Piper finishes up his three part answer to the question What happens in the new birth? by stressing the understanding of the new birth as new creation instead of simply the “improvement of your old human nature.” (p. 37) As Paul says, “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) When you are regenerated, the old self is displaced from the seat of prominence within your life. It is replaced with a new nature that has come from Jesus via the Spirit. “The new birth is not like the make-up that morticians use to try to make corpses look more like they are alive. The new birth is the creation of the spiritual life, not the imitation of life.” (p. 35) The Spirit plays a vital role in the creation of the new, spiritual life. Piper’s emphasis on the Spirit’s role in our regeneration is one the strongest points of this chapter (and maybe the book thus far). It is the reason why Jesus refers to blasphemy of the Spirit as the unforgivable sin (Matt. 12:31). The Father sent the Son who died and sent the Spirit. In turn, the Spirit brings us to Jesus who saves us and connects us to the Father. Blaspheming the Spirit eliminates any chance of getting to Jesus and the Father. Thus, we must not underestimate the role of the Spirit in our salvation.
Piper also addresses the misconception that Jesus is speaking of Christian baptism when he says that Nicodemus must be born of both water and spirit. Some Christians believe that baptism is necessary for salvation based on this passage (and others). Piper gives three reasons why Jesus’ reference to being born of water does not refer to baptism. “First, if this were a reference to Christian baptism and it were as essential for new birth as some say it is, it seems strange that it drops out of view in the rest of this chapter as Jesus tells us how to have eternal life.” (p. 38) We could take this a step further and say that rest of Scripture speaks of being saved without mentioning the necessity of baptism. There can be little doubt that salvation and baptism are closely connected. However, baptism is not necessary for salvation. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christa alone. Second, it would be hard to understand the point and meaning of the analogy of the wind (John 3:8) if water baptism were necessary for salvation. Third, it makes no sense for Jesus to call Nicodemus out (John 3:10) for a lack of understanding in this matter of new birth if the meaning of baptism is fully revealed until after this death. When Jesus says that Nicodemus must be born of water and the spirit, he means that Nicodemus must be born both physically (to begin with) and then spiritually as well.
So…when we are born again, we not only receive a right status before God but also receive the Spirit and a new heart. Piper is careful to point out that receiving the Spirit does not cancel our humanity. We are just as much human today as we were the days prior to our salvation. Jesus tells us that we must be born physically (which doesn’t change) and then born spiritually. We are made new but still carry on in this human existence nonetheless.
“So in the new birth, God takes out the heart of stone and puts in a heart of flesh.” (p. 41) He changes us from the inside out so that our lives bear the fruit of our greatest affection and allegiance. As Ezekiel puts it in 36:26-27, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
How have you considered the role of the Spirit in your salvation? Do you agree with Piper’s explanation of the water reference in John 3? Why is forgiveness and cleansing not enough? What part(s) of this chapter encouraged and/or challenged you?
Read chapter 3 this week and expect a post on Monday (December 1st).