“I really think that today, as Christian apologists, that the biggest challenge to the faith is not an intellectual question. In fact, I have not heard an intellectual question to the faith that has disturbed me. I am more convinced than ever of the message of the Gospel. But the biggest challenge to the Christian faith is this: If the message that we have lays claim to a supernatural regeneration, then why is it that we do not see that regeneration more often? No other religion claims a supernatural regeneration. They may claim ethics and morality. Hinduism does. But we are the only ones who claim a new birth. Born of the Holy Spirit, our hungers have changed, our disciplines have changed, our behavior has changed. If it is a supernaturally engendered thing, why do we not see it more often? And if that is true of the common person in conversion, how much more true it must be of ones in leadership. So I believe character is essential, and without that, you cannot serve.” -Ravi Zacharias
I am sure Ravi knows the amazing contributions that Christians have made to the world. I know he must know the results from his own ministry offers us plenty of signs of “real” supernatural regeneration. So I don’t want to paint the picture as if there is little or no evidence of supernatural regeneration to be seen. Perhaps you don’t agree with Ravi’s comments. Maybe you think supernatural regeneration is not a rarity at all. Maybe you see it all around you. But his comments do lead to some thoughtful introspection. So let me make a few points:
What is Supernatural Regeneration? A Look at The New Birth
As Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology says, “It is absolutely necessary for a person to be born again in order to enter the kingdom of God. In the central passage in the New Testament about the new birth ( John 3 ), Jesus tells Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council, that he will not enter the kingdom of God unless he is born anew. The alternation between singular and plural Greek pronouns in the passage shows that Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus both personally and representatively. The need for the new birth is not only true of Nicodemus, but of the entire Sanhedrin, all Jews, and, by extension, all people.
Some have considered the new birth to be a process a person experiences, even over a period of years. Such an interpretation is not congruent with the tense of the Greek verb in this passage. The aorist tense suggests that the new birth is an event rather than a process. Prior to a certain point in time, a person is not-born-again or regenerated; after that point, the person is.
THE NEW BIRTH allows us to have the supernatural cleansing from sin that God through the Spirit effects on all who believe on his Son. This water-Spirit combination is a reflection of Ezekiel 11, 36, and Jeremiah 31. In these Old Testament passages God’s Spirit is viewed as doing a revolutionary work in the lives of God’s people in the new covenant age.”
So why isn’t “supernatural regeneration” as evident as it should be in the lives of Christians? Let me list a couple of reasons:
1. The Need for Discipleship/Mentoring
In all the evangelism that I have done, I have noticed that I come across plenty of people who profess to be Christians but are not going forward in their faith. If I meet an individual who says they are a professed believer, I always ask them where they are in the discipleship process. Many times when I ask, “Are you becoming a disciple?” I usually get the response, “What’s a disciple?”
Many are oblivious to the importance of discipleship. Therefore, I find myself exhorting hundreds of people to get rooted in congregational/community life—get back to the basics (e.g., read the Bible, prayer). I always give these individuals contact information of local churches that they can attend. It saddens me to see what is happening in the transition from the point when someone makes a professed/salvation decision for Jesus and the overall discipleship/commitment aspect to our faith.
The Hebrew word for disciple is “talmid.” A talmid is a student of one of the sages of Israel. A disciple is a learner, or pupil. When we decide to repent and turn to our Lord for the forgiveness of sins, we have to realize we are now on a new journey. The Gospel is a message for the here and now- not just the future. We have to learn how to live out our faith in the world around us. A disciple (in the New Testament sense) is someone who is striving (by God’s grace) to be consistent follower of Jesus. The goal of the Christian is to imitate our Master.
Discipleship is not getting any easier in the world we live in. In an overly sensate culture, people need to be constantly stimulated and have a hard time focusing on something such as discipleship. And in a world that wants instant results, self- sacrifice is a tough sell. Part of the problem is that churches preach a Gospel that promises that Jesus will fix all our problems. And when things get tough, many people bail out.
Discipleship takes a commitment between the discipler and the one being discipled. And for those that say they don’t need discipleship- I pity you. Sorry to be so blunt. But without discipleship, you are destined for failure. There is no such thing as a Long Ranger Christian. Also, discipleship involves teachability. I have run into my share of those people who know it all and can’t be told or taught a thing. Pride is the central problem in this area. So sad. Discipleship is a life-long process. Who are you discipling? And who is discipling you?
2.Teaching on the Resurrection
Sadly, due to a lack of teaching on the resurrection, the average Christian assumes that that the final destination is to be in the intermediate state- the place that is called ” heaven.” Hence, immortality is generally viewed as the immortality of the soul. Contrary to what many people think, salvation in the Bible is not the deliverance from the body, which is the prison of the soul. The believer’s final destination is not heaven, but it is the new heavens and new earth- complete with a resurrection body. In the final state, heaven including the New Jerusalem portrayed as a bride breaks into history and comes to the renewed, physical, earthly, existence (see Rev 21). This shows that God is interested in the renewal of creation- God cares about the physical realm.
But the real issue in seeing “supernatural regeneration” as a reality in this life is to appropriate the resurrection. Positionally speaking, we as Christians now live in a resurrection state. For after noting that God “made us alive together with” Messiah (this is a past event), Eph. 2:5 says: “by grace you are now in a state of salvation” (indicating a present resurrection state). As Paul says in Galatians 2:19-20, “For through the law I died to the law, that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.”Yes, we will still sin some times. But what we tend to forget that Jesus did not die and rose from the dead only for us to go to heaven. He has given us victory over sin in this life- he broke the power of sin (Rom 6: 1-14).
So after reading Ravi’s comments, do you think people see “supernatural regeneration” in you? I know I have a long ways to go. I am striving for consistency.