Previous article in this series: December 1, 2016, p. 107.
As was mentioned in the last article, both Calvin College and Dordt College refer to themselves as institutions designed to train students to go out and “renew” things. The King, they say, calls us to be “agents of renewal”1 wherever we go. If we are busily engaged in this renewing activity, then we are said to be establishing the kingdom of God on the earth.
Some have citedas proof for this idea. That passage along with speak of all things being reconciled to God and gathered together in Christ. With regard to these verses, the previous article brought out the following points:
1. The phrase “all things” does not include the reprobate. Only the elect are reconciled to God and gathered together in Christ.
2. These passages do not speak of us working with this world to focus our attention on earthly things in an effort to “renew” institutions in society. Rather, it speaks of us being spiritually united with those who are in heaven, together with them keeping our mind on heavenly things.
We proceed now to consider another problem with this argument for the renewal of this world. It promotes a wrong idea about who the renewed people are, and what it means that they have been renewed. We turn now to consider that subject.
The regenerated = The renewed
The previous article included a quote from a book that has often been required reading at Dordt College. Written by Albert Wolters,2 this book lays out an argument for why Christians are called “to promote renewal in every department of creation”:
The obvious implication is that the new humanity (God’s people) is called to promote renewal in every department of creation. If Christ is the reconciler of all things, and if we have been entrusted with “the ministry of reconciliation” on his behalf (), then we have a redemptive task wherever our vocation places us in his world. No invisible dividing line within creation limits the applicability of such basic biblical concepts as reconciliation, redemption, salvation, sanctification, renewal, the kingdom of God, and so on.3
Wolters speaks here of “no invisible dividing line,” yet very early in the book of Genesis God speaks of there being two antithetical seeds: the seed of the woman (Christ and those in Christ), and the seed of the serpent. Only certain people have been redeemed and renewed in Christ, and they are a holy people, called out and separated from the unbelievers of this world.
Scripture speaks of only certain people being renewed. Titus 3 says that the renewed ones are the people who have received “the washing of regeneration.” The regenerated and the renewed are one and the same: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” ().
When God regenerates us, He gives us a new heart. He puts His Word in our heart so that we know Him and delight to do what His Word says. Our heart and will are resurrected from the dead and our mind is renewed by God’s Spirit. This is the wondrous work of God referred to in the Third and Fourth Heads of the Canons of Dordt:
Article 11. But when God accomplishes His good pleasure in the elect, or works in them true conversion, He not only causes the gospel to be externally preached to them, and powerfully illuminates their minds by His Holy Spirit, that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God; but by the efficacy of the same regenerating Spirit pervades the inmost recesses of the man; He opens the closed and softens the hardened heart, and circumcises that which was uncircumcised, infuses new qualities into the will, which, though heretofore dead, He quickens; from being evil, disobedient, and refractory, He renders it good, obedient, and pliable; actuates and strengthens it, that like a good tree it may bring forth the fruits of good actions.
Article 12. And this is the regeneration so highly celebrated in Scripture and denominated a new creation: a resurrection from the dead, a making alive, which God works in us without our aid.
To be renewed is to be delivered from the corruption of sin. This is “the regeneration so highly celebrated in Scripture and denominated a new creation.” Though we still have an old man—our sinful nature out of which comes nothing good, in the new man we are a new creation, a good tree that brings forth “the fruits of good actions.”
The following passage, which speaks of our calling to put off the old man and to put on the new, makes clear that the new man is the renewed man: “Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him (). A parallel passage also applies the term “renewed” to the new man: “That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness ( ). In the new man we bear God’s image. We are new creatures who have been renewed in knowledge after the image of our Creator.
The renewed community
Since it is only the regenerated believers in Christ who have been renewed, it follows that the body of Christ is the only renewed community of human beings. Outside her there is only corruption.4 Yet many today would persuade us that we have a calling to renew/redeem/reform “social systems” and “economic structures:”
God wants to save social systems and economic structures too. If the management/labor structure contains built-in antagonism, then it needs to be redeemed. If the health care delivery system reaches only the well-to-do, then it needs to be reformed.5
Yet Scripture speaks of renewing people, not manmade “systems” and “structures.” Furthermore, what they envision as a “redeemed” or “renewed” society is not a society that is delivered from the corruption of sin. The unbelievers in such a society might have better health care, but they would continue going deeper into sin, self-destructing as they worship the gods of their own imagination.
In addition, the unbelieving majority in the societies of this world are corrupt trees that produce only corrupt fruit. They will never show true love and honor to their employers and employees. Corruption will characterize how they administer health care and everything else that they do. Good actions will not arise out of a group of people unless those people themselves have first been renewed.
But renewing people is not a work that we perform. God alone renews people, and He does so “without our aid” (Canons III/IV:12). By His efficacious grace He renews those whom He has unconditionally chosen. The elect church of Christ is the one and only renewed human community that there will ever be.
…to be continued.
1 Sometimes the word “redeem” is used instead of “renew.” I have chosen to use the term “renew” when referring to their position, since both of these colleges have mission statements posted on their websites that use that term.
2 Wolters is an emeritus professor at Redeemer University College in Ontario.
3 Albert M. Wolters, Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), 73.
4 A community is a unified body of individuals. I refer to the elect body of believers as a “community” here even though only a small portion of this group is on earth at any given time.
5 Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Engaging God’s World: A Reformed Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2002), 97.