Regeneration: The Most Significant Beginning
Regeneration is the first step in the total experience of redemption that God takes us through. When people say that they’re born again, they often think that their rebirth is the same thing as their new life. After all, the New Testament says that the person who is in Christ is a new creature: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). The fact that someone is a new person, a new creation, means that he has a new life, but his new life is not the same thing as his new birth. Rather, his new life is the result of his new birth, in the same way that each day of his life is the result of his physical birth. Each of us has a birthday each year, but we are not born each year. Birth happens once, and it indicates the beginning of one’s existence as a person in this world. So we make a distinction between the beginning and the life that flows out of that beginning, both in terms of natural (physical) birth and with regard to supernatural (spiritual) birth, which is what we’re describing by the term regeneration.
When I became a Christian, I found I strongly related to 2 Corinthians 5:17. I was one of those people who had a very sudden and dramatic conversion. During the first two months of my Christian experience, I was on an emotional roller-coaster ride with respect to my spiritual life. I went from spiritual ecstasy to profound spiritual depression. It was very like my experience with the game of golf. I don’t know how many thousands of times I’ve said to my wife: “I’ve found it. I’ve got the secret. I’m never going to hit another bad golf shot. I’m never going to have another bad round.” That lasts for about two days, then I’m searching all over again, because success at golf goes as fast as it comes. That’s the way my Christian experience was the first two months. I went from spiritual highs to a profound sense of the absence of God, when I would fall back into old sin patterns.
This persisted until I sought help from a minister who gave me this wise counsel: “Remember that your rebirth is just the beginning. The New Testament says that although you may be an adult in every other respect (maturity, sophistication, formal education), if your Christian experience is a new thing to you, then spiritually speaking, you’re a baby. You are in your infancy.”
Consider the emotional patterns of infants. Have you ever noticed how changeable they are? A baby may be crying lustily, but if you say, “Goo, goo, goo” and call his attention to something else, suddenly he’s giggling. But ten seconds later, he can be crying again. A child’s emotions are like that until he gets to a point where the highs and lows are less extreme. Likewise, in spiritual growth, we tend to follow a generally upward trend in which our ups and downs, over time, become less severe. As we grow in maturity, we settle into a more consistent pattern of spiritual behavior.
But rebirth is merely the beginning point of this process that goes on until we’re glorified in heaven. The struggle continues from the day of rebirth until that day in heaven when we reach the fullness of maturity in Christ.
I get annoyed when I hear well-intentioned preachers, in an attempt to convince people of the riches of the Christian faith, say, “Come to Jesus and all your problems will be over.” It’s just not true. My life didn’t begin to be complicated until I became a Christian, because only then did I have to go to war every day between that which is of the flesh and that which is of the Spirit.
The conflict is ongoing because the capacity for evil that resides in the heart of a regenerate person is almost without limit. We ought not to be too shocked when we see Christian leaders falling into serious sin. We have the power of a new life, but that doesn’t automatically erase our pre-conversion tendencies (see Gal. 5:16–26; Rom. 6–7). Regeneration is just the beginning. But it’s not only just the beginning—it is the beginning. It is the most significant beginning that you’ll ever have.