36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” 37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” 38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
– Acts 2:36-38 NKJV
In this post we want to go onto consider the second stage of regeneration. We considered the first stage of regeneration in the last post. Acts 2:38 summarizes this second aspect of salvation with the phrase, “you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is not merely a relational change (i.e. forgiven, justified and adopted), but a spiritual change worked within the new believer. It is related to the first aspect of regeneration, but distinct from it.
The First Leads to the Second
26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
– Galatians 3:26-27 NKJV
12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
– John 1:12-13 NKJV
Galatians 3:26-27 talks about the immediate result of conversion. After identifying with Christ in baptism, with a sincere heart of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we are adopted as God’s children. As John 1:12-13 puts it, we are born of God when we believe. This is a change in our relational status with God. We are no longer condemned in our sins, but have been made God’s children through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
4 But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”
– Galatians 4:4-6 NKJV
In Galatians chapter 4 we see how the first aspect of rebirth makes way for the second. In Glatians 4:4-5 we see that Jesus died to redeem us from the law through faith, so that we might be adopted as God’s children. And since we are God’s children, He treats us as His children by giving us the Spirit of His Son. Galatians 4:6 says it this way, “because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts.” First we are adopted as God’s children through faith, and then because we are God’s children positionally, He deals with us as children by giving us His Spirit.
5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
– John 3:5 NKJV
5 not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit,
– Titus 3:5 NKJV
We see these two aspects of regeneration joined together in several passages. We saw this in Acts 2:38 in which a relational change and an experiential change are both mentioned, both forgiveness and the receiving of God’s Spirit. We see it also in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3. Jesus tells Nicodemus that to enter the kingdom of God, which Jesus had been preaching, individuals must be “born of water and the Spirit.” That is, they must be baptized in Jesus’ name for the remission of sins and they must also be internally changed by the receiving of God’s Spirit. Paul uses similar language in Titus 3:5 speaking of our twofold salvation being received through the “washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit.”
We must take notice that conversion is always first. People are required to respond to the Gospel with genuine repentance, followed by faith in the Lord Jesus and baptism into Him. Our change of status is connected with our faith in Jesus and our identification with Him in baptism. When we put on Christ through faith in baptism our relationship with God is changed (Gal. 3:26-27). We are no longer condemned by God as rebels, but are accepted by Him as His children. This change of status always comes before the indwelling of the Spirit. In fact the change of status is what makes it possible for God to treat us as He does. Once we come into Christ by identifying with Him, our status with God is changed which leads to a change in our experience with God. Justification is the prerequisite for receiving God’s Spirit. And God’s Spirit is the goal of Justification.
13 In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.
– Ephesians 1:13-14 NKJV
In the last post we looked at Ephesians 1:3-7 and noticed the spiritual blessings that are given to believers in Christ. The three mentioned in that passage are forgiveness, justification and adoption. But the passage goes on to connect what happens to believers as a result of their faith in Christ and their change of status with God. Ephesians 1:13 tells us that believers are sealed with the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ. Faith leads to justification, justification leads to indwelling.
An Old Testament Promise
24 “For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land.
– Ezekiel 36:24 NKJV
Ezekiel 36 contains a promise of regeneration in the New Covenant. In verse 24 we see the context of this promise. God promised the people of Israel that there would come a day when He would bring them back from the exile they suffered because of their rebellion. We are told in other passages that at that time even Gentiles would be welcomed into God’s kingdom.
After Israel came back from exile in Babylon and rebuilt the temple, many of the people still remained scattered among the nations, and God’s presence had not yet returned to the temple. And those that did come back were still oppressed by the Gentile kingdoms of the world. So they were still longing for the time that God would return to free them and set up His eternal kingdom under the Son of David. While the people were longing for this, John the Baptist came preaching repentance and baptizing people in the Jordan, the river the Israelites crossed on their first entrance into the Promised Land. Not too long after this Jesus, the Son of David and the Son of God came to His temple.
To Desire & To Do
25 “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.
– Ezekiel 36:25 NKJV
In verse 25 God promises the forgiveness of sins and foreshadows Christian baptism. This is the first aspect of regeneration.
26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
– Ezekiel 36:26 NKJV
6 And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
– Deuteronomy 30:6 NKJV
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
– Philippians 2:12-13 NKJV
12 Therefore, brethren, we are debtors–not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.
– Romans 8:12-14 NKJV
In Ezekiel 36:26 God promises the second stage of regeneration. He speaks of giving His people a new heart that is sensitive to obey Him. This reiterates the promise He made earlier in Deuteronomy 30:6. In that passage God promised to restore Israel to the land after they repented while in exile. And He goes on to promise that He would circumcise their hearts so that they would obey Him. He takes out the hard and rebellious heart and does a work inside them so they will obey Him.
In Philippians we see the two primary ways God brings this about. Firstly, He works in them to “will.” That is, He changes their desires. Though Christians still have fleshly desires, God works a greater desire for righteousness and holiness within them. He motivates them towards godliness and love for God. Secondly, God works in them the ability “to do.” He doesn’t just produce the initial desire, but He continues to work in them, giving them the power to follow through on those desires.
It should be noted here, that this passage in Philippians makes it clear that this is not an automatic process. God does not take over our will, instead He influences our will. He gives us the desire and ability to obey, but He does not obey for us. We must submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit. He gives us godly desires and strengthens our will, and by that gracious influence we have the power to obey God. But if we resist His influence, and reject His leading and choose disobedience then we will suffer the punishment of death along with all the sons of disobedience.
Indwelling & Knowing
27 “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.
– Ezekiel 36:27 NKJV
33 “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
– Jeremiah 31:33 NKJV
25 For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. 26 Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? 27 And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law? 28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; 29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.
– Romans 2:25-29 NKJV
3 For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
– Romans 8:3-4 NKJV
17 Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.
– Matthew 5:17 NKJV
27 So he answered and said, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’ ” 28 And He said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.“
– Luke 10:27-28 NKJV
Acts 2:38 promises that those who trust in Christ will receive the Holy Spirit. It is God’s indwelling Spirit that makes obedience to God possible. The Old Covenant was a national law that was written on stone. But Israel could not keep it because they also had a heart of stone. In the New Covenant we are promised a new heart by the influence of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
We are told that God would write His righteous law on our hearts. This law is not like the law that was written on stone which served as a civil and ceremonial law for the nation of Israel. But this is the fulfillment of the Old Testament law. The Law of Moses was a type and shadow of the law of the Spirit in Jesus Christ. God writes this law on our hearts by the influence of the Holy Spirit. Day by day, hour by hour, the Holy Spirit leads us in the righteous will of God.
In Romans 2 and Romans 8 we see that Gentile believers, by the Holy Spirit, are able to keep the “righteous requirements of the law.” They “fulfill” the law by submitting to the Holy Spirit. Romans 2 in particular makes a distinction between obeying outward things like circumcision, which the Law of Moses required, and the keeping of the “righteous requirements” of God’s law. We will not go in depth into this distinction at this point in our study, but it is enough to say that the Law of Christ (i.e. His commands) are the fulfillment of the Old Testament shadow which is contained in the Law of Moses (Matthew 28:19-20).
What we need to say here is that this law, this fulfillment of the old law, is given to us by the Holy Spirit. This is one of the works that God does in us during the second stage of regeneration. He gives us the desire and ability to obey His law, and furthermore, He gives us insight and revelation into His law. By His Spirit God enlightens our conscience so we come to know His will (Romans 2:14-15 & 12:2). In the Old Testament they needed to write the law on the doorposts of their houses in order to remember God’s law. But in the New Covenant God comes to dwell inside us and communicates His righteous decrees to our consciences. So that we know how to properly love Him and others in every situation we face. The Law of Christ is to love the Lord God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. It is the Holy Spirit that teaches us how to do this.
22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went. 23 “And I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am the LORD,” says the Lord GOD, “when I am hallowed in you before their eyes.
– Ezekiel 36:22-23 NKJV
11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, 12 teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.
– Titus 2:11-14 NKJV
What is the purpose of all this? Why has God chosen to do a new thing in His people by the Holy Spirit and even welcome the Gentiles to partake in this blessing? We see the answer in Ezekiel 36:22-23 and in Titus chapter 2. God is making a people for His name. A people that live godly and righteous lives. A people that honor God and keep His holy law of love, so that all men and devils will see and glorify God on the Day of Jesus Christ. God loves righteousness and He is creating a people that love righteousness. So that they might populate His righteous kingdom, representing Him as His children forever, and bringing glory to His Son Who has redeemed them with His blood and filled them with His Spirit.
Conclusion – Know, Desire & Do
The second aspect of regeneration is something God works in us. He pours out His Spirit within us and makes us into the temple of God. The indwelling Spirit renews our hearts and makes them soft towards God. He gives us the willingness to obey and love Him. He also gives us the power to walk out this godly desire, strengthening us and guiding us every step of the way. This guidance is what the Bible calls writing His law on our hearts. He shows us the way to fulfill God’s will in our lives through love towards God and towards others.
This is not an automatic process, but one in which we are involved. We must choose to draw near to God seeking His will in the Bible, consistent fellowship with God’s people and in constant prayer. And we must humbly submit to the will which the Spirit works into our hearts. We must not grieve the Spirit by walking in disobedience, but must please God by submitting ourselves to the Spirit of Jesus Christ. By the indwelling Spirit God works in us to want, to know and to do His holy will; this is the second stage of regeneration.