Piper begins with a quote from John Calvin that summarizes the main idea of the chapter and gives us a proper perspective on our own salvation. “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” (p. 45) These two parts are essential to the life of anyone who desires to know God. A person must understand himself in relation to God. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). Our greatest offense comes against God (Psalm 51:4). The truth of the matter is that sin has separated us from him. Yet, the knowledge of God brings us to the understanding that he has made a provision for our separation. The knowledge of ourselves brings us to despair. The knowledge of God brings us to hope. You can’t have one without the other.
Having answered the question what is the new birth?, Piper moves on to the question why is the new birth necessary? He begins with a diagnosis of the human condition. Reflecting on Ephesians 2:1-5, Piper says, “We will never experience the fullness of the greatness of God’s love for us if we don’t see his love in relation to our former deadness, because verse 4 says that the greatness of his love is shown precisely in this: that it makes us alive when we were dead.” (p. 47) We can only properly appreciate God’s love when we realize how dead we are without him. It gives our salvation depth and greater meaning as a result. Our salvation “flows from the richness of God’s mercy and the greatness of his love.” (p. 47) Though we were dead and possessed nothing that warranted salvation, God chose to deliver us from sin, death, and judgment as the ultimate expression of love toward us. It is a beautiful truth.
Piper then gets to the heart of the matter by listing seven explanations of our condition apart from the new birth which answers the question of why we need to be born again. First, we are dead in our sins apart from the new birth. I think that sometimes we confuse the idea of being dead with being paralyzed. It’s not like we have been temporarily paralyzed by a stun gun and waiting to come to our senses. We are utterly dead. When a person is dead, he/she can make no movements. Dead is what Paul calls us in Ephesians 2:1-2. We need someone to come and resuscitate us. Second, we are by nature children of wrath apart from God (Eph. 2:3). Piper puts it very simply, “Apart from new birth, I am my problem.” (p. 49) We are our own worst enemy. By nature I am a self-serving and desire my own glory. Apart from new birth, “our nature is so rebellious and so selfish and so callous toward the majesty of Go that his holy anger is a natural and right response to us.
Third, we love darkness instead of light apart from the new birth (John 3:19-20. We are not neutral. Our inclination apart from Christ is to walk in darkness. Fourth, our hearts are hard apart from the new birth (Ezek. 36:26; Eph. 4:18). We are not ignorant of the truth but we suppress the truth in our natural state. Fifth, we cannot please or submit to God apart from the new birth (Rom. 8:7-8). This may be a point of contention for some people. However, I believe the Bible teaches that a person cannot choose or please God. If we are born in the flesh and our minds are hostile toward God being set on the flesh, it is impossible for such a person to choose God. It says that there is something in him that has the ability to do so which is contrary to how Scripture describes a person apart from Christ. Sixth, we are unable to accept the gospel apart from the new birth (Eph. 4:18; 1 Cor. 2:14). In the Corinthians passage, Paul says we are unable to accept the things of the Spirit in our natural state (apart from Christ). He goes on to say that they are foolish to such a person. “He means that the heart is so resistant to receiving them that the mind justifies the rebellion of the heart by seeing them as foolish. This rebellion is so complete that the heart really cannot receive the things of the Spirit. This is real inability.” (p. 52) Finally, we cannot claim Christ as Lord apart from the new birth. I think every point prior to this one has made this statement obvious.
So there you have it. We have been shown the desperate need we have for being reborn. Apart from the new birth that comes through Christ, we have no hope. It is why the new birth is so necessary and important.
Do you agree with Piper’s assessment of the human condition apart from the new birth? How does this make you feel? What encouragement or challenge did you draw from this chapter?
Read chapter 4 this week and expect a post on Monday (December 7th).