holy Spirit. The indispensable condition of the new birth is repentance and faith. Genuine faith is God’s gift to a person, and we may be sure that God the Holy Spirit accompanies it with regeneration. In this we see the love and the grace of God shed abroad toward sinners through Jesus Christ.(9)
You and I cannot inherit regeneration; rather: "As many as received Him [Jesus], to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name."(10) A person may have been baptized or confirmed in a church, but that does not mean that he has been regenerated.
We cannot be regenerated by doing good works: "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit."(8) A person can be a good, moral person all his life and still not know what it means to be regenerated.
We cannot be regenerated by reformation—trying to change by making new resolutions. The Bible says, "All our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment"(11) in the sight of God.
We are sinners, dead in sin, and what we need is the life that can be supplied only by the Holy Spirit through regeneration.
Have you been regenerated by the power of the Spirit of God? Nothing less can bring spiritual rebirth to you. God sent His Son into the world to give us new life. God has given us the power of the Holy Spirit to bring spiritual rebirth, regeneration, to us.
The Holy Spirit Assures Us
The moment you and I received Christ and were regenerated by the Holy Spirit, we were given a new nature. Thus, those of us who are born again have two natures. The old nature is from our first birth; the new nature is from our new birth.
When the old nature within us asserts itself, we may begin to doubt whether or not we really have been born again. Many of the old temptations have not disappeared. We still sin. We still lose our tempers. We still have pride and jealousy. We may even have some particular sin that plagues us.
But by the written Word of God, and by the quiet work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, we can know we have been born again: "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God."(12)
At first it may seem foolish to believe that Jesus Christ, who died on a cross and rose again 2,000 years ago, can transform your life today by His Holy Spirit. Yet millions of Christians on every continent would testify that He has transformed their lives. It happened to me many years ago. It could happen to you—today!