Paul's Passing Thoughts

The Biblical Gospel of Justification by New Birth

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on November 28, 2022

You Must be Born Again, But What Does That Really Mean?

        In John chapter 3, Jesus informs Nicodemus that in order to be saved, you must be born again. Nicodemus was a religionist, and apparently, knew something wasn’t right in his belief system. His recorded response to Jesus getting to the point shows that he knew Jesus was talking about some kind of literal, second birth: “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus’ answer is best interpreted by the context; for the saved person, those who see heaven, there are two births, an earthly birth and a spiritual birth. Being born of water, more than likely, refers to the earthly birth, as reiterated by the following sentence, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” When Jesus further states, “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,” he is stating that the new birth is a supernatural act of God unrestrained by any time, place, or religion. And, like the wind, you don’t see it, but you see its effects.

        Jesus then goes on to explain how the new birth is obtained: belief.

John 3:14 – And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

There are three key points here: the one who is born again possesses eternal life and is no longer condemned. The one who is born again cannot be unborn, and secondly, is under no condemnation. Absolute assurance of salvation must be a major tenet of the new birth without exception. It should also be noted that Jesus’ purpose for coming into the world was to save it, not condemn it. Many a soteriology, when the logical conclusions are considered, would assert that Jesus did come into the world to condemn some, if not many. Thirdly, the new birth is a literal new birth that results in a new state of being. The born again are not only declared righteous; they are righteous, and are partakers in the divine nature 2Peter 1:4. But, what about lack of perfection? How can we be truly holy and righteous if we are not perfect? More on that later, but suffice to say for now that it depends on what the standard for righteousness is.

New Birth Versus the Baptism of the Spirit  

        The book of Acts is a transitional book. It displays visible manifestations of the Spirit to demonstrate the order of salvation and the marriage of new birth and the baptism of the Spirit under the New Covenant. They are not the same thing. And, it is important to know that Old Testament believers were born again. Note in the aforementioned conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, prior to the cross, Jesus said, “You must be born again.” So then, how is one born again?

1Peter 1:22 – Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

Romans 10:17 – So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

Galatians 3:2 – I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?

The believer has heard the word of God, and believes it, and then is acted upon by the Holy Spirit. This action makes the believer holy and righteous as a state of being. Again, this was true of Old Testament era believers:

Matthew 23:35 –  And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.

As also stated by the Bible, “The life is in the blood” (Lev. 17:11). Matthew 23:35 is a strong statement indicating that Old Testament believers were righteous as a state of being. And regarding the actions of OT believers:

1John 3:12 – Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous.

Some would be quick to say that it wasn’t really Abel’s actions that were righteous, but an imputation of Jesus’ active obedience, but of course, like other considerations, this is well before the cross. Abel, and many other OT believers did righteous things because they were truly righteous beings. People get confused due to the idea that righteousness is defined by perfect law-keeping; this is a misnomer that will be clarified further along. Believers are called “saints” about 95 times in the Bible with the Hebrew and Greek words meaning, holy, sacred, set apart, morally pure, righteous, etc.

        The baptism of the Holy Spirit is an action of the New Covenant that baptizes Jews and Gentiles into one body (1Cor. 12:13). It is the fulfillment of THE PROMISE made to Abraham that he would be the father of many nations and that the nations would be blessed through him. During the transitional period recorded in Acts, we see born again believers baptized by the Spirit and manifested by speaking in tongues.

Acts 19:1 – And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. 2 And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. 7 There were about twelve men in all.

Acts 10:44 – While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

So, in both cases that were temporarily separate, the Spirit acts according to truth being heard. In this day, the New Covenant combines regeneration (being born again) and the baptism of the Spirit in response to a person hearing the truth and believing it. People, in general, are able to be persuaded because, although unregenerate, everyone is born with a general knowledge of God and a conscience that tells them what is right and wrong:

Romans 2:12 – For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

        The New Covenant initiated the following: the baptism of Jews and Gentiles into one body, the ending of the law as a covering for sin via the Old Covenant, and the permanent dwelling of the Spirit in believers (Ephesians 4:30). It is interesting to note that OT believers were righteous regardless of a non-permanent indwelling of the Spirit (Psalms 51:11).

THE PROMISE

        “The Promise,” is central to Justification by New Birth. It was a promise made by God to Abraham and Christ.

Galatians 3:15 – To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. 17 This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

This is where we begin to answer the following question: “If we are truly righteous as a state of being, why do we fall short of perfection?” The gospel picture taken as a whole answers that question. First, there is no law to judge us, so, for all practical purposes, we have no sin. The promise, or covenant, that God made with Abraham and Christ was by promise, not law. Paul makes this point over and over again in his letter to the Galatians. Law, or at least any law that can condemn, has NO part in the gospel, and if it does, The Promise is annulled.

Romans 4:15 – For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

Romans 5:13 – for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.

Romans 7:4 – So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.

Romans 10:4 – For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.

        However, this is not some kind of legal loophole. According to the Bible, the new birth changes our hearts; it is our desire to obey the word of God, but we are still “weak.” As Jesus stated it, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” The mark of a born-again believer is a willingness to obey God’s truth, and a love for God’s truth (Psalm 119). There is no so-called, “righteous demands of the law” because the law’s demands on righteousness are not part of The Promise. In fact, such demands would annul the Promise.

Why then, the law?

        The OT covenant was a will:

Hebrews 9:15 – Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. 16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood.

Christ’s death executed the Old Covenant and redeemed believers from “transgressions committed under the first covenant.” This is because all sins committed under the Old Covenant were imputed to the law, and then Christ ENDED that law. Hence, in Galatians, Paul describes the law as a “guardian” or “protector” until Christ came.

Galatians 3:19 – Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. 20 Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.

21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

        Hence, there is a reason why the Old Covenant is “passing away,” but is not completely gone; ALL sin is yet imputed to the law because all sin is against the law. The law is the standard for condemnation, not righteousness.

Hebrews 8:13 – In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

This is a concrete, objective reason for assurance of salvation: all sin is imputed to the law, and when one becomes a believer, the law, and all sin with it, is removed from the believer as far as the East is from the West (infinity, unlike the North from the South). This is important, because the new birth changes our relationship to the law. The primary way that this happens, is a reversal of slavery. A reversal from slavery to unrighteousness to slavery to righteousness leads to a radically different life pattern. It is interesting how Paul frames this in Romans 6: the unregenerate are enslaved to sin but free to do good; while the regenerate are enslaved to righteousness but free to sin.

        Romans 8:2 is key to this discussion. While the two laws (both “nomos”) can be explained by the Spirit’s two uses of the law (to sanctify and to convict the world of sin and the judgment to come), it is probably best explained by the two covenants, which are also referred to as laws.

“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.”

Elsewhere in Scripture, the Old Covenant is referred to as a “ministry of death.”

2Corinthians 3:7 – Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? 9 For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it.

Under the Old Covenant, the new birth did not change the relationship of the law to the believer as all sin was imputed to the law. The law, in this way, protected believers from condemnation until Christ came. But, under the New Covenant, that covenant, and all the sin that is “imprisoned” within it, is ended. However, the baptism of the Spirit is what transforms the believer from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant.

Romans 6:1 – What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

Conclusion

        True believers in Christ are not only declared righteous, they are holy as a state of being. Our bodies are now the temple of the Holy Spirit in which he dwells forever. In fact, a careful word study makes a good argument that our bodies are actually the Holy of Holies part of the temple. God actually dwelt there when the temple was earthly, and no less is true of our earthly bodies. It is a treasure in earthen vessels.

        Hence, we must function according to our true identity in Christ, and through proper use of the Scriptures, aggressively love God and others with no fear of condemnation. Only truth sanctifies, and may all in Christ receive their full reward.

paul

One Response

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  1. Ken B said, on December 4, 2022 at 1:32 PM

    Paul – interesting post that brings back memories of the old charismatic renewal disputes over whether the new birth and baptism in the Spirit are essentially the same thing, or does Spirit baptism follow later (second blessing and tongues etc).

    I’m not happy with either!

    Whilst your quotation of 1 Cor 12 : 13 makes sense – the Spirit is the baptiser, the believer the candidate and the body of Christ the element, have you ever considered this is actually the same thing as John’s prophecy ‘he shall baptise you in the Holy Spirit’? Jesus is the baptiser, the believer the candidate and the Spirit the element. The verse would then read ‘in one Spirit we were all baptised into (with a view to creating) one body’. It’s a unity verse.

    The baptism in the Spirit (receiving the Spirit, filled. fell on, poured out are all synonyms) was experimental in the early church. It wasn’t a second blessing as it happend as part of their conversion process/initiation, and those claiming this are imo receiving the first blessing late due to a defective gospel presentation leaving them ignorant of this. Gifts are a sign of this – tongues, prophecy, miracles (cf Gal 3 : 2-3 and 5 ‘goes on supplying the Spirit’ and miracles) and the whole list in 1 Cor 12 to 14. There were no believers who hadn’t received and knew it. Each were equipped to contribute to the life of the body (not institution!!). The institutional church couldn’t cope with this all too often because it empowered believers including women and disempowered the clergy/hierarchy.

    Be that as it may, I have read a lot on here recently on the theme of Calvinism, for which thanks for the effort gone into producing this. It has struck that is is possible the neo-Calvinism you critique here goes back to law because it is weak on the Holy Spirit? Weak on the new birth and being a literal new creation, and weaker to non-existent on the Spirit giving power. It may have the correct doctrine of the Spirit, but nothing experimental, nothing actually happens. Having the ‘Word’ for a thing, but not having the thing itself? The doctrine of justification by faith in Rom 5 : 1 but lacking a personal and ongoing ‘pentecost’ in v 5. Hence the cold lovelessness.

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