Rev. Key is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Hull, Iowa.
We have considered the necessity of being born again, and have seen it as a wonder work of divine grace. The question now becomes, also as a matter of personal importance: How is that wonder of regeneration brought to consciousness with all that it includes? How do I know that I am regenerated?
That is an urgent question, as you who are elect strangers can certainly sense. We have seen that the Holy Spirit works the wonder of regeneration by implanting the incorruptible seed of Christ’s life in us, to use the figure of I Peter 1:23. But we need to know that we are regenerated, that we are partakers of the life of Christ. How, then, does seed develop into the living plant that is seen and that bears fruits to the glory of its Creator? How does that regenerated life come into our conscious activity, so that we consciously lay hold upon Christ? That is the question.
An illustration may help us to understand this. When the gifted Protestant musician Johan Sebastian Bach lay in the cradle as an infant, he had all the talent of the musician that he would later become within the church. He had all the gifts necessary to make that substantial contribution to music which recognizes God as God, majestic and holy. But that does not mean that he could play and compose when he was in the cradle. To continue with the figure of the seed that we have been considering from I Peter 1:23, that natural seed of the gift of music that was in the infant Bach had yet to be developed in his own consciousness. In a sense, that is true with us all. When we are born, we are born with the power of speech; but we cannot speak. We are born with the power of sight; but we cannot immediately see. The same is true of regeneration.
As long as that seed is simply a seed, it is not a matter of the consciousness of that man in whom God has placed that seed. The life is there, but it is not yet a matter of the man’s experience.
Scripture makes clear that God often regenerates an elect child already in the womb, likely at conception. That is revealed in the inspired record of Jeremiah 1:5, as well as that of John, who leaped in the womb in the presence of his Savior. Those are just two scriptural evidences of regeneration occurring already before birth.
Now, let’s apply that. That means that, if you were regenerated in that way, you received all the blessings of salvation. But you did not know it. That regeneration is the source of all Christian activity, the source of every aspect of our spiritual sojourn toward our heavenly inheritance. But until you become conscious of it, you are not an active participant in that heavenward sojourn. Until that seed of regeneration is called to activity, you do not lay hold of Christ nor draw from Him the blessings of grace and salvation.
Now, I would have you remember, I am only making a distinction between the seed and what follows. It is the distinction made in I Peter 1:23-25. You must not get the impression that the seed of God’s divine work may lie dormant for many years. We must not think that a regenerated child of God might walk in ungodliness for many years after his regeneration. There is no indication whatsoever for that in the Bible. The indication is that when a person continues to walk ungodly, in disobedience to God and in dishonor of God’s holy name, that person reveals himself or herself as unregenerated, unconverted. We would urgently call such to repentance and faith.
So again, the question is: How does that wonder work of regeneration become active in us, so that we are conscious of it? How is that work of regeneration confirmed to us, that we may know that we are the sons of God, that we are of Christ?
I Peter 1:23 says, “through the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever.”
Man has nothing to do with it! That is the emphasis of what follows: “For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away.”
As flesh, we are marked as weak and frail, perishing. So God looks upon us, according to Psalm 78:39: “For he remembered that they were but flesh; a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again.” The nature of grass is that it lasts but a very brief time and then it withers. “For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more” (Ps. 103:16).
Such is the nature of man. He boasts of his glory. He may appear to stand in power. He may have riches and honor and rule the lives of many men. He may be having all kinds of worldly fun, soaking in pleasure and enjoying all his earthly toys. But our life is but a vapor, says James, a passing mist in the valley. The Lord blows upon us and we are gone, and people no longer remember the place that we occupied.
Scripture points at the contrast between flesh and God as the contrast between weakness and strength: “For who is there of all flesh, that hath heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived?” said Moses to the children of Israel (Deut. 5:26).
But that contrast is also a contrast between man’s unholiness and God’s holiness. Don’t forget that. Hear the Word of God fromZechariah 2:13: “Be silent, O all flesh, before the Lord: for he is raised up out of his holy habitation.”
Because the nature of man is so weak, so passing, it follows that his word is the same. As man dies, so does his word. That is not just the case with some men, but with all men. Any human attempt at salvation is absolutely futile! Man is powerless to save himself! He cannot get that incorruptible seed of regeneration to develop any more than he can implant that seed in the first place. Nor can he resist that wonder work of God. But God must bring that work to fruition in our consciousness.
That living and abiding word of God is not the Bible. The Bible is not living; the Bible shall not abide forever. The Bible itself cannot give you life, any more than it can kill you.
That living and abiding Word of God is the eternal Word, of whom we read in John 1. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Christ is the living and abiding Word, by whom all things were made. Christ, the Word, the Logos, is the creative Word of God who calls the light out of darkness, who makes alive the dead sinner, bringing the seed of regeneration into action.
The truth of that is seen clearly in the original Greek when we study I Peter 1:23-25. You can see that, too, with a little study in a good concordance. In verse 23 the word is logos, as in John 1. The word is the Word of God who became flesh. In verse 25, a different word is used, though also translated word. It is a word spoken. The living and abiding Word of God speaks!
The Spirit plants the seed. But the Spirit doesn’t work alone. The Spirit of God and the Word of God always go together.
And when the Spirit plants that seed of regeneration in the heart of God’s elect, in your heart, the Word of God addresses you with power, just as He did the creation, saying, “Let there be light,” and there was light. He says, “Let there be sight,” and He gives you spiritual sight to stand in awe of His holiness and to see all His glory in your salvation. He says, “Let there be hearing,” and He gives you the spiritual ears to hear the gospel that will bring all the blessings of regeneration to your own consciousness and life.
Finally, that Word is brought powerfully to our hearts and minds by the gospel.
“But the word of Lord (i.e., now, the spoken word) endureth forever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.”
That spoken word, which endures forever, comes to you through gospel preaching. That is the importance of preaching. That is exactly why it is such a sad thing today, when many churches forsake the preaching of the gospel and substitute all kinds of entertainment, or Bible studies and all the rest. Preaching is not merely the word of a man. But Christ speaks by His Holy Spirit through the preaching of the gospel.
That is why there is a connection between the last verses of I Peter 1, and what follows in the opening verses of the next chapter. The preacher is the ambassador of Christ, commissioned by Christ through His church, to proclaim the word of the Lord. And when Christ so speaks by His Holy Spirit, the preaching of the gospel is like the rain which soaks into the soil and into the seed. By means of the rain that living seed sprouts and develops into a plant which bears fruit.
The rain is worthless, if the seed isn’t there. So with preaching, if the seed of regeneration is not there, there is nothing in that gospel except condemnation, hardening. Then the gospel is nothing but a savor of death unto death.
But God has chosen the means of preaching to bring the seed of regeneration into that living consciousness which is our enjoyment of salvation.
Through the preaching of the gospel, He causes the incorruptible seed of regeneration to sprout and develop into a fruitful tree which reflects His glory — all because Christ speaks powerfully by His Holy Spirit through the preaching.
The spoken word of Christ shall endure forever. It will not forever take the form of “the foolishness of preaching.” But even when Christ returns to establish His heavenly kingdom and we dwell as the glorified citizens of that kingdom, we will continue to stand in total dependence upon the spoken Word of Christ to sustain within us that heavenly life.
But the text speaks emphatically: “This is the Word which by the gospel has been preached unto you.”
Has that Word preached penetrated your soul, has it sunk into your heart, and brought forth from you the response of grace?
Through the preaching of the Word, Christ speaks to bring the life of regeneration into our consciousness, and to make the life of spiritual rebirth a life of activity, a life of faith. So beautiful is that work of God’s grace, that it bears its influence in a large area, over every sphere of our life.
Under the influence of the preaching of the gospel, by which God the Holy Spirit works powerfully, the power of that gospel spreads through the church, and reaches into our homes. It affects our marriages and our family life. The power of that gospel preaching works when you sit with your little ones teaching them to pray, when you bring the gospel to your children, when you live in accordance to the will of God. The power of gospel preaching brings to you the good news for your daily life, the comfort that is found only in belonging to such a faithful Savior. The influence of the preaching works contentment and peace, humility and love.
Even the struggle of the Christian against the sins of his own nature, the struggle testified to by the apostle Paul in Romans 7, is an evidence of regeneration and the fruit of gospel preaching bringing the life of Christ to our consciousness.
All those experiences of the Christian life are the effects of being born again out of incorruptible seed, through the living and abiding Word of God, with the preaching of the gospel applying it to your heart. That is the truth of regeneration, the power of being born again, as seen in Christ’s church.
So Christ says, through the preaching of the Word to you, His elect strangers, regenerated by the Holy Spirit: “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Eph. 5:14-16).
Hearing that Word as a regenerated child of God, you are blessed. You bear evidence of God’s wonder work of grace, the work begun in your new birth. For by that birth from above you have life everlasting.