A few thoughts on regeneration and sanctification by JMT
The new Under Amour ad with Michael Phelps is a thing of advertising beauty. It captivates the eyes and stimulates the heart. But is it true?
In light of what we have seen in John’s Gospel and Letters, we must be careful how we watch it, and how we evaluate it and apply it’s message.
To that end I want to offer two perspectives, negative and positive, on this punchline of the ad.
“It’s what you do in the dark that puts you in the light.
If we take the message of the Under Armor ad as a (how-to) method of coming out of darkness into light, then we end up embracing and practicing a false gospel of works. Why?
As we have seen in the Gospel story, Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. A nameless blind man came to Jesus in darkness. The same is true of you and me.
No one is born in the light; everyone is born in darkness. No one can come into the light unless God draws them out of darkness by his word and Spirit. Thus, people born in darkness must be born again into the light; born from above by water and Spirit into the kingdom of God.
As Jesus said, “Everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:20-21)
So, in light of the doctrine of monergistic regeneration, the ad is false.*
It’s not what you do in the dark that puts you in the light. It’s what God does in the dark that puts you in the light.
And you are not called to rule yourself, but to be ruled by the Lord Jesus Christ. A self-ruled person walks in darkness, but a Christ-ruled person walks in the light.
However, if we take the message of the ad as a motivation for spiritual growth and reformation, then we could end up embracing and practicing an essential truth of the gospel of grace. How?
As we have seen in John’s writings, those who are born again into the light are required and expected to walk in the light, not in darkness.
God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7)
The ad’s message could be taken to mean that what you do in secret, late at night, after hours, when no one else sees — that is what shows whether you are truly walking the light.
If you are living under the rule of Christ you will discipline yourself. You will train hard and eat well. You will fight against sin and fight for righteousness. You confess your sins when you fail. You will love your brothers and sisters. You will hate the world and the things in it. You will hate the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. You will mark the antithesis between truth and error, right and wrong. You will hate darkness and love the light.
If you are Christ-ruled, you will do whatever it takes to overcome the world — trust Christ even when it aches, obey his word even when it hurts, love others even when it costs. And you will overcome the world. How? By faith in Jesus Christ alone, not in yourself. As it is written:
Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.
Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:4-5)
So, from the point of view of sanctification, the ad’s message rings true. Except it’s not what you do in the dark that puts you in the light. It’s what you do in the light that puts the dark out of you.
*Note: Those who hold to the doctrine of synergistic regeneration wrongly believe that God and man co-operate together to produce new birth. On their view, the ad makes sense — God’s Spirit does his part, you can and must do your part.
Those of us who hold to the doctrine of monergistic regeneration believe that no one is able to experience or enter the kingdom unless God alone causes them to be born from above.
Synergism contradicts Jesus’ doctrine of regeneration (new birth) in John 3:3-8; monergism complements and conforms to it.